SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
We’re a short few night away from the Royal Rumble and there’s still no odds on obvious favorite to win the thing and move on to headline WrestleMania. That adds a level of excitement to the event that has been missing for a few years. It also protects the WWE a little bit from the crowd turning when the sure fire fan favorite comes up short, and whoever Vince has installed at the top gets booed out of the building (here’s looking at you Roman Reigns and Batista). That short burst of cynicism aside, it’s exciting to consider all the possibilities that could go down, and what storylines could emerge from the fallout. The enemy of great storytelling is predictability, and this year’s Royal Rumble match looks to be anything but predictable.
There are a few stars that may put on a good show at the Rumble, but I don’t expect them to come out on top. Ambrose as IC Champ feels like the right ceiling for him, and he appears much more comfortable in this role than he did as the world champion. Baron Corbin has a lot of upside but is still a bit green. If you can figure out what is going on with Bray Wyatt, more power too you. In the span of two years Rusev has gone from unbeatable powerhouse to taking up residence in the dog house. Big Cass-see Baron Corbin. With that said, here’s a few ideas that range from distinct possibility to existing on the outer edges of the lunatic fringe.
C.M. Punk Time has a way of healing all…nah i’m not even going to kid about going there….
Braun Strowman Heading into the brand split Strowman was the lumbering, silent brute that played the enforcer role for the Wyatt family. Aside from his obvious side, there was nothing compelling about he character. Post split Strowman has turned the opportunity given to him to become a main event player on Raw. It’s been a slow, strong, well booked rise to the top. First Braun fed off the local job squad in a series of squash matches designed to make him look like a monster. That followed with turns in the ring with Rollins and Reigns where the big man got a chance to show off some agility to go with his strength while also working in some clever comic touches during backstage vignettes. His program with Sammy Zayn has taken Braun to the next level, allowing Strowman to transform into a monster that feeds on the carcasses of uber popular babyface flesh. Okay, that might be a little over the top, but creative has gone the extra mile with this storyline, going so far as to keep Zayn off TV some weeks in order to sell the beating Braun delivered the night before.
If you would have told me six months ago that crowds would pop at the possibility of watching Lesnar and Strauman trading blows I would have asked you to turn in your smart fan card. Yet that looks like a big money direction the company can turn to in the future and it’s one that has me excited. It seems like a matter of “when” not “if” Braun will be the WWE Champion. There’s been some hints on television that the Rumble could see them moving in that direction, but it does still seem a little early and there’s a few candidates he’d have to leapfrog over in line. That said, look for Strowman to have a strong showing in the Rumble by eliminating a number of entrants before getting tossed by the combined efforts of four or five others.
Goldberg When the former WCW phenom signed on for Survivor Series, it was assumed to be a one and done deal. Then Vince saw that almost a decade and a half later Goldberg is still a star. After his shocking decimation of Lesnar in a squash match, the return bout was pencilled in for Wrestlemania. Still, every pencil comes with an eraser, and the time seems right to give Goldberg one last run as a special attraction champ. You can still do Lesnar and Goldberg down the road at Summerslam, especially if shenanigans on Brock’s part cost Goldberg the belt.
True, Goldberg has more than a few negatives against him. At 50 years old and a over a decade removed from the ring, it’s a given he would be wrestling on borrowed time. Last night he struggled through a promo, and looked more than a little foolish each time he restarted his scripted lines from the top. He also lost a shoot fight with a door on the way to the ring.
Still, Goldberg at the top, even for a few months, gives RAW an extra boost of star power that the red brand could use right now. It would help wash the bad taste left behind from Goldberg’s botched 2003 run and pave the way to headline next year’s Hall of Fame class. I could see a scenario where Goldberg wins the Rumble then the Universal title at Wrestlemania. The next night he lets he RAW crowd know that this is it for him. When he loses the title, he’s wrestled his last match. That said, he plans on holding on to the title for a long time. Similar to Brock’s run in 2014 and 2015, he could be used sparingly on television, while whoever holds the US title could be the workhorse champ every Monday night.
The Undertaker It seems like Vince cooled on the idea of booking a Wrestlemania dream match between The Undertaker and John Cena the moment the latter returned to Smackdown Live and was cascaded by “Un-der-TA-KER!” chants from the crowd. Why a small business owner like Vince McMahon would want to leave money on the table by not giving fans what they want is beyond me, but what do I know? The mechanisms are in place to put the title on Cena at Elimination Chamber (and waste the talents of AJ Stlyes in a match with Shane at Wrestlemania. Honestly if that does come to pass and it isn’t booked exactly like Styles/Ellsworth then there is no God and everything tastes like ashes) and give ‘Taker one last massive program before he retires. Anytime Undertaker steps into the ring could-and should-be his last time, and a main event program with Cena seems like the last untapped angle in a storied career.
Samoa Joe The former NXT champ has been conspicuous by his absence on television since wrapping up his program with Nakamura. The backstage scuttlebutt says once Joe gets the inevitable call up to the main roster he will have the proverbial rocket strapped to his back. Seeing that Joe is in his late 30s, wrestles a punishing style and has put a lot of wear and tear on his frame for the past decade, it would make sense for the WWE to push Joe sooner than later. What better statement could they make to the casual fan that might not be fully aware of Joe’s bonafides than to have him emerge out of nowhere to win a stacked, star-studded Royal Rumble. While the possibility of AJ vs Styles at ‘Mania is intriguing, I have doubts that Vince would want a TNA main event to headline the biggest event of the year. That still leaves no shortage of scenarios.
Kenny Omega Coming off his match of the year contender at Wrestle Kingdom 11, Omega has emerged as the hottest soon-to-be free agent is wrestling. In the past Omega has spoken out against being a cog in the WWE machine, but as of late he’ sounded a lot more open to signing on board. The change in attitude makes sense given the star treatment his former NJPW running mate AJ Styles has received and the increased focus former indie standouts have received on both NXT and the main roster. There seems to be some debate on whether the January 31st date is set hard and fast or if Omega has some leeway with regards to the expiration date. It’s been quiet on the news front regarding the WWE’s intentions towards Omega, aside from Triple H saying that he’s interested in anyone that has that level of talent. Omega coming out in the Rumble would be a bonafide surprise, and his emergence combined with a shocking win would be a surefire “moment” that the WWE always looks to create and manipulate (rather than allow to happen organically). For Omega, who has said he would only be interested in the WWE if they have something big for him, the chance to headline Wrestlemania two months into his run would be as big as it gets.
Kevin Owens This idea stems from the “so crazy I just might work” part of my brain. In order for it to happen, Owens would first have to retain the Universal title prior to the Rumble taking place. Given that Owens record versus Reigns is roughly 1 win against 32,494 losses in the past three months this is no small task. On a side note I hired the guy who used to track Goldberg’s streak in WCW to do fact checking for me. Once Owens retains, he would come out as your surprise thirtieth entrant, out last the remaining handful of wrestlers in the ring, and win the Rumble. The next night on RAW he would inform the crowd that since he has dispatched of 29 other participants he’s going to take the night of at Wrestlemania since he can’t challenge himself for the Universal title. Now of course would be working at ‘Mania. There’s still two months to work out a story that finds Owens having to defend against someone, and Owens could use that time to whine, cry and stomp his feet about the unfairness of it all. The more I think about the sheer audacity of this idea, and to be frank, just how dumb it is, the more brilliant it seems and the more clear it is to me that this is the only way the Rumble should go down.
Taking this awful yet amazing idea one step further. Prior to Owens emerging the last two bulls in the ring should be Brock and Goldberg. The two behemoths should eliminate one another and the announce team should be left apoplectic, thinking that there’s going to be no winner for the Rumble, forgetting that there’s still one entrant left. Just as things hit a peak fury, the buzzer sounds and KO’s music hits. Owens could saunter to the ring, hold his belt high, smirk and drink in the boo from the crowd while the show goes off the air.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: THE CREATIVE CORNER: It’s not easy being a heel in 2016, but what can Ziggler and Styles do to try to correct crowd response