But we’ve got another year to talk about the Royal Rumble returning to Philadelphia. (More on that later in this edition of Heel Turns.) First, we will focus on Sunday’s Royal Rumble, which will be broadcast live (7 p.m., kickoff show 5 p.m.) on WWE Network from San Antonio, Texas.
There are a lot of highly anticipated matches at the Royal Rumble. A.J. Styles defends the WWE Championship against John Cena. Kevin Owens defends the WWE Universal Championship against Roman Reigns in a no-disqualification match, with the added factor of United States champion Chris Jericho suspended above the ring in a shark cage.
Bayley challenges Charlotte Flair for the Raw Women’s Championship against Bayley. Neville tries to snatch the WWE Cruiserweight Championship from Rich Swann. There are three matches slated for the kickoff show, including a Raw Tag Team Championship match and two women’s matches. But the marquee event of the Royal Rumble is the Royal Rumble match.
This is a loaded Royal Rumble. It’s also a big man’s Rumble. The Greek God of Wrestling can’t remember a Rumble that featured more talented big men.
The marquee big men are the three who closed this week’s Raw with a staredown in the ring: Goldberg, Brock Lesnar and Undertaker. Big Show has slimmed down, but he’s still a huge man. Braun Strowman is another huge entrant. Baron Corbin, Big Cass, Luke Harper, Rusev and Big E are all large and powerful men.
That doesn’t mean a big man will necessarily win the Royal Rumble. Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler and Jericho aren’t slouches.
The central storyline centers around the Lesnar-Goldberg feud. WWE didn’t take Achilles Heel’s advice in booking this feud, which would have played off Lesnar’s elimination of Goldberg in the 2004 Royal Rumble in Philadelphia after Goldberg entered as the Rumble’s final entrant.
There are two ways to go with this feud in the Rumble. WWE could have Goldberg and Lesnar enter as the first two combatants. They could battle each other, stopping only to throw out the next person to come down the aisle. This scenario could also take place in the middle of the match. Neither Goldberg nor Lesnar, however, is likely to win the Rumble. They’ll either take each other out, or one will prevent the other from winning the match. The latter scenario could occur if WWE keeps Lesnar and Goldberg apart. Whichever one is eliminated early could return to cost the other one the title.
Another storyline involves the Wyatt family. Randy Orton and Luke Harper have been feuding recently, with Orton defeating Harper on Smackdown this week. Bray Wyatt gave Harper a “Sister Abigail” after the loss to Orton, but does that mean that Harper is banished from the Wyatt family? We may find out Sunday during the Rumble.
The Undertaker returns to a WWE ring at the Royal Rumble. It doesn’t seem likely that Undertaker will win, but he appears poised to get involved with Lesnar and Goldberg.
A minor angle involves Sami Zayn tilting against windmills in his pursuit of Strowman. There’s also the intrigue over how many competitors will be thrown out by Strowman and Corbin.
Twenty-two wrestlers have been announced for the Royal Rumble. Here’s a rundown of some of the competitors.
No chance. No chance in hell: Mojo Rawley, Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston, Big E. Kingston makes the highlight film every year at the Rumble, but he’s not going to win. I’ll add Sami Zayn to this list, although he would probably have a tremendous match against Owens at WrestleMania.
Long, long shots: Harper, Rusev, Cesaro, Sheamus, Big Cass. There aren’t any conceivable storylines under which any of these guys would win the Rumble.
Small chance: The Miz, Ziggler, Corbin, Strowman. Corbin and Strowman might make a major impact, but neither has the name recognition or is polished enough in the ring to be in a major match at WrestleMania. Throw Ambrose, the Intercontinental champion, in this category as well.
Possibilities: Orton, Wyatt, Jericho, Big Show. Big Show is a feel-good story. He’s lost a ton of weight and he’s never won the Rumble. But the Greek God of Wrestling doesn’t see that happening. What I could see happening is Orton either helping Wyatt win the Rumble or turning on Wyatt to try to win it himself. The second scenario is more likely, which could lead to an Orton-Wyatt match at WrestleMania. Jericho is an interesting choice because of his friendship with Owens, the WWE Universal champion.
Favorites: Based on the end of Raw, the favorites are Undertaker, Lesnar and Goldberg. But the Greek God of Wrestling doesn’t believe that any of the favorites will win.
Pick: The Greek God of Wrestling is going out on a limb and choosing Jericho as a dark horse. Jericho has never won the Rumble. His relationship with Owens has been one of the most entertaining things on WWE television during the past year. Jericho is on an incredible roll. Why not go with it?
Dream scenario: What if Kurt Angle, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during WrestleMania weekend, entered and won the Rumble? Angle never won the Rumble. He also is in good enough shape to pull out a top-notch match, especially with someone like Styles.
There are eight spots open for Sunday’s Rumble. Angle could be one choice. James Ellsworth is probably another. Kane would fit the “big man” theme of this year’s Rumble. Plus, there’s the added bonus of Kane teaming up with Undertaker to toss out some opponents.
PHILLY READY TO RUMBLE: If you haven’t heard the big news this week, the Royal Rumble will be coming to Philadelphia in 2018. As is the case with WWE’s four major premiere events, the Rumble will be accompanied by NXT Takeover the night before the Rumble and Raw and Smackdown on the two nights after the Rumble. Wells Fargo Center will be a busy place for four straight nights next January.
The choice is a little bit surprising because Philly hosted the Rumble in 2015. But it might be a bit of a consolation prize because the City of Brotherly Love has been in the mix for WrestleMania recently without being awarded the biggest show of the year.
TAKING OVER SAN ANTONIO: One night before the Royal Rumble, WWE presents NXT Takeover: San Antonio, which takes place on the WWE Network (8 p.m., preshow at 7 p.m.). The main event features Shinsuke Nakamura defending the NXT Championship against Bobby Roode. Achilles Heel expects Nakamura to retain his title.
The NXT Tag Team Championship will also be on the line, with Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa defending the title against the Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar). Asuka will defend the NXT Women’s Championship in a fatal four-way with Nikki Cross, Billy Kay and Peyton Royce. In non-title matches, Tye Dillinger battles Eric Young and Roderick Strong squares off with Andrade Almas.
NXT IN PHILLY: If you don’t want to wait until next year’s Royal Rumble weekend to see NXT in person, you have an opportunity on Thurs., Feb. 9, when NXT comes to the Twoer Theater.
LASHLEY REGAINS GOLD: Bobby Lashley regained the TNA World Championship from Eddie Edwards in a 30-minute ironman match on “Genesis,” which was the title of this week’s Impact Wrestling.
ROLLINS OUT OF RUMBLE: The buildup for the projected WrestleMania match between Seth Rollins and Triple H continued on Raw, with Seth Rollins losing his spot in the Royal Rumble. Stephanie McMahon, via telephone, set up a match between Rollins and Sami Zayn. The original stipulation was that Zayn needed to defeat Rollins to earn a spot in the Royal Rumble, but Stephanie added that if Zayn wins, he would take Rollins’ spot in the Rumble.
Rollins appeared to have victory in his sights after delivering a pedigree to Zayn on the ring apron. But Triple H’s music started to play just before Rollins pinned Zayn. The delay as Rollins gazed around the arena in search of Triple H allowed Zayn to roll Rollins up for the small package and knock him out of the Rumble.
DANIELS GETS TITLE SHOT: Christopher Daniels will receive a long-awaited shot at the Ring of Honor World Championship at Ring of honor’s 15th Anniversary show on March 10 in Las Vegas. Daniels, a 24-year veteran who was in the main event of Ring of Honor’s first show, hasn’t had a world title shot since 2011. The Greek God of Wrestling will have more on this matchup in upcoming weeks, but he does not want to spoil future Ring of Honor shows for any fans by revealing results from television tapings.
TEXAS OVERLOAD: The Royal Rumble and NXT Takeover aren’t the only shows in San Antonio this weekend. EVOLVE has a pair of shows, which feature Chris Hero’s final independent matches before joining WWE/NXT. Hero defeated Keith Lee on Friday night. On Saturday night he will face Zack Sabre Jr. in an intriguing matchup.
If you stick around San Antonio until Friday, you can see Ring of Honor’s “Undisputed Legacy. Matches include a top contenders triple threat match between Jay Lethal, Dalton Castle and Bobby Fish (based on his title shot at Supercard of Honor, Castle should win); Cody Rhodes vs. Donovan Dijak; The Addiction (Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian) vs. Tempura Boyz (Sho and Yo); and an 8-man tag team match pitting Adam Cole, Hangman Adam Page and the Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) vs. Chris Sabin, Alex Shelley, Lio Rush and Jay White.
If you want to venture away from San Antonio in between shows, Raw will be in Hidalgo on Monday, and Smackdown will be in Corpus Christi on Tuesday.
RAW IN PHILLY: The last Raw before WrestleMania will take place on Mon., March 27 at Wells Fargo Center. The timing alone should make this an exciting show.
TAKING OVER SAN ANTONIO: The Young Lions Cup Tournament will highlight CHIKARA’s first event of 2016, which will take place next Saturday (2 p.m.) at CHIKARA’s Wrestle Factory as part of National Pro Wrestling Day. The event is free. Announced matches include Dasher Hatfield vs. Juan Francisco de Coronado, Missile Assault Man vs. Race Jaxon, and Fire Ant, Worker Ant and Silver Ant vs. the Legion of ROT.
POPULAR WAR: Combat Zone Wrestling returns to Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees on Sat., Feb. 11 with CZW Eighteen: Still Like Nothing Else! The main event features Joe Gacy defending the CZW World Championship against Shigehiro Irie. Other matches include Progress Atlas champion Matt Riddle, one of the fastest-rising independent stars, against WXW Shotgun champion David Star, and a “fans bring the weapons match” match pitting Danny Havoc and Conor Claxton against Notorious Inc.