WWE Royal Rumble 2017
Sunday, January 29
AlamoDome 
San Antonio, Texas

Watch: WWE Network / Discuss on our Forums

Meet our previewers:

  • Jeff Hawkins: Co-Host of Shake Them Ropes. Does the Smackdown post-show at Fightful.com and used to review RAW at VoicesofWrestling.com. Will guest on your podcast too. Twitter: @Crapgame13
  • Barry Hess: Voices of Wrestling columnist and former mayor of Suplex City before the peaceful transfer of power to a beast incarnate. Follow him on twitter at @Bfhess171.

Pre-show
WWE Raw Tag Team Championship
Cesaro & Sheamus © vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

Jeff Hawkins: Two referees screams chicanery. The time to put the titles on Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson has passed, been resurrected and ascended into Heaven. The fall will be each referee simultaneously calling the match for one of the two teams. Upon restart, I expect the champions to retain but I don’t put it past the WWE to do a “split champions” angle where one member from each team has a belt. Prediction: Cesaro/Sheamus

Barry Hess: I can’t help but think of my grandfather when analysing this match. He was a vocal advocate of the two-referee system back in the late 80s as a solution to the rampant cheating and interference that always seemed to plague the World Wrestling Federation. Major suspensions of disbelief notwithstanding, this program has had its moments but its pre-show residence is probably appropriate. On the plus side, the creative foundation of the Gallows and Anderson team  appears to have finally achieved a necessary level of consistency; its pedestrian but at least it’s consistent. Contrarily some of the polish on the Cesaro and Sheamus partnership has worn off as compared to my original enjoyment of the team as they chased the titles. I feel like the enormity of the Royal Rumble proper might carry over into the pre-show and we may actually see a title change here. If the titles do, in fact, change hands, don’t expect a clean finish despite the increased referee presence. Sorry Poppy. Prediction: Gallows and Anderson

Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax

Jeff Hawkins: This one seems rather simple. They know what they have in Sasha, they don’t know what they have in Nia Jax. Use one’s audience goodwill to test to see if Nia has “something.” What that is, who knows. It could be anything from having a powerful heel to giving her the big ppv over Charlotte (remember, she’s related to the Rock). But I expect we’ve seen injury after injury to “protect” Sasha in losing, which, it won’t. Prediction: Nia Jax

Barry Hess: The most interesting aspect of this angle is the contrasting creative principles of its respective participants as it relates to effective character development. For almost a year Sasha Banks has been cast as a scrappy not-quite-underdog but not dominant babyface within the Women’s Division. Banks had an intriguing run in 2016 thanks to the rivalry with Charlotte, but the character has largely lacked the ‘it factor’ since joining the main roster. The powers that be have not translated the important elements of The Boss heel character that became so popular in NXT with the babyface character currently on weekly TV. Banks is best suited as a heel in my opinion and until that occurs her character will continue to lack that extra something that allows her to be most effective as a performer. On the other hand, Nia Jax’s role as a dangerous monster is the perfect role for her because she looks and acts much different than anyone else within the division. Her pre-Raw attack of Banks caught on camera was a clever angle that added a nice layer of unpredictability to the character. Banks enters the match as a wounded animal, creating the perfect environment to crank Jax’s heat up another level. Prediction: Nia Jax

Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella, Naomi vs. Alexa Bliss, Mickie James, Natalya

Jeff Hawkins: Mickie James is a welcome edition to this roster. She can talk whereas no one other than maybe Carmella are polished in the art of smack. She just got here, she gets a pin, probably over Naomi with Alexa’s help to further that angle that introduced on Tuesday. I also fully expect Nattie and Nikki to extricate themselves by brawling to the back. Prediction: Alexa Bliss, Mickie James Natalya

Barry Hess: This match feels like it should be on the pre-show, but with no SmackDown Women’s title match booked it makes sense that the blue brand’s females get relatively equal representation on the main card. The Nikki/Natalya story has been solid and the recent revelation that Mickie James was La Luchadora added some spice to the feud between Becky and Alexa just when it was starting to lose some gusto. I expect a fun match that continues both programs and not much more than that. Prediction: Alexa Bliss, Mickie James and Natalya

WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Rich Swann © vs. Neville

Jeff Hawkins: UK viewers, heed the warnings of 205 Live. Just because you have a great tournament doesn’t mean once Vince McMahon starts tinkering it will be quality. Rich Swann recently challenged the entire division, so I expect a multi-man match, probably with a ladder at WrestleMania. The question is do they crown Neville here and maybe give it to Jack Gallagher in Orlando?  It seems to me that beating the entire division would make one “King of the Cruiserweight Division.” They may hold off, but I kind of expect Neville to be crowned here. Prediction: Neville

Barry Hess: Neville’s recent change in attitude has injected life into the Cruiserweight Division; hardly a hot take there. But even more exciting than the emergence of a nasty heel has been the fast-paced evolution of Rich Swann, from outlandish and happy-go lucky to fiery babyface willing to stand his ground and defend his turf. There’s nothing overtly unique about this story, but it’s got legs because of the strong work from both competitors. I’d like to see this angle continue through the Rumble, but I agree with Jeff’s assessment of the division as we inch closer to WrestleMania. It feels like Swann’s days as champion are numbered. Prediction: Neville



WWE Raw Women’s Championship
Charlotte Flair © vs. Bayley

Jeff Hawkins: The company blew it with Bayley. I mean burning piles of money blew it with her. Girls love Bayley, they love her positivity, they love her merchandise. The potential for a female John Cena as a role model for young girls was there. But her promos stink, the start and stop of her push stinks, and they’re doing that thing where they’re telling you she’s not good enough to be there in story which ultimately results in people starting to believe it in real life when they’re thinking people will rebel. They’ve been playing up the number of wins Bayley has over Charlotte which means she’s losing at the Royal Rumble and we get another promo about Bayley, like Sasha, not being able to win the big one. Prediction: Charlotte

Barry Hess: It hurts me to say this, but Bayley’s presence on the main roster is largely inconsequential at this point. While I agree that WWE has done her few favors, I place more of the blame on her shoulders. Her range as a performer is painfully limited. Her ability to convey emotion both in her promos and in the ring is highly perplexing. This is the same performer who brought me to tears in NXT. How is this possible? I don’t want to hear excuses about bad material. Do we all remember Charlotte being asked to cut a promo about her dead brother? Charlotte has the ability to project charisma whether her material is strong or weak; she forces you to pay attention when she is on the screen. Bayley can’t even project her voice throughout an arena with the aide of a microphone. Most recently, her awe-shucks attitude does not even match the words of the so-called flawed material she was given for last week’s sit-down interview on Raw, where she was supposed to be conveying how badly she wants to become the women’s champion. Plainly put, Charlotte and Bayley are not on the same level as performers at this moment in time. As VOW’s resident, ‘wins and losses don’t matter’ guy, Charlotte losing the title in this match would be as egregious as any such loss can be in the year 2017. Prediction: Charlotte

WWE Championship
AJ Styles © vs. John Cena

Jeff Hawkins: John Cena’s build to this match is only babyface if you are a pure WWE fan, and it’s stunning that they want people to cheer him and boo hard work, sticktoitiveness and overcoming expectations over being a Company guy who got shoved down the fans’ throats. Cena being Ric Flair’s equal is in story, but I think they hold off until WrestleMania for the moment unless they want to break it there. I think John Cena wins by disqualification when Gallows and Anderson, reunited with their friend, “Beat up John Cena” and AJ Styles goes on to lose the title in the Elimination Chamber, hopefully still retaining a one on one match at WrestleMania. Prediction: John Cena

Barry Hess: The build to this match has been nothing short of exquisite. A story centered around the WWE title but also including dramatic themes of  personal animosity, industry supremacy and the old school versus the new era; a perfect recipe for a complex and multi-layered narrative that frustrated viewers have been desperately craving for quite a long time. AJ’s stance as a heel includes just enough truth that his point of view is understandable. Likewise, John Cena’s newfound edge has come at a time when his character has begun to recognize he is on the precipice of an unprecedented legacy. Even more surprising is that a story of this depth is playing out at the Royal Rumble, an event that has hosted its fair share of strategically forgettable title matches in the shadow of the more important Rumble match. If John Cena were to tie Ric Flair’s record of 16 World championships, the Rumble would be the best place for it to occur…before dropping the title next month and winning it back for the historic 17th times at WrestleMania 33???  Prediction: John Cena

WWE Universal Championship
Kevin Owens © vs. Roman Reigns

Jeff Hawkins: One of the main two titles is changing hands, I think it’s this one. Take a look at the Authors of Pain/TM61 match from NXT Takeover: Toronto for your blueprint. Chris Jericho drops something from the cage, Roman Reigns gets it, and uses it to win. It’s a No Disqualification match so Roman’s not turned on by the children for cheating, but does get booed by the adults for winning. Kevin Owens blames Jericho for the loss, and sews the seeds for that feud. Prediction: Roman Reigns

Barry Hess: Like many, I don’t see a scenario where AJ Styles and Kevin Owens both leave San Antonio with the gold they currently possess, but I can see one of them surviving. Which heel champion survives has more to do with who wins the Rumble match than anything else. A babyface from Raw winning the Rumble would increase the possibility of a Kevin Owens victory (assuming WWE chooses to fade to black with the basic outline of WrestleMania in play, which admittedly has not always been the case). Still, a part of me finds it difficult to envision Roman Reigns leaving the Rumble with no clear WrestleMania path. This Universal title match has significantly less luster than the WWE title match, but that’s ok with me. The shark tank gimmick is a fun little twist, but personally the image of something dangling above the ring is incredibly distracting and invites the notion that it’s going to fall unexpectedly. Maybe it’s the paranoid parent in me, or maybe it’s the teenager watching Over the Edge 1999 in me. Prediction: Kevin Owens





2017 Royal Rumble Match

Jeff Hawkins: My most anticipated Royal Rumble since 1992. There are plenty of stories you can put as the main event of WrestleMania. Brock/Goldberg can go there. Undertaker and anyone can go there. Seth Rollins/HHH can be the main event. There’s a few dark horse matches involving Braun Strowman or any loser from the previous matches except the women. I think Samoa Joe shows up, I think Seth Rollins attacks Curtis Axel and takes his spot, and I think James Ellsworth gets killed by some very big men. The Iron Sheik precedent of the Gimmick Battle Royale from WrestleMania X-7 says a man who can’t take a bump will win a match from which he cannot be eliminated. Undertaker was reportedly having some hip issues regarding his standing up after Raw on Monday, he’s not taking a bump to be eliminated and I don’t see another reason for him to leave and not come back. Prediction: The Undertaker

Barry Hess: Some years the Rumble is easy to predict and some years it’s wide open. Both experiences can be fun, depending on the creative, but I prefer the wide open version. This year it’s truly wide open, perhaps the most open Rumble since the title opportunity became associated with the match in 1993. First we have the legends; Brock Lesnar and Goldberg appear to be on a collision course for a WrestleMania rubber match, which effectively eliminates both from winning. The Undertaker is the third legend and while I can totally see him winning, I don’t think it’s going to happen (how’s that for in-depth analysis?). Next we have our resident big men, Braun Strowman, Big Cass and Baron Corbin. At various points over the last few weeks I was convinced both Strowman  and then Corbin would win, but now think neither has a real shot. We have the underdogs, Sami Zayn and James Ellsworth, one of them will likely make the final four, maybe even serve as the last man eliminated. Then we have our upper mid card characters who take the unexpected trip to the top of the card. Dean Ambrose, The Miz, Cesaro and Rusev, none of whom immediately jump out as characters WWE is ready to take to the next level. That leaves the unknowns. I think Samoa Joe makes his main roster debut as an entrant but doesn’t win. Seth Rollins is certainly a wildcard even after the events of last Monday’s Raw. And what about Finn Balor? The way I see it, the winner of the Rumble is linked to John Cena’s creative trajectory. Cena’s match is likely to be the highlight of SmackDown’s WrestleMania presence. If he’s involved in the WWE title match it will likely be as a challenger, eliminating the chances of a SmackDown superstar winning the Rumble match. I’ve already predicted that Kevin Owens survives his most recent encounter with Roman Reigns. If he enters WrestleMania as champion, he’ll be facing a babyface Rumble winner. Perhaps one that he’s shared some history with in the recent past.  Prediction: Finn Balor