Hello and welcome to Royal Rumble weekend. Thomas Fenton here and I'm going to take you through the latest bookings, plans, and Royal Rumble predictions.
This is generally the second biggest weekend for the WWE of the year and there is plenty to talk about going into the events this weekend in Philly.
NXT TakeOver Philly is live on on the WWE Network on Saturday, this will be headlined by Johnny Gargano vs. Cein Almas for the NXT Championship.
The likelihood that we will see Tommaso Ciampa is high here. The real question is to whether he cost Johnny the title or attacks him after the match. Tommaso has been battling back from knee surgery and while not in ring ready, he would be ready for an appearance, or run in on the show. For what its worth, one of the big TakeOver New Orleans main events is Gargano vs. Ciampa. That would be during Wrestlemania Weekend.
Aliester Black vs. Adam Cole in an Extreme Rules Match should truly highlight the show. In front of what will be a ruckus Philly crowd, this Extreme Rules Match should brings fans to the edge of their seats. The real question is who goes over in this one? NXT had some questionable booking when it came to the tournament, not only did Black go over Cole in the tournament, he then lost and was the man to be pinned that sent Johnny to the championship match. This was both Black's and Cole's first losses in NXT with much more build behind Black being undefeated than Cole. With the rules of the match the easiest play here to keep Black strong would be for the CFO Undisputed Era to help Cole win the match. However, I do not feel Fish and O'Reilly are enough in this. If this is the time if you add someone to the group, it makes all the sense in the world. While there has been talk of adding another member, there has been no concrete plans of who, up until now. I feel the grop need a big man and an enforcer type piece and I would look no further then Donovan Dijak, with size and his ROH ties, it's almost to easy to go this route. With that being said, if we look at future plans, where would they go from here? A Heel vs. Heel? Cole vs. Almas match does not work, even if Almas retains the title, he will need another challenger. If he looses the title, you could always set him with someone else in another program. However, where does that leave Black? Black, whom WWE would like to keep in NXT for a little while longer continues to grow and develop his personality and following, but one would wonder where a loss here leaves him on the roster. Lets not forget that Richotte is waiting in the wings and will also be showcased in an NXT match at Mania.
AOP vs. Fish and O'Reilly for the NXT Tag Team Champion is interesting in 2 folds. First, AOP has been slated for a call up for a while now. However, with the weak tag division in NXT, it does not leave too many challengers for Fish and O'Reilly. Except for the second reason, War Machine. The biggest way for War Machine to be built like, and look like stars, is by taking out AOP and sending them packing. This cannot be done unless AOP is staying until after Mania, which is possible. The finish I would go with here is AOP going over, and War Machine destroying them after the match. That would set up a match at TakeOver, in which War Machine beats them and sends them packing. Possibly, it could even be in a 3 way. Is it too soon for War Machine? Maybe, but with the weekend NXT Tag Divison, it is a nice way to not only bye time for the next team,but really could showcase War Machine as stars from day 1.
Velveteen Dream vs. Ohno is just a matter of simple booking, Ohno is there to make guys look good, and putting people over. Dream has been one of the few who have shined in NXT in a while, and his quest to the top starts here.
Ember Moon vs. Shayna Baszler is a coin flip. WWE is big on Shayna, but for Ember to stay credible, it may be to early for her to lose. My gut tells me Shayna goes over here, yet the program between the two will continue.
Royal Rumble live this Sunday also from Philadelphia.
I'm not going to get too much in depth into the under card matches on this ever changing show. However, I will start by saying this, with Jordan and Owens both currently hurt with back injuries, I would not expect their involvement to be high. In the case of Jordan, sure he is younger and may be having a good day on Sunday, and will not let most know he is hurt, I cannot say the same about Owens. While it's unknown the exact day Owens got hurt, going into Smackdown the WWE was not sure if they should write him off of the title match. They build themselves a buffer and told a story in case KO cannot go on Sunday.
AJ vs. Ko & Sami is in my opinion, a pretty easy one to call. AJ is going over and headed to Mania as champion.
The Bar vs. Rollins and Jordan is not what you would call booking 101. The Bar goes into this match ice cold losing in about every way possible in multiple weeks to Titus WorldWide. Lets at least say thanks to the booking, they asked for their rematch first before looking like total geeks. I would expect a title change here. In typical WWE booking, over the last several years it has been lose a lot before winning big. I also think it's safe to say this will be the beginning of the Rollins/Jordan storyline breakup to Mania.
The USO's vs. Gable & Benjamin, One of the highlights of Smackdown over the last year has been their tag team division. We have witnessed some of the best tag team wrestling and matches from any company in the world on Smackdown. In addition, Benjamin has been a highlight of his own since returning. It took him a few months to get back into the swing of things, however he looks better than ever. The dynamic of him and Gable works great together. I think it is time to switch these titles, and continue the program.
Kane vs. Braun vs. Brock should stay course as well with Brock going over here and Roman winning at the Elimination Chamber setting up the Mania main event.
The 1st ever Womens Rumble has been slowly getting some main stream hype, but maybe not for the right reasons. Ronda Rousey, who was the heavy favorite on most sites that let you gamble on Pro Wrestling, was the over whelming favorite to win the Rumble. However, on Friday stated she would not be at the Rumble, and not even in the country. That being said, this is Pro Wrestling and she could have been told to work the audience. Maybe WWE is already trying to do some damage control in Philly, so that fans will not be disappointed if she is not there. At the end of the day, she will be at Mania in a match. Back to the Rumble. It is interesting to note that the original plan was to have Asuka beat Alexa for the Raw Title and then go on to Mania as champion, and that Ronda's movie was not suppose to begin shooting until February. This may be a case where the plans changed, and they are holding that off, or this could have just been done to swerve fans as well. Speaking of swerve, WWE is not even letting it's women stars know the outcome for this, and it has been very hush hush over the last 24 hours. The workers feel they will not know until Sunday.Stephanie McMahon will be doing broadcasting commentary for the match at ringside, and my personal belief is that she will not get involved in the match.
The 30 man Royal Rumble Match this year leaves more intrigue than it has in many, many years. WWE has many options this year. However, as we stated here in WNW Premium in November, the plan is not necessarily for a Smackdown member to win the Rumble, but that the winner would challenge the Smackdown Champion. The two likely scenarios for the winner are Nakamura and Finn Balor. Finn would move over to Smackdown in which would be a much better fit, with the Club. He would then challenge AJ, with the background not only of the Club, but that he beat him last year in a single match. Nakamura was the one of the plans from the beginning and finally giving him that big push. For those that have seen Daniel Bryan as one of the favorite to win on certain gambling sites, all I can say is I would not hold my breath. As of this writing, anyone, myself included, have been told Bryan is still not medically cleared to wrestle. Look for Undertaker and John Cena to have a face to face and WWE does have a few surprises planed for this one.
Stay tuned to WrestlingNewsWorld.com all weekend for backstage news and information going into the Royal Rumble.