WWE Royal Rumble 2017, the son of the granddaddy of them all, airs this Sunday, January 29, live on WWE Network and, presumably, pay-per-view. The show is headlined by a star-studded Royal Rumble match featuring Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg, The Undertaker and James Ellsworth, as well as matches for the WWE and WWE Universal Championships.
Here’s the complete card as we know it.
WWE Royal Rumble 2017 Card:
1. 30-man Royal Rumble Match (announced participants: Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, Big E, Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods, Chris Jericho, Braun Strowman, Baron Corbin, The Undertaker, Dean Ambrose, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, Sheamus, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, Luke Harper, Big Show, Sami Zayn, Big Cass, Rusev, Mojo Rawley) (8 open spots)
2. WWE Championship Match: AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena
3. WWE Universal Championship Match: Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns
4. Raw Women’s Championship Match: Charotte Flair (c) vs. Bayley
5. Cruiserweight Championship Match: Rich Swann (c) vs. Neville
6. Kickoff match: Alexa Bliss, Mickie James and Natalya vs. Naomi, Becky Lynch and Nikki Bella
7. Kickoff Match for the Raw Tag Team Championship (two referees): Sheamus and Cesaro (c) vs. The Club
8. Kickoff Match: Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax
Below are our predictions and full analysis of what should happen (and what will) for all eight matches. It’s the Royal Rumble, so you don’t need me to tell you to share these predictions and drop down into our comments section to tell us who you think will win and what’ll happen. Call it for Kofi Kingston already!
Kickoff Match: Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax
What Should Happen: Sasha Banks has an injury (because she’s always injured if she’s just wrestled a match) and Nia Jax needs to look like a monster and stay strong for a hopeful spot on a prospective WrestleMania card, so it makes sense to have Jax just exploit the injury and win, right? Banks should fight valiantly, but one of those constant Meteoras she throws should backfire and Jax should drop a big fuckin’ elbow on her leg to win the match.
Sasha doesn’t really lose anything, other than being the physical health equivalent of one of those people who doesn’t ever fill up their car and only ever tops off at like half-full.
What Will Happen: WWE storytelling rhythms tell me that since Nia is a monster and has been so confident about “breaking the Boss,” this is the match where she gets overconfident and surprisingly loses. That would set up a match for later — possibly on the actual card of Fast Lane, or like, on Raw — where she’d focus up and dominate. And then they’d have like, six more matches before they’re two of four women in a title match at WrestleMania.
Scott Heisel – I realize that not every performer can make the main card, but man, it seems bonkers that Sasha Banks is being relegated to the pre-show with the eternally not-ready-for-primetime Nia Jax. Why not just do a Women’s Rumble instead of diminishing one of your top female stars (and cramming six more into a thrown-together tag match later in the pre-show)? Sadly, I predict yet another PPV loss for Ms. Banks, as if you’re going to build Nia Jax up as a monster for WrestleMania, it might as well start here.
Justin Donaldson – I’m going with Nia Jax in this one. I think that makes the most sense right now. Without recent strong wins over Sasha and Bayley, she doesn’t really fit into the WrestleMania multi-women’s title match.
Austin Heiberg – I’d like to see Nia kick it into high gear here. There’s only so long the title hunt can go without her in it, but I think Sasha’s got this one for now.
Bill Hanstock – This prediction feels right: Sasha will surprise Nia by taking her to the limit, but will fall short at the last moment. Nia continues to be a monster to be reckoned with, and Charlotte can begin to be terrified of her turning her sights to the title.
Kickoff Match for the Raw Tag Team Championship (two referees): Sheamus and Cesaro (c) vs. The Club
What Should Happen: This show has the chance of both AJ Styles retaining the WWE Championship AND Finn Bálor returning, so can we just pull the trigger already (cough) on SOME form of the WWE-branded Bullet Club? I don’t care which direction you go in. Have them win the tag titles and help Styles retain so the crew all has gold, or have them lose and run interference in the Rumble to help Finn win. And then Finn can challenge Roman Reigns at WrestleMania. Whatever, just utilize these guys, finally, and stop running the same failed Tag Team Championship challenge every week.
What Will Happen: The two referee stipulation seems like it’s custom made for a situation where one referee thinks Sheamus and Cesaro won, and one referee thinks The Club won, leading to a no contest.
Suggestion: Mick Foley should come out and say that since there was no winner, The Club will face Sheamus and Cesaro in a best of seven series for the tag belts. Then that series ends 3-3-1, and everyone ends up in a faction together.
Second suggestion: Don’t do that.
Scott Heisel – I feel like I picked the Club for, like, five PPVs in a row, but those were all against the New Day. New year, new booking (hopefully): Gallows and Anderson get their first taste of tag gold, which makes even more sense when you realize Sheamus and Cesaro are double-booked in the Rumble match too.
Justin Donaldson – The WWE has programmed me to know that the Bulletless Club does not win matches, especially when the titles are on the line. Sheamus and Cesaro will retain and then both appear later in the Rumble solely so they cane eliminate each other.
Austin Heiberg – I think Gallows and Anderson are the guys I feel most sorry for on the WWE roster. Can we make them cartoon doctors obsessed with balls again? At least that was character development. Sheamus and Cesaro to retain.
Bill Hanstock – If The Club doesn’t win this match, they should just book tickets back to New Japan now. I’m sure Kenny Omega needs more bodies for the Bullet Club. I believe Gallows and Anderson will somehow find a way to capture the titles thanks to two referees, and maybe they’ll lose them the next night on Raw. Who knows? You can’t out-stupid how The Club has been booked thus far.
Kickoff match: Alexa Bliss, Mickie James and Natalya vs. Naomi, Becky Lynch and Nikki Bella
What Should Happen: This is a well-booked intersection of feuds, featuring a returning star, two established previous-Generation Divas getting increasingly violent with one another, and arguably Smackdown’s top babyface getting manipulated by an engaging new star and her alliance with a WWE women’s legend. So, with that said …
What Will Happen: “Naomi has pinned the Smackdown Women’s Champion!”
Scott Heisel – Tough call here, as each side has a returning competitor (Mickie James and Naomi respectively). I wouldn’t be surprised if this six-woman match turns into an elimination tag before airtime, to make sure Mickie looks good in her return as well as giving Nikki and Becky the rub. So I guess I’m picking the good gals? Truly a coin flip for me.
Justin Donaldson – I see the heels taking this by nefarious ways. Probably with Mickie James pinning Becky. I’d love to see Nikki and Natalya brawl through the arena throughout the entirety of the match, never getting in the ring.
Austin Heiberg – Are you asking me to pick against Smackdown Materfamilias Mickie James here? No can do. Veteran experience for the win.
Bill Hanstock – This is actually a good and clever way to get all six of these women on the show, end some storylines, and further others, all in one fell swoop. Becky and Mickie will further their burgeoning beef, ditto Alexa and Naomi, and Nikki will hit a big hoss forearm to Natalya’s dumb face and get the pin to put that feud to bed.
Cruiserweight Championship Match: Rich Swann (c) vs. Neville
What Should Happen: If I found a magical genie’s lamp this weekend, one of my three wishes would be for Rich Swann vs. Neville to go 15 beautiful minutes, and for the San Antonio crowd other than me to be SUPER INTO IT, justifying the 15 and giving the Cruiserweight Division its first actually great match outside of 205 Live and the Cruiserweight Classic. Also, as much as I like Rich Swann as a performer and have faith that he could be a good champion, Neville should eat him for breakfast. Just eat him up.
What Will Happen: I want Neville to win in the same way I want Neville to somehow win the Royal Rumble match and the WWE Championship on this same show, but my heart says they’ll do a Malenko/Mysterio thing here. Neville will dominate, but his confidence in himself as the King of the Cruiserweights will lead to his downfall, and Swann will pull a victory out of thin air. Either that, or TJ Perkins will stand on the announce table hitting the quan until Neville gets rolled up.
Ah, who am I kidding. Give it to Nev.
Scott Heisel – I love me some Swann, but try as he might, the crowd still is apathetic to the cruiser division at large—with the exception of Neville, who people are still popping for out of habit, no matter how nasty he glares at them. Might as well toss the belt his way and see if it garners more interest in the division. And if it means we get Cedric Alexander against Neville at WrestleMania? I’m 100% okay with that.
Justin Donaldson – Something tells me that no matter who wins, this is the leading candidate for the match I’ll be most disappointed in. I love both of these guys, but can’t imagine they’re really going to give them the spotlight they deserve I’m going with Neville.
Austin Heiberg – Listen, when you’ve got a malevolent elf-king as your division’s top heel, you take that ball and you run with it. I’ve got Neville here, but this should be fun either way. Look for distinct notes of what PWG was like before the celebrities started showing up.
Bill Hanstock – Neville should come to the ring and just split Swann in half with a broadsword, then spend the next year dragging the cruiserweight title around and one-shotting the rest of the division until he demands he be entered in King of the Ring and someone finally brings him his crown.
Raw Women’s Championship Match: Charotte Flair (c) vs. Bayley
What Should Happen: With the other two women’s matches being stuck on the pre-show, I hope this ends up stealing the show and being the match of the night. It could happen. It could also devolve into Dana Brooke interference, but I’ll stay hopeful.
As for what should actually happen in the match, Charlotte’s gotta win. The title has changed hands too much over the past six months, Charlotte’s got a pay-per-view wins streak continuing two months before the biggest show of the year, Bayley kinda shit the bed with that poems promo and hasn’t been developed enough as a Raw personality to get her big win yet. Or maybe she has, I don’t know how that works anymore.
What Will Happen: If Bayley’s winning the Raw Women’s Championship anytime soon and Charlotte’s losing on pay-per-view, it’s happening at WrestleMania in Orlando. Charlotte will retain by nefarious means, which I’m hoping include the actually-finally-premiering Emmalina. Maybe it’s a swerve, and instead of “unrepresented Instagram model” her new gimmick will be “lady Arn Anderson.”
Scott Heisel – I for one am looking forward to Bayley losing in front of 65,000 people. Flairs forever.
Justin Donaldson – Vince McMahon loves streaks more than he loves his wife. That’s actually not saying much; I’m sure there’s a lot more things he loves more than Linda. But streaks are one of them! Charlotte’s winning this one, and I’ll go ahead and call her winning whatever match she’s in at the February Raw pay-per-view as well. What is that, Fastlane?
Austin Heiberg – Bayley is getting this title eventually, but I don’t think it’s happening yet. Wrestlemania’s probably the best time to pull the trigger on such a bulletproof babyface, I think. Charlotte retains here, and I start thinking of ways we can somehow do the Four Horsewomen match in Orlando.
Bill Hanstock – Charlotte doesn’t lose on pay-per-view. Those are just the facts. I think Bayley gets screwed here and they continue to build to her big win at WrestleMania.
WWE Universal Championship Match: Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns
What Should Happen: From this week’s Best and Worst of Raw:
Speaking from a purely “guy who writes about wrestling every week” point of view, I’m pretty happy with how this plays out six days before the Royal Rumble. Before this week, it felt like a 100% certainty that Roman Reigns was going to beat Kevin Owens and win the Universal Championship. Sure, shark cage matches only have one finish — the guy put in the cage above the ring so he won’t interfere still finds a way to interfere — but I figured they’d just have Roman wrap Jericho’s interference scarf around his fist and Superman punch Owens to death.
But now, the situation is weighed too much in Owens’ favor. You’ve got Reigns dropping his secondary championship right before his big match for the main strap of the show right at the start of WrestleMania season, sure. But now you’ve got (1) the concept of the shark cage match, which almost always favors the heels, (2) Owens getting super humiliated on the go-home show before the Rumble, (3) a “no disqualification” stipulation suddenly being added, which could justify Owens using weapons to beat Reigns or the more obvious interference from whoever Reigns is slotted in to face at WrestleMania, like Braun Strowman, and (4) everyone’s preconceived assumption that Reigns is gonna win because “Roman Reigns.” I think we’re at our best place yet for Owens retaining the championship and being the champ at WrestleMania. Or at least Fast Lane.
What Will Happen: Roman Reigns has pinned the Universal Champion! And also he’s the new Universal Champion. And wasn’t it cool when he teleported up to the hanging cage like the Great Gazoo and Superman punched Chris Jericho?
Scott Heisel – Given my pick for the winner of the Royal Rumble match, it would only make sense I would also pick KO to retain here. A guy can dream, can’t he?
Justin Donaldson – I know that Kevin Owens will have better title reigns in his future, so I’m not too sad to see this lackluster reign come to an end. Spear, 1-2-3, Reigns.
Austin Heiberg – Two things here. First, WWE has to have learned from last year that Roman Reigns in a title match at ‘Mania is poison. Second of all, Owens defending against Literally Anybody at Wrestlemania opens up way more potential top-flight feuds. So, let’s do this match for the last time ever, and let’s give KO the win.
Bill Hanstock – It’s hard to disagree with Brandon’s assessment that Reigns was SO dominant on Raw that it has to be a red flag. Also, the fact that heels always win the shark tank match. Jericho drops a chain or whatever, maybe Braun Strowman kicks the everloving dogshit out of Reigns thanks to the No DQ stipulation, and the Kevin Owens Show rolls on for at least one more day.
WWE Championship Match: AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena
What Should Happen: Club interference. Or Finn-terference. Or Styles just pinning Cena clean, Cena shaking his hand after the match and someone finally, finally earning John Cena’s respect with a victory. Then you can spend the next year building Styles as the new top guy, and give him a babyface rub since nobody’s gonna stop cheering him because he’s mean to people. Honestly anything besides the expected status quo, and giving a 16th title reign to a guy who abso-goddamn-lutely does not need it.
What Will Happen: How much of a THINGS ARE NEVER CHANGING bummer would it be for both Roman Reigns and John Cena to win championships at this show? Unless Mattel is booking WWE full-time now, that shouldn’t happen. It’s nearly impossible to bet against Big Match John, but … engh, Styles retains in some kind of lightly unexpected way. Maybe Cena puts him through a bunch of tables after the match. Then, if we really need to give Cena 16 and take the belt off Styles before Mania, we can do it in an Elimination Chamber.
Scott Heisel – Trying to resist a John Cena title run is like trying to resist aging. It’s always gonna happen, whether you like it or not, so you might as well just come to peace with it and/or eat your feelings. Of course I’d like to see AJ Styles continue on his incredible run as top dog, but it’s time for Big Match Jern to bring the belt home (and probably turn the leather blue, too).
Justin Donaldson – After the promo Cena cut on Styles this past Tuesday, I just can’t imagine an outcome where AJ doesn’t win. At least I don’t want to believe Cena’s gonna win. I want to see AJ Styles on the Today Show Monday morning with the belt.
Austin Heiberg – Aw man. I’ve got a sinking feeling that this is the end of our first Phenomenal Title Reign. Cena’s known for taking the L at Summerslam, but he’s nigh-invincible at the Rumble. They probably want him as champ at Wrestlemania, so I’ll take Cena here.
Bill Hanstock – The face that runs the place more like the face that’s been replaced am I right? Up top. They’ve barely been playing up the fact that Cena is on the verge of making pretty important history, so I gotta think Styles retains (yay!) and they have other plans for Cena at WrestleMania (yay!). History can wait another year. Or until SummerSlam or whatever. So … I dunno, let’s say The Miz and/or Maryse stick their beautiful, perfect noses into this and cost Big Match John his big match.
30-man Royal Rumble Match
What Should Happen: Every year I type my “WWE should do something unexpected to validate the concept of the Royal Rumble match, and to get people to stop treating it as a booking decision and a reward for being the most obviously pushed guy,” so aside from that sentence, I suppose I’ll spare you.
What Will Happen: There are so many ways this can go. You can have Finn Bálor make a surprise return and win, get a cool mid-match moment between The Undertaker and The Demon and send Finn after Roman to crown a real official Universal Champion. Or switch it up and have Finn go after Styles. You can do the obvious thing and have the Undertaker win and challenge John Cena at WrestleMania in the ultimate High Stakes Thing. Maybe you could do Undertaker vs. Styles and have Styles bring up how weird it was for Undertaker to say Smackdown was his home, then spend the entirety of the Rumble build on Raw. Jericho could finally win the big one and challenge Owens, but that’s not gonna happen. Sami wins and challenges Owens? Maybe Dean Ambrose will win and challenge Roman, and we’ll get that Ambrose/Reigns/Rollins match they’ve already done but kept trying to do at a WrestleMania. Maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt. Bray Wyatt could win, and we could do Wyatt vs. Cena again with [begins vomiting blood]
I’m gonna play the percentages and pick Undertaker. It’s a safe bet, and I’m excited to see how hilariously wrong I am when he enters at number one and gets thrown out by Brock or whoever at number three.
Scott Heisel – Since the surprise Sheamus victory in 2012 (when the smart money was on Chris Jericho), the Rumble winners have been incredibly predictable to most everyone: John Cena, Batista, Roman Reigns and Triple H, the next four winners, were easily the odds-on favorites. This time, though? I truly have no idea who will win — and that certainly is part of the excitement of it. I don’t think Lesnar, Goldberg or Undertaker wins it, though, because what better way to truly make a new star then to have them win a Rumble that stacked? That’s why what little money I have is on Sami Zayn to pull out the surprise victory. My Final Four: Sami, Strowman, Taker, Big Show.
Justin Donaldson – I’ve spent entirely too much time thinking about who’s going to win the Royal Rumble this year, and I still don’t think I have it figured out. And frankly WWE may not have it figured out yet either. My gut tells me it’s The Undertaker. When Taker showed up on Smackdown this past November to give the Blue Team a pre-Survivor Series pep talk, he talked about how WrestleMania no longer defines him. What better way to cement that than by having The Undertaker win the Royal Rumble. On top of that, it helps make him look a little less like an old man, and more of a legitimate threat to whatever whippersnapper he’s facing at Mania. I think it comes down to Taker, Braun Strowman, Chris Jericho, and Sami Zayn, with The Undertaker last eliminating Strowman.
Austin Heiberg – First of all, I’m picturing a scenario where Lesnar eliminates the Undertaker, followed IMMEDIATELY by Goldberg eliminating Lesnar, who then gets back in the ring and screws over Goldberg. That eliminates most of our Big Scary Dude contingent. The final four are Sami Zayn, Braun Strowman, The Miz, and Bray Wyatt. Wyatt tries to mind-control Strowman, but Strowman eliminates both Bray and Miz. We get a sudden Helluva Kick from Sami to Braun, which sends him over the top. Sami puts away Strowman once and for all, with the added bonus of facing Kevin Owens for the Universal Championship at Wrestlemania. All is right with the world, unless they add five other guys and make it a ladder match because time is a flat circle.
Bill Hanstock –It’s so damn hard to pick the Rumble this year, for a million reasons. So instead of trying to figure out what WWE has planned (because god knows at any time what they’re thinking), I’m going with my heart: Chris Jericho wins his first-ever Rumble match to challenge his FORMER best friend at WrestleMania. Second choice: Samoa Joe dumps Goldberg AND Lesnar to win. Final four: Strowman, Undertaker, Jericho, Orton.