On Sunday January 24th, the Royal Rumble took place and left fans with as many questions as answers after the event. It could have stood out just because of who was involved, but it also stood out for who was not involved. It would be easy to question booking decisions and how much was or wasn’t put into the card. In thinking about the Royal Rumble, one has to wonder what comes next for the company as they move down the Road to Wrestlemania.
On the night after the Royal Rumble, the ground work was already being laid for Fastlane. At the end of the night, Stephanie McMahon announced a triple threat match as the main event, with the winner facing Triple H at Wrestlemania for the WWE World Heavyweight title. After winning the title, little to this point has been made of the champion. If anything, more is being done to elevate those contending for the title, as it rightly should. Triple H retaining the title at Wrestlemania, based on the evidence, doesn’t seem believable. Since Seth Rollins went down, the promotion has, in every way, shape or form been based on Roman Reigns. While they tease the idea of a Reigns and Ambrose split, it doesn’t seem likely that it would happen. But who knows, perhaps the creative team will split up their ‘brotherhood’ because they need to create another obstacle or challenge for Reigns to overcome. What will be interesting to see is how they plan on booking Brock Lesnar during this time.
In the first Raw since he was eliminated by the Wyatt family at the Royal Rumble, Brock came out and was confronted by Dean Ambrose. As tough and crazy as Ambrose is, that works for his character, but did it really help Brock? When have we seen someone stand up to Brock without taking a beating at the end of it? Ambrose was able to casually walk into the ring, state his claim, and walk out. We didn’t get a rationale why Lesnar allowed that to happen. It was reminiscent of the scene in the film 8 Mile where Eminem states in his final rap all the truths about himself so his opposition isn’t able to say anything. Ambrose did something similar in that he knows he’s going to get beaten up, but doesn’t care because it seems he has more guts than brains. At the end of Raw, Lesnar did make a statement and take out Ambrose with an F5 while Reigns lay on the mat. Does that mean Lesnar will go over both of them at Fastlane? I can’t see that happening. All signs are pointing to a Wyatt/Lesnar match at Mania, so I’d anticipate that they may once again prevent Lesnar from getting his championship opportunity in the triple threat match.
Another of the more significant events that took place during the Royal Rumble was the introduction and debut of AJ Styles. While some consider him as having previously been a big fish in very small pond, Styles represents so much more. He is an enormous acquisition for the company. While rumors had circulated that WWE had some issues with acquiring the former TNA talent, Styles’ value is so much greater than it ever was. He is to be commended for not resting on his laurels and seeking additional opportunities all over the world. While he competed for both Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Styles only furthered his reputation for being arguably the most complete wrestler in the world. When he and Kevin Owens locked up at the Rumble, the reaction from the crowd was electric. How could it not be? Two of independent wrestling’s biggest stars for many years were battling each other in the middle of a WWE ring during a major WWE event. It was quite remarkable to see.
This addition also opens up possibilities for other potential feuds and matches as well. It now appears as though Styles and Chris Jericho are on a course to meet at Fastlane, but will it carry on to Wrestlemania? It certainly could. Jericho’s availability for Wrestlemania seems to be a lock. A follow-up match between the two makes even more sense. Could a loss for Styles at Fastlane be possible? I’d almost be certain of it. I would even go as far as to say Jericho’s full heel turn becomes apparent during the match itself, with Styles wanting retribution for the loss at Wrestlemania. Styles is in great hands and it could be a hard-hitting affair between the two as Styles is posed to be elevated, with Jericho doing his best on his end to ensure the feud looks good for both of them. How the match at Fastlane ends is unknown, but a finish that is not clean is likely.
The tag team division is built as a two-team race, with very little in the way of creating a strong division. Has The New Day grown stale? The concern about the group has been that overexposure breeds a disinterest among fans. This is why having them do less would be worth more. Keep them off television if at all possible. While that is highly unlikely, it may allow the characters to seem fresh. It’s time to embrace some change.
The Usos are consistently putting on great matches, but are given little time to develop their characters. During their feud with The New Day, it would be ideal to see them used for their charm as well. They aren’t bad on the mic, and when given a chance are quite comical. Whether that’s improvised or scripted isn’t the point, it should be about helping to elevate The Usos once again so that they can capture the tag team titles rather than simply contend for them. There is little they have done since reforming that says that they aren’t capable of getting over with the audience. If The New Day began to garner heat, where their schtick is annoying rather than entertaining, then that’s where we could have The Usos come in and do to them what they have often done to others. Allow The Usos the opportunity to demonstrate some humor by parodying the New Day. Maybe have Rikishi appear with them and watch their back during a title match, to ensure that everything remains on the level. There are ways to go with the feud, but ultimately if it doesn’t eventually pay off with The Usos going over it doesn’t help create options within the tag team division. We run the risk of The New Day continuing to control the division because of how they are booked, rather than viable options being created by the writers.
Two of the more interesting wrestlers and their place on the card leading into Wrestlemania are Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose. While it is not a certainty that Ambrose will not compete for the WWE World Heavyweight championship, it doesn’t seem likely. Another person in the same boat would be Kevin Owens. Neither man is currently in a program, as they’ve just completed the one between them. So what options are there for either man? Well, as much as some may not like the idea of seeing Sheamus continue in a prominent role, he and Ambrose haven’t worked a program with one another. The Intercontinental title is without question something that the Celtic Warrior could contend for, as he is usually in the upper mid-card whether he is a face or a heel.
How about Owens? Could he face a former foe that would be seeking revenge against him? SamiZayn is someone that never seemed to settle the score with Owens, so retribution is all but a certainty. The question is, does it make sense to have him appear before Wrestlemania, or after? As it stands right now Zayn appears booked to perform at the next NXT Takeover event two days before Mania, which takes him out of the running. What does appear to be an ongoing issue for Owens is his battle with DolphZiggler, which has recently seen both men go back and forth against one another. Ziggler is a former WWE champion and Intercontinental champion. If there are any two men capable of having a solid match going into Wrestlemania, it’s these two. Despite Owens’ prizefighter mentality, it could be booked that the prize this time is pride and that he refuses to lose to Ziggler in the process.
With that said there are a number of guys we have to wonder about moving forward. What are the plans with Rusev, King Barrett and Alberto Del Rio moving forward? Would a tag team feud with The Dudley’s against a Barrett/Del Rio or Rusev combination work? The same could be said about Neville and the United States Champion Kalisto. We have seen what both men can do when given freedom and time to perform. They are unquestionably amongst the best workers in the company right now. It would be easy to suggest having Del Rio and Kalisto contend for the U.S title, but what about opening the door for other opportunities as well? Could a triple threat for the United States championship be an option? Neville, Del Rio and Kalisto could have a great match for the United States championship at Wrestlemania. For as many possibilities as there are out there, just as many questions remain leading into Fastlane and Wrestlemania. It would be great to think that everything has a course with all roads pointing in that direction but things tend to change plans. Injuries have without question put everything in doubt at times.
One of the questions that looms is about Daniel Bryan. Will he have a role? Does it make sense for him to even be there? All we know are for certain is that he has seen doctors and had several evaluations, but there is no clear answer. Much like a number of things with the direction of current storylines with the talent, uncertainty is a certainty.
Check out Jon Curry and me on TheMemNetwork Check out our regular Wednesday podcast @ 8pm ET. Last week’s guest we welcomed Lucha Underground colour commentator Vampiro. Join us this week when we welcome Global Force Wrestling’s Nick ‘Magnus’ Aldis and TJRWrestling.net writer Hank McAllen.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @TheMarcMadison as well.