WWE returns to pay-per-view (PPV) tomorrow night (Sun., Jan. 26, 2014) live from the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania , with its Royal Rumble event starting at 7:30 p.m. ET with the free live streaming pre-show featuring the New Age Outlaws challenging the Rhodes Brothers for the tag team titles leading right on into the PPV main course at 8 p.m. ET.
It's a solid line-up.
For starters, there's the 30-man over-the-top-rope battle royal. No big deal, just the Royal Rumble match. Then, Randy Orton defends his WWE world heavyweight championship against John Cena in a rematch from TLC last month. Elsewhere, Brock Lesnar is back for a HOSS FIGHT against Big Show and Daniel Bryan will look to exorcise his demons by laying Bray Wyatt to rest.
Luckily for you Cagesiders, our staff of learned wrestling blowhards is here to help figure out just how the event is going to play out with predictions for each match on the card.
Let's get to it.
WWE ROYAL RUMBLE PREDICTIONS
The General: On the surface, this Rumble is as predictable as last year when John Cena won to go on to challenge The Rock at WrestleMania. Now, it looks like Batista will win to go on to challenge Randy Orton at WrestleMania. That's a big step down. My attitude on this match is going to be to enjoy the stories told throughout it instead of the end result, because I know I'll be disappointed with that. Pick: Batista
Sean Rueter: My pick in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match telegraphs my pick here, but I can spice it up for you with some other, more likely to be wrong, predictions. The Best in the World will last 30-ish minutes, but get eliminated by Kane - entering around 23 as a surprise to add to his career eliminations total and move us closer to Punk vs Triple H, Part Deux. Goldust eliminates Cody. Cesaro accidentally swings someone into Swagger, and knocks him to the floor. Miz spoils Kofi's big survival spot, but WWE will both forget that they were supposed to continue their program and decide they don't want Miz to be a heel by Tuesday's Smackdown taping. Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan and Chris Jericho will not be in the match. Sheamus, RVD and X-Pac will. Roman Reigns will directly eliminate Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins on his way to the final two, where he'll be eliminated by... Pick: Batista
Hulk Holland: Well, now that Batista has returned and is already getting in Randy Orton's face, it's hard not to favor him to win the Rumble, especially knowing that he's signed a two-year deal that puts him back in the main event picture for the foreseeable future. I honestly don't think "The Animal" would have agreed to come back without a title run so we can go ahead and call this one a lock, even if most fans don't like it. If there is any justice in this world, he'll at least eat a spear from Roman Reigns before eliminating him. Pick: Batista
Keith Harris: Looking at the line up there seems to be only one winner. It's too early to pull the trigger on Big E Langston. Ditto Roman Reigns, who will likely get tossed by one of his Shield chums to start the inevitable break up angle and his monster babyface push to the top of the card. It seems inevitable that CM Punk will get screwed by The Authority. They could always throw a curveball by having Alberto Del Rio cheat to win and being forced to put his WrestleMania title shot up for grabs at Elimination Chamber against his victim, but I don't think anyone will buy that finish with such a tired act who's only in his current high profile position due to a lack of better options. The impressive 3.5 rating for Batista's return on Monday night sealed the deal, he's winning the Rumble again, even though a surprise Daniel Bryan victory with the fans showering him with Yes! chants would be a lot cooler to see. Pick: Batista.
Last Eliminated: I expect WWE will go by the book and have Alberto Del Rio be the last guy tossed out by Batista. Pick: Alberto Del Rio.
Iron Man: Like Dolph Ziggler last year, the man who was named the number one entrant in advance will last till the dying moments of the match before falling short of achieving his road to WrestleMania dream. Pick: CM Punk.
Quickest Out: Maybe Jake "The Snake" Roberts if he's brought back for a cameo spot. Someone like Zack Ryder or Santino Marella, if not. Pick: Not sure.
Most Eliminations: I'll go with Roman Reigns, as WWE will want him looking super strong before getting chucked out. Pick: Roman Reigns.
Kanenite: This match is filled with a ton of talented superstars. That should make for a very fun spectacle, but I think all of the obvious predictions are going to come true: Batista will win, Reigns will eliminate the most men, and Punk will be the Iron Man. One of the more interesting things to keep an eye on here is which mid-card guys get left out of the match. With possible returns of RVD, Sheamus, Jericho, and a few legends, not everyone is going to make the cut. But you can bet that The Great Khali will find his way in there. Batista and Punk are currently the only two advertised wrestlers in the match that have a reasonable chance to win, so let's hope that WWE adds Bryan to the mix as well. Pick: Batista
Eric B. Stephen: And now for the match that sells the entire PPV for most people. If there is only one you can watch in a given year, it should be the Royal Rumble.
- Iron Man: CM Punk. It's hard to pick against the guy you know they are setting up for a big storyline and who was forced into the #1 spot by the evil bosses. Expect Punk to hang on until the final four, when I fully expect an Authority related shenanigan to end his run.
- Most Eliminations: Roman Reigns. This has been rumored for months now, and if WWE is serious about pushing this guy to the moon this year, kicking off such a run with a crazy Royal Rumble rampage will certainly get him started. I also fully expect two of his eliminations to be of Shield-mates Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.
- Winner: Batista. While I'd welcome a major swerve that shakes up the WrestleMania season, I'm not betting against Batista here. WWE is paying him a lot of money to show up and carry the show for at least a few months, and I highly doubt he is losing in this match.
Randy Orton vs. John Cena
The General: WWE has spent zero time building towards Batista vs. Cena and the reality is Orton is probably the safer play in that regard. Cena, surprisingly enough, is far more versatile in how WWE can count on him. If they want to put together a match featuring Cena against (Insert superstar here) just to allow Hulk Hogan to be his manager for the night, and Roddy Piper to be the other wrestler's manager, that would work just fine. And there are a lot of other ideas that could work out just fine, none of which involve his being WWE world heavyweight champion. Pick: Orton
Sean Rueter: The most interesting thing about this match is that, even though I feel like Randy has finally found his voice as a paranoid heel champ, they have me rooting for Cena for the first time in I can't remember how long. In my opinion, it makes the most sense to have him front and center during The Network's launch over the next few months. I think the potential match-ups against everyone from Brock and Batista or Bryan and Punk are more interesting with him as champ. And the last two years of setting up the 'Mania rub from Rocky feel even more wasted if they aren't even going to book him like Super-Cena any more. But I think they're on a collision course with Orton vs. Batista for WrestleMania. They (probably correctly) believe they can market it as the third or fourth biggest match on the April 6th card, and Monday's ratings give them the justification they need to proceed with a summer run for The Animal. Pick: Randy Orton
Hulk Holland: Until Batista turns heel, there is no way he's going to get into a feud with John Cena. At least not this early in his return, as he slowly works to rebuild his audience. Murking the promotion's top babyface would effectively eliminate half the fan base so for now, it looks like his destiny is a WrestleMania 30 collision course -- and eventual title win -- against Randy Orton. Whether or not it happens with the help of The Authority remains to be seen, but either way, make way for the latest Randall scandal. Pick: Randy Orton
Keith Harris: Yawn! Randy injures John's dear old dad, didn't we see that once before already? I give Orton credit, he's starting to make Cena's superman routine seem fresh and exciting in comparison with his constant break-ups and make-ups with The Authority. But we'll have to wait till WrestleMania 30 for that to change, given that there's only one world title now and all the likely Royal Rumble winners are babyfaces. Pick: Randy Orton.
Kanenite: How can WWE hype up last month's TLC match as the biggest match of all-time and then expect anybody to really be invested in a plain rematch? They even copied a past storyline with these two, as Orton once again attacked Cena's father. There's nothing innovative or interesting going on in this feud. It seems pretty clear that Orton is going to walk out as champion here so that he can continue being paranoid of Batista and Lesnar as Elimination Chamber approaches. Pick: Randy Orton
Eric B. Stephen: For the 1329th time, we've got John Cena vs. Randy Orton. Can't you just feel the excitement in the air for this one? We've had the cliched "Randy beats down family member" moment, and let us not forget the awkward "Cena chases Orton out of the arena to a conveniently placed SUV" moment...I'm really not sure I have anything serious to say about this match, other than that I might tune out if this match takes place after the Rumble match itself because I really just don't care... Winner: Randy Orton
Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show
The General: This match is nothing more than a showcase for Lesnar to go over big on his way to whatever it is he'll be doing at WrestleMania. I actually think if the plan is for him to work Undertaker at the big show, than we might get an appearance from "The Deadman" after he destroys Show. Pick: Lesnar
Sean Rueter: Heh. Heheheh. HaHaHaHaHa. Oh, you're serious? If this ends without The World's Largest Stretcher and/or The World's Largest Arm Sling, I'll be shocked. Pick: Brock Lesnar
Hulk Holland: This is a pretty easy pick because Big Show is just a commercial for Brock Lesnar's WrestleMania 30 bout, which will undoubtedly be against a bigger draw. When you work such a limited number of matches and have a catchphrase of "Eat, Sleep, Conquer, Repeat," you can't go out there and get clowned in your first contest of 2014. The entire reason we watch Brock is because he's a killing machine and the only time he can lose is right before he leaves, so fans have a solid eight months to forget about it. Pick: Lesnar
Keith Harris: Despite his mammoth size, Big Show ultimately flopped as WWE's lead babyface going into Survivor Series. So badly he bombed in the role, it seems a waste of one of Brock's expensive pay-per-view appearances for this match to even take place. At least Show never had to lay down for The Game, so Lesnar's complete and utter annihilation of him here will mean more.
Kanenite: If Brock Lesnar can manhandle Big Show just as effortlessly today as he could in 2003, this should be a fun match. But is it really the best idea to expect Big Show's body to withstand multiple bumps like that 11 years later? This bout is the easiest match on the card to predict, and that is saying something. Lesnar is moving on to either challenge for the title or face the Undertaker, so there is no chance in hell that Brock loses this one. Pick: Brock Lesnar
Eric B. Stephen: HOSS FIGHT! I have to say that I feel the odds of Lesnar losing in this haphazardly thrown-together match are roughly the same as the odds for Kofi Kingston winning the Rumble...not a good sign for Big Show. Lesnar is going to come out of this looking mighty strong for whatever they have planned for him next. Winner: Brock Lesnar
Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt
The General: I'm glad they're paying this match off but I have no idea what to expect. Bryan's line, that he finally gets Wyatt alone because Erick Rowan and Luke Harper are busy with the Royal Rumble makes no sense considering this is probably the first match of the PPV card. Either way, Bryan should go over clean here, in a really big way. It should be most interesting to see how it's put together. Pick: Bryan
Sean Rueter: The outcome of this one is the most up in the air, and will probably be discussed and debated the most after the fact. I feel so strongly that both men need the win that I'm mostly just mad that this match is on the card. DB really should win; he's the face, he's headed to a co-main event caliber match at WrestleMania and, at least among diehard fans, he's the hottest act wrestling has seen in years. Wyatt is the future; he owns his unique and legitimately creepy character, his promo ability is off the charts and those two factors mean he can be used in a whole bunch of different ways for a whole bunch of years. But Bray hasn't quite been booked like The Shield, and he needs some victories and/or accomplishments for fans to completely buy in to his taking the next step up the card. Something like an attack by The Family could protect everybody (including Bryan's maybe still delicate head), but I think this is the end of this program, and that doesn't get them there - even if Bryan sneaks into the Rumble to eliminate Luke Harper and Erick Rowan as revenge later on. No, I think The Beard has to win here. And I hope they have a plan to build The Wyatts back up post haste. Pick: Daniel Bryan
Hulk Holland: This is actually a challenging pick. I'm pretty sure Bray Wyatt is moving on to a new program with John Cena at WrestleMania 30, so he would hardly seem like a credible threat if he's coming off a major loss at The Royal Rumble, especially while he's still evolving as a heel. You can argue that Daniel Bryan doesn't need the win to stay over, but it's hard to have a guy this hot fall on the big stage, unless it happens due to outside interference that is a segue into a new program with a different foil. Yeah, I'll go with that. Just don't ask me who. Pick: Bray Wyatt
Keith Harris: Daniel Bryan's right - WWE still probably doesn't see money with him, even though his cute chants recently got mainstream exposure in a major college basketball game. However, they do see money in Bray Wyatt, who is golden on the mic and has a creepily imposing presence. This feud was always designed more to help get Wyatt over than rehab Bryan's image. As always, Bryan will be the best man, but never the groom. Pick: Bray Wyatt.
Kanenite: I think the best way to start the show off hot is to give Bryan the win here and have the entire arena YES'ing their hearts out. Bryan lost to the Wyatts at TLC, and it doesn't really make sense to have him lose on PPV to them again. At the same time, Bray Wyatt desperately needs a win over a star of Bryan's caliber. I think Bray Wyatt will have to wait for a Raw rematch for that to happen. Pick: Daniel Bryan
Eric B. Stephen: Ah yes, the match to "conclude" a feud that seemed to come to a very satisfactory conclusion with Daniel Bryan leading a "YES!" chant from atop a steel cage. Really, this match is basically to keep two guys WWE wants to protect out of the Rumble match were too much else is going on already. Though I don't like going against the "Law of Go Home Shows," (where whoever stands tall on the "go home" show loses 90% of the time on the PPV,) by picking Bryan here, that's exactly what I'm going to do. Winner: Daniel Bryan
Cody Rhodes & Goldust vs. New Age Outlaws
The General: I actually think it's possible the Outlaws win the tag team titles here if only because WWE is trying to get everyone all nostalgic for the Attitude Era in advance of the WWE Network launch on Feb. 24. If Road Dogg and Billy Gunn are running around with the tag belts, that might serve their purposes. Ah, hell with it, I'll go with it. Pick: Outlaws
Sean Rueter: With Los Hermanos pulling double-duty tonight, a title loss is probably just the thing to set the stage for some 'every brother for himself' action in the Rumble. Here's hoping that, if I'm right, the Outlaws put both of the 'T's in transitional and quickly kick the bronze eagles over to the soaring Uso boys. Cody and Goldy will do most of the work, some miscommunication will cost them the titles and The Bizarre One will eliminate Cody from the main event. Pick: New Age Outlaws
Hulk Holland: What bothers me most about this match is that you can make a credible case for The Stone Age Outlaws coming out on top, assuming you work it into The Authority angle. It wasn't that long ago when Cody Rhodes was fired, Dusty was knocked out and blah, blah, blah. Having said that, the best way to get fans psyched up to buy a pay-per-view (PPV) is to have them feeling good, not bummed, so the faces going over is probably best for business -- literally -- and even if it wasn't, it certainly beats a geriatric title reign. Pick: The Rhodes Bros.
Keith Harris: Although The New Age Outlaws recent nostalgia return has been well received and they've held their side of the bargain in the ring, they haven't rolled back the clock like Goldust have. Thus, putting the belts on Hunter's pals here would be a serious step back for WWE's tag division that has been revitalised in the past year thanks mainly to The Shield, The Rhodes Brothers and The Usos, and I think WWE recognises this. So Dusty's sons will keep their tag gold for another month yet, at least. Pick: Cody & Goldust.
Kanenite: I could see a scenario where the New Age Outlaws win the championships and transition the titles over to the Usos right away, but I don't think a pre-show match of a PPV is the best place to do it. And the timing isn't right either, as Cody and Goldust haven't really had any significant conflicts come between them yet that could precipitate a sudden title change. Pick: The Rhodes Brothers
Eric B. Stephen: Don't bother to check the date, it is indeed 2014. Yet here we are with three guys pushing 50 in this match. At least Goldust has been doing some of the best work of his career in this return...the same can't be said about the NAO, who look like a couple of old men huffing and puffing their way through matches. Regardless, I expect the Outlaws to leave this match as champions and kickstart the breakup of the Runnels Bros. tag team. Winners: NAO
Those are our predictions, Cagesiders. What are yours?