Last night (Jan. 14) on Raw, WWE changed one of the main events of Royal Rumble.
It’s become a bit of a pattern for the company, changing a major pay-per-view (PPV) match just weeks before the event. Finn Bálor replacing Braun Strowman as the challenger for Universal champion Brock Lesnar comes after Daniel Bryan won the WWE title to get a match with Lesnar at Survivor Series instead of AJ Styles, a move allegedly done in part to prevent Styles from taking another high profile loss. And Evolution was promoted with an Alexa Bliss/Trish Stratus bout to sell tickets, despite the company knowing a Bliss injury always meant we’d get a Mickie James & Alicia Fox vs. Stratus & Lita tag.
Today, the reports have started to come in on why we’ll now be getting Bálor vs. Lesnar at Chase Field in Phoenix on Jan. 27 instead of Braun vs. Brock. And this situation may share reasons with both of those situations.
Wrestling Observer and PWInsider’s stories contain a lot of overlap, but one area where they disagree slightly is on the role Strowman’s recent elbow surgery played in the decision. Insider says that Braun isn’t 100% cleared and infers that played a role in the change. On Observer Radio, Dave Meltzer insists, “Brock Lesnar vs Finn Bálor was always the main event of the show.” In the Observer version, Strowman was advertised as Lesnar’s opponent for so long because, like the Evolution scenario, WWE thought it would sell more tickets for the stadium show.
Both sites agree that Vince McMahon & team didn’t plan on having Lesnar lose at Royal Rumble, and were concerned about how another loss to the Beast would impact Strowman long-term. The Observer reports McMahon is said to have noticed the Monster Among Men was “cooling off”, and felt the injury angle they had to run to cover for his elbow surgery also weakened him, so another loss on a big stage would be hard to overcome.
Meltzer says the plan is to have Brock win in Phoenix and then face Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 35. That allegedly remains the plan, and doesn’t bode well for Finn’s chances. Likewise the concerns about Bálor/Lesnar selling tickets, and Vince’s reportedly settling on the Irishman because he didn’t feel he had a lot of choices.
The good news is, Insider says the feeling backstage is that Finn & Brock would not only be a better match, but a better story. Both sites agree that Lesnar wanted Bálor, as working smaller guys in David vs. Goliath bouts is his preferred match type these days. The Observer reminds us of last year’s report that a match between the two was under consideration for the 2018 Royal Rumble, but Vince nixed it over concerns Bálor wasn’t “over”. Brock apparently wanted the match then, too.
We’ll have to wait and see what’s in the cards for Finn on the Road to WrestleMania. His recent booking was all leading up to this move, but it’s not clear what happens to him after putting Brock over in two weeks. Insider says Lesnar/Strowman will be saved for another time. In the meantime, Braun isn’t guaranteed any role at the Jan. 27 PPV, since it’s not a definite he’ll be cleared.