Team Red’s last stop on the road to Royal Rumble is in Oak-lah-homa Oklahoma Oklahoma (City).
I don’t need to have studied advanced principles in reverse momentum at Smarktown University to guess that a prime objective for WWE on the Royal Rumble ‘go home’ Raw will be to make Brock Lesnar & Ronda Rousey’s challengers for the Universal and Women’s titles look strong. It’s what the last few weeks worth of shows have been about. It’s what the official preview for tonight tells us this episode will be about. It’s what betting lines for Sunday’s pay-per-view (PPV) and several decades worth of watching pro wrestling tell me to expect.
That’s because no one, casual fan or weekly viewer, card-carrying WWE Universe member or MMA diehard who only follows former UFC champs, thinks Sasha Banks or Finn Bálor is winning in Phoenix this weekend. And that’s not gonna change for most of us even if Finn gets the drop on Brock while he’s jogging in place behind Paul Heyman, or Banks makes Natalya tap to secure a win for The Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection in their tag match with Rowdy & Natty.
What would change that perception, obviously for the matches at Royal Rumble, but also for all future Lesnar, Rousey and whichever dominant crossover star champions inevitably follow in their footsteps down the line? A title change in Chase Field.
Brock’s settled into a nice groove with these Goliath vs. high workrate David matches like the ones he had with AJ Styles & Daniel Bryan. At some point, even the most gifted in-ring storytellers won’t be able to get us to bite on nearfalls if we know the Beast Incarnate is going to beat everyone like they’re Braun Strowman.
And where’s the shame in getting Ronda out from the singles undefeated streak albatross in a showdown with one of her idols, an opponent all involved admit is a big step up for her. Especially if it just leads to one of Sasha’s patented brief title reigns, I’d think Rousey would embrace a kayfabe narrative which shows her getting right back up after a loss and returning to reclaim her title - isn’t rewriting her story from the shoot fighting world a reason she came to WWE in the first place?
This will likely fall on deaf ears, as Bálor and Banks come out of tonight looking strong only to lose valiantly at Royal Rumble. But what if...
The title scene
Automatic rematches are a thing of the past, so if Dean Ambrose is gonna get a chance to reclaim his Intercontinental championship from Bobby Lashley, he’ll have to earn it. Maybe if he tells the All Mighty his butt isn’t all that? He probably won’t even try, since Ambrose and Seth Rollins are following up their loss last week by focusing on the Rumble match. We better get set to hear Lio Rush say Bobby’s last name a lot.
The most dramatic thing happening in the tag division is whether or not the team which has been getting screwed over in-story is also so fed up with being screwed over behind-the-scenes that they’re trying to quit. Hey, work or shoot, it could get The Revival a shot at the Raw Men’s Tag Team titles held by... let’s see... they weren’t on television last week, were they? Maybe during those cutaways during Dash & Dawson’s win over Lucha House Party? It’s not AoP anymore, is it? Hmmm.... (it’s Chad Gable & Bobby Roode, but I really did forget at first).
Those fancy new Women’s Tag belts won’t be worn by two lucky wrestlers until after February’s Elimination Chamber show but we’re looking for some red brand pairs besides Sasha & Bayley and Ronda & Natty to make statements soon.
Other stuff to keep an eye on
- Unless everyone is too busy making statements about their plans to win the Rumble, or claim one of the nine open spots in the women’s version.
- There are twelve names yet to be added to the men’s Rumble. Could Braun Strowman be one of them? WWE.com’s preview is hinting at something for him tonight, which could mean he’s been cleared to wrestle. Or that Vince McMahon isn’t mad at him any more.
It’s the Royal Rumble ‘go home’ show!
What will you be looking for on Raw tonight?