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The first and last men in the 2018 Royal Rumble fall to the 2019 Kickoff

United States championship match

Rusev (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

The red, white and blue belt hasn’t been a fixture of Tuesday night television in a while. Fitting then that Royal Rumble will get it out of the way before the pay-per-view (PPV) portion of the card begins in Phoenix’s Chase Field on Sun., Jan. 27.

The Road to Royal Rumble

On the episode of SmackDown which aired on Christmas Day, Rusev ended a five month Shinsuke Nakamura U.S. title reign which featured... some rematches with previous champ Jeff Hardy and occasional promos about something called “Nakamerica”. But let’s not focus on the negative. It was, after all, Rusev Day!

It called for a celebration! Which was going just fine, until Shinsuke showed up and ruined everything. Rusev’s wife Lana helped the new champ fend off Nak’s attack, but when the Japanese Superstar was leveled by a Machka Kick, Mrs. Rusev got crushed:

A week later, an angry Bulgarian went hunting the low blow Artist after they each blamed the other for Lana getting caught in their crossfire. Rusev should have listened to the late, great Admiral Akbar, though...

And that’s it. They haven’t been on television since Jan. 8, and even social media’s been quiet. Although Lana could be pregnant, or a new pet owner.

What’s at stake?

The belt, for whatever that’s worth. It’s clearly not a priority on Tuesday nights, considering how often it’s been left or edited out of the script over the last six months. Should either man really want to be scripted to win it at this point? They may have a better chance of getting screen time in a non-title feud.

It’s a pretty shocking state of affairs, or at least it would be if we didn’t have a ton of evidence WWE is every bit as good at cooling people off as they are at heating them up. Nakamura won the Rumble last January, and his WrestleMania heel turn had fans more interested in him than at any other time since signing with The ‘E. Rusev started last year’s men’s battle royal and went over 30 minutes in the match, and the Rusev Day team/gimmick was as popular as a midcard schtick can be.

Now here they are, virtually afterthoughts on the blue brand and the Royal Rumble card.

Odds are it will be an entertaining match. We haven’t seen them interact since Jan. 8, and a good thing about being only one of two matches on the two hour pre-show is they won’t be rushed for time.

But it wouldn’t be shocking if one or both guys were in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal come ‘Mania. And considering what they were doing in this show’s multi-man elimination match last year?

That’s quite a fall.


Who wins?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Shinsuke Nakamura
    (68 votes)
  • 82%
    (310 votes)
378 votes total Vote Now

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