Last night in Phoenix, with the main roster shifting to Talking Stick Resort Arena for the second of two shows in town.
Seth Rollins didn’t make it clear, but WWE.com did. And unless they walk that back (and even if they do, it’s probably just a matter of time before it becomes official), the men’s and women’s Royal Rumble winners will - as expected - be going after Raw’s top titles at WrestleMania 35.
So where does that leave WWE champ Daniel Bryan & SmackDown Women’s titleholder Asuka? Both successfully defended their titles on Sunday’s pay-per-view (PPV), and should be done with those challengers. But that’s where their similarities end.
The Empress of Tomorrow earned a signature win when she got Becky Lynch to tap, and with The Man moved on to Ronda Rousey, has a clean dance card. Bryan got himself a heater for a less-than-clean-as-a-sheet victory, and AJ Styles will likely linger around the top of the blue brand men’s card, but probably not as a potential opponent for DB. The Chase Field crowd’s reaction to their match at Royal Rumble ended that.
There’s also a pretty obvious opponent for Asuka - the woman who ended her undefeated streak at WrestleMania last year. Charlotte Flair could still be added to the Rousey/Lynch match, but the reaction to the one-on-one moment between Ronnie & Bex made it clear it’s not necessary. Barring the arrival of more Horsewomen from NXT, Asuka vs. Flair II is the match to make.
WWE is going to tease out whether or not they take this path, though. The official preview for tonight’s episode is reminding us there’s “unfinished business” between The Queen and The Man after they were the last two wrestlers in the Rumble. Hopefully they resist the urge to make April 7’s likely main event a Triple Threat. But either way, Asuka needs to be ready to play second fiddle on her own show. WWE’s making it pretty clear Rowdy vs. The Man will be promoted on Monday and Tuesday nights for the next few months.
What about the men - who’s ready for the New Daniel Bryan, though? SmackDown’s babyface ranks aren’t exactly brimming with main eventers. The biggest name who comes to mind is Rey Mysterio. Rey may still be entangled with Andrade - it’s hard to tell if winning a best two-out-of-three falls match via outside interference-triggering DQ is really a feud ender. But what else is there? Jeff Hardy? New Day (this could rule, if they took turns challenging him while Bryan ranting about how their wastefulness with pancakes is ruining the world, but I don’t see it happening)? Rusev?
If they want to make him feel like a big deal right out of the gate, EC3 and his “One Percent-er” gimmick could be perfect - and a great way to get a rich elitist cheered at this level. But until he does more than show up as a backstage extra, he’s probably not getting an instant ‘Mania title feud.
Intrigue isn’t a bad thing, though, especially with two big singles titles programs locked in and a third with an obvious option. We’ll see how it starts to unfold tonight.
The Title Scene
They have matching ring gear, the tag team belts and the respect of the A-Lister’s dad. Fresh off beating The Bar on Sunday night, besties Miz & Shane McMahon will now have party! Hope there’s cake (for the obligatory Coast2Cake, of course).
Not only did Rusev lose the United States title to Shinsuke Nakamura on the Kickoff, he accidentally knocked Lana off the apron in the process, keeping her out of the Rumble and opening the door for The Man. Worst. Rusev Day. Ever. How will the couple bounce back, and can our second trip to Nak-america get more TV time than the first one?
Team Red started figuring out their entrants in the Elimination Chamber match which will crown the new Women’s Tag champions at the PPV of the same name on Feb. 17. Will SmackDown follow suit with some qualifiers tonight?
Other stuff to keep an eye on:
- Even if my fantasy booking plan happens and Rey eventually goes after DB, for now he’s still tied up with not only Andrade, but Randy Orton, too.
- Her husband may not be interested, but Naomi still wants a piece of Mandy Rose after the Golden Goddess took her out of the Women’s Rumble.
- Before he was eliminated by Nia Jax, Mustafa Ali sent Samoa Joe over the top rope in the men’s Rumble. Their issues are definitely not over.
- Will the NXT call-ups start to be officially signed to either brand? Or are they destined to get lost on the Road to WrestleMania?
It’s the Royal Rumble fallout show!
What will you be looking for on SmackDown Live tonight?