We are just about 24 hours away from the 27th annual edition of the WWE Royal Rumble. The show is live from the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Royal Rumble debuted in 1988 as a free television special on the USA Network and then became a pay per view spectacular starting in 1989. In an era of twelve-plus pay per views a year, the Royal Rumble is still considered one of the company’s “big four,” alongside WrestleMania, SummerSlam and The Survivor Series. Because of its longevity and stature in the company’s annals, it is fitting to give the show a full preview, just hours before pay per view emanates live.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
John Cena v. Randy Orton
Whether anyone likes to admit it or not, this has become THE feud of the current WWE era. The two men came up through WWE’s farm system in 2002 and were treating as rising stars since day one. They were kept virtually separate until 2007 at which point their rivalry truly kicked off. Since then they have battled on pay per view numerous times in various singles and multi-man matches.
The most recent chapter of their story kicked off in December 2013 when Cena, as World Heavyweight Champion, challenged Orton, as WWE Champion, to a match to unify the Championships. The bout took place in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at the aptly named TLC pay per view. Orton came out of that match with the victory and become the true unified Champion.
This rematch is scheduled to a traditional singles bout to settle the two men’s score for the time being. Whoever wins this match will determine the direction WWE goes in heading into WrestleMania season. Smart money is on Randy Orton retaining the Championship here and going into WrestleMania XXX as Champion. He has too many viable challengers in front of him, namely Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar and Batista, not to be used in the role of Titleholder.
John Cena remains a viable draw even without the Championship. Keeping him away from the Title going into WrestleMania allows WWE to present Cena in a special attraction match at the event and allow for another main event level bout.
The Big Show v. Brock Lesnar
Ever since Brock Lesnar returned to WWE the night after WrestleMania XXVIII his appearances have felt like a big deal. All of his television appearances and pay per view bouts have been calculated and meticulously planned.
Which is why this match seems like a letdown. Lesnar returned to WWE once again on the last episode of RAW of 2013, laid claim to being the number one contender to the WWE World Championship and called out the locker room. Mark Henry answered the call but got destroyed by Lesnar. A week later again, Henry came looking for Lesnar but found his arm broken by a kimura lock. That was when The Big Show made the save and this rivalry was renewed.
These two are no strangers to each other, as The Big Show was Lesnar’s first major challenger after originally winning the WWE Championship back in 2002. They battled on pay per views at the end of 2002 and all throughout 2003 in various incarnations. They even found themselves as allies in late 2003. They certainly add undeniable chemistry as opponents and brought the most out of each other.
In their two most recent in ring confrontations, The Big Show has thrown Lesnar around the ring like a child in order to build momentum, but in reality this is just a stopgap rivalry for Lesnar on his way to something greater in 2014. The Elimination Chamber pay per view in February is held in Lesnar’s adopted hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota and surely “The Beast” will be a huge part of that event. Plus there are money matches waiting for him against the combination of John Cena, Randy Orton and or Batista in the springtime. Look for this to be a mere steppingstone for Lesnar.
Daniel Bryan v. Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt and his Family have been stalking Daniel Bryan since late 2013. The cult-like Wyatt has been using his words and actions to get in Bryan’s head. Through various matches, backstage beatings and outright abductions, Wyatt has been trying to get Bryan “to see the light” and join his Family. Wyatt and his minions (Luke Harper and Erick Rowan) defeated “The American Dragon” in a 3-on-1-handicap match back at the TLC pay per view in December, but the rivalry continued to grow.
On the final RAW of 2013, Bryan battled The Wyatt Family in a gauntlet match that led to another beat down. Finally at the end of night, Bryan agreed to finally join the family and was indoctrinate into the group though abuse. The next two weeks saw Bryan work alongside The Family in tag bouts as fans around the world cried in anguish. But at the end of the January 13 episode of RAW, Bryan turned on Bray after a loss in a Steel Cage Match to Jimmy & Jey Uso. The crowd erupted in glee as Bryan tore of his Wyatt Family garb and laid a beating on Bray Wyatt. The show ended with Bryan sitting high atop the cage leading the crowd in Providence, Rhode Island in a resounding “Yes!” chant. Daniel Bryan became a “made man” that night.
This match (and storyline) could go a lot of ways. But all eyes are pointing on Bryan decimating Wyatt in convincing fashion and then finding his way into the Royal Rumble match en route to earning a WWE World Championship bout at WrestleMania XX.
WWE Tag Team Championship (Pre-Show Kickoff Match)
Goldust & Cody Rhodes (c) v. The New Age Outlaws (The Road Dogg & Billy Gunn)
On the Old School edition of RAW on January 6, The New Age Outlaws found themselves as allies of CM Punk of all people in his war against The Shield. Not surprisingly, The Outlaws turned on Punk a week later during a six-man tag bout. They then managed to sneak out a non-title victory over The Rhodes brothers on the January 17 edition of SmackDown, which earned them this Title opportunity.
The Outlaws are considered “Legends” and past their prime in today’s WWE canon, but behind the scenes both are doing great work for WWE. Gunn is a trainer at the new WWE Performance Center and Road Dogg is a regarded backstage producer. Both are clean and sober and like Goldust, are experiencing a career resurgence. On screen they are playing up the past relationship between The Outlaws and WWE COO Triple H.
That could come into play here as The Outlaws could easily find themselves as Champions once again as a storyline device going into WrestleMania XXX and the rivalry between Punk and Triple H. It could also set the seeds of dissension between The Rhodes brothers and lead to the one-on-one WrestleMania bout between the two that Goldust has been clamoring for since about 2010.
The Royal Rumble Match
Batista, Alberto Del Rio, CM Punk, WWE Intercontinental Champion Big E Langston, The Miz, R-Truth, Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston, Cody Rhodes, Goldust, Rey Mysterio, Fandango, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, WWE United States Champion Dean Ambrose, Erick Rowan, Luke Harper, Damian Sandow, Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso.
Twenty participants have been announced officially. Expect five spots to be left open for surprises, returning legends, returning superstars and random appearances. Mainstays on the roster and/or participants should fill the other five spots from earlier matches, most likely Brock Lesnar and Daniel Bryan.
Check out the exhaustive man-by-man preview of the Royal Rumble match.
Also, a WWE Divas Championship bout between Champion AJ Lee versus Naomi of The Funkadactyls has been rumored to be happening and could be added to the card last minute once the timing of the pay per view has been finalized.