Who Will, Who Won’t, & Who Might Win The 2017 Royal Rumble

royal-rumbleFor years now, the Royal Rumble has been one of my favourite events of the wrestling calendar. There’s just something about the format that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Whether it’s the surprise debuts, the surprise returns, the great performances for either lasting the longest or eliminating the most, or simply the idea of not knowing who will be going to WrestleMania to “main event” a WWE championship match…it’s almost always exciting and unpredictable.

reigns-wins-rumbleOf course, it’s not ALWAYS unpredictable. When Roman Reigns won two years ago, it was absolutely predicted and people shit all over it. But for the most part, you never really know for sure what’s going to happen at the Rumble and/or who is going to win.

That has never been more apparent that the 2017 Royal Rumble.

While there are currently a couple of front-runners, there is a legitimate possibility that up to SIX different individuals could realistically win the Rumble this year. I think it’s only fair to review those options here (and, really, it’s the point of this whole post):

Braun Strowmanbraun-strowman

braun-strowman-3It pains me to say this, but Strowman is the odds-on favourite at this point to win it all. After initially coming to RAW, Vince’s new favourite performer was initially given a gimmick of “unstoppable monster defeating local jobbers” on a weekly basis (helping to give James Ellsworth a job on Smackdown Live, actually). But then, all of a sudden, he “graduated” to main event player in Survivor Series and has been dabbling with the likes of Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins, & Roman Reigns on a weekly basis. They are obviously getting him ready for a main-event run, so having him win the Royal Rumble makes sense.

The (very tentative) plan would to have Strowman win the Rumble, Roman Reigns beat Kevin Owens for the WWE Universal championship at the Rumble, and then for the two of them to meet in a “main event championship match” at WrestleMania. But here’s the rub…

braun-strowman-2They would NEVER be allowed to go on last. In fact, with potential match-ups of Cena vs. Taker, Goldberg vs Lesnar, and Triple H vs Rollins…the “main event championship match” could be placed anywhere else on the card without any pressure. This is a PERFECT opportunity for Vince & Company to see what Strowman can do on the biggest show of the year against his “top guy”. If Strowman sucks ass, then khali-vs-undertakerhe’ll be relegated to Great Khali territory by the end of the year (remember Khali being World champion and even pinning Undertaker at one point??). If Strowman performs at or above expectations, then you can count on seeing a LOT more of the guy over the summer months. It’s really a win-win situation for WWE because even if the match sucks ass (which it will), nobody will remember it when Mania is over.

braun-strowman-4Of course, this all might be incredibly insane to believe if the next opponent lined-up for Strowman is Big Show, who made it a point to say he was gunning for Strowman at the Rumble on this week’s RAW. In fact, Strowman wasn’t even included in the main event portion of the show, as WWE insinuated that Undertaker, Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar were the three biggest stars with potential to win it all.

The Undertakerundertaker-1

taker-vs-shane-mcmahonThe original plan (and has been for awhile now) was to have Undertaker face off against John Cena in a big-name, marquee match-up (assuming Cena wins the WWE World Heavyweight championship from AJ Styles). Last year’s injury to Cena meant that Taker had to face Shane McMahon in a major gimmick match in order to give him something to do. Having him wrestle his last WrestleMania match against “The Face That Runs The Place” would make sense, helping to set-up Cena as truly one of the best in WWE history.

taker-1Lately, though, the suggestion is that the Taker/Cena match is (again) off the table…perhaps saving it for when Taker really wants to retire. At this point, though, it looks like he’s prepared to do the part-time wrestling thing (similar to Brock Lesnar’s schedule, but a bit heavier) and after appearing on both Smackdown Live and RAW recently, the number of possible opponents for Taker to take on is quite large. He doesn’t need to win the Rumble to have a different, marquee match-up at Mania…but him winning a championship opportunity would certainly be an intriguing choice.

Chris Jerichochris-jericho-2

chris-jericho-1Let’s assume that Kevin Owens sneaks past Roman Reigns on Sunday. This means that Jericho would have a championship opportunity at WrestleMania against his “best friend”. And much to the chagrin of Owens, this is something Jericho has mentioned in promos lately as being a distinct possibility. The storyline of “Jeri-KO” has gone on a lot longer than most anticipated, which means that their WrestleMania match could mean that much more if Jericho were to go after Owens’ title.

jeri-ko-1On the other hand, Jericho just won the United States championship from Roman Reigns on RAW. This allows Reigns the “freedom” to win the WWE Universal championship from Kevin Owens at the Rumble and for Jericho to be the one defending his title against (former) BFF at Mania.

Jericho has won everything there is to win in WWE…except the Royal Rumble match itself. Will this be his year?

Bill Goldberggoldberg-2

goldberg-1I never thought I would have even suggested that Bill Goldberg had the potential to win the Royal Rumble until his post-Brock Lesnar-victory speech on RAW, where he suggested that Stephanie McMahon had asked him if he still had one more title run in him. And you can’t watch Goldberg on television and think the guy isn’t “over” anymore. The chants of “GOOOOLD-BERRRG!!” are loud and constant. Hell, even Paul Heyman is getting those chants goldberg-3without Lesnar by his side. This says that Goldberg is still uber-popular and with his quick victory over Lesnar, a win at the Rumble (which doesn’t take a ton of stamina to perform in as compared to a normal match) would cement him as a legitimate championship contender for the WWE Universal championship at WrestleMania.

And as much as it sounds crazy to write down, there is very much a possibility of Goldberg taking on either Roman Reigns or Kevin Owens for the title at Mania, as both possibilities have been teased on recent editions of RAW.

Samoa Joesamoa-joe-3

samoa-joe-1Honestly, I wouldn’t have even thought this was possible until realizing that the betting odds on the Rumble, as of this writing, have Samoa Joe listed at just 6-1 odds. Why in the world would they have him that high considering the fact that he hasn’t even debuted on the main roster yet??

joe-vs-stylesWWE reportedly has BIG plans for the Samoan Submission Machine, which includes a marquee matchup at WrestleMania. There are rumblings that the WWE wants to match Wrestle Kingdom 11’s stellar “six-star match” between Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada. One match that has the potential to reach the same type of rating is one that has been done before to five-star results: Samoa Joe vs AJ Styles.

samoa-joe-2So if WWE is as big on Joe as the rumours have it, then having him be a surprise debut at the Royal Rumble and then going on to win the whole thing would certainly be an incredible way to make a massively large statement. It sounds insane when you write it down, but when you think about it (and assuming the rumors on backstage thoughts on him are true), this is extremely feasible.

Finn BálorFinn Balor

No, Finn Bálor’s shoulder isn’t quite ready for a comeback yet. It’s better, for sure, but he’ll be defying the odds in a Cena-esque way by making it back to WrestleMania, much less the Royal Rumble. So realistically speaking, Balor probably won’t even show up in the Rumble match.

Finn Balor 3But here’s the thing: you don’t need to do much to participate in a battle royal. There’s not usually a ton of bumps or injuries that take place inside of the ring (the injuries happen once you’re thrown over the top rope). So I suppose if you put it into that type of perspective, it’s entirely possible that Bálor (currently sitting at 5-1 odds) could make his surprise return as a late-Rumble entrant.

If he does, the first-ever WWE Universal champion has as good a chance as anybody at winning the whole thing…especially if the “WWE machine” wants to get behind “The Demon” one more time and try to push him to the moon again.

There are a few dark-horses to win it all, too…

  • sami-zaynSami Zayn – Yes, there’s been talk of backstage heat and yes, he’s been getting his ass handed to him as of late, but Zayn is the perennial underdog favourite of the fans for a reason. I honestly don’t see this happening, but if he were to win then he’d probably lose his shot at Mania to Braun Strowman who would then face Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal championship. See? There are multiple ways to get to the finish line here…all while still putting over one of their most popular superstars in the process.
  • dolph-zigglerDolph Ziggler – After his recent heel turn, it’s still unlikely that Ziggler will be put into a position to actually win the Rumble, but if AJ Styles somehow gets past John Cena and retains the WWE World Heavyweight championship, then we could be in for a hella-great match between the two of them on the “Grandest Stage of Them All”. Of course, with Jerry Lawler doing commentary for the Rumble, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Lawler somehow costs Ziggler by eliminating him (or at the very least, causing a distraction that leads to his elimination). I’m hoping that’s not the case, but this is WWE we’re talking about here.
  • randy-ortonRandy Orton – I’m not exactly sure how “Orton in the main event title picture” goes with his current storyline as a member of the Wyatt Family, but his current odds are at 3-1 (just behind Goldberg!), so I suppose it’s a distinct possibility. Somebody may have to explain his odds to me, though…I just don’t understand the rationale of him winning given his past few months of storyline progression.
  • rusevRusev – I’m admittedly a huge mark for “The Bulgarian Brute” and, quite frankly, he’s not been pushed in the best spot since dropping the United States championship to Roman Reigns awhile back. But Rusev continues to turn chicken shit into chicken salad…even out-promo-ing Shawn Michaels on a recent RAW live in-ring segment. Vince & Company are still very high on Rusev’s future, as the package deal of he and Lana are great both in the ring and outside of the ring. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll win, but there’s still a chance given how Triple H says the winner will surprise most fans.

Finally, in terms of those who could still potentially win the Royal Rumble but probably WON’T…

  • NO.gifBrock Lesnar – I don’t see the benefit of Lesnar being in a championship match at Mania when there are other stars who can carry the show. What’s scary is that outside of Goldberg, there is actually serious talk of putting Lesnar in the ring with Braun Strowman as a way to really test him out.
  • no-4The Miz – No, Miz had his shot at being the face of the company and it worked for a bit before he was pushed back down the card. Now he’s seemingly poised to eventually beat Chris Jericho’s record of being a nine-time Intercontinental champion. It doesn’t make sense to suddenly thrust him into the main title picture, even if his gimmick with wife Maryse is making him a super-hot heel on Smackdown Live right now.
  • NO.gifBaron Corbin – I know the guy won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal in his main roster debut at WrestleMania last year, but I just don’t see “the machine” getting behind Corbin on Smackdown Live. At least not yet, anyway. Corbin still has a ways to go before being considered a legitimate threat at any major title, so I can’t see him being put into that type of position with a Rumble victory at this point in his career.
  • Kenny Omega – It’s highly doubtful that Omega is even going to make a surprise debut at the Royal Rumble, much less win the damn thing.

no-2

All told, the 2017 Royal Rumble looks to be an incredibly entertaining event. There are so many surprises that could take place and, really, the end result is still completely up in the air. Because of that, I’m absolutely STOKED to watch it.

But what about you? What are your thoughts on this year’s Royal Rumble? Do you think there’s a heavy favourite to win?

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New Japan’s Invasion Attack: REVIEW & ANALYSIS

ZAH Reviews & Analysis - NJPW Invasion AttackI had the pleasure of sitting back and watching New Japan‘s big Invasion Attack event from Sumo Hall on New Japan World recently. This was a big event for New Japan and a number of new storylines were introduced. I thought I’d throw up some of the thoughts I had on the tremendous show.New Japan Invasion Attack 2016 3

  • Los Ingobernables de Japan champion 2I love that there is a new IWGP champion in Tetsuya Naito. I thought his gimmick was unique and original and his Los Ingobernables de Japan faction was a great one to lead. He has worked his ass off to be the biggest heel in the company (although he was getting a LOT of cheers from the New Japan fans at Sumo Hall), so it’s great to see the gimmick (along with his tremendous in-ring skills) be rewarded. Plus, with the departures of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura added to injuries putting Haroshi Tanahashi primarily in tag team matches, it’s good that New Japan show their fans that Kazuchika Okada isn’t the only performer worthy of superstar status. This was a statement by New Japan and I think it was a great move by the company.

  • Okada vs Naito 4The match itself was fantastic. If anybody tries to make the claim that either Okada or Naito aren’t main event level talents, then all they have to do is watch this championship battle to know why they were the main event and the new faces of the company.

  • Seiya Sanada 2It was very cool to see Seiya Sanada join Los Ingobernables de Japan and make an immediate impact. This was a guy who went to North America and paid his dues. He was made to look like a cheap Great Muta knock-off in TNA and he did the independent scene for months after that. He came off looking like a genuine bad-ass and he’s now immediately thrown into a program with former champion Kazuchika Okada. You just gotta love New Japan’s way of creating new stars. Send them away for experience and bring them back as stars. WWE could really take notes here.
  • Yoshi TatsuIt was good to see Yoshi Tatsu back in action again. But really, he didn’t do anything during the match. You could tell that everybody was doing their best to protect him, so Tanahashi took the majority of the heat from the heels. He was very tentative, even when delivering what small amount of offense that he had. I never saw his pre-WWE work so I don’t even know what he’s truly capable of or if this was what he normally looked like. Whether or not he’ll ever be back to 100%, it’s hard to say right now. But he’s definitely not wrestling relaxed right now.
  • Juice RobinsonI don’t understand why Juice Robinson is the name being used by former NXT performer CJ Parker. I think the name is silly and doesn’t make any sense. I mean, can you imagine an IWGP champion named “Juice”? To me, it takes away from his talent and potential. And yeah, he’s just a “young lion” in Japan but man…if he thought getting squashed in NXT was bad, getting destroyed in New Japan while being called “Juice” can’t be much better.

  • Guerillas of Destiny 4AWESOME is the only word I can come up to describe the new brothers tag team of Tama Tonga and the former Camacho in WWE/NXT, his brother Tanga Roa. I think the new IWGP heavyweight tag team champions, the Guerillas of Destiny, have got tremendous chemistry together and I believe they can ho a long way with the company. I think very highly of Tonga and believe he can do a lot in the industry. He’s still learning (though he’s an 8-year veteran) but I think he can definitely be a singles champion in New Japan if they ever decided to run with it (i.e. Intercontinental champion, IWGP junior heavyweight champion, or even NEVER openweight champion).
  • Kushada vs Will OspreayThis was my first time watching Will Ospreay in action. I’ve heard a LOT about him, so I was very keen on seeing what he had to offer. Obviously, he had a tremendous dance partner in Kushida…but I gotta say that I was really impressed with the kid. His high-flying moves were great, but you can’t build your career on that alone. What most impressed me was his personality and how he displayed his arrogance without going full-blown heel (in fact, the Sumo Hall crowd booed Kushida and cheered Ospreay at the end of the match). As the newest member of Chaos, he’s got a tremendous future ahead of him.

Okada & Ospreay

  • Kevin Kelly & Steve CorinoI think it was really smart for New Japan to use ROH commentators Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino for the English commentary. These two not only have tremendous chemistry together, but they also know what they’re talking about. They know the performers and know their history in addition to knowing the names of the moves. They cover the “dead air” and really do a great job of making the matches interesting.
  • Michael Elgin vs Young Bucks 1I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…Michael Elgin is a goddamn superstar in New Japan and has the very real potential to be a future IWGP champion. He’s the next challenger for Kenny Omega’s Intercontinental championship, and I think he’s well on his way to being “The Man” in Japan…especially after being given the rub by Tanahashi the way he has. The crowds LOVE this guy and the smaller performers on the roster really make him look super-human. It’s a win-win for Elgin because, quite frankly, I still don’t think his style or personality works well with North American audiences (at the moment, anyway).

  • Shibata vs Tenzan 2I’ve seen a lot of New Japan matches over the past year and I got say, Katsuyori Shibata is a damn BEAST. You wouldn’t think so by just looking at him, but watch his matches with Hirooki Goto or Tomohiro Ishii or even last week’s battle with Hiroyoshi Tenzan and you’ll see that this guy is the real deal. He doesn’t have a gimmick, but his ability seems to speak for itself. I also loved how they set up Shibata’s next match as he completely disrespected legend Yugi Nagata after defeating legend Tenzan. I really enjoy that the majority of New Japan’s feuds and title matches are done this way. It’s straight up and there are no questions asked…you KNOW who will be fighting who next.
  • Roppongi Vice 2I’m really not that excited about the team of Roppongi Vice winning the IWGP Junior Tag Team Championships. No offense to either Rocky Romero or Beretta, but neither of them “do much for me”. They’re adequate in-ring performers and I know that they try to show off charisma and personality, but their in-ring styles are a little boring and their double-team maneuvers look forced to me. I guess this allows Ricochet the opportunity to see what else is out there (he’s apparently NXT-bound) but other than the Young Bucks, I’m not sure what other tag teams in New Japan are truly exciting as champions. Most teams seem to be disbanding (ex: Kushida & Alex Shelley), not competing as regularly (ex: reDRagon), or are a make-shift team that won’t last (ex: Matt Sydal & Ricochet). New Japan needs some new blood in the tag team division, in both the junior division and the heavyweight division now that Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows have left the company.

  • Cody HallI’m glad to find out that Cody Hall was okay after a very scary moment. During the 6-man NEVER Trios Tag Team Championship match, action spilled outside of the ring. Nick Jackson decided to do a plancha off the top of the entranceway and landed on Hall’s head in a very awkward way. He was taken to the hospital and it was found that he suffered a major stinger, but no major broken bone or other serious injury. I don’t know if Hall truly has a future in the business, but I never like to see anybody get hurt.Cody Hall injured

At the end of the day, this was a tremendous PPV event and one worth watching. Realistically, I don’t think I’ve seen a bad New Japan event yet within the past year or more…especially when they bring in English commentators to help their international audience (you KNOW that it’s going to be a good event when they do that).

Los Ingobernables de Japan championWith Naito the new IWGP champion, there are a ton of new match-ups available for the company when it comes to main events. The new IWGP tag team championships changing hands to a new team (Guerillas of Destiny) gives New Japan the opportunity to have a ton of new tag matches, as well. In addition, the upcoming matches for the IWGP Intercontinental championship (Kenny Omega vs Michael Elgin), the NEVER Openweight championship (Shibata vs Nagata), and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship (Kushida vs Jushin “Thunder” Liger) all look to be extremely entertaining that make up yet another event worth watching.