With the Royal Rumble last weekend the road to Wrestlemania officially got underway, and a whole lot happened this week that will inform the direction that road takes between now and April 7.
Let’s start with a look at how well I predicted the action last week. I correctly predicted the winner of 4 out of 5 TakeOver matches. The only one I got wrong was the North American Title match. In retrospect, I should have realized that Gargano HAD to win something for the sake of his momentum, but it just seemed so soon to take the title off of Ricochet.
On the Rumble event I successfully predicted the winners of 6 out of 8 matches. Yes, there were actually 10 matches on the card, but one was a late addition that I didn’t have the opportunity to predict ahead of time and I abstained from making a prediction on the Universal Title match. The only 2 I guessed wrong were the two kick off show title matches. I was genuinely surprised that Rusev lost the US Title back to Nakamura so soon. Plus, how many more times are they going to use the injured Lana angle to finish Rusev matches? It’s far too overdone. Also, while I thought they might finally pull the trigger on Itami winning his first gold, I was also pretty confident that if that were not the case then Murphy would be retaining the cruiserweight title. As we found out later in the week, there was a good reason they didn’t put the title on Itami.
The day after TakeOver Phoenix WWE released footage from after the official TakeOver broadcast ended. In this footage, a showdown between 6 of the brands biggest stars resulted in a pull apart brawl taking over the backstage area. As a result, it was announced during the Royal Rumble Kick off Show that a match between these men had been made for halftime of the Superbowl next Sunday. If you don’t care about Maroon 5, switch over to the WWE network and watch the team of Velveteen Dream, Aleister Black, and Ricochet take on the team of Adam Cole (Bay Bay), Johnny Gargano, and Tommaso Ciampa.
WWE Hall of Famer Jeff Jarrett appeared in the Royal Rumble and again Monday night in segments with Elias and Road Dogg, but these were more than just fun cameos. Jarrett has reportedly signed a new deal with WWE to work both behind the scenes and occasionally on camera. Sonjay Dutt and Shane “Hurricane” Helms have also both signed on recently to work as producers for WWE. Dutt will also likely be involved when HHH expands his developmental empire into India.
Sunday’s Royal Rumble winners wasted little time declaring their Wrestlemania intentions. At first, Seth Rollins seemed torn between slaying the Beast or going after his friend Daniel Bryan. By the end of Raw though, he was brawling with Lesnar and that seemingly indicated the choice had been made. Meanwhile, Becky Lynch was VERY clear in her intention to go after Ronda Rousey. Rumors persist that Charlotte may still be added for a 3 way main event, but I personally would much rather she get her own spot on the card so that Lynch can enjoy the solo spotlight that she has worked so hard to earn.
Women’s Tag Titles
As reported previously, the new Women’s Tag Titles will be awarded at the upcoming Elimination Chamber event. 3 teams from Raw and 3 teams from Smackdown will face off inside the chamber with the winners being crowned the inaugural champions. This week they began setting up the teams for that match.
On Raw a series of qualifying matches began. In the first match the team of Nia Jax and Tamina defeated the team of Alexa Bliss and Mickie James to earn the 1st Raw spot in the Chamber. The 2nd qualifying match saw the Riott Squad defeat the less than cohesive tandem of Natalya and Dana Brooke. The final qualifier will happen next Monday between the Boss & Hug Connection and the odd pairing of Alicia Fox and Nikki Cross.
While the ladies of Raw had to qualify their way into the Chamber, over on Smackdown Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville merely “declared themselves” for the match. If we’re supposed to believe that the McMahon family is currently controlling both shows it seems a little inconsistent that Rose and Deville wouldn’t have to earn their spot. As one of the established teams on the roster it was expected that they would be included, but all established Raw teams still had to go through the motions of earning their way in.
The reason Natalya teamed with Dana Brooke in her tag team qualifying match is that her originally planned partner had been injured. Former NXT Women’s Champion Ember Moon announced on Monday that she had injured her elbow during her 52 minutes in Sunday’s Rumble match. Unfortunately the injury requires immediate surgery. No word yet how long the War Goddess is expected to be out of action.
Dean Ambrose met with WWE officials, including Vince McMahon, this past weekend and made it clear that he did not intend to renew his contract and was uninterested in continued negotiations. Ambrose has reportedly been unhappy with booking for some time. He’s an excellent performer, but there are times that you can clearly tell that he’s unhappy with the things he’s being asked to do. He lost clean to longtime frienemy Seth Rollins on Monday night Raw. Then on Tuesday WWE officially announced that Ambrose would not be signing a new contract when his current one expires in April. Though purely speculation on my part, I feel like Monday’s Raw was the last time we’ll see Dean on WWE TV and that he’ll merely ride out the 2-3 remaining months of his contract at home.
Also finishing up with WWE this week is Hideo Itami. Itami participated in the 4 way Cruiserweight title match on the Royal Rumble preshow and also wrestled Akira Tozawa on 205 Live Tuesday night. However he has requested and been granted his release from the company. Itami originally signed with WWE in 2014 and was introduced to NXT with a great deal of fanfare right around the same time that Finn Balor was also joining the brand. Had circumstances been different, there’s no reason to believe that Itami couldn’t have been just as successful as Balor. Unfortunately, a series of injuries interrupted the Japanese veteran’s momentum. Overall itami’s run with WWE can best be described by the words unfulfilled potential as he now leaves the company having never held any titles on any of the brands he represented.
PPV Event Plans
Last but not least, here’s everything that is currently known about every PPV event up through Wrestlemania…
Elimination Chamber, Feb. 17
The Usos won a 4 way elimination match against The Bar, New Day, and Heavy Machinery to earn the SDL Tag match against current champions The Miz and Shane McMahon. Meanwhile, Daniel Bryan and his new associate Rowan trashed the WWE title and replaced it with an organic hemp version of the belt. When 5 of the top stars of the brand came out to get in his face about that HHH appeared on the screen to announce that Bryan would face them all inside the Chamber.
Women’s Tag Team Chamber match: Jax & Tamina vs Riott Squad vs TBA Raw team vs Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville vs TBA SDL team vs TBA SDL team
WWE Title Chamber Match: Daniel Bryan© vs AJ Styles vs Randy Orton vs Jeff Hardy vs Mustapha Ali vs Samoa Joe
Smackdown Tag Title Match: Miz and McMahon© vs The Usos
Fastlane, Mar. 10
No matches have yet been announced.
NXT TakeOver: New York, Apr. 5
No matches have yet been announced.
WWE Hall of Fame Ceremony, Apr. 6
Expect inductee names to begin being announced soon, so that tickets can begin being sold. My personal prediction is that The Rock will be this year’s headliner.
Wrestlemania, Apr. 7
Universal Title: Brock Lesnar© vs Seth Rollins
Raw Women’s Title: Ronda Rousey© vs Becky Lynch
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