2021 WWE Royal Rumble Preview: Anything Can Happen, But Who Will Be The bEST?
Can you feel it? That electricity in the January air can only mean one thing. It’s almost time for WWE Royal Rumble. The company’s first pay-per-view of the year is always a buzzworthy outing because it officially begins the road to WrestleMania. From world championship matches to, of course, the battle royals, many wrestling fans have this event circled on their calendar.
Beyond the inherent significance of the show, it’s typically fun because WWE often packs a lot of action into the acclaimed Royal Rumble Matches. Shocking returns, debuts, and/or storytelling moments are often sprinkled throughout the battle royals, making them appointment viewing for every fan. Despite the lack of live fans for Sunday’s show, this year’s Royal Rumble should be no different. The WWE Universe can collectively “ooh” and “ah” from their proverbial couches around the world at the surprises that WWE has in store.
With that being said, it’s time to take a look at the announced match card, with some analysis and subjective predictions for the featured bouts fans will see on Sunday.
Starting with what might be the Kickoff Match, Charlotte Flair and Asuka will defend the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships against Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler. WWE’s two odd couples in the tag division first clashed at WWE TLC last month, where “The Queen” returned from a lengthy absence and helped Asuka claim the gold. It feels like there’s something important about this match….Oh yeah, Asuka is also the reigning WWE RAW Women’s Champion, a title that she has defended with honor every time WWE tasks her with doing so.
There’s just one problem — WWE rarely books her to defend the title. Yes, she just defended the gold in a dynamic main event match against Alexa Bliss, but otherwise, recent months have seen the red brand’s women’s title look like a prop more often than not. That’s not a knock on Asuka or RAW’s talented women’s roster. But the same issue is applicable here. Flair has been tied up in a controversial storyline with her father and Lacey Evans while Asuka has been engaged in a feud with Bliss. The tag titles haven’t been important in either programs Likewise, Baszler and Jax have been involved with Mandy Rose and Dana Brooke. This championship match has received minimal build, which is a shame because it could have told a compelling story about two teams that are founded on unstable alliances. Look for Flair and Asuka to retain here, and this result should (hopefully) motivate Baszler and Jax to split up.
In case you forgot, Sasha Banks will defend the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship against Carmella. This feud is the first of two title programs that has stretched on a little too long at this point. It has incorporated a sommelier, champagne, and (technically) intergender wrestling. The heart of the matter has remained the same, as Carmella remains determined to prove that she’s naturally superior to the hard-working Banks.
Carmella’s new character has been a mixed bag, but it has added some new energy to her career on the main roster. Still, “The Boss” is practically a lock to win this match, and she should move on to other feuds on the road to WrestleMania.
Photo Credit: WWE Network
Still Head Of The Table
WWE Royal Rumble often features major world title matches, and this year is no exception. On the WWE SmackDown side of things, Roman Reigns will defend his WWE Universal Championship against Kevin Owens. This bout will be the third act in a trilogy, though the feud might have been better off as a solo outing. What began as a fantastic feud has faded into a somewhat stale story that has lost a lot of steam. Sure, Owens and Reigns will deliver a great match on Sunday. It’s a Last Man Standing Match, so these two gifted stars will put on a show. But even when you consider the classic idea of “suspending your disbelief,” why is there any reason to believe that the outcome of this third match will be any different? Owens has become familiar with Reigns’ offensive maneuvers and his dastardly tricks throughout this saga. But it’s a safe bet that “The Tribal Chief” has an ace up his sleeve that “The Prizefighter” won’t be prepared for on Sunday.
Reigns’ character work remains phenomenal, and Owens has played his role beautifully throughout this feud. Their promo segment on the go-home episode of SmackDown made this writer, who practically had given up on the feud, feel a renewed sense of emotional investment. But in the bigger picture, it feels like they’ve been doing the same song and dance since the conclusion of their match at WWE TLC. In all likelihood, “The Head of the Table” will retain once again, and he’ll maintain his firm grip on the gold heading into WrestleMania.
Image Credit: WWE
Of course, Drew McIntyre’s WWE Championship Match with Goldberg has generated the most headlines of any non-Rumble Match on this card. That’s what Goldberg does, and that’s at least part of the reason why Vince McMahon keeps bringing the WCW icon back. Goldberg brings eyeballs to the product, and he elicits reactions, for better or worse, on social media and in various publications. He makes people talk, and that’s exactly what he did with the head-scratching promo that he delivered on WWE Legends Night to start this feud. Many fans criticized Goldberg for cutting a promo that didn’t make any sense, as his message about disrespecting veterans seemed like it was meant for “The Legend Killer” Randy Orton.
In an appearance on WWE After The Bell, Goldberg recently tried to explain that, in this speech, he was using McIntyre as a representation of the locker room. That’d be fine, but this feud hasn’t necessarily focused on that angle. The former WWE Universal Champion has personally targeted “The Sexy Scotsman.” As a result, this storyline has still felt fairly illogical, and it’s hard to emotionally invest in an utterly confusing story. As for the match itself, it’s important to note that the “nightmare scenario” some fans joke about, in which Goldberg cleanly beats McIntyre and wins the title, is on the title. When it comes to Vince McMahon, even the wildest outcomes are in play on any given day. It’s a little hard to see Goldberg taking a decisive loss here, but that’d be the right move. With a win, McIntyre could firmly cement his standing as “the man” (notwithstanding Becky Lynch) on WWE RAW. This notch in McIntyre’s belt would be a crucial step up on the road to WrestleMania.
Photo Credit: WWE
Who Will Be The Best?
The Women’s Royal Rumble Match will be filled with elite talent. From main roster stars like Charlotte Flair to (possibly) NXT stars like Rhea Ripley, the field is stacked this year. But while the men’s battle royal is entirely open, the women’s match feels more settled. One of three female competitors should win the Women’s Royal Rumble Match.
“The EST of WWE” is far and away the top choice. She has been shining brightly since she arrived on WWE SmackDown last year, and she is already rocketing to stardom. Her booking has been somewhat inconsistent, as she hasn’t always looked very strong during her feud with Bayley. But Belair’s in-ring ability and her natural charisma are off the charts. On paper, Belair should win this match. She can take her record-breaking performance from last year’s match to the next level. Plus, she has a remarkable personal story that makes it so easy to root for her. Many fans are already dreaming of a WrestleMania match between Belair and Sasha Banks. A Royal Rumble victory for Belair would be a big step toward that exciting showdown.
“The Nightmare” is a distant second. To be clear, her participation in the match is confirmed. But she’s long overdue for a call-up, and she was seemingly written off of NXT last month. If/when Ripley arrives on the main roster, she’ll instantly add a lot of star power to either WWE RAW or WWE SmackDown. Ripley doesn’t need to win this match, but a victory would launch her to the top of the card on whichever brand she winds up on. It would also prove her worth to some casual fans who might not be as familiar with the young star.
Admittedly, this pick is biased. Baszler doesn’t necessarily look like a contender to win the Royal Rumble Match at this point. While she has somewhat returned to her dominant ways in recent weeks, it’s fair to say that her run on WWE RAW has been mishandled from the start. True, she got a prominent spot when she feuded with Becky Lynch in 2020. But that rivalry included Baszler’s odd debut as a borderline vampire and her clean loss at WWE WrestleMania 36. Baszler eventually won the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship alongside Nia Jax, but their run with the gold wasn’t much to write home about. Still, it’s not to late to establish Baszler as a force to be reckoned with. With some slight tweaks to her presentation and overall booking, she could be essentially repackaged a Brock Lesnar-like badass that owns the women’s division for the foreseeable future.
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Anything Can Happen
The Men’s Royal Rumble was wide open. Then Edge declared that he’ll be competing in the match, so there’s no telling what will happen on Sunday. Fans have been wondering whether top stars like Lesnar could return and win the whole thing. Or maybe WWE will call on one of its “old reliable” stars to carry the torch on the road to WrestleMania. On the other hand, maybe the company will “strap a rocket” to a young competitor that it hopes to launch into the stratosphere. Meanwhile, there’s a clear path where Edge could win the match and have a storybook run to WrestleMania to regain the title he never lost. Anything can happen in what will likely be the last match on Sunday night. That might either excite or terrify you. Either way, here’s a look at the three most likely contenders for the Men’s Royal Rumble Match. They’re all on a level playing field, at least in this writer’s eyes, because it’s so hard to separate them.
Daniel Bryan presents the first of three stories that write themselves for the Royal Rumble Winner heading into WrestleMania. Who wouldn’t want to see fans rally behind “The Yes! Man” once again, much like they did in 2014? Bryan might be the perfect choice as the WrestleMania opponent for “The Head of the Table.” Roman Reigns has become a despicable, unstoppable, and impressive villain on WWE SmackDown. On the other hand, Bryan is as heroic as they come. He’s genuinely likable, and cheering for him is practically second nature. He could even take the Kevin Owens angle about feeding his family to the next level. Everyone knows Bryan is a family man, and something seems magical about Reigns threatening to take the food off of the fan-favorite’s dining room table.
Sometimes, the best stories are the most basic and predictable ones. Many fans expect Bryan to win on Sunday, so his victory won’t have as much of the sock value as other options. But it’s fair to say that he presents one of the most intriguing stories. A clash of good and evil between the villainous Reigns and the virtuous Bryan sounds like it was made for “The Showcase of the Immortals.”
Many of the same elements of the argument about a potential Bryan victory are applicable here. Somewhat predictable? Check. Big E is rapidly rising as a singles star on the blue brand, and he has even clashed with Paul Heyman in some heated segments on Talking Smack in recent weeks. Natural story? Check. Big E. like Bryan, is as likable as they come, if not more so in a different way. Whereas Bryan is serious when Chad Gable isn’t teaching him that it’s all about the hips, Big E oozes comedic timing. He often swivels his own hips, makes silly facial expression and drops some hilarious jokes into his promos. But it’s clear that beneath his humor, there’s a fiery competitor that’s ready, willing and able to step up to “The Tribal Chief.” This showdown sounds electric because both men have been excelling in their respective roles. Still, it’s worth noting that a match between the two wouldn’t be purely ideal, as one of them would have to lose at the biggest show of the year. A defeat at WrestleMania could crush Big E’s momentum, and it’d be a somewhat quick turnaround to develop him into a world champion by April. (To be fair, WWE did just that with Drew McIntyre last year.)
Still, fans have been clamoring for Big E to get a main event run for years now. 2021 might finally be his time. It’s a new day, yes it is, and that could spell a Royal Rumble victory for the reigning WWE Intercontinental Champion.
Then, of course, there’s Edge, “The Rated R Superstar” himself. A WWE Hall of Famer, Edge was forced to retire due to a neck injury shortly after he retained the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 27 in 2011 Nine years later, he made his thrilling return at WWE Royal Rumble 2020. If you have any doubt that Edge is still extremely over…
— WWE (@WWE) January 27, 2020
That’s not a nostalgia pop. That’s a deafening ovation for a beloved star. After that return, Edge entered an incredible, award-winning feud with Randy Orton. During this rivalry, Edge proved that he can still go in the ring and he’s unparalleled on the microphone. His emotional promos give many viewers chills. An injury put him on the shelf for the second half of 2020 , but he’s coming back (again) at the Royal Rumble. The benefit of announcing this move ahead of time is that by doing what he does best, Edge sold the audience on his potential main event match at WrestleMania. Fans were robbed of the chance to see “The Ultimate Opportunist” enjoy a full WWE career. Now that he’s back, it would be so heartwarming to see him chase a title at “The Showcase of the Immortals,” and so potentially crushing to see him lose.
It’s easy to connect the dots and fantasy book a match between Edge and Roman Reigns. (It’d be the battle of the Spears, but better!) In all seriousness, Edge is a fitting choice to challenge Roman Reigns’ tyranny on the blue brand, a show that “The Rated R Superstar” was often associated with in his prime. Plus, Reigns would have some natural material for his increasingly amazing promos, as he could claim that Edge is trespassing on the “Island of Relevancy.” If this rivalry isn’t narrative gold, what is?
Again, anything can happen on Sunday. Some fans think Bryan is the favorite to win the match, but he could wind up being the first star who gets eliminated. There’s just no way to know, and that’s the beauty of the Royal Rumble. You’ll just have to tune in and find out.