By Chuck Carroll
As of mid-week, Shinsuke Nakamura remains the favorite to win the Royal Rumble. Some books have the Japanese star at even money. Oddsmakers have also taken shine to the possibility of Daniel Bryan coming out of retirement to win the 30-man over-the-top-rope match. The General Manager of SmackDown Live is getting odds of anywhere from 3/1 to 7/1 to earn a spot in the main even of WrestleMania. That’s puts him ahead of the likes of John Cena, last year’s winner Randy Orton, Finn Balor, Dolph Ziggler, and Seth Rollins. Aside from Nakamura, the only other wrestler with shorter odds is Roman Reigns.
In the other Royal Rumble match, the undefeated Asuka favored to win the historic inaugural bout for the women. As was the case with Daniel Bryan, oddsmakers are also keen on the idea of Ronda Rousey being a surprise entrant, and some sports books actually have the ex-UFC titan ahead of Asuka. SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Nia Jax and Nikki and Brie Bella are also among the favorites. RAW Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss is down the list a bit, and in one case even behind AJ Lee who hasn’t wrestled in nearly three years. There’s also the issue of her husband CM Punk’s bitter divorce from WWE.
In the Universal Championship triple-threat match, Brock Lesnar is favored to retain his title against Braun Strowman and Kane. The latter is facing the longest odds to walk out of the ring as champion.
In 2017, Rolling Stone and Baltimore Sun contributor Aaron Oster proved to be pro wrestling’s version of The Amazing Kreskin for pay-per-view picks. Scott Fishman of TV Insider and I simply were not in his league. Like The Young Bucks, Oster was elite and we were anything but.
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But the calendar has flipped to 2018, and the slate is wiped clean. The redemption tour begins now.
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
Chuck: You would have to charge WWE with the murder of Roman Reigns’ career if “The Big Dog” wins. Frankly, the riots would extend beyond Philadelphia, where the match is being held, and spill onto streets as far as Paris. So, in the interest of keeping the peace as well as keeping pace with Aaron, I’m going with the betting favorite. Pick: Shinsuke Nakamura
Scott: One of the favorites to win the Royal Rumble, but it’s more than that. There has been something missing from the way Nakamura has been portrayed and used in WWE since he arrived from the main roster. A win in the Royal Rumble match gives him something to build upon, renewing his image as a viable threat for the WWE championship. Plus, I think AJ Styles versus Nakamura on the biggest stage possible would be a slam dunk. The “King of Strong Style” has the most to gain with a historic win such as this. Imagine the papers in Japan if there is such a milestone. RAW is also getting the Elimination Chamber, so one would think the winner, whether it’s Nakamura or not, is coming from SmackDown Live. Pick: Shinsuke Nakamura
Aaron: I spent a long time in this build thinking that John Cena was going to win it. While it might make people in Philly want to puke, it made a lot of sense, particularly as the WWE Champion seemed like it would be AJ Styles or Kevin Owens. However, it seems like Cena has other plans for WrestleMania. So let’s look at the strong possibilities. Of course, Roman Reigns is near the top. However, are they really going to have him win in Philly again? He could very easily win the Elimination Chamber to get his title shot. Braun Strowman is a really interesting possibility, especially if he gets screwed over somehow in the title match at the Rumble. However, I don’t expect another triple-threat at WrestleMania for the Universal title. Thus, I look at someone challenging for the WWE title. While I’d love to see Finn Balor win and challenge AJ Styles, the most likely name is Shinsuke Nakamura. The only hesitancy is that I don’t know that Vince views Styles-Nakamura or Owens-Nakamura as a WrestleMania title match. He should, and either match would bring the house down. And if you want a result that would cause the rowdy fans in Philly to lose their minds, this is it. Pick: Shinsuke Nakamura
Women’s Rumble Match
Chuck: WWE continues to invest heavily in the women’s division and is making pay-per-view history for the third time in a year. Following the maiden Hell In A Cell and Money In The Bank Ladder Matches, the first ever women’s Royal Rumble match is upon us. The question is whether WWE will save Ronda Rousey’s debut for WrestleMania or if they’ll have her get her feet wet in the 30-woman match first. Regardless, it’s nearly impossible to pick against the undefeated Asuka. If the Japanese star isn’t wrestling for a title at WrestleMania, WWE will have massively blown an enormous opportunity. I don’t see that happening, however. Pick: Asuka
Scott: Who knows if we will see Ronda Rousey or Stephanie McMahon or Santina for that matter? But given the existing field, I’m going with Nia Jax. Who on the roster would benefit most from winning the Royal Rumble? A case can be made for others like Bayley. However, I think this would be an ideal situation to solidify Jax on the main roster. Someone out of the bunch who hasn’t won the women’s championship yet. Someone like Sasha Banks or Asuka really don’t need the accolade. One is a multi-time women’s champ with many main events under her belt. The other has an unprecedented win streak to hang their hat on. Jax can go on to have a program with Alexa Bliss, which has enough backstory to develop without Enzo Amore. Pick: Nia Jax
Aaron: To me, this comes down to two people. One, obviously, is Asuka. She’s undefeated, and what better way to solidify her as the threat she is than to have her absolutely annihilate the competition at the Royal Rumble? She’d be a perfect choice to win the inaugural one. So why am I going another way? The other name has the potential to set up one of the biggest mainstream matches WWE could do. That, of course, is have Ronda Rousey win it, and have her challenge Charlotte Flair. One of the biggest female stars in sports challenging Ric Flair’s daughter? That’s the type of mainstream publicity WWE dreams of. People are not just talking about Ronda after the Rumble, they’re talking about the match going into WrestleMania. As long as Ronda isn’t just doing a one-off for WWE, and is actually signing a contract for a decent amount of appearances, this seems like the way to go. Pick: Ronda Rousey
Universal Championship: Triple Threat Match
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Braun Strowman vs. Kane
Chuck: Braun Strowman has been built up to be a mega-force during this feud, and WWE should be close to pulling the trigger and putting the title on him. Close. I expect Brock Lesnar will enter WrestleMania with gold around his waist, meaning Strowman will continue waiting in the wings. Perhaps he’ll be first in line to challenge whoever wins the title in New Orleans. Sadly, Kane is pretty much an afterthought in this one. Pick: Brock Lesnar
Scott: There are rumblings of a Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar showdown at WrestleMania, and we can see the makings of that match begin to formulate at the Rumble. It would be great to have Braun Strowman win the Universal title from Lesnar, but I would think WWE is still dead set on having the “Beast Incarnate” hold the gold going in WrestleMania. That’s because even though Strowman has made tremendous strides, Lesnar is a sure-thing, box office draw. Whether it’s Lesnar or Strowman, Kane is clearly in there to take the loss while leaving the other two strong. The selfless veteran has other aspirations, like becoming mayor of Knoxville County. Pick: Brock Lesnar
Aaron: Braun Strowman should win this match. He’s red-hot right now, and I’m not sure that he can get any hotter. However, I keep coming back to this: if Braun Strowman was winning, why is Kane in this match? Kane’s taking the pin, and the more likely person to try to protect is Braun in this case. Thus, I think Brock wins this match. It’s possible that Braun is screwed over, and ends up finding a way into the WrestleMania match anyways. But if it’s a singles match at WrestleMania, like I think it is, then it’s Lesnar-Reigns. Pick: Brock Lesnar
WWE Championship: 2-on-1 Handicap Match
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
Chuck: The possibility of Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon interfering in the match adds a layer of uncertainty. Will the next chapter in their feud steal the thunder from the championship match? Perhaps. I’m not sure how co-champions would work heading into WrestleMania. Does that mean another triple-threat title defense? Too much is unknown, so I’m just going to keep things clean and go with AJ Styles to retain. Pick: AJ Styles
Scott: I’ve never been a fan of handicap matches. It benefits nobody. if any three can make one entertaining Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and the “Phenomenal One” can. As great as Sami Zayn winning the WWE championship, I don’t see it happening. Although a screw-job finish involving Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon is not out of the realm of possibility. That said, Styles should walk away from the Rumble with the gold going into Mania. Pick: AJ Styles
Aaron: This match is going to be messy. Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan are going to get involved, and probably have a direct impact in the result. Because of that, this match is hard to get a really good grasp on. Could Owens and Zayn win? Absolutely. But if this match is more about Daniel Bryan and Shane, which I think it will be, it makes more sense to have the single champ walk out. So the complication of co-champs isn’t there. That doesn’t mean Owens and Zayn will go away, whatever happens between Bryan and McMahon will give them a reason to stay around the title. But I think AJ Styles walks out with the belt. Pick: AJ Styles
RAW Tag Team Championship
Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan (c) vs. Cesaro & Sheamus
Chuck: If Cesaro & Sheamus were to win this one, they’d be doing WWE fans a favor. I can see a scenario where Jason Jordan goes full-blown heel after dropping the gold and beginning a short feud with his current tag team partner Seth Rollins. While their feud seems like a certainty, the timing of it does not. WWE may opt to save that match for WrestleMania, meaning the champs would retain. I’m banking that’s the case. Pick: Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan
Scott: I think there is more juice in the team of Rollins & Jordan. The best thing to happen to the “son” of Kurt Angle was this opportunity, which unfortunately came after Dean Ambrose’s injury. There has been a slow burn with the eventual heel turn of Jordan. One would expect the emerging talent to show his true form in the weeks leading up to Mania. Maybe even in a match against Rollins? I’m sure the time is coming for this team to split. I just don’t think it’s in this setting. Pick: Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan
Aaron: I do think that Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan are splitting up soon. Just not in this spot. They need a little bit more where they make you think they’re on the same page, or at least Rollins accepting Jordan, if not fully on the same page. Then Jordan can turn on him and make the moment meaningful. So Rollins & Jordan hang on here, maybe even looking the best they have, before dropping the titles next month to The Bar or The Revival. Pick: Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan
SmackDown Tag Team Championship: 2-out-of-3-Falls Match
The Usos (c) vs. Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin
Chuck: After already having nearly lost the titles to Gable and Benjamin once, it looks like the end is near for The Usos’ third run as SmackDown Tag Team Champions. Unlike a previous match, there won’t be any reversing this decision. Pick: Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin
Scott: The Usos have no doubt been one of the best tag teams in recent memory. However, I think it’s time to give the Gable & Benjamin team some love with a tag title reign. They had the Dusty-like finish on SmackDown Live with Gable & Benjamin getting their championship win taken away from them. Doing it for a second time I feel would do irreparable harm if WWE is serious about building up this duo. Pick: Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin
Aaron: The wonderful thing about the SmackDown tag scene is that it really doesn’t matter who holds the titles. There are so many high-level teams that you can bounce the titles around a bit, and it doesn’t hurt anyone. Thus, I think it’s time for Gable & Benjamin to have a run, even if it’s just a short one. It would establish them as a credible tag team, and who wouldn’t want to see another match between these teams? Pick: Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.