Banks vs. Belair: One Goal in Mind

At WrestleMania 37, history was made. Headlining night one, Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks combined for a match that’ll live forever, a rare modern moment that felt like exactly that, a moment in time. This wasn’t forced and unearned, it was entrancing, a completely immersive experience that took fans on that familiar rollercoaster. They hit every emotion, never even threatening to overstay their welcome. Together, Banks and Belair provided the perfect conclusion to what’ll be an iconic three hours of WrestleMania, back in front of fans at last, a collective sigh of relief.

For Banks, that was always the goal and by 2021, it certainly felt overdue. Arriving on the main roster six years prior, Banks entered as the audience’s elected figurehead, soon being forcefully cemented below that position. Banks was featured and prominently too, but it never quite felt as it could, and perhaps should have. She wasn’t the centrepiece, still pursuing the potential that was so pronounced in NXT. On RAW and SmackDown, Banks had produced in a major way but it always felt in spite of the creative forces at hand.

By contrast, this was Belair’s first WrestleMania as a main roster member, being called up immediately after 2020’s empty arena edition. Following a slow start, Belair found her feet after being drafted to SmackDown, winning the Royal Rumble only three months later. A feud with Bayley was Belair’s only real preparation for such a scenario, performing exclusively without fans since leaving NXT. Before that, Belair did shine in the 2020 Royal Rumble, which boded well but even still, this was a serious sign of faith if nothing else.

Though the obvious destination as soon as Belair triumphed, her feud with Banks wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed. That didn’t lessen anyone’s confidence in the match itself though, even with Belair’s relative inexperience. Frankly, this felt really quite simple, Sasha Banks wasn’t missing in a WrestleMania main event, she’s probably not missing in any match of that magnitude. Banks is one of the most creative, prolific in-ring performers on earth and underwhelming build aside, she now finally felt positioned to succeed.

Not only was Banks central on ‘the grandest stage of them all,’ but she was opposite an opponent that represented unique possibilities. Simply put, Belair is an athlete unlike any other, almost certainly the best that this women’s division has ever seen. That unlocked opportunities that just weren’t feasible against anyone else, as Banks had an opponent with incomparable raw ingredients. Even though Belair didn’t have a decorated match catalogue yet, this felt like the perfect place to start, an immense mix of factors coming together at once.

Going in, the match felt can’t-miss, an inevitable match of the night candidate. In execution though, they strived for something far different, taking a bold detour that catapulted this beyond any year-end list. Finally reaching the stage that for over a decade, she’d so publicly strived for, Banks wasn’t seeking just another classic. Considering the talent involved, that almost felt too easy. An enthralling exchange of back and forth offence, that’s the safe route. Pack the thing with near-falls, and send them home happy.

That’s not what separates Sasha Banks though, it’s her attention to detail and her mind for a match’s nuance. It’s that trait which makes her chemistry with Bayley so magical, an element that’ll hopefully stay with Belair after working so extensively with both. Based on WrestleMania, that’s a fair assumption also, as Belair performed with the poise of a decorated veteran. She was certainly positioned to succeed too, as in the match of her dreams, Banks took things in a daring direction.

For just over seventeen minutes, Banks played the role of crash test dummy, almost exclusively bouncing around the WrestleMania ring. In the most innovative ways imaginable, Belair basically dominated proceedings, with Banks just trying to stay afloat. Every step seemed to spotlight another piece of Belair’s potential, bridging today’s skill-set and tomorrow’s projections in one fell swoop. Belair had long been circled as an eventual superstar and though she’d taken strikes towards that term at Royal Rumble, she was completing the process in front of our eyes at WrestleMania.

Now more than ever, engaging in-ring action is commonplace. That’s one thing, but having an idea that lives long in the memory, that’s another. Excitement is easy, something enduring is what events of this scale are built on. When I think back to Banks vs. Belair, I remember those same visuals that you do, the hair whip and just the many stunning combinations of Belair’s pure power with Banks’ brilliant brain. Beyond those clips that’ll always replay in my mind though, it’s the core concept that sticks most.

This match had one idea in mind, a clear goal to complete. After years of waiting to be the focus, Sasha Banks was selfless enough to so effortlessly reassign that honour when it mattered most. This was an opportunity that couldn’t be recreated, a moment that warranted more than just another epic. Banks didn’t need the protection of a grand, glitzy finishing stretch, Belair just needed to win. There will be another day for that sequence, another time for their most complete match but this was a chance to do something that lives forever.

At WrestleMania, Sasha Banks so willingly welcomed Bianca Belair onto a tier that had become increasingly exclusive. If things go as they should, the rest will be history, all traced back to a performance giving enough that in front of 25000 people, Belair became iconic. It was the right choice for the right talent, a decision that should shape the division’s next decade, setting the standard and starting a new era, all at once. In a landscape of the interchangeable, Banks and Belair set themselves apart, producing something not only timeless, but truly significant.

In many ways, it’s a throwback WrestleMania classic in the most modern fashion imaginable, one that’s ideas should inspire and motivate a generation.

My WrestleMania Moment

If you’ve watched The Distraction podcast, you’ll probably know where I’m headed here. Well, considering that we’ve produced approximately 917 hours of audio at this point, there’s a good chance that you’ve forgotten it too. Thankfully, I have 24 articles to write and this fits the bill, so let’s take a trip down nightmare, or memory lane. Firstly, just want to stress that obviously, I’m only having fun here. I mean, it was pretty brutal but it’s a night at the fake fights nonetheless, can’t argue with that really.

Please do not allow my misfortune to sway your wrestling dream trip either, it’s still WrestleMania. It’s not a predictable thing but it is a spectacle so if that’s the goal, enjoy the ride when it comes. Unfortunately, my ‘WrestleMania moment’ was enough for a lifetime really, and I’m not even sure why. For those unaware, I attended WrestleMania 34, flying stateside and then sharing a road-trip to New Orleans. I know, I know, hang on, that’s not even a bad show you big sulker, grow up a bit, nerd!

All very fair but here’s my story anyway, best I can recall it at least. It’s this one particular moment that sticks with me, after Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax, of course. Not going where you’d think here though, as I think that was fine, actually! Looking back, the night was trending in one direction and we were all awaiting a non-existent revival, but that’s lost on us at the time. Most things are really, your legs are cramped and you’re sweating bullets, as there’s just no good way to dress for a 14-hour wrestling event.

Either way, the show started in grand fashion, featuring an inoffensive pre-show before three of the first four main card matches connected emphatically. I even got a tastemaker triumph in there along the way, correctly predicting the end of Asuka’s streak. Few things sum me up as much as that, objectively disagreeing with a decision but still, enjoying that I was proved right if nothing else. Beforehand, the Intercontinental Title triple threat was immense and to her credit, Ronda Rousey’s debut was historically great also.

Then, things took a turn. Quality was sacrificed for credibility, as The Bludgeon Brothers basically crushed New Day and The Usos. That was a respectable choice in truth, especially fine because I got to see the bout’s iconic rivalry reignited on Smackdown Live, two days later. By the way, the blue brand sent me home and I’m almost certain they did AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan, which feels like something I should remember. Also, Dolph Ziggler followed Bud Murph and wore an Alexa Bliss shirt. Peak Dolph.

He was the trip’s final match, losing to Shinsuke Nakamura after being distracted by a fat guy that had been put to sleep by 205 Live. Lots of people fell asleep during that show, it ruled. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, The Bludgeon Brothers. Well, after that, The Undertaker returned and again, quality wasn’t the goal there. Understandable though and harmless too, a short spectacle after such daring initial bouts. After that, Daniel Bryan’s comeback was impressively boring, but such is the reality of Shane McMahon.

That was a stumble in my view, others probably feel the same about Bliss vs. Jax. Either way, I’ll never forget my relief after that match, Bryan bores be damned. My phone was on its last legs, a mere percent or two left standing, so I logged on for one last time. Believe it was the folks at Voices of Wrestling, inadvertently reassuring me from a distance. The tweet’s message was simple, basically saying that considering what’s left, we’re home and dry, this is safe as an excellent WrestleMania event.

What a result, we’d done the hard part and could now just enjoy ourselves, two world titles and a surprise ahead. Granted, I hadn’t moved since last week but still, AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura man, all hail! Well, 10 minutes later and I was surrounded by beachballs. At the time, I was probably very mad but in truth, their match was just misplaced. That approach can’t live as deep in a show as this was and so, they lost us almost immediately, fighting uphill from there.

It wasn’t a bad match, not even close but I also don’t remember it and am too scared to rewatch. That feels telling, but maybe it’s more indicative of me losing my mind at some point that night. It was all okay though, because Braun Strowman had a mystery partner next, so we were getting something exciting! It’s WrestleMania after all, perhaps a Samoa Joe return, maybe even Bobby Lashley’s re-debut. Then again, maybe it’ll just be Nicholas. Look, this was harmless but after 41 hours? No, it actually felt very harmful.

Oh well, we still have the main event, a rematch from three years prior, a classic clash between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of what came next, as the crowd completely rejected Reigns and as a result, the whole match itself. Again, I was probably mad at the time but looking back, they crowbarred Reigns into that role and ignored every retort, so it’s hard to be surprised that people didn’t restrain themselves after fourteen matches.

Not Reigns’ fault obviously, just another response to that growing resentment. This was closer to apathy though, a dismissive rejection that through circumstance alone, was becoming a familiar trait in Reigns main events. I’m thankful that he can rewrite that reality now, as he really is immense, just such a shame that in trying to smash him over, they so often got Reigns under. He lost that night too, which basically made the last year of programming feel pointless. Those of us still invested just wanted the payoff, but it had been delayed again.

As people slowly departed, there was such a strange atmosphere that night. It wasn’t celebratory or energetic but instead, simply flat, all with an underlying frustration. By that point, the event’s peaks were almost forgotten. That isn’t fair but it was certainly the case for me, genuinely befuddled by my own state. It was a complete contrast with the night prior, as I left NXT TakeOver in awe, the best wrestling show that you could ever wish to see. All jokes aside, that was certainly eye-opening to me. At that point, I got it.

I wasn’t chanting boring and I wasn’t bashing beachballs around but I was certainly restless, definitely distracted. WrestleMania became a puzzling event for a while there, with the main event being the industry’s poisoned chalice. Hopefully, this 2-night format is here to stay as I’d rather not relive that endurance test, not even from home.

Considering SmackDown’s 2021 Royal Rumble Routes (Part 2/2)

Last October at Hell in a Cell, Sasha Banks claimed the SmackDown Women’s Title in an instant classic, appearing finally on track fulfil herpotential. Since then though, that process has been somewhat slowed. For all of SmackDown’s recent acclaim, Banks’ handling has been less spectacular, finding herself locked in a stalled programme with Carmella. Their initial PPV bout was impressive but little of substance has followed, leaving Banks in a less dynamic position than she entered.

Not all is lost though, as SmackDown still enters the ‘Road to WrestleMania’ with one of the promotion’s biggest stars as champion. In addition, there are some top contenders in position too, though it may be more a case of quality than quantity. Regardless, you can be the judge of that, so let’s get to it.

Women’s Royal Rumble Match

The FreshEST Match

SmackDown’s resident rising star, Bianca Belair’s potential requires little debate. Belair is a can’t miss talent, shining with each and every appearance. Since arriving on the blue brand, Belair’s ascension has been steadied, seemingly pacing things in a fashion that makes WrestleMania feasible. Paired with Bayley, Belair is becoming an increasingly familiar face, seemingly prepared for something blockbuster in the near future. Naturally, that leads to some assumptions regarding the Royal Rumble, placing Belair at the top of any list like this.

Though both are currently babyfaces, Banks vs. Belair feels like a natural matchup too, both brand-new while also physically intriguing. This feels like a possible show-stealer, a raw collision course between two characters simply desperate to cement themselves as number one. Belair isn’t the safe choice on SmackDown, but she may be the most exciting, a fresh route that would be almost impossible to question.

One Last Chapter, Again

In some form or fashion, Sasha Banks and Bayley have spent much of their main roster stints alongside each other. Though frustrating at times, the results have generally been good, producing great matches if nothing else. Last year, that combined with committed storytelling too, allowing these famed rivals to reignite their conflict at last, battling away in dramatic, emotive affairs. After such a long time as champion last year, Bayley warrants some thought here, surely requiring a position of note at WrestleMania.

Historically, non-title programmes have seldom been rewarded to female stars though, which would inevitably send Bayley back Banks’ way. This obviously isn’t a fresh match or for me at least, even a particularly interesting one. However, it’s the most box-office matchup currently available on SmackDown and with two nights to fill, it’s the reliable path for another classic too. In fairness, a WrestleMania match still eludes these two also, which certainly doesn’t hurt their case.

Be Hardcore, Have Both

Perhaps more likely than either of the options above is one that combines them both, a triple threat match for the SmackDown Women’s Title. Bayley and Belair already have their programme underway, almost certainly continuing things in the Royal Rumble. In fact, that’s what leads me in this prediction, assuming that these two will eliminate each other and allow a RAW participant to victor. From there, things can clearly go in a few different directions. That includes guiding the brand towards either singles bout, with Bayley or Belair vanquishing the other along the way.

On the other hand though, their conflict could simply develop, slowly building before eventually including Banks. I don’t personally love this option, as far too often, it allows the champion’s purpose to be limited to her title alone. That definitely feels as though it could be the case here, but Banks’ history with Bayley would help and either way, this choice certainly wouldn’t be sacrificing anything in terms of in-ring quality. It’s not my favourite choice, but I do believe that it’s the most likely.

Bringing Brutality to the Blue Brand

With a two-night WrestleMania on its way, maybe there’s a chance for SmackDown to step outside of the box. After all, there’s now sufficient time for a non-title bout between Bayley and Belair, which while unlikely, would leave Banks without a title challenger. Though not untalented, the blue brand’s current group doesn’t contain an answer to that either, but NXT’s might. Rhea Ripley is only weeks removed from seemingly concluding her time in “developmental,” naturally leading to some Royal Rumble speculation.

If Belair is the division’s premier rising star, Ripley is right alongside her, bringing a staggering in-ring skill to her already palpable physical presence. If Belair’s time hasn’t yet arrived, then perhaps Ripley’s should, winning the Rumble and setting the stage for a potential classic with Banks. Few matches on the table are more enticing than that one, adding another star to SmackDown’s relatively limited main event scene. Prior to producing these pieces, Ripley felt far more required on RAW but frankly, there’s an opening for Ripley here that frankly, may not currently exist elsewhere.

A Rowdy Return

Ronda Rousey, you know the deal by now folks.

Not much of substance to this really, it’s just something that I’m fully prepared to write before every Rumble. If Ronda Rousey is ready to return, she’ll win this match and face Sasha Banks at WrestleMania. I don’t expect this to be the case, but it’s a rumour that’ll swirl until she actually returns, so she has to be listed here.


Compared to RAW, this was a far less alarming venture, which was admittedly unsurprising. There are no hidden gems here friends, it is what it is. This division doesn’t lack talent but there’s a very apparent gap between the brand’s “big three” and all those surrounding them. That’s not necessarily true in terms of skill however, simply the result of positioning and presentation. They have two women capable of filling this vacancy and in fairness, both are formidable. Not a bad scenario, simply an uninteresting one for projects such as this.

Considering SmackDown’s 2021 Royal Rumble Routes (Part 1/2)

Led by a critically acclaimed incarnation of Roman Reigns, SmackDown entered 2021 with decent momentum. Since then, they’ve only strengthened, adding some depth to an already stacked main event scene. Though yet another battle with Kevin Owens is ahead of him, Reigns feels almost certain to enter WrestleMania as Universal Champion. The big question is, who’ll be opposite him, with the blue brand playing host to a group of potential babyface conquerors. Some options will inevitably come from outside of Friday nights though, which is worth keeping in mind.

With an exceptional champion in place, SmackDown is set for a strong ‘Road to WrestleMania’ regardless, but which route will they take? Time will tell folks, but let’s ponder the possibilities.

Men’s Royal Rumble Match

Another Yes Movement Miracle?

Arguably the greatest professional wrestler of all time, Daniel Bryan should be a contender for any and every title imaginable. For better or worse though, it’s the “most selfless” award that Bryan’s been dominating as of late, taking more falls than you’d expect for a Rumble contender. That’s included defeats to Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro, two names in the midst of a return to relevance during 2021’s opening weeks. Bryan doesn’t need that attention or focus though, always a candidate for the grandest stage’s biggest matches.

It certainly seems as though Bryan is the strongest choice, especially if Reigns is intended to continue his reign past WrestleMania. Bryan can take that loss with ease, giving Reigns the WrestleMania classic that’s eluded him in the process. It’s really perfect in that sense, with Bryan portraying the perfect underdog for Reigns to punish. In addition, it’s hard to see where Bryan is headed if it’s not Reigns, though admittedly, there are other factors here. Firstly, it’s worth remembering that Bryan doesn’t need a Rumble win for SmackDown to take that path.

Instead, Bryan could triumph in a star-studded Elimination Chamber, which seems more fitting for this current roster. On the other hand, Bryan’s role may have truly changed, elevating others and simply embracing his ability to perform. These heights may be behind Bryan but personally, I sure hope not, with this standing firm as SmackDown’s clear standout option in my view.

Heyman’s Conquering Client

Last week, Brock Lesnar’s name naturally emerged and unsurprisingly, he’s back again here too. One of the more polarising paths listed for SmackDown, Lesnar is also one of the most feasible. There’s a clear narrative here, with Lesnar’s famed past alongside Heyman pairing with his infamous history against Reigns. It’s a natural conflict, whether Heyman remains with Reigns or brings ‘The Beast’ back, seeking revenge. If it’s the latter, things will need to escalate swiftly, especially if Lesnar is winning the Royal Rumble but regardless, it’s hard to dismiss this possibility.

It does have flaws though, somewhat losing the fresh, exciting element of Reigns’ heel persona. This matchup is dangerously familiar, though the current circumstances make any audience resentment easier to ignore. Furthermore, Lesnar fits the bill if a Reigns win is necessary, not requiring any more major victories after years of dominance.

A Survivor Series Sequel

Capturing the imagination with their Survivor Series duel, Drew McIntyre is an interesting name to consider for this role. Defending his WWE Title against Goldberg, McIntyre’s Royal Rumble is already busy enough but frankly, stranger things have happened. Their last match ended in unsurprising uncertainty, with Reigns relying on assistance to score the victory. That dynamic really connected in its brief showings though, both in-ring and out.  There’s a compelling character clash here, a raw contrast that can be developed and expanded, all with history between them.

That makes it an appealing fit but there’s some work to be done first, with two opposing routes available. The most obvious one relies on a Goldberg win, allowing McIntyre to enter the Rumble later that night, creating a “moment” and challenging Reigns. This seems unlikely, though no less likely than a rare unification match. This roster doesn’t need just one world title match and nor does the two-night WrestleMania, so in truth, another chapter of this rivalry will probably have to wait.

Finishing the Fight

Already unsuccessful in two enthralling attempts, Kevin Owens’ sheer brilliance demands respect. Owens is an ideal foe for Reigns, matching his cold demeanour with an emotive energy, using that innate intensity to elevate their every encounter. That alone makes him a worthwhile thought for WrestleMania but clearly, it’ll take some creativity. Unless Owens is winning at Royal Rumble, he’ll need to leave another failed challenge unscathed, robbed once more but still relevant, momentum still on his side. That won’t be easy but Owens can certainly manage it, especially opposite Reigns.

In fact, Owens could even achieve the feat that I mentioned earlier for McIntyre, losing to Reigns only to hobble in and conquer the Royal Rumble. That’d be quite the moment for this character, setting up Owens to finally win the big one at WrestleMania. I don’t personally expect Reigns to lose on ‘the grandest stage’ but if he does, this would be quite the conclusion to a rather bold chase.

Making a Star

Though it’s been fabulous TV thus far, this Roman Reigns run does have a clear task to complete. Whether it’s at WrestleMania or in five years’ time, Reigns’ time as champion needs to make a new star. That could eventually be Reigns himself, catapulting ‘The Tribal Chief’ to a babyface superstardom that once seemed a distance away. The most obvious short-term choice is far closer to Reigns though, with Big E already securing the Intercontinental Title. Separated from New Day in the 2020 draft, big expectations awaited this singles stint for E and thus far, it’s produced mixed results.

Big E does already have gold around his waist though, even if he’s not ascending at the pace that some had hoped. In my mind at least, it feels like a matter of when rather than if but in this particular case, that’s a very relevant factor. Clearly, Big E’s current status as champion makes this slightly more complex, requiring a title loss unless we’re headed to a rare title vs. title tilt. For better or worse, it doesn’t yet feel like Big E’s time, but a Rumble win could swiftly solve that.

Crowning the King

After a lacklustre 2020, Shinsuke Nakamura is seemingly set for a career revival, recently returning to relevance. While it’s been an enjoyable experience thus far though, this feels as though it’s facing a severe ceiling. I don’t want to dismiss Nakamura’s sudden re-emphasis as yet another false dawn but there’s a middle ground between that and a Royal Rumble win. Nakamura feels likely to challenge for Reigns’ crown at some juncture but WrestleMania? That’s a far harder visual to imagine. In fact, the two-night scenario makes a match with Cesaro all the more likely in my view.

With that being said, I give credit to SmackDown for adding some depth from within, increasing the importance of already existing characters. That’s not easy and may be short-lived but it’s improving the product and more specifically, adding intrigue to the Rumble. I don’t expect Nakamura to face Reigns on the year’s biggest show, but I do expect that match beforehand, which is a win in itself.

Family Business

While considering all of these options, it’s hard to ignore the man firmly by Reigns’ side. After two memorable bouts last year, Jey Uso conceded defeat, since operating on Reigns’ behalf. The role has been a natural fit for Uso, allowing his singles stint to continue while enhancing the champion’s act. In truth, it seems almost certain that if Uso leaves this position anytime soon, it’ll be to claim tag team gold with Jimmy. An “all the gold” direction feels inevitable for The Bloodline, but Uso’s sustained relevance seems well, relevant.

Uso isn’t the blockbuster choice but in terms of storytelling, it really would be something quite special. I don’t expect this or anything close to it, but Uso’s an interesting name to ponder, even if only briefly.

The People’s Champ

Remember how last week, I ducked all fantasy booking about Ronda Rousey? Well, don’t mind me, I’ll just do the same about The Rock.

Not much of substance to this really, it’s just something that I’m fully prepared to write before every Rumble. If The Rock is ready to return, he’s win this match and face Roman Reigns at WrestleMania. I don’t expect this to be the case, but it’s a rumour that’ll swirl until he actually returns, so he has to be listed here.

You get the deal, “head of the table” and all that fun stuff. It’s obvious, we’ll all produced our twitter threads by now.

The Rights to Reigns’ Wrongs

Though his usage could convince you otherwise, Rey Mysterio still has an incredible amount to offer. Physically rejuvenated in recent years, Mysterio rarely misses once the bell rings, earning him an admittedly generous place on this list. Though WrestleMania feels unlikely, Mysterio’s skill set remains perfect for this position, an obvious foe for Reigns in programme ready to make magic. I’m in awe of the goofy family element at play here also, with Reigns’ “head of the table” approach standing in direct contrast to Mysterio.

After all, Rey Jr shares the wealth, bringing his whole contact list with him to every TV. I mean he used to anyway, before they realised that it was bad. Anyway, I’m imagining Rey quietly explaining Reigns’ flaws to Angie, Dominik, Aalyah and even poor Bud Murph, inspiring earth as he goes. Seriously though, Rey has very little chance here, especially of a Rumble win but he has the name value at least, so the dream lives for now.

One Last Sprint

Whether he leaves the match as WWE Champion or not, there’s one thing that’s guaranteed with Goldberg: he won’t be out there for long. Months ago, Goldberg was an assumed option for Reigns and for that reason, I’ve opted to list him here. That could mean a unification bout to you or perhaps even more hilariously, Goldberg simply moving on to another title match sprint. Better yet, perhaps he’ll eat a Claymore, wake up, headbutt another door and win the Rumble.

Either way, your response will likely be the same, but this thing needed a comedic conclusion so in the form of Big Bill, there’s that.


I don’t think that SmackDown is a perfect show, or anything close to it frankly but simply put, the blue brand is a competent outfit. To me, that’s reflected in the options above, featuring a handful of full-time talents as well as some more blockbuster names alongside them. In truth, it’s easier to build around a villain of Reigns’ calibre but they’ve made a mess of similarly simple setups before, so credit where credit is due. Talent-wise, I love this roster and in terms of execution, they haven’t done too much to get in the performers’ way.

That bodes well for the upcoming ‘Road to WrestleMania,’ regardless of which way Reigns is headed.

Considering RAW’s 2021 Royal Rumble Routes (Part 2/2)

Since the latest draft especially, RAW’s Women’s Division has been a major disappointment. With a non-existent title scene, this impressive group of talent has struggled for relevance, being mostly limited to prelim tag tilts. WrestleMania is fast approaching though and surely, something has to change. By hook or by crook, this division will need a title match for that stage, so let’s ponder what that could be. Of the four areas I’m tackling in this series, this one is by far the hardest.

With Asuka and Charlotte Flair as tag team champions, there’s an extra layer of doubt in my view. For the sake of this article though, I’ll be assuming that one of those women will be champion by WrestleMania. If not, this whole thing will have been rendered useless but unfortunately, I only have so much to work with here. In addition, we could be headed to a multi-woman match combining much of the below. In which case, filth. Either way, no time to waste, tough task ahead.

Women’s Royal Rumble Match

Tag Champs Collide

Right now at least, this feels like the obvious choice. With a simple turn either way, WWE could have Asuka and Charlotte positioned for yet another WrestleMania match. In truth, it’s a match that feels less appealing now than ever, but it’s still a more than acceptable choice. This scenario wouldn’t require the Royal Rumble either, as it’d almost certainly be a more personal conflict considering their current positioning. Flair could defeat Asuka, sparking a villainous shift from ‘The Empress of Tomorrow’ or perhaps ‘The Queen’ embraces her old ways.

On this stage especially, these two wouldn’t miss, providing WrestleMania with a reliable thriller if nothing else. In fairness, a competent build could seamlessly sell this match, as the raw talent and history is obviously there. It’s the safe choice, but that doesn’t make it a bad choice, just slightly uninspired perhaps.

This Is Her Brutality

One of wrestling’s most exciting stars, Rhea Ripley has been magnificent in NXT. Whether she’s been a dominant conqueror or a courageous competitor, Ripley has shined, showing staggering versatility for her age. Ripley’s skill-set alone positions her for a feat such as this but there’s depth to her candidacy here. With her NXT stint seemingly complete, Ripley seems set to move on and best of all, she has history here too. At last year’s WrestleMania, Ripley’s on-screen success was sent spiralling by a loss to Charlotte Flair.

Naturally, redeeming that effort would be a perfect statement for Ripley, setting the tone for an era of dominance. It doesn’t have to be that picturesque either, as Ripley could also go after Asuka, creating a genuine dream match. Either way, Ripley as Royal Rumble winner feels like a natural fit and if not, even a triple threat with the aforementioned names would be appealing. To me, this division needs an injection of something new and Ripley is that. Whether she’ll win or not, well that’s a very different debate.

A Rowdy Return

Not much of substance to this really, it’s just something that I’m fully prepared to write before every Rumble. If Ronda Rousey is ready to return, she’ll win this match and face either Asuka or Charlotte at WrestleMania. I don’t expect this to be the case, but it’s a rumour that’ll swirl until she actually returns, so she has to be listed here. If Rousey indeed makes up one half of the RAW Women’s Title match at WrestleMania, their choice is simple. Either revisit the less interesting pair of a previous main event or book a fresh match. Please choose wisely.

The Female Fiend

Since being paired with ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt, Alexa Bliss has been an integral piece of Monday Night RAW. However, she hasn’t been a factor at all in the brand’s women’s division, for better or worse. This is a complex one, seemingly reliant on other factors. If Wyatt himself is winning the Rumble and/or working a title match at WrestleMania, Bliss could still very well follow suit. WWE is big on visuals and that’d certainly be one, empowering an angle that they clearly trust as some kind of attraction.

If so, Bliss could face either Asuka or Charlotte, with the latter being a mostly untouched match. This character probably doesn’t need a title and, in their minds, may not even need to wrestle but on a show of this scale, Bliss is worth tracking. My instincts are that she’ll be Wyatt’s side at ‘The Grandest Stage of Them All,’ but it’s not hard to imagine Bliss vs. Flair, especially if a ‘Female Fiend’ character is introduced.

WrestleMania Main Event Worthy

Interestingly, Shayna Baszler has not yet declared herself as a Royal Rumble entrant. Her tag partner Nia Jax has though, which seems telling. Okay folks, this could be an adventure, so hold tight. It seems feasible that if she’s being kept away from the Rumble match, Baszler could be Asuka’s challenger on that show. Before discovering this, I didn’t even expect a title defence to be honest but it’s worth pondering. Perhaps Baszler could even win, setting up a WrestleMania clash with Flair. That seems unlikely and frankly, unnecessary though, so I’ll get to the point.

Baszler remaining tied to Asuka and Flair is ominous to me, as it keeps Jax close by too. The efforts to protect Jax aren’t lost on me and I’m not dismissing her here, whether she’d be working Asuka or Flair. The latter feels more likely but the point is that in some cases, the audience has a very different perception of talent than those in power do. I don’t expect Jax to land in RAW’s title match, but it wouldn’t shock me either.

Doing It With Flair

This isn’t fun to ponder, so I’ll be quick. Look, Lacey Evans has recently become entwined in a Flair family affair of sorts. Winning the weakened heart of Ric Flair, Evans is swiftly getting under Flair’s skin. This, I believe at least, is the start of some kind of professional wrestling programme. If so, I would like to think that by WrestleMania, it’ll be a distant memory. I believe that’ll be the case too, but it may not be. Clearly, I don’t want Evans vs. Flair to be the RAW Women’s Title match but my job here is to list the options, so there’s that.

Rumble Returns

One of the event’s signature traits, fans have come to expect returns at the Royal Rumble. Last year, Naomi did exactly that, going viral with her appearance and sparking some optimism along the way. Unfortunately, there was inability to capitalise on that momentum and suddenly, Naomi finds herself in a familiar position. If the Rumble again marks Naomi’s return, she has an outside shot in my view, as this division needs something, anything in truth. Hard to expect such a thing, but it’d be refreshing at least and frankly, I needed something to counteract the last option.

Less excitingly, Lana could return too. This feels like a very, very long shot but if Baszler indeed leaves Royal Rumble as champion, Lana has a chance…maybe? Kind of, I guess? After all, Lana was robbed of a triumphant conclusion before so with fear in my heart, I’ve opted to list her here. Realistically, that moment would be better served for a WrestleMania Battle Royal but the whole Lana ordeal puzzled me to such a degree that at this point, I’m just playing it safe.


Unfortunately, this has felt rather pointless. We all know the deal here: the division is good on paper and filth in execution, so they can only be so low on options. To me, none of the above jumps off the page but they still have three months to play with, so they should certainly manage something serviceable. With ‘The Road to WrestleMania’ almost underway though, the tag team champions feel inevitable in some form or fashion. There’s too many hurdles ahead for anything otherwise, so I’d personally expect Asuka vs. Flair.

Considering RAW’s 2021 Royal Rumble Routes (Part 1/2)

For Monday Night RAW, 2021 began with a polarising jolt. Moments after a thriller opposite Keith Lee, Drew McIntyre had a new challenger: Goldberg. With that match now locked in as Royal Rumble’s WWE Title match, RAW has two contrasting paths to pick between. It seems likely that the brand will enter WrestleMania with either McIntyre or Goldberg as champion. Most would prefer the current champion of course, a reliable source of in-ring excellence. It’s the Road to WrestleMania though, so Goldberg can’t be dismissed.

Before getting to the potential routes ahead, I want to quickly cover the obvious. Firstly, the upcoming Royal Rumble clash could set up a rematch, with McIntyre possibly redeeming himself at WrestleMania. I doubt that, but it’s worth mentioning. Speaking of such, The Miz continues to loom, Money in the Bank briefcase in hand. Frankly, I just don’t expect to see Miz in this match, regardless of how his cash-in is handled. The below scenarios are purely about the eventual WWE Title bout itself, not the weekly rollercoaster that’ll take us there.

With those factors established, let’s now venture elsewhere. RAW has a range of options on the table but at the Royal Rumble’s close, their choice should be clearer. They didn’t surprise me last year but after all that’s happened since, it’ll take a miracle to predict what’s next. That being said, I’m here to attempt exactly that today, so let’s get to it.

Men’s Royal Rumble Match

Friend or Foe

Over the last few months, Drew McIntyre has become associated with Sheamus and to a lesser extent, Keith Lee. Considering that, both feel like genuine contenders for McIntyre’s WrestleMania match. Goldberg? Not so much but assuming that the Scotsman keeps his crown, these are two of the standout names for a Rumble win. Sheamus is an interesting option, with a clear tale to tell opposite McIntyre. Their character work and chemistry together has been a rare highlight for RAW, and the match itself would almost certainly deliver too.

However, Sheamus’ star power, or lack thereof is an element to ponder. This isn’t a fresh face or tomorrow’s star, it’s an established name that in my view at least, has been steadily capped in the tier below. This is a major spot, one of the year’s biggest bouts and frankly, I’m just not sure that Sheamus still belongs here. His performance does of course, it’s more a matter of perception and presentation. Considering that, this whole direction makes a Goldberg win more feasible, as Sheamus presents a clear non-title task for McIntyre if he’s indeed dethroned.

On the other hand, a Keith Lee win feels like more of a project. It would be cementing Lee in the main event scene, a status he’s struggled for since beating Randy Orton on arrival. Physically, McIntyre and Lee have shown what they can do and with a heel turn, Lee would be neatly positioned for a match of this magnitude. Personally, I’m unsure about that idea but if it leads Lee to a WrestleMania title match, it’ll be hard to nit-pick.

The Beast Returns

Last year, WrestleMania concluded with McIntyre conquering Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title. Lesnar hasn’t been on WWE TV since, seemingly leaving the promotion…or technically speaking at least. McIntyre’s match with Lesnar was really only a glimpse of their capabilities together though, a brief back and forth that achieved its purpose without striving for anything more. Naturally, that leaves a rematch on the table and with WrestleMania on the way, Lesnar’s name naturally comes to mind. If McIntyre needs a marquee foe, a sequel with Lesnar would certainly provide that.

A Lesnar return brings other options though also, including one on the blue brand. That’s not the only alternative either, as I refuse to dismiss Lesnar vs. Goldberg IV. It’s unlikely, sure but the point is that regardless of RAW’s champion, Lesnar will be an option, even if only in terms of speculation. Personally, I don’t expect to see Lesnar in the WWE’s current setting but if it’s happening, WrestleMania feels like the obvious stage.

Entering the Funhouse

For better or worse, Bray Wyatt remains one of RAW’s central attractions. He’s been a priority since introducing ‘The Fiend’ and with Alexa Bliss by his side, that hasn’t changed on Monday nights. That makes him an obvious candidate for the Royal Rumble, but there are some hurdles standing between Wyatt and McIntyre. Firstly, he remains embroiled in a heated dispute with Randy Orton, who literally set him on fire. That feels like the kind of conflict that requires genuine concluding, which leads me to the assumption of a WrestleMania blow-off.

In addition, this feels like a styles clash of sorts. Wyatt’s antics are polarising but popular, and certainly have their place but opposite McIntyre? I’m not sure. As WWE Champion, McIntyre has usually been straightlaced, at most battering comedic foils. This would be something very different and feels risky in that regard, putting McIntyre in a position to fail after a year of working so hard on his standing. It’s difficult to work Wyatt into title programmes in general but right now, it feels almost nonsensical considering his on-screen status.

On the other hand, Wyatt could very well avenge his defeat to Goldberg. If they are desperate to make him champion again, I’d imagine that’s the play as killing Goldberg is much less harmful than killing McIntyre. First things first though, I’d recommend that Wyatt needs to get revenge on the man that seemingly murdered him. His call though, of course.

Meeting Other Monsters

As United States Champion, Bobby Lashley has been surprisingly dominant, seldom doing anything but winning. That alone forces him into this discussion, suggesting that after such protection, there must be some kind of endgame in mind. In fairness, that could well be the elevation of a new babyface, defeating Lashley and becoming US Champion. What if this plan revolves about Lashley himself though? What if Lashley is set to become the true ace of The Hurt Business? Winning the Royal Rumble and facing McIntyre in an all-champion affair.

I’m not here to claim that such an idea jumps off the page but when thinking back to their first match, it’s an interesting option. Lashley’s loss to McIntyre set the table for what’s followed, ending his dynamic with Lana once and for all. Revisiting that at WrestleMania would be logical, even traditional storytelling and if nothing else, a well-deserved feat for Lashley’s aforementioned faction. Lashley could also battle Goldberg in fairness, especially if there’s plans to finally make him world champion.

He’s not the only monster waiting in the wings either, as Braun Strowman’s return looms. Strowman didn’t exactly thrive as WWE Champion but he has name value and history at this level, even if it wasn’t his best work. In addition, he and McIntyre would be a fresh match that physically, has obvious appeal. It wouldn’t be a classic but visually, it works which for those that matter, could be enough. To be clear, Strowman would need some help creatively to make such a thing work but he’s an option here, for better or worse.


RAW hasn’t been very good as of late, but it’s certainly not low on talent. There are compelling challengers across the board, even if Goldberg leaves Royal Rumble as champion. Honestly, I don’t have any gut feeling as to which way this is going for RAW. Since the draft, my instincts have been that Wyatt will be their choice, but it’s hard to imagine anything past the Orton programme right now. That strengthens Sheamus and Lee’s respective positions, but neither of those names feel like obvious fits either.

This isn’t a critique of course, assuming that they have their plan in place. This is unpredictable which is both exciting and refreshing, I just hope that it’s also good.

The Curse of Caring: BlissCross & Their Pursuit of Tag Team Gold

Believe it or not, we are now just one day away from WrestleMania. Weird huh? Either way, if the show must go on, so must my features. If for some reason, you’re reading this blog silliness but have missed those, read, like, share and all that good stuff over here. Unfortunately, though, even my process has been impacted somewhat and ten features became six before last week, six became five. With that in mind, I thought I’d do something a little different, releasing a bonus “feature” that’s really just me rambling about something that inexplicably, I care about.

The Women’s Tag Titles seemed doomed to me from square one, that was just my initial response. There’s a ceiling to tag team wrestling in WWE, a cap that it’s represented as a prelim feat rather than the main event achievement in its genre. If established units of the highest order failed to beat those odds often, this felt like a challenging concept for a division that naturally, would be filled by brand new teams. For a variety of reasons, that first six months would indeed be a struggle too, with the new belts taking a backseat almost immediately.

In the meantime though, Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross formed an alliance of sorts, finding a chemistry that’d transform them from a seemingly predictable angle into an odd couple tandem. Their presence offered a potential shift for the tag team titles and after a sudden title win, ‘BlissCross Applesauce’ looked to reinvigorate the struggling division. They took some positive steps too, with Bliss’ stature increasing the titles’ visibility as her and Cross tied together some televised defences. Better yet, their eventual loss would lay the foundations for a new chapter as well, beginning a conflict with the Kabuki Warriors.

In an almost double-turn scenario, Asuka and Kairi Sane shifted alignment with their title win, as the former used green mist to secure the win. That sparked a potentially dynamic programme, with a babyface BlissCross in pursuit of the now villainous Kabuki Warriors. On sheer talent, that possibility was promising but with the starting point too, this fledgling division felt healthier than it had since WrestleMania. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the case, as Bliss was then out of action for almost two months, halting the direction before it could even truly begin.

That was a frustrating time, because as Asuka and Sane took the titles to new heights opposite Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch, things felt too in flux to be assured of anything. The BlissCross team’s future seemed unclear, as this unavoidable time apart meant that for better or worse, their days as tag title contender could be numbered. I’ve spent far too many hours of my adult life writing about professional wrestling but while analysis is fun, sincere fandom remains the best way to watch any product.

In the second half of 2019, the Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross angle was just about the only thing in WWE that I could view through those eyes. For me personally, it was a rare beacon of light, an ongoing saga that I could look forward to each week. That made Bliss’ absence all the more disappointing, as it felt as though she’d been cut off mid comeback. I decided then though that if and when she was reunited with Cross, I’d do my best to watch as a fan first and foremost.

The results, well they’ve been mixed. Bliss’ return put her back by Cross’ side but as a fan, there was no hook, nothing to sink my teeth into for quite some time. That was disheartening but eye-opening in its own way, highlighting the pitfalls of WWE’s rather rigid creative approach. Clearly, this match wasn’t on the cards in January or February and on TV, that meant that there was no chase. I couldn’t get swept up in the babyfaces’ pursuit of tag team gold because there wasn’t one, they were simply waiting.

When considering the bigger picture, that takeaway feels like a natural result of how much talent is currently under contract. Even still, it really stood out to me that there’s an inconsistency there, a failure to tell stories without a match immediately in sight. Nonetheless, Bliss and Cross made a seamless transition to the babyface side as performers. They’d leant that way before of course but no doubt remained now, this was a babyface team that didn’t have a ton of fresh foes awaiting them. That didn’t take the shine off their work though, far from it.

Bliss appears as motivated as ever since returning and Cross remains an absolute breath of fresh air. Her energy is unmatched, and she just throws herself into each segment. The result is that Nikki leaves an impression almost every week, whether it be a subtle piece of character work or something so outlandish that only she could pull it off. The greatest compliment to Cross is that somehow, she’s made Bliss the ‘straight man’ of this team, a thought that once seemed inconceivable considering the former multi-champion’s personality.

As a team, BlissCross seem consistently upbeat and enthusiastic, they are just fun to watch. As a ‘writer,’ that’s a lame sentence to write but as a fan, it’s the easiest way to describe them. Whether they are in a major role or a lesser one, my viewing experience is better for Alexa and Nikki’s presence. It’s for that reason that though the route hasn’t been perfect, I’m still invested in this team’s WrestleMania match, as they take on the Kabuki Warriors for the first time since that aforementioned “double turn.”

Ideally, this would feel like the culmination of months of work, either the series’ final match or the result of a lengthy chase to contention. It’s neither but I’m still naïve enough to care. The Kabuki Warriors are the most talented team to ever hold those belts, one of the most dynamic in-ring pairings even possible right now. They’re a wonderful team and though their reign hasn’t been littered with memorable title defences, that’s more of a reflection of the division than it is their reign. They are perfect foes for BlissCross and hopefully, this is the start of something beneficial.

The truth is folks that behind the silly metaphors and cliché crutch, I’m just a dumb fan that for one reason or another, has decided he cares about a female tag team’s pursuit of the women’s tag team titles. There are few decisions less likely to work in one’s favour but yet here I am, hoping to throw myself into an empty arena match that’s an afterthought in the grand scheme of WrestleMania. Not for me though, it’s an attraction and what a colossal mistake that could prove to be.

I think that if you cover wrestling, there’s an objectivity that should be prevalent in your work, a logic to your opinions beyond gut feelings. This was the chance to do something a little different though, a chance to discuss a lesser match that actually means something to me. There’s an interesting story in this match, a truth that to me, this is a pivotal moment for those belts. If at some point, this feud can’t be a hit in some form or fashion, these titles are a bigger uphill battle than they already appear to be.

That’s a story, no question but in this case, I find myself invested in the stakes themselves. At WrestleMania, I’m simply rooting for the babyfaces and frankly, that’s a refreshing stance to take. I recommend it in fact. You may lack confidence in the payoff, I mean I do too but if somewhere within WWE’s landscape, you can find a character or two to root for, that’s still a rather enjoyable outlet. Frustrating too of course, incredibly frustrating at times but in theory, that’s still the escape of this experience.

 I love analysing wrestling, pondering the next move and such but it’s still pro wrestling and if you can’t enjoy a piece of the puzzle, it’s not worth putting together. BlissCross Applesauce have reminded me of that and with my gaudy t-shirt (that is banned for public wear) on, I’ll be rooting for them at WrestleMania. This weekend, I’ll find out if that was foolish or not but right now, it feels rather good, I must say.

Considering SmackDown’s Royal Rumble Routes

For me personally, it’s hard to be anything but critical of SmackDown’s recent form. Armed with a top-heavy but talented roster as well as the FOX platform, it felt fair to have high hopes for this brand. However, the product itself has fell well short of those expectations thus far. That’s a subjective opinion of course but SmackDown’s outlook heading into WrestleMania season feels telling within itself. On the male side, there’s one clear and obvious option here but for the sake of clarity, I’ll also be analysing the surrounding contenders.

I’ve not enjoyed much of SmackDown’s stint on FOX but in truth, that perception can change rapidly in the next few months. We are approaching the most pivotal period in WWE’s calendar and frankly, SmackDown must catch fire. That begins at Royal Rumble, with the event’s namesake match as well as SmackDown’s major title bout: Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan. The latter’s result will obviously play a major factor, sparking whatever direction is eventually decided upon.

Men’s Royal Rumble Match

If ‘The Fiend’ Wins:

The Big Dog’s Back

Though Roman Reigns returned almost a year ago, timing seems to have played a factor in his handling since. It was too late for Reigns to be inserted into last year’s WrestleMania headliners and as a result, he seemingly played a waiting game for much of 2019. It feels hard to dismiss the notion that Reigns was set for another coronation all along and frankly, we’ve just been watching stalling tactics in the meantime. I understand that too, as Reigns remains the promotion’s central male babyface and naturally, that makes WrestleMania the perfect place for his title victory.

Historically, that kind of triumph comes opposite a formidable, monstrous villain and in ‘The Fiend,’ SmackDown certainly has that. A traditional tale is in place here, with Reigns winning the Rumble and then conquering Wyatt at WrestleMania. Personally, I’m fine with this and my only Reigns-related criticism comes with the approach of holding off this long. Reigns is an undeniable top guy and frankly, he belongs in this spot, especially on the current SmackDown roster. Reigns vs. Wyatt is not only the most likely option, it’s probably the best one too.

A Fighting Family

Over four years ago, Braun Strowman made his WWE debut as The Wyatt Family’s muscle. Since then, both Strowman and Wyatt have taken rather unique paths to this point. Strowman swiftly emerged as one of WWE’s rising stars, becoming an organic babyface headliner before creative indecision left him stalled. On the other hand, Wyatt soon lost direction, experiencing some time middling years until ‘The Fiend’ presentation shifted his career trajectory. With Wyatt now WWE Champion, there’s a window to revisit their prior association, with Strowman still standing firm as one of SmackDown’s leading protagonists.

Though not as can’t miss as before, Strowman could quickly regain momentum with a surprising Rumble win, meeting Wyatt at WrestleMania and finally being crowned as champion. Currently, Strowman doesn’t feel in position for that triumph, instead settling in an Intercontinental Title chase. However, he remains one of SmackDown’s clear contenders, only second to Reigns in this Rumble match. Considering their history as well as ‘The Fiend’s attack of Strowman last year, this is a relatively natural fit, and one worth keeping in mind as WrestleMania season approaches.

An Underdog Option

While lacking in midcard depth, SmackDown is still armed with some considerable talent outside of the main event scene. Namely, two of WWE’s premier underdog figures: Mustafa Ali and Shorty G. Recently paired as an exciting babyface tandem, Ali and Gable are natural protagonists, battling the odds as almost throwback characters. Within their current presentations especially, Ali certainly feels more suited to an ascension, appearing to have a higher ceiling right now. However, both Ali and Gable are certainly underdogs in this picture, with neither looking likely to play a major role at WrestleMania.

Nonetheless, Ali and Gable remain two of SmackDown’s strongest male talents and though they aren’t likely options this year, their ability warrants a mention. An underdog would fit perfectly opposite ‘The Fiend’ but for these two, this may just be a step too far right now.

If Bryan Wins:

The Big Dog’s Back, Again

Remember those stalling tactics I mentioned earlier? Well, one of the highlights of Roman Reigns’ frustrating 2019 came with his unlikely alliance alongside Daniel Bryan. After a lengthy angle in which Reigns felt he’d been quite comically targeted by Bryan, Erick Rowan was eventually revealed as the culprit, returning Bryan to his babyface roots and forcing him by Reigns’ side. That story concluded with Bryan and Reigns triumphing over Rowan and Harper and last week, they were reunited as a team. SmackDown’s top two babyfaces, Bryan and Reigns have remained linked and at WrestleMania, could finally clash.

If Bryan dethrones Wyatt at Royal Rumble and as expected, Reigns wins the match itself, this could suddenly be a fitting main event match. Bryan vs. Reigns certainly isn’t lacking in star power and on raw talent, could be SmackDown’s strongest option. However, it feels unlikely that at WrestleMania, Wyatt won’t be involved in the WWE Title picture. With that in mind, it’s now probably time to transition to the next possibility.

A Triple Threat Tradition

Though not exactly common, some of the most memorable title wins in WrestleMania history have come in triple threat matches. Looking at the current SmackDown landscape, that appears rather likely for the upcoming WrestleMania too, with Wyatt, Bryan and Reigns meeting in a blockbuster three-way affair. This option could occur with either a Wyatt or Bryan victory at Royal Rumble but considering the length of Bryan’s chase thus far, it feels necessary for him to at the very least, be protected in his upcoming match with Wyatt. Otherwise, it could be harder to keep him in the title picture.

Either way, this match-up is a fitting one, providing a WrestleMania destination for SmackDown’s three biggest stars. As far as practicality, this could even be the best choice, allowing for a quicker pace and giving the audience another babyface to root for if opposed to Reigns. Whether Bryan leaves Royal Rumble as champion or not, he’d certainly belong in the WWE Title match at WrestleMania. As a result, this could the route that for me personally, appeals most on SmackDown’s shortlist.

The King In Contention

It’s fair to say that as one of SmackDown’s leading villains, King Corbin has had a well, polarising run. Though undeniably talented, Corbin’s ceiling has come under some scrutiny in the last eighteen months, with overexposure being The King of the Ring winner’s greatest foe. In truth, that criticism is hard to dismiss but as of late, it’s been more indicative of SmackDown’s product than of Corbin’s ability. This lengthy feud with Reigns hasn’t helped either party, with a handling that harkens back to the lowlights of RAW’s 2018. That’s a creative choice, not a performer flaw.

Either way, Corbin is clearly positioned as a top heel on SmackDown and as a result, he must be mentioned in this picture. Once again, this scenario is only possible if Reigns and Wyatt are pre-occupied with a non-title programme but on paper at least, Bryan vs. Corbin feels like a feasible title clash. The most exciting option? No, but a possible one nonetheless.

Rivals Once More

Considering his recent reunion with John Morrison, The Miz certainly looks set for a return to the tag team ranks. However, his name still feels worth a mention if Bryan is indeed WWE Champion at Royal Rumble’s conclusion. Miz and Bryan have a storied past and as of late, rekindled their conflict while sharing a common enemy. Even when opposite Wyatt as babyfaces, Miz’s rivalry with Bryan barely wavered and now that the former has once again turned heel, perhaps they can have their WrestleMania match after all.

Frankly, this possibility only works in a scenario where Reigns and Wyatt indeed clash on that stage, simply without the WWE Title between them. That’d create the chance for another chapter between Bryan and Miz but right now, that certainly doesn’t appear to be on the cards. Instead, Miz seems headed for a lesser role though as we all know, the Rumble match can swiftly change that.


I’m hesitant to dwell on SmackDown’s issues but in many ways, this process confirmed my perception. Roman Reigns is terrific and I’m happy with him as Royal Rumble winner but considering the talent at their disposal, it feels as though SmackDown should have more performers in position for such a feat. That doesn’t have to impact your eventual decision but as a viewer, this approach limits the possibilities dramatically. It’s all rather rigid, especially compared to RAW and overall, the potential predictability only lessens the impact of Reigns’ warranted win.

Perhaps these problems are less pronounced within SmackDown’s women’s division but on the male side at least, the blue brand’s flaws already feel restricting as the Road to WrestleMania approaches.

Considering RAW’s Royal Rumble Routes (Part 2/2)

Anchored by an elite main event quartet, RAW’s women’s division entered 2020 in a unique position. Low on depth but high on headline talent, the brand continues to search for a winning balance as the Road to WrestleMania approaches. At Royal Rumble, Becky Lynch will return to the scene of the crime, taking on Asuka in a refreshing title match with stakes that extend even beyond the belt itself. That match is positioned perfectly but right now, the surrounding pieces feel far less at home.

Even still, RAW certainly isn’t without female options at Royal Rumble. Quite the opposite in fact, even if the majority aren’t immediately apparent. Nonetheless, the shortlist will naturally be decided by the event’s title match. Lynch enters the expected victor but even if for just a moment, it’s worth pondering both sides of that RAW Women’s Title coin.

Women’s Royal Rumble Match

If Becky Beats Asuka:

Ronda’s Redemption

After one year of dynamic dominance, Ronda Rousey’s WWE stint ended with a solitary defeat. Rousey headlined WrestleMania that night, taking on Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch until the latter pinned Rousey in well, debatable fashion. Initially, Rousey’s conflict with Lynch appeared electrifying but that individual focus was soon added to, with Flair joining the fray for a polarising main event match. Though that move was understandably criticised at the time, it’s overall impact could prove beneficial to this year’s WrestleMania. For better or worse, a Lynch – Rousey singles match remains uncharted territory, for now at least that is.

With a return at the Royal Rumble, Rousey can book her ticket for WrestleMania, finally meeting Lynch one-on-one in a main event calibre match. In theory, that feels live the obvious choice, especially considering last year’s inconclusive finish. However, it feels telling that of all RAW’s options, one of sheer speculation stands well above the rest. Rousey’s WWE status remains unclear but her potential presence can’t be ignored. Opinions aside, Ronda played a pivotal part in the women topping last year’s WrestleMania and with one Rumble victory, she can repeat that feat in Tampa, Florida.

Forgetting Brand Supremacy

Within her own Four Horsewomen group, Ronda Rousey isn’t alone in her history opposite Lynch. In fact, former NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler has a conflict with Lynch herself, one that in the grand scheme of things, appears rather familiar. In the leadup to Survivor Series, Baszler and Lynch came face to face for the first time, sharing an intense verbal exchange that sparked immediate interest in a potential feud. The endgame there was different though, also involving Bayley in an all champion affair for “brand supremacy.”

If that scenario isn’t already similar enough, the match’s finish would also prove anti-climactic. In this case, it’d be even less conclusive than its WrestleMania counterpart too, with Lynch eliminated from proceedings as Baszler submitted Bayley. It appears fair to expect another chapter or two though, as Survivor Series closed with Lynch wiping Baszler out, standing tall after all. The question is, was that a preview of more or simply a way to send fans home happy? At the Royal Rumble, we may very well find out that answer.

Baszler winning the Rumble certainly feels feasible too, especially considering her recent NXT Title loss. Once again, it seems important to mention that one of RAW’s central options includes someone outside of the brand. However, the fit is far too natural to dismiss. Baszler may not carry Rousey’s star power but in style and story, she can fill a similar void. If nothing else, it’s a fresh singles match and though the Survivor Series meeting will concern some, the pros likely outweigh the cons in this case.

The Final Chapter…Again

It’s undeniable that in history, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair will be forever linked. Flair played a pivotal part in Lynch’s ascension to super-stardom and together, they’ve shared legitimately historic moments. This all feels worth keeping in mind, especially with WrestleMania approaching. October’s brand split presented fresh opportunities across the board and in the women’s division, a chance to keep long-time rivals apart. That option wasn’t taken with Lynch and Flair, with both being placed on RAW and swiftly returning side by side, even if somewhat reluctantly.

While Flair currently feels like an unlikely Rumble winner, it seems inevitable that one way or another, she’s once again headed for a central spot at WrestleMania. If that’s indeed the case, there can’t be a plethora of options and the most seamless certainly comes opposite Lynch. It’s not the most inspired choice perhaps but considering their history, Flair certainly feels in contention for a Royal Rumble victory.

A Returning Rivalry

Flair certainly isn’t the only integral player in Lynch’s rise. She’s the most prominent perhaps but not alone in a journey also including Ronda Rousey, Asuka and of course, Nia Jax. Infamously, Jax’s right hand changed history in late 2018, leaving Lynch covered in blood and shifting her trajectory in one fell swoop. That punch took Lynch out of her Survivor Series clash with Rousey, bizarrely making a WrestleMania meeting even more necessary. That chapter will be recapped for quite some time but it’s natural culmination never arrived, with Lynch and Jax not meeting one-on-one since NXT live events four years ago.

Jax isn’t a popular choice for Royal Rumble victory but history suggests that she could indeed be an option. Injury removed Jax from WWE TV after WrestleMania and her presence at the Rumble would be a surprise, naturally standing her in good stead. Moreover, Jax was consistently figured in when active, even receiving a WrestleMania coronation that caught many fans off guard. Combine those factors with her history opposite Lynch and perception aside, a Jax win feels very much possible. Once again, it’s an outside name that makes the shortlist.

If Asuka Beats Becky:

Delaying the Payoff

It feels undeniable that there’s some magic within Becky Lynch and Asuka’s current rivalry. Lynch has achieved historic feats since their last singles meeting and enters the rematch as champion. Yet still, she feels like the woman chasing in this scenario. This was always a story worth telling and thus far, it’s been handled encouragingly well too. The expected conclusion is that at Royal Rumble, Lynch simply redeems herself, defeating Asuka and retaining her RAW Women’s Title. However, what if things don’t go that way after all?

If by hook or by crook, Asuka leaves Royal Rumble as champion, this conflict is extended once more. In that case, perhaps Lynch’s redemption comes at WrestleMania instead, taking on Asuka at ‘The Grandest Stage of Them All.’ It certainly feels unlikely, as Asuka’s tag team title reign already provides a natural destination for her at WrestleMania. Frankly though, that doesn’t change the fact that another Lynch – Asuka clash remains one of RAW’s most interesting potential matchups.

Kabuki Warriors Collide

Speaking of interesting matchups, few pairings fit that bill better than a clash between Asuka and Kairi Sane, the current Women’s Tag Team champions. First though, there are certainly some oncoming roadblocks before that match can occur. To start with, Lynch would have to be in position for some form of blockbuster non-title affair at WrestleMania. Considering that RAW would run into the same issue with Flair, a Horsewomen vs. Horsewomen battle is probably the only scenario that opens things up for an Asuka vs. Sane match.

From there, Sane would probably have to win the Rumble, setting up a tag title loss and split all on the road to WrestleMania. This is almost certainly the least likely option listed but its undeniable appeal warrants a mention nonetheless.


Overall, this list of possibilities perfectly encapsulates RAW’s current state. The brand’s Women’s Title is likely headed for a major match at WrestleMania, but there’s a very good chance that one half of that equation isn’t currently an active member of the RAW roster. Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler loom, one more realistic than the other while genuine star power boosts its alternative. Perhaps this scenario isn’t a surprise internally though, and an upcoming return or arrival is the reason RAW received such an unbalanced group to begin with.

Either way, decisions will have to be made at Royal Rumble and hopefully, they’ll set the tone for a positive Road to WrestleMania for RAW.