New Approach to WWE Royal Rumble Surprises, Rock at WrestleMania 39, More Quick Takes
Although WWE's hype for the Royal Rumble has been lacking in recent weeks, the promise of surprises in each of Saturday's matches tends to be enough to get fans buzzing.
Per Fightful Select, the company is considering "non-traditional surprises" this year, extending beyond the usual returns of faces from the past. What exactly that entails is unknown, but it could ultimately benefit both Battle Royals if executed properly.
The event may also see the long-awaited return of The Rock, who has long been rumored to face Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania 39. Regardless of whether he appears, his status for The Show of Shows will be certain after this weekend.
How that affects Cody Rhodes' WrestleMania plans and potential men's Royal Rumble victory also remains to be seen.
This installment of Quick Takes will tackle The Rock's road to 'Mania, the SmackDown Tag Team Championship No. 1 contender's tournament, Saraya and Toni Storm turning heel in All Elite Wrestling, and more.
'Non-Traditional' Rumble Surprises Should Include 'Forbidden Door' Entrants
The Royal Rumble has such a long lineage at this point that fans have essentially seen it all in the last three-plus decades, especially in regards to surprise entrants.
Bringing back familiar faces is always a treat, but almost every major star has resurfaced in the Battle Royal at one point or another.
A handful of women have made history by competing in the men's Rumble, and there have even been cases of retired legends returning from career-ending injuries (i.e. Edge and Christian).
If WWE is truly interested in taking a "non-traditional" approach to surprises in the men's and women's this year (without relying on celebrities such as Bad Bunny and Johnny Knoxville again), then exploring the "forbidden door" might be the way to go.
It's not as if it hasn't been done before, either. WWE used talent from AAA in the 1997 Royal Rumble, and as recently as 2022, Mickie James took part in the women's Rumble as Impact Wrestling's defending knockouts world champion.
AEW would likely be out of the question, but New Japan Pro-Wrestling could be a possibility considering WWE let Karl Anderson work Wrestle Kingdom earlier in January. Impact is an option as well as it has plenty of WWE alumni under contract.
Even if it's someone who has never stepped foot in a WWE ring before, if they're a notable enough name, they will elicit a reaction at the Rumble, and it would send the message that anything can happen.
Imperium Are Best Bet for SmackDown No. 1 Contender's Tourney
WWE kicked off a SmackDown Tag Team Championship No. 1 contender's tournament this past Friday night, with Hit Row, Imperium, Legado del Fantasma and the duo of Drew McIntyre and Sheamus all advancing to the next round.
The semifinals will take place the night prior to the Royal Rumble, and it's assumed the finals will transpire soon after. Of the four teams remaining, McIntyre and Sheamus vs. Imperium is the match most likely to take place in the finals.
McIntyre and Sheamus previously challenged The Usos for the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championship on the first SmackDown of 2023, so there's no reason for that match to be revisited. Imperium winning would create a heel vs. heel dynamic with The Usos but would be fresh and an undoubtedly exciting affair.
Gunther airing Imperium to victory and costing McIntyre and Sheamus their chance of becoming No. 1 contenders can then lead to the three of them feuding over the Intercontinental Championship heading into WrestleMania 39. There's no match that makes nearly as much sense for Sheamus and McIntyre otherwise.
This tournament feels designed to set that Triple Threat up, while also giving The Usos a pair of filler opponents before inevitably dropping their titles to Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
What Saraya and Toni Storm's Heel Turns Mean for AEW Women's Division
AEW has made great strides with the way it has presented its women since the fall and giving them more opportunities to shine.
The latest development on Wednesday's Dynamite saw Saraya and Toni Storm betray the beloved Willow Nightingale before Ruby Soho made the save.
It was a bit of a sudden shift for Saraya and Storm considering they were babyfaces just last week, but the endgame for the angle should prove to be worth it.
All signs point to AEW booking some sort of program pitting its homegrown female talent against those who journeyed over from WWE.
The latter group can include Storm, Saraya, Ruby Soho and possibly Athena while the homegrown stars are represented by Nightingale, Jamie Hayter, Britt Baker and a partner of their choosing. It's a simple story worth telling, especially if the idea is to have it culminate in Blood and Guts.
AEW has yet to do a women's Blood and Guts match, and it would be fitting for that matchup to take place inside the two cages. The idea eventually should be to put over and elevate the female stars who made names for themselves in AEW.
It would be wise for the promotion to take its time with this angle and not rush into anything so that everyone's roles are clearly defined and fans can follow everything easily.
Remembering Jay Briscoe
The wrestling world lost one of its very best this week when Ring of Honor tag team champion Jay Briscoe died in a car crash at the age of 38 on January 17.
Jay and his brother, Mark, have long been regarded as being among the greatest teams in modern wrestling history, especially for never having competed on the grand stage of WWE. They spent 20 years in Ring of Honor and held the tag titles a record 13 times.
In addition to being an incredibly decorated tag team wrestler in multiple major promotions, Jay also had success as a singles star. He had two dominant runs as ROH world champion and was known for his captivating promos as well as his hard-hitting matches.
The Briscoes recently had a stellar series of contests against FTR for the ROH World Tag Team Championship that spanned three pay-per-views in 2022, capping off an outstanding legacy as a tag team.
Above all else, Jay's reputation preceded him, and he was beloved by countless people both inside and outside of the wrestling community. The outpouring of positive messages about the ROH original reflected that.
Here's wishing the Briscoe family all the best and a full recovery for his two daughters, Jayleigh and Gracie, who were injured in the crash.
The Rock's WrestleMania 39 Status Will Become Clear at Rumble
The biggest question for fans in recent months has been whether The Rock will wrestle Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 39 in April. There hasn't been any indication one way or the other aside from it being a logical main event for the Hollywood-hosted pay-per-view.
The Royal Rumble will finally give us our answer, as it's highly unlikely WWE would wait any longer to bring him back if Rock vs. Reigns was happening. It would need to be announced as early as possible to ensure the build lives up to the hype.
The latest update from Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter is that Rock has indicated to WWE he wouldn't have enough time to get into proper ring shape before 'Mania, despite knowing about the bout being a possibility for some time now.
WWE can't center its Road to WrestleMania around someone who isn't set in stone for The Show of Shows, hence why Cody Rhodes would be a much smarter choice to have win the men's Rumble match.
While not as much of a marquee match, Reigns vs. Rhodes has a story that writes itself and is the best possible main event WWE can book for WrestleMania this year.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.