WWE Royal Rumble 2017: Predicting Match Card, Most Likely Swerves at PPV

Anthony Mango@@ToeKneeManGoFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2017

WWE Royal Rumble 2017: Predicting Match Card, Most Likely Swerves at PPV

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    Original image: WWE.com

    WWE Royal Rumble 2017 is shaping up to be potentially one of the biggest events in the modern era, and much of it still hasn't even been finalized.

    Two weeks out from the January classic, less than half of the field of competitors for the titular Battle Royal have been determined, and many other matches on the card remain in limbo.

    There is still plenty of time for WWE to provide a multitude of twists and turns not just during the build to the event, but also during the show itself.

    In an environment where everybody should expect the unexpected, what can the WWE Universe look forward to and keep its eyes open for when it comes to what will transpire at Royal Rumble 2017?

    Let's take a look at some predictions of what WWE might have in store for us.

Potential Match Card

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    Original image: WWE.com

    At the moment, four matches are confirmed to be scheduled for the event:

    • 2017 Royal Rumble match
    • Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship
    • AJ Styles vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship
    • Charlotte Flair vs. Bayley for the Raw Women's Championship
    • Rich Swann vs. Neville for the Cruiserweight Championship

    The Royal Rumble match will eat up over 60 minutes, and the three other matches should come out to at least 15 minutes each, but that still leaves quite a bit of room to add more fights to the card.

    It's safe to say SmackDown will help balance out this equation by representing the blue brand's titles with the clear-cut feuds going on right now.

    Barring some odd circumstance with the La Luchadora gimmick, Becky Lynch is still the best candidate to challenge Alexa Bliss for the SmackDown Women's Championship.

    Likewise, the feud between Dean Ambrose and The Miz won't be losing steam anytime soon. And with the Intercontinental Championship changing hands between the two, a rematch is bound to occur if they aren't relegated to only competing in the Royal Rumble match. WWE may think that's good enough and not book them for double-duty.

    If the Raw and SmackDown Tag Team Championships are able to find their way onto the card, Cesaro and Sheamus are locked in against Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, while American Alpha will remain in the cross hairs of The Wyatt Family as it seeks to regain its gold.

    It's unlikely much else would be added to the card—unless anything above is relegated to a short amount of time. Many feuds can be touched on in the Royal Rumble match itself.

    Battles such as Braun Strowman vs. Sami Zayn, Rusev vs. Big Cass, The New Day vs. Titus O'Neil, Nia Jax vs. Sasha Banks and Nikki Bella vs. Natalya could all slip onto the pre-show. But none of those seem important enough to justify taking up such precious time at this particular event.

    Unless WWE wishes to throw a curveball, expect this lineup to be the finalized card for this pay-per-view:

    • 2017 Royal Rumble match
    • Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship
    • AJ Styles vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship
    • Charlotte Flair vs. Bayley for the Raw Women's Championship
    • Rich Swann vs. Neville for the Cruiserweight Championship
    • Alexa Bliss vs. Becky Lynch for the SmackDown Women's Championship
    • Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship
    • Cesaro and Sheamus vs. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows for the Raw Tag Team Championships
    • American Alpha vs. The Wyatt Family for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships

    But if that is on the docket, what could happen during those matches?

The Jeri-KO Friendship Implodes, and Roman Reigns Becomes Champion

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    A clash between Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens appears to be inevitable, as it has been slowly but surely brewing for months—once in a while bubbling to the surface before settling down to simmer some more.

    With the idea of them being co-champions—not just for the Universal Championship, but also now the United States Championship—this friendship can't possibly last much longer. Somewhere along the line, the gold between the two will get in the way.

    It's possible WWE put the United States title on Jericho as a means to switch up the situation Roman Reigns will be in come WrestleMania.

    It looks as though Braun Strowman is getting a considerable push and could feud with Reigns in the typical fashion WWE loves to do, meaning that there are two "big guys" locking up at WrestleMania.

    Perhaps WWE officials think so highly of this match that they are willing to ignore the collective consciousness that would prefer Owens vs. Jericho to be for the Universal Championship and instead put a trading of titles in place.

    Reigns could wind up winning the Universal Championship after something happens with Jericho, costing Owens the match. That would be the last straw for their friendship. Those two would then face each other for the United States title at WrestleMania, while Strowman—the winner of the Royal Rumble—would challenge Reigns.

    Essentially, this is a lot of work to get around doing the exact same matches that could have happened had Reigns retained the United States title and Owens walked into WrestleMania as universal champion, but WWE would prefer having the two larger men holding the higher-tier title as a bit of favoritism.

    If this happens, the biggest swerve of them all would be from the perspective of those same WWE officials who will likely be shocked to see that fans don't embrace this as much as they had expected.

    Never underestimate how WWE can sometimes be blind to what the fans prefer and do cartwheels to go in the complete opposite direction.

    While it might not be considered a swerve to say Reigns will be given a championship and a main event at WrestleMania in favor of two "internet darlings" like Owens and Jericho, there has been more leniency with this type of attitude of late. That would make it all that more heartbreaking to see things revert back to how everything used to operate.

Belt or Bust: John Cena's Only Obstacle Is Outside Interference

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    Credit: WWE.com

    By now, it seems like every Magic 8 Ball in the world would say "it is certain" John Cena will win his 16th world title by defeating AJ Styles at Royal Rumble, but not all "signs point to yes."

    Everyone and their mothers predict Cena to win big matches. And more often than not, it's a safe bet, barring the excuse that Cena can start a new feud with someone who inserts himself into the match to attack him.

    Many times, Cena has transitioned from one feud to the next purely based on the future opponent interfering in one of Cena's matches to cost him a win.

    This is all dependent upon WWE's plans for WrestleMania and then working backward to book this match to fit those plans.

    If Cena is scheduled to be the WWE champion heading into Orlando, Florida, he will win the title here or at Elimination Chamber rather than the belt switching hands on an episode of SmackDown.

    On the other hand, if Cena is not going to be factored into the title picture, he has to come up short against Styles here.

    Knowing the track record, if Cena is going to lose—or at least win by disqualification or count-out so that he fails to take the title in his win—the most likely scenario is for someone to start a feud with him that will culminate at WrestleMania itself.

    This could be virtually anyone big enough to have a marquee match with Cena. But while some might jump to The Undertaker, that doesn't seem to be in line with his current character.

    One person, though, who could be prime for this spot is Samoa Joe.

    Not only does Joe have history with Styles that could be used to tell a story of their friendship, but he also could easily be justified as gunning for the top dog in WWE to prove a point.

    He and Cena have never feuded before, which makes it a fresh match as well.

    Joe is the biggest wrestler on the NXT brand in terms of notoriety and physical stature. He is more than capable of giving Cena the beatdown that would spark a feud.

    It might seem like a foregone conclusion that Cena will walk away with the title, but don't rule out the possibility that Samoa Joe might put a stop to that story.

A SmackDown Star Wins the Royal Rumble

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    Credit: WWE.com

    At first, a SmackDown star winning the Royal Rumble may seem like more of a 50-50 odds statistic than a swerve, but there could be a deeper meaning behind it than just two brands sharing room in the ring.

    WWE has remained suspiciously hush about the upcoming Elimination Chamber and Fastlane events.

    Normally, pay-per-views are promoted months in advance to generate excitement. Yet here we are in the middle of January, and Elimination Chamber is not even on WWE.com's list of shows, which skips right to Fastlane.

    Some further hunting will bring you to the official Elimination Chamber page, which specifies it as a SmackDown-branded event. In cooperation with that, Fastlane is indicated as a Raw-branded event.

    Does that not spoil the outcome of the Royal Rumble, though?

    By the sheer nature of the Elimination Chamber gimmick match and the history it has had being placed after the Royal Rumble, it was always used to determine who would challenge the champion who had not been chosen by the Royal Rumble winner.

    This would imply a Raw Superstar would win the Royal Rumble, opening up SmackDown's WWE Championship challenger to be decided in the Elimination Chamber.

    However, the card is always subject to change. Relatively nothing is set in stone, even moments before each pay-per-view begins. Anything can be adjusted if necessary, as could the advertisements of these events.

    Perhaps WWE has kept the promotion for Elimination Chamber and Fastlane on the back burner because there are plans for a SmackDown Superstar to come out on top.

    Fastlane would then become a SmackDown event, and the Raw wrestlers would battle it out in the Elimination Chamber to earn a shot at the Universal Championship.

    What this boils down to is either a purposeful misdirect to throw fans off the scent or a horrible lapse of judgment when it comes to spoilers being leaked by WWE itself.

Goldberg and Brock Lesnar Will Underperform

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    Credit: WWE.com

    WWE will never talk something down if there is a chance to talk it up instead.

    Hyperbole to promote an event is commonplace, even if there is never any intention to follow through on what the implication is.

    Every event is advertised as having the potential to be the best ever. And in retrospect, it's often the case where WWE will just say something was magnificent and lie, even though the entire fanbase has a differing opinion. The company would rather risk coming off as wrongfully optimistic as opposed to pointing out its flaws.

    The risk is reasonable to an extent, but it's a common enough occurrence that everybody should keep it in mind when it comes to the promises of Brock Lesnar and Goldberg appearing at this show.

    As it stands right now, a lot of energy is being built around their appearances as featured players in the Royal Rumble match.

    Given their accolades, they are considered favorites to win the whole thing and go on to WrestleMania to challenge the champion. But don't be surprised if the end result turns out to be much less bombastic.

    It would be absurd for WWE to not book some kind of scenario where the two of them meet up in the ring during this match. But it might only be for a few seconds—just to continue building to their singles match at WrestleMania that has nothing to do with any championship.

    Goldberg has wrestled one squash match over the course of the past 12 years, while Lesnar's previous encounter before that was a quickly dominated and short one with Randy Orton.

    Under no circumstances will these two be booked the same as a workhorse like Dolph Ziggler.

    The posters, promos, video packages and everything else leading up to this event will continue to paint a portrait that Goldberg and Lesnar will be major names to watch out for here—and they will be, in terms of booking importance—but by no means will they factor into the match for more than a few minutes at most.

    Many fans will be disappointed to see that their hopes of getting more action from Goldberg and Lesnar will go unfulfilled. It's entirely possible that one or both of them don't even make an appearance until at least the 20th entrant, if not further along into the match.

    It's not false advertisement to promote two big names as prominent people on the card, only to have them make short guest appearances, but it's a swerve as far as how WWE is building this Royal Rumble to go.

Who Will Be the Surprise Royal Rumble Entrants?

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    One of the most widely anticipated aspects of the Royal Rumble match every year is the possibility of seeing old stars return or new stars make their debuts as entrants.

    Last year, AJ Styles was the biggest name in the list of shocking competitors, but part of the fun with this match is how there are no real limits to what WWE's creative team might have up its sleeves.

    Speculation always reaches a fever pitch as fans are on edge for names like Kurt Angle and The Hardy Boyz to show up or for Finn Balor to defy the odds by coming back from his injury early.

    John Cena poured gasoline on the fire when it came to the hype that Kenny Omega may join the WWE roster by posting the above picture to his Instagram account with no explanation whatsoever.

    Will WWE pull out a surprise by having Bob Backlund enter instead of Darren Young?

    Could we see the return of Triple H to screw Seth Rollins over when he's close to winning?

    Since Bo Dallas and Rusev have made the jump from NXT to the main roster during the Royal Rumble, it's possible anyone from that brand could make an appearance.

    There's even a chance the big swerve this year is that all 30 spots are taken up by regular members of the roster and not a single surprise happens. That would be anticlimactic but in itself a shocker, as these random participants have become expected over the years.

    This event is important, so the WWE Universe may be in store for a roller-coaster ride come Jan. 29.

    What do you think will happen at this pay-per-view? Are there any predictions you feel confident in?

    Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

                  

    Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.