WWE Elimination Chamber 2021: Predictions & Analysis

Well, that PPV cycle sure went quick. The Royal Rumble feels like it was just a week ago, and I could’ve sworn this PPV was scheduled for next weekend, but that shows what I know, I guess. The bright side is that this time of year always has me excited for wrestling shows, even if the TV isn’t the best.

This show is a bit of an interesting one because it’s pretty much entirely wheel spinning. Usually, Elimination Chamber will at least set the stage for a Wrestlemania match or two, but this one really has no bearing on the Mania card. I know both of the titles are up for grabs, but if you think either of them are going to change hands on Sunday, then you’re clearly new to wrestling. On top of that, no number 1 contenders are being decided; the only possibility is that Edge will come and confront the champion he wants to face at Wrestlemania, but even that already feels like a done deal.

That said, I really like the Elimination Chamber. It’s not WWE’s best gimmick match by a long shot, but I think (2020 notwithstanding) the past few years have produced a lot of really great chamber matches, and this year promises to add to that.

NOTE: About the Asuka vs Lacey Evans match. WWE still seems to be advertising it as happening, but if it’s true that Lacey is pregnant (which just about everywhere seems to be reporting she is) that match won’t be going ahead. I’m not sure what WWE are going to do about it, but given that I don’t think it’s taking place, I’m not going to predict it. I don’t know who WWE would put up as a replacement, it wouldn’t surprise me if they just didn’t bother, but either way, I think Asuka will still be champion by the end of the night.

Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler(c) vs Sasha Banks & Bianca Belair
(Women’s Tag Team Championships)

Remember when the women’s tag division had actual tag teams to challenge the champs and not just some pairings thrown together on a whim? No, me neither, which is sort of the problem with the whole endeavour right now.

While it’s not been anything incredible, the build has been fairly enjoyable week-to-week, mostly thanks to the overall high quality of Smackdown so far this year. It’s not without problems, though, mainly how the build has focused around Bianca’s uneasy alliance with Banks and that Bianca is definitely going to challenge Sasha at Mania. Jax & Baszler have once again been kicked to the curb a bit in favour of the feuds involving the ‘bigger stars’.

That said, I’m hopeful this will be a good one. This should get a decent amount of time thanks to the lack of matches booked for this show, and three of the four women are among WWE’s best. I’d imagine WWE would be eager to showcase Bianca especially following her Rumble win.

I think it’s a pretty solid lock that Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler are going to retain. They may lose the titles only to get them back when Sasha & Bianca fall out, but they literally just did that with Charlotte, so I don’t see the point in doing it again. I think it’d be much better for Sasha & Bianca to fall out here, and we get going with their Wrestlemania build properly. I’m interested to see how that build goes because Bianca is 100% the face that everyone will be behind, but I don’t think it’d be a good idea to turn Banks heel again this soon. Hopefully, WWE will be smart enough to let Banks skirt the line between heel & face a bit, as she’s more than capable of doing it. Either way, having the women’s tag titles involved would just needlessly complicate things, so keep them on the champs for now.

Bobby Lashley(c) vs Keith Lee vs Riddle
(United States Championship)

This build has been messy as all hell.

Riddle’s been chasing Lashley for quite a while now, even running the gauntlet of The Hurt Business and fighting them off at every opportunity. So it seems really weird for Keith Lee to suddenly step in on his scene like this. I mean, sure, why shouldn’t he? And I love Keith Lee, so I’m not going to complain too much; it just seems like a real dick move to pull on Riddle. The Hurt Business has continued to be the best part of Raw the past couple of months, giving us some much needed entertaining promo segments on a Raw that is currently an absolute chore to get through every week.

I’m looking forward to the match, though. I wasn’t huge on Lashley for a while, but I’ve come around to him now he’s got a faction backing him up and just needs to rely on destroying fools. Riddle & Lee are both excellent, so I can only imagine the chemistry they’ll have in the ring. Additionally, the triple threat factor means that this match should be a lot of fun with a fast pace and high-impact action.

I can see the result going all three ways if I’m honest with you. Putting the belt on Keith Lee would be something I’m in favour of as he’s not been featured very well in recent months, but it might feel a bit out of nowhere for him to suddenly show up and win the title. Riddle winning the title is a possibility too, he’s been chasing The Hurt Business for ages now, and it’d seem a bit cruel for him to not get it here. Ultimately though, I’m going with Bobby Lashley. In a situation like this, picking the champ to retain is always a safe bet, and I think by keeping the belt on Lashley, the door is open for Lee to take the title in a singles match at Mania.

Drew McIntyre(c) vs Randy Orton vs AJ Styles vs Sheamus vs Jeff Hardy vs Kofi Kingston
(WWE Championship)
(Elimination Chamber)

Generally, I’d go through each of the participants for a match like this and give my thoughts on their chances in the match, but there’s really only one outcome here.

In a clear example of the fact that WWE has no idea who Drew’s going to face at Mania, they’ve thrown this match together on a whim, and while it’s pointless, it will probably be very good. There’s the right mix of hard-hitters and high-flyers in this match, and I think we’ll get a lot of varied action as the thing progresses.

The only real problem here is that I don’t have all that much to say about it. The build’s been very short and okay, I guess; gauntlet matches are pretty fun. All that’s really left to talk about is the winner, and as I’ve already made obvious, I’m picking Drew McIntyre to retain. The dude just beat Goldberg clean, so there’s no way they’d have him suddenly drop the title to Jeff Hardy on a b-show PPV. Not to mention the fact that they’ve already put together the Wrestlemania promo package, which shows both Drew & Reigns holding their titles.

The only person I thought had any potential to take the title was Orton, but it’s clear that he’s going to be dealing with The Fiend at Mania, so that rules him out. Styles already lost his shot in December, and while they’re all former world champions, Sheamus, Hardy & Kingston have not been booked on a main-event level at all over the past year and don’t fit the title at the moment.

Kevin Owens vs Jey Uso vs Daniel Bryan vs King Corbin vs Sami Zayn vs Cesaro
(Elimination Chamber)

AND

Roman Reigns(c) vs The Winner of the Elimination Chamber Match
(Universal Championship)

This is the chamber match that I’m far more excited to see because – with one exception – I adore all of the talent involved, and it’s sure to be a blinder of a match. What’s better is the result of this one isn’t super obvious, so I can go through it person by person.

King Corbin – While Corbin is one of those people that could be catapulted into the main event out of nowhere at any time, it’s not going to happen here. He’s been booked like a chump in the latter half of the past year, and with Reigns on top, there’s no room for another main-event heel.

Sami Zayn –Zayn’s work of late has been fantastic, even if I don’t think it’s going to lead anywhere. The conspiracy theory stuff allows Zayn to get the best out of himself and do wonderfully entertaining things like handcuffing himself to barricade for half of Smackdown. That said, I don’t think it’s going to lead to a real main-event push, and, as I said before, while Reigns is the champion, no other heel is getting a look in.

Jey Uso – Jey’s story with Roman was one of WWE’s better stories of 2020, but it feels like it’s reached a status quo for now, at least until Jimmy returns from injury. While it would be entertaining to watch, I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from Uso fighting Reigns again. They could do a finger-poke of doom thing, but that would make everyone very angry, so no.

Daniel Bryan – Now we’re getting into the people I think might win. Bryan & Reigns started building a feud around November, but it got dropped out of nowhere, and they never returned to it. It seemed like it was going to be the Mania match, but now Edge has won the Rumble, and it seems pretty likely he’s going to fight Roman at Mania instead. Bryan would be a good strong win for Reigns, and it’d be perfect for the underdog story of having to go through a Chamber match before fighting Reigns.

I just don’t quite see it. If it’s going to lead to a Mania match (which it might), then I’d be in favour of it, but I don’t think that’s the direction WWE want to go, and given how big of a match Reigns vs Bryan is, I don’t think they’d give it away on a b-show like this.

Cesaro – One of the most surprising aspects of 2021 so far is that fact that Cesaro has actually been getting somewhat of a sustained singles pushed. He’s beaten Daniel Bryan clean twice now, and word was he was originally going to get the ironman spot in that gauntlet match in January. As such, I think he’s in with a shout of getting this one-and-done shot the title on this show. Having Cesaro gut it out in the Chamber, put on an exciting but ultimately unsuccessful showing against might be a brilliant way to build him up even further.

Kevin Owens – The final leading contender here, and this would definitely make the most narrative sense. Owens has addressed the fact that he was totally screwed out of the win at the Rumble, and you’d think that would mean there’s still a loose thread to pull on here. On top of that, Owens has all the momentum in the world, and it would be a shame to see it dropped all of a sudden.

I’m struggling to make my pick here. As I said, Owens seems like the obvious choice, but I’m not so sure. While there is that loose thread to pull on, I just don’t see what can be gained from Reigns beating Owens again. It may be a great performance for Owens, but I don’t think it’ll benefit him any more than the Last Man Standing match did, and Reigns doesn’t look all that great beating a guy he’s already beat twice before, even if it was dirty.

I’ve decided I’m going to go with what I want to happen instead, and I’m picking Cesaro to win the Chamber match. It might not lead to anything huge for the guy, but I think it could be an extremely entertaining story and let Cesaro show that he can hang in the main event, like so many of us have known for years. He’s not going to win, though, and come the end of the night, Roman Reigns will still be Universal Champion.

So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know what you think is going to happen on Sunday, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Monday for my review of the show!

NXT Takeover: Vengeance Day: Predictions & Analysis

Feel that warm breeze in the air? That must mean it’s time for the first NXT Takeover of the year. I didn’t enjoy the 2020 lineup of Takeovers as much as previous years, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I’m coming into 2021 ready to fall back in love with the yellow brand like I was in 2017/18/19. I seem to have picked a good show to fall in love with as well because this card is full of matches that I’m very excited to see and promises to be a top-notch night of action, but who’s going to win. I’ll tell you who, which a roughly 60% accuracy rate.

MSK vs Grizzled Young Veterans
(Men’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals)

The NXT tag titles have been in a bit of a weird situation since the pandemic started. Travel restrictions prevented one-half of current champs, Pete Dunne, from making it into the country to defend the title. So then Riddle teamed with Timothy Thatcher, then they IMMEDIATELY lost the titles to Imperium. Then Imperium…didn’t defend the titles for most of their reign. Then they lost the titles to Breezango in a reign so inconsequential I honestly forgot it happened until I checked Wikipedia, and now Burch & Lorcan have the titles and are yet to do anything of note with them.

It’s not been a great year for the tag division at large in NXT, despite having plenty of talent on hand. However, this Dusty Classic definitely feels like it’s revitalized the scene a bunch. Even the teams that felt a bit thrown together for this tournament impressed, and the competitors that have risen to the top are a great reminder of the depth of talent NXT can pull from.

Personally, I thought Ciampa & Tatcher were going all the way, as I’ve loved their rivalry turned partnership, but Grizzled Young Veterans beating them this Wednesday threw a lot of confusion in the mix as to who I think is going to win. I knew very little about MSK (formerly The Rascalz) before joining NXT, but they definitely fit right in with all the other great teams in NXT right now. They seem like the favourites to win, but I’m not entirely sure. Grizzled Young Veterans were last year’s runners up, and it would seem weird for them to come second place again. Plus, it’s not like it’d hurt MSK too much as I’m sure the match will be great.

It’s a tough call, but I’m going with MSK, they have all the momentum right now, and although I don’t think they’ll win the titles, it’s the perfect way to establish them as main-stays in the division.

Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart vs Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez
(Women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals)

While the women’s tournament was smaller, it was by no means any less stacked, and I think it’d been an extremely enjoyable tournament this past month, and one that’s been quite hard to predict as well.

Dakota Kai had a bit of a cooling-off period towards the end of last year, but I’m glad NXT is still interested in investing in her because she absolutely deserves it. Moon & Blackheart meanwhile feel like they’re on top of the world. Blackheart is the next big thing in the division and Moon feels so different to her 2016/17 run in NXT in a good way. Everything about how they’ve been treated together has made them into quite the package, and one I want to see more of past the end of this tournament.

I think there’s no question that this one will be great. Raquel Gonzalez has absolutely proved she can be in the top spot of the NXT women’s division with talents like the rest in the match and it’s going to make for one hell of a match. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one descended into chaos quite quickly and held a fast pace for the majority of it’s run time.

As for picking a winner, I’m a bit torn. Gonzalez has been getting many big wins like that at Wargames, and against Rhea Ripley, so it would certainly make sense to keep that going. Dakota Kai could also do with a big win like this after her cooling-off period last year. I know she was also in that Wargames match, but she didn’t really feature in it very heavily in my opinion. That said, Shotzi & Moon fell like they also need a big win, as while they have undeniably been presented as big stars, they haven’t got many wins as of late.

Then there’s the additional factor of the winners getting a shot at the women’s tag titles (which they won’t win), and I think WWE would rather showcase two of their top faces to a bigger stage than the heels. Plus, Baszler & Nia Jax are the current champions, and heel vs heel doesn’t really work. Considering all of that, I think it’s got to be Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart in a move that will hopefully launch one or both of them into the title scene.

Johnny Gargano(c) vs Kushida
(North American Championship)

Much like Keith Lee when he first signed with the brand, it feels like we’ve been waiting for ages for NXT to actually do something with Kushida. You could argue it’s a positive thing that they don’t shove stars into the limelight until they’re actually ready to go somewhere with them, but it does feel odd to have these stars on the back burner for ages. Either way, that’s changed now, and Kushida is ready to take off.

Gargano’s heel run has had me going back and forth. On the one hand, I’ve never really felt all that convinced by it. He’s such a natural babyface, and he didn’t take that much of a different angle like Sami Zayn did when he turned. That said, he’s still very skilled in the ring and on the mic. I thought his segment on NXT this past Wednesday was excellent and balanced the comedy and drama really well, but it’s not all been like that. Conversely, Kushida hasn’t had that much to sink his teeth into in terms of story. Not every story needs to be wildly complicated, but I was hoping this story would have a bit more to it than Gargano being a bit of a jerk.

That said, it’s still two of the best technical wrestlers on the planet clashing with each other in what is sure to be a match of the year contender very early on in 2021. I feel reasonably confident with picking Kushida to win the title here. My main thought being that, if he’s not going to win the title, then what on Earth is he going to do? However, Gargano does seem to keep winning that title when I don’t think he will, so I can’t entirely rule out the possibility he retains. Ultimately, Kushida having the title is far better for him that it would be for Gargano to retain. His reign wouldn’t even have to be all that long as long as he got a bunch of high-quality defences in there.

Io Shirai(c) vs Toni Storm vs Mercedes Martinez
(NXT Women’s Championship)

Let’s see here, we’ve got one of the coolest female superstars currently in WWE with Io Shirai. A powerful heel character in Toni Storm with an in-ring style to match. And finally, an in-ring veteran in Mercedes Martinez, who is looking to re-establish herself as a force to be reckoned with. Yup, that definitely checks all of my ‘match of the year’ boxes.

Much like the Gargano/Kushida storyline, this one has been relatively simple, but unlike the Gargano/Kushida storyline, I don’t think it needs to be much more. It’s three women with an incredible amount of in-ring talent, who all really want the title and don’t like each other very much. What more could you ask for? Any combination of these women in singles matches would be amazing, but the triple threat nature should hopefully kick it up a notch into a non-stop fast-paced affair to blow us all away, much like the triple threat match where Shirai won the title.

As for a winner, I think the odds lie with Io Shirai. While Toni Storm would be a great choice for champion, I don’t feel like she’s been built enough and her winning the championship now would feel quite sudden. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy it, I’m just saying it’s not the most sensible move. I actually think there’s an outside chance Martinez could win this. I think there’s a good story to be told in her jumping back to NXT and immediately winning the title. Plus, I think she could straddle the tweener line very well as opponents like Shotzi Blackheart, Ember Moon & Raquel Gonzalez sit on the horizon.

As I said though, Io Shirai makes the most sense. This really doesn’t feel like there’s going to be a title change, and it would be a rather sudden end to Shirai’s excellent reign as champion. I think this is just going to boost her stock as champion moving into her next big singles feud.

Finn Balor(c) vs Pete Dunne
(NXT Championship)

Now here’s the match I’m the most excited for. I’ve always loved Dunne, and I’ve said it many times over the years, but he makes the more grounded, mat-based style his own in a way I don’t think anyone else can right now. As for Balor, while I’m often critical of him, I can’t deny that his current run as NXT champion has been bloody brilliant. His matches with O’Reilly were both barn-burners and the intensity with which he carries himself has made him feel like such an unbelievably colossal star. He’s an entirely different person from who he was in his first reign as champion, and I think that’s brilliant.

I’ll be interested to see how these two mesh their styles here. I’m expecting it to be a much slower, hard-hitting affair than what we’re used to for NXT main events, but I’m hoping that will be in a good way. While Balor’s style has always been more flashy & fast, his recent work has definitely focused on the impact of his moves, rather than how they look, and I think it’s improved his in-ring work significantly. Alternatively, if they instead go the other way, and Dunne accelerates his style, I still think we’ll be in for a hell of a ride. Of course, the truth is almost always in the middle when it comes to these things, and I’m excited about it.

Picking a winner has been a tricky affair. I was initially wondering what Kross was going to do when he came back, but now it’s become clear he’s going for the Cruiserweight title, that’s out of the picture. So with no other outside factors like that to consider, I think there’s a genuine chance we could see a title change. Dunne has had such a head of steam since returning, and while Balor has been an excellent champion, I feel like it’s Dunne’s time. Granted, I’m not entirely sure what Balor will do if he drops the title now, but I could say the same for Dunne. Dunne’s been in NXT for ages, and if he’s not going to move upwards in the brand anytime soon, then why is he still here?

I think I’ve talked myself into it. I’m going with Pete Dunne to win the title.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know who you think is going to win on Sunday, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Monday, where I’ll be reviewing the show, and next Saturday, where I’ll be running through my favourite board games!

WWE Royal Rumble 2021: Predictions & Analysis

There are very few wrestling events that I get childishly excited about these days, but the Royal Rumble is definitely one of them. It’s been said the world over by now, but it really is true that even a bad Rumble is still a lot of fun while you’re watching it. Having two Rumbles on the same show can be a bit exhausting these days, but also screw it, it’s a lot of fun, and I always have a blast, so I don’t care.

Enough rambling, more rumbling, let’s make predictions.

Asuka & Charlotte Flair(c) vs Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler
(Women’s Tag Team Championships)

You wouldn’t know it based on how they’ve been booked on TV this past month, but Asuka & Charlotte are actually the women’s tag champs. For some reason, WWE has decided to keep them miles apart from each other this month. Each woman has completely separate stories from each other, and only tangentially got involved with their challengers for this match.

When they won the titles, I think we all knew it was just so they could break up and feud for Wrestlemania, but apparently, until they’re ready to pull the trigger on that, WWE is just going to pretend they’re not even aware of one another. I’d like to be optimistic about this match and say that it has all the right competitors to be a good one, but this match will definitely get cut short. Since the pandemic era, WWE has tried to keep their PPVs to about 3 – 3 & 1/2 hours, we’ve got two Rumbles, which are both an hour-long, then four other title matches to deal with. That means that every title match (except for maybe one) will go short, so I’m not expecting much from this one.

In terms of a winner, I would prefer it if Jax & Baszler took the titles back, but I don’t see it happening until WWE are ready to start building the Charlotte/Asuka feud, which I doubt they are just yet. So I’m going to put Asuka & Charlotte Flair to retain, even if it is a stupid idea.

Sasha Banks(c) vs Carmella
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

This was a very odd build. For the first couple of weeks after TLC, it seemed like Banks was done with Carmella, but apparently, WWE realised last-minute that Sasha needed something to do this month, so just kept the feud going while everyone else in the division builds to the Rumble. The stuff with Reginald was pretty good if you ask me, but it didn’t do much to actually hype me up for this match, it was more of just an entertaining, but self-contained oddity.

As with their TLC match, I think this one will be good, but not very long. Banks already dispatched of Carmella with little difficulty last month, and I can’t see Carmella looking much better in this one. All I’m hoping for here is an enjoyable match that lasts about 12 minutes. In an ideal world, I’d like it to go longer, but as I’ve said, the two Rumbles mean that the other matches have got to go short.

As I’ve probably made apparent already, I think Sasha Banks is going to retain. There’s no value in Banks dropping that belt before Wrestlemania, especially not to someone that she’s already beat once before.

Drew McIntyre(c) vs Goldberg
(WWE Championship)

Here we are again…

When this match was first announced, along with being disappointed, I also had the cockiness and was thinking there’s NO WAY they’d have Drew drop the title to Goldberg after building him up all year. Then I remembered that was precisely the same thing I thought last year when Goldberg beat The Fiend for the title.

It’s one of those rare cases where, whether or not I think this match is a good idea depends ENTIRELY on the result. If Drew wins, then it will be a great way to lend him some real credibility and bolster his stock even further going into Wrestlemania. However, if Goldberg wins, then it will be a terrible idea that proves that WWE doesn’t listen to its audience and only cares about selling nostalgia rather than creating new stars from the wrestlers we actually like.

I’m picking Drew McIntyre because I have to because I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I picked Goldberg. The worst part is, if Goldberg does in, I know that I’m not even going to have the energy to be pissed off about it, I’m just going to be disappointed.

Roman Reigns(c) vs Kevin Owens
(Universal Championship)
(Last Man Standing)

By far the best built non-Rumble match on this show, I am really quite excited to see this one.

Smackdown as a whole has been bloody great this past month, and this feud at the top of everything has been a massive part of why. The original build with Nakamura going long in the gauntlet match, only for Pearce to be forcefully slotted in the match was a great way to kick things off. In all honesty, I was kind of excited to see Roman vs Pearce, but the way they turned the story around was really well-done. Pearce pulled a fast one on Roman, which brought Owens back into the picture with a hell of a lot of fire.

From there, things have built perfectly. Reigns’ heat only seems to build week on week as he wanders around the place, getting to be cocky, snobbish and hilariously sarcastic to everyone he meets. What’s more, is when the face gets one over on him, it feels like a huge moment, like Reigns is getting put in his place, if only just momentarily. Owens’ promos about his tattoos and what this means to him have been so impassioned and genuine that you just have to cheer for him. I’ve said before about how Owens can talk so genuinely, and Reigns has turned out to be the perfect opponent for him.

This build has been so good that I briefly considered the possibility that Owens could win the title. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make much sense for Roman to drop the title now, but the story with Owens has been so good, that it’s made me somewhat forget all of that logic. I’ve not gone all of the way off the deep end though, and I’m still picking Roman Reigns to win, I’m saying, if Owens won, I’d be pleased with it.

Women’s Royal Rumble Match

Now we get to what we’re all here for, the Royal Rumble matches, and genuinely, I’m really struggling to predict a winner for both of these. It seems counter-intuitive given that there are 30 participants in the match, but we usually go into a Rumble match with one or two legit contenders for the win, however this year…there’s so many! As usual with these, I’m going to run down the handful of participants that I think are in with a shout, and explain a bit about why, before making my final pick.

Rhea Ripley- This is the one I’d probably be the most surprised about if it actually happened, but it’s pretty clear that Ripley is done in NXT. Her debut on the main roster seems to be imminent, and what better way to make a splash than winning the Rumble? She could feud with either Sasha or Asuka, and it would be a match I’d be very excited to see, but ultimately, this is the one I’d put the lowest odds on happening.

Bayley – While the match at Hell in a Cell was terrific, I think we were all a bit surprised when the Sasha/Bayley feud ended after just one match. Immediately there was speculation that they might save the rematch for Wrestlemania. While I think it’s a definite possibility, as the months have gone on, I think it’s become less and less likely. I don’t know what else Bayley could do at Wrestlemania, to be fair, but I think WWE will want something fresh for Banks at that show.

Charlotte Flair – This is probably the most straightforward pick out of what we’ve got, but I don’t think it’s the most likely. With Asuka & Charlotte as tag champs, if Charlotte won the Rumble, that would instantly cause the break-up and the feud. The only problem is it would be quite underwhelming. This isn’t a knock on Charlotte, but she won the Rumble last year, I don’t really want to see her win it again, especially when there are far more exciting options on the table.

Alexa Bliss – This has been incredibly weird, and not all that good, but at the same time, I kind of like the direction it’s going in. It’s hard to tell what the end-game is with the Fiend/Bliss relationship. For the most part, she’s just been a pawn in the feud between The Fiend and Orton, but over past few weeks, she’s been challenging Asuka for the title, breaking out on her own. I think it would be a colossal waste if she didn’t at least get to sniff a major title feud here.

Bianca Belair – For a while, Belair was the top contender for this match in my mind, and she might still be, I’m honestly not sure. After a bit of a slow start on Raw, she moved over to Smackdown, and it instantly became clear that she was a star in the making. While the finish to the Survivor Series tag match was crap, Belair was clearly the MVP of the whole match, and since she’s been feuding with Bayley, she’s been looking good week in, and week out, they even made that WWE Chronicle on her past, which is something they don’t do for just anyone.

This is a really tough choice. In my head, it’s between Bliss & Belair, and since they’re both on different brands, either one of them could theoretically win, then the other just gets their title match via the Elimination Chamber. I’ve genuinely gone back and forth several times while writing this section, but in the end, I’ve got to go with…Bianca Belair. I’m already second-guessing that decision, but I’ve got to make the pick at some point.

Men’s Royal Rumble

Truth be told, I’m actually thrilled that these Rumbles are so hard to predict because it means I’m going to be all the more invested in the match. Not having any idea what’s going to happen just gets me hyped up all the more, and that goes for the men’s Rumble as much as it does the women’s. Let’s run down the contenders.

Shinsuke Nakamura – Technically possible, because they’ve been pushing him quite hard this past month, but I doubt it’ll actually happen. It feels more to me like this is Smackdown’s way of building up more red-herrings in terms of people who could win the Rumble. They’ve been doing this with Cesaro & Dolph Ziggler too. I’m glad they’re doing it, it’s something that should be done every year, but I don’t think any of them are actually going to win.

Seth Rollins – This does depend on whether he’s ready to return after becoming a father (which is the reason I didn’t consider Becky for the women’s Rumble), but if he does come back, I’d say he has a shot at winning. While we have seen Roman vs Seth before, it was a long time ago, and the situation was quite different. Sure, they’re both heels, but you can change that a bit, since Seth will be coming off of a return, it wouldn’t be that weird to do a character shift.

Edge – I had a feeling Edge was going to be in the Rumble, but I thought they would’ve saved it as a surprise entrant. Either way, I think this is more likely a platform to sow the seeds for his Wrestlemania feud. No idea whether they want to do the third match with Orton, or maybe a marquee feud with someone like Styles, but either way, I don’t think he’ll be the winner of the thing. If he were to win, then I think Roman vs Edge would be the way to go, I just don’t see it happening.

John Cena – While reports from the dirt sheets say that there are no Wrestlemania plans locked in just yet, they are also saying that Cena is almost sure to have a match. So why not have him enter the Rumble and win it? Roman vs Cena would be a money match, even if we’ve already seen it, but I think Drew vs Cena could be one hell of a match too. The story can build around Cena trying to break Ric Flair’s imaginary world title record or something like that.

Big E – Since about Summerslam, Big E has been one of the top contenders to win the Rumble, but in recent months he’s gone down quite significantly in my odds. Now he’s got the Intercontinental Championship under his belt, I’d prefer it if he had a decent length reign with that, fighting a variety of opponents, rather than hot-shotting straight up to the world title. Not to say I’d be upset if he did win the Rumble, far from it, I just think that it’d be better for him to build for a while longer and maybe wait until Summerslam to challenge for the title.

Goldberg – So this was a possibility that I hadn’t considered until I saw it floating around online, and quite frankly, it terrifies me. If you’ve not seen it, people have been speculating that maybe Goldberg could lose to Drew earlier in the night, only to enter and win the Rumble. This would be a disaster, but I can 100% see WWE going through with it, especially with the report a few days ago that WWE is considering a ‘really scary’ finish to the Rumble that might piss off fans.

Daniel Bryan – As much as I can’t make all that solid of case for it, it just feels right. Admittedly, it’d pretty ironic that after being majorly snubbed from two Rumble wins in 2014 & 2015, that the Rumble he finally wins could be one in front of no crowd, but that’s life I suppose. Bryan’s expressed his desire to stop being a full-time wrestler over the next year – a position I think he’s more than deserving of – so I think giving Bryan one last big Mania match would be the best way to go, and a Rumble win is the perfect way to get there. Roman vs Bryan is a match that WWE has planned, but never actually executed over the past couple of years (cave for Fastlane 2015, but those were VERY different times), and they already sowed the seeds of it through November and December, it would seem weird not to commit to it now.

As I said, the case is still a bit shaky, and I’m by no means certain, but Daniel Bryan winning the Rumble just feels right to me, so I’m sticking to my guns and making it my official prediction.

So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you think will happen at the Royal Rumble, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Monday, where I’ll be writing up my review!

WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs 2020: Predictions & Analysis

Hey, remember Survivor Series? No, me neither.

I always find myself far less excited for TLC than I do most other Pay-Per-Views, and this time I don’t think it’s WWE’s fault. I honestly like the look of the card, especially the two world title matches, I think it’s just a time of year where I care a lot less about a WWE PPV. Not only is it almost Christmas, but the Royal Rumble is only about a month away, and I’m far more excited thinking about that than I am about a bunch of predictable title retentions. It’s times like this where I really begin to think that a PPV every month isn’t always the best idea, at least, from a storytelling standpoint.

Either way, there are matches, I have opinions, so let’s get predicting.

The New Day(c) vs The Hurt Business
(Raw Tag Team Championships)

Wait a minute, this isn’t Street Profits vs Andrade & Garza…I didn’t even know such a thing was possible.

Speaking more seriously, I’ve actually been vaguely enjoying this feud. The New Day are The New Day, even without Big E, and even when they’re given fairly crap promos, they still sell it well. Meanwhile, The Hurt Business are actually quite fun to watch when they’re not squashing Retribution for no apparent reason. They have a kind of serious aura surrounding them, and MVP can sell them fantastically. Not to mention, this is the first PPV title match in ages for both Benjamin & Alexander.

As long as WWE resist the temptation to overbook this, I think we might be in for a treat with this one. The New Day’s wrestling ability has never been in any doubt, and as much as it’s been easy to forget, Alexander is an outstanding technical wrestler. Admittedly, I’ve not been wowed by Benjamin since his return, but the guy is no slouch so who knows? Maybe this will be the performance that reminds us all how great he can be.

It’s weird, I joked in the intro about the title matches all being quite predictable, but this is the one exception. I could honestly see this going either way. The Hurt Business have been on a roll since Lashley won the US title and there’s definitely some good that could come from them holding a bunch of championships like this. That said, it’s hard to bet against The New Day. As I’ve said before they are the ‘default’ setting for the tag division, and there’s certainly nothing to be lost from having them continue to hold the titles.

Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler(c) vs Asuka & ???
(Women’s Tag Team Championships)

So…we’re not getting a payoff to the Lana thing? I really don’t get WWE’s attitude towards her. We keep hearing reports that people backstage really like her and see her as a potential top star, but they never actually let her wrestle, or even finish a story. Either way, it gives us a good old ‘mystery partner’ situation, and those are always fun.

I really don’t like Asuka’s booking of late. Ever since Summerslam, she’s felt like such a non-factor in the Raw women’s division, and that doesn’t seem right for the woman who was one of the main highlights of WWE during the spring & summer. I get that WWE doesn’t have the deepest women’s division out there right now, but was there seriously no-one they could build up as a contender for Asuka’s title? They sleep on people like Peyton Royce & Dana Brooke then feel the need to do weird storylines like this because ‘there are no credible stars’. It just seems like a problem they made for themselves.

Still, the mystery partner, who is it? The way I see it, there are two main possibilities. Firstly, there’s the woman who has been weirdly absent from TV for a considerable chunk of this year for seemingly no reason at all, which is Charlotte Flair. For someone who fans apparently say they ‘shove down our throats’, they’ve had absolutely nothing for her since she lost the NXT title. Reintroducing her here just before we head into Wrestlemania season would undoubtedly be a good call. I’d be down for Asuka vs Charlotte 2. Other than that…I guess it could be Rhea Ripley? She’s felt like she’s had one foot out of the door of NXT for half the year, and it’s not like the NXT women’s division need her anymore with all the talent they’re holding. Raw would definitely benefit from her presence.

Either way, I think Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler are going to retain, which is why I’m leaning towards Charlotte Flair as the mystery partner. If it’s Ripley, then you risk her looking bad if she immediately loses, unless she does some massive swerve. However, if it’s Charlotte then you can easily create a story of her not getting on with Asuka and losing because of that, not to mention, this kind of loss wouldn’t hurt her in the slightest.

The Fiend Bray Wyatt vs Randy Orton
(Firefly Inferno)

My excitement for this match depends on a couple of things.

Firstly, if this is going to be a pre-recorded match, then I’m all-in on it. WWE has knocked it out of the park with those kinds of matches this year, and I’d be thrilled to see another one come our way on Sunday. However, if this is just a regular inferno match with a fancy name, then count me out. I didn’t think this was going to be much of a classic in terms of the action, but if it’s an inferno match, then all of that goes even deeper into the bin. It remains to be seen, but those are my thoughts on the stipulation.

As for the story, I think it’s got a decent amount of legs. The Fiend seems to wildly switch his focus between winning titles and writing Bray Wyatt’s wrongs, but I definitely think that these kinds of stories are better. The match between Orton and Wyatt at Mania 33 may have been a stinker, but the story building up to it was some mental fun, and this has been no different. It’s been interesting to see such a brutal character like Orton be put on the back foot like this. All year he’s been the one dominating his opponents in the build, so a shift in dynamic was the right choice.

I’m a little torn on this one because I think this might not be the only match in this feud. I know the Royal Rumble is next month, and Orton will probably be in that, but I just can’t shake the feeling that this is a multi-month feud. Either way, I’m going with The Fiend Bray Wyatt to win. The Fiend always wins these gimmick matches of his, and I don’t see what could be gained from Orton winning. Orton has reached the status where he can believably square off with anyone regardless of his recent history, as where The Fiend is WAY more fragile, and definitely shouldn’t be losing these kinds of matches.

Sasha Banks(c) vs Carmella
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

So a lot is going on here, and I’m not sure how much of it I enjoy.

Firstly, I’m glad Carmella’s back, and I’m glad they’re treating her like a credible threat again. As much as her face persona was a lot of fun, it seemed to be artificially limiting her, but now the image of her riding R-Truth’s back as he’s chased by half the locker room is far from my mind when I see her. The problem, though, is I’m not sure how far this can go, at least not in the immediate future. While I don’t like to be blunt, there’s no way Carmella is winning this, and what does she do once Sasha is done with her? I assume we’re going to get at least one more month of this feud, but WWE has never been great at booking their women’s mid-card.

Those concerns aside, I think this could be a really good match. I know Carmella is never really in the conversation for the best women’s wrestlers right now, but I think she’s better than many believe. With this fresh injection of a new persona too, we could be in for quite the treat of the match. As I said though, Sasha Banks is definitely walking away with the title. It’s possible Carmella could get a cheap DQ win or something, but there’s no way anyone is taking that title from Banks before Mania.

Roman Reigns(c) vs Kevin Owens
(Universal Championship)
(Tables, Ladders & Chairs)

I love matches like this. They’re the kind of feuds that I never would’ve thought of if you’d ask me what I wanted to see, but now it’s been presented to me, I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

Roman has been perfect since his return, and this feud is no exception. The attitude with which he carries himself makes him the most hatable person in the world and having Paul Heyman at his side only boosts his aura of indestructibility. As such, it makes him the perfect opponent for Owens’ current character. He’s a little removed now from his anti-authority persona, but he still carries that rebellious edge that you just can’t help but love, he’s the kind of person who always speaks so genuinely, and it really resonates with me.

I’m also very excited about the match. As with any WWE gimmick match, there is a possibility that it leans too heavily on the gimmicks and ruin it, but all of the gimmick matches over the past few months have struck a good balance, so I have faith. On top of that, I think a weapon focus might be beneficial to this one. Reigns’ current style is ferocious, and Owens’ build makes him the perfect tough-guy to put in a barbaric match like TLC. Not to mention, Owens has been more than happy to take some crazy bumps in the past, so I think that there’s a high probability that this will be the match we’re all raving about come Monday.

As much as I’d like this one to be a bit more of a toss-up, Roman Reigns is going to win, because it’s Roman Reigns. That’s not the insult it perhaps was a few years ago though, Roman is the perfect guy to sit at the top of the ladder on Smackdown right now, and I would be thrilled to see his title reign go on well into 2021. It’s a shame because I really like Owens, but Roman’s just the right guy to go with at the moment.

Drew McIntyre(c) vs AJ Styles
(WWE Championship)
(Tables, Ladders & Chairs)

Ever since Drew first won that title, this was the feud I’ve been waiting to see. It’s no secret these days that Styles can have a good match with just about anyone, and there’s something about these two guys that just clicks in my head.

Despite being one of the biggest ‘indie’ darlings in history, Styles has always seemed to fare far better as a heel in WWE than a face, at least from a character perspective. When he talks as a face, I don’t always get behind him (his title reign through 2018 was a great example of this) but when he talks as a heel, I always listen, and I always find him annoying and despicable in precisely the right way. Meanwhile, Drew has recovered excellently from his Survivor Series loss to the point where you’d barely even remember it happened. After the feud with Randy Orton for so long, it feels like a breath of fresh air to see him free to do something new, with someone exciting.

As before, there’s a risk that they lean too heavily on the gimmick here, but I’m optimistic. Styles is one hell of an innovative competitor, and Drew can definitely keep pace with him if they want to go for a faster match. The in-ring styles of these two can be quite different at times, but I think the quality of this match will come from how both men adapt to the other, especially with weapons involved.

However, I find myself once again faced with a straightforward decision when it comes to picking the winner. While I don’t think it’s entirely impossible that Styles could win the title as a surprise, I definitely think Drew McIntyre to retain is the far safer bet. He only won the title back recently and is coming off of a significant loss to Roman, not to mention that all of the current dirt sheets are reporting that all talks for Wrestlemania have Drew going in as champion. Not to mention, I really like Drew, and I want him to hold that title for as long as possible.

WWE Survivor Series 2020: Predictions & Analysis

We’re just a couple of days away from Survivor Series 2020 and I honestly couldn’t give less of a shit if I tried. The “brand warfare” stuff is boring at the best of times, but at least in previous years then been some proper intensity around it, and at least some semblance of a story. This year, it doesn’t seem like any of the wrestlers care about the matches and are still building to their own independent feuds.

There’s really no build to speak of, because instead of doing sneak attacks or running down Roman Reigns, Orton was too busy fighting off both Drew and The Fiend; only to lose the title and force us to build a new match in a week. The whole endeavour is entirely pointless and come Monday, it will scarcely be mentioned ever again. It’s a classic example of WWE creative having to put all their plans on hold because the calendar says it’s time for everyone to wear red & blue t-shirts while having matches with no steaks.

Still, let’s predict it anyway.

Dual Brand Battle Royal
(Kickoff Show)

Don’t get me wrong, I like a good battle royal, but given they announced this just 48 hours from the show, with no announced participants, I can’t think this is going to be thought through. They haven’t even specified if it’s men or women involved. I mean, given that there aren’t enough women on the roster of a 10-women tag match AND a battle royal, I’m assuming it’s the men, but you never know.

Much like with the Wrestlemania battle royals, there’s really no point trying to logic this one out. They never give it to anyone who you’d think would benefit from a win, it’ll just be someone they’ve never given wins to before now and probably won’t start after it’s over.

I think Smackdown is going to come out the overall winner of the night, and my predictions for the rest of the card dictate a Smackdown wrestler needs to win here. To me, that gives two potential candidates. The first is Daniel Bryan since he’s almost certainly about to be going after Roman Reigns over the winter, but given how he’s being booked on Smackdown, he doesn’t really need it. Instead, I’m simply going to go with who I want to win it, which is Big E.

The New Day vs The Street Profits
(Raw Tag Team Champions vs Smackdown Tag Team Champions)

A tag team match in WWE that I’m actually excited for? Well, colour me impressed.

I know WWE treat tag team wrestling like it’s not worth anything, but The New Day are at the point where they’ve got a bit of licence to get more time and the likes. In many ways, The Street Profits feel like New Day’s eventual successors. They’re perhaps not as funny, but Montez Ford is one of the most charismatic men on the roster right now and they seem to have perfected their ‘fast guy, muscle guy’ dynamic, which makes for some really entertaining in-ring work. Ultimately, it just depends on whether or not they’re given enough time. Although, given that the 5 on 5 matches tend to take upwards of half an hour, I’m not optimistic.

The problem I face with picking most of these matches is that the complete meaningless of the whole endeavour means there’s no real rationale for who should win. I honestly think I’d have better luck flipping a coin than trying to think it through. I guess I’ll go for The Street Profits purely because they’ve got more to gain from winning. No loss could hurt The New Day at this point in their careers and it would be a big win for the younger guys.

Bobby Lashley vs Sami Zayn
(United States Champion vs Intercontinental Champion)

I honestly don’t know what to say about this one. Sami Zayn’s done a better job of building it on Twitter than anything that’s been said on TV.

I don’t understand what the plan is for The Hurt Business. I mean, I know the real answer to that is that there isn’t a plan, but I don’t see a long-term goal for this faction anymore. It just feels like it’s going along with the only purpose of preserving Lashley’s US title reign, which has been pretty underwhelming as it is. What really gets me though, is that if there are no long-term plans for them, why on Earth have they been absolutely dominating Retribution every week? Does Vince just hate Mustafa Ali that much?

Sami Zayn’s been doing much better on Smackdown, but that feels more like by default. His charisma and promo ability are more than enough to carry whatever he’s involved in to be good, and as much as it’s easy to forget, he is a world-class wrestler. Sadly, there’s no way the outcome is anything other than Bobby Lashley winning. WWE management just doesn’t think a guy like Sami can beat a guy like Lashley, and I can’t see them changing their mind now.

Asuka vs Sasha Banks
(Raw Women’s Champion vs Smackdown Women’s Champion)

I would be excited for this match if we hadn’t already seen it a bunch of times this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it will still be good, these are two of the best women’s wrestlers in the world after all, but the shine is definitely off the apple by this point.

I went back and forth on this one a lot. On the face of it, it seems like Sasha would be the favourite, as she’s actually been on TV every week doing noteworthy stuff, unlike Asuka, who’s just been around and doing nothing of any importance. However, I actually think Sasha’s story is why she’s going to lose. Both Bayley and Carmella are still on Banks’ tail, and I could easily see them both getting involved in this match. Admittedly, it won’t be the best look for Asuka to win this way, but I think it’s consistent with her character. Sasha Banks caused her a lot of trouble over the summer, why should Asuka respect her now, just because Bayley turned on her?

Team Raw (Nia Jax, Shayna Baszler, Peyton Royce, Lacey Evans & Lana) vs Team Smackdown (Bianca Belair, Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan, Natalya & Bayley)
(5-on-5 Elimination Tag)

And here we come to the elimination tag team matches. The matches that are sometimes utter brilliance, but 90% of the time are people getting pinned after one or two moves when they’d normally be a lot more resilient.

The biggest problem I have about the brand vs brand matches this year is how the teams have had absolutely no interaction with each other. Now, I’m not saying I wanted full-on brand invasions every week, I think we can all agree those are quite tiresome, but throughout the entire build, Drew McIntyre is the only person to appear on a brand that isn’t their own. On top of that, the booking of both teams has been so lop-sided. Team Raw have been interacting and telling somewhat of a story for the whole month, meanwhile, Team Smackdown didn’t even have a full line-up until yesterday.

Of course, just because Team Raw actually have a story, that doesn’t mean it’s any good. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing Lana get beat up as much as the next guy, but who cares? I don’t understand what they’re building up to here, is Lana going pull out a Dolph Ziggler level performance and sweep the Smackdown team? Or is Jax just going to keep beating the shit out of her? Given how they’ve treated Lana this year, I honestly think the latter is more likely.

I’ve gone back and forth on both of the tag matches all week, but I’m going to settle on Team Smackdown as the winners for this one, and I’ll take a punt and say Bianca Belair & Bayley will be the survivors. My thought is that Lana will get sick of Nia’s shit and somehow cause her to be eliminated, giving Smackdown the advantage they need to win, because at least that gives the tag champs something to do going forward from here.

Team Raw (AJ Styles, Keith Lee, Braun Strowman, Sheamus, Riddle) vs Team Smackdown (Kevin Owens, Jey Uso, King Corbin, Seth Rollins, Otis)
(5-on-5 Elimination Tag)

Once again, Team Raw has a bit of a story, Team Smackdown has just been largely doing their own thing in the build.

The stories between both of Raw’s teams are quite similar, but the difference is that the women’s team is only teasing falling apart, while the men’s team already did fall apart. It’s been a pretty boring story of people coming up with dumb nicknames for each other and arguing over who’s the captain, but at least Retribution got a win out of it. I think the focus has been all wrong, the people who need to be built like Lee & Riddle have been pushed to the background to serve Styles, Braun & Sheamus’ bickering and I couldn’t care less about any of it.

Ultimately, the fact that Team Raw already did their ‘falling out’ thing on Monday telegraphs pretty heavily that they’re going to pull it out of the bag and win on Sunday. If I were to guess, I think someone like Styles or Braun will be eliminated shockingly early and the rest of the team will pull together to bring it back. I’m going to pick Keith Lee to be the sole survivor for this one, because why the hell not? The fact is, no-one on Team Smackdown needs the win. Jey Uso looks great alongside Reigns no matter what, Rollins is about to take some time off to be a father, Owens isn’t in a great spot right now anyway, and I couldn’t care less about Corbin or Otis.

Drew McIntyre vs Roman Reigns
(WWE Champion vs Universal Champion)

I must admit, going from the least anticipated match on Wrestlemania 35 to the most anticipated match of Survivor Series has been quite the character transformation for both these guys.

Genuinely, this is the one match I actually have high hopes for. I think WWE is big on making both of these guys look like world-beaters and their brutal in-ring styles should clash in the best way possible, even if we do get a wonky finish. I know I moaned in the intro about only having one week to build this match, but the contract signing on Smackdown did a pretty good job of it. Drew has his usual simmering charisma to him, and Reigns was absolutely slaying on the mic.

Roman Reigns is definitely winning though. He’s been built up as someone truly unbeatable and there’s no way they’d waste that on a meaningless match like this. While it’s not the best look for Drew, he’s proven once already he can recover from a big loss and be absolutely fine straight after, so I’m not worried about that. You could have Jey, Orton or The Fiend get involved to protect Drew a bit, but even if they didn’t, I think Drew will be just fine.

So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know what you think is going to happen on Sunday, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back this time on Monday, where I’ll be giving you my review of the show.