WWE Royal Rumble 2019: Finn Balor Defeating Brock Lesnar And 5 Smart Booking Decisions.WWE Royal Rumble 2019 is headlined by Brock Lesnar vs. Finn Balor for the Universal Championship, Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles for the WWE title, Ronda Rousey vs. Sasha Banks and a pair of Royal Rumble matches for the men’s and women’s division.
The pay-per-view will be WWE’s first pay-per-view of 2019 and the initial stop on the road to WrestleMania 35, and more than ever before, it’s imperative that the company deliver a strong showing at the event in route to its biggest PPV of the year in April. Although WWE has turned around its viewership woes in recent weeks, it is fresh off Raw’s biggest third hour drop ever and is not far removed from the red brand also generating the worst average viewership in the show’s nearly 26-year history with just 1.775 million viewers for the Christmas Eve episode.
The good news is that WWE is back on track with better overall viewership for both Raw and SmackDown in January, which is typically the norm as fan interest tends to be higher in route to WrestleMania each year. The bad news, however, is that many of WWE’s biggest feuds have still left a lot to be desired, so a poor showing at Royal Rumble could be a major turnoff to viewers. The pay-per-view, which features plenty of marquee matches, including Asuka vs. Becky Lynch, does have a very strong card on paper, and there is always a great deal of anticipation regarding potential surprises in the Royal Rumble matches.
If all of the matches at Royal Rumble live up to the hype, fans could be in for one of the best WWE pay-per-views in recent memory. If not? WWE’s new year could be off to a troublesome start. As always, that will depend largely upon the booking, which must be on point. Here are five smart booking decisions WWE must make at the 2019 Royal Rumble.
Daniel Bryan Retains Against AJ Styles
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As great as Styles is as a performer and was during two lengthy WWE Championship reigns, he’s held the title for so much over the past two and a half years that there is no reason to go to the well one too many times.
After a babyface run that didn’t go nearly as smoothly as it should have due to some up-and-down booking, Bryan has been reinvigorated as easily the best and most compelling heel in WWE, consistently delivering stellar promos and matches like he did with Lesnar at Survivor Series and Styles at TLC. With Styles reportedly set to do battle with Randy Orton at WrestleMania 35 and also being involved in an intriguing storyline with Vince McMahon, he isn’t needed in the WWE title picture at the moment and would be better off in a non-title feud in route to WrestleMania.
Bryan, on the other hand, is in the early stages of a well executed heel turn that has breathed new life into his character after his botched babyface run, and there is a plethora of appealing options for his potential WrestleMania rivalry, such as feuds with stars like John Cena or even The Miz. The last thing Bryan needs is to lose the WWE Championship just a couple of months after winning it, which would hurt his character that has been on such a roll over the course of the last several weeks.
With other top heels like Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura and Andrade “Cien” Almas not being booked very strongly in recent months, it’s imperative that SmackDown has at least one strongly booked villain and that Bryan is that guy.
At Least A Few Major Surprises
The most appealing aspect of the Royal Rumble pay-per-view is the element of surprise that has typically made both the men’s and women’s Royal Rumble matches two of the most highly anticipated matches each year.
That typically boils down to the buzz and excitement for potential surprise Royal Rumble entrants, which can change the course of WWE history as Styles’ surprise WWE debut did in 2016. For the most part, however, WWE has largely shied away from pulling off huge shockers in the Royal Rumble matches, especially when it comes to the winners of the bouts. Most of the recent Royal Rumble matches have had rather predictable winners, as was the case in 2018 when Asuka and Nakamura were the clear betting favorites to win the Royal Rumble match and ultimately wound up doing so.
WWE could really use a jolt of excitement in both the men’s and women’s division, and the Royal Rumble matches present the company with the perfect opportunity to pull off more than a few surprises. Whether it’s a surprise entrant (like The Rock, who was once favored to win the match), a shocking NXT call-up (maybe someone like Shayna Baszler) or the return of an injured superstar (like Kevin Owens or Sami Zayn), WWE should utilize the Royal Rumble bouts to refresh their rosters for the long haul.
Surprise returns that ultimately lead to nothing aren’t the answer, though. These returns should result in long-term storylines on the way to WrestleMania 35.
Finn Balor Defeats Brock Lesnar To Become Universal Champion
Braun Strowman had failed to defeat Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship on numerous occasions, including two high-profile matches at No Mercy 2017 and Crown Jewel 2018, which could explain why WWE made the decision to replace him at Royal Rumble.
Strowman should have won the title at Crown Jewel, but he didn’t in what was one of many poor booking decisions that plagued “The Monster Among Men” in late 2018, including an ill-advised heel turn that seriously halted his momentum. It’s been baffling to see the way that WWE has, time and time again, passed on going all the way with Strowman when there are several indications, like his strong merchandise sales or impressive YouTube viewership, that he is one of the best draws in the company, particularly among full-time stars.
But now that WWE has moved on from Strowman vs. Lesnar and ignited a massive push for Balor, why not have the wildly popular Balor slay “The Beast?” In the absence of Roman Reigns, Balor has stepped up more than anyone else, Seth Rollins included, to stake his claim as the heir apparent to “The Big Dog,” and it’s working. Not only has Balor picked up huge victories over the likes of Dolph Ziggler, Drew McIntyre and even Cena, but he was given the metaphorical stamp of approval by Cena himself on Raw a couple of weeks ago, which is essentially WWE’s way of saying, “We’re pushing this guy to the moon.”
Many fans have, of course, grown sick and tired of the seemingly never-ending push of Lesnar. Likewise, plenty of fans have felt like Balor is the ideal candidate to take the Universal title off him. With Lesnar apparently not guaranteed to stick around past WrestleMania 35, the time is right for him to lose that belt and to do so to Balor, the perfect underdog to slay Goliath.
Becky Lynch Loses To Asuka But Wins The Women’s Royal Rumble
Sometimes, the most obvious decision is also the right decision. This is one of those scenarios.
Becky Lynch is the most captivating act in not just the women’s division or even WWE, but in all of pro wrestling, rising from the ashes in 2018 to become the face of women’s wrestling. She also happens to be involved in what is easily the most entertaining storyline in WWE, a three-way rivalry with Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey that reportedly could result in Rousey vs. Lynch or a triple threat match also involving Flair becoming the first-ever women’s match to headline WrestleMania.
If there was ever a star who deserved that honor, it’s Lynch, who has been on top of her game both on the microphone and in the ring over the last several months. Lynch has been eviscerating everyone from Rousey to Flair to Cena during her scathing promos and participated in two of the best women’s matches in WWE history at Evolution and TLC. That has only added more fuel to the “straight fire” of Lynch’s soaring popularity, which is eerily reminiscent of that of Bryan in 2014, when Bryan forced his way into the WrestleMania main event and became the most popular wrestling star on the planet.
What WWE shouldn’t do is make the same mistake with Lynch that it did with Bryan in 2015, when he was unceremoniously eliminated from the Royal Rumble match, which turned into an absolute disaster when it was won by Roman Reigns. The best and most logical scenario here is for Lynch to lose in controversial fashion to Asuka and then win the women’s Royal Rumble match convincingly to set up a dream match with Rousey, ideally by getting her revenge and last eliminating Nia Jax, which would be one of the most memorable moments in Royal Rumble history.
Seth Rollins Or Drew McIntyre Wins The Men’s Royal Rumble
Much like Lynch is the obvious choice to win the women’s Royal Rumble, there are two obvious choices to win the men’s: Drew McIntyre and Seth Rollins.
Both Rollins and McIntyre have hovered at or near the top of the betting odds essentially since they were released, perhaps propelled by reports that either man could leave WrestleMania 35 as Universal Champion. Vince McMahon apparently wants McIntyre to face and defeat Strowman for the belt at the pay-per-view, while Triple H is pushing for Lesnar vs. Rollins to get the nod, with a report from the Wrestling Observer (h/t Wrestling Inc) noting that Lesnar vs. Rollins has been penciled in for WrestleMania 35 and could be for the Universal title.
Truth be told, you can’t go wrong with either match or with either Rollins or McIntyre winning the Royal Rumble. Both stars, after all, represent exactly what the Royal Rumble match be should be about: Elevating rising stars to the top of the card. While there will undoubtedly be the temptation for WWE to have an established veteran, perhaps someone like Cena or a returning Rock, win the Royal Rumble match, it would be much more beneficial for the company’s long-term future for a star like McIntyre or Rollins to win it instead.
McIntyre has all the tools to be a huge draw and top star for WWE, while Rollins is perhaps WWE’s most well-rounded performer, a strong merchandise mover and an elite in-ring worker. In other words, McIntyre and Rollins both have it all, and if WWE does things right, one of the two will soon have a Royal Rumble win under his belt as well.
Blake Oestriecher is an elementary school teacher by day and a sports writer by night. He’s a contributor to @ForbesSports, where he primarily covers WWE. You can follow him on Twitter @BOestriecher.