Augusta Free Press

Royal Rumble Preview: Final predictions as WWE begins Road to WrestleMania

Does Daniel Bryan make a surprise return? Is Ronda Rousey trolling us telling the world she’s in Columbia making a movie? Is it really going to end with Roman Reigns getting another Royal Rumble victory?

So many questions to answer in the next couple of days.

Daniel Bryan

First, we can all make the case for why Daniel Bryan will make a surprise comeback at the Rumble this weekend. There’s been endless speculation about Bryan getting some kind of double-secret medical clearance some time ago, and that his role as the on-air Smackdown general manager, leading to various rounds of heat with The Miz and Shane McMahon, part of a grand design to turn up the temperature in the direction of a slow boil.

But, see, here’s the thing: we’re giving creative way, way too much credit thinking that way. No way Vince McMahon would be disciplined enough to let a slow, methodical storyline like the one that many of us envision taking place behind the scenes actually play out to a conclusion.

McMahon’s MO is to take a storyline like that dreamed up in the writers’ room and blow it up the first week he thinks the ratings for Raw or Smackdown need a tenth of a point of boost.

So, no, sorry. The bet here is that the most we get out of Bryan before his contract expires in September is a few more months of him being the Smackdown GM. McMahon is not going to run the risk of Daniel Bryan’s brains getting scrambled on live TV while under contract to WWE. If Bryan wants to run that risk himself, McMahon will be perfectly willing to let him do so in Ring of Honor or New Japan.

That said, yeah, what a nice cap to the night it would be, hearing Bryan’s name called at #30, the massive pop raising the roof at the Wells Fargo Center, the field getting down to two competitors, Bryan and Reigns, Bryan dispatching of Reigns to win the Rumble, the building collapsing around them from the earthquake caused by the crowd response.

Nah. Not going to happen.

Ronda Rousey

This one is easier. Rousey is making a movie, bottom line. And, sure, she can take a day or two off from making a movie, but the issue isn’t that she’s making a movie in South America. Big-budget movies have insurance policies on their stars that limit what the actors can do in terms of risky behaviors on their days off, like, say, jumping out of an airplane, or throwing people over the top rope in a TV wrestling spectacle.

The movie she’s working on is scheduled to wrap shooting in mid-February. No way she’s doing anything more than sitting in the front row at Wells Fargo, and there’d be no value in having her do even that from WWE’s perspective, because all that would do is tease the universe with something they can’t have in terms of payoff, and spoil whatever walkup to WrestleMania they could put in place once she’s available for in-ring action.

Roman Reigns

We’ve all made the case for Daniel Bryan, which ain’t happening. Smart people have made the case basically for the field, in essence, anyone but Roman, imploring WWE to surprise us for once, instead of giving us the obvious winner, like a Randy Orton, a Triple H, a Batista.

Again, sorry, but the finish has been in the works since they turned out the lights at WrestleMania 33. McMahon has long wanted a Brock Lesnar-Roman Reigns main event, and with Lesnar’s contract expiring after ‘Mania, and Lesnar itching for a return to UFC with a possible massive-money fight with Jon Jones as the carrot, it makes sense to use that match to pass the torch from Lesnar to Reigns, at least from McMahon’s perspective.

If you’re still reading this, you’re not of the demographic that McMahon tries to appeal to. As much as you protest putting the belt on guys like Reigns, Lesnar, Batista, etc., those are the guys that McMahon builds mainstream marketing campaigns around. They look like what the average person who isn’t a wrestling fan thinks a wrestling champion should look like.

Most of us reading this column are bigger and taller than Daniel Bryan, than A.J. Styles, than Shinsuke Nakamura, who’d all still kick all of our asses in a flash, but we’d think we’d have half of a chance, and though we’d be way wrong in thinking that, we’d still think it.

But you know you have no chance against Lesnar, against Batista, against the 1980s Hulk Hogan, and against Roman Reigns, a former college football star with movie-star good looks.

Yeah, Reigns is winning Sunday night, the belt is his at ‘Mania, and he’s the new John Cena, who himself was the new Hulk Hogan.

The guard is changing Sunday night. Believe that.

Story by Chris Graham