Ah, the Royal Rumble. The one wrestling pay-per-view all year I actually spend my hard-earned cash on for two good reasons:
1. The Royal Rumble is awesome.
2. It almost always falls on the same weekend as my birthday, so it's my own little gift to me.
Looks like it's going to be a good one this year, so let's take a look at what's on tap for tomorrow night...
Jack Swagger (c) vs Matt Hardy for the ECW Championship
ECW used to feel like an hour of wasted time every Tuesday night (and ok, I still don't watch it very much, almost never live), but since they started focusing on basically being the developmental league for WWE, they've turned out some really entertaining young talents. Aside from giving a new stage to guys like John Morrison and The Miz, ECW has also introduced rockin' rookies like Evan Bourne, Jack Swagger, and even this D.J. Gabriel dude who recently debuted. Out of 'em all, I've probably been most impressed with Swagger, who combines size, in-ring ability and mic skills better than most and has become a real credible heel in a very short time. I'm so sold on Swagger that I didn't really mind him taking the ECW title from Matt Hardy, a longtime favorite of mine. To boot, these two had a great 15-minute TV match, so they should give a very solid PPV match (a good choice for the opener, I daresay). I expect Swagger to retain here as I've got a feeling Matt is headed for things outside of ECW on the Road to Wrestlemania.
Winner: Jack Swagger
Beth Phoenix (c) vs Melina for the Women's Championship
Women's wrestling is always a tough sell, but there was a real golden age going not too long ago that seems to have dripped and drabbed out over the past year or so. Both these ladies are talented enough, but I could not be less interested in this match. Melina is just an awkward fit as a babyface, and while she has gotten pretty goo in the ring, working that style hampers her. Phoenix is a great, dominant champ and has a personality as well as skills, but she needs somebody on her level outside of Mickie James to work with. I'm hoping Gail Kim is on the way to Raw, because I believe their ladies division needs her more than Smackdown's. Unfortunately, this match seems like a set-up for Rosa Mendez to slowly turn on Phoenix, and I don't buy either of them as a face. Rather than a straight up Phoenix win, let's go with...
Winner: Melina, by disqualification
Jeff Hardy (c) vs Edge for the WWE Championship
These two have worked together so many times and out on so many quality matches over the last decade that unless hey really sleepwalk, I can't see them pulling a dud here. The storyline behind the scenes and how it effects the winner is the more intriguing aspect here. It seems like this would be the show to pull the trigger on the "Who is sabotaging Jeff Hardy" mystery, and if rumors are to be believed, Christian would make his WWE return to be Edge's accomplice. So if that does happen, does Jeff drop the belt after only a month? Conventional wisdom seems to say yes, as Jeff would shift into a program with Christian and Edge can get ready for a Wrestlemania title defense against Triple H or whoever. Personally, I'd love to see a four way title showdown between Edge, Christian and both Hardys at Wrestlemania; I think that would be a real cool thing for the 25th anniversary of the big dance to have four dudes who have helped elevate WWE over the last decade go at it for the big prize. I guess regardless of which path is taken to the big show in March, it makes more sense for the belt to change hands here, which makes me wonder why Jeff won it to begin with unless they don't trust him enough to get the big Wrestlemania moment and wanted to give it to him on a comparatively small show instead to make the crowd happy.
Winner (and new champion): Edge
John Cena (c) vs John Bradshaw Layfield for the World Championship
Without a doubt, the most intriguing storyline in WWE over the past month or so has been the struggle for Shawn Michaels' soul, with JBL looking to condemn him and Cena stepping in to try and make the save. This match has been played out beyond belief, but the presence of HBK in JBL's corner certainly adds a level of intensity it sorely needs. Again, playing armchair booker, it would seem a certainty that they're building to HBK/JBL at Wrestlemania. Until a few weeks ago, I would have assumed that would have been a separate program from Cena vs whoever (most likely Randy Orton) for the World title. However, they've really done a great job entrenching Cena in the storyline and the fans have reacted positively to his involvement, which WWE has to love. Now I'm wondering if this scenario doesn't play out: HBK either intentionally or inadvertently helps JBL win the title here, comes down on himself, enters the Royal Rumble and wins, Cena wins an Elimination Chamber next month at No Way Out, and at Wrestlemania you've got JBL defending in a Triple Threat against both the man who stole the belt from and the veteran seeking revenge and his last hurrah. But having predicted a WWE title switch already, do I really think they'll move both big belts two months before Wrestlemania? Sure, why not.
Winner (and new champion): John Bradshaw Layfield
Royal Rumble Match
Ok, so I've already made it clear I think somehow, some way, Shawn Michaels is going to pull out his third Royal Rumble win here and head to Wrestlemania to blow off his feud with JBL. However, there are other scenarios. Triple H could win and go on to face Edge. Randy Orton coul win and set up a match with Cena. I suppose there are outside odds on Chris Jericho and The Undertaker as well. It would be really cool for somebody to come out of nowhere, but I'm not sure who that would be. I'll be pulling for either HBK or a dark horse, because I'm not interested in HHH-Edge or Cena-Orton headlining Wrestlemania.
Winner: Shawn Michaels