When WWE presents its 30th Royal Rumble on Sunday in San Antonio, the company should consider doing something it’s never done before. There are eight matches on the card, if you include the two bouts on the pre-show. Vince McMahon and his crew need to seriously consider putting heels over in every single one of them.
WWE likes to have balanced outcomes, particularly in pay-per-view situations. Typically, they’ll end each major show with a “feel good” win for a babyface competitor. They need to resist that urge on Sunday. The Royal Rumble is generally considered the first event on the “Road to WrestleMania.” With that in mind, a case can be made that it’s best for WWE and the entire WWE Universe if the heels go over in every bout.
To fully understand why this is a good idea, it’s necessary to look at every match. Remember, these aren’t predictions, but arguments about why the heel should go over every time.
Nia Jax vs. Sasha Banks (Kickoff Show)
There are a few reasons that Jax should win this match. First of all, it’s on the Kickoff Show. Since viewership for that show is lower than it is for the rest of the event, it won’t hurt The Boss to take a loss here. Also, Banks is selling a knee injury, which protects her if Jax wins. Right now, Raw is struggling to come up with a viable heel other than Charlotte Flair. A win here could legitimize Jax without hurting Banks’ cachet as a top babyface. This would also give Raw a badly-needed storyline for the women. Flair can’t carry the division forever.
Cesaro and Sheamus vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson for the Raw Tag Team Championship (Kickoff Show)
The Raw tag division has struggled to remain relevant since Sheamus and Cesaro brought an end to the record-breaking reign of the New Day. Even the Power of Positivity wears thin if the story never changes. Gallows and Anderson are in a similar situation as Nia Jax. They are presented as dangerous heels. In this case, the pair has had numerous chances to take the titles, and has failed each time. If WWE wants to have viable storylines going forward, Gallows and Anderson need to win the belts here, or disappear down the card. Since there really isn’t another heel team worthy of challenging for the belts at this time, that would be a mistake. The Sheamus/Cesaro story has been building up to an explosive breakup for a while now – and could come to a head during the actual Rumble match. It’s time to put the title on the challengers.
Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella and Naomi vs. Alexa Bliss, Mickie James and Natalya
The creative team from Smackdown Live is smart not to put the women’s title on the line at the Royal Rumble. Alexa Bliss has been a surprisingly strong heel champion, and there aren’t any realistic babyface contenders beyond Lynch. Since Smackdown has done a better job of building secondary storylines in its Women’s Division, there’s a reason for all the participants here to be in the match. It gives the writers a chance to mix and match amongst the six women to come up with new feuds. Since there’s nothing on the line here, it’s tempting to say that the faces should go over. However, Mickie James is a new addition to the roster, and just started to make her mark on Smackdown. It would help to get her over as a legitimate threat to give her the pin here (probably over Naomi, who is likely in this match to eat the fall).
Charlotte Flair vs. Bayley for the Raw Women’s Championship
As good as Bayley is, this one is easy. Charlotte is probably the best female heel in the history of WWE. They’ve been promoting her undefeated singles record at pay-per-view events, and the streak is up to an impressive 15-0. If a streak of that magnitude is going to end, it should be at the biggest show of the year, WrestleMania. It also makes Bayley a more compelling challenger if she chases the title for a while, even if it’s only for about three months. On a side note, Flair and Banks have traded the title back and forth quite a bit since its inception. It would make the belt more prestigious if one champion could hold it for a long time before giving it up.
Rich Swann vs. Neville for the Cruiserweight Championship
WWE has done an awful job of presenting the Cruiserweight division since debuting the high flyers on Raw. The action has been intense and even compelling. The problem is that there isn’t a standout “face of the division.” The title has bounced around, which makes it feel less important. The competitors haven’t been given a chance to develop a connection with the crowd, and the best stories are played out on 205 Live, not on Raw. Putting Neville, the self-proclaimed King of the Cruiserweights, over here could help solve a lot of those problems. There’s no doubt that Neville can carry the division with his in-ring work. What’s been surprising is how great he’s been on the microphone since turning heel and announcing his intent to take over the division. Just like the presence of a dominating heel like Flair elevated the Women’s Division, a long reign by King Neville could propel the Cruiserweights to relevance.
Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship
There are a lot of reasons to keep the Universal Championship with Owens here, but none more compelling than optics. Does WWE want to have Reigns standing in the middle of the ring with the Big Red Belt hoisted over his head while a thunderous cascade of boos echoes through the arena? One would hope not. There are times when the powers that be at WWE seem absolutely oblivious to the crowd’s reaction. This can’t be one of those times. There’s no better way to kill momentum heading into WrestleMania than to put a champion that the audience either hates or doesn’t care about at the top of the card. Reigns needs to either turn heel, or form a closer alliance with a popular babyface before they put him in this position. Owens has done a good job as champion thus far, and there are better WrestleMania matchups for him than there are for Reigns. (Think of a returning Finn Balor, or a newly-babyface Jericho, for instance.) Reigns is better than the fans give him credit for, and he’ll be back at the top of the card soon enough. Now is not the time.
John Cena vs. A.J. Styles for the WWE World Championship
At some point, Cena is going to tie Ric Flair’s record of 16 world titles. No matter how you feel about Mr. Hustle, Loyalty and Respect, you have to admit that he’s earned it. For 15 years, and through some pretty lean times, Cena provided WWE with a credible foil at the top of the card. He helped make CM Punk and Edge and Randy Orton. He can do the same for Styles. For that to happen, A.J. has to shine on the biggest stages. Ideally, Styles retains his title with a clean win at the Rumble, then drops the belt to Cena at Elimination Chamber, where there will be other competitors involved. This protects Styles to a point, and still gives Cena his record. Then, Styles and Cena can clash again at WrestleMania, with The Phenomenal One getting the strap back.
The 30th Royal Rumble
Las Vegas odds seem to favor one of two faces to win the Rumble. Bettors have put Undertaker and Goldberg near the top of the favorites list. Booking either of them to win this match would be a mistake. Face it, neither ‘Taker nor Goldberg needs a win here to be in a big spot at WrestleMania. The same goes for Brock Lesnar. Of the relatively few faces in the match, there aren’t many, if any, legitimate contenders to win. (Does anyone think Sami Zayn is going to be the last man standing?) The law of averages says that a heel should win. A new star needs to rise here. WWE either needs to pull the trigger fully on Braun Strowman (probably too soon), Big Cass (definitely too soon), or pull a shocker by putting Miz or Bray Wyatt over (not gonna happen). Maybe this is the time for the ultimate shocker. Samoa Joe could be a surprise entrant and win it all. Joe is playing the heel role beautifully at NXT, and could continue that path on the main roster. Also, a winner such as Joe gives WWE flexibility, since he’s not on either roster. Imagine a Joe/Styles showdown, or Joe taking aim at Owens. Can you picture Joe raging that Styles has travelled the world, eclipsing him at every stop? It would make a perfect story. Joe’s been in Styles’ shadow for years, and finally decides that enough is enough. No matter who wins the Rumble, the story is better if it’s a heel.
Since the primary purpose of the Royal Rumble is to begin to build the storylines WWE wants to present at WrestleMania, it’s important to book the event with an eye on the future. WWE could shock its fan base (in a positive way) and create some fascinating booking possibilities by making this year’s Royal Rumble a night where the heels take over. Not only would this be a huge surprise, it would also leave WWE with nearly endless possibilities between now and April 2 in Orlando.