By Keith Elliot Greenberg
It will be a full weekend for the WWE Universe, with ramifications that will spill over into next week and beyond.
On Saturday and Sunday, WWE will present back-to-back spectaculars. Saturday night will be highlighted by the Worlds Collide pay-per-view, featuring the stars of NXT, WWE’s highly heralded Black and Gold brand boasting arguably the hungriest roster in sports-entertainment. On Sunday, WrestleMania season officially begins with the Royal Rumble pay-per-view.
While unpredictability is sure to reign, the one certainty is that issues ignited over the weekend will continue on Monday Night Raw (Mondays at 8/7c on USA) and NXT (Wednesdays at 8/7c on USA).
For the third year in a row, the Rumble card will be centered around two elimination matches consisting of 30 WWE Superstars – one for men and one for women.
According to Rumble rules, participants draw lots before the match with Combatants One and Two entering at the beginning. Every 90 seconds, a buzzer sounds and the next gladiator storms down the aisle.
Since 1993, the Rumble winner has earned a chance to battle for the championship at WrestleMania (the 2020 version is scheduled for Apr. 5 in Tampa). But this year’s Royal Rumble contains an unprecedented twist.
On the Jan. 6 edition of Raw, WWE Champion Brock Lesnar declared that he was entering himself into the Rumble at Number One. His motivation: according to his advocate Paul Heyman, no one on the WWE roster was worthy of a title shot.
This has led to rampant speculation. What if someone from outside the WWE roster was a surprise entrant in the Rumble and humbled Lesnar in the free-for-all? Would “The Beast” defend against him at WrestleMania 36?
With 30 brawlers crammed into a ring, watchers are also curious about how certain intrigues will play out. Will Seth Rollins’ new faction, the Authors of Pain (AOP), Akam and Rezar, and associate Buddy Murphy, assist the “Monday Night Messiah” in the Rumble -- or defend their individual interests?
If the posse retains their unanimity, The Unit’s sworn adversaries Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe will be forced to merge their talents to hold them at bay. Yet, Owens and Joe have both said that, despite their newfound fondness for one another, they’re also ready to come to blows in order to win a chance to wear WWE gold.
Other Superstars who are likely to find each other in the crowded ring: Randy Orton and Drew McIntyre -- who has pledged to use his patented Claymore Kick to dislodge The Viper’s head from his body.
On the female side, Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch has vowed to do something that she has never accomplished before -- defeat Japan’s “Empress of Tomorrow” Asuka in a one-on-one match.
On this week’s Monday Night Raw, Charlotte Flair -- who has held versions of the women’s gold on WWE’s main roster 10 separate times -- predicted she’ll win the Rumble and roll over either Lynch or Asuka at WrestleMania 36, solidifying her reputation as “The Queen.”
The night before the Rumble, the stars of NXT engage in one of the most unique pay-per-views since the brand began staging major events in 2014 -- with NXT standouts colliding with competitors from NXT’s UK brand.
The tensions started in earnest at the second NXT UK TakeOver event in Blackpool, England on Jan 12. As NXT UK Champion Walter was celebrating his successful title defense against Joe Coffey with the titlist’s Imperium faction -- consisting of Fabian Aichner, Marcel Barthel, and Alexander Wolfe -- the unexpected occurred.
The Undisputed Era -- the most dominant faction to ever appear in NXT -- suddenly invaded, shocking fans who assumed that the group was in North America. As spectators looked on in disbelief, NXT Champion Adam Cole, NXT Tag Team Champions Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly, and NXT North American Champion Roderick Strong laid waste to Imperium.
On the Jan. 22 edition of NXT, Imperium gained a measure of revenge against the Undisputed Era, flustering and distracting Fish and O’Reilly as they wrestled NXT UK stalwarts James Drake and Zack Gibson -- the Grizzled Young Veterans -- resulting in a non-title loss.
As if that weren’t enough, later that night, after Strong dropped his NXT North American Championship to mighty Keith Lee, Imperium returned again, brawling with the Undisputed Era.
The sense of chaos leaves the WWE Universe wondering about the type of role NXT’s mainstays could play on the Rumble card.
Along with the obvious possibilities of the Undisputed Era, Imperium, and Lee somehow getting involved in the action on Sunday night, no one knows what, if any, impression, female NXT dynamos such as Shyana Baszler, Io Shirai, Bianca Belair, and NXT Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley will have on the WWE women’s division.
As the next few weeks of both Monday Night Raw and NXT unfold, WWE could be entering the most unpredictable period in its long, illustrious history.
KEITH ELLIOT GREENBERG wrote for WWE’s publications for more than two decades, and co-authored the autobiographies of Hall of Famers Ric Flair, Freddie Blassie and Superstar Billy Graham, as well as the third edition of the WWE Encyclopedia of Sports Entertainment.