WWE’s first-ever Greatest Royal Rumble event, broadcasting live from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this Friday at noon ET on WWE Network, is a strange affair. It’s more stacked than past Network exclusives like Beast in the East, but despite the wattage, it’s not quite consequential enough to be slotted as a typical monthly PPV (though fear not, Backlash is right on its heels).
It has all the trappings of a Tribute to the Troops–style exhibition — talent-packed gimmick matches (the titular 50-superstar main event), crowd-pleasing one-offs (John Cena vs. Triple H), a through line of conquering Americanness — but with even fewer women in action (read: none). Though any unease about staging this spectacle in a country that openly shuns females (let alone so close to the fallout from the Fabulous Moolah controversy) for a reported boatload of money seems to have been largely smothered by hype for two bona fide blockbuster WrestleMania reruns (Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns, AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura).
But does anything on this show even matter? Leaving human rights aside, let’s at least try to distinguish between the Greatest Royal Rumble’s coexisting realities. To that end, here’s a three-tiered breakdown of the top nine matches according to degrees of impact on ongoing story lines and character arcs. And naturally, our utterly unscientific predictions of who will triumph (though, in fairness, we hit most of our marks for Mania). We’ll save the “Return of the Jeddah” jokes — and any further commentary about glaring roster exclusions — for next year.
Of Virtually Zero Story Line Significance
John Cena vs. Triple H
The Story So Far: Outside of it being the first time these two 40-somethings have squared off since one of them was in his 30s, not much. For those in attendance, it’s a chance to see two outsize Western archetypes on a gladiatorial scale. For the rest of us, Cena vs. the Game might be the most star-studded bathroom-break bout of all time.
Anticipated Outcome: Cena will win. Unless it somehow makes sense for him to lose successively to the entire upper card at Elimination Chamber, Undertaker at Mania (handily), and then another ostensibly retired icon in Saudi Arabia. Even Super John’s reputation would be dinged by that collateral damage. And when stakes are low, you send the crowd home happy.
Undertaker vs. Rusev (Casket Match)
The Story So Far: It’s a tale old as time. Bulgarian brute Rusev books match with immortal phenom Undertaker, spouts off to TMZ, briefly gets pulled in favor of steadier hand Chris Jericho, goes into damage-control mode (with an assist from his real-life and on-screen wife, Lana), and finally gets reinstated as wife maintains kayfabe cover. Maybe one of the great chaotic meta-schmozzes in recent WWE memory. Otherwise, the real story is that Taker — who almost certainly won’t call it a career on a glorified ambassadorial assignment — clearly isn’t buried yet. No matter what happens in the match, more Taker is a win for everyone.
Anticipated Outcome: Even Rusev knows.
50-Man Greatest Royal Rumble Match
The Story So Far: A lot of dudes. Fifty more than there will be women competing, in fact. “Greatest” is relative.
Anticipated Outcome: After Matt Hardy won Mania’s Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, there’s every reason to believe this first-ever mammoth over-the-top-rope tussle will serve as a preamble to a push. (The winner may even get something tangible, like how the winner of the regular Royal Rumble gets a WrestleMania title shot, but if so, they haven’t told us yet.) So keep an eye on Elias, former Andre Battle Royal winner Baron Corbin, Big Cass, and Bobby Lashley, to name a few. Or just assume Daniel Bryan or Braun Strowman gets the nod and continues marching on to world domination.
Of Some Story Line Significance
The Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs. the Usos (SmackDown Tag Team Championship)
The Story So Far: Bludgeon Brothers Luke Harper and Erick Rowan have been running roughshod over former champs the Usos (and their frenemies the New Day) for weeks. Thanks to Jimmy Uso’s wife, Naomi, Harper and Rowan have eased up a bit on the ass-kicking and even tasted singles defeat. They’ve also helped put Jimmy and Jey back over as babyfaces, which was half the battle.
Anticipated Outcome: Bludgeon Brothers keep on bludgeoning. But will the Usos leave on foot or hastily assembled ambulatory apparatus? And since this feels like an endnote (for now) on this mutually beneficial beef, two further questions: Who’s on deck to keep Luke and Erick warm for their next major feud? And might new SmackDown recruits SAnitY be the latest loonies to step inside Jimmy and Jey’s Uso penitentiary?
Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy vs. Sheamus and Cesaro (Raw Tag Team Championship)
The Story So Far: The confusion here is what happens if Sheamus and Cesaro — four-time Raw tag champs who lost the belts to a giant and his 10-year-old partner at Mania but immediately became eligible for a second chance when said titles were vacated — make it an even five. The Bar, as the duo is alternately known, just got jettisoned to SmackDown, where the Bludgeon Brothers rule mallet and fist as that show’s standard-bearers. Could they conceivably hold the Raw belts hostage on Tuesdays? Sure. Hell, newest Monday signee Jinder Mahal’s lackey, Sunil Singh, just infiltrated SmackDown and cost U.S. title hopeful Randy Orton a win, so anything’s possible. This one-night stand between the Bar and Matt and Bray would, however, appear to be a coronation of sorts for Deleters of Worlds Wyatt and Hardy to wipe Raw’s tag-division slate clean.
Anticipated Outcome: The oracle prophesizes woken baes Bray and Matt will win.
Jeff Hardy (c) vs. Jinder Mahal (U.S. Championship)
The Story So Far: Immediately following Hardy’s semi-surprising post-Mania win against U.S. champ Mahal, the charismatic enigma said sayonara to Monday nights and segued the secondary title back to its SmackDown home. No wonder Mahal’s miffed and meddling in imminent challenger Randy Orton’s affairs (Mahal and Orton, apparently, just can’t quit each other). Still, he’ll have his requisite rematch on the brand-neutral soil of Saudi Arabia.
Anticipated Outcome: Tough one. Truly. But since Hardy and Orton’s barely sprouted bad feelings betray unfinished business, smart money’s on Orton interfering in kind and Hardy hanging on at least till Backlash.
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Finn Bálor vs. The Miz vs. Samoa Joe (Intercontinental Championship)
The Story So Far: With Miz and Joe having joined SmackDown’s ranks, some long-distance bluster has had to suffice, with Joe in particular bearing the onus of hyping Greatest Royal Rumble and his match with Roman Reigns at Backlash. Not to mention said Backlash clash could be for Raw’s Universal Championship (if Roman finally wrests it from Brock Lesnar, more on which below), which brings us back to the Sheamus-Cesaro conundrum of titles’ provenance. Logic dictates that Raw will retain the IC title (and the merry-go-round among most of these gentlemen will have made its final spin), but a double-swap isn’t out of the picture. Also, keep an eye out for a Bálor heel turn. Things were a bit too buddy-buddy between him and champ Seth Rollins on Monday, who we all recall stalled his ill-fated, inaugural Universal reign some summers ago.
Anticipated Outcome: Rollins retains, with bad-guy Bálor out for revenge as the second anniversary of their SummerSlam showdown nears.
Of Major Story Line Significance
AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (WWE Championship)
The Story So Far: These guys used to be mutually admiring peers in Japan who carried that goodwill over to a Mania buildup marked by sportsmanship and smarts. Then Nakamura nailed Styles in the nuts. And that has since become Shinsuke’s thing, along with lots of creepy glares, close-ups of his nightmarish mouth guard, and his refusal to speak English. It’s awesome.
Anticipated Outcome: This feud has legs, and Nakamura’s just begun cultivating a heel foil for the ages. AJ should retain, but possibly by disqualification after Shinsuke hits him in the nuts with a cricket bat.
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns (Universal Championship)
The Story So Far: To paraphrase William Carlos Williams, so much depends upon whether Roman wins the Universal title, bejeweled with diamonds, currently captive around Brock Lesnar’s waist. Despite giving the WWE universe what it’s been clamoring for — lots and lots of Roman’s blood — Lesnar and Reigns’s Mania 34 main event landed with a thud, and there’s really no way their steel-cage rematch (a superfluous enhancement after the aforementioned Mania gore fest) wraps at Greatest Royal Rumble without riling some segment of the company’s fan base. There’s good reason to expect that Braun Strowman lies in wait for the winner, but that’s Saturday’s business. From now till then, it’s all about part-time beast against divisive but bankable workhorse. So little creative energy has been spent, but damn if we aren’t invested.
Anticipated Outcome: If you believe that Braun is due next, that could shape predictions. (Strowman taking out Lesnar at SummerSlam sounds nice, while rerouting the Monster Among Men back to old foe Reigns feels doomed to disappoint.) But just as with Cena, it’s hard to picture Reigns taking another one on the chin, and come this point in Greatest Royal Rumble, its global audience will have earned a result that reshapes WWE’s world. But will Roman’s win — and the perception that the company called an audible on the WrestleMania ending just to give meaning to the Jeddah card — make matters direr for Reigns’s relationship with the audience? Then again, how could it get much worse?