On this week’s episode of Monday Night Raw, Braun Strowman lost his chance to face Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship at Royal Rumble, and later on in the evening, Finn Balor won a four-way match to become Lesnar’s new opponent at the upcoming pay-per-view. While it has been speculated that the change was made at the last minute due to Strowman’s elbow injury, per Wrestling Inc., the latest from Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer suggests that wasn’t the case.
Citing recent comments from Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio, ComicBook wrote that WWE had planned Balor vs. Lesnar for “several weeks,” and that the company’s creative decision to deny Strowman of a Universal Championship opportunity at Royal Rumble had nothing to do with his injury. As ComicBook noted, WWE chairman Vince McMahon reportedly felt that another loss to Lesnar would “damage” Strowman’s character, which means Balor will likely be booked to lose to Brock at Royal Rumble, allowing Seth Rollins to step up as the next contender for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 35.
While ComicBook cited Meltzer as saying that McMahon didn’t see too many credible options for Brock Lesnar to face at Royal Rumble, the publication added that Finn Balor was deemed worthy of a title shot — on account of Lesnar’s strong performances against smaller wrestlers such as AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan.
Separately, WrestlingNews.co noted that WWE kept promoting Lesnar vs. Strowman for the Universal Championship at Royal Rumble because the company was hoping to sell about 40,000 tickets at Chase Field in Phoenix, the home field of Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks.
— WWE (@WWE) January 15, 2019
In addition to providing backstage details on the upcoming Lesnar vs. Balor match, Meltzer also shed some light on how the two-time Universal Champion had originally wanted to defend his title against Balor at the 2018 Royal Rumble. As recalled by ComicBook, it had previously been rumored that McMahon rejected the idea because he felt Finn wasn’t popular enough with WWE’s fans to deserve a title shot at a major pay-per-view like the Rumble. The publication, however, observed that Balor has since “cultivated a healthy relationship” with fans, thus making his Rumble match against Lesnar quite an intriguing one.
As for Braun Strowman, both ComicBook and WrestlingNews.co noted that the “Monster Among Men” has yet to be cleared to compete one month after undergoing elbow surgery. The latter publication speculated that Strowman might be allowed to “do minimal work” at Royal Rumble, though it’s not clear what WWE’s longer-term creative plans for him are at this point.