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Finn Balor as his Demon King alter ego.

I feel like I say it every year, but the 2019 Royal Rumble is the most wide-open in a long time.

WWE World Champion Daniel Bryan and WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar are most likely going to hold onto their titles until WrestleMania. Bryan because he's having the run of his life as an anticapitalist scold, and Lesnar because he's Lesnar. So if they're champions, who challenges them at WWE's biggest show of the year?

I have no earthly idea.

AJ Styles is the biggest babyface on Smackdown, but he'll have wrestled Bryan on TV five times after the Royal Rumble. So Styles is out, and he'll likely wrestle Shawn Michaels or someone of similar dream match prestige at WrestleMania. After Styles, though, the Smackdown babyface pool gets really shallow. It's too soon for Mustafa Ali. Jeff Hardy is too deteriorated. There's always Big E, whose breakout singles push has been rumored for years, such pushes are usually foreshadowed a little bit, and this one hasn't been. Also, I feel confident guessing that this was the spot former New Japan Pro Wrestling Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega would have gotten had he signed the obscene deal WWE offered him, but Omega is probably going to join his friends in All Elite Wrestling instead. I could see old reliable John Cena getting the shot against his kinda sorta ex-brother-in-law, but sniping about the Bellas doesn't give Bryan much room to rant about plastic straws and gas-guzzlers.

Lesnar's challenger is a little easier to guess. Seth Rollins has been getting top guy treatment on Raw the past few weeks, and has even announced his intentions to challenge for the Universal Championship. But Rollins hasn't been so hot in the ring: His match with Dean Ambrose at TLC got "boring" chants, and his work has felt tired for awhile. I'd rather see Finn Balor get the nod. WWE and Paul Heyman could sell the hell out of Demon Balor vs. the Beast Lesnar, and we'd surely get an instant classic entrance when Balor brings his undefeated alter ego to WrestleMania for the first time ever.

When it comes to the women, one title match is almost a lock and the other is a massive question mark.

Raw Women's Champion Ronda Rousey will all but certainly defend her title against Becky Lynch and Charlotte in a triple-threat that should, by all rights, make history by headlining WrestleMania. The only question is how we get there. Lynch challenging Asuka for the Smackdown Women's Championship at the Royal Rumble means "The Man" may not wrestle in the battle royale many expected her to win. So Charlotte will likely win the title shot instead, allowing her to jump to Raw. And Lynch having to grind for her spot in the match will shore up her fan support in the same way Bryan did in 2014.

As for Asuka's WrestleMania opponent: Who knows? Naomi could get the nod, but other than her and the developing Sonya Deville, the Smackdown women's scene is weak. So I'd bet on someone from Raw or NXT. If WWE is feeling frisky they could give the shot to Nikki Cross, who had some great matches with Asuka in NXT. Shayna Baszler is about due for her promotion, too. And she'll be needed on the roster now that WWE is circling the long-awaited Four Horsewomen vs. Four Horsewomen feud, which could escalate with Rousey's Royal Rumble defense against Sasha Banks.

We'll see how many of these questions get answered Jan. 27. Next week, I'll have a column with predictions on the other big mystery of the Royal Rumble: surprise entrants.


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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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Features editor for The Citizen.