With just under two weeks to go until the 2019 Royal Rumble event takes place in Phoenix, the planned universal championship match for the card was flipped on its head during Raw on Monday night. Braun Strowman was removed from another scheduled shot at Brock Lesnar after he triggered the wrath of Vince McMahon by flipping his limousine, and by the end of the night, he was replaced as the challenger by Finn Balor who had earned two victories that gave him the right to get a crack at Lesnar and the universal title he never truly lost come Jan. 27.
Given the timing, many fans were left to ask why the move to replace Strowman with Balor was executed so suddenly. Apparently, that move was not as sudden as we'd all assumed, nor does it really have anything to do with Strowman's recent elbow injury. According to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer [subscription required and recommended], the plan this entire time has been to feature Balor challenging Lesnar for the universal championship inside Chase Field. Strowman, reportedly, was only slotted into the challenger's spot in an attempt to sell some extra tickets to the larger baseball venue before ultimately making the switch. Meltzer further reported that after Strowman lost to Lesnar at Crown Jewel when the two battled for the universal title that was left vacant following Roman Reigns' leukemia unfortunately returning, McMahon saw the "Monster Among Men" cooling off in momentum and not really able to afford another loss to the universal champ.
Big fan of WWE? Subscribe to our podcast -- State of Combat with Brian Campbell -- where we go in depth on everything you need to know in WWE each week.
It's unfortunate for Strowman to lose that lucrative spot on one of the biggest cards of the year, but at the same time, we're now getting a dream match with one of the most popular babyfaces in the pro wrestling world trying his hand at taking down the irksome part-time titleholder. And while the chances of Balor emerging victorious are more than likely slim, we're at least in line for a much better overall universal title match than we would have seen with another Lesnar vs. Strowman contest, as history certainly proves. Lesnar's two previous bouts with Strowman were lackluster, to say the least, while the universal champ put on two Survivor Series classics in a row against much smaller opponents in AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan. Balor should more than deliver with the task at hand.
More WWE news, rumors
- One of the hottest stars in independent wrestling is officially on the market. Former Evolve champion Shane Strickland announced on Twitter Tuesday that he is a free agent, presumably now this his contractual issues with Lucha Underground -- where he portrayed the Killshot character -- have been cleared up. As PWInsider noted, WWE has long been interested in acquiring Strickland, and coming from someone here who has followed his career for a while, Triple H and Co. would be foolish not to lock up "Swerve" sooner rather than later.
- With Raw in Memphis on Monday night, we got a brief cameo from Jerry "The King" Lawler. That won't be the last we see of Lawler in the near future, though. On the latest episode of his "Dinner with the King" podcast, Lawler revealed that he has signed a new two-year deal with WWE, and what's more, he'll be commentating the men's Royal Rumble match this year with Michael Cole and JBL.
- Tuesday night on SmackDown Live, Rey Mysterio and Andrade "Cien" Almas will do battle in what should be another great outing between the Mexican stars. The Miz will be throwing a birthday bash for new tag team partner Shane McMahon; Carmella takes on Sonya Deville; we'll see if AJ Styles will find out just how vicious Daniel Bryan can be; and the build for the feud between women's champion Asuka and Royal Rumble challenger Becky Lynch should be heating up immensely -- just as it has been on Twitter as of late.