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Owens replacing Pearce in WWE Royal Rumble Universal title match

Adam Pearce isn't going to be Universal Champion Roman Reigns' Royal Rumble challenger after all.

Tonight's episode of SmackDown ended with the announcement that Reigns will defend his Universal Championship against Kevin Owens in a Last Man Standing match at the Royal Rumble. The pay-per-view is taking place on Sunday, January 31.

Tonight's SmackDown was built around Reigns and Pearce signing the contract for their title match at the Royal Rumble. After the contract was signed, Pearce pointed out that standard WWE contracts say the card is subject to change. Pearce claimed that he had an old knee injury flaring up and said that -- as a WWE official -- he has the right to find a suitable replacement for the match. He then introduced Owens as Reigns' new Royal Rumble challenger.

The Last Man Standing stipulation was requested by Reigns when he thought he'd be facing Pearce at the Royal Rumble.

Pearce had been set up as Reigns' challenger for the Royal Rumble by winning a number one contender's gauntlet match on SmackDown last week. The storyline was that Reigns forced Pearce into the gauntlet after being upset with Pearce's recent decision-making. Reigns and Uso attacked Shinsuke Nakamura at the end of the gauntlet match, then Reigns threw Pearce into the ring. Uso superkicked Pearce and put him on top of Nakamura. The referee then counted the pin.

After Owens defeated Uso on the New Year's Day episode of SmackDown, the show ended with Reigns throwing Owens off a stand and through a table below.

Reigns previously retained the Universal Championship against Owens in tables, ladders, and chairs and steel cage matches. Reigns got help from Uso in both of those matches.

Here's the updated card for the Royal Rumble:

  • WWE Champion Drew McIntyre defends against Goldberg
  • Universal Champion Roman Reigns defends against Kevin Owens in a Last Man Standing match
  • Men's Royal Rumble match
  • Women's Royal Rumble match