On this week’s edition of Monday Night Raw, Michael Cole said that the WWE Royal Rumble was his favorite event of the wrestling year. He’s not alone in that sentiment. The Royal Rumble is WWE’s most unique pay-per-view event of the year. The 30-man battle royal that gives the show its name provides the WWE Universe with surprise appearances, debuts, nostalgia and a true kickoff to the Wrestlemania season.
As exciting as the Royal Rumble can be, the event is not without its issues. Jim Duggan and Big John Studd were the first two Rumble winners (1988 and 1989). While known names, they were not the WWE’s biggest stars. Hulk Hogan won the next two years, adding prestige to the title and Ric Flair won the then-WWF Championship at the 1993 event. This led to the stipulation that the winner of the 1993 Royal Rumble would receive a title match at Wrestlemania. That stipulation stands to this day.
While it seems logical to think that tying a title match to the outcome of the Rumble would make it more exciting, the truth is that promising the winner a shot to headline Wrestlemania has caused some issues with predictability. Let’s face it, in every 30-man field, there are roughly 25 guys with absolutely no shot of winning the match. Knowing that only an elite few wrestlers are deemed worthy of a main event slot, and considering that most of the top guys who hold titles don’t compete in the Rumble, fans can usually narrow down the possibilities rather easily.
Rumble winners tend to be predictable (John Cena 2013, Batista 2014, HHH 2016) or unpopular choices (Roman Reigns 2015) or both (Batista, Reigns, HHH). While fans can cling to exciting moments like AJ Styles’ debut last year, there are also the groaner moments like 2011 when Alberto Del Rio and Santino Marella were the last two men in the ring. Did anyone think that Santino was going to be in the top match at WrestleMania?
This year, it’s different. The top stars in the company, except for Styles, Reigns, Kevin Owens and Cena, are entered in the match. There are guys who are in main events every week (Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose) and guys who are climbing rapidly up the midcard (The Miz, Braun Strowman, Dolph ZIggler, Sheamus, Cesaro, etc.). You even have legendary part-timers like Goldberg, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker in the field. This leads to a great deal of speculation. There’s no real clear favorite to win this year’s event.
Let’s clear up the confusion. Listed below are the performers already confirmed for the Royal Rumble, with some analysis on their chances of winning the whole thing and heading to the main event at this year’s Wrestlemania.
New Day – We’ll start here since the three guys with the POP are the least likely to win. It seems that WWE Creative has put New Day in the Rumble because they don’t know what else to do with them. Kofi will have his annual high spot, Xavier Woods will do something annoying with a trombone, and Big E will eliminate a guy or two, since the brass think he’s the only member of this stable with real singles potential.
Sheamus and Cesaro – The current Raw tag champs are high-quality cannon fodder here. Anyone who eliminates one of them gains credibility, and can toss someone over the rope that isn’t Lesnar, Goldberg, etc. The only caveat here is that if the duo drops the tag belts before the Rumble, Cesaro could make some noise.
Dolph Ziggler – The Showoff combines the attributes of Kingston and Cesaro/Sheamus here. He’s not going to win, but he’ll provide some high spots and make someone look very good when they eliminate him.
The Miz – Here, we’re starting to get to guys who just might have a shot to win this thing. It seems more likely that Miz is in here to continue his feud with Dean Ambrose and to serve as high-caliber competition, but I can see a scenario where Miz utilizes shenanigans to keep himself in the ring until the very end. Miz’s heel work was absolutely top-notch in 2016, and the powers that be might be thinking about elevating him.
Baron Corbin – I see the Lone Wolf as being on about the same level as Miz here, with a slightly better chance of winning. While Miz would have to face a babyface champion at WrestleMania, Corbin’s character could face either a face or a heel. They’ve been putting Corbin in the ring with top stars like Cena and Styles, and he hasn’t looked out of place.
Dean Ambrose – Ambrose has been in and around the main event scene for the past year or so. In that sense, there’s a chance he could be a factor in the Rumble. However, Ambrose has transitioned out of a feud with Styles for the WWE Championship to a program with the Miz. As the current Intercontinental Champion, Ambrose may be out of the running for another shot at the big belt.
Seth Rollins – Whether The Architect has a shot to win the Rumble depends on the outcome of the match between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens for the WWE Universal Championship. If Reigns takes the title from Owens, it’s not as likely that Rollins will emerge victorious. If Owens manages to maintain the title, Rollins would make as likely a challenger as anyone else in the field.
Chris Jericho – Y2J is in a similar situation as Rollins, but maybe a bit better. If Reigns wins the title, Jericho would make a feasible challenger (though not overly likely). If Owens wins the belt, Jericho might be a good opponent following a breakup angle between the Rumble and WrestleMania. While the WWE Universe might be rooting for a match between Jericho and Owens, it’s likely that WWE Creative isn’t thinking the same way.
Brock Lesnar/Goldberg – These two guys are in the same boat. It’s a near-certainty that these two legendary badasses are slated for a feud-ending confrontation at WM 33 on April 2. Either of them could win the Rumble match, but it makes for complicated booking over the next two months. In order for the desired match to take place, the one who didn’t win the Rumble would have to take the Universal title. Neither Goldberg nor Lesnar is a full-time performer, so it’s not overly likely that WWE would put the belt on either man. It’s also worth noting that neither of these two behemoths need the belt to get over. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that WWE would put Lesnar over in the Rumble, give Goldberg a short run with the belt coming out of the Fastlane PPV, and have The Beast take the title in Orlando.
Undertaker – The Dead Man announced his intent to enter the Rumble on Raw a week or so ago. He immediately became the Vegas pick to win the match. This makes sense on several levels. Since Taker has said that nobody can tell him where to go or what to do, a Rumble win doesn’t necessarily limit the possibilities to one show or the other. Taker could win the Rumble and declare his intent to take on the Smackdown champ (almost certainly Cena or Styles). He could also decide that he wants to face the Raw title holder (in this scenario – most likely Reigns or Lesnar). Any of these matches would be acceptable to the WWE Universe, and any of them would draw big numbers. This probably makes Taker the best bet to win, except for….
Braun Strowman – It’s possible that a Strowman win at the Rumble would break the Internet (in a bad way). The WWE Universe seems to be buying into the big man as a monster heel at this point. However, the fans would be certain to pop for Taker, Lesnar, Goldberg, Rollins, or even Jericho as a winner. They might not love Strowman as much as Vince McMahon appears to. While WWE has a history of being tone deaf when it comes to the crowd, you’d like to think that they might have learned a lesson from Batista’s win. The crowd was so incensed that Daniel Bryan didn’t win that they essentially drove The Animal straight out of WWE with their rage. Since Strowman doesn’t have a movie career to fall back on, it might be best to hold off on pushing him too far too fast. The good news here is that if the crowd decides to boo Strowman like they do Reigns, at least he’s a heel.
This year’s edition of the Royal Rumble is the most unpredictable in years. Any one of nine or ten guys could legitimately win the match and go on to WrestleMania. The fact that the outcome doesn’t seem obvious is a tribute to WWE’s 2016 campaign to build new stars. Let’s hope that that creativity continues on January 29th.