It’s January and as every pro wrestling fan knows, this means the WWE’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view is coming up. The winner of the 30-man over the top rope battle royale will move on to headline Wrestlemania and face the champion of their particular show (Raw or Smackdown). This is the first year in a long time where I can honestly say that I think the company is doing a great job of keeping its audience in the dark on who the eventual Rumble winner will actually be. Last year it was pretty common knowledge that Triple H was going to enter the Rumble in the 30th spot, win the match (and the belt), and go on to Wrestlemania to defend against Roman Reigns. That isn’t the case this time out in which we have a more star-studded cast in the mix, and thus more possibilities as to who the eventual winner will be.
As of now, we know of several Raw superstars who will be entering the Royal Rumble and we can make a case for each of them to be the possible winner. The rumors have been flying and it seems that everyone has their own opinion, which is going to happen when you have guys like Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg, and The Undertaker coming on strong. We’ve got people saying that Goldberg will win the event and wind up facing Kevin Owens for the Universal title after Owens beats Reigns in their match at the Rumble. We’ve got others saying that The Undertaker will win and put his career on the line against Cena at Mania, after Cena does away with AJ Styles at the Rumble. Now, me personally, I can’t definitively agree or disagree with either claim, but I can confidently tell you of a few superstars that I don’t think will win the match…
I’m glad the company is starting to push former World’s Strongest Man competitor, Braun Strowman, towards the main event. They’ve finally gotten him out of the squash matches in which he was doing away with much smaller guys in less than a minute’s time. And they’ve thrown him into the mainstream with matches against guys like Sami Zayn and Seth Rollins, and now he’s been given a push towards being the possible winner of the Rumble. However, it’s clear that he’s not ready to main event a show of Wrestlemania’s stature. He needs more in-ring work with strong in-ring performers, and sooner or later the company needs to give him a manager to do his talking for him, similarly to Paul Heyman with Lesnar. Because as of right now he’s coming off as a darker, angrier version of Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds.
I don’t believe the winner will be Seth Rollins either. As great of a performer as Rollins is, I feel a feuding program between him and Triple H is in the works that will culminate at Wrestlemania in a well worked match between the two. After all, Hunter did turn on Rollins back in September to help Kevin Owens win the then vacant Universal title on Raw in a fatal 4-way elimination match. Now is the perfect time for WWE to play the pupil versus mentor card in Rollins vs HHH.
WWE has been slowly but surely foreshadowing a breakup between the team of Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens and their “friendship.” Entering Jericho into the Rumble match is a sign that Y2J might be headed to Mania to face his friend Kevin Owens for the belt. However, I think it’s far more likely that the company would have Owens drop the belt to Reigns at the Rumble, and that the two friends would battle it out at Mania for Jericho’s United States championship, than it is to see Jericho finally win the 30-man match and contend with Owens for the Universal title. Having said that, one way or another these two superstars will provide fans with one hell of a program leading up to Mania, if of course their imminent breakup occurs now before Jericho goes back on tour with his band, Fozzy.
Now, onto the guys that I feel have a more legitimate shot at winning this year’s Royal Rumble.
While it may look obvious on the surface that the company would like to have Goldberg, Lesnar, or Taker headlining their biggest PPV event of the year, I think this is entirely a set-up for something we as fans may not see coming. Plus the Goldberg and Lesnar feud doesn’t seem like it’s over after the company booked Goldberg to squash Lesnar with two spears and a jackhammer in about one minute, to win at Survivor Series. Lesnar needs a shot at redemption and I’m hoping we see it at Wrestlemania 33. Taker on the other hand does pose to be a more plausible option than the other two as he is almost always expected to win at Mania. With just one loss to Lesnar three years ago, Undertaker’s record at WWE’s biggest event currently stands at 23-1. But it’s clear that the Dead Man is getting too old to run the ropes and perform like he used to, so the plausibility lies in the idea that if he were to win the Rumble, he would put his career on the line against Cena, or whoever, and lose to finally end his career and stop returning sporadically just to show up at the biggest shows of the year.
But back to the shots in the dark. One rumor I’ve heard that sounds awfully appealing is that the Royal Rumble will signal the return of Finn Balor. Balor if you recall, was Raw’s first ever Universal champion having won the belt over Rollins at Summerslam back in August, only to vacate the title the next night due to a severe shoulder injury sustained in said match. I like the idea of Balor entering the Rumble in the 30th spot (or near it) and winning to go on to Wrestlemania to face Owens whom he never actually lost the title to. It’s a possibility but I’d say it all hinges on how well he’s recovered from the injury, and how well he can work a match right now having been on the shelf for five months at this point.
But here is my own personal opinion, and it’s absolutely a shot from left field. WWE has repeatedly been burying one of its best workers and most talented performers. I think the reason for this might be because they want to break him down, and then build him back up by shocking the world with a victory from him in the 30-man match. I think that the darkest horse in the race has to be Dolph Ziggler. And now could finally be the time that he gets his push by winning the Rumble, and going on to headline Mania against AJ Styles for the WWE Championship, in a match that has been teased by the company for a while now, and would certainly feature two of Smackdown Live’s best performers.
Only time will tell, but for now, let’s wait this thing out and hope for a glorious pay-per-view in San Antonio, Texas on January 29th as we continue on the Road to Wrestlemania.
If you have any questions, comments, criticisms, or you just want to tell me that I suck, find me on Twitter @ChernFaceKillah
The piece was written by Matt Chernick