Royal Rumble Preview
This Sunday, WWE will broadcast live from the Alamodome their pay-per-view Royal Rumble. Along with WresetleMania, Summerslam, and Survivor Series, the show is considered one of the "Big 4" shows the company runs annually, while also being the official beginning of the build towards WrestleMania. Royal Rumble receives its name from the main event of the show, which is a 30 man, over-the-top-rope battle royal where competitors strive to be the last man standing, thus earning a title shot and main event match at WrestleMania. The match begins with two men in the ring and then additional superstars enter the match roughly every two minutes until the last man has entered. While the WWE often, and deservedly so, receives criticism from fans for its unwavering predictability, the company has done an excellent job of keeping the rumble fresh and exciting throughout the years. While there is an advantage for entering later in the match, the 1st and 2nd spots have produced two winners each, although the validity of Mr. McMahon's victory in 1999 is certainly a different story than the other winners who started the match.
While last year's rumble was overly predictable, with Triple H returning to avenge his beatdown suffered at the hands of Roman Reigns by winning the rumble and Reigns' WWE Championship, this year's rumble feels as wide open as ever. There are 22 confirmed entrants in the rumble, leaving 8 spots available for surprise entrants (more on that later), and it feels like there are a ton of people with a legitimate chance to win the rumble. Without further ado, lets look at what chance the known (and unknown) entrants have at winning the Royal Rumble.
Mojo Rawley, Big Show, Xavier Woods
It's nothing against these guys, but they don't have a shot in hell. Rawley is stuck in limbo after his Hype Bros partner Zack Ryder recently went down with a long term injury, but he's fun, big, energetic, and could definitely cause some trouble in the match. However, he is nowhere near the main event scene and his chances at winning the rumble are pretty tied to the chances his close friend and former teammate Rob Gronkowski wants to work WrestleMania, which doesn't really seem like something evil genius Bill Belichik will let happen to an injury prone player of his. Big Show has been building towards a celebrity matchup with NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal at WrestleMania, which means that unless they decide to incorporate the title into that match, which would be horrendous decision, Big Show will not walk out of the Alamodome victorious. Xavier Woods is part of the New Day, but hardly wrestles compares to his counterparts and would certainly be the last on the team to get pushed to the main event scene.
Highly Unlikely, but...
Big Cass, Luke Harper, Big E, Kofi Kingston, Cesaro, Sheamus
Outside of Harper, all of these guys are featured prominently within a tag team, which means it would be unlikely to watch one of them ascend to the main event of WrestleMania as a singles competitor, but it could conceivably happen for all of them. Sheamus is a former WWE Champion and Cesaro is a fan favorite and is one of the best wrestlers on the roster, but they are defending their tag titles earlier in the show against The Club and seem to me right in the middle of their tag team storyline. While the rumble may be used to advance storylines for the champs, I doubt either one of them will emerge victorious.
Kingston and Big E make up the other two-thirds of the aforementioned New Day, and they handle the bulk of the wrestling and definitely have better shots to win than Woods. The group has been stuck in flux since dropping the tag team titles, which could mean that one of them is positioned for a shock rumble victory or, more likely, WWE is unsure what to do with the group. Considering that the team takes up 10% of the entire field, its possible the team is able to unite and catapult one of themselves to victory, but it doesn't seem like the way WWE wants to go.
If I had to guess, I would say that Big Cass wins a royal rumble at some point in his career, but the time doesn't seem right for him to win this one. He fits the McMahon fetish for a tall and tan bodybuilder, but at this stage of his career he isn't ready to be featured prominently in the main event. His path now is too dependent on his tag team partner Enzo Amore, but he will probably be good for a few eliminations during the match.
Luke Harper is an interesting character, as he is currently involved in a storyline where he is being left behind by Bray Wyatt for Randy Orton. He's very unlikely to emerge victorious in the rumble, but if WWE wants to feature this feud prominently moving forward, than a total shock victory for Harper may spark this feud and make it one of the more intriguing ones come April.
In an alternate universe, but not this one...
Rusev, Dolph Ziggler
I really, really enjoy both of these characters from a lot of different aspects. Both of these guys bring a lot to the table, and have both been featured prominently in feuds before. However, it just doesn't seem like the stars have aligned for either of these men. If a perfect storm was brewing, either one of these guys could conceivably get the big push, but that is simply not the case.
Ziggler is cut from the Shawn Michaels mode, which makes him a natural underdog in a match like the rumble, and we have certainly seen our fair share of the little guy finding a way to get it done (Michaels twice, Benoit, Mysterio). Ziggler had one of the top feuds of last year with the Miz and has been doing some quality work recently, but WWE always seems reluctant to give him the full push.
Rusev is the classic Eastern European wrestling villain. It this was the 1980's, Rusev would be bashing heads left and right before entering late in the rumble and tossing four fan favorites on his way to a victory, only to be fed to Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania. I like his ring work and think him and his wife/valet Lana are great together, but WWE hasn't really shown an interest in putting one of their top championships on him.
I think these two have a better shot than the other two groups, simply because they have been closer than any of the others, and both of them could truly handle the spotlight of being in the main event. However, it is probably just wishful thinking for Ziggler and Rusev.
The Ultimate Underdog
Zayn's entire character essentially rests on the idea that he is the ultimate underdog. Similar to Ziggler, he's not as big or bulky as a lot of the guys in the match, but in addition to that, he brings along with him the perception that he has fought for every single thing he has ever been given. Everything he has done, he has earned. We've seen guys like this triumph in the rumble, but I can't picture a scenario in which Zayn wins the match given some of the rest of the competitors. This feels like an incredibly strong group as a whole, something not even Zayn can overcome. More likely is he survives the longest time before getting tossed, possibly lasting even longer than the winner in terms of total time.
Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, Baron Corbin, The Miz, Dean Ambrose, John Cena/AJ Styles
Smackdown finds themselves in a very peculiar spot, with a wide range of options on their main event scene to pick from. They also have their own PPV Elimination Chamber just two weeks from the rumble, and it is probable that the six men competing for the WWE Championship in two weeks will consist of this group, give or take Ziggler substituting in for a guy. The Elimination Chamber gives Smackdown the opportunity to create their own match and not be forced in to having the winner of Cena and Styles definitely carry the WWE Championship throughWrestleMania.
Speaking of the Cena and Styles match, my guess is that the loser will find a way to get into the Royal Rumble. I was at the absolute masterpiece of a match the two had at Summerslam, and I expect nothing short of another phenomenal match. The winner will walk out as champion, and my bet is the loser enters the rumble in an attempt to get another title shot. Neither Styles or Cena have officially gotten a spot in the match, so this is presuming that one of the eight remaining spots goes to one of them.
Wyatt and Orton are the recently aligned, new look Wyatt Family faction. Rumors are circulating that the WWE is moving towards Wyatt and Orton colliding for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania, although WWE has been seemingly close on pulling the trigger with Wyatt for some time now but has never followed all the way through with it.
The Miz has been absolutely on fire as of late, and is probably the top heel in the entire company. Unfortunately, his WWE Championship run and WrestleMania main event (where he pinned Cena!) aren't looked upon favorably, probably meaning it makes WWE more reluctant to push Miz back to the top of the company.
Baron Corbin, the reigning Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal winner, has been slowly, but steadily, rising through the company after a slow start following his victory. It would be an interest story that ties in well, he debuts by winning a battle royal and subsequently wins the Royal Rumble in his first appearance, but I'll table Corbin for a future victory a la Big Cass.
Dean Ambrose had quite the 2016, yet it never really feels like it paid off. He had a marquee WrestleMania match with Brock Lesnar, a run with the WWE Championship, and some great matches against John Cena and AJ Styles. While he is still a prominent character, it seems he finds himself on the outside looking in when it comes to the WWE Championship title picture.
Regardless, any of these guys could find themselves positioned to challenge for the title at WrestleMania, and making the rumble very intriguing for the Smackdown brand.
Chris Jericho, Braun Strowman
Both of these guys have been hovering around the main event picture for some time, and Jericho will quite literally be hovering above the WWE Universal title match on Sunday. Both Strowman and Jericho have a legitimate shot to win the rumble, but for very different reasons.
Jericho has been best friends with Universal champion Kevin Owens and has remained on his side through thick and thin for sometime. However, WWE loves a good betrayal story, and this one builds naturally if Jericho is able to emerge victorious. Jericho and Owens have been the main focus of Raw for sometime, as challengers such as Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins have attempted to dethrone Owens as Universal champion. It would make sense to build towards a WrestleMania climax for this storyline, and it would also be a nice accomplishment to add to Jericho's historic career.
On the other hand, WWE also loves an enormous monster crushing people, and there is none bigger or better at it today than Strowman. Simply put, he is massive. Huuuuuge. He has been built up as, essentially, an unstoppable monster that has crushed anything and anyone in his path. There are a lot of different people for Strowman to battle with at WrestleMania, and his booking at the rumble may indicate which direction he is headed. A fun spot in the match might be an encounter with his old leader Bray Wyatt.
The Big Three
Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, The Undertaker
The three stars who closed out Monday's Raw are without a doubt the three biggest names in the rumble. These are three of the biggest draws in wrestling history, and their presence will certainly be felt.
Given the result of Survivor Series, where Goldberg crushed Lesnar like he was a bug, it seems that these two will have a rematch that might actually resemble a real, back-and-forth battle. They seemed destined to fight at WrestleMania, the question just remains whether or not the title will be involved. If it is, than one of these two will likely win the rumble. If not, we'll likely see some interaction between the two to help jumpstart the build towards their eventual rematch.
The Undertaker, on the other hand, seems to be the most wide open participant at WrestleMania. We're not even really sure if he is part of the Raw or Smackdown roster, although he alluded to before that he answers to nobody. There are probably about six or seven guys that he could fight at 'Mania: Reigns, Styles, Cena, Strowman, and Kevin Owens all come to mind as potential opponents. Given his aversion to working a consistent schedule, it would seem almost a given that Taker's plans going forward are established this Sunday.
All three of these guys are key players in the event, but all three will draw interest no matter what they are doing. It doesn't matter if Taker is battling Cena for the WWE Championship or not, Taker vs Cena would attract major attention. Ditto for Taker fighting Styles, Reigns, etc. The assumption is Goldberg and Lesnar will fight again, and people will tune in to that irregardless of whether it is for the Universal belt. If WWE decides that one of these guys should win, then it would make sense given their pedigree, but their WrestleMania matches aren't dependent on championship gold to attract attention.
Presuming that one spot goes to the loser of AJ Styles/John Cena, that leaves 7 spots available. Let's pencil in Roman Reigns as well, assuming that he will lose to Kevin Owens in the Universal Championship match preceding the rumble Sunday. That leaves six spots left, and WWE loves throwing us for surprises. If I had to guess some of the more likely surprises, I'd go with: Kane (a rumble staple, most eliminations ever with 43), Samoa Joe (ready for his NXT call-up), Kurt Angle (entering WWE Hall of Fame in April, back with company), Shaq (involved at last year's 'Mania, establish the Big Show feud), Erick Rowan (returning from injury, how does he fit in Wyatt family storyline?), and Finn Balor (if he has healed since his injury at SummerSlam). There's always the chance for some other NXT call ups to get a moment in the sun, and Triple H is always lurking around, but these six seem to be your most likely to surprise us. Of course, there is a 0% that those aforementioned guys are the exact six, but my guess is at least half of them will come from that group.
Of the group from above, the only guys who would have a legitimate chance to win would be Finn Balor and Samoa Joe. While Kurt Angle is a huge name in wrestling, I'm not sure he's prepared to continue wrestling given his plethora of health plagues. Balor, who I would pick to win if I knew he was returning, was crowned the first Universal Champion after pinning Rollins at SummerSlam but was forced to vacate his title the following night. Obviously, there are big plans in store but it is unclear if he will be medically ready to go. Samoa Joe, on the other hand, is a much trickier situation. An established veteran at TNA and NXT, he should be in line for a big push on the main roster. Unfortunately, WWE has shown a reluctance to push guys that were stars elsewhere, although some recent wrestlers, such as Kevin Owens and AJ Styles, are changing that idea. It would certainly be a bold move to have him win the rumble in his main roster debut, but it certainly is possible.
With the rumble so wide open this year, it is difficult to sift through all the guys and try and pick the winner. There are so many different guys who could win, and it certainly adds a ton of intrigue to the match this weekend. In all likelihood this pick will look ridiculous come Sunday night, but my pick to win the 2017 Royal Rumble is The Undertaker. Enjoy the Rumble.