With the Royal Rumble about a month away, what better time to look at who might be booking his or her ticket to the main event of the big dance in April? Before the rumor mill starts grinding full speed ahead in the coming weeks, I wanted to get my predictions in now (basically so I can get pats on the back at my squared circle clairvoyance). Besides, what fun is making predictions a few days out when we already know the top two or three guys are going to be?
Royal Rumble (Men)
I am going on the assumption that Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar is still the plan for Wresltemania Fleur De Lis (34). I’m also going on the assumption that Roman Reigns will not win another Rumble to get himself into said match. Therefore, I’m leaning heavily towards a Smackdown Live grappler emerging victorious in the City of Brotherly Love (how badly would Reigns get booed out of the building in Philly, if that happened? Uhh, very badly). Here now are my best guesses at who emerges victorious (with odds in parenthesis…basically because I like horse racing. “All odds are for entertainment purposes only.” I think I have to say that).
The Favorite (3-1)
Shinsuke Nakamura – Based on The Artist’s presentation on the main roster, it may seem strange to see him as the front runner to be the sole survivor in Philly. However, with AJ Styles still possessing the World Heavyweight title (is that what it’s officially called? I don’t know anymore, and I watch wrestling all the time.) it would seem natural to build towards this dream match. If you haven’t seen their epic encounter from Wrestle Kingdom 10 yet, take a look here.
This bout was teased earlier in the year at a house show in Florence, Italy (where all the builds to classic WWE matches begin!), with Styles challenging Nakamura by saying “If you want me at WrestleMania, Shinsuke Nakamura, I tell you that’s too sweet!”.
Granted, the title doesn’t need to be on the line for these two to face off, but wouldn’t this be a great way for Nakamura to finally “arrive” on the main roster?
The Co-Favorite (4-1)
John Cena – I’ve been purposely trying to avoid all the John Cena rumors that have popped up lately, but from my brief dalliance with the headlines, I’m starting to think that Cena may end up in one of the main event slots at Wrestlemania. Could we see Cena stealing Roman Reigns position and get his long awaited revenge for Summer Slam 2014? Or perhaps he still has unfinished business with the guy who likes to “punch John Cena in the face”. Either way, a record breaking 17th title, on the grandest stage of them all, would be a big deal. If Cena can turn a mixed tag match with the Miz into one of the most intriguing matches on the card, he can certainly do the same this year with history on the line. But, does WWE really want to put a major title on another part timer?
The Part Timers (10-1)
If we’ve learned anything from WWE over the years, it’s that they are hesitant to trust the top spots in the company to anyone new (save Roman Reigns of course). So, what’s to stop them from throwing one of these older gentlemen into the Rumble as a surprise 29th or 30th entrant?
Batista – Batista has talked about coming back for one last run. And hey, it went over so well last time he won a Rumble in Pennsylvania, right?
Triple H – Why should Triple H win the Royal Rumble? I have no idea, but I would be less shocked by Triple H inserting himself into the main event, then I would a Rusev or a Bobby Roode. Ditto Shane McMahon. I’m sure they can figure out some sort of stupid McMahon-related drama storyline for either of them.
The Undertaker – The Undertaker has been confirmed for a pre-Rumble appearance for Raw’s 25th Anniversary, so what’s to say he doesn’t throw his signature dead-man top hat in the ring? Although I suspect most fans were satisfied with the apparent formal end to the American Bad Ass’s career at Wrestlemania 33, if Vince can make another buck off an Undertaker appearance, you know he will. Would avenging the man who ended his streak at Wrestlemania be worth coming out of faux-retirement for?
Kurt Angle – If the guy can win a gold medal with a “broken freakin’ neck”, what’s to say he can’t win WWE gold with a broken freakin’ 49-year old body? A rematch of their classic Wrestlemania XIX title tilt from 15 years ago would be great for nostalgia sake, if not for actual wrestling sake. Odds are Brock doesn’t bust out another Shooting Star Press though.
Ready To Make The Jump (12-1)
Ideally, WWE would use the platform of the Royal Rumble to create a new star, giving a mid-level talent the chance to ascend to the upper echelon of the company. Although not currently the MO of the WWE, there is certainly precedent for this type of thing, with border line main event superstars Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Sheamus, and Alberto Del Rio all outlasting their fellow grapplers to make it to ‘Mania.
Perhaps the recent lack of success of Del Rio (2011) and Sheamus (2012) have had in grabbing the proverbial brass ring has scared WWE brass from accelerating a mid carder into the main event of the biggest show of the year. Look at the most recent winners from 2013-2017 (John Cena, Batista, Roman Reigns, Triple H, Randy Orton) and you won’t exactly find a list of up-and-comers trying to crack the big time
Braun Strowman, Bobby Roode, Samoa Joe, Jason Jordan, Elias, Big E, Mojo Rawley, Baron Corbin, Rusev, Sami Zayn, Chad Gable – I suppose WWE could pull the trigger on a push for any of the aforementioned superstars. Strowman and Joe would be more likely given they’ve already been in the main event picture for most of 2017. However, the future isn’t with the seasoned 38-year old Joe and WWE already had their chance to promote Strowman during his abridged feud with Strowman and balked.
Assuming Roode doesn’t get his hands on the US title in the next few weeks, he could be in line for a run at the top similar to his NXT tenure. If WWE really wants to see how bad they can get a babyface booed at a Royal Rumble they could have Jordan win it (with an assist from Angle) and really accelerate his push to the heel side. The other guys on this list all have potential as main eventers, but it’s unlikely WWE would want to push them so quickly (though a Big E win and heel turn on the New Day could be a huge story).
Had Their Chance Already (20-1)
Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler, The Miz, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, Jinder Mahal – These veterans have all had their opportunites at the top, so its unlikely WWE goes back to the well with them so soon. It’s not to say I couldn’t see a Seth Rollins winning the Rumble or that he isn’t deserving, it just seems like there’s better stories to tell than “guy who’s been a semi-top babyface who sort of reunited with The Shield, and now has no solid direction, overcoming the odds.” Maybe Owens has a shot if his story with Shane and Daniel Bryan continues to occupy prime real estate on Smackdown Live. Reigns of course has a shot, but this would be too stale and redundant even for WWE.
NXT Guys (50-1)
Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano, Tomasso Ciampa – IF WWE really wanted to get creative they could try to rush some sort of angle with any of the NXT guys that could extend to the main roster. Maybe this is the year the token NXT guy actually wins it. An Undisputed Era-assisted win for Adam Cole would be the rocket ship to relevancy that a million matches against SAnitY could never provide. The Johnny Gargano/Tommaso Ciampa story is playing out beautifully in NXT right now (even with the Sicilian Psychopath sidelined) but would take on greater meaning if they were involved in the Smackdown or Raw title picture. A long shot, but crazier things have happened.
Hey Ya Never Know (100-1)
Hulk Hogan, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Neville – Speaking of crazier things…If any of the aforementioned superstars made an entrance in Philly, the roof would figuratively come off the Wells Fargo Center (it would not “literally” come off…I see no scenario where a wrestler’s entrance would actually cause the roof of a well-enforced structure such as a sports arena to lift off).
Daniel Bryan’s return to in-ring action seems to grow more realistic by the day, with him taking bumps and do-si-do-ing on a more regular basis (maybe he’s just transitioning to full-time ref work?). Hogan has also been rumored to be back in WWE in 2018. Tell me the crowd wouldn’t eat it up if Real American hits and Hogan hobbles to ring at number 30 to boot Roman Reigns over the top rope? Maybe Vince forks over enough money to CM Punk to make him forget his beef with management and the Straight Edge Superstar finally headlines a Wrestlemania. Neville…nah, he’s done.
Royal Rumble (Women)
The Favorite (2-1)
Ronda Rousey – In the women’s division, there’s basically Ronda Rousey and there’s everyone else. Assuming of course that Rousey makes her debut at this year’s Rumble, one would expect her to showcase her dominance right from the get-go. Then, she can win the title at Wrestlemania and be a part-time UFC-based champion that shows up once a month on TV (works for Brock right?).
The Undefeated (5-1)
Asuka – Asuka still hasn’t lost in WWE, so why not let her continue her dominance by setting up a showdown at ‘Mania? Is the big money with a Rousey and Charlotte showdown, or between Rousey and the hard-hitting submission specialist from Japan? Regardless, expect to see Asuka in this Rumble until the very end.
The Billion Dollar Princess (10-1)
Stephanie McMahon – See rationale for HHH/Shane.
The Field (15-1)
Nikki Bella, Naomi, Becky Lynch, Paige, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Natalya, Ember Moon, Kairi Sane – There are other women who could use the rub of winning the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble. Nikki Bella returning from hiatus would make a nice story. Becky Lynch returning from her duties on the set of the Marine 243 to win it all would certainly garner a nice pop. While Sasha and Bayley are certainly qualified, it seems their time has passed and are both in need of some character tweaks before contending for the title.
Assuming Paige isn’t seriously hurt, could WWE push the release of her new bio-pic and her new faction by giving her a chance to reclaim her past glory? Naomi seems like last year’s news, while Ember Moon and Kairi Sane don’t carry the mainstream recognition to allow them to emerge here.
So there you have it, the month-out odds for the Royal Rumble. If I was a betting man, I’d probably throw a few bucks on Hogan at 100-1, Becky Lynch at 15-1, or Adam Cole at 50-1. The best value might actually be on the Undertaker at 10-1. When it comes to wringing every dollar out of a gimmick, Vince knows the Undertaker isn’t really dead yet.