By: Brian McDonald (@sackedbybmac)
The road to WrestleMania begins in San Antonio this year, with my favorite annual Pay-Per-View, the Royal Rumble!
30 men will enter, but only one will remain standing at the end to help answer a big question as to how WrestleMania gets booked this year.
This article will be both a prediction of the 30 entrants in the match, and a ranking of the most likely competitors to win the Royal Rumble. Analyzing the what and why for all 30 would make for a very long article, so the comments will be kept to around half the entrants, with just a sentence or two for anyone outside the top 10.
Before that, quickly here are my predictions for the other matches on the card before the actual Royal Rumble.
- Roman Reigns defeats (C) Kevin Owens for the WWE Universal Championship
- (C) AJ Styles defeats John Cena for the WWE World Championship
- (C) Charlotte Flair defeats Bayley for the WWE RAW Women’s Championship
- Neville defeats (C) Rich Swann for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
- The team of Alexa Bliss, Mickie James, Natalya defeats the team of Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella, Naomi
- Gallows and Anderson defeats (C) Cesaro and Sheamus for the WWE RAW Tag Team Titles
- Nia Jax defeats Sasha Banks
Predicting the 30-man Royal Rumble field and ranking the most likely winners:
30. James Ellsworth
Yes, I know. The joke is getting a bit old now, but I think WWE will put him in the match to go after the quickest elimination record.
29. Xavier Woods
R-Truth will probably come in, make some sort of joke about not knowing where he is or what match he’s in, get a moderate response, and then be eliminated.
27. Big Show
I’m so tired of watching Kane, but he’s in the Royal Rumble every year. He’ll probably even eliminate a few people, but has zero chance of winning.
25. Titus O’Neil
24. Luke Harper
23. Mojo Rawley
22. Apollo Crews
21. Kofi Kingston
Rusev has no chance of winning the Royal Rumble match, but there’s a 100% guarantee he’ll be eliminated by one of the legends in the match like Goldberg or the Undertaker. For whatever reason, that’s been the role given to Rusev over the last year.
17. Dolph Ziggler
16. Bray Wyatt
15. Randy Orton
14. Big E
Big E winning the Rumble would be a legit and major surprise, but factions and groups are usually put together with the hope of eventually spinning out one or more of the members into becoming stars in singles competition; that person in The New Day is Big E.
13. Big Cass
Not yet. Big Cass will be a huge singles star whenever they split him up from Enzo, but it won’t be this year. Whenever it does happen, Big Cass will win multiple world titles.
12. Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn won’t win the Rumble, but he’s the favorite to be this year’s Iron Man as the wrestler who spends the most amount of time in the match.
11. Dean Ambrose
Doubt they’ll want the current Intercontinental Champion as the Royal Rumble winner. It seems in general the WWE doesn’t like to have one person holding multiple belts at any given time, but especially so during the build up to WrestleMania when they’ll need separate champions to build up the biggest card of the year.
10. Baron Corbin
Baron Corbin won’t win the match, but it’s easy to see the push that’s coming.
Corbin carried one of the best matches of 2016 during the last SmackDown Live of the year when he faced Dolph Ziggler and AJ Styles in a triple threat match for the WWE World Championship.
He’s got the size, he’s an easy to understand character as the mean/bully heel, and his ring work has improved greatly since his call-up from the brand extension draft.
Corbin won’t win the Royal Rumble this year, but winning that match and a world title are in his future.
9. Kurt Angle
Wouldn’t this be something?
Kurt Angle can still wrestle and will already be going into the Hall of Fame, so why not put him in a WrestleMania match that same weekend? WrestleMania always needs star power, so adding Kurt Angle to the card is an easy decision if he’s interested.
Angle doesn’t have any history with Kevin Owens or Roman Reigns to my knowledge, but he does have history with both John Cena and AJ Styles, so expect him to go after the WWE World Title on the SmackDown Live brand if he wins.
If he doesn’t win, expect him to eliminate Rusev and setup the classic USA vs. foreign heel match that Vince McMahon can never resist booking for WrestleMania.
8. Brock Lesnar
The reasons why WWE would have Brock Lesnar win the Royal Rumble and be in the main event at WrestleMania are obvious—which is good enough to get him into the top 10—but I don’t think he’ll win.
First, Lesnar was drafted to RAW, so he’d either be facing Kevin Owens or Roman Reigns most likely, and neither matchup is compelling. We’ve already seen Lesnar face Reigns at WrestleMania, and in the case of “styles making fights,” Lesnar vs. Owens wouldn’t work.
Owens might be the best, most innovative and most entertaining worker in the company right now, but Lesnar works a very specific type of match now that borderlines on being in the style of a squash, so putting the two of them together would seem like mixing oil and water.
Second, Lesnar will probably face Goldberg at WrestleMania.
7. Samoa Joe
Lock of the night: Samoa Joe will be a surprise entrant into this year’s Royal Rumble.
As a longtime veteran of the independent scene and other promotions, Samoa Joe is long overdue for a call-up from NXT, and in what is most certainly not a coincidence, he’s not on the NXT Takeover show the night before; which also takes place in San Antonio.
It’s unlikely to have someone win the Royal Rumble in their WWE debut, but Joe is a great performer who is experienced, can handle the spotlight, and rumors are the WWE will push him hard on the main roster, so it’s not the craziest idea in the world that he might win the match.
6. The Miz
Some of you are probably thinking, “Huh, the Miz?”
Understandable first reaction, but the Miz is a longtime company man who has never won the Royal Rumble, has been hot lately, and has deservedly received a push to the top of the card on SmackDown Live, so he’s a legit top contender.
WWE likely wouldn’t book another Miz vs. John Cena match for WrestleMania, but a feud between him and AJ Styles would be entertaining and is something the WWE should consider. Booking two heels into a main event match at WrestleMania might seem odd, but the Miz and Styles are completely different types of heels, and the crowd still treats Styles like a babyface, so it would work.
5. Braun Strowman
Braun Strowman will be World Champion or Universal Champion someday, but it won’t start with winning the Royal Rumble this year. There’s no doubt that the WWE sees that kind of potential in him, but it’s too early in his development to rush him into that kind of spotlight and pressure.
However, expect Strowman to be booked strong in this match with at least five eliminations, but probably even more, like between eight and ten. You should also expect for WWE creative to protect his elimination with either it coming by a legend like Lesnar, Goldberg, or the Undertaker, or it requiring at least three people to get him over the top rope.
If I were to put the most likely winners into tiers, there would be a drop off from the top three guys to Goldberg here at No. 4.
The reasons WWE would want Goldberg to win the Royal Rumble are obvious, but I think it’s more likely he faces Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania in a revenge match, than any of the four-people competing for the Universal and World Championships this Sunday.
Goldberg vs. John Cena makes some sense, but in his promos he’s only mentioned going after the winner of Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns, and neither of those potential matchups makes much sense.
Plus, the most obvious thing working against Goldberg winning the Rumble is that everyone knows he won’t stay on full time after WrestleMania, so if you put him in the main event as the challenger to the Universal title, the outcome of that match will be extremely predictable.
3. Finn Balor
The booking logic behind this angle is easy:
- Finn Balor was the first ever WWE Universal Champion after defeating Seth Rollins at SummerSlam last year.
- Balor was never defeated for the belt, but was forced to forfeit the title due to injury.
- Kevin Owens has held the belt ever since after winning it the next week on RAW.
- Balor and Owens have history from NXT with Balor defeating Owens for the title at the July 2015 Beast in the East event, and then successfully defending it against Owens in a ladder match at the August 2015 NXT Takeover Brooklyn special.
WWE loves surprise returns at the Rumble—so do I—and they clearly wanted to push Balor after the brand split, so it makes perfect sense to put him right back on the fast track with a big win, leading up to a match against the guy who holds the belt, but never pinned him.
2. Chris Jericho
I fully expect Roman Reigns to defeat Kevin Owens for the WWE Universal Championship, but if he doesn’t and Owens still has the belt going into the Royal Rumble match, Chris Jericho becomes the favorite to win.
All signs point to Reigns winning Sunday with Owens going over at Roadblock, the power-bomb through the RAW announce table, the WWE usually likes to have the babyface get the last laugh and it seems like the feud will end after this match, and putting Jericho in a cage to keep him from helping Owens after months of interference is a classic move usually saved for the moment the babyface finally conquers his rival.
We’re headed towards a match at WrestleMania between Owens and Jericho, so as I just laid out, Owens likely won’t have the belt after the Royal Rumble, which means his match vs Jericho at WrestleMania won’t be for the title, and means Jericho won’t win the Rumble match in that scenario.
Jericho has yet to win a Royal Rumble match, so it wouldn’t be surprising for WWE to give that moment to a legendary performer who has meant a lot to the company. However, still holding the WWE United States Championship also works against Jericho as it’s unlikely they’ll want anyone holding two belts going into WrestleMania.
1. The Undertaker
Would they bring back the Undertaker for his first Royal Rumble match appearance since 2009 for some small part with no momentum towards future booking?
My guess is no, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be the last man standing.
He should be considered the favorite, but the plan could also be for his elimination to set up his WrestleMania match with who eliminates him and how it happens. Under that scenario, facing Braun Strowman at WrestleMania is a real possibility, though I don’t like the matchup.
If the Undertaker does win, expect him to go after the WWE World Championship from the SmackDown Live brand against either John Cena or AJ Styles.
Facing Roman Reigns doesn’t interest me at all, and he doesn’t have any history with Kevin Owens, so the Undertaker facing a veteran like AJ Styles—which would be a phenomenal match—or more likely another legend like Cena makes the most sense.