This Sunday Night is the Royal Rumble and the official beginning to the Road To Wrestlemania. There’s always a certain feeling of anticipation when the Rumble comes up. The winner gets a shot at the champion at Wrestlemania and we get our first glimpse of what the Showcase of the Immortals will behold that year.
This year we have an x-factor in the mix to give the night a whole new feeling of unpredictability. This year, the 30-man match will be for the championship itself. Only once before has the title itself been up for grabs during the match and it was Ric Flair who took home the gold in that 1992 iteration.
So let’s look at the most likely contenders to take home the championship this Sunday during the 30-man Royal Rumble.
He is the reigning, defending champion of the world heading into the match this Sunday. Ever since last year’s event, Roman Reigns has been forced down our throats as the next John Cena, whether we want that or not. It has been obvious that he is the golden boy of the next era, the chosen one, regardless of fan opinion, and is set to lead this generation of superstars into the new era.
If this was a normal Royal Rumble that would be all we need to know to believe that he is a surefire winner in the waiting, but with the championship on the line, along with him being the first entrant into the match, leads to a bit on uncertainty and unpredictability.
The Wrestlemania season is always more interesting when the babyface is chasing after the championship. It’s just less interesting when the good guy already has the title and is defending it off whatever heel is standing in his way. Over the last several months, they’ve tried to make Roman into some kind of underdog, when everything about his physicality and appearance screams he is anything but an underdog, and with him being the first entrant into the hour long match, and having to defend that title against 29 other men, leads credence to the possibility we will see a new champion crowned Sunday for Roman to chase after into the mega-event Wrestlemania. Only two other superstars have won the match from the #1 position, Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit in 1995 and 2004 respectively.
However, since they are pushing that he is the underdog leading the charge against the evil Authority, it is entirely possible that he will emerge victorious just for them to push even further against fan opinion that Roman is the new man.
If there were anyone who just by appearance seemed the most likely to survive 29 other men in a faux sports event, all money would be on Brock Lesnar. He’s a 4-time champion and a former UFC Heavyweight Champion. He beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania to defeat the streak. He is the one in twenty-one and one! Ever since his return a few years ago, Lesnar has been the go to monstrosity to tear apart everyone on the roster and his championship victory over John Cena two Summerslams ago was shocking how one sided they favored the man.
The one problem with his chances of walking out with the title is that the fans will cheer him no matter what anymore. As much as he is supposed to be the monster heel, fans have come to love Brock Lesnar for his monstrosity. Again, the season just works better with face chasing the heel champion and if they put the strap on Brock, the fans will just cheer him and boo Reigns even more if they tried to rematch last year’s main event. Even if Brock Lesnar loses the Royal Rumble, it won’t cost him a pinfall or a submission, which he hasn’t given up in more than two years. The most likely event I see is Reigns knocking him over the top with a Superman Punch. I don’t see Lesnar walking out with the title due to aforementioned reasons, but he still is a worthy contender for being the victor.
As I’ve said before, the chase for the championship is what makes the Wrestlemania season year after year leading up to the main event. Unfortunately, WWE has not invested in any of their current heels they have available which leaves only one major heel left, when he chooses to be a heel anyway.
Triple H is the man in charge behind Vince McMahon and probably the only major heel they have left to use against Roman Reigns, given that it will most undoubtedly feature Reigns in the main event. Triple H has been feuding with Reigns outside of the ring for some months and was speared out of his suit at the last PPV. All of this has been building for some time for the two to do battle and Wrestlemania is just about the only time Triple H will break out his wrestling boots. I could see a very easy possibility of Reigns outlasting the other 28 superstars only for Triple H to enter as #30 and walk out with the Title leading to the two facing off at Wrestlemania. As much as this would continue the trend of only rewarding part-time superstars with Wrestlemania main events at the cost of their current roster, it is entirely foreseeable that Triple H will give himself another round as being the champion.
I’m just going to throw this one out there because for some reason the office seems to believe that the audience will care about Sheamus. He doesn’t get a great reaction even for being the top main heel around right now and his matches are passable, but the office seems to like him. Maybe it has to do with that rumor that he and Triple H are workout buddies. Whatever. Either way, he is unfortunately a high ranking contender for the title simply because there are no other major heels around right now.
Rumors this week surfaced that Daniel Bryan was looking to finally be cleared medically so he could once again compete in the ring. There has been no confirmation whatsoever that he has been cleared, but IF…. I say IF he gets cleared, what kind of moment would that be for him to return to take the Championship back that he never lost. He was out with injuries for most 2014 and 2015 and his return to the Rumble last year made everyone disgusted when he was tossed out so casually, ensuring everyone’s expectation that Roman Reigns would win. So IF he gets cleared, and IF he is in the Rumble, what a moment that would be to see him become champion again. All likelyhood is that this is all one fan’s dreams only.
Also put this one under the rumor wagon. There has been no confirmation that he has signed with WWE or that he will be in the match, but they always like to leave room for a couple surprises each year and what a shocker that would be if Aj Styles, one of the greatest talents to never work for WWE, debuted this Sunday during the Royal Rumble match.
Unfortunately, even if he did enter the match, he would have almost no chance of winning. I don’t believe WWE has ever let anyone win the WWE Championship in their debut match. I can only think of The Giant winning WCW’s Championship as an occasion of someone doing so, but WWE is far more protective of their main title. If you look at the treatment of incoming wrestlers from other organizations, it’s pretty clear about what Vince thinks about people coming in to his territory. Sting lost to Triple H in his first ever WWE match and it was thought to be his only. Look at the treatment of anyone who came in during the Invasion. It took a long time for Booker T to get the level of respect he deserved. Goldberg had to take a pinfall loss, some thing that does not happen, to Triple H before being given the championship. Big Show was brought in then sent to OVW for a time before being brought back to the main roster to really be featured as a player. Chris Jericho tells a story on his recent podcast of being broken in verbally by McMahon after a match with a Chyna, stating that Vince likes to break newcomers down before building them back up as one of his soldiers.
So with all that against him, it doesn’t stand much chance that the WWE would give the title to someone on their first night in. It’s not even certain how familiar WWE audience would be with AJ Styles. Clearly, die hard fans will know of his work in TNA and recent work with the Bullet Club in New Japan, but the average viewer who only watches WWE will need time to see and understand why they should care about the Phenomenal One.
These are the main contenders for walking out the WWE Champion on Sunday. As much as I would like to write great things about Kevin Owens or Dolph Ziggler, and how well they deserve a shot, neither one of them seem likely to win due to their treatment over the last year. Till Sunday, speculate away and we will see who walks out the victor.