Critics of the Royal Rumble have often stated that putting the main event of Wrestlemania on the line in the match severely limits the number of realistic winners the WWE can push. For example, no one in their right mind thinks that Mojo Rawley is going to show up in his Zubaz and toss 29 other wrestlers over the top rope. It’s just impractical when such a prestigious prize is at stake. The WWE isn’t going make Heath Slater “the guy” going into the biggest show of the year. Titus O’Neil isn’t getting the ‘Mania push. So, with that stipulation, the WWE is tied to a smaller pool of potential winners.
The critics aren’t wrong. In most years, it seems like Vince McMahon hand picks his guy and runs with him. However, that isn’t always the case. John Cena’s surprise return in 2008 was brilliant – one of the greatest Royal Rumble moments of all time. Edge followed suit in 2010. When every indication pointed towards Cena winning the 2005 Royal Rumble, Batista won it. Santino Marella popped up at the end of the 2011 Royal Rumble (after avoiding elimination, and everyone forgetting he was still in the match). For a split second, it felt as though Marella was going to win it. Alas, Alberto Del Rio tossed him out and went on to wrestle Edge at Wrestlemania XXVII.
It’s rare for an unpredictable Royal Rumble match to take place. But, when that unpredictable finish transpires, it’s something truly special.
This year, the potential for one of those matches is there. In 2004, everyone saw Chris Benoit as the favorite and he won the match. Likewise, in 2015, WWE groomed Roman Reigns for a main event run, and he unsurprisingly won it. No one seems to be in that singular, focused role right now.
The WWE is beginning to groom Braun Strowman and Baron Corbin for these roles, but neither man is quite there yet. Both have shown that they’re capable of being the WWE’s next great “big men.” However, are they really going to give such a monumental win to one of the seasoned veterans instead?
What does this Royal Rumble win do for guys like The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, and Goldberg? Are any of those men going to be battling for one of the main championships at Wrestlemania? Maybe this is the setup for an AJ Styles-Undertaker match. Or, perhaps Goldberg wins, and we get Goldberg-Reigns, as was teased on Raw several weeks ago. Could Seth Rollins hop back into championship contention? What about the wild card? Let’s say Chris Jericho wins the Royal Rumble and Kevin Owens retains the Universal Championship – there’s your “best friends turned foes” storyline.
Then again, maybe this year’s winner hasn’t even been announced as a participant yet. Samoa Joe, anyone? Dare I mention the Kenny Omega hype? Does the WWE even have the cajones to pull off such a move?
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. With Reigns-Strowman being rumored for Wrestlemania for a while now, I still think it makes the most sense for Reigns to defeat Owens for the Universal Championship and for Strowman to win the Royal Rumble. Call if my official pick, if you will. But, I sure hope I’m wrong.
I’ll definitely be among those of you who are rooting for a wild finish and unforeseen outcome.