The annual WWE Royal Rumble pay-per-view takes place one week from Sunday on January 27th from Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. It will be the first time a Royal Rumble has taken place from a Major League Baseball stadium. It was revealed by WWE Champion Daniel Bryan last week that superstars will enter the stadium through the dugout, so that’s going to give the entire Royal Rumble event a different feel than a typical WWE show.
The Royal Rumble is my favorite WWE match of the year. Two years ago, I ranked the ten best Royal Rumble matches ever right here on The Comeback and I’ve also written reviews of all 32 Royal Rumble matches on my website, which includes the men’s and women’s Rumble matches from last year. WWE also held the Greatest Royal Rumble event last April with 50 male entrants, but that didn’t feel like a traditional 30-person Rumble match. In other words, I like to think of myself as something of a Royal Rumble historian.
If you’re a WWE fan then you know that the winner of the Royal Rumble match gets a championship match against either Raw’s Universal Champion or Smackdown’s WWE Champion at WrestleMania 35 on April 7th.
I will write a predictions piece for the entire Royal Rumble pay-per-view next Friday, but I wanted to focus on the men’s Rumble match specifically because I’m a huge fan of the Rumble match. As of this writing on Friday, here are the announced names (listed on WWE.com) for the men’s Royal Rumble match:
John Cena, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe, Drew McIntyre, Kofi Kingston, Big E, Xavier Woods, Apollo Crews, Baron Corbin, Elias, Jinder Mahal, Jeff Hardy, Bobby Lashley, Andrade, Rey Mysterio, Mustafa Ali, R-Truth (at #30).
That’s 18 of the 30 names. The remaining twelve will be a mix of main roster regulars, surprises, NXT wrestlers making their debut, and perhaps a guy wrestling in a match at the Royal Rumble, like Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins last year after having title matches earlier in the show.
These are the guys that are in the match, but they really have no chance of winning. If you think about every Royal Rumble in history, there are usually 25 pretenders in the match and only a handful of guys that had a chance to win.
Elias – It wouldn’t shock me if he is the first or second entrant in the Rumble match so that he can do one of his concerts. There might be an elimination or two for him. He’s not really a threat to win, but he might be put in a spot where he lasts a really long time.
R-Truth – The last entrant in the match (unless he does something stupid like give it away to somebody else or gets beat up) will not come close to winning even though he has the best advantage of them all.
Jinder Mahal – I don’t see WWE giving another massive push to Mahal, and that’s a good thing.
Apollo Crews – He has done well on Raw of late with a few big wins. That’s a nice sign. It doesn’t mean he’s coming close to winning the Rumble, though.
Baron Corbin – As one of the top heels on Raw, he might have a good showing in the Rumble with a few eliminations. It just doesn’t feel like the right time to push him in a big way. Two years ago maybe, but not now.
Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods – I’m a huge fan of The New Day trio and I hope the group stays together for years to come. Even though it would be cool to see one of them go far in the Rumble match (Big E perhaps?), I don’t think it’s going to happen. They’ll do well and provide some comedy in the match, but I doubt any of them will win this match.
At least we know we can look forward to a classic Kofi Kingston elimination tease spot. Those are always great.
Jeff Hardy – He’s a popular veteran that has never won the Rumble match before, but it’s unlikely that this is going to be a win for him.
Bobby Lashley – The new Intercontinental Champion has some positive momentum going his way, so I can see him faring well in this match as a bigger guy. Not a winner, though.
Mustafa Ali – He’s in a similar boat as Andrade except he’s a face (Andrade is a heel) and he’s newer to Smackdown. Expect him to hit some big moves in the match, but he’s not necessarily a threat to win.
Rey Mysterio – Same as Jeff Hardy (with a Rumble win under his belt) although I would rank Rey ahead of him just because of how well he’s looking in the ring. At 44 years old, Rey is moving around very well.
Andrade – I’m glad that he is getting more of a chance to show what he can do in the ring because he’s a special talent. Perhaps in a year or two, he might be considered a favorite in this match. For now, let’s just hope he is one of those guys that lasts a long time because it will help him out as a star on the rise.
Randy Orton – He’s not listed among the group of active wrestlers in the match, but I expect him to be there. There’s no injury for him. He’s just on a break from being on TV. His rumored WrestleMania opponent is AJ Styles, so look for that feud to begin soon. If Styles gets added to the Rumble match, maybe they can start the build there.
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The Rock – There are reasons to believe that The Rock might wrestle for WWE this year. He’s producing a movie with WWE about Paige’s life called “Fighting With My Family” that is being released next month. If The Rock were to appear on Raw to promote the film, it would help a lot. Another reason to think it’s possible is because WrestleMania 35 is in New Jersey, which is considered New York to some people and it’s where Rock had his last “real” match at WrestleMania 29 against John Cena. In 2016 at WrestleMania 32, Rock had a 20 second match with Erick Rowan that saw him take no bumps, so I don’t call it much of a match.
One of the Rock rumors over the last year was that he would face his distant cousin Roman Reigns at WrestleMania to put Reigns over and give him the “rub” so to speak, like Undertaker putting over Reigns a few years ago. With Reigns unlikely to be involved in the show now, that plan is probably off the table.
Will Rock appear at the Rumble? I would guess not, but I think a WrestleMania appearance is likely. Perhaps he’ll even have a match there too.
Kenny Omega – It would be an incredible surprise to see the Canadian NJPW star in the Rumble, but I’m not going to get my hopes up. As far as we know, Kenny’s contract with NJPW is up on January 31, so he may not legally able to be in the Rumble. In addition to that, I think it’s more likely that he joins All Elite Wrestling with his best friends rather than WWE.
Batista – I think an appearance from “The Animal” is possible after he was at Smackdown 1000 back in October. A recent report noted that there are plans for Batista to have a WrestleMania 35 match, but I don’t know if that’s a reliable source or random guessing. If I had to guess, I would say he’s not in the match, but there’s enough of a chance that I feel confident in mentioning him.
Bray Wyatt – I assume the former WWE Champion has been held off TV for months because they want to bring him back for the Rumble. There’s no injury that I know of, so it would make sense to bring him back here and establish him as a top guy.
Aleister Black – If I had to pick one name from NXT to debut in the Rumble it would be him. I don’t see him beating Tommaso Ciampa for the NXT Title one night before the Rumble at NXT Takeover Phoenix, so that will mean that Black is a main roster regular. He’ll do well in this match too because I think WWE knows that Smackdown needs popular faces like him. The reason I say Smackdown is because his new wife Zelina Vega is on there.
Roman Reigns – I don’t expect the former Universal Champion to be back after announcing he had leukemia in October. With that said, I don’t know any more about his situation than the next person. Chris Jericho recently stated that he thinks Roman will be back in the ring someday, but nobody really knows when that will be. What matters is that Roman gets better from his battle with leukemia and if he’s able to wrestle again then that’s a bonus to WWE.
The Undertaker – The 53-year-old legend would be the oldest guy in the match if he’s a part of it. I’m leaning towards yes to an Undertaker appearance since he was moving well at the Super Show-Down and Crown Jewel events in the fall. That doesn’t mean I think he has a chance to win the match, but I think his presence will help if he’s a part of it.
For the names that remain, I’m going in order of least likely to win to biggest favorites.
Samoa Joe – In a perfect world, Samoa Joe would have already been in several Royal Rumbles in his career, he likely would have won one by now, and been a World Champion several times over. Unfortunately, none of those things have happened yet. I think among the Smackdown roster, he’s one of the biggest favorites. It just seems like a bit of a stretch that he might win.
Dean Ambrose – Dean Ambrose has won pretty much everything you can win in WWE except the Royal Rumble, so he’s a contender for sure. I was surprised that WWE took the Intercontinental Title off him this week, which makes me unsure of where they are going with him. I could see Ambrose lasting until the final four or even the final two, but he’s probably not going to win.
Lars Sullivan – It’s not known when the former NXT star will debut on the main roster because there was a plan in place for him to debut on Raw two weeks ago, but that plan changed. The reason for the change is because Sullivan had an anxiety attack, so instead of a confrontation with John Cena to tease a possible WrestleMania match, Sullivan has yet to debut on the main roster. It’s also not known if WWE is going to give Sullivan that same push when he debuts or if they figure out something else for him to do.
If Sullivan is in the match, I expect him to eliminate about five guys from the match, if not more. He’s a candidate to win the “most eliminations” award (not a real award!) for sure. Could WWE go even further with him and have him win? Perhaps if they feel the need to create a new monster type character, but I’m not sure if he’s the right guy for it. I think he’ll do well an get a lot of people talking. He’s not the winner.
Drew McIntyre – It’s weird to say that he’s “new” on the main roster because he originally started in WWE a decade ago. However, since he’s only been on Raw for less than a year, McIntyre does have that new feel to him. If WWE wants to really have him back up his words as a dominant then booking him to win the Rumble is a way to do that. I doubt it happens although I certainly would have no problem since I’m a fan of McIntyre.
Braun Strowman – Is he in the Rumble match? We don’t know, but he should be if he’s medically cleared to wrestle by January 27th. The story about Strowman being removed from the Universal Title match at Royal Rumble is because Vince McMahon changed his mind. Vince realized he didn’t want Brock Lesnar to beat Strowman again, so Finn Balor earned the Universal Title match instead and the expectation is that Lesnar will win that match.
I think Strowman should be announced as a Royal Rumble match participant because he’ll have the fans behind him as a threat to win since he won the Greatest Royal Rumble last April in Saudi Arabia. Even if he doesn’t win, his presence will help the match in terms of star power. It wouldn’t surprise me if WWE did McIntyre vs. Strowman at WrestleMania because that’s a big match between two of Raw’s biggest names. The angle could really heat up with some interaction between them in the Rumble match.
John Cena – I don’t want 41-year-old part-timer John Cena to win the Royal Rumble, but I think there’s a very easy storyline that could be told for him. Cena wins the Rumble and instead of going after Raw’s Universal Championship for the first time, he goes for the WWE Championship held by the heel champion Daniel Bryan. Cena has faced Bryan a few times before (most famously at SummerSlam 2013 when Bryan won), so there’s a lot of history there. Plus, Cena nearly married Nikki Bella, who is the sister of Bryan’s wife Brie Bella, and they were nearly part of that same reality show family.
The reason Cena going after the WWE Title one more time is significant is because Cena is tied with Ric Flair for 16 World Championships in his career. One more win from Cena gives him the record and with WWE already pushing the idea that Cena is the “greatest of all time” it makes sense to at least push Cena in a title match one more time.
The other Cena option at WrestleMania is the match with Sullivan, which I mentioned earlier. I’d rather see Cena/Bryan, although that depends on who else is planned for Bryan at this point.
Due to the story of Cena beating the World Title record he has with Flair, Cena is my second choice to win the Rumble.
Seth Rollins – I think Rollins is the best choice and the most obvious choice. That can be a bad thing because WWE likes to do unpredictable things. The good news is that last year’s two Rumble winners (Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka) were the most obvious choices in those matches. They were also arguably the top babyface wrestlers in those matches, just like Rollins is. Since WWE took Rollins out of the Intercontinental Title picture, the path is clear for him to go after the Universal Title.
The WrestleMania 35 rumor is that Rollins will face Brock Lesnar in a match that will likely be for the Universal Title, assuming Lesnar beats Finn Balor at the Rumble. It would be WWE’s way of elevating Rollins to the role of top babyface on the Raw brand by putting the Universal Title on him for the first time. Rollins is arguably the best all-around performer in WWE right now and he’s as popular as he’s ever been, so the time is right to have him win this match. After that, Rollins should beat Lesnar at WrestleMania as well.
Does Rollins have to win the Rumble to get to the Lesnar match at WrestleMania? No. There’s still Elimination Chamber and Fastlane after the Rumble. I just feel strongly that winning the Rumble is the best route Rollins can take going into WrestleMania.
I think there’s a very good chance that Rollins enters in the first ten spots in the match, lasts over 30 minutes, and wins the match. It’s the obvious pick, but it’s also the right pick. Don’t mess it up, WWE.
Here are some quick predictions to wrap it up.
Final Four: Rollins, Cena, Ambrose, McIntyre
Most Eliminations: McIntyre
Wrestler That Lasts The Longest: Elias
Winner: Seth Rollins
I’ll be back with a breakdown of the women’s Royal Rumble match on Monday. It’s a match that will likely come down to the two biggest favorites to win: Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair. I’ll let you know my pick in that column and then next Friday I’ll have predictions for the entire Royal Rumble pay-per-view, which takes place on Sunday, January 27 on WWE Network.