|Will Sunday be Vader Time?|
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Scott already highlighted one surprise entrant whose entry probably won't be a surprise at all thanks to the way Roman Reigns' narrative has been crafted to date. Then again, Triple H may not be an official entrant in the match. He could play the role of Hulk Hogan to Reigns' Sid Justice without even being in the match. Since the title stipulation hearkens back to 1992, I would not be shocked in the least if the mechanism of screwing over the favorite is also in play here. Triple H, however, is the boring choice. The following are the wrestlers who might appear in the Rumble ahead of expectation from the story.
Daniel Bryan - If you haven't heard the news yet, Daniel Bryan underwent a battery of concussion testing at UCLA and got clearance to return to the ring. Of course, that news doesn't mean Bryan will be back in a WWE ring; after all, WWE doctors, probably Dr. Joseph Maroon, have to clear him, and they may have Vince McMahon in their ears screaming something about insurance liabilities. However, he's gotten everything taken care of on his end. This close to the Rumble, Bryan's WWE clearance would probably be a secret because of the wow factor associated with his surprise entry. So basically, few will know if he's in the Rumble until after the 30th entrant comes running down to the ring.
On one hand, Bryan in the Rumble would be a mistake, because if he's not winning, the potential for backlash is high unless shenanigans are in play. On the other, so many other top stars, including John Cena, Seth Rollins, and Randy Orton, are out. WWE is hurting and needs cache for the biggest Mania in history. Bryan remains a tantalizing option to enter the Rumble match.
AJ Styles - Rumblings of Styles' impending debut with WWE are afoot, and he will apparently be hitting the road after his final Ring of Honor appearance Saturday night to get his ass to Orlando. Whether he's there for orientation into the company before a big debut on Monday night or as a surprise entrant in the Rumble, Styles will be the first of the New Japan four to make his WWE debut, which makes sense. While Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows all have NJPW contracts that run through the end of this month at least, Styles worked with the second biggest company in the world on a handshake deal, and thus is free to debut whenever he and WWE mutually want him to debut.
A Styles debut at the Rumble would be surreal but effective. He's one of the few American guys who's become a top-shelf world talent without the benefit of ever appearing on Monday Night RAW or a WWE pay-per-view event. He was with TNA back when it was getting a million-plus viewers on Spike TV, and NJPW has more Stateside visibility than one thinks. The Rumble crowd, much like WrestleMania and SummerSlam, skews more heavily towards hardcore fans as well, so no question Styles would get a hero's pop upon entering the arena.
And like Triple H, Styles would be a threat to win the whole damn thing. While a debuting wrestler in the post-World Championship Wrestling era coming in and winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on his first night would have been insanity with anyone else, the times, oh they are-a-changin'. Vince McMahon by himself would never let it happen, but Triple H and other forces in the company may be able to sell McMahon on a Styles win. WWE already has Reigns/Trips set up for Mania, and that match doesn't need the title to main event the show. Undertaker vs. Kevin Owens and Brock Lesnar vs. Bray Wyatt are two other matches that feel penciled in that don't need the title either. So if Styles gets the strap and defends it on the third or fourth most important match on the show, a la CM Punk at WrestleMania XXIX, then it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
I just worked myself into a shoot over Styles' debut, didn't I? Oh well, time to move onto the rest of the entrants...
Kevin Nash - Nash is always a threat, uh, I mean, option to compete in one of these matches. Just hope that whatever appearance he makes doesn't get parlayed into an extended run...
John Cena - I know, Cena just went on the shelf for shoulder surgery, but he barely took six months off for a broken neck and two months off for a tear in his elbow that made it swell up to the size of a cantaloupe. I'm convinced at this point that Cena has a healing factor on par with Wolverine's.
Vader - Okay, back to people likely to make the big shock appearance, Vader has been hinting at a Hall of Fame induction this year. He's also still in shape and active on the independent scene, so it's not like he'd be hobbling to the ring with a walker to get daintily tipped over the top rope and knocked off the apron. He can come in at full tilt, throw some of them soup bones, and eliminate a Social Outcast or two before getting tossed over the top. Of all the potential surprise entrants, I might put the most confidence points on The Mastodon getting him a chance to toss fools over the top.
Sami Zayn - Zayn's potential entry is where things get interesting. While all signs point to him remaining in NXT for the first part of the year as part of the title scene (especially if current Champ Finn Bálor turns heel), he's also got unfinished business with a certain prizefighting Canadian bearer of ill-intent, the same who appeared at a NXT house show to continue hostilities with his freshly-returned ass. Whether or not Zayn/Kevin Owens III: The Revengening happens at WrestleMania or Takeover: Dallas is a question that may be answered Sunday. If Zayn is in the match, then expect Owens not to be far behind him to take him out, whether legally or illegally.
Undertaker - The dick-punchin' old man is going to be at Mania this year. While I don't expect him to make his intentions known until a week or two before Fast Lane, he could always show up at the Rumble and throw an uppercut at the groin of his opponent of choice, kinda like how the rose ceremony goes on The Bachelor. The Rumble match probably doesn't need Taker in it, but that has never stopped WWE before from making a decision to spike a show's cache.
Sika - Roman Reigns' papa is definitely an intriguing option. The Rumble is in his home state of Florida. He's older, sure, but all he needs to do is come in for a small amount of work. And Vince McMahon threw his name into the fans' consciousness, giving him a reason to come back and get him a pound of flesh.
Of course, a surprise entry is a surprise entry because it's a surprise. Recursive definition aside, the best shock entry is probably the one no one sees coming. The options are functionally infinite. For example, because the Rumble is in Orlando, any number of NXT wrestlers could come in and debut on the RAW narrative. Sure, Finn Bálor or Baron Corbin is probably far more likely to debut than, say, Tye Dillinger or Elias Sampson, but the possibilities remain for anyone at the Performance Center to have a cup of coffee in the Rumble, a la Rusev in 2014. The number of able-bodied alumni and Hall of Famers is bigger than at least my imagination. WWE has had women appear in two of the last six Rumble matches, and Charlotte fits a similar mold to Kharma and Beth Phoenix. Maybe she struts to the ring and tries to emulate her father to trade in her Butterfly for The Big Logo? Who knows.
But the only real shock will be if WWE plans to lean on the guys currently on television or if the only real surprise is Triple H. The company throws its crowd a few bones here and there, whether serious or whimsical. Either way, everyone out there, enjoy the Rumble and hope it's fun enough to make everyone forget that RAW has been kind of a chore to watch lately.