Monday, January 22, 2018

So, Uh, Who's Winning the Men's Royal Rumble?

Could Bryan come back and win the Rumble?
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Philadelphia played host to the NFC Championship Game last night, in which the Eagles mauled the Minnesota Vikings en route to the team's third Super Bowl berth in its history. A week from last night, it will play host to an entirely different event of great importance, but similar in vibe in that the crossover between crowds won't be insignificant and that much like last night's game was for a berth in the Super Bowl, this upcoming show will be for berths into two high profile matches at WrestleMania. The Royal Rumble will descend upon my hometown for the first time since 2015, when Roman Reigns won the absolute worst Rumble match in history. Let me be clear, however. It wasn't bad because Reigns won, but because holy shit, the match was laid out by people who were suffering from head injuries at the time, it seemed.

Anyway, in 2015, Roman Reigns winning was almost a foregone conclusion. His coronation was predestined in the stars, and looking back, it was the right call. In fact, I'll even go farther and say that WWE really screwed the pooch by not putting him over decisively at Mania over Brock Lesnar. While Reigns is seemingly on the same collision course this year, without the specter of a Money in the Bank briefcase holder hanging over him, his path is not predestined to a Royal Rumble victory. While any betting man should, a) get help for attempting to bet on the Royal Rumble and b) definitely consider Reigns a prohibitive favorite, the reality is with the brand split in full effect, the options for winning the Rumble are as wide open as AJ Styles' (or some amalgam of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens as co-Champions... god Smackdown is so fucking weird but not in a good way) plans are for WrestleMania.

So, with that in mind, the time has come to examine who will win the men's Royal Rumble. The field is open, but not nearly as wide open as I'd like it to be from a sheer excitement standpoint. Still, it's more wide open than a company like WWE that theoretically plans out its year in advance to build to the big circus under the tent. That is why this post exists.

Roman Reigns - All the talk of Reigns not winning the Rumble honestly deflects from the main point that he's really overwhelmingly the guy from RAW who should and probably would win the match. He's gonna get that Mania challenger slot to the Universal Championship. In fact, I'd wager that the Champion going into that match is more in question. Reigns/Lesnar II feels like the thing WWE has been building to since WrestleMania 31, and even though it is totally Gabe Sapolsky-ass pulling the trigger years too late booking to do Reigns over Lesnar now instead of three years ago, well, you can't shove toothpaste back into the tube. However, Lesnar is defending the Universal Championship against Braun Strowman and Kane at the Rumble, and it's not a foregone conclusion that Strowman doesn't win.

In all honesty, Reigns/Strowman should headline WrestleMania. They have beef that predates last year's Mania. Their feud didn't really have a big resolution; it went on a sort of hiatus after the big SummerSlam four-way match for the Universal Championship. Before WWE started treating headline Mania matches as showcases for people who show up between one and ten times a year, Strowman vs. Reigns would be the ideal feud to blow off at the big event.

But regardless of who the Champion is, the challenger has to get there some way, right? Reigns winning the Royal Rumble would provide an easy entrance into getting either match. That being said, Vince McMahon's stubborn assholery can be overstated at times, and maybe he doesn't want his Royal Rumble winner to be booed the fuck out of Philly again like it was in 2015. Of course, perhaps the tide has turned on Reigns enough that he might get the classic John Cena mixed reaction even from a highly partisan crowd. OR who knows, maybe the crowd reaction won't figure into the decision at all. A reaction's a reaction, right? Whether boos or cheers, Reigns gets volume. Still, regardless of what the reasoning behind it would be, I still don't think Reigns is a lock to win, although I wouldn't be surprised to see him take it again.

Shinsuke Nakamura - The Smackdown field is a little more robust for potential winners, and Nakamura leads the pack for a few reasons. One, Nakamura/Styles happening in WWE feels like a money match waiting to happen. The last marquee match both men had in New Japan Pro Wrestling was a highly acclaimed WrestleKingdom 10 match, and fans have been itching for them to do the thing over here. In fact, if rumors are to be believed, Paul "Triple H" Levesque wants it to happen too. So, why wouldn't it happen? Smackdown's direction seems to be less certain that RAW's at this point, and Nakamura/Styles might be seen as "too predictable." Still, Nakamura might seem like the Blue Brand's most likely winner.

Daniel Bryan - Hoo boy.

Hoo boy.


Daniel Bryan has not been publicly cleared by a WWE doctor to compete in its ring yet. That hasn't stopped people from rampantly speculating that his return is not only imminent, but will happen in Philadelphia during the men's Royal Rumble match. Apparently, the rumblings are that he has been cleared and WWE is doing a good job keeping it a secret in advance of a surprise entry in the Rumble match. Bryan winning would make a lot of sense, especially since his current arc on Smackdown has put him as much in the crosshairs of Styles as it has Shane McMahon. That being said, I will believe Bryan has been cleared when he enters the ring in his gear ready to take a bump. Even then, is Styles the money match at Mania in Vince McMahon's mind, or is it son Shane?

Dolph Ziggler - Oh man, would this be a fucking wet blanket. Ziggler won the United States Championship at Clash of Champions, and two days later, he relinquished the belt and "quit" the company. Instead of coming back and resuming his feud with Bobby Roode, who won the tournament caused by its vacancy, over that belt, people seem to think he's a smart-money choice to take on Styles at Mania. On one hand, the dearth of main event heels on Smackdown, especially if Owens and Zayn are destined to resume this forever at Mania or do something completely different outside the title match, would make Ziggler the most appealing option for a heel across from the fan favorite Styles. On the other, even disregarding any kind of distaste people might have for Ziggler nowadays, pulling the trigger on him now would make the presumed handling of Reigns over Lesnar look timely. Still, a lot of attention is being thrown Ziggler's way. It would be foolish to completely dismiss it. I mean, besides, WWE had Randy Orton win the Rumble last year. Ziggler winning this year would fall right in that line.

The Field - Of course, WWE could come out of leftfield with a total surprise winner. It's not without precedent. In 2012, the presumptive winner Chris Jericho was the last one eliminated. Sheamus' victory at the time didn't seem in the cards, even though that Rumble win was very much the catalyst for the run that put Bryan on top of the company for a fleeting second. Amazing how things work out. Anyway, I wouldn't put it past McMahon to choose an oddball winner just to shake things up, especially if he decides that Reigns/Lesnar is definitely happening and doesn't need to have the Rumble set it up. Hell, I think the match having no Universal Championship involved in it at all has a nonzero chance of happening, and if that's the case, it opens up the RAW roster for a surprise winner.

That being said, if the winner isn't Reigns, Nakamura, Bryan, or Ziggler, I will be surprised. Even with that set being limited to four wrestlers, the fact that the variance in presumed winners is greater than two is an upset and shows that the path to Mania is more wide open than it's been in years past. And of course, the addition of the women's Royal Rumble and the uncertainty over who might win that match makes the Rumble event the most must-see WWE pay-per-view event since possibly WrestleMania XXX.

Speaking of the women, they deserve their own post, possibly for tomorrow!