It’s almost here, the real second biggest night in the WWE calendar is finally upon us! And with that in mind, I’m doubling down on my Spotlights for the Royal Rumble. Yesterday I dealt with the women’s match (did you know it was the first ever?), and now I turn my attention to the men’s Rumble match. This will follow the same format as yesterday, where I focus the talking points on specific questions. So who do I think is likely to dominate the match and walk away victorious? Read on to find out.
Who will last the longest?
In the last five years, WWE have made a habit of having someone enter in the first few spots, and lasting right up until the end. Seth Rollins and CM Punk both lasted for nearly 50 minutes as the first two entrants in 2014, as did Dolph Ziggler as number one the year before. In 2016 Roman Reigns was number one and lasted until the final three, and last year Chris Jericho became the sixth man to last for over an hour after entering at number two. This year, my pick to play a similar role is The Miz. I think he’ll enter early, maybe not opening but in the first five, and last until near the end. Elias may also be an annoyance for a while, as someone who the fans want to be eliminated but manages to stick around. Randy Orton could be an option for some early star power, as could Seth Rollins if he is in the match.
Who will get the most eliminations?
I think this is actually an interesting battle this year, after Braun Strowman rightfully dominated the early going in 2017. And if Braun is in the match, he has to be a favourite to take that role again. But this year’s match features a distinct lack of monsters, who would normally be a shoe in for the most eliminations. I think this could be similar to a few years back, when Bray Wyatt and Rusev tied for the most eliminations with Roman Reigns at six apiece – no one man may dominate, but a few could easily get a handful each. If that turns out to be the case, you have to look at John Cena and Randy Orton as the top candidates. Likewise The Miz, just because if he’s in as long as I suspect he will be, he will accumulate over time. And you have to pencil in Roman Reigns too – when is he ever not going to look strong?
Will there be any surprises?
Yes. Almost every year since 2013, there has been on entrant representing NXT. And last year, Jack Gallagher entered from 205 Live. I see no reason those brands won’t be represented again this year, and if that’s the case I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a UK representative too. So, with that in mind, I think the 205 Live pick will be Drew Gulak or Cedric Alexander (unless Neville has agreed to come back without anyone knowing, in which case it has to be him), since his Cruiserweight Title match has fallen through due to Enzo Amore’s firing. I think the WWE UK entrant will be Pete Dunne, and really who else would it be? The NXT pick is slightly trickier though. I had thought Velveteen Dream and Roderick Strong would be good shouts, but they were both involved in matches last night. That doesn’t exclude them of course, but not being involved was at one stage part of my reasoning behind using them in this spot. So keeping in mind what I said earlier about there not being a monster in the Rumble, why not have that role come from NXT’s resident monster: Lars Sullivan? It would be a chance for him to make an immediate impression, and I don’t think it would overshadow anything else in the ring when he would get eliminated, whereas if Velveteen Dream enters the crowd might not be too happy to see him go.
You have to look at potential returns from injury too. On Raw, Big Cass, Big Show, Dean Ambrose, Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe are all injured. Based on reports at the time of each man’s injury, only Jeff Hardy has a chance of being back for the Rumble. He was expected to be out for 4-6 months, and around about now is 4 months, so it’s possible. But it’s the same situation Finn Balor was in last year, and they held off until the night after Wrestlemania to use him, so I wouldn’t say it’s likely Jeff will be back tonight. From NXT, Drew McIntyre is a possibility to come up to the main roster while returning from injury, as I couldn’t find anything that said how long he was supposed to be out for. He was apparently going to be called up before he got hurt, so it’s possible WWE have been deliberately coy about his recovery time to have him re-debut as a surprise tonight. Then there are the Daniel Bryan rumours from SmackDown, but in all honesty I don’t buy them. Maybe this is just me not letting myself believe it will happen, because if Bryan returns in the Rumble match I will completely lose it, but I truly think he’s done wrestling in WWE. I think he will leave when his contract expires in September, and go wrestle on the indies. Not tonight, and not at Wrestlemania. It’d be a shame in many ways, but that’s the most likely scenario as far as I can see.
We also have to take into account that this year the Royal Rumble is in Philadelphia, which was ECW’s home. Last time the Royal Rumble was held there was 2015, when we were treated to the return of Bubba Ray Dudley. So even though I think Rumble surprises will mostly come from the other brands instead of returning legends in the future, it wouldn’t shock me to see an ECW alumni enter the fray tonight. The best picks would surely be Rob Van Dam, a man who to many is Mr ECW, or Rey Mysterio. Both were stars with a WWE audience, both were introduced to a national audience in America through ECW, and both are still wrestling around the world, and not tied up with any other company. To me they are both plausible options, and while we don’t need to see another full-time run from either of them, nor may they even want that, they would be popular surprises in a Royal Rumble environment.
Who will win?
This is the big question. Considering Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar has been reported as the main event of Wrestlemania since, well, last year’s Wrestlemania, Reigns seems a good bet. But call it instinct, I don’t think that will happen. For one, Reigns won the last time the Rumble was in Philadelphia, and it didn’t go down well. For two, you have to question if Brock Lesnar will wrestle at all between the Rumble and Wrestlemania. The reason that becomes a factor is that Raw’s PPV between those two shows is Elimination Chamber, and if the Universal Championship is not going to be defended inside the Chamber, the number one contender for Wrestlemania has to be crowned instead. And really, if Lesnar does defend the title inside the Chamber, how do you justify putting five people other than Reigns in the match, or without it coming down to Reigns vs Lesnar, and still keeping the Mania main event? It is for that reason that I really believe the Rumble winner will come from Tuesday nights, and not Raw.
So that means the leading candidates are John Cena (still a free agent), Randy Orton or Shinsuke Nakamura. That is, if Kevin Owens or Sami Zayn don’t lose to AJ Styles and enter. Or if Finn Balor or, as I argued earlier this week, Seth Rollins don’t win and swap brands to challenge AJ Styles. Hell, there have even been whispers of Dolph Ziggler returning from his storyline absence and winning the whole thing. In short, ruling Roman Reigns out really doesn’t narrow it down. Every man I mentioned has a chance of winning in my eyes. But for me the most alluring match, and the one most likely to offset the internet’s collective eye-rolling at Reigns vs Lesnar (if WWE even takes that kind of thing into account), is AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestlemania. They’ve been teasing it for months, most notably at Money In The Bank last year, and I don’t think that would’ve happened if the plan at least at one stage wasn’t for Styles vs Nakamura at Wrestlemania. So Shinsuke is my pick to win the 2018 men’s Royal Rumble match.
Who’s excited for tonight? I know I am, and we seem to going into this match with a fairly clean slate. This time last year the Rumble was exciting because we seemed to know most of the Wrestlemania card, and any one of five matches could potentially have been world title matches. This year it’s exciting for the opposite reason – we really don’t know much at all. But I’m looking forward to finding out. We are officially on the road to Wrestlemania!