Over the next several days, I’ll be revealing my top five most-likely Royal Rumble winners. Today we’ll look at the field outside those top five, considering whether any of these guys could shock the world with a Rumble win. –Scott Strandberg
- Ryback: Da Big Guy has been a hot commodity in WWE since returning from injury as a babyface. He cut a passionate promo on the Dec. 29 episode of Raw that has garnered him arguably more fan support than he has ever had in the past. The argument for Ryback winning the Rumble is basically a weaker version of the argument for Dolph Ziggler, which you’ll get to read in full later this week. Like Ziggler, Ryback aligned himself firmly against The Authority, and was fired as a result. Unlike Ziggler, Ryback’s face push is still in its relatively early stages, and he hasn’t come close to reaching the heights Ziggler reached in 2014. Hence, Ryback finds himself here, and Dolph is in the top five.
- Bray Wyatt: Wyatt completely dominated Dean Ambrose in their recent feud, winning every single meaningful match in the rivalry. Despite his considerable momentum, it’s hard to imagine Wyatt challenging for the title at WrestleMania, simply because none of the possible matchups make sense. I highly doubt WWE wants to headline WrestleMania with the same Wyatt/Cena match that was part of last year’s Mania mid-card. Wyatt has no history whatsoever with Brock Lesnar, and while he was involved with Seth Rollins during the Shield/Wyatt rivalry in early 2014, it would be awkward to call back to that as the basis for a title feud. Wyatt is on an upward trajectory in WWE, but the matchups just don’t click here.
- The Rock: Let there be no mistake — if The Rock enters the Rumble, he’s immediately in my top five, and probably my top three. Rock himself has said that Rock vs. Brock was the original plan for WrestleMania XXX, and it’s probably the biggest match WWE could possibly put together, in terms of mainstream star power. The problem here, of course, is that it’s pretty unlikely that Rock will show up at the Rumble. However, if he does, there’s a very good chance he’s there to win it.
- Sting: As opposed to The Rock, I think there’s a pretty decent shot that Sting enters the Rumble. Also unlike The Rock, I don’t think Sting has any chance to win it. However, I felt the urge to put him in this section because I think it’s entirely conceivable that Sting has a memorable performance. WWE is using Sting very sparingly, and they want each of his appearances to be impactful. Outside of WrestleMania, few things are more impactful to a Superstar’s career than a standout performance in the Royal Rumble. Don’t be surprised if Sting is a surprise entrant in the Rumble, wrecking house for a while until being eliminated to set up his Mania feud.
- Rusev: The formerly-Bulgarian brute made his main-roster debut in last year’s Rumble, proving himself to be a formidable opponent. Since then, he has crushed all in his path, as he has still not been pinned or submitted on the main roster. The current United States Champion is one of the top young heels in the industry, but he’s likely not ready for the mega-push that is winning the Royal Rumble. Still, he’s a noteworthy participant because few Superstars have the momentum that Rusev is currently maintaining. However, the only way it would make any kind of sense for him to headline WrestleMania would be if Cena regains the title from Lesnar. That chain of events would not sit well with fans. Rusev’s not winning the Rumble.
- Triple H: It’s surprisingly easy to come up with solid WrestleMania feuds for Triple H with any of Lesnar, Rollins or Cena. Perhaps he grows tired of Lesnar’s refusal to fully join The Authority. Maybe he grows jealous of Rollins’ success. It’s quite possible that John Cena Appreciation Night was a jestful enterprise, instead of the genuine show of respect that it seemed to be. Still, it would make more sense to have Triple H elsewhere on the WrestleMania XXXI card, as the “annual Triple H match” seems likely poised to take the “annual Undertaker match” spot once Taker hangs up the boots. Triple H is such a WrestleMania stalwart at this point of his career that he doesn’t need a title belt to make his matches feel important.
- The Undertaker: This one’s basically just fancy fantasy booking, but if Taker can still go, it would make kayfabe sense for him to challenge Lesnar to get revenge for ending The Streak. However, like Triple H — except far moreso — Taker’s matches have long since left behind the realm in which title belts elevate his feuds.