When I was a kid, my parents would take me to Blockbuster or another video rental store now and then so I could check out a new game or a movie. That’s right people, a VIDEO RENTAL store. We are going way back in the vault on this one. This was also about the time when I first started watching wrestling, and every one of those stores had a pretty vast collection of WWE pay-per-views on VHS. Yikes, we better get this thing going before I really start to feel old.
One of the first tapes I rented back then was the 1991 Royal Rumble. The Royal Rumble is a giant battle-royal featuring 30 WWE superstars. Starting with just two wrestlers in the ring at the beginning, another man (or sometimes a woman, yay diversity!) enters the match every couple of minutes until all 30 participants have come out. An elimination occurs when a superstar is thrown over the top rope and on to the floor, and the Rumble doesn’t end until all but one of the participants have been tossed out. Oh, and the winner gets a WWE Title match at Wrestlemania. I was mesmerized by this concept and it wasn’t long before I begged my mom to make a return trip to the video store so I could check out the 1992 Rumble. And the 1993 one. And 1994. Yeah, I was addicted.
Now that we are on the cusp of the 2015 Royal Rumble, I thought it would be a good idea to channel that addiction I’ve had since my childhood and turn it into something positive for Pegboards. I’m going to take 10 confirmed and possible Rumble participants and tell you why they may or may not be this year’s winner. This won’t include some of the more recognizable ones, as I’m sick of merely looking at Big Show and Kane, much less trying to write about them, and this isn’t necessarily ranked in order of least likely to win to most likely. Instead, I focused more on who I believe will be making the biggest impact tonight, which is another way of saying I’m trying to predict how the occasionally inept WWE will book it’s second biggest event of the year. Which probably means half of these guys won’t even be there. Fun all around!
10. Dolph Ziggler
Just when you thought things were looking up for the best seller in the business, Dolph had to go and do something to get himself in trouble again. It was inevitable I guess. This is a good example of why it totally sucks that WWE unified its world titles last year. A guy like Ziggler has no chance in hell of ever being the WWE World Heavyweight Champion because he can’t stay in the good graces of Vince McMahon and Triple H. However, knowing that he is over with the crowd and a good worker, he definitely would’ve been in the running for the World Heavyweight Championship if it were still around. Alright, mini-rant over, now let’s get back on topic.
Why he’ll win: I doubt anyone believed that Ziggler would be the last man standing for Team Cena at Survivor Series. I also doubt that anyone is picking him to win the Rumble, but hey, lightning can strike twice, right?
Why he won’t: Even before he found himself directly back in the doghouse, Ziggler was already a huge underdog in the Rumble. However, WWE will probably at least rely on him to be a workhorse during the match and give the crowd another top babyface to cling onto. Just don’t be surprised when he lasts 40 minutes and then gets eliminated in some anti-climatic fashion.
9. Randy Orton
The Viper hasn’t been seen or heard from since Seth Rollins curbstomped him into inactivity back in November. It’s not even a sure thing that he’ll be in the Rumble, but considering that WWE is notorious for including surprise entrants and returning superstars at this event, I’d say it’s a safe bet that we’ll see him at some point. With the Road to Wrestlemania just getting started and Network subscriptions at stake, the higher ups will want as much star power as possible showing up in Philly. Love him or hate him, Orton provides a good deal of star power.
Why he’ll win: Coming off a much-needed babyface turn, it would at least be something different if they threw Orton up against Lesnar for the title at Mania. Not much of an upgrade over Cena vs. Lesnar, but different, and of course Orton will receive one of the biggest pops of the night regardless of when he slithers out from the shadows. You know, because he’s the Viper… I’ll show myself out.
Why he won’t: I could definitely see a scenario where Orton costs Seth Rollins the title in the triple threat match and in turn Rollins screws Orton if he winds up in the Rumble. Barring another scenario where Rollins actually walks out with the strap, it just makes too much sense to have these two feud with each other after they teased it so thoroughly before Orton was written off TV.
Want to know how terrible WWE has been at building up new stars over the past couple years? Ryback was a pretty big deal back in 2012 and 2013; he built up a decent following and competed in high profile matches against The Shield and CM Punk. Then his career careened off the side of the road and he wound up in a tag team with Curtis Axel called RybAxel. If you don’t watch much wrestling and you think that sounds horrible, that’s because it was. Yet here we are in 2015, and the guy who couldn’t cut it the first time around is set to play a larger role on this PPV than more talented wrestlers like Cesaro and Tyson Kidd (who are now a tag team called The Masters of the WWE Universe). Think that sounds like complete garbage? That’s because it does.
The lesson, as always, is that sometimes it’s REALLY hard to like wrestling.
Why he’ll win: The Big Guy (Christ, could he have a more lackluster nickname?) was a semi-finalist back in 2013 before he was tossed out by Cena. He then spent the following 22 months wallowing in wrestling purgatory before he was actually given a pretty large storyline heading into Survivor Series. Vince McMahon may just decide that he was wrong about Ryback and give him a second chance to be the next big thing.
Why he won’t: Vince McMahon decides that he was right to stop pushing Ryback and has him join The New Day. Then he breaks up The Masters of the WWE Universe and actually gives Cesaro and Tyson Kidd a chance to prove themselves. The sad (or funny) thing is that the former is far less implausible than the latter.
7. Bad News Barrett
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid I’ve got some BAD NEEEEWWWWWWWSSSS! It’s great to have him back, but the real bad news is that he’s just another sad victim of the title unification. Though he has gotten way over with the crowd and his in-ring work is wonderfully stiff, he’s far too injury-prone to ever be trusted with a major push.
Why he’ll win: Vince McMahon decides that he loves having a champion who skips most of the pay-per-views and knows instantly that Barrett is the perfect guy to keep that going, seeing as he’s always hurt.
Why he won’t: Vince McMahon decides that it was a disaster when his champion was skipping most of the pay-per-views and vows never to do that again. This ruins Barrett’s chances at winning, seeing as he’s always hurt.
The second guy on this list who has already won the Rumble and who has also been off TV for quite awhile. Sheamus moonlighted as the United States Champion for a few months before he got hurt and it’s not a compliment when I say that was the highlight of 2014 for WWE’s resident fella. Unless you count his role on The Walking Dead as a highlight. Wait, you mean that WASN’T Sheamus playing Abraham? Yeah, I took my stupid joke from our Dead rankings and brought it over here. Sue me.
Why he’ll win: The WWE tries to capitalize on Sheamus’ mainstream success in The Walking Dead by letting him win the Rumble, beat Lesnar at Mania and then defend his title until SummerSlam against his fellow castmates. He could even take on the guy who plays Tyreese in a “bore your opponent to sleep” match. Okay, that was too much. I’ll stop.
Why he won’t: I often think back to the 2005 Rumble, when Shawn Michaels eliminated Kurt Angle and sparked a feud that led to their classic Mania encounter. We could see something similar here with Sheamus and Daniel Bryan, and honestly it would be a great way to repackage The Great White as a vicious heel. You know, so long as they were allowed to have a match that went longer than 10 seconds.
The current United States Champion has been running roughshod over the entire roster since he and Lana sauntered into the ring waiving that Russian flag and taking pride in their country. Those bastards! I’m torn on Rusev. His gimmick is fine (it’s not the first time the WWE has used politics for cheap heat and it won’t be the last) and he’s had some pretty good matches. I just don’t see his character ever changing one way or the other, which means eventually that he’ll get stale and people will stop caring about him. As for Lana, she can stay as long as she wants. The Rock wasn’t kidding when he said that she was smokin’.
Why he’ll win: The man who has yet to be pinned in a WWE ring isn’t necessarily the worst candidate to win the Royal Rumble. It’s a road that Vince McMahon has traveled before with Yokozuna, so why not? The monster heel will always have a place atop the hierarchy of wrestling.
Why he won’t: Maybe the United States Champion was treated as a top guy when that title resided in WCW, but these days it’s just something they hand a guy that they have no idea what to do with. I’m not saying Rusev doesn’t factor into WWE’s plans for Wrestlemania, because he does, but he won’t even get a sniff of the main event scene until some other poor fool takes that title off of him.
4. Bray Wyatt
Is it just me or has the Eater of Worlds been on a fucking roll lately? Not only did he get the best of Dean Ambrose over the past month, he also scored a victory over Daniel Bryan of all people on Raw last week. This probably has less to do with Bray’s odds of winning the Rumble than a potential showdown with a certain Deadman, but who cares? Bray has his edge back and that will only serve to help him in the coming months, regardless of whom he winds up facing at Wrestlemania.
Why he’ll win: He does that creepy-ass crabwalk enough times and it literally scares everyone else out of the ring.
Why he won’t: If Undertaker decides that he wants to work a match with Bray, they need to get the ball rolling on that at some point. Should the Phenom be absent at the Rumble, then look for Ambrose or Bryan to be the one to eliminate Wyatt.
3. Dean Ambrose
When The Shield broke up last June, everyone assumed that Ambrose would be the one to stab his comrades in the back. When Rollins wound up being the turncoat instead, everyone figured that Ambrose would the guy to struggle the most on his own. Instead, he took the unstable side of his personality and turned it up to 11, establishing himself as one of the breakout stars of the year in the process. His feud with Rollins was featured on several pay-per-views and for awhile there, Ambrose was the biggest babyface in the company other than Cena. Doubt the torch will be passed to him, but it wouldn’t be the first time this year that he’s proven a lot of people wrong. We’ll see.
Why he’ll win: Because he’s Dean fucking Ambrose. That is all.
Why he won’t: Because Ambrose always gets screwed in the big matches, especially the ones on PPV. Seriously, SummerSlam, Hell in a Cell, TLC, you name it. It’s just what happens to him.
2. Daniel Bryan
It was a tumultuous year for the “Yes!” man, as he went from main eventing Wrestlemania and winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship to surrendering that same title and being forced to sit on the shelf for most of the year due to an injury. There’s no denying that Bryan was easily the most over star in 2014 and that he still has the fans in his corner, but momentum is crucial in wrestling and Bryan lost pretty much all of his during the months that he was gone. This would be a devastating blow to pretty much any other wrestler’s career. Of course, Bryan just isn’t like other wrestlers.
Why he’ll win: He is the overwhelming fan favorite in this match. From the moment he sets foot in that ring, whether he is the no. 1 entry or no. 30 or anywhere in between, nearly every person in attendance at the Wells Fargo Center will be jockeying for Bryan to emerge victorious. Giving the nod to anyone else, even other popular stars like Ambrose, Ziggler or Roman Reigns, will result in said star receiving an onslaught of misdirected heat. It’s a risky play that essentially ruined Batista’s big win in last year’s Rumble, and I don’t know that WWE will be willing to go that route again.
On top of that, Bryan vs. Lesnar is hands down the best main event that WWE could present for this year’s Wrestlemania. It’s a fresh match-up that will convince many of the holdouts to finally sign up for the WWE Network, it’s practically guaranteed to be a five-star classic and Bryan has already proven that he can deliver on the grandest stage of them all.
Why he won’t: Truth be told, WWE may just not be comfortable making Bryan “the guy” again after they just got burned by his declining health. It would be much less risky to simply have another superstar (Sheamus comes to mind) simply screw Bryan and unfairly eliminate him from the Rumble. Then all of the ensuing nuclear heat would go directly on that star and allow WWE to book another solid Mania match on the midcard, fueled directly by Bryan’s immense popularity.
1. Roman Reigns
The handpicked next big star in the business has been the favorite to win the Rumble for some time now. Coming off his dominant performance in 2014 when he set a new record for most eliminations in the match’s history, Reigns seems poised to take the next step and earn a title shot at Wrestlemania. However, much like Bryan, an ill-timed injury brought all of the momentum he had built up over the summer to a screeching halt, costing Reigns valuable time to continue enhancing his character and getting over with the fans. Since his return last month at TLC, Reigns has proven two things: 1) He has all the potential to be the next great ass-kicking machine in WWE, and 2) He is just not ready for the mammoth push that he is quite possibly being lined up for.
Why he’ll win: If Brock retains his title in the triple threat match, that almost certainly means that he’s losing it at Mania. It’s a golden opportunity to truly make a guy by having Lesnar put him over. After all, Paul Heyman’s no. 1 client is the Beast who dominated John Cena at SummerSlam and broke the Wrestlemania undefeated streak of the legendary Undertaker. Whomever WWE decides to go with will be able to conquer the Beast and win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship all in one night, an accomplishment that more than likely will never be replicated. That’s why it makes so much sense that WWE would pick Reigns, as it would possibly catapult him into superstardom and present a natural successor to one day replace Cena as the face of the company.
And if Vince McMahon is too hesitant to go with Bryan, there’s really no one else who could win instead of Reigns, or at least no one else is being pushed in a way to suggest that it’s a possibility. But still…
Why he won’t: Reigns struggles to cut a decent promo. His matches aren’t delivering on a consistent basis. The biggest singles match of his career was the championship match at Payback last July, and that was in a fatal four-way when it was blatantly obvious that Cena was going to win. Not only is Reigns not even one of the most accomplished wrestlers on the roster, but he’s not even one of the more accomplished Shield alumni, as both Rollins and Ambrose have surpassed him as singles competitors in pretty much every conceivable way. Maybe this is the result of poor booking on WWE’s part. I think it’s also possible that Reigns just hasn’t quite figured out how to promote himself correctly and he isn’t coming across as the bad ass that he could and should be.
And this is not me hating on Roman just to hate on him. I have nothing against the guy. Personally, I hope he succeeds because more stars in WWE means that its programming will be more entertaining to watch. It is simply my opinion that if Reigns is placed in the spotlight before he is truly ready, he won’t be able to live up to the hype and ultimately it will hurt his career far more than it will help it. Not to mention that if Reigns just happens to be the one to eliminate Bryan, he will be lambasted by the raucous Philly crowd for something he really had no control over. Hopefully WWE isn’t that stupid.
And there you have it.