RAW Deal: The most unpredictable Royal Rumble of the decade

Nobody knows who’s going to win the Royal Rumble.

The results of the (literal) biggest match of the year can usually be divined as early as December, or even before that, when all the rumors surrounding WrestleMania start to emerge. The main event of the biggest show in the WWE year is usually set far ahead, sometimes in stone and sometimes in changeable clay. We usually have an idea of who’s going on to challenge for the championship. There were times it was easy, and times it was harder, but even when it was difficult there was a smaller list of people with which we could narrow down our guesses.

Of course, it was a lot easier when there was only one world title to go for. One could streamline the list of deserving—or logical, at the very least—contenders. This year, however, it’s a lot harder for a lot of reasons. Having two top titles is one factor, but there’s also the issue of a lack of direction and elevation of top stars, and an unusual mix of part-time veterans to make this Royal Rumble match even bigger. What results is a situation where we simply don’t know the next move WWE’s gonna make.

That’s usually a good thing, because fans always cry out for some unpredictability to mess with their heads (in a good way). But the problem with WWE is that whenever there’s a little uncertainty hanging over what they could do, there’s a real chance that they’ll end up doing the wrong thing. This is probably why there’s a sense of apprehension surrounding our guesses. For all we know, they’re really about to have the Undertaker or Goldberg or Brock Lesnar win the Royal Rumble instead of some deserving star who needs to make a name in the WWE Universe.

That said, let’s try to make ourselves feel better about this and attempt to narrow down a list of contenders who either need to win the Royal Rumble, or could realistically win it. Let’s stick to 5, a number that probably won’t contain enough people. But for the purposes of brevity (and the hot take), let’s try anyway.

One of the more sensible (but slightly unrealistic) picks to challenge either Roman Reigns or Kevin Owens for the WWE Universal Championship that he never really lost, Finn Balor is top-of-mind when it comes to wrestlers fans want to see come back. It’s sensible and possibly realistic because Balor is due to come back from his unfortunate shoulder injury around this time, but also unrealistic because while his condition is improving, he still needs to get medical clearance. And if he’s only just getting medical clearance, then that might mean that he still needs to get acclimated back to wrestling.

Of course, Balor is a good enough wrestler to possibly return without much ring rust, but if he’s not even figuring in the rumors of surprise Rumble entrants, then it’s a little hard to feel optimistic about his chances. You’re free to be positive and hope he comes back (and wins the whole thing), and that would really be great no matter what happens; we’ll keep checking reality.

 

A dark horse, yet a strong one if that makes any sense, pick to win the Royal Rumble if only because his rise and improvement has been relatively meteoric, Braun Strowman has been pushed to the forefront of all Rumble discussion as of late. It makes sense if the intent of the Rumble this year is to elevate and build a new star in the upper midcard, something WWE needs more of.

The only problem with this is that a Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman matchup for the Universal Championship isn’t really a draw for WrestleMania—it’s something that’s better tested in smaller PPVs, especially since Strowman’s renaissance had come only a little too recently. They could still do it in the shadow of bigger matchups like Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar and Undertaker vs. whoever, if they really wanted to. But I feel like no matter how strong a pick Strowman is, and how much I want RAW to build a new main eventer, we’re heading towards Undertaker vs. Strowman. And that’s not a bad thing, either.

There are two parts to the prediction surrounding Samoa Joe: the first is that he’s showing up as a surprise entrant and cementing his place in the main roster, and the second is that he might actually win and possibly go on to face either AJ Styles or John Cena for the WWE Championship (assuming he stays with SmackDown). Let’s tackle each separately.

The first prediction is all but foregone, as he’s no longer appearing on any NXT episodes since he lost the NXT Championship back to Shinsuke Nakamura in Osaka. The NXT Championship feud has shifted completely to Nakamura vs. Bobby Roode, so it’s clear that Joe is heading for the main roster soon.

The second is a little more far-fetched. It’s rumored that Joe will be entering the Rumble and doing so in a big way, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be coming away with the win. I do want to see him at WrestleMania. I’d rather see a matchup versus John Cena more than I do one with AJ Styles, which has already happened in TNA before. If Cena is winning the title from Styles on Sunday, then this scenario is the only way I’ll be okay with it. 

If this is shocking to you, it was shocking to me too—but there are rumors we need to address here. A new rumor is emerging that Randy Orton will be winning the Royal Rumble in order to challenge a Bray Wyatt that’s winning the WWE Championship at the Elimination Chamber next month. That’s a lot to unpack, so let’s start.

First of all, we’re cool with how the Orton/Wyatt feud is going along. Although it’s a little too rushed for my taste (the destruction the Wyatt Family from within is happening too quickly) it’s still a slowly-burning story that low-key surpasses anything the WWE’s done lately. I want Orton and Wyatt to culminate in a huge way.

I’m just not sure, however, that I want the WWE Championship to be involved. Wyatt winning the WWE Championship a month before WrestleMania is too random, and the only way they’ll make me believe it is if they make Wyatt a force to be reckoned with between now and then. His distraction over family matters takes away from that possibility. Another concern is the result of this feud; Wyatt needs a huge win to really establish himself and his career, and will he be able to successfully turn Orton back if they clash over the championship?

There’s just too many variables at play with this particular outcome, and all of them revolve around the creative team hitting all the right strides. I just don’t trust them to do that, even though I love SmackDown Live.

The result a lot of casual fans can get behind, but the one I hate the most.

This comes about as a result of the old rumors of a Cena vs. Undertaker match at WrestleMania, possibly for the WWE Championship. If it were to happen, it would go against everything SmackDown Live’s stood for ever since the brand split, which is a priority on getting younger talent over. WrestleMania is a big show that needs to be stocked with big names, but this is just a bad look.

Fortunately, even though Undertaker is a popular pick, newer rumors say that he’s scheduled to face a RAW star, giving more credence to the possibility of Undertaker vs. Braun Strowman. Let’s keep it that way, please.

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Are you free tomorrow evening? Do you want to help #SaveFilipinoWrestling? If yes, then you should go make your way to Quezon City tomorrow to go and watch PWR Live: Bagong Yugto. Rappler’s already covered everything you need to know, so go check it out here. It’ll be a lot of fun!

If you can’t make it tomorrow, then maybe you can come check out the second annual Royal Rumble viewing party at Skinny Mike’s Sports Bar in Bonifacio Global City! It also doubles as a fundraiser for PWR—it’s just P300 to get in, and you get a free drink, too. The whole thing starts at 7 a.m., so if you wanna watch the Rumble and see which predictions come true, come join us!

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Do you listen to podcasts? Would you want to listen to a local podcast about pro wrestling? If the answers to those questions – especially that last one – are yes, then you should check out the cleverly-named Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, featuring Mellow 94.7 DJ and PWR General Manager Stan Sy, wrestling writer and Wrestling God Romeo Moran, and all-around multimedia person and former voice of PWR Raf Camus! This week, the boys predict NXT TakeOver: San Antonio and the Royal Rumble! – Rappler.com