By Rob Siebert
With TLC in the books, it’s now officially time to look ahead to the Royal Rumble. Or in our case, the Men’s Royal Rumble Match.
Strictly speaking, a Royal Rumble Match victory isn’t what it used to be. Looking at the winners of the last 10 Royal Rumbles, only three have gone on to win a Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania.
Still, winning it is still a hell of an accomplishment. And as they love to say every year, the road to Wrestlemania does indeed begin at the Royal Rumble. So until that fateful night in Phoenix, the pressing question shall remain: Who’s walking away with that precious golden ticket to the show of shows?
On the men’s side of things, I’ve got five names running through my head. The smart bet is that the winner is on this list…
1. Seth Rollins
The obvious choice. Rollins has been verbally jabbing Brock Lesnar for awhile now, and there’s a pretty damn good chance Lesnar walks into Wrestlemania as the Universal Champion. Having dropped the Intercontinental Title at TLC, Rollins is now free to once again set his eyes on the big red belt. A belt he’s never won, by the way. He’s also never won a Rumble Match. So they’ve got a chance to brave a new frontier in the coming weeks. And if there’s one thing WWE desperately needs right now, it’s that aura of freshness. Perhaps what they need to do is look at the status quo…and burn it down.
See what I did there?
2. AJ Styles
With Daniel Bryan now firmly on the heel side of things, AJ Styles has a firm grip on Smackdown‘s top babyface spot. So it makes sense for him to be in this conversation. He’s now had his championship rematch with Bryan. So the Rumble Match may be his quickest way back to the title picture. Based on the match these two had at TLC, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing it again at a Wrestlemania level. But rumor has it Styles is looking to trim his schedule down in 2019. Chances are, that means he’s not getting the title. That doesn’t mean he can’t win the Rumble, of course. But having already been WWE Champion for a year, it might be time to move on to someone else.
3. The Miz
Obviously, Miz has been paired off with Shane McMahon lately. So the more likely path seems to be a Miz vs. Shane match at Wrestlemania. That’s not a bad spot to be in, all things considered. But early in the year, there was a good amount of buzz about Miz once again becoming WWE Champion. It wasn’t unjustified, either. Look at how much he’s upped his game in the last few years.
Miz does his best work as a heel. If nothing else, he’s proven that. If you need evidence, look to his ill-conceived babyface run a few years ago. But the fan respect factor has increased quite a bit since then. A Miz/Daniel Bryan Wrestlemania match seemed likely for several months. If WWE wanted to somehow use Shane to steer Miz’s character in a different direction, we might just get it after all.
4. Drew McIntyre
I was blown away when McIntyre lost to Finn Balor at TLC. It was odd enough that he lost to Dolph Ziggler a few weeks back. Now he’s losing a pay per view match to Balor? Very strange.
Still, McIntyre has been one of the few brights spots in a series of really, really dim and grim Raw broadcasts. His ascension to the top seems inevitable at this point, and the Royal Rumble is the perfect time to start. While it seems more likely that he would go on to challenge a newly crowned Braun Strowman for the title at Wrestlemania, let’s not rule out a possibly Brock vs. Drew match. In that scenario, I’d cast drew as the babyface. I don’t know that it would take much to get fans to cheer McIntyre. Especially if they put him against Brock.
This one requires you to buy into the rumor that up until recently, WWE was courting The Rock for a match with Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania. Hypothetically, he’d have entered the Rumble Match, won it, and challenged Reigns for the Universal Title. Rock vs. Roman has been a dream match, at least in WWE’s eyes, for years now. But obviously, plans have changed.
But you know what else would be a dream match of sorts? Rock vs. Brock. It would have exponentially more drawing power than Brock vs. Rollins, or Brock against anyone on the current roster, for that matter. We’d also get to see Rock go back and forth with Paul Heyman on the mic, which is by no means a bad scenario.
Of course, you’d once again run into the issue of a part-timer being in the title picture. Though you really can’t even count Rock as a part-timer. He’s more of a celebrity guest star than anything else. Plugging Rock in would be a good short-term solution to draw up interest. But that does absolutely no favors for guys like Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman.
It was a long shot to begin with. But we’ve seen them pull wild moves on the way to Wrestlemania. Stranger things have happened.
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