The Road to WrestleMania 33 has truly begun, and as 30th Royal Rumble winner, Randy Orton, is headed for the main event. This is a pretty bad sign for fans of the WWE Universe, considering there were literally dozens of wrestlers who would have been better in the role than the Viper. Obviously, not all of the better options could have actually pulled it off for a plethora of reasons, but there were plenty of superstars who realistically could have won and didn’t. As usual these days, WWE instead relied on a wrestler who has been thrust into main events for over a decade despite many fans finding him bland and boring from day one.
That said, Randy Orton may not have been the absolute worst choice possible. Paradoxically, the only wrestlers the crowd seemed to care about were part-timers, almost all of whom would have been almost disastrous. By almost never wrestling on television, WrestleMania would need to be sold entirely on hype alone. Granted, most of them didn’t have much of a chance at winning, but we’re considering anyone in the rumor mill as a possibility—and we’re doing the same thing with people who could’ve won, even if there was no logical way it could have actually happened. Keep reading to learn 10 wrestlers who should’ve won the 2017 Royal Rumble instead of Randy Orton (and 5 we’re glad didn’t).
18 SHOULD: Samoa Joe
After a year and a half of dominating NXT, Samoa Joe has lost the brand’s main championship for a second time and has nowhere to go but the main WWE roster. Or, apparently, the audience, doing absolutely nothing. Despite many fans hoping Joe would get called up to either win or at least perform spectacularly in the Rumble, he instead stood amongst fans at NXT TakeOver: San Antonio looking angry, suggesting WWE thinks he still has unfinished business in the small pond where he’s a big fish. To be entirely fair, it has been rumored WWE didn’t want to waste Joe on the Rumble if he wasn’t going to win, but that only begs the question why him winning wasn’t on the table. They obviously realized it had potential to be huge, and yet the company went with a safe choice no one cared about, squandering Joe’s chances at becoming an instant star in the process. Let's see how he fares after his surprise debut the next night on Raw, going after Rollins for The Game.
17 SHOULDN'T: Kurt Angle
Finn Bálor winning seemed pretty impossible, and the same is true about Kurt Angle. He’s been away from the WWE Universe for over ten years, and a barrage of injuries and personal demons make it unlikely he’ll ever get cleared to make a full-time in-ring return. That didn’t stop plenty of Attitude Era fans from hoping the improbably could happen, with plenty of rumors suggesting Angle at the very least would enter the match. While a token appearance wouldn’t be too bad, Angle actually winning could be both dangerous and disastrous, for both WWE and his own well being. He’s suffered a staggering number of injuries throughout his illustrious career, and at the same time his drive to perform wouldn’t let him give anything but his all if given the spotlight again. Even if Angle didn’t hurt himself, there would be little upside to another part-timer returning and being put over all of the young talent, making him an all-around horrible pick to win this particular Rumble.
15 SHOULD: Seth Rollins
“The Architect of WWE” Seth Rollins is yet another superstar on this list who had virtually no chance whatsoever of winning, and yet unlike all the others, we’re not entirely sure why that is. His storyline going into the match was that WWE COO Triple H banned him from the arena, ensuring Rollins wouldn’t get a WWE Championship shot in any way, shape, or form. Rollins confronted his boss over the situation the night before at NXT TakeOver: San Antonio, but at the Rumble itself he was nowhere to be found. Wrestling tradition says that when an active wrestler is banned or implicitly stated not to appear, that means they’ll be doing something cool at the show, like beating up a low-level Rumble participant and stealing their spot. Not this year, though, because WWE apparently thinks the money with Rollins is having him appear on a show far fewer fans watch to feud against someone who they would prefer stay behind the scenes.
14 SHOULD: Chris Jericho
Drink it in, iron man. All right, we’ll admit that Jericho’s tenure in this particular Rumble was pretty ridiculous. After entering at number 2, Jericho set the record for the most cumulative time ever in a Rumble by spending a full hour in this one, bringing his total near 5 hours over all. However, he spent somewhere near 45 minutes of that hour lounging around on the floor, knocked out by a string of knockout punches and kicks. Under any different circumstances, though, Jericho could have made an excellent choice for a winner, as he’s one of the rare performers who continues to do main event level work more than 25 years into his career. He has an upcoming tour with Fozzy around the corner, though not until after Mania, and that gives plenty of time for his best friendship with Kevin Owens to implode. On the other hand, he would’ve needed to wake up from his hour long nap to do that, so it might have been too much for a man his age.
13 SHOULDN'T: Goldberg
The entire WWE Universe was taken by surprise when Goldberg made his sudden return to the company late last year, and Da Man shocked everyone again at Survivor Series 2011 when he squashed Brock Lesnar. As the Royal Rumble dragged on, fans started chanting his name like it was 1998 all over again, and there’s no denying Goldberg was one of the few true megastars in the match. With all of that in mind, having him defeat the entire WWE roster in one go almost 15 years after his last run, aged 50, would be going way too far with the idea. If there’s any downside to Goldberg’s character, it’s that fans don’t like waiting for the guy. It’s why they chanted for him until he showed up, and it’s why waiting over two months before he got his title shot would turn whoever holds the title into a lame duck no one cares about.
12 SHOULD: Cesaro
Of all the potential winners we’re about to discuss, Cesaro is pretty low on the list of people who actually had a chance. However, the biggest thing going against him is that he’s been in a midcard tag team role for the past several months is completely irrelevant—the exact same thing is true about Orton. The difference with Cesaro is that fans have always felt he had incredible untapped potential, and suddenly breaking away from his reductive role as Sheamus’s frenemy would finally skyrocket him to the top. Beyond that, Cesaro has experience winning battle royales as the first Andre The Giant Memorial winner at WrestleMania XXX, so it’s not like this would be an entirely unheralded decision. Though Cesaro isn’t quite a bona fide main event star yet, his partner Sheamus is (or at least WWE thinks he is), and the requisite feud between now and April could have solidified Cesaro as a true contender, making a star the old fashion way.
11 SHOULD: Kofi Kingston
Take most of what we just said about Cesaro re: Sheamus, add a third partner to the mix, and you have the basis for our behind New Day assisting Kofi Kingston into winning the Royal Rumble. The longest ever WWE Tag Team Championship reign is over, and now it’s time for one of them to break out as the true star. Whether the group continues to support him or splinters away from there is up to WWE, because the point is turning someone pigeonholed in the tag team division for years into a serious main event player. It would also create a unique dynamic for this year’s Rumble with Kingston, Woods, and Big E all working together competently, instead of doing heavily choreographed comedy spots while Michael Cole talked about how creative Kofi used to be in years past. Maybe he’ll tap into that ingenuity in 2018…or stick in the tag division forever.
9 SHOULDN'T: The Undertaker
The flipside to wrestlers like Chris Jericho who continue to succeed into middle age are workers like The Undertaker, who just don’t have it anymore. Falling victim to symbolism, The Undertaker lost his touch the second his WrestleMania undefeated streak ended. There’s style a mystique to his character, of course, and he’s no worse at playing the role, but his potential for appearing in main events exponentially diminishes with each passing year. He’ll almost certainly continue appearing as an attraction until he’s physically incapable, and fans will always be happy to see him. Another World or Universal Championship run, on the other hand, might call for a more literal Dark Ages in the WWE Universe, where fans turn away in droves and the company slowly turns into an actual graveyard. Well, maybe that’s going a little too far—it would be more accurate to say the main event will start to look like a retirement home.
7 SHOULD: Finn Bálor
From the moment he relinquished the WWE Universal Championship due to injury, fans have been hotly anticipating the return of Finn Bálor. The Royal Rumble would have been a perfect time for him to shock the world and make that comeback, but there was one big problem: some five months after suffering a shoulder injury at SummerSlam 2016, he’s still yet to fully recover. That didn’t stop many fans from hoping he would give it a try anyone, or even better pull a John Cena in 2008 and reveal he was lying about the severity of the injury. While we totally understand why it couldn’t and didn’t happen, there’s no denying The Demon King rising from the ashes would have made for an incredible moment. It wouldn’t have been hard for him to keep his involvement minimal to prevent pushing himself too hard too soon. Then again, as it stands right now there’s no promise he’ll be ready for Mania, so this one is more of a fantasy scenario than anything else.
6 SHOULD: Kenny Omega
Given his status as one of the top stars working for New Japan Pro Wrestling, “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega is another performer who had absolutely no chance of winning the Royal Rumble, let alone even appear in the match. That didn’t stop many fans and rumor sites from speculating he would, largely due to Triple H admitting WWE was interested in him followed by John Cena posting a picture of him on Instagram. Regardless of those so-called hints, Omega announced several days before the Rumble he had plans to stick with Japan for at least another year, throwing all of that speculation out of the window. That doesn’t change how awesome it would have been had it all been a misdirect and Omega shocked the world by winning, though, and the possibilities that would arise from an outsider suddenly having a target on their back by the entirely company gives almost everyone on the entire roster something to do.
5 SHOULDN'T: Braun Strowman
Throughout the immediate week prior to the Rumble, the betting odds were pretty firmly in Randy Orton’s favor as the presumed winner. For a short time before that, though, the favorite was Wyatt Family ex-pat Braun Strowman, who would probably have wound up being the Royal Rumble’s answer to Mabel winning King of the Ring in 1995. Strowman has been slowly raising his profile over the past few months, but speaking quite frankly, we just don’t see it at all. Strowman is the worst kind of large, lumbering, hoss, with a lackluster work ethic and absolutely nothing to set him apart from others on the microphone. While this is totally fine for a low level monster who terrorizes up and comers, to shove Strowman into the main event so soon would backfire horrifically.
4 SHOULD: A.J. Styles
Despite making his bombastic debut at last year’s version of the event, no one was expecting A.J. Styles to appear in this year’s Rumble, and with good reason. He was already reigning as WWE Champion when the show began, so there was no logical kayfabe reason for him to enter the match. That in mind, the same logic held true for Roman Reigns, who wrestled Kevin Owens for the Universal Championship earlier on the show only to make a surprise entrance at number 30. If Reigns could have a backup plan for losing, so could A.J., and fans might have actually enjoyed watching that. Styles had one of the most amazing first years any WWE superstar has ever experienced, only for the cliché to hold true and have it end not with a bang, but a whimper, definitely defeated by John Cena and disappearing so the only wrestler we’re supposed to care about could have a bloated Hulk Hogan-esque celebration ceremony. The only saving grace would have been a Rumble comeback.
3 SHOULD: Shinsuke Nakamura
Almost the exact same story as Samoa Joe with the benefit of a hot angle at NXT TakeOver: San Antonio, winning the Royal Rumble in his debut match would have instantly turned Shinsuke Nakamura into the megastar everyone who has seen him wrestle knows The King of Strong Style is more than capable of becoming. Not only would fans finally get what they want, but also by losing his second NXT Championship due to an injured knee the night before, Nakamura winning the Royal Rumble would echo Bret Hart’s star making performance in 1994. It goes without saying that things worked out pretty well for The Hitman, and adding Nakamura’s unrivaled charisma to the mix practically guarantees something special happening in Florida on April 2nd. Once again, however, it looks like the only people who will be surprised are the WWE executives who listen to fans chant Nakamura’s name during a show he wasn’t booked at for the second year in a row.
2 SHOULDN'T: Roman Reigns
At this point in the WWE Universe, saying Randy Orton made a better Royal Rumble winner than Roman Reigns is kind of like saying Randy Orton was a better Royal Rumble winner than Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin. It’s hard to imagine anyone in wrestling or on the planet that WWE fans want to see less than The Big Dog, especially in top roles, and yet Vince McMahon and company simply will not get the picture and keep thrusting him into main events—sometimes more than one on a single show, as they did on Sunday. It was bad enough that Roman was in his third final four in a row, and the absolute only way things would have been worse is if Roman had won his second Royal Rumble by dominating everything in sight from the moment he came out.
1 SHOULD: Bray Wyatt
Now that the list is almost over, we’ll admit it might look a little bit reactionary, because we don’t know where WWE is going with Orton as the winner. The rumors are all over the place about whether Orton will face John Cena, Bray Wyatt, or anyone else on the Grandest Stage of Them All, but the one sure thing is that he’ll need to finish up whatever he’s doing with Wyatt before he gets there. The truth is, given Orton’s current storyline, there’s virtually no endgame imaginable that couldn’t be achieved with Bray winning instead, and that way, at least fans would have a chance to picture someone new in a major role. Fans have accepted Wyatt more than enough for him to became a major player, and yet WWE keeps relying on the same old bland, boring bullshit, as though they’ve forgotten what made fans stop watching WCW.