It seems like it wasn’t long ago that we saw the debut of the Phenomenal, AJ Styles, and the return of the Game, but in just a month's time, we will see another edition of the most exciting PPV on WWE’s calendar. With all the stars who have returned and the recent brand split, this one is as wide open as any, and it is shaping up to be the most exciting in recent memory.
The winner is completely up for grabs at this stage, too. With many performers coming into their own and deserving of the honor, it will be a hard decision for the WWE to make. As always there are obvious answers and ones that come from left field, and today we analyze 15 of these performers and their chances.
Here are 8 RAW and 7 Smackdown contenders who will win at 2017 Royal Rumble.
14 Obvious – Roman Reigns
This is unlikely, as Reigns has been in 2 straight WrestleMania main events, and the company could risk hurting the crowd perception of Roman even further. We all know that they see him as the future of the business, and that’s fine, he has come on in leaps and bounds in 2017, but that doesn’t mean he has to win every Royal Rumble and be in the main event too much. Regardless of how you or I feel, there is still a chance that WWE goes down this route, but it’s highly unlikely, as they will look to push the U.S title as a major match with Reigns holding the belt as they head into ‘Mania. Even without a victory, the company can use the match to showcase Roman’s positives and the improvements he has made, as he has shone in Royal Rumbles so far in his career.
13 Surprise – Shinsuke Nakamura
It is well known that WWE want to push Shinsuke Nakamura as the face of NXT, so we won’t likely be seeing him in the Rumble, which is exactly why it would be such a great move, even if it’s just a surprise, one time appearance. What makes it unlikely though, is that the King of Strong Style will be defending his title at Takeover only days earlier against either Roderick Strong, Bobby Roode, Tye Dillinger or Andrade Almas, but his promotion has to happen sooner or later. Odds aren’t good on this one, but he has to be mentioned when talking about big surprises from NXT, especially as there is so many dream matches awaiting the King on the main roster.
12 Obvious – Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins has been in the main event scene for the better part of the last 2 years when healthy, so maybe his time for him to drop down the card, to help consolidate the roster of Monday Night RAW. Regardless, he was the number 1 pick on draft night, and we know management is high on him, so maybe it’s time to find out how Rollins will do with a full build towards the main event of WrestleMania. Ever since his appearance with the Shield, which was overshadowed by the record breaking performance of Roman Reigns, Rollins has missed the last two battle royal’s, and it’s very hard to see that streak continuing. Don’t be surprised to see the man last right up until the end, and possibly steal the show with his amazing athleticism.
11 Surprise – AJ Styles
More than likely, the current WWE champion will be defending his title at the Royal Rumble, but that may not stop him from competing in the 30 man battle royal, in which he could stop other key members of the Smackdown roster from winning it all. Then again, WWE could give The Undertaker one last run with the big belt to further the dream Cena vs. Taker match at WrestleMania, which could leave Styles scratching to find his way back into the title picture. A year ago when he debuted, WWE may not have seen the Phenomenal One as anything more than a good wrestler and a mid card act, but if he does indeed enter the match a year later, he should no doubt be considered a hot favorite.
10 Obvious – Samoa Joe
Simply put, Samoa Joe is one of the best pro wrestlers in history, with one of the most impressive bodies of work that anyone in WWE can boast. He has had classic matches with everyone, featuring all different styles, and has done it for over 15 years. In 2015, he found his way to WWE, and since his heel turn on Finn Balor, has been one of the most consistent forces the brand has to offer. Now that he has lost his NXT title for the second time, many feel it is time to move onto the biggest stage that pro wrestling has to offer. This may seem like a surprise, but knowing the way Triple H feels about him, if he does indeed on this night or before, it’s a good bet that Joe will be thrust into the main event, and the Rumble would be a great time to showcase his star power.
9 Surprise – Cesaro
Many fans have been left scratching their heads about the way Cesaro has been booked since the brand split, but 2017 is the right time to start rectifying that. There is no denying that he is an incredible athlete, and the notion that he hasn’t gotten over with the WWE Universe is ridiculous, it’s about time that management gave him the ball to see if he can run with it. This also gives the company the chance to test out how he performs when he is in the ring with bonafide stars like Brock Lesnar, Goldberg and maybe even the Undertaker. If he performs well in this situation, it would be a sign that the world title picture is the place that the Swiss Superman needs to be. This might have to wait another year, but as a longtime fan of the man, I would love to see the WWE take a chance on him as soon as they can.
8 Obvious – Dean Ambrose
The Lunatic Fringe seems as if he will be a bit distracted by James Ellsworth in the near future, but that doesn’t mean he can’t come out and go one step further than he did in the 2016 Royal Rumble. The comedy aspect of Ambrose’s character has made him quite popular, but it’s the focused, never give up guy we saw in the lead up to his street fight with Brock Lesnar that will truly make him a main eventer, and a struggling, Ironman effort could convince the fans of that. It’s likely that again Ambrose will be competing in a secondary match at WrestleMania, but if the WWE feel that Dean could draw as a serious main eventer heading into the Big Show (not that one), maybe we will see him scratch and claw his way to victory.
7 Surprise – Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt has recently recruited Randy Orton into his family, and that has resulted in the tag team titles, but with 3 men currently residing in the family, what’s to stop the eater of worlds trying to bring another championship into the mix? We saw his three cohorts get involved to eliminate Brock Lesnar in 2016, so surely with a 12-time World Champion in the mix, he should be considered a dark horse to be the last man standing. We don’t currently know where Bray stands after the tag title win, especially since it will be defended under the FreeBird rule, but if he does enter into the match, WWE could pull the wool over everyone’s eyes and thrust Wyatt straight into the main event.
6 Obvious – Finn Balor
The demon was injured at Summerslam this year, and ever since he had to relinquish his WWE Universal title, fans have been eagerly awaiting his return. While early reports indicated that WrestleMania was the date, rumors have begun that he could be back a few months early, just in time for the Royal Rumble. A return would be a huge moment, as fans were fully behind the Irish star before the unfortunate injury, and a win would propel him straight back into the main event scene. It is also a chance to test him against the established stars to see how he stacks up, and knowing his history, he would do so quite well. He may not win his return bout, but how he is presented and how he fares throughout will be telling in how the company view him heading into the biggest show of the year.
5 Surprise – The Undertaker
The Undertaker has recently returned to Smackdown, and if you believe some rumors, he could be headed into the World title picture in early 2017 before he rides off into the sunset. If this is the case, the likely scenario is him winning the title at this event and have him hold it heading into WrestleMania, but hear me out. Fans have been wanting a John Cena heel turn for years, and what better way to accomplish that, as well as giving him his 16th world title than have The Undertaker go into ‘Mania to face a desperate John Cena and a cocky AJ Styles. This would be the Deadman’s second Rumble victory, and one last WrestleMania main event for one of the greatest wrestlers to ever grace a WWE ring.
4 Obvious – Brock Lesnar
The entry between the two titans of RAW will be fairly similar, but after their 2 bouts over 12 years apart, these two are bound to be linked for the near future. Both Brock Lesnar and Goldberg have been confirmed for the Rumble, and the smart bet would be that neither man wins, and they go on to have their third match at WrestleMania, but how do you rule out a victory for either beast? After a lackluster year in 2016, a Royal Rumble run of dominance and victory could be the way that WWE try and capitalize on the final years of Lesnar’s contract, and it could set up a great match at WrestleMania against the likes of Kevin Owens, Cesaro, Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns. I wouldn’t be betting my money on the Beast Incarnate, but how can you count out someone who has been so consistently dominant throughout their career?
3 Surprise – John Cena
If you hadn’t noticed so far, my fantasy booking of WrestleMania for Smackdown would be a Triple Threat between AJ Styles, the Undertaker and John Cena, and Cena winning the Rumble is the perfect way to set up both this match and his much anticipated heel turn. To tease Cena’s desperation, he should cheat to win this battle royal, which would show he will do anything to get his 16th world title. From his career, this may not be a surprise, but it’s more the way in which Cena would win, and it would be his surprise return that gives it the surprise element. (Side note: in my fantasy booking, AJ Styles would cheat to beat the Undertaker at the Royal Rumble , and Cena would win the match, setting up a Triple Threat where John Cena would cheat to pin the Undertaker, protecting the top heel on the roster (for now), and pinning the Undertaker would truly ignite his heel turn as a hot moment.)
2 Obvious – Goldberg
WWE must have known that fans would get behind the WCW legend quickly upon return, but I doubt they would have seen this coming. Fans have erupted every time Goldberg appears, and the return which was set for one match only has now been extended, and the big man has declared he will enter the Royal Rumble. Who knows what type of damage he can do in that match, but it makes you start to believe that over a decade later, maybe Goldberg does have one last title run in him. While it’s hard to see WWE putting a title on someone who has been out of the ring for 12 years, the temptation to give him a Royal Rumble win must be there, and don’t be surprised if the company use Goldberg as a major draw come WrestleMania, perhaps even the main event.
1 Surprise – Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn has been used fairly poorly following his drafting to RAW, and the Royal Rumble is perhaps the time to rectify that, as the Underdog from the Underground has delivered in every spot the company has asked of him. Heck, with Sami’s talent, he even made a mini feud with Braun Strowman entertaining, but his direction is unclear after his confrontation with Mick Foley. Each year the WWE tells us about the Ironman efforts of performers like Rey Mysterio, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair, and we ponder who that performer could be in the next Rumble. Well look no further, as this could be the time to pull the trigger on WWE’s best underdog, so if he stars the match, expect big things from Zayn.