The Royal Rumble is a yearly event that dates back to 1988, and has been won by all different performers, from the Rock to Brock Lesnar to Hulk Hogan to Shawn Michaels to Stone Cold to John Cena - the list goes on with legendary performers. It is also one of the most exciting, popular and unpredictable events that the WWE put on, and more importantly is the start of the Road to WrestleMania, making the winner of the 30 man over the top rope battle royal vital to the buildup and excitement for the greatest event that WWE have.
After the disaster that has been the last few Royal Rumbles, which even gave way to the #cancelWWEnetwork movement, this year is even more important in picking the right winner, which will make sense for both the story line and the fans. Everyone from NXT to RAW to Smackdown Live, even those who aren’t under WWE contract are possibilities, but here are the top 15 candidates as of now to win the Royal Rumble in 2017.
15 Bobby Roode
This one comes from out of left field, as Roode has had only one televised NXT match, but what better way to capitalize on the few years left in Bobby’s prime than having him surprise everyone and win the Royal Rumble? He certainly has everything that WWE look for in a star, and even has a dedicated following from his time in TNA. This may be unlikely, but WWE have softened on former TNA stars (see: AJ Styles, Samoa Joe & Austin Aries), and Roode would make a top heel in the company and would be right at home in the main event picture, something that Smackdown seriously needs, as they lack heels beyond AJ Styles. Don’t expect this one to happen, but if Triple H really is gaining more and more influence, don’t count it out as a possibility, at the very least, we could see Roode as a surprise entrant, and that would be exciting for long time fans of his anyway.
14 Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn is one of the most popular and exciting performers in the WWE, who has the experience to be one of the most valuable WWE stars of the New Era, and having him win the Royal Rumble could be a way to tell a Daniel Bryan type underdog story, as he has both the ability and likeability to portray the top baby face on RAW or Smackdown. Much like Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit or Shawn Michaels, Zayn has the underdog capabilities to win the Rumble from the first or second spot, which would give him a serious momentum and credibility lift as he heads into WrestleMania. The New Era has been about pushing new stars, and while that has been true for the likes of Kevin Owens, AJ Styles and Seth Rollins, Zayn has been left behind, and the Royal Rumble would be the perfect time for WWE to remind fans that Sami is one of the greatest talents on earth, with a story telling and psychological ability in the ring that is unmatched in the modern day WWE.
If Bobby Roode’s inclusion on this list was out of left field, I don’t even know how to describe the chances of this happening, but it certainly would be something WWE would do if they could get Goldberg’s signature, which has been gaining more and more traction on the rumor mill as of late. This is due to his inclusion in the WWE 2K17 video game, and his comments about Brock Lesnar, and WWE could use a surprise Royal Rumble victory for Goldberg to set up a rematch from their infamously horrible WrestleMania XX match. If nothing else, this would be an amazing nostalgia trip for many who watched the man destroy the competition in WCW, and seeing him deliver spears and Jackhammers to the likes of the Miz and Roman Reigns would be fantastic for hardcore fans.
Although Cesaro has been fighting the system and getting over purely on his own due to his amazing in ring ability for years, the company has never truly recognized this and given the Swiss Superman a push, but this could be the way to capitalize on his popularity. While he is currently stuck in a best of 7 series with Sheamus, down 3-1, Cesaro is too talented in the ring to stay out of the main event for much longer after his predictable comeback win, and expect him to be around the main event one way or another come WrestleMania. The easiest and most effective way to do this however is by having him win the Royal Rumble, so he can tease which World Championship he is going after, as he stated in an interview post draft that he felt he was best suited for Smackdown, and seeing AJ Styles defend against Cesaro on the grandest stage WWE has to offer would be a treat for all fans.
While Rusev has shown he is an amazing talent in his 3+ years with the WWE, he has never been truly pushed as a top, monster heel, and that is something that is slowly changing through his U.S Championship run, and a win in the Royal Rumble would be both shocking and exciting, as Rusev has great potential as the companies top heel. As there are other options for the top heel spot on RAW (Kevin Owens, Triple H (ugh) or Roman Reigns), Rusev lands quite low on this list, as the company look to be restoring the credibility of the U.S title through the Bulgarian Brute, but one of these days it would be in their best interest to go all in on Rusev. He has good in ring ability, looks and carries himself as a true monster, and with Lana by his side is suitable for the main event role.
10 Samoa Joe
If there was ever a time to capitalize on the few remaining years of Samoa Joe’s prime, than the Royal Rumble is it, as Joe can come up as a credible, monster heel who could truly be a main event player for several years, as well as one the fans respect, especially longtime fans of his work from Ring of Honor and TNA. His reign as NXT Champion was ended by Shinsuke Nakamura, and following a rematch should be cleared to work on the main roster (hopefully), and with the wrestling ability and pure tenacity to match, Joe could go on a monster run that solidifies him as one of the greatest talents of this era. He also has many familiar foes on the main roster, like AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Finn Balor, with many dream opponents like Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar and Cesaro, meaning after a surprise victory in the Rumble, Joe would have plenty of exciting opportunities ahead of him.
9 Kevin Owens
The second ever Universal Champion is one of the best and most diverse competitors in the WWE, and if he isn’t still holding that ugly red belt (sorry I couldn’t help it) 4 months from now, expect to see him as one of the favorites in the yearly classic. A long title reign should be expected however, due to the abrupt nature of Finn Balor’s 24-hour stand as Champion, as it is more likely that Owens will be defending his title belt at the Royal Rumble 2017. Kevin faces many challenges ahead, with Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Cesaro and Sami Zayn all wanting title shots, and if he comes out of that without his Championship, he should be looking at a title shot come WrestleMania one way or another. Don’t expect the prize fighter to be entering the battle royal in January, but if he does, it would be wise not to bet against KO.
8 John Cena
While John Cena just recently lost to AJ Styles, and is leaving for an extended period again come late 2016, his WWE future is uncertain, but that doesn’t mean you can count out a Royal Rumble win, as he is still the face of WWE, and is still chasing Ric Flair’s record 16 World Championships. While he will be filming the second season of American Grit early 2017, he could be a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble, which would be the perfect way to kick off one more dominant run for Cena after such a long, illustrious career. While most fans will argue against this, as the New Era needs to push new stars, Cena still outsells and out works (in a charity sense, most guys work the same dates as Cena), and this is still a huge positive for the company, so a victory for him would give a young guy a chance to work with him under the brightest lights, and will help with ratings heading into WrestleMania.
7 AJ Styles
The reason why AJ Styles is featured so low on this list is I believe he will be WWE Champion heading into the Royal Rumble, but on the odd chance someone else on Smackdown holds the title come late January, Styles should be a lock to win the 30-man battle royal. This would mark exactly a year since the Phenomenal One made his way to WWE after an illustrious career elsewhere, and a victory would show just how amazing he is, as he was only intended to be a mid card performer in the company, where he is now the best performer. Whether Styles features in this match or a title match on the PPV, expect to see the New Face that runs the Place around the main event, if not the last match of the night come WrestleMania 33 in Florida.
6 Roman Reigns
After the debacle that was the 2015 Royal Rumble, you would think WWE would be hesitant to give Reigns a Rumble win so soon, but it could be used perfectly as a catalyst for a Roman Reigns heel turn, and would set him up as the company’s top heel for years and years to come. I know that like John Cena, a heel turn may not ever come like the fans want, but Reigns isn’t as polarizing or talented as Cena, and would be best suited in a heel role where they could capitalize on true fan displeasure, while cheering for true fan favorites like Seth Rollins and Cesaro. Whether the turn happens at the Rumble or is set up before hand, Reigns will be a good bet to win the historic match, whether you or I like it, only what Vince McMahon thinks matters. Main eventing three straight Mania’s has only been done three times (Hulk Hogan 5 straight, John Cena and the Rock), so if Roman does get that honor, it better be worth it with a great story and a hot heel turn.
5 Seth Rollins
In his short WWE career, Seth Rollins has seemingly done it all: WWE World Champion, U.S Champion, Tag Team Champion, NXT Champion, main event of WrestleMania, Money in the Bank winner, but the one thing that has eluded him is that Royal Rumble victory, which could be coming his way in January if he isn’t battling for the Universal Championship at the event. While many may be fed up with seeing Rollins in the main event scene, since he carried the company on his back in 2015 and new stars like KO and Finn Balor have stepped up, but with a simple baby face turn (which has already begun), Seth could now reinvent himself and become the biggest star the industry has today, and the best way to achieve this is to overcome the odds (Triple H’s interference) and win the Royal Rumble.
4 Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt has been criminally under used by WWE thus far in his career, as he has star power written all over him, with a character like no other in the entire company, yet they have neglected to take advantage of this and book him to lose more often than not, making most of his seemingly powerful words meaningless. While many won’t expect him to win this match, due to this poor booking, if he can gain momentum on the blue brand, especially overall dominance when Luke Harper returns (hopefully to take over the tag division with Erick Rowan), it would be seemingly impossible to stop the Eater of Worlds from gaining top spot on Smackdown Live. This must happen without a deep main event roster on Smackdown, as it consists mainly of AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose and Randy Orton, and Wyatt winning the Rumble with a face turn and stalking both heel Champions (AJ Styles and Kevin Owens if I was booking) would make for must see television.
3 Shinsuke Nakamura
Despite only having half a year’s experience in WWE, the King of Strong Style is the most charismatic performer in NXT, and is already being touted a future World Champion, and one who could quite possibly become the best Japanese star in WWE history. What better way to introduce him to the wider WWE audience who haven’t seen much of him (if that’s you, please go to the WWE Network and watch his matches with Sami Zayn, Finn Balor and Samoa Joe) than bringing him in for the Royal Rumble, and having him survive until the end? Some might complain that similar to Finn Balor, he would be pushed too fast too soon, but after his career in NJPW and NXT, there is no doubting that he’s not only ready for the main roster, but ready to be the best performer in the entire company.
2 Finn Balor
This one has been thrown into doubt due to the confusion of Balor’s recovery time from his shoulder injury, but bringing him back as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble would be an amazing way to show that Finn is still a top guy, but winning it would prove he truly is the main event star they believe in. It is pretty clear to all fans that Finn will return in the main event regardless, as he was given a World Championship after less than 2 months on the big stage, but the Royal Rumble would be perfect to stir up fan excitement again, and would give the fans who still don’t know much about the demon to get to know him better. I mentioned Sami Zayn is a good candidate to follow underdogs like Chris Benoit, Shawn Michaels or Rey Mysterio in surviving the entirety of the grueling battle royal, and Balor also fits that category, and would be a great way to show everyone he still has a lot left to give the WWE.
1 Brock Lesnar
After his dominant triumph over Randy Orton at Summerslam that blurred the lines of shoot/work after he split Randy’s head open, it looks like the WWE are ready to push Lesnar on one more monster run which may culminate with a Championship. While many hardcore fans may disagree with Lesnar winning his second Rumble, as he was barely around on TV during his last title reign, there is no doubt that it’s a path WWE would love to go down. Lesnar’s ‘Suplex City’ may have run its course for many fans, but seeing the carnage in the Royal Rumble always looks good, and the potential of a Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns rematch at WrestleMania 33 would sell many fans on the event. Another interesting way to have this occur without fans becoming annoyed like they were for the 2014 and 2015 Rumble’s is having a long awaited second Paul Heyman guy appear to be the one Lesnar faces at WrestleMania (fingers crossed for Shinsuke Nakamura).