By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Join me for live coverage of the WWE Royal Rumble beginning with the Kickoff Show at 5CT/6ET. Dot Net Members will have exclusive access to the audio review that Jake Barnett and I will record after the show. Join us on our ad-free website via PWMembership.net.
What makes the Royal Rumble matches so much fun? Unpredictability and the high stakes are often the keys. You never know who might show up or what big match the Rumble might set up for WrestleMania. The Rumble match gives a fans a chance to fantasy book or daydream about surprise entrants, surprise winners, and dream WrestleMania matches. Some years are more predictable than others. Sometimes fans set their expectations too high. Sometimes the company delivers huge surprises that even the biggest daydreamers weren’t anticipating.
What will it be this year? We all have our favorites, but I lack true confidence in declaring anyone a slam dunk to win either Rumble match. My lack of confidence actually calls for a showing of confidence. Work with me, here.
Former Dot Net staffer Marv Hermanstyne used confidence picks for making his match predictions in past years. So let’s dub these The Marv Hermanstyne Memorial Confidence Picks (even though Marv is alive and well and can be followed @TheInfamousMarv). We’ll go with a top five ranking starting with the least confident of the five while building to the most confident at No. 1.
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
Dark Horses: Sheamus, Bobby Lashley, Braun Strowman (please, no), Samoa Joe (takes issue with Reigns billing himself as head of the table), The Fiend (now I’m outright begging no).
Dart Throw Long Shot: NXT UK Champion Walter shocks everyone by winning the Rumble and then has a show stealing match with Drew McIntyre at WrestleMania. Let me dream.
5. The Rock: Okay, so I don’t think Johnson is the fifth most likely person to win the match, but I couldn’t resist listing him because the story writes itself. Roman Reigns is billing himself as the Tribal Chief and the Head of the Table, which is something that The Rock could obviously dispute. But does Johnson have the time or desire to return to perform in a stadium that may or may not be filled to 1/3 capacity? I think we’ll get our Roman vs. Rock match, but I suspect that it’s more likely for next year in Dallas or even the following year in Los Angeles.
4. John Cena: Another go big or go home pick. The longtime face of WWE could return to face top heel Reigns or in a torch passing match with fellow babyface McIntyre.
3. Brock Lesnar: The free agent has readymade storylines with the WWE Champion and WWE Universal Champion. Drew McIntyre beat Lesnar to win the WWE Championship at last year’s WrestleMania, and lord knows he has a long history with Reigns. I didn’t think they could make me want to see another Reigns vs. Lesnar match, but Reigns working as a heel with Paul Heyman in his corner against babyface Lesnar definitely intrigues me.
2. Edge: I was torn between Edge and Daniel Bryan for the top pick, but Edge being named the second entrant was the deciding factor. Of course, the plan could be for Edge to go all the way from the two spot to victory.
1. Daniel Bryan: Bryan has spent more time than anyone talking about the Rumble match. He’s built up the match while also pointing out that he’s never won it, and desperately wants to. Sure, he’s lost some matches lately, but he’s involved creatively and smart enough to call for the red herring approach of throwing fans off the scent by losing matches heading into the Rumble. Bryan challenging Reigns would be a fantastic WrestleMania match.
Women’s Royal Rumble Match
Dark Horses: Sonya Deville (uses her power to get a prime entry number), Natalya (only because she’s the 30th entrant), Raquel Gonzalez (I’m guessing she spends another year in NXT, but look out next year), Lacey Evans (due to her big storyline with Ric Flair).
Dart Throw Long Shot: It feels way too soon for Becky Lynch to return to the ring after giving birth in early December. But could she be ready for WrestleMania? Hey’s it’s a long shot pick, right? On the off chance she’d be ready and willing, they could always book her as a late entrant, who wins the match without doing much of anything. I’m not holding my breath.
5. Io Shirai: The NXT Women’s Champion wins the match and goes on to have a dream match with either Asuka or Sasha Banks at WrestleMania. If so, take my money, Peacock.
4. Ronda Rousey: If she makes a surprise return, then she needs to win the match. I’d enjoy watching her face Asuka or Banks at WrestleMania.
3. Charlotte Flair: When in doubt, go with Charlotte Flair. I have no desire to see it, but that hasn’t stopped the creative forces in the past. Here’s hoping that the company is building up Lacey Evans via her storyline with Ric Flair with the plan of giving Charlotte a big WrestleMania match that doesn’t involve either women’s championship for a change.
2. Bianca Belair: Belair’s star is rising on Smackdown. The company could use the Rumble to help make her.
1. Rhea Ripley: Ripley was the hottest act in NXT heading into last year’s WrestleMania. She lost on the big stage to Charlotte Flair and still hasn’t recovered from that questionable piece of booking. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I am hopeful the Rumble is the beginning of a make good storyline. If Ripley wins the Rumble, I expect Charlotte Flair to win the Raw Women’s Championship to set up a rematch at WrestleMania, presumably with the right finish this time around.
Drew McIntyre vs. Goldberg for the WWE Championship: You never quite know what you’re going to get from Goldberg, so I would take advantage of the unique circumstances by taping this match in advance. Doing so would obviously allow them to clean up any mistakes and then just air it as if it’s live. Either way, there’s zero reason to move the title to Goldberg let alone The Miz via the Money in the Bank contract.
Drew McIntyre retains the WWE Championship.
Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens in a Last Man Standing match for the WWE Universal Championship: The Reigns vs. Owens saga has been as entertaining as a feud can be when viewers have no reason to suspect a title change. Owens has been made to look strong during the previous matches by falling victim to outside interference. The stipulation of this match leaves the door open for Jey Uso or Paul Heyman or even Jimmy Uso to get involved. One way or another, I expect another quality match with the champion keeping his title again.
Roman Reigns retains the WWE Universal Championship.
Sasha Banks vs. Carmella for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: Banks and Carmella had a very good pay-per-view match last time around, so I welcome the rematch. I don’t see any need to book a title change. Ideally, WWE will avoid the pitfall of booking title changes close to WrestleMania so that their champions will feel strong heading into the biggest show of the year.
Sasha Banks retains the Smackdown Women’s Championship.
Asuka and Charlotte Flair vs. Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler for the WWE Women’s Tag Titles: It seems like WWE likes to book a title change on nearly every pay-per-view event. Perhaps the newsworthy aspects of the Rumble matches will be enough for them to scrap that approach this time around. But with rumors of The Bella Twins returning for a WrestleMania match, I assume the heel duo will take the tag titles sometime between now and April. Flair already has a singles program with Lacey Evans, who I could see interfering in this match to give the champions an out for losing. My guard is also up for a cheap finish that sets up the need for a rematch for Raw.
Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler win the WWE Women’s Tag Titles.