Nearly every single year since its inception in 1988, the story of the Royal Rumble match has been to determine the #1 contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship come WrestleMania time. This year, however, the story has changed drastically. Instead of a title shot being on the line, the match will decide who actually holds the championship at the biggest pay-per-view of the year, with Fastlane likely being the event that determines the challenger.
The championship’s position as “up for grabs” is actually more of a motivator than the actual focal point being told here, though, which is Roman Reigns defending that championship. Sure, it’s the crux of the problem, but in a similar way to how MacGuffins play out in movies. The briefcase is the driving force of Pulp Fiction, but the movie is about the characters and their interactions going after that. Unlike the tournament at Survivor Series, the Royal Rumble’s story isn’t about who the new champion will be, but if Roman Reigns can successfully defend it. He is the protagonist, not the belt.
So now that you’ve gone through all that exposition, it brings me to the point of this article: WWE should bring back the 40-participant concept for this year’s Royal Rumble.
Upping the Ante
Vince McMahon set up this stipulation about Reigns defending the title purely as a means to screw him over, correct? He’s stacked the odds against Reigns by having him put his belt on the line against 29 other stars wherein he doesn’t need to be pinned, nor does he have to submit to lose his title. All it takes is for someone to get a lucky clothesline or for him to slip up and he’s over the top rope and gone. Even worse for Reigns, two or more people could just gang up on him, pick him up, toss him out and we’re guaranteed to have a new champion crowned. All of this is done with the storyline being that McMahon wants the belt off Reigns.
If that’s the scenario we’re playing with, it makes sense for McMahon to take things to an even more ridiculous level. We’ve seen a 40-man Royal Rumble before, so it isn’t as though it can’t be done. When that happened in 2011, there was no real reason to add 10 more people to the mix, but it went off without a hitch. It wasn’t overkill, it didn’t drag out the match too long, and it didn’t ruin the tradition by doing something different. Since it’s already been done before (and done successfully), why not bring it back? McMahon could look at this as the icing on the cake to seal the deal that Reigns absolutely cannot possibly leave with the championship.
Of course, if we were speaking on pure logic, someone in McMahon’s shoes would probably make it a 60-man Royal Rumble and position Roman Reigns as the #1 entrant—or, even more likely, just fire the damn guy, which seems impossible in the kayfabe world we’re toying around with—but doubling the amount of time would definitely run the risk of making it too bloated. 40 worked 5 years ago and it could work again.
Not only would this make sense in a storyline way, it would also help sweep some problems under the rug and boost the perception of what’s going on in WWE right now. Obviously, there are big issues happening with some major names falling victim to injuries, which is a contributing factor to the potential disaster of this event in multiple ways.
First off, with so many people out, that means the other matches on the card don’t have as much potential to be amazing. Feuds haven’t been on fire lately as WWE has put many on the backburner and in some cases, just ignored them in the hopes that focus will remain solely on Reigns. At the moment, only two matches have been announced: the Royal Rumble and the Last Man Standing Intercontinental Championship match. We can assume a Divas Championship match will take place as well, but there’s still room for one or two more, as well as another match possibly on the pre-show.
I’ve argued for years that the pre-show for the Royal Rumble is the one event that can get away without having a match, since they could do something special with the entrants picking their numbers, but as far as the other matches go, what options do we have?
Would anybody really care to see Titus O’Neil fight Stardust again? Is anyone clamoring for Kalisto and Alberto Del Rio to have yet another match for the United States Championship? Raise your hand if you weren’t interested in checking the event out, but the addition of Ryback facing someone from The Wyatt Family would make you tune in. Didn’t think so.
Adding 10 more men to the Royal Rumble cuts back on the time with the rest of the card to need to add another match, or perhaps even better, diminishes the space between matches that would be spent playing the same video packages we’ve seen repeated ad nauseam (on every Raw, Main Event, Superstars, and SmackDown as well as on YouTube, the pre-show, and before each match…unnecessary).
Enhancing the Entrants
Getting back to the subject of the missing men, that’s something that could weaken the Royal Rumble itself. Big names like John Cena, Seth Rollins, Sting, Randy Orton, Cesaro, and Daniel Bryan won’t be competing, but we do still have 30 people that could participate. The only problem is that a good portion of those people are useless. The Ascension, Los Matadores, Hornswoggle, nobody cares. With 10 extra spots, though, there opens up room for more surprise comebacks, more legends, and even more space for NXT superstars to come into the fold.
With more people that could get the crowd to pop, the stronger the playing field looks. If it’s made up of Reigns and roughly 5 other people who matter with a lot of down time focusing on Darren Young and El Torito, the winner doesn’t look as strong and the match isn’t as enjoyable.
In addition, 10 more people means there’s more flexibility when it comes to eliminations and showcasing more than just two or three noteworthy stars. One of the biggest problems we could have in this Royal Rumble is that Reigns will need to be booked strong, but so will Brock Lesnar, potentially Triple H, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Bray Wyatt, Braun Strowman, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, and more. Notice how most of those are heels? That means WWE could make the mistake of having Roman Reigns be the only babyface to get any decent eliminations (which would piss people off that would think he’s being booked as Superman again) while the bevy of heels all fight for the rest of the pickings. In the end, everybody but the winner needs to be eliminated, but there’s also been times where too many people looked weak for no reason other than to be a sacrificial lamb.