Believe it or not, WrestleMania season is already upon us, and it all starts at the Royal Rumble. Just yesterday, AJ Styles made his improbable WWE debut as the number third entrant in the Rumble, and now he stands today holding the WWE Championship, and in all likelihood will enter the event as the champ that runs the camp (or after his wardrobe malfunction at TLC, the butt that runs the hut). That’s just a mere microcosm of the shocking moments that the Royal Rumble match can bring, which is what makes it one of, if not my favorite event to watch in WWE. This year, we already know that Goldberg and Brock Lesnar will be entered into the Rumble, but who else is in contention to win the Rumble match and punch their ticket to WrestleMania? I have a few in mind, so with that said, here are my five early favorites to win the match.
5. Samoa Joe
Okay, okay, okay, this one may be a reach. But in the Rumble match, there are definitive favorites, on the mend superstars that may win, people who will definitely NOT win, and then there’s the wild card. I think Samoa Joe will be the next big star out of NXT to make his debut on the main roster (I think for the Smackdown brand), and it’s crazy, but what if Samoa Joe’s music hits, he walks down to the middle of the ring with a mean streak and just starts destroying everyone in sight. I think he would be a perfect opponent for AJ Styles at WrestleMania, title or no title.
Of course, this is all assuming how much longer he stays in NXT. Bobby Roode is next in line to face Shinsuke Nakamura for the NXT Championship, and Samoa Joe has already won the NXT Title twice. There really isn’t much left for him to do there, and I don’t think it would behoove him to stay there any longer than he needs to and risk anything to derail his eventual main roster call up. Joe has the look at the attitude of a guy ready for the grand stage, and he’s certainly paid his dues. Again, it’s highly unlikely that he wins the whole thing, and it may be unlikely that he debuts at the Rumble, but if the Rumble match and WWE has shown us in recent years at the Rumble with AJ Styles debuting this year and Bubba Ray Dudley returning last year, never say never.
4. Chris Jericho
Why the hell not? Y2J has had, believe or not, one of his best years in WWE. He hasn’t won any titles, but you don’t have to when you are good as he is. Jericho has shown that he can still go in the ring and that he can still be an elite talent. In the illustrious career of Y2J, there are still a couple of things he hasn’t done. Aside from winning the US Title, he hasn’t won a Royal Rumble match. Well, next year presents a unique opportunity for the savy veteran.
Of course him winning the Rumble is only contingent on him facing his best friend, the current Universal Champion Kevin Owens. That is because there wouldn’t be much sense in pitting him against anyone else, AND a match with Kevin Owens is the only thing that would make sense at WrestleMania. Jericho is set to be locked in a shark cage when Kevin Owens defends his title against Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble.
However, who’s to say that Jericho doesn’t enter the Royal Rumble later that night, wins the entire thing improbably, starts feuding with Owens, perhaps Owens gets a new best friend, and the two Canadians have at it at WrestleMania? While Jericho winning the entire thing doesn’t seem likely in lieu of his age, part time status and the fact that Jericho doesn’t necessarily need to win the Rumble to feud with Owens over the title, it certainly is feasible. Within the past five years, Triple H, Cena and Batista have all won a Royal Rumble match, and they are all either part time, or no longer with the company. Jericho has been able to reinvent himself yet again this year to stay fresh. Rewarding him with a Royal Rumble victory? A win isn’t outlandish for Y2J.
3. Braun Strowman
As much as I don’t want to believe those rumors of Roman Reigns facing Braun Strowman for the Universal Title at WrestleMania, the seeds may have already been planted from the closing of this past Monday’s episode of RAW. Braun has been the monster heel for RAW, destroying anorexic jobbers left and right and then moving on to more marquee names such as Sami Zayn. After this past week, he was standing tall over Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns after taking them out simultaneously.
Braun is the manifestation of everything that everything Vince adores. He’s big in size and he can be easily manipulated, so do not be surprised if it’s Braun winning the Rumble and punching his own ticket to WrestleMania. The bottom line is that Braun hasn’t been built up for nothing. I suspect that he will be getting a title shot in the near future. A man who can handle Roman and Seth, two of WWE’s top superstars in a matter of seconds, don’t be shocked if Braun is the beneficiary of a huge gamble taken by WWE. His mic skills can be considered average at best, and despite him being a singles superstar since July, he hasn’t had adequate singles competition to get himself more accustomed to the ring. But if WWE, or more specifically, Vince, has shown us anything, he will do anything and simply not care what people think. If he think Roman/Braun is the money match at WrestleMania, best believe it will happen.
2. Finn Balor
Finn has made it a point of emphasis to say that the absolute earliest he can return to the ring is WrestleMania, as a Royal Rumble return would be unrealistic and he wouldn’t be 100 percent at that time. However, if the Rumble has taught us anything, it’s a reservoir for surprises. Remember this? Returns from injury isn’t uncommon in the Rumble match, and Balor returning to win the entire thing is absolutely possible. Balor was having the run of his life on the main roster. He defeated the current Universal Champion Kevin Owens, the former United States Champion Rusev and current RAW Tag Team Champion, Cesaro in a Fatal Four Way match on his first night. Later that night, he defeated current United States champion, Roman Reigns in order to face Seth Rollins for the Universal Title at Summerslam, in which he came out victorious.