Two of the past three years, an NXT superstar has been entered into the Royal Rumble. While there’s no guarantee that this will happen again this year, it’s worth noting how much of an upgrade NXT has received in 2015. Considering the amount of focus being put on that brand, it would be surprising not to see at least one person from the minor leagues get called up in some fashion, whether it be that they earned the spot through a battle royal on NXT or a tournament like in the past.
However, there are only a limited amount of spots in the Royal Rumble, and not everybody can be called up to participate. There would likely be only one person who could get the spot, even though there are multiple people who could use the rub.
As far as I’m concerned, there are five men who stand the best chance at showing up at the Royal Rumble:
5) Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe is one of the biggest stars on the NXT roster and someone who could easily be called up to the main roster at any time due to his previous experience, fan recognition and perhaps most importantly, his age. Pretty much the only thing holding Joe back from going up to the main roster is WWE’s preferred use for him. When he came into the company with a different contract, it made sense to keep him on the developmental brand, but now that he’s a true full-on employee of the company, that fear should be gone. With the amount of injuries plaguing the main roster right now, it would make sense to call someone like Joe up, but he isn’t necessary, either. In the grand scheme of things, there are bigger fish to fry in the long run and giving this spot to Joe could be a waste of a spot that could be given to a younger guy who WWE has more invested in.
4) Baron Corbin
In 2015, Baron Corbin’s stock rose quite a bit. He’s improved a lot and went from winning quick squash matches to being the #2 heel in NXT and arguably the next in line for a title shot against Finn Balor. WWE might want to reward him for his efforts by giving him this prime spot as a token of appreciation for putting in the work to improve so much. It would be a sign of good faith on their behalf that while he might not get called up to the main roster in 2016, there’s a big future for him. He’s also somebody who could show up, get an impressive elimination or two due to his size, but still get tossed out by a much bigger name (Brock Lesnar, Dean Ambrose, etc) and not look bad at all.
3) Apollo Crews
WWE clearly loves this guy, and within good reason. He’s quickly risen to the top of NXT and there’s no telling just when that is going to level off, but he could easily be the next NXT champion come Dallas. If that’s the case, giving him a spot in the Royal Rumble could be what pushes him to receive that title match and more importantly, could solidify his credibility with the fans. For him to be the one to defeat Finn Balor, he would need to have the fans on his side more than he does now, as Balor is clearly the bigger star of the two. Something big like exposing him to the main roster could give him that edge where he could receive enough fans that the crowd becomes 50/50 cheering for both guy, which would result in a much better outcome than if fans are just heavily in Balor’s favor.
2) Finn Balor
You can’t make a list like this and not include the NXT champion himself, right? He’s the top guy on the show and one of the most popular stars in the company, so it just makes sense for him to be in the running to get a Royal Rumble spot. However, I do think that holding the championship could work against him getting this spot, which is why I rank him as #2. WWE might not want to showcase the champion in a way that sets him up for a loss. With Bo Dallas and Rusev, they weren’t holding the belts at the time that they participated in the Royal Rumble (or in Rusev’s case, he didn’t win the title at all and just went straight to the main roster). WWE usually doesn’t put too much on one person, but then again, that didn’t stop Balor from winning the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament, did it? By no means would I be shocked at all if The Demon made an appearance at the Royal Rumble over everybody else, but in theory, it would still be shocking to hear his music and see him compete in the match in general.
1) Sami Zayn
If you are going to rank a notch higher than the champion, you better have a damn good reason for it, and there’s nobody who fits the bill for that better right now than Sami Zayn. This guy could have gone straight to the main roster after coming back from injury, but for some reason, WWE opted to keep him on NXT. I think this is a red herring of sorts to convince the fans that he’s still going to be in developmental for a while just to make his surprise entrance in the Royal Rumble that much more of a shock. Fans who don’t follow NXT have already been introduced to him when he faced John Cena for the United States Championship many months ago, so while he wouldn’t be as familiar of a face as someone we see every week on Raw, he fulfills that idea more than anybody else in NXT. Zayn could even be the person who shows up to put an end to the domination of someone like Kevin Owens as a form of payback for what he did to him in 2015. If John Cena had been able to compete in the match, it would have been interesting to see a stare down between those two as well, alluding to a possible rematch in the future, but we know we won’t be getting that. One way or another, Zayn’s music would put a lot of energy into the match and would get the crowd riled up for sure.
Those are just my suggestions for who I think are the most likely candidates, but who do you think could make an appearance in the match? Do you agree that Sami Zayn is probably the best suited for the role, or would you prefer to see someone else test their luck against the 29 other superstars?