The two besties fighting each other could have been one of the headlining matches that finally gave Jericho a Royal Rumble victory—one of the few things he’s never done in WWE—but the creative team must think there’s more money in making the world title revolve around Reigns and our next person on this list while Jericho and Owens can be a marquee fight resting purely on the storyline itself.
The only way this happens now is if Owens retains his title and Jericho drops his at Fastlane, unless WWE specifically wanted to have a champion vs. champion match at WrestleMania, which seems rather unlikely.
Don’t count Jericho out completely, but if you’re smart, don’t bet your money on him, either, particularly if Owens has already dropped the Universal Championship by that point.
- Braun Strowman
If Roman Reigns defeats Kevin Owens to win the Universal Championship and someone from the Raw roster wins the Royal Rumble, it will definitely be Braun Strowman. This guy has been given a huge push over the past few months and it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. History has shown us when WWE finds someone big enough, they’ll shoot them up into the upper echelon of talent extremely quickly. Whether it’s a matter of impatience, desperation or confidence depends on the individual situations, as we’ve seen some succeed under this pressure such as Batista, Diesel and Big Show, while others like Khali and a litany of forgettable names have failed.
Strowman is doing very well for himself. He’s getting more comfortable on the mic, his in-ring work gets less sloppy each time he performs and perhaps most importantly of all (at least in WWE’s eyes), his character is progressing with the fans. In a short amount of time, he’s surpassed everything Luke Harper and Erick Rowan have tried to do in a much longer stretch, and it seems as though WWE will want to go all-in with him.
What is a shame is the environment he’ll be put in is definitely not the best one for his career. Roman Reigns simply does not have the babyface support to make Strowman look like a true heel, as Braun will almost definitely be cheered between the two. Both of them can still struggle on the mic, too, which means this feud cannot be one of the most advertised going into WrestleMania. The less attention put on it, the more it falls into the background and becomes less important despite having the Universal Championship involved. This could be one of those years where people look back on and forget who won the Royal Rumble as the title match that spawned from it was overshadowed by many other matches on the card.
That isn’t going to stop WWE, though, even if there’s a risk it kills Strowman’s momentum, particularly if they are foolish enough to think the best way to handle this is to have built Strowman up just so Reigns can beat him. There’s no way the crowd will take that result in stride and we’ll be in another situation similar to what happened with Ryback where he was getting close to the top of the mountain before bad booking pushed him off the cliff and he was never able to recover again.
Admittedly, I’m a fan of Strowman and I still think Reigns can be salvaged, but as a heel. A few weeks ago, I was even hoping to see this match take place, but with one caveat: it needed to be for the United States Championship, not the Universal Championship. While one can argue that the placement on the card and the particular strap Reigns holds going into the match are elements that might not matter in the grand scheme of things, I’d argue that it makes all the difference in the world as a US title feud doesn’t lend itself to Strowman winning the Royal Rumble and being a headliner, which I don’t think he’s ready for. Plus, this is exactly the type of scenario WWE should be trying to avoid when it comes to the smarky audiences who will view this as another example of WWE ignoring the smaller, unconventional types (Jericho and Owens) in favor of the big muscular guys. At that point, a duck is a duck and those critics will be right, which means the WWE Universe won’t be as willing to go along with the flow and will bite back, hurting WWE’s perception of Strowman and doing no favors to Reigns’ rehabilitation.
All in all, Strowman is my #1 pick to win the Royal Rumble this year, even though I’m hoping to be proven wrong.
Those are my thoughts, but who do you think are the three most likely winners from the Raw roster? Tell us your predictions in the comments below and stay tuned for my SmackDown breakdown tomorrow!