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EditorialWWE Royal Rumble 2017 3-Count: Potential Winners from Raw Brand Ranked

WWE Royal Rumble 2017 3-Count: Potential Winners from Raw Brand Ranked

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For the first time in several years, there are two world champions who could be challenged by the winner of the Royal Rumble. WWE has yet to specify whether the winner will be given the option to choose which title, but it can be implied that most likely, whichever brand that superstar is on, that’s the championship they earn a title shot for.

With that being said, instead of doing one 3-Count of the top three most likely candidates to be victorious, I figured I would separate things into the Raw and SmackDown rosters for a little more clarity.

The following is my ranked list of which wrestlers on the Raw brand I feel have the best chance to challenge for the Universal Championship come WrestleMania and just how things might turn out.

Before We Get Started

Even though they are the two most prominently featured men as far as the marquee goes, you won’t be seeing Goldberg or Brock Lesnar on this list. That may come as a travesty or pure lunacy to most unless you’ve read any of my other articles or checked out any of the podcasts where I’ve broken down my expectations for these two over the past month.

By no means do I expect either of them to win even though I do think they’ll do rather well in terms of looking strong. The end game of Lesnar vs. Goldberg isn’t going to be wasted at Fastlane with one of them (likely Goldberg in that scenario) winning the Royal Rumble and focusing his efforts on the champion because that will undermine the importance of his match with Lesnar. Instead of being an epic encounter, it would be a bump in the road to WrestleMania and much less important.

Far less likely still is Lesnar being victorious, as they’ve done him heading into WrestleMania for the championship recently and there aren’t any opponents properly set up to justify making that a main event. They clearly won’t have Lesnar face Owens, nor would it be a good decision to have him against Reigns again. For him to face somebody else like Braun Strowman, we’d have to see the title change hands at Fastlane and at that point, you’re moving too many pieces of the puzzle around for a match that looks good on paper but may not actually create much buzz.

So while we discuss a few names on this list, even though some of them may not be as big of stars, keep in mind that I’m ruling Lesnar and Goldberg out of the mix already, which opens up more possibilities for some potential surprises.

Honorable Mention: Sami Zayn

In a different world, Sami Zayn would have been the chosen underdog for this year’s Royal Rumble to go up against Kevin Owens. The storyline is as textbook basic as you can possibly get: the two started off as friends before Owens turned on Zayn, taking the NXT Championship from him and putting them down a path of feuding for the entirety of Owens’ run in WWE. They’ve crossed paths numerous times—normally at Zayn’s dismay—but every so often, the little guy gets the last laugh.

If Zayn had spent the past few months feuding with upper midcarders and building up momentum, there would definitely be a reason to believe he could win the Royal Rumble to go on to defeat his former best friend at WrestleMania. It would be the culmination of a long-standing feud where Zayn finally exorcizes his past demons and can move on.

Sadly for Zayn, this has not been his career trajectory. Barring an emergency situation where multiple people are injured, he won’t be WWE’s pick even if the SmackDown roster wasn’t in contention and this was purely relegated to Raw wrestlers. Zayn is looking like he may not even receive a separate match at WrestleMania this year, but rather, be involved in a multi-man midcard title feud or tossed unceremoniously into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

Who knows, though…maybe in the future, they can revisit this again.

  1. Finn Balor

It’s interesting to think of how things would have played out differently with the entire roster had Finn Balor not been injured during his Universal Championship win. Clearly, WWE did not plan on this being in the upcoming storylines for the next year, so would he have entered WrestleMania season as champion or would he have dropped it sometime in 2016? If so, who would have feuded with and who would have been holding the strap now?

Once Owens was crowned the new champion, the clock started ticking for Balor’s return. Royal Rumble appearances are always great for injured stars to make a resurgence (see: Triple H in 2002, John Cena in 2008, Edge in 2010 and so on) which meant if he healed in time, he could be back to win a shot at Owens to regain the title he had to forfeit.

There’s been absolutely no indication that this is going to happen, though. No seeds have been planted that Owens would be feuding with Balor or any information leaked about him being ready to get back into the ring. Sure, this could just be something we’re all kept in the dark about in order to make it more of a surprise, but normally, these things come out beforehand. Instead, it looks as though post-WrestleMania is the time frame we should be expecting to see The Demon again.

That being said, Balor still has a better shot than all but two people on the Raw roster to win the Royal Rumble. If he’s able to return, he shoots up the list to the very top. Meanwhile, people we know will be available for the match have absolutely zero chance whatsoever. A prioritized star returning from injury is a much safer bet than thinking Titus O’Neil, Goldust, Epico, Bo Dallas or anybody else who is not even at the proper midcard level would ever be considered to win this match. While Balor is probably not ready to even compete, he still stands a bigger threat than the people WWE can’t find the time to write onto the TV show for weeks at a time.

  1. Chris Jericho

Just a few weeks back, I was thinking Chris Jericho was a shoe-in to win the Royal Rumble. It seemed like a guarantee with the breakdown of JeriKO being the best possible storyline to build around going into WrestleMania. Unfortunately, all those hopes were dashed when he won the United States Championship from Roman Reigns.

It sounds odd, but yes, winning a championship has negatively affected Jericho’s chances of winning the Royal Rumble. Sure, Owens and Jericho will still feud, but now it will be for the United States title instead of the Universal Championship, which sadly also means Roman Reigns will probably dethrone Owens in order for that to happen.

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.

  1. 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!

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