Every Possible Royal Rumble 2016 Winner, Ranked
Who has the pedigree to win it all?
Can you believe it's come around already? The road to WrestleMania officially commences this Sunday at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, where WWE will host its 29th annual Royal Rumble match.
With the past two editions of this famous gimmick match concluding with a chorus of boos aimed at the show's writers, the pressure on WWE delivering this year could hardly be any higher. Expect surprise appearances, dramatic face-offs, the line "but only one foot touched the floor", and of course, dozens of athletes casually hanging on ropes.
But who, out of the 30 entrants, will emerge the Royal Rumble winner? GameSpot lists the key contenders, along with those with a fighting chance, over the following pages.
We'll start with the three frontrunners to win the Royal Rumble match, with details on how their potential victories could pave the way for a main event at WrestleMania.
Put all 30 Royal Rumble wrestlers' attributes into an MIT-grade simulator and the calculations will come up with one conclusion: Brock Lesnar has to win it.
For an athlete who has accumulated the highest honours in New Japan, WWE, the NCAA, and the UFC, not forgetting that astonishing night in New Orleans when he killed off the greatest winning-streak in pro wrestling, a Royal Rumble win is not exactly a tall order here. In fact Brock Lesnar has won the Rumble before, back in 2003 when his chest was clean of questionable knife tattoos, so such a result is not without precedent. Not that Brock Lesnar ever needs precedent for anything he sets his eyes on.
Booking angle: If he does go over the top rope (which obviously wouldn't hurt his monster run like a pin or submission would), expect a feud with the perpetrator, potentially filling Brock's slot on the WrestleMania card.
Surprise! Oh, you already knew.
Considering bookmakers have made Triple H the odds-on favourite to win this year's Rumble, his appearance seems like it will shock no one.
Two things immediately spring to mind. One, it would be pretty funny if Trips doesn't actually show up. And two, even without the shock factor, it will be an electrifying moment to hear the countdown buzzer lead into that iconic Motörhead riff, resplendent with Lemmy's inimitable cry of "time to play the game," may his supernatural larynx rest in peace.
Booking angle: We don't quite share the overwhelming confidence from the bookmakers. A showdown with Reigns mid-match seems likely, leading to a WrestleMania showdown, but whether such a match needs the championship is another matter entirely. Plus, Reigns's ultimate victory in such a WM scenario would be far too easy for fans to telegraph, and getting the crowd behind that would perhaps be a bridge too far. Doesn't mean it won't happen, of course.
He can't possibly do it. He just might. WWE has bet the farm on Reigns, the chiselled-jaw superhero-in-waiting, and probably the most prototypical brainchild of Vince McMahon since Hulk Hogan. Reigns bathed in the shine of The Shield faction when he first joined the main roster, but his natural star power fizzled out during a regrettable year when his push appeared to come at the expense of Daniel Bryan's.
But despite its unfortunate miscalculation of fan opinion during the 2015 Royal Rumble, WWE deserves credit for bridging divided opinions on Reigns. Some fans will probably boo him out the building for the remainder of his career, a la John Cena, but considering the WWE recently managed to get the Anoa'ian protégé over during one electrifying night in Philly, anything is possible.
Booking angle: Reigns being forced to enter at number one makes sense from a kayfabe point of view, seeing as his boss wants him to be rid of the strap. But a win from such a position would require a herculean athletic performance, which for a man of Reigns's size and stamina seems tricky to do effectively, but if achieved, such a brutal endeavour could win the crowd over. The biggest reason to doubt his odds, however, is that there are many ways to get Reigns into the WrestleMania main event, and this is probably the least likely to win him sympathy.
Next we're featuring a strong line-up led by one potential entrant who has unparalleled main event experience, followed by a group of popular upper-mid-carders who are on the cusp of reaching that brass ring.
If The Undertaker is free to retire on his terms, and if WrestleMania 32 will be his last stage, and since the option of a final match with Sting or Cena is off the table, then it's perfectly permissible that the closing three-month run of this wrestling idol will come with the championship at the heart of the story. That's a lot of ifs, but considering WWE has lost so much key talent to injury recently, the company may feel it needs to double-down on its most loyal servant.
Irwin R Schyster's cult-leader son has huffed and puffed for two years in pursuit of main event stardom, getting desperately close in the process, though his momentum has stuttered at crucial moments due to not going over against the likes of John Cena and The Undertaker. The fundamentals are there nevertheless, and Wyatt has a trio of acolytes who can help make his ascension work from a kayfabe point-of-view. If WWE wants to propel Wyatt to the top of the card, the Rumble could be an ideal moment.
I know what you're thinking, and that you're mentally picturing Ziggler's unedifying exit from last year's Rumble. But if Rey Mysterio can win it in 2006 against a roster laced with Hall of Fame talent, then Ziggler can still have his moment in the mid-card era.
Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens
There would certainly be more of a chance for both these IWC favourites had they not been booked for the most important singles match of the night. Their fight for Ambrose's IC Championship, in a Last Man Standing match no less, seems to be too big an undertaking this year. But as Vince likes to remind us, anything can happen.
Next up, seven wrestlers whose victory at the Royal Rumble would be considered a major surprise. Most of these entrants probably won't even feature at the show. That's not to say they couldn't carry the torch if it was handed to them.
It can't happen. I'm sorry, it shouldn't happen. Not only is there a political and potential legal issue with letting Bryan wrestle against the advice of a respected WWE-contracted doctor, such a move would also lead to a booking nightmare. If he competes, anything other than a win would sour the crowd and potentially trigger Royal Rumble match engulfed in boos for the third consecutive year. Potentially worse, if he wins, WWE's flagship WrestleMania event will hinge on a wrestler who could fall injured at any minute. WWE has been wise to not feature Bryan in recent shows, even backstage. The slightest hope of his involvement can only lead to more shattered dreams.
Considering that The Great One's involvement at WrestleMania is still a matter for debate (it's not guaranteed that he'll compete in a match), a spot in this year's Rumble seems far-fetched. An unadvertised appearance, more to the point, would be unfathomably careless for the wily businessman in charge of the company.
Perhaps it's a little unfair on Jericho, who has stated that he will compete in the Royal Rumble match, to suggest his victory would be an outright shock. But the semi-retired wrestler's recent appearances on RAW have hardly booked him as an entrant to take too seriously. More to the point, he's also stated that he won't be competing at WrestleMania.
Make no mistake, AJ Styles is a widely respected veteran indie wrestler who could carry a WrestleMania main event right now. But his imminent introduction to WWE's audience, which is a complex mix of hardcore and casual fans, seems unfeasible as champion by the end of day one.
Had this wonderfully talented Bulgarian been booked differently in the past year, Rusev could have been a real contender. Let's not forget that a potential match against Lesnar was a semi-frequent topic of debate in the months building to WrestleMania 31. His agonising slide to the mid-card, his appalling love-triangle storyline, and his luckless injury, has led to his momentum falling off a cliff.
The WWE NXT Champion has his audience in the palm of his hand, but an entry into the Rumble--let alone a win--would seem premature. Balor could be a star on the main roster, and it behoves WWE to think very carefully and patiently about how to introduce him.
Joe's fame probably outstretches Balor's, but it's the same booking predicament. Launching an NXT competitor to the grandest spot in wrestling will seem hurried and unconvincing, regardless of this accomplished wrestler's ability to shine in such a role.
Finally, eight wrestlers who have virtually zero chance of winning the Royal Rumble match. Most of these are former Champions, still in the employ of WWE.
Recovering from complete tear in his rear rotator cuff tendon in his right shoulder. Whether he'll be ready for WrestleMania is touch-and-go.
Recovering from a knee ligament reconstruction operation following a severe injury during a match in November. Expect him to main event this year's Summer Slam.
Recovering from a shoulder dislocation he suffered in November, which in itself was caused by a range of chronic problems in that area. He might be back in time for WrestleMania, but it's not certain.
Discovered in November that he had been wrestling for two months with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder. Following successful surgery, he is recovering and is expected to be back between March and May.
A dangerous neck injury in September has raised doubts over whether Sting will ever wrestle again. His inclusion in this year's WWE Hall of Fame suggests that, aside for perhaps one more match at WrestleMania, Sting is standing at the end of a remarkable career.
Poor booking has enfeebled a once-promising monster heel run for Sheamus. If he won there would be a chorus of boos, and certainly not the kind that McMahon wants to hear.
Zayn was at a crossroads in his career when, in May, he succumbed to a shoulder injury. At the cusp of being pushed to the main roster, WWE has decided to ease him gently back into the business with another run at NXT. Promoting him now would be senseless.
This remarkable trailblazer of New Japan Pro Wresting is rumoured to have been signed by WWE. Like with Hideo Itami, Nakamura will almost certainly be acclimatised to the western way of pro wrestling with an NXT run.