The “Road to WrestleMania” is in sight, and if you’re a professional wrestling fan, there’s no better time of the year than right now.
The WWE will invade the Alamodome in San Antonio on Sunday night for the 30th Royal Rumble. While WrestleMania gets most of the attention as the WWE’s biggest show, many would argue that Royal Rumble actually is the most eagerly anticipated event of the year.
There’s never a shortage of surprises, both in terms of the 30 entrants or how the match itself plays out with the winner going on to headline WrestleMania. This year figures to be no different, and after a couple of years in which the finish was relatively predictable, there are many different ways WWE could go this time around.
Here’s how NESN.com’s Mike Cole and Ricky Doyle see things playing out.
Who will win? Goldberg.
The betting odds certainly point to Randy Orton, and the wise guys hit the Triple H nail on the head last season. According to William Hill Casino (via OddsShark), Orton far and away is the betting favorite, checking in at -138. But what if it’s just a smoke screen?
At the end of the day, I do think it’s a rumor that WWE floated out to keep everyone off the scent. So if you’re asking me who will win, I’ll go with Bill Goldberg. They’ve made a huge deal out of his return (rightfully so), and Goldberg winning would, in turn, give WWE some mainstream sizzle at WrestleMania. And if (when) Roman Reigns wins the Universal Title over Kevin Owens, it sets up a “spear vs. spear” WrestleMania main event.
Who should win? The Undertaker.
All the rumors say we’re not getting a dream match between The Undertaker and John Cena at WrestleMania, but it just seems like such a perfect setup, doesn’t it? It almost makes too much sense to have The Undertaker win the Royal Rumble and also have Cena go over AJ Styles for the WWE Championship on the same night. That sets up a nice little “title vs. career” match at WrestleMania between two of the biggest icons of the last 25 years, and it’s the perfect place for The Undertaker’s retirement match. He’d likely go out on his back with Cena winning an all-time classic years in the making, a de facto passing of the torch at the company’s biggest show of the year.
Dark horse to win? Braun Strowman.
This week’s “RAW” ended with a staredown between Goldberg, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker, arguably the three biggest names in the Rumble. And they’ll certainly get their time to shine Sunday night at the Alamodome, but if the WWE really wants to strap the rocket to one of its younger talents, Braun Strowman seems like a likely candidate. He obviously has the size, which Vince McMahon always has loved, and he’s received a huge push in the last couple of months. What better way to catapult him than to have him eliminate at least one of the aforementioned “big three” and be the last man standing?
Surprise guest entrant? Samoa Joe.
It’s just time for the NXT star to make his ascension to the big stage. There’s nothing left for Joe to do at NXT, and it probably makes more sense for the focus there to be on developing new stars, especially after last year’s brand split. It makes sense to put Joe on either show, as “RAW” often times feels stale while there’s a shortage of main-event heels on “SmackDown.” Bring in Joe and give him a big spot here, and then turn him loose on either show.
Who will win? Randy Orton.
I almost feel ashamed going with the favorite here — where’s the fun in that? — but Orton winning makes a lot of sense if you believe Bray Wyatt is destined for a run with the belt in 2017. To set up a WrestleMania clash between Orton and Wyatt, whose current relationship is destined to fail, WWE can have Orton win this Sunday and then Wyatt win next month’s Elimination Chamber match.
Who should win? Brock Lesnar.
I hated that Goldberg beat Lesnar at Survivor Series, let alone that he dispatched The Beast Incarnate in less than 90 seconds. Having Lesnar win here allows the Paul Heyman client to recapture some of the momentum he lost with that ill-advised defeat while also putting him back into the title picture, which is where he belongs as a physically imposing force who’s a huge draw. An eventual championship clash between Lesnar and Braun Strowman — Mike’s dark horse — is something I could sink my teeth into, so long as they both go on a dominant run in advance of the bout.
Dark horse to win? Finn Balor.
This certainly would fall under the “surprise entrant” category, as Balor has been sidelined since a shoulder injury forced him to relinquish the WWE Universal Title the night after he won it at SummerSlam. It also is contingent on Balor’s health, as the timetable for his recovery following surgery was 4 to 6 months, and he’s been out since August. But it’s reasonable to think Balor will jump back into the title picture immediately upon returning, and a win in the Royal Rumble would give him an opportunity to recover the belt he never really lost.
Surprise guest entrant? Kurt Angle.
Angle already came out and said a return to the squared circle at the Royal Rumble is “not gonna happen.” But hey, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he revealed he’s coming back. Angle is scheduled to go into the WWE Hall of Fame during WrestleMania weekend, and now that he’s seemingly on good terms with the company, we shouldn’t rule out anything. Angle recently said he wants one more match with AJ Styles. If the Olympic champion comes back this Sunday, he’d be one step closer to making that wish come true — damn true.