The road to WrestleMania officially kicks off Saturday night with the 2023 Royal Rumble, a premium live event that’ll go a long way toward shaping WWE’s main-event picture for the next several months.
The winner of the Royal Rumble match, a 30-man over-the-top-rope battle royal, will earn a title shot at WrestleMania. This year, that likely means a date with Roman Reigns, who’s defending the undisputed WWE universal championship against Kevin Owens on Saturday at the Alamodome but has been dominant as the leader of the “Bloodline” faction for the better part of two years.
So, who has a legitimate shot at winning the men’s Royal Rumble match? Here are six candidates.
This would be the ultimate payoff to Zayn’s inclusion in the “Bloodline” storyline, which reached a new high Monday night with an epic “tribal court” segment in which Jey Uso defended the “Honorary Uce.” It feels like just a matter of time before Zayn splits from the faction, and him winning the Rumble would raise a fascinating question: Does he accept a title shot against Reigns? Or does he pledge allegiance to the “Tribal Chief” and “Head of the Table” by relinquishing the opportunity?
Rhodes has to be the favorite, right? The “American Nightmare” tore his pec back in June, a gnarly injury he fought through against Seth Rollins at “Hell in the Cell,” but will return Saturday and vowed to take care of unfinished business. Him main-eventing ‘Mania against Reigns feels like the simplest option, one that’ll appeal to the wrestling purists given his family pedigree and track record in the industry.
So, what if Rhodes doesn’t win the Royal Rumble? Might he continue his feud with Rollins? That’s certainly one path WWE could take, as both superstars are popular enough that there might be a little more juice to squeeze out of their rivalry. But here’s another scenario: Rollins winning the Rumble. Is it a long shot? Maybe. But there’s no denying Rollins is over — like, really over — with the WWE Universe, and there’s enough history between him and Reigns to tell a compelling story in the coming months.
Orton has been out of action since May with a back injury, and recent reports don’t exactly suggest his return is imminent. Plus, even if Orton is a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble match, it’s hard to imagine WWE building a WrestleMania main event around him at this stage of his career. That said, Orton remains immensely popular and is a 14-time world champion. The pop for “The Viper” showing up this weekend in San Antonio — and winning — would be insane.
It’s sounding less and less likely that The Rock will be available for WrestleMania 39, throwing a wrench into plans for a possible dream match with Reigns, his real-life cousin. Then again, all of the recent doubt cast over Dwayne Johnson’s availability could be a swerve geared toward throwing WWE fans off the scent and maximizing the impact of his return. There are plenty of other ways WWE could build toward The Rock vs. Reigns at SoFi Stadium, but the former winning the Rumble is the most straightforward path.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin
There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the “Texas Rattlesnake” in recent days, with multiple reports about a possible match at WrestleMania 39. One report floated Austin vs. Reigns — the other discussed a potential bout between “Stone Cold” and Brock Lesnar — and WWE conceivably could build toward that showdown via the Royal Rumble. We’re not saying it’s a great idea. But it’s an idea, nonetheless.