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This year I think WWE has done a better job than in years past of making the match unpredictable, at least in the weeks leading up to the match. The actual match itself might have a predictable ending once they get down to the final four, but from the outset it looks like it could go in a lot of different directions. I don't know if at this point there is a true favorite to win the match, and I think that is great for the anticipation of the match. Here at least is a breakdown of the biggest names declared for the match:
Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg: In storyline, Goldberg and Lesnar would seem like massive favorites because they are booked on a higher echelon than anyone else in the company except maybe The Undertaker. When it comes to overwhelming destructive force, Goldberg and Lesnar would be the safest picks to win the Rumble. However, because they are feuding with each other neither of them can be considered favorites and quite frankly, one of them winning would feel like an upset. Since Goldberg and Lesnar are set to wrestle each other at WrestleMania, it is basically accepted that they are both not going to contend for a world title at WrestleMania, so it would be pointless to have one of them win the Royal Rumble. The logical booking decision is to have them both get eliminated, probably at the same time as they brawl over the top rope, and to have them continue to fight with themselves up the ramp and through the curtain, allowing the match to go to somebody else.
The Undertaker: If I was writing this breakdown a few weeks ago I would have labeled The Undertaker as a clear favorite. In a lot of fans' opinions The Undertaker was going to win the Royal Rumble and challenge John Cena (who would win the WWE Championship from AJ Styles) in the main event of WrestleMania. In recent weeks though, Dave Meltzer reported that WWE was no longer considering a Cena/Taker program and that would seemingly be confirmed when The Undertaker appeared on RAW and entered the match, rather inexplicably, as a RAW superstar despite the fact that he was being heralded as the icon of SmackDown back in November. Now that he is no longer on SmackDown, he won't be feuding with Cena and therefore will need a new opponent for WrestleMania. I suppose he could win the Royal Rumble and challenge a heel Universal Champion at WrestleMania, whether that be Kevin Owens or, and this would be a truly amazing concept, have Reigns turn heel and feud with The Undertaker as the new Universal Champion.
Seth Rollins: With the other full-time main event talent (Owens, Reigns, Cena and AJ Styles) currently occupied with world title matches, Rollins is the top full-time star in the Royal Rumble. The only issue with picking Rollins is that just as it is clear Goldberg and Lesnar will be working with one another at WrestleMania, it is clear Rollins will be working with Triple H. So it again would be pointless to have Rollins win the Royal Rumble because he is already virtually locked into a prominent match at WrestleMania. On paper he would be a great pick to win the Royal Rumble, but in reality it is much more likely Triple H will make another "surprise" appearance and cost him the match.
Dean Ambrose: One thing that has been made abundantly clear in the build-up for the Royal Rumble is that the match is very much a RAW-based match. The top names, including all of the part-timers, are all RAW talent and so far out of the 15 confirmed names for the match, 11 of them have come from the RAW brand. Outside of Styles and Cena, Ambrose is the biggest current star on SmackDown, making him a relevant party in the Royal Rumble match. A problem for any SmackDown star is that WWE has already announced the Elimination Chamber PPV as a SmackDown only event in February, which of course will effect the WWE Championship picture. It seems much more likely that the angle for the main SmackDown match at WrestleMania will come out of that match and not the Royal Rumble Match.
Braun Strowman: Strowman has been booked stronger than any full-time talent on the roster and there is some crowd intrigue in his dominance. He still isn't very good in the ring but he has certainly improved since his debut and WWE has tried really hard to push him as an unstoppable force. It would seem hasty to push him right into the world title picture, although the idea of having a Roman vs Strowman match has certainly been teased in recent weeks. Sami Zayn proved that he wasn't quite down with Strowman on Monday, so that feud should continue beyond the Royal Rumble but will likely not last until WrestleMania. He will definitely come into the match and do his big guy moves while the announcers wonder just how someone will eliminate Strowman, basically what they have down for Big Show for the last 17 years. They can always protect him by having him get eliminated by like, Goldberg and Lesnar or Undertaker and Reigns double-teaming him.
Baron Corbin: It is no secret WWE management has been high on Corbin since he was called up to the main roster, so at the very least he is going to get a good run in the Royal Rumble. Corbin's improvements have been marginal since coming to the main roster, although in recent weeks he has shown a lot more charisma during his segments on Talking Smack, so something may be brewing there. His chances of winning the Royal Rumble are slim to none, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if he made it to the final four.
Samoa Joe: In my opinion, this is easily the most interesting person that could realistically be in the match and it makes total sense to have him win it. Joe provides a couple things RAW really needs for WrestleMania season; a fresh face that will excite the crowd (especially hardcore fans) and a talented heel that can work with Roman Reigns in a main event level match for the Universal Championship. Obviously they can work the angle that both guys are Samoan, but also Joe is a great worker that can get the most out of Reigns and they can have exciting brawls with. Joe might not even end up being in the Royal Rumble, but I don't think there is a better opponent for Reigns in WWE right now.
The Rest: Everyone else pretty much is there to get tossed out of the ring by the bigger names, and only a handful (Dolph Ziggler, The Miz, Cesaro) have the potential to make it towards the final four. The real outside dark horses would be the surprise entrants, two major ones being Kurt Angle, who would get an enormous pop and physically doing a Royal Rumble match is something he can easily do, and Triple H coming out and screwing Rollins as I highlighted above. It would be extremely unlikely for either one of them to actually win the match, but I like their odds better than say, Tyler Breeze. Randy Orton is the biggest name out of this group that is confirmed for the Royal Rumble, but like others his feud for WrestleMania will likely be with Bray Wyatt or Luke Harper and not involving a world title.
Thoughts on WWE United Kingdom Championship Tourney:
The UK tournament was a lot of fun. The wrestling matches themselves were maybe not on the same level as the best wrestling shows of the year, but aesthetically the show came off wonderfully. First, the arena they were in had a tremendous atmosphere. I figured the crowd would be pretty boisterous but having it in an old-world symphony hall gave it a truly uniquely appeal. It was clear it was a WWE show, but just like the best NXT shows it had a charm that made the event seem like something different.
A big reason for the tournament's success was the announcing. Michael Cole gets a lot of snark from this column and from fans because often times RAW's commentary is unbearable, but this event reminded us that maybe it isn't all his fault. Working a two-man booth and without Vince McMahon constantly in his ear did wonders for Cole, as he sounded genuinely excited for the matches and along with Nigel McGuinness did a tremendous job building up each wrestler and their signature moves. McGuinness is one of my personal favorite wrestlers of all-time but I always found him mediocre and sometimes awkward when he worked for Ring of Honor, but again that may be simply because he was often times shoehorned into Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino's commentary team. During the tournament he was great and it was important to have a British voice on the broadcast and also have it come from a known wrestler who also is familiar with the British independents.
The wrestlers were aided greatly by the atmosphere and superior commentary as a lot of them came across as stars. It wasn't the best potential collection of UK and Irish talent, but considering they couldn't touch guys with contracts with TNA, NJPW or ROH, it was about as good as they could do. Unlike the Cruiserweight Classic where it felt like some guys didn't really belong, even the lesser-known names came across as at least solid workers.
The booking was spot on as well, with Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne clearly coming across as the top guys in the tournament and having an exciting final match. Bate is a really unique talent because he is only 19 but already really talented in the ring; I first saw him when he was 18 and working for Fight Club: Pro and was already better than most veteran workers and he is even better now and will only continue to improve. The big issue for him is that he is really small, probably only about 5'5" and 170lbs. That shouldn't be that much of a problem if he was working with anyone else except WWE, where it will be tough for him to get over as kind of a power wrestler when he is that much smaller than even their average-sized worker.
In the future WWE has their eyes on doing other tournaments in countries like Mexico and Japan, but that is going to be tougher. The UK has long been a big market for WWE, there is no language barrier and there is no real major league competition. Mexico and Japan are huge wrestling markets but already have established major promotions that have a lot of talent locked up with restrictive contracts, plus WWE isn't as big in those countries (especially Japan) as they are in the UK and Ireland. I think in the future new tournaments could be placed in Canada (that seems like a no-brainer) and perhaps Australia and New Zealand. One thing the UK tournament showed is that fans from the US will pay attention even if they don't have a huge knowledge of the talent going into the event because the reputation the special Network events have garnered has been so strong. I can't imagine a ton of American fans knew who Bate, Dunne, Wolfgang or Trent Seven were heading into the tournament, so that opens the door for shows featuring Australian and New Zealand talent that certainly are not known to even hardcore American fans.