(CBS DFW/CBS Local Sports) — The holidays have come and gone, but for fans of pro wrestling the most wonderful time of the year is about to begin. WWE gets rolling on the road to WrestleMania this Sunday at the Royal Rumble from Minute Maid Park in Houston. The venue fits like a glove, since it’s home to Major League Baseball’s Astros, and cheating is commonplace in wrestling.
Headlining the show this year are the annual 30-man and 30-woman over-the-top-rope Royal Rumble matches, with the winners of each earning a chance to main event WrestleMania. We also have a pair of highly anticipated rematches to look forward to, including Universal Champion, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt, clashing with Daniel Bryan and Raw Women’s Champion, Becky Lynch, putting her title on the line against Asuka.
Elsewhere on the show, Roman Reigns will be looking get revenge on King Corbin following weeks of torment and a dousing of dog food on SmackDown. Also from the blue brand, SmackDown Women’s Champion, Bayley, will be putting her title on the line against the fast-rising Lacey Evans, and Shorty G will look to play David to Sheamus’s Goliath in the Irishman’s return match. A high-flying match between United States Champion, Andrade, and Humberto Carrillo rounds out the card.
The Royal Rumble is famous for show-stopping surprises, which have kept fans tuning in year after year. There is no reason to believe the 33rd edition of the pay-per-view won’t be carrying on that tradition. Who will be the blast from the past to enter the match? Which wrestlers will be returning from injury or long absences? There is no shortage of rumors floating around, but the smokescreens won’t lift until Sunday when the WWE Universe finds out together.
Here is a list of known competitors for the Royal Rumble matches and some thoughts on how things will play out.
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
Brock Lesnar has declared that he will be the first person to enter the match. Beyond that we don’t know what order the remaining 29 competitors will be entering. But The Beast’s advocate, Paul Heyman, says that matters not because — spoiler — the WWE Champion will be victorious.
However, the deck is stacked against Lesnar, as only twice before has someone won the match from the first spot. Historically, the 27th entrant has had the best luck with more men winning from that position than any other.
Among the names rumored to appear this year is WWE Hall of Famer Edge, who was forced into an early retirement nearly a decade ago. The winner of the 2010 Royal Rumble has steadfastly denied that he has received medical clearance to compete and shot down any rumors of an appearance. But there appears to be more smoke than in years past with the persistence of the reports.
Although unconfirmed by WWE, Lesnar’s UFC foe Cain Velasquez has stated that he will be in the match.
So who will win the Royal Rumble year? I doubt it will be Lesnar since he already holds a title. The more likely scenario has whomever eliminates him going on to challenge him for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania.
Here is a list of confirmed entrants for the men’s Royal Rumble match:
- Brock Lesnar (entering No. 1)
- AJ Styles
- Aleister Black
- Big E (SmackDown Tag Team Champion)
- Bobby Lashley
- Braun Strowman
- Buddy Murphy (Raw Tag Team Champion)
- Dolph Ziggler
- Drew McIntyre
- Erick Rowan
- Kevin Owens
- King Corbin
- Kofi Kingston (SmackDown Tag Team Champion)
- Randy Orton
- Rey Mysterio
- Roman Reigns
- Samoa Joe
- Seth Rollins (Raw Tag Team Champion)
- Shinsuke Nakamura (Intercontinental Champion)
Oddsmakers have Roman Reigns as the favorite to win this year. Both he and King Corbin will be pulling double duty, as they’re also scheduled to meet in a falls count anywhere match on the show. But I don’t think it’s The Big Dog’s time. Instead, look for Drew McIntyre to step up and solidify himself as a main-event player. It is his time to shine. Given his recent beef with Randy Orton, it would be no surprise if those were the final two men standing. Pick: Drew McIntyre
Women’s Royal Rumble Match
There are only a handful of names confirmed for the women’s Rumble as of mid-week. This leaves the door wide open for surprises, and some believe that Ronda Rousey will be making her return to the squared circle following a nine-month absence. In fact, at least one online oddsmaker is almost daring people to bet on her comeback by giving the former Raw Women’s and UFC Champion the second highest odds of winning, trailing only Shayna Baszler from NXT. Rousey has not closed the door on returning to wrestling, but made clear when she departed WWE following last year’s WrestleMania that she and husband Travis Brown would begin trying to have a child. There have been no reports of substance linking Rousey to a possible return in Houston, so don’t read too much into the silence.
Rumors are also swirling that former Women’s Champion Naomi will be making her return to action on Sunday. She has been out of action since late summer along with her husband, Jimmy Uso, who recently returned to the ring.
Here is a list of confirmed entrants for the women’s Royal Rumble match:
- Alexa Bliss
- Charlotte Flair
- Nikki Cross
- Sarah Logan
Of the names confirmed to compete, Charlotte Flair seems to be the most logical choice. Another scenario would have Becky Lynch lose to Asuka earlier in the night and then enter the match to immediately begin a quest for revenge. The storyline practically writes itself, as she’d be facing the one woman who has always managed to get the best of her, and she’d be doing it at the biggest show of the year. Perhaps this could even lead to her putting her career on the line. There are a number of different ways WWE could go with that.
With 25 opens spots, it’s almost impossible to see how everything will shake out. But I do like the idea of a shocking win from someone on the NXT roster. WWE has already shown they’re not afraid to put the Wednesday night brand on the same level as their Raw and SmackDown counterparts. So, the oddsmakers might be spot on here with the Baszler pick. Imagine that… an NXT Superstar in the main event of WrestleMania. If that doesn’t send a shot at Wednesday night rival All Elite Wrestling, I don’t know what would. Pick: Shayna Baszler
Universal Championship Match
“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan stated in an interview this week that he wasn’t planning on shaving his head, but that a real-life barber mishap after Bray Wyatt ripped out his hair on SmackDown led to the new look. That’s grounds enough for revenge, but little more than a fun fact that won’t be factored into this match. “The Fiend” is on a roll and continues to be a fan favorite despite the blowback from wrestling under an awkward red light. There is no doubt that Bryan is due for another title reign, but it wouldn’t make sense to kill “The Fiend’s” undefeated streak before WrestleMania. Expect for this incarnation of Wyatt to roll into Tampa still undefeated. Pick: “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt
Raw Women’s Championship
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Asuka
The scenario mentioned earlier, with a Lynch vs. Asuka match down the line at WrestleMania, is plausible. If their match on Sunday takes place before the women’s Royal Rumble, then a title change becomes more likely. That would be a decent story, but I think WWE will opt to go in another direction with Lynch retaining and having a date against Baszler or another NXT Superstar and Royal Rumble match winner in a few months. Pick: Becky Lynch
Roman Reigns vs. King Corbin (Falls Count Anywhere Match)
Pay-per-views were made for the bad guy to finally get what he has coming to him. For months King Corbin and his cronies have been targeting Roman Reigns. All of that ends here. Reigns gets his revenge, and there maybe or may not be dog food involved. Pick: Roman Reigns
SmackDown Women’s Championship
Bayley (c) vs. Lacey Evans
Lacey Evans told me last month that her goal in 2020 was to become champion. Shortly thereafter we started to see her go on a tear and creep into the main-event picture. Like Corbin, Bayley and Sasha Banks have been trying to get the best of Evans. The Sassy Southern Bell’s young daughter has even become the subject of their ire, making this one personal in storylines. Thus, Evans should get the win here and begin her first championship run. WWE has been high on her since she first joined the main roster. And after a rocky start she’s come a long way in a short time. Pick: Lacey Evans
Shorty G vs. Sheamus
For a time it seemed like Sheamus had wrestled his final match, but he battled his way back and there is zero chance he doesn’t get the win in his return. Shorty G is little more than a sacrificial lamb here. Blink and you’ll miss it. This one will be quick. Pick: Sheamus
United States Championship
Andrade (c) with Zelina Vega vs. Humberto Carrillo
This clash has been set up beautifully. Until recently, it seemed as though Carrillo’s potential was being wasted on the main roster, but this is the perfect match to get him back on track. He came back to make the save after Andrade’s attempted post-ladder match thumping of Rey Mysterio on Monday. The crowd popped when he unmasked himself and attacked Andrade to set up a golden opportunity at the Royal Rumble and a chance at his first title reign. Does it actually happen though? Doubtful. But I don’t think this feud ends here either. Look for a rematch at the next pay-per-view. Pick: Andrade
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.