Sunday night ushers in the start of WWE’s ‘road to WrestleMania’, with the twenty-sixth annual Royal Rumble pay-per-view. Thirty WWE superstars will compete for a shot at a main even spot at April’s showpiece, with an over-the- top battle royal that’s has become one the companies most popular offerings. As we’ve already discussed the Royal Rumble has been responsible for some of WWE’s most memorable moments, and its winners list reads like a who’s who of professional wrestling. From Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels, ‘Stone Cold’ Steven Austin and The Rock, to ‘John Cena and last year’s victor Sheamus, the biggest names in the industry have a Royal Rumble win on their CV.
The big question is then, who will win be crowned 2013’s winner this Sunday at the US Airways Arena in Arizon? The smart money, as always in modern day WWE, is on current poster boy John Cena. 2012 was easily Cena’s worst in his WWE career, which included disappointing feuds with Kane and The Big Show, title losses to CM Punk and of course his defeat to The Rock in WrestleMania’s ‘once in a lifetime’ bout. Therefore it seems 2013 will once again see company focus switch back onto the former Doctor of Thuganomics, and begin with a Royal Rumble win that will eventually lead to a rematch with the People’s Champ at WrestleMania 29 – this time with the WWE Championship on the line. How could WWE ignore an image of Cena ending his eighteen month barren run without a title belt, as the granddaddy of them all goes off air.
If it’s not Cena who is chosen, then Ryback could be another who maybe in line to be handed this year’s victory. Big Hungry has been on a monster push since making his debut last year, and is well known to be a favourite of Vince McMahon, making him a definite favourite amongst this year’s contenders. Though it’s hard to see where he might fit into a title picture ahead of plans for main events at WrestleMania. Filtering down the list of other possible winners, arguments could be made for Randy Orton, Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler, while I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility of an appearance from either The Rock or CM Punk either dependent on events earlier in the night, but more on them in a bit.
It’s not just the winner of the Rumble that gets fans turning into this event, but the match also gives great opportunity for returning wrestlers, both full-time roster members who have been out through injury, and guest appearances from stars of the past. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the WWE returns of Mark Henry and Christian, while rumours of Shelton Benjamin making a one-night only comeback is also more than likely. Expect tensions to show between members of Team Hell No, as WWE look to set to end their pairs entertaining angle, while The Shield will no doubt continue their dominance of the E’s major faces.
Talking of The Shield, their non-involvement in the event’s other main attraction (as ordered by Mr McMahon himself), puts an interesting twist on the WWE Championship match. Of course it marks The Rock’s first title match for ten years, as he does battle with ‘Best in the World’ CM Punk. For a long time it looked a dead cert that Rocky, would came out Phoenix holding aloft the WWE strap. However, with Punk’s heel run as hot as it is, the result of this match is potentially difficult to call. If WWE is intent on going with Cena v Rock II in the spring, then that points to a win for The Great One – but who says that will come at the Rumble, with the Elimination Chamber event still to come? Does the Shield’s banning mean we may see more from the ever-entertaining Brad Maddox, costing Rock the gong? Or even a return of Paul Heyman’s own Brock Lesner? Personally I’d like to see more from Punk and Rock post Rumble, but I still think it will be Dwyane’s night one way or the other.
On the World Heavyweight front, Alberto Del Rio will defend his title in a last man standing match against former champ The Big Show. I’ve been surprised how well Del Rio’s face turn has gone down, as it was certainly needed. The Mexican theme seems to have been thrown down our throats a tad (him using a Spanish 10 count for the match for example), but judging by the fans response it seems to be working. Which is why I see him going over Show here, but wouldn’t rule out a possible Money in the Bank cash-in from Mr Ziggler. Setting up a WrestleMania plan for the World Heavyweight strap in the process.
Filling out the card Team Hell No defend their tag titles against Rhodes Scholars, where I see Daniel Bryan and Kane finally losing their belts, and starting to go their own ways ahead of WrestleMania, and The Miz in a fruitless attempt to wrestle the US title off Antonio Cesaro in the event’s pre-show match-up.
What is for sure, come 4am (where I’ll be a London bar dressed-up as a member of the Mean Street Posse), and ‘when it’s all said and done’ this year’s road to WrestleMania will be a whole lot clearer. Let’s just hope there’s an entertaining and unpredictable Rumble to kick-it off.