The Royal Rumble is one of the biggest annual events in professional wrestling, mainly because it determines who will be in the main event (or in a major championship match, at least) at THE biggest event in professional wrestling – Wrestlemania. This Sunday’s Royal Rumble is perhaps the most intriguing in years, both because the WWE roster is as thin as ever heading into Wrestlemania season (due to injuries) and because the WWE World Heavyweight Championship will be defended in the match for the first time ever.
The injury bug is decimating WWE as some of the biggest names in the company (John Cena, Randy Orton, Seth Rollins, Sting, Nikki Bella, among others) have been sidelined and are likely to not only miss the Royal Rumble, but Wrestlemania as well. This has forced WWE to put all hands on deck, as it has been reported that all WWE and NXT talent (as well as some surprises) will be at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida on Sunday. Having the event in Orlando may prove to be advantageous for WWE because NXT and the WWE Performance Center are based in the area, so odds are that at least one NXT superstar will make his debut in the Rumble.
What’s more intriguing than potential NXT debuts in the Rumble are the surprises that WWE may have in store. It’s widely known amongst wrestling fans that WWE has agreed to bring in New Japan Professional Wrestling (NJPW) stars AJ Styles, Doc Gallows, and Karl Anderson – all members of the ‘Bullet Club’ that current NXT Champion Finn Balor formed when he wrestled in Japan. Supposedly, WWE’s original plan was for AJ to be a surprise entrant in the Rumble, but news of Styles joining the company leaked and may have changed how he’ll be introduced to the WWE Universe.
From a storyline perspective, this Sunday’s Rumble is fascinating because Roman Reigns will defend the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the match itself. And, because Reigns will be the first entrant in the thirty-man match, it truly will be – as Reigns’ merchandise often reminds us – ‘one vs. all.’
Similar to the famous ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin vs. Mr. McMahon storyline, Reigns is going against all odds put in front of him by the McMahon family. The Authority doesn’t want him to be the champion and are pulling out all the stops to make sure he doesn’t walk out of Orlando with the title. At the 1999 Royal Rumble, the McMahon’s did the same to Steve Austin, ambushing the ‘Texas Rattlesnake’ and sending him to the hospital early on in the match. Austin made his way back into the match and seemingly had the victory until The Rock distracted him, allowing Mr. McMahon to eliminate Austin and win the match.
Expect a similar story to play out on Sunday, with Reigns looking strong despite the odds and the McMahons making their presence abundantly known. At this point Vince McMahon is likely too old to book himself into the match, but his son-in-law (Triple H) can play the role Vince did in 1999 – costing Reigns the championship and potentially winning it himself. There are other candidates to win the match, such as Brock Lesnar or Bray Wyatt, but it seems that the match will only be won after The Authority asserts itself – even if that means Reigns performs a miracle and retains the championship.
There are a lot of ways the Royal Rumble can go, and given that the last two Rumbles ended with the fans in the arena booing the winner out of the building (as well as significant Internet backlash), WWE will want to deliver a satisfying show that builds positive hype on the road to Wrestlemania. The Royal Rumble event airs Sunday night on pay-per-view and the WWE Network.
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