One of the WWE's most anticipated matches of the year, the 30-man, over-the-top rope Royal Rumble, with a spot in the main event of WrestleMania on the line, takes place this Sunday in Pittsburgh.
WWE.com has listed 20 participants for the Royal Rumble match coming out of Monday's Raw. If past years have taught us anything, those last 10 spots will be taken up by Legends returning for one night only, full-time Superstars who have been shelved with injuries, and a few individuals who participated in the undercard of the pay-per-view.
Below, I give my take on the official participants, a few possible surprise entries from the non-active roster, and a few guys who might end up in the Rumble who are under contract but not advertised. Check back on Friday for my full preview and predictions of the entire show, including a Royal Rumble match winner.
CM Punk. The Best in the World will get a chance to prove it, since it was announced on Raw that he'll be the No. 1 entrant into the Royal Rumble. That's not the curse it would sound like, were this legitimate competition. A few times in the past, authority figures have put wrestlers they are feuding with in the No. 1 spot, just like what happened here. Punk is one of only a handful of Superstars I think would make sense to win the Rumble, but it seems more likely that he'll face Triple H at WrestleMania, rather than the WWE Champion. Still, he will be one of the main plot points of the match. It's entirely possible he wins the Rumble, but somehow has his title shot at WrestleMania taken from him by the Authority.
Batista. He has to be the odds-on-favorite, especially after WWE seemingly had Randy Orton telegraph his Road to WrestleMania, ending with Batista, this past Monday on Raw. I'm hoping it's a swerve, because the last match I really want to see for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania is Batista versus Orton. The conquering hero storyline last year with the Rock defeating CM Punk after a 434-day reign worked. Orton's reign hasn't been as dominant as Punk's, and Batista didn't get the huge hero's welcome the Rock did. However, I'm fine with Batista winning the Rumble if Brock Lesnar is winning the title next month at Elimination Chamber. The first meeting between Batista and Brock is something that should headline WrestleMania.
The Shield: Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. These three are getting lumped into the same category, even though it's pretty clear that one of them is going to have a standout performance, and that's Roman Reigns. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the Shield as a unit isn't entered fairly early in the match to take out CM Punk. I also wouldn't be shocked if, when Reigns is eliminated, it comes at the hands of Ambrose. Bottom line, expect a good showing from these guys, and there is a very slim chance Reigns ends up winning the whole thing, but expect the major story told being that of their eventual break-up.
Alberto Del Rio. A sacrificial lamb for the returning Batista on Raw, I assume these two will have some interaction in the Rumble match itself. As a former Rumble winner and a top heel, Del Rio should have a nice showing to keep him strong. He'll probably be the first guy Batista eliminates when he hits the ring a house of fire. Too bad they didn't just have Del Rio run on Monday. The anticipation for this would be better.
Big E Langston. The reigning Intercontinental Champion lost somewhat cleanly to WWE Champion Randy Orton on Smackdown a few weeks back, then ate the pin in a 6-man tag loss to the Usos on Raw, so he isn't exactly clicking on all cylinders as of late. Another guy who WWE will want to make look good. Hopefully, we get a few "hoss fight" staredowns between himself and the likes of Roman Reigns and Ryback.
Cody Rhodes and Goldust. If you recall, when Goldust was a surprise entrant last year, he and then-heel Cody, had a lot of interaction and the younger Rhodes eliminated the guilded one. This time, they enter as tag team partners, and potentially tag champs, depending on how their pre-show title defense against the New Age Outlaws goes. It seems like they are primed for a split, and if they drop the tag titles and say, Goldust eliminates Rhodes, it certainly feuls that fire.
Rey Mysterio. His seemingly never-ending feud with Alberto Del Rio aside, Mysterio hardly seems relevant anymore, but his resume that lists him as a former Rumble winner and multiple-time world champion mean he'll still get a nice pop and it'll be a big deal when he's eliminated. Expect him to be a late entry, as I don't think he's got the chops to be an iron man like in year's past.
The Miz. Really? The Miz won't be relevant in this year's Royal Rumble. Honestly, I think it would behoove WWE to make him a permanent member of the Smackdown announce team -- or even the Raw announce team. He did a nice job on Smackdown last week and that, along with Miz TV, is a nice way to keep him relevant and accentuating the positives about the Miz character (his promos) and hiding the flaws (his wrestling).
Kofi Kingston. Perhaps best-known for his elimination-defying gimmicks, Kingston was at least a featured performer on the shows leading up to the Rumble, upsetting Randy Orton a few weeks ago and being in the "main event" spot on Raw with him, even though that just ended in a brawl angle with Cena and Orton to get their match over. Perhaps something can be done to build on that in the Rumble.
Damien Sandow. Boy, since he failed to cash in Money in the Bank against John Cena, he's really fallen. A good showing in the Rumble could move him back up the ranks a little. I think his ceiling is probably Intercontinental Champion, but he can work and gets a great reaction from his promo work. It'd be nice he got a mic during the Rumble match, a la CM Punk during his cult-leader days.
R-Truth, Xavier Woods, Fandango. I'm lumping them together, because if your gimmick is dancing, you aren't winning the Rumble and probably won't be relevant.
Bad News Barrett. I'm afraid of got some bad news for Wade Barrett. Despite declaring his participation in the Rumble on an episode of Main Event a few weeks back, it seems whatever happens on that show isn't canon, so he's no longer being listed as a competitior in the Rumble match, per WWE.com. Whether he's in it or not, he's not winning and probably won't have much memorable participation.
Erick Rowan and Luke Harper. Anyone else think it's odd that these two were made official entrants, but Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan weren't? My major beef with the Wyatts is I still have no idea what their motivation is, even after this angle with Bryan. They're big, so they'll be presented as potential favorites by the commentators, but face facts, these guys are here to make someone look good when they push them over the top.
Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso. I never much understood tag teams being entered into the Rumble and the fact these two will likely never be singles wrestlers makes it worse. A No. 1 contender's tag match on the undercard between them and maybe Harper and Rowan would've made for better uses of both teams, in my opinion.
Technically, these next three teams/six individuals aren't "officially" listed participants on WWE.com, but they've been advertised for the match elsewhere.
Titus O'Neill and Darren Young. See Usos, The. At least there's some potential for singles stardom with Titus one day.
Antonio Cesaro and Jack Swagger. Now these two I can live with competing in the Rumble match because it's always seemed like their alliance was more based on ideals than tag team gold, since both have had semi-successful runs as singles competitors. I like them both, but of the two, I think Cesaro is most likely to get some shine from this match. I really want to see a Cesaro Swing into an elimination spot.
Ryback and Curtis Axel. Even more so than the Real Americans, these two are singles competitors who just happen to be teaming up because what else are they going to do? Ryback's been notably off the main TV shows since giving Dolph Ziggler a concussion and going on Twitter rants, and Axel couldn't seem less relevant right now. Still, they were important cogs in the WWE machine in 2013 -- and the fact Ryback was the runner-up in last year's Rumble -- makes them worthy entrants.