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Chair Shots: Early WWE Royal Rumble winners

Arguably, the Royal Rumble is WWE's second biggest PPV of the year behind WrestleMania. This year expects to be even bigger, with the return of the Rock to challenge for -- and probably win -- the WWE Championship, likely against current titleholder CM Punk.

But part of the reason the Rumble is so popular, is the eponymous 30-man match for a shot at either the WWE or World Championship at WrestleMania.

With that in mind, here is a look at five active WWE Superstars with an above average chance of winning the Royal Rumble match, and two others that are less likely to be part of the battle royal, but if they are, would have to be considered favorites.

John Cena. Duh. The obvious choice. When Cena's in the Rumble, he's always among the favorites to win. He's only actually won the match once, however, when he suprisingly returned in 2008 as the 30th entrant. You know he's going to be in a high profile match at WrestleMania, and likely one involving the WWE Championship. Of course, the story here would be that Cena returns and wins the Rumble to earn a WrestleMania rematch with the Rock, who presumably wins the WWE Championship from CM Punk earlier (or later) in the evening.

Daniel Bryan. Currently in a tag team with Kane, I think their run could be coming to an end soon so both can resume their singles careers, particularly Bryan. The "Goatface" is the ultimate tweener right now. Most fans generally like him, but his character still has heelish characteristics. It works, because he can have a great match with any heel or face on the roster and get a great reaction. There are also so many ways WWE could go with Bryan as the winner (obviously, he'd last eliminate Kane) depending on who the champions were. Remember, he promised he'd get a match with the Rock when the announcement was made Rock would have a WWE title match at the Rumble. He has history with Punk, Sheamus (who he'd want revenge on for beating him at least year's WrestleMania), Big Show and if Dolph Ziggler is World Champion by then, they could put on a wrestling clinic to add something different to a card that is relying largely on star power.

Ryback. No WWE Superstar is getting a bigger push than Ryback right now. Of course, he's currently in the mix for the WWE Championship, but coming up just short there. If he were to win the Royal Rumble, he'd likely end up going after the World Heavyweight Champion instead of the Rock (again assuming he wins the title at the PPV). Really, there are only two WrestleMania opponents that make any sense for Ryback -- Big Show and Brock Lesnar. Show is the current World Heavyweight Champion, and it would surprise no one if he continued to hold that title through 'Mania, only to lose it to Ryback. Either of those matches would get big billing whether for a title or not, but putting the Big Gold Belt on Ryback would solidify him as a main eventer.

The Miz. WWE is trying to slowly transition the Miz to a babyface, which means a return to the main event, especially on Smackdown, is likely in the cards. Recently, we've seen a lot more of the Miz on the blue brand, where he could be a big time player. Having the Awesome One win the Royal Rumble would not only re-establish the Miz as a main eventer, it could set up some intriguing television, especially because of the history between him and the Rock. Assuming Dolph Ziggler has successfully cashed in Money in the Bank to become World Champion by then, however, a continuation of the Miz-Ziggler feud from Survivor Series could be in order.

Wade Barrett. My darkhorse pick. In the past, the Rumble was often used to elevate new heels. Barrett has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride during his career, occassionally serving as a main eventer but never being able to make that giant leap forward. He's currently embroiled in a feud with Kofi Kingston for the Intercontinental Championship. Personally, I think he's better than that and I would love to see him challenging for the Big Gold Belt, especially if Sheamus were to regain the title by then. More than likely, he's a year away from being in this conversation.

CM Punk: This one comes with a major caveat, which is, of course, that Punk isn't the WWE Champion by the time the Royal Rumble rolls around. In the rare case WWE decides to give us Rock-Cena II early (ie: the Royal Rumble, by putting the WWE Championship on Cena between now and then), it would make a lot of sense for Punk to win the 30-man battle royal, lending more credence to his claim of being the best in the world, then challenging the Rock for the WWE title at WrestleMania. This would be a huge swerve if WWE books it this way, but you never know.

Brock Lesnar: The man once known as the Next Big Thing hasn't been on WWE television since the night after SummerSlam, and there is no guarantee we'll see him again until just before WrestleMania. So it's quite assuming to think he'll even be part of the Rumble PPV. If he is, I'd like to think there is a strong chance of him winning the Rumble and a subsequent title shot at WrestleMania. A rematch with the Rock from SummerSlam 2002 (also held in New York), which was Dwayne Johnson's last as a full-time wrestler, would be an absolutely huge box office draw, especially if the WWE Championship is on the line. Would Vince McMahon be OK with two part-timers headlining the biggest show of the year for his company's championship? If it means big money and more eyeballs, you're damn right he would! Unlikely, but not at all out of the question.

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