The holiday season may be at an end for the rest of society, but to wrestling fans, it’s only just begun. This Sunday is the the Royal Rumble. Arguably, the Rumble is the most anticipated event of the year, as it is the Thanksgiving to WrestleMania’s Christmas (depending on your preference). Personally, I look forward to Rumble Day all year, as it’s treated like a holiday, complete with a gathering of family and friends. I have a lot of memories tied to the Royal Rumble match, as the event is roughly as old as I am; my crowning achievement coming at age 5, when I predicted that Ric Flair would win the 1992 Rumble.
The Royal Rumble is turning dirty 30, just as I did over the Summer. Yes, this is a monumental Royal Rumble, as 30 is the number of participants in the Royal Rumble match. And there is no doubt in my mind that the WWE is fully aware of its significance, as it is already booked as the most star-studded Royal Rumble in history. And that’s no ordinary exaggerated wrestling tagline. This truly may be the Royal Rumble with the biggest names in wrestling ever. Just looking at the confirmed list of Superstars alone, it’s really any man’s game.
From The Undertaker to Brock Lesnar to Goldberg to Chris Jericho, this is the wrestling world’s version of an Expendables or Avengers movie. We also have other proven main eventers, like Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins. It’s really an unprecedented list. And that’s just some of the CONFIRMED participants. There are still some spots open for a few surprise guests, some of whom are practically shoo-ins. So let’s review some of the more and less likely surprises in this milestone Rumble:
The past few years has shown an NXT star getting welcomed up to the main roster via Royal Rumble entry, starting with Rusev back in 2014. This year, Samoa Joe is without a doubt the next in line to be called up. Not only is he already one of the most established global stars of the past decade, but he’s had his NXT title reign and dropped it to Shinsuke Nakamura. While there’s an off chance that Nakamura could also appear at the Rumble, Joe’s call up is more than overdue; especially since we saw his long time counterpart, AJ Styles, bypass the NXT process completely and debut at last year’s Rumble. It would be a bigger shock if Joe didn’t enter the match this year.
This one comes with a lot of fan speculation, as the Perfect 10 seems like an obvious choice for the number 10 spot in the Rumble. Dillinger has similarly paid his dues in NXT, and while he never quite reached main event status at the Full Sail arena, he does currently have a ton of momentum as a face. His last appearance on NXT had fans chanting, “Royal Rumble,” and it would be unwise not to give the fans what they want. It’s a guaranteed pop for a guy who has been floating around development for years and years. Though it would be uncommon to have two NXT stars in one Rumble, it certainly wouldn’t be disappointing. This would be a fitting debut as the man who drew number 10! 10! 10!
This one isn’t as much of a longshot as it may seem. Over the Summer, Shelton Benjamin had signed with WWE and was going to make his long awaited return on Smackdown. Unfortunately, not long after a vignette aired for his comeback, he was injured with a torn rotator cuff. While this does take a fair amount of recovery time, especially since Benjamin is no spring chicken at age 41, enough time has passed that there is a practical likelihood that he will return at the Royal Rumble. He’s an incredible athlete and human highlight reel, which left fans wondering why they ever got rid of him in the first place.
I simply couldn’t resist but to follow up Shelton Benjamin with his old amateur wrestling stable-mate, Kurt Angle. The Olympic Hero is back in the WWE, as the first announced inductee into the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame. This came as a pretty big shock to many who thought we might never see wrestling’s only Olympic gold medalist in the company again after his infamous falling out and departure. He was too much of a liability, juggling injuries and addiction problems. And while he has been putting on incredible matches in TNA and around the world for the past several years, he was far from being welcomed back into the good graces of Triple H and the McMahons. Of course, he isn’t officially back on the active roster, but I mean...come on… You’re gonna deprive the biggest Rumble of all time of having Kurt Angle bump heads with a longtime rival like Brock Lesnar while you have them at your disposal? To announce his return and not have him enter the Rumble would be disappointing to say the least.
Yet another injured main eventer. Since his shoulder injury while becoming the inaugural WWE Universal Champion at Summerslam, we haven’t seen or heard much from the Demon King. Not until the UK Championship Tournament, that is. Finn made an appearance in Blackpool just before the Finals match for the UK Championship. He seemed to be favoring his shoulder, as he didn’t perform his usual entrance complete with throwing out his arms in oh-so-dramatic fashion. Since he still appeared to be injured, one would assume there’s no way he’ll be in the Rumble. Then again, this is pro wrestling, and Balor may have just been playing up a clever, good old kayfabe sell job. Plus, the Rumble isn’t an ordinary match, and he could potentially take it easy in the ring while still making an exciting return.
I know, I know. He’s retired and he said he’ll never be back out of respect for The Undertaker, yada yada. At the very least, HBK will almost certainly be in attendance in his hometown of San Antonio. But a brief return to the ring could be in the works. Michaels may not be in his prime, but he does look like he’s been getting back into shape as of last year. And since The Undertaker is in this Rumble match, the temptation to rekindle their feud is in the dry Texas air. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If Shawn was ever going to return for one last WrestleMania match with The Deadman, this would be the time to do it.
The 30th Royal Rumble will take over the Alamodome. With a tagline like “Remember the Rumble,” WWE is putting together one hell of a Rumble to remember. It’s going to be a historically significant battle of legends from wrestling’s past, present, and future. The Royal Rumble is no ordinary pay-per-view. Befittingly on the sabbath, it is a high holy pro wrestling observance. Happy holidays, fellow marks. And a very Merry Rumble to you.