There will be no shortage of options for the WWE creative team when it comes to choosing a Royal Rumble winner in six weeks, but the man who stands to gain more than anybody else by earning a guaranteed title shot at WrestleMania is Ryback.
When it comes to the Rumble match, there are a couple different schools of thought. The win can go to an established guy like it has in the past with Hulk Hogan, "Stone" Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena and others, or it can be used as a tool to further an up-and-comer who is trying to reach the next level. The WWE took the latter route with Shawn Michaels, Batista and, more recently, guys like Alberto Del Rio and Sheamus.
It seems as though there has been an obvious paradigm shift in the way the WWE views the Royal Rumble. Rather than giving the win to somebody who can enter the main-event scene regardless, the past couple winners have needed the victory in order to be catapulted to the top.
Because of that, Ryback would be the ideal choice for the 2013 edition of the Rumble match.
Over the past couple months, Ryback has gained a considerable fan following, but with losses at three consecutive pay-per-view events, he is still searching for the win that will legitimize him as a main-event star. Aside from winning a world title at WrestleMania, it doesn't get any better than conquering 29 other men in the Royal Rumble.
Ryback has been a dominant force since his debut and the pay-per-view losses haven't really hurt him. His loss to CM Punk at Hell in a Cell was due to Brad Maddox's involvement; his loss at Survivor Series was due to interference from The Shield (and he didn't even take the fall); and he looked strong in his loss at TLC, as Daniel Bryan was the one who was pinned.
Even as the losses have mounted, crowd support has increased for The Big Hungry. The WWE has handled him quite well by saving him for the final segment on Raw and allowing things to build to a fever pitch. He has run in to stop The Shield several times recently and the fans have foreshadowed his appearance with loud "feed me more" chants.
The hardcore fans may not particularly like Ryback due to his perceived sloppiness in the ring and limited ability on the mic, but the general fanbase is obviously behind him, and that is really all that counts in Vince McMahon's book. Sheamus was gaining similar momentum last year, but Ryback is probably an even better candidate than he was.
I'm not a big fan of Ryback because he reminds me of past superstars like The Ultimate Warrior and, dare I say it, Goldberg. I realize that both of them were massively over in their day, but neither impressed me because they were one-dimensional.
I view Ryback in a similar light, but there is no use contesting what the vocal majority seems to want, and that is a massive push for Ryback.
There are probably ways to get Ryback in the main-event scene without having him win the Rumble, especially since he's technically a main-eventer right now, but the WWE has to realize that he can't lose constantly.
I have defended the WWE's decision to have Ryback lose at each of the past three pay-per-views because they were the correct choices, but he needs to win a big match eventually.
When you add in the fact that Ryback is likely to lose to WWE Champion CM Punk once again on the Jan. 7 edition of Raw, he'll need the momentum that comes with a Rumble win. Ryback's biggest win right now is probably a tag-team triumph over Punk, so he doesn't yet have a main-event resume. A Royal Rumble victory would obviously change that, though.
Based purely on his size and strength, Ryback will be among the favorites by the time the Royal Rumble rolls around.
Of course, there will be plenty of other options as well, including John Cena. The WWE's decision will ultimately come down to WrestleMania plans. If there is support behind Ryback challenging for the world title at 'Mania, then he has to come out on top.
The WWE usually likes to strike while the iron is hot, and Ryback will never be more popular than he is right now. If the WWE doesn't capitalize on that, then he could possibly be squandered.
The Royal Rumble has become an event that is more about cultivating new stars than anything else, and that makes Ryback the clear choice to win.