While there is no official start to the road to WrestleMania, most fans consider the Royal Rumble pay-per-view to be the first stop. That is likely due to the fact that several potential 'Mania feuds are often started or at least hinted toward at the event, and Royal Rumble 2013 should be no different in that regard.
The biggest matches to keep an eye on are clearly the Rumble match itself, as well as the WWE championship match between CM Punk and The Rock. The events of those particular bouts are going to tell us a lot about what we can expect to see in East Rutherford, N.J. on April 7.
Obviously there is plenty that can happen between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania—they're more than two months apart and have Elimination Chamber sandwiched in between them. However, the WrestleMania plans are already in motion now with the Rumble still a month in the future.
Looking back at last year's Royal Rumble, it was fairly clear what WrestleMania was going to look like. John Cena vs. The Rock was already set, but CM Punk retained his title and ultimately faced Chris Jericho, while Sheamus won the Rumble match and challenged Daniel Bryan for the World heavyweight championship.
Things aren't quite as obvious this year due to wild cards like The Rock, The Undertaker, Triple H and Brock Lesnar, but we should be able to gather something from the 2013 Rumble. The winner of the WWE championship match will allow a major chip to fall. If Punk wins, the possibilities are endless. If The Rock wins, however, it probably guarantees that he'll face Punk, John Cena or some combination at WrestleMania.
The most likely scenario at this point is The Rock beating Punk and Cena winning the Rumble. That would seemingly set up Rock vs. Cena II, with the title on the line this time around. However, the better route would be to have Punk regain the title at Elimination Chamber and set up a Triple Threat match pitting Rock, Cena and Punk against each other in the main event.
If somebody other than Cena wins the Rumble, though, it will be very difficult to predict what might happen. Aside from Cena, the Rumble favorite is likely Ryback. If he comes out on top, it's a virtual guarantee that he'll go after the World heavyweight championship. One of Rock, Punk or Cena will be WWE champion heading into 'Mania, and Ryback won't be facing any of them.
The World title scene is muddled, so there is plenty that can happen between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. Big Show could potentially hold the title throughout, but the Elimination Chamber match at the event of the same name could change everything with credible contenders like Sheamus, Randy Orton, The Miz and others possibly involved.
Also, the Money in the Bank contract is in play during the road to WrestleMania for the first time and it could easily shake things up. You never know when Dolph Ziggler might cash in. He's a threat to do it on every episode of Raw and SmackDown and on every pay-per-view with WrestleMania included.
How much of the WrestleMania card will the Royal Rumble foreshadow?
If someone other than Cena wins the Rumble, we'll almost certainly know the challenger for the World heavyweight championship, but the actual champion would still be anyone's guess. Also, within the Rumble match itself, there is usually a rivalry or two that starts and leads up to a 'Mania match.
Those are impossible to predict, but there are definitely some options. I could see Lesnar entering the Rumble and perhaps tussling with Ryback. They could eliminate each other and that would instantly start a feud that would culminate in a WrestleMania showdown.
Another thing that I would enjoy seeing is Chris Jericho being a surprise entrant. There has been some chatter that he wants to return for a WrestleMania program and it could be started at the Royal Rumble. The ideal candidate for his opponent would be the man who forced him to leave the WWE in a storyline sense. That, of course, is Ziggler.
They already faced each other at SummerSlam, but I would love to see Jericho come back for revenge, only for Ziggler to go over at 'Mania and cash in successfully on the same night. That would establish Ziggler as a legitimate star and Jericho would get to put over a rising star, which is probably what he wants to do.
The Royal Rumble is an exciting event each and every year, but the 2013 edition seems even more special than usual. The time between the Rumble and WrestleMania is vitally important, but we'll probably have a pretty good idea of what we'll see at WrestleMania once Jan. 27 comes and goes.