WWE's 2013 Royal Rumble pay-per-view is set to go off on Jan. 27 in Phoenix.
While many fans are excited about the WWE Championship match between CM Punk and The Rock, it's the actual Rumble match itself that will do the most to determine the future of the WWE.
The winner of the Rumble match is guaranteed a championship bout at WrestleMania, and is often pushed heavily as a top-of-the-card act by WWE.
Traditionally, the Rumble match features stars that fall into one of three categories: Up-and-coming wrestlers that WWE is ready to push to the next level, stars returning from time off or an injury and surprise entrants that are in the match to be introduced or as nostalgia acts from years gone by.
The 10 slides that follow feature wrestlers that should be in this year's Rumble match. They are either ready to make the next step on the WWE ladder, ready for a return to live action or simply stars that the WWE Universe wants to see.
The purpose of this slideshow isn't to predict who will win, but only to identify some stars that should be in the match. Wrestlers such as Ryback and The Shield, who are likely to be entered in the Rumble at some time in the near future, aren't listed.
Only candidates that might be something of a surprise are on the list. The candidates aren't listed in any particular order.
The second slide reveals those wrestlers already officially entered in the Royal Rumble match. At least one of them hasn't been announced on a television broadcast yet, so skip that slide if you want to be surprised.
SPOILER ALERT: This slide contains information about at least one entrant into the Royal Rumble match that hasn't been announced on WWE television yet. If you don't want to have the announcement spoiled for you, skip ahead to the next slide.
The following wrestlers are already entered in the Royal Rumble match according to wwe.com.
- John Cena
- Randy Orton
- Dolph Ziggler
- 3MB (Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre)
- Antonio Cesaro
- Wade Barrett
Daniel Bryan and Kane have done a lot to help raise the profile of the WWE Tag Team Championship belts over the past several months.
It might be time for Team Hell No to drop the belts in a title match at this year's Royal Rumble PPV. It's likely that Bryan and Kane will face Team Rhodes Scholars in a championship bout at the Royal Rumble.
The dynamic duo has already done as much as it can with the belts, and giving the titles to Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow would elevate Rhodes Scholars while keeping the tag titles relevant.
Once the tag team championship has been decided, it would be a good move for WWE to put Kane and Bryan into the Rumble match.
Kane has a long and storied history in the Rumble. He has been involved in more Rumble matches than any WWE superstar in history. He also holds the record for eliminations in a single match with 11 in 2001.
Putting Kane in the match would be a nod to history and would please WWE fans as well.
Bryan is one of those stars who is ready for the next level. He's had a run as World heavyweight champion, and has feuded with some of the top stars in WWE. A Rumble win would push Bryan back into the spotlight, and open up numerous storyline possibilities for the WWE creative team.
Speaking of storylines, if Hell No drops the tag belts, then enters the Rumble, it creates a number of possible narratives.
Will Bryan and Kane work together in the match, at least for a while? Will they break up and target each other early on? Will they make it to the end and face off against each other?
The creative possibilities are nearly endless if Kane and Bryan are entered in the Rumble.
By most accounts, 2012 was a disappointing year for Rey Mysterio.
He spent much of the year out with injuries, both real and story-wise.
It would be good for Mysterio to make his return and start of his 2013 in the Royal Rumble. WWE fans love the masked man, and he would provide some needed strength on the babyface side of the roster.
Mysterio has been out with an "injury" since a December clash with The Shield. At the time, he was featured in a tag team with Sin Cara, who is out with a legitimate knee injury. Mysterio's injury isn't believed to be real, and he could make his return at any time.
If Mysterio returned at the Rumble, he could take his revenge on The Shield, thus setting up future tag team bouts between the heel faction and the team of Mysterio and Sin Cara.
He could also attack his former tag team partner and start a feud that would ultimately end up with a mask vs. mask match at WrestleMania.
Entering Rey in the Rumble match would please the fans and open up potential storylines for WWE.
Christian is another WWE superstar that spent a good part of 2012 recovering from injuries.
According to published reports, Christian is at full health and ready to make his WWE return. The company was only waiting for him to make an appearance at the TNA Bound For Glory event, where Christian was to induct Sting into TNA's Hall of Fame.
The event took place in October, and Sting was inducted by Dixie Carter, so there's no reason for Christian's return to be delayed any longer.
The reasons for bringing Christian back are much the same as those for re-introducing Rey Mysterio. He's not legitimately injured, he's been gone a long while and fans would love to see him.
Christian could enter the match as either a babyface or a heel, depending on WWE's future plans for him. If he were to return as a heel, he could challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship on SmackDown.
As a babyface, he could offer a change-of-pace opponent for WWE champion CM Punk.
While Christian is an unlikely bet to actually win the Rumble, his presence in the match would certainly benefit WWE and its fans.
Like Team Hell No, Rhodes Scholars have done a lot over the past year or so to elevate the WWE Tag Team Championship belts.
Unlike their tag team rivals, Kane and Daniel Bryan, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow aren't top stars in WWE yet. A run with the tag belts would elevate the pair, both as a team and as individuals.
Win or lose, Rhodes and Sandow could enter the Rumble match. They could eliminate Hell No, start new feuds by attacking other babyfaces entered in the match, or even turn on each other, though the last scenario isn't too likely.
Rhodes and Sandow are ready to make the next step, and entering them in the Rumble match is a good way to elevate their profiles with the WWE Universe.
2012 was a lost year for Mark Henry.
The World's Strongest Man last appeared on WWE television in April, and had surgery to repair an injured shoulder.
Late in the year, Henry indicated that he would be ready for a return to action by late December. There's been no sign of him yet, but he should be ready to go.
A return at the Rumble is a perfect stage for Henry. He's a huge man, and would be expected to do well in the Battle Royal format. He can return as either a babyface or a heel.
Fans have largely forgotten about Henry, and a return in a high-profile match would go a long way to re-establishing him in the minds of the WWE Universe.
It was announced on the last edition of Raw that current World Heavyweight champion Alberto Del Rio will face Big Show for the title.
Henry makes a good opponent for either man, and would be a legitimate challenger for the WHC as either a babyface (if Big Show regains the title) or a heel (if Del Rio successfully defends the strap).
Brock Lesnar hasn't been seen on WWE television since he defeated Triple H at SummerSlam and subsequently "quit" the company the next day.
Since then, the WWE Universe has been anxiously awaiting a return by "The Beast." There is no better platform for Lesnar's return than the Royal Rumble.
Recent reports state that Lesnar won't return to WWE until February. His current deal with the company includes a limited amount of television appearances, and it's believed that WWE is saving those dates for a run-up to WrestleMania.
WWE would be wise to use up one of those appearances at the Royal Rumble. Lesnar is a huge television and PPV draw, and having him appear in the Rumble would create buzz for future television broadcasts whether or not Lesnar actually showed up on TV.
He could win the match, declare that he is going back into hiding to weigh his options and come back sometime in late February or early March.
WWE could certainly sell more PPV buys for Elimination Chamber if Lesnar were scheduled to appear on the show to announce his WrestleMania intentions.
While it makes sense to save Lesnar's drawing power for shows building up to WrestleMania, WWE could get even more out of the mercurial superstar if he were to show up and enter the Rumble.
John Morrison was last seen on WWE TV in November 2011, when he was left face down on the entrance ramp by the Miz.
Rumors are rampant that the "Monday Night Delight" is thinking about coming back to the WWE some time in the next six months.
Having Morrison make a surprise return at the Royal Rumble would be good business for WWE. Fans who haven't seen him in over a year would mark out for his comeback.
Those that read the Internet sheets would be surprised to see him back so soon. Either way, it would be a pleasant surprise for the WWE Universe.
Bringing back Morrison would open up a number of potential storylines. He could come back in a heel persona and try to take his revenge on Miz (or come back as a babyface and let Miz go back to being a cocky heel).
He could state that he's tired of Antonio Cesaro's anti-American rants and decided to return to shut up the current U.S. champion.
Morrison has a unique style and a solid persona. Having him as a surprise entrant in the Rumble would please the fans and create numerous matchup possibilities for WWE.
Chris Jericho has star power. Few wrestlers in WWE history have a more loyal fanbase and almost none create the type of buzz that Jericho does, even when he's not on the roster.
Since losing a career vs. contract match to Dolph Ziggler, Jericho has been absent from WWE television. The Rumble would be a perfect spot to re-introduce the popular star.
While Jericho has been largely mum about his plans to return to the WWE, he's made it clear that his wrestling career isn't over.
Entering Jericho in the Rumble match would give WWE a virtually unlimited number of options moving forward.
Jericho is that rare WWE star that can be inserted into just about any story, no matter how long he's been absent.
He could come back on SmackDown and compete for the World Heavyweight Championship. He could easily feud with either The Rock or CM Punk for the WWE title.
He could take on Antonio Cesaro for the U.S. belt or Wade Barrett for the Intercontinental Championship. Jericho's presence makes all of those scenarios must-see TV.
If he's ready to come back, WWE would be wise to debut Jericho at the Rumble.
Dave Batista is another former WWE star that would make a huge impact on the company if he were to return at the Royal Rumble.
Since leaving WWE, Batista has embarked on a less-than-successful MMA career. "The Animal" might be too old to be competitive in this new venue, but his age wouldn't be a huge drawback in the WWE.
Batista has a storied history in the WWE, and would have instant credibility with the fans upon his return.
Given his MMA experiment, he could feud with Brock Lesnar if he weren't inserted into a title feud right away.
If WWE were interested in more than a one-off with Lesnar, Batista would make a high-profile opponent for either the WWE or World Heavyweight champions.
If WWE were to ever going bring back "The Animal," now would be the time.
No one in WWE history has been more successful at the Royal Rumble than Stone Cold Steve Austin.
"The Texas Rattlesnake" is a three-time Rumble winner, and would send the audience into a frenzy by making one last appearance.
Rumors have been rampant about Austin's potential return to the WWE. If WWE is planning to have Austin be involved with either CM Punk or The Rock (or both) at WrestleMania, putting Stone Cold in the Rumble would be a high-profile way to re-introduce him.
While Austin isn't likely to return to the company full-time, he would be a huge draw for WrestleMania and all the shows leading up to the big event. He could face Punk, Cena, Rock or even Undertaker if he wanted to have one last match.
There's no doubt that Austin would be the top choice of WWE fans as a surprise entrant in this year's Rumble.
While the Royal Rumble match itself is the most important bout for the WWE's future at the upcoming PPV, most fans that tune in will be more interested in the WWE Championship match between CM Punk and The Rock.
If WWE really wanted to spark fan interest in the upcoming WrestleMania 29 main event, the company should think about doing something different.
Instead of having Punk and Rock finish the PPV, which is the most likely scenario, WWE should consider putting that bout on before the actual Rumble match.
That way, no matter who wins the title, the loser could enter the Rumble and immediately become a contender for a rematch at the biggest show of the year.
Imagine Rock suffering an upset loss to Punk, then entering the Rumble at No. 5 or so, and working his way back up to No. 1 contender status.
The same scenario works for Punk.
While there is virtually no chance of this actually happening, it would certainly be unexpected. The only downside would be that fans would expect either Rock or Punk to win the Rumble the second either one entered the ring, and to have one of them win would spoil any anticipation about who will challenge for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania.
Who would you like to see in the Royal Rumble? Is anyone on this list your top pick? Are there undeserving candidates on the list? Speak your mind in the comments section below.