The Royal Rumble tends to turn a wrestler or two into a bona fide superstar each and every year.
In 2011, it was Rumble winner Alberto Del Rio, a main-roster “rookie” at the time, whose victory ignited a great run that saw him go on to win the Money in the Bank briefcase and the WWE Championship twice.
In 2012, it was once again the Rumble winner, in this case Sheamus, who outlasted Rumble favorite Chris Jericho to win the match and used the victory to win the World title at WrestleMania. A year later, Sheamus has more than solidified himself as a top guy.
Now that we’re just three days away from the 2013 Royal Rumble, many are wondering who the next Del Rio or Sheamus will be—the next guy to use the 30-man Royal Rumble match as a way to be elevated to the top of the card.
Yet, throughout the build to the Royal Rumble, it’s become pretty clear that most of the guys who are being positioned as favorites to win the match are already established stars.
A lot of the conversation about potential Rumble winners seems to be focusing on familiar main-event faces, including whoever loses the WWE title match (The Rock or CM Punk), John Cena, Sheamus and Randy Orton.
Since WrestleMania is right around the corner and most, if not all, of these guys will likely be in major matches on the card, it makes sense for one of them to win it—no matter how predictable it may seem.
In fact, if I were a betting man, I’d put a lot of money on Cena winning his second Rumble to set up “The Rematch” with The Rock at WrestleMania 29, this time with the WWE Championship on the line.
But just because it seems likely that an already-established star is going to win the Royal Rumble, that doesn’t mean that someone who doesn’t win the match can’t emerge from it as a star.
After all, the Royal Rumble is always one of the WWE’s biggest matches of the year, and there are more ways for a wrestler to leave the match as a bona fide superstar than just by winning it.
Two rising superstars appear in prime position to do that this Sunday.
On this week’s episode of Raw, Dolph Ziggler won a Beat the Clock Challenge to earn the right to pick his spot in the Royal Rumble match, only to find out that he could only choose to enter either at the No. 1 or No. 2 spot.
That seems to have been done for one major reason: To make Ziggler the workhorse of the match.
It’s no secret that Ziggler has developed a reputation as the WWE’s “workhorse” already, but now he’s in prime position to work his tail off in one of the biggest matches of the year.
In 2012, The Miz lasted longer than any other superstar (more than 40 total minutes) in the Royal Rumble, and though it ultimately didn’t lead him anywhere substantial, there was a lot of buzz surrounding him right after the pay-per-view.
He was praised for being one of the top performers in the match, and there was a lot of talk that his performance would lead him to a significant push on the road to WrestleMania and beyond it.
That didn’t happen for The Miz in 2012, but it could happen for Ziggler in 2013.
With Ziggler positioned to enter the Royal Rumble at the very beginning, expect him to last even longer than The Miz did last year and to even have a chance to win it before being eliminated at the end.
Despite the loss, Ziggler will come out of it looking like a big star and can use that momentum he built up in the match to position himself for a big role at WrestleMania and an eventual World title win.
While Ziggler looks poised to last longer in the 30-man Rumble than any other superstar, another up-and-comer will be the one who truly dominates the match.
Here’s a hint: “Feed me more.”
After a rough string of losses at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, Ryback needs something—anything—to regain the momentum that he’s lost over the last several months.
With the way things are currently shaping up, it appears that Ryback is, at best, a dark horse to actually win the Royal Rumble match. But he could very well have the most impressive performance of anyone in the Rumble.
Who will benefit the most from his Royal Rumble performance?
For 12 years now, Kane’s record of 11 eliminations in a single Royal Rumble has stood without really even being in question. The most eliminations in a single Rumble since then is seven, which both Cena and Punk accomplished in 2011.
In 2013, that record could and will fall at the hands of Ryback.
As Ryback alluded to on this week’s Raw, he’s tailor-made for the Royal Rumble match. There’s definitely some truth to that statement.
Being that he’s portrayed as an unstoppable beast with superhuman strength, he’s perfectly set up to enter the Rumble somewhere in the middle and easily dispose of five or more superstars in a matter of seconds.
Ryback will dominate the Rumble like no one has over the last decade, and if the WWE decides to give him a truly star-making moment, then the creative team will book him to break Kane’s record by eliminating a dozen or more superstars.
While Ryback may not win the match, a dominant performance—coupled with him getting eliminated under controversial circumstances—could do a lot to reestablish him as the WWE’s most feared performer.
He will be the Royal Rumble’s top eliminator while Ziggler will be the man who sets the tone of a match with a performance that lasts for 45 minutes or more.
As a result, Ziggler and Ryback, despite not winning the match, will be the two men that everyone is talking about when the Rumble’s over.
Other up-and-coming stars—like The Shield—will impress in the match as well, but the 2013 Royal Rumble will be remembered as the day that Ziggler and Ryback solidified themselves as top superstars.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!