Entering each and every Royal Rumble, there is always a short list of superstars who are expected to contend for the victory. This handful of wrestlers usually includes the top stars in the company and that is once again the case this year. Among the favorites are John Cena, Ryback, Sheamus and Randy Orton, but nothing is guaranteed.
The WWE has gone off the beaten path many times over the years in order to produce a surprise result and I can certainly see that being the case when it comes to the 2013 Rumble. Cena is an overwhelming favorite while Ryback, Sheamus and Orton are all obvious contenders as well, but there are other guys in the match who would benefit more from a win.
There are definitely times when booking predictably is smart and proper, but I don't consider that to be the case when it comes to the Rumble. Cena, Ryback, Sheamus and Orton are all guys who don't need a Rumble win in order to enter the main-event scene, so I would much rather see the Rumble be used to elevate a guy who really needs it.
Aside from the obvious picks, here are the top five dark-horse candidates to win the 2013 Royal Rumble, including my analysis of how good their chances to win actually are.
It was quite clear from the second he first stepped into a WWE ring that Wade Barrett was going to be a future star in the WWE. That came to fruition immediately as he led Nexus and feuded with top stars such as John Cena and Randy Orton. Barrett's progress stalled when Nexus disbanded and he formed The Corre, but he started to regain momentum in late 2011 before getting injured in early 2012.
Barrett's booking has been shaky since he returned several months ago, but he is now the Intercontinental Champion and has been used better as of late. Despite that, he doesn't seem like a big threat to win the Rumble on Sunday. If the WWE has any designs of truly elevating somebody who needs it, though, then Barrett should be the first guy in line as he already has some main-event experience.
The fact that Barrett is in possession of the IC title could conceivably disqualify him from winning, but the WWE could easily have him forfeit the title and set up a tournament to decide a new champion. Barrett has been on the verge of world title contention for a very long time, but he needs one last push and winning the Rumble would certainly qualify.
I wouldn't put money on Barrett winning the Rumble, but if you're looking for someone who is off the radar that has a chance to win, Barrett is definitely in the running. The World Heavyweight Championship picture in particular is wide open right now and I would love to see Barrett injected into it.
Most would agree that Kane is the greatest Royal Rumble performer to never win the match itself. He has been in more Rumbles than anyone with 15 appearances and with 37 career eliminations, he is just three away from tying Shawn Michaels' all-time record. Many believe that Kane should have won the 2001 Rumble in which he eliminated a record 11 combatants, but he has nothing to show for his Rumble participation over the years.
At 45 years of age, Kane is a veteran guy who doesn't necessarily need to win the Royal Rumble at this juncture. Although he is still a top-notch performer, he is obviously on the downside of his career and he may never again win another world title either. With that said, Kane is still extremely popular and there is no question that The Big Red Monster finally winning the Rumble would be the feel-good moment of 2013.
In addition to Kane's age, his status as the Tag Team Champion along with Daniel Bryan also holds him back in terms of getting back into the main-event picture. There is a very real possibility that Team Hell No will drop the titles to Team Rhodes Scholars at the Rumble event, though, so Kane and Bryan's partnership may not last much longer. If that is the case, then Kane would be free to go off on his own and pursue the world title.
Even though Kane could probably become a world title contender without winning the Rumble, a lot of fans would love to see it happen, and that definitely makes him a threat even if he isn't a favorite. Kane has a more impressive pedigree than perhaps anyone in this year's Rumble match and he is definitely a guy who is worth keeping an eye on.
Much like Wade Barrett, Antonio Cesaro is a mid-card champion who is already prepared to take the next step into the main-event scene. Cesaro hasn't even been on the WWE's main roster for a year, but he is a veteran in the professional wrestling business and is polished as they come. He is unquestionably a future main-eventer within the company, and the future could very well be now if the WWE decides to give him a surprising Royal Rumble win.
After years of success on the independent scene as Claudio Castagnoli, Cesaro made an instant impact in the WWE. He won the United States Championship at SummerSlam and hasn't relinquished it since, so Cesaro has been the beneficiary of a sustained push. He has yet to truly breakthrough with a win over someone like John Cena or Sheamus, but he is already in the mix with the big boys and is on the verge of reaching the main event.
The fact that Cesaro is United States Champion complicates things, but if the powers that be truly think that Cesaro is ready to take the next step, then they can figure out what to do with the U.S. title later. There are so many guys in the World Heavyweight Championship picture right now that it may seem irresponsible to throw Cesaro into it as well, but he may very well be the best of the bunch from an in-ring perspective, and his mic work has really rounded into form lately as well.
The WWE is always looking to push foreign stars in order to expand into international markets, and the Swiss superstar offers the perfect opportunity to do precisely that. The Royal Rumble match is a great setting to showcase Cesaro's ability and if there is any belief that he could be a future top heel, then it wouldn't be a bad idea to give him the win.
Just two years ago The Miz was the WWE Champion and he defeated John Cena in the main event of WrestleMania. Things haven't gone quite as well for him since, but it appears as though he may be back on the ascent. The Miz returned from filming a movie during the summer and quickly won the Intercontinental Championship. He has since dropped it, but he is in the midst of a face turn that could lead him back to the Promised Land.
The Miz has all the potential in the world when it comes to becoming a top face in the WWE. He has had to make a transition as far as his mic work goes, but he was among the best in the business on the stick as a heel and I'm confident he will eventually find a comfort zone. Miz is also very charismatic and he is the type of guy who the WWE likes to parade out on TV and at outside events. On top of all that, he has improved as an in-ring worker markedly since his debut and is now very solid in that regard.
While The Miz's face turn hasn't paid immediate dividends as I hoped it would, his recent interactions with Ric Flair seem to suggest that big things are on the horizon. He has adopted the Figure Four Leg Lock as one of his signature maneuvers and the fans have really responded to it. The Miz already has main-event experience and it won't take much to get him back to that level in the near future.
The Miz was really struggling at this time last year and I viewed him as a typical dark horse then. He didn't win, but he entered at No. 1 and lasted longer than anyone with a time exceeding 45 minutes. He is in a much better position now than he was in early 2012 and I wouldn't be overly surprised if he won the whole thing. The Miz will get back to main-event status at some point and having him win the Rumble could be the way to do it.
Although Daniel Bryan has been one of the most entertaining superstars in the entire WWE over the past year, there hasn't been much talk about him as a singles wrestler as of late. He and Kane have been the Tag Team Champions for a few months and they have impeccable chemistry together. If Team Hell No loses the titles to Team Rhodes Scholars at the Royal Rumble, however, then we could very well see Bryan thrust back into singles action.
Bryan is already a former World Heavyweight Champion and he is definitely popular enough to be put back in the world title picture. Bryan was a heel at this time last year and it was still uncertain if he had what it took to be a main-event player in the WWE. He went on to lose his title to Sheamus in 18 seconds at WrestleMania, but it was ultimately good for his career as the fans responded to him and he started to unleash his personality.
Bryan is now one of the best all-around superstars in the entire WWE when you add in the fact that he is arguably the best in-ring worker the company has seen in years. Bryan would actually be a very safe choice to win the Royal Rumble as he could feud with anyone and put on some incredible matches. Despite that, there has been very little talk about him potentially winning the match.
I'm not sure there is a single WWE fan who wouldn't want to see a Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler feud over the World Heavyweight Championship, so perhaps the WWE will go in that direction. Ziggler can cash in his Money in the Bank contract at the Royal Rumble or at some point prior to WrestleMania and then fans would be treated to a five-star matchup on the grandest stage of them all.