WWE Royal Rumble 2014: Power Ranking Likely Rumble Winners After Dec. 16 Raw
One of the most important times of the year is coming up as WWE's 2014 Royal Rumble pay-per-view is heading our way, and the Road to WrestleMania is within sight.
With each Royal Rumble victory, the entire landscape of WWE could change for years to come, so it isn't meant to be taken lightly, particularly when there is only one world champion to target.
More often than not, the winner of this match either further cements his legacy as a top star in the company or takes that final huge step forward to achieving that status for the first time.
Last year, John Cena became the fourth man ever to win more than one Royal Rumble match.
Will that happen again with a former winner outlasting the rest, or will a newcomer survive and get to challenge for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXX?
Now that TLC 2013 is done and over with, it's time to look forward and start trying to predict what will happen at the next pay-per-view.
So out of everyone in WWE at the moment, who are the five most likely candidates to win the Royal Rumble, based on the current storylines and where they appear to stand in terms of importance?
Let's take a look!
5. Big Show
In the grand scheme of things, there isn't much of a chance Big Show is going to end up facing the champion at WrestleMania.
However, when compared to the rest of the roster, he has a much better shot considering his status as a main-event player.
WWE has put Big Show in the title picture for WrestleMania in the past, so it isn't ludicrous to think he's in a better position than those who have never had that shot.
Plus, Big Show has ties to the storyline with The Authority, and it's tough to believe that the champion going into WrestleMania isn't going to be Randy Orton.
For those who aren't a fan of Big Show, fear not. The likelihood that we will see a rematch between those two is very small—contrary to the pure size of the World's Strongest Athlete.
Big Show has a good chance of dominating at the event and eliminating a lot of people, but metaphorically, there are bigger fish to fry this year.
4. A Returning Superstar
There are only three other people who are more likely to win the Royal Rumble match than Big Show currently on the active roster.
Once you eliminate the jobbers and the midcarders who simply aren't getting a massive push to the main event, you have to start looking elsewhere for potential winners.
Even when being generous and assuming the inactive roster members could show up, there still aren't more than a handful of names with any credibility to them.
A returning Rob Van Dam will not win the Royal Rumble nor will someone like William Regal or Christian. There just isn't any ground to stand on for believing in that unless you're a fan who merely hopes it will happen.
Stretching it to some pretty far extremes ends up with four possible names.
Undertaker is someone who has built up a legacy where if he were to show up toward the end of the match and eliminate a few people, nobody would discredit it.
However, Undertaker's legacy at WrestleMania has carved its own niche as a featured match that does not involve the title, so it's a safe bet he won't be winning it and inserting himself into The Authority's business.
Brock Lesnar and The Rock are also big enough names who could win and get their big spot at WrestleMania as they would be entitled to—assuming they actually will be competing that is.
But The Rock getting that main event for the third year in a row (or fourth, depending on your point of view) would be spitting in the face of the regulars, and wouldn't Brock Lesnar make much more sense wrestling a secondary main event like he did against Triple H last year?
So out of everyone who is not on the active roster, but has the credibility to win, the biggest threat would have to be Sheamus.
Triple H and Sheamus have been buddies backstage, and there's no limit to the benefits that can be granted to someone who is friends with one of the heads of the company.
It's perfectly reasonable that WWE, being huge fans and supporters of Sheamus in the past, could want to paint him as the big and powerful opposition to save the day against The Authority.
But none of these names are anywhere near as likely to win as our three other candidates...
3. John Cena
If there's a chance Sheamus can return and play the part of the hero, you can't have that discussion without throwing John Cena's name into the mix.
For that matter, you can't discuss anything about WrestleMania main events or the WWE Championship or being the face of the company without bringing up Cena and making him a focal point.
Cena's track record of being involved in at least one of the top three matches of the night for WrestleMania over the past few years is undeniable, and his Royal Rumble victories add even more validity to it.
Another thing Cena is known for is being positioned to break records or at least tie them.
If he were to become the second person in history to win the Royal Rumble three times and, then in the process, defeat Orton in a rematch from the unification, it would make sense for WWE's booking style.
That doesn't mean there aren't signs pointing elsewhere, though.
Right now, Cena is feuding with Orton and his rematch clause is perhaps the best excuse to set up a title bout at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view.
Whether that happens or not, will it mean all that much to the fans who need to buy WrestleMania if Cena wins yet again and has another match with Orton after just having one at TLC?
It's much easier to make a case for Cena to be the winner of the Royal Rumble than nearly everyone else, but when you put it under a microscope, it makes more sense for WWE to utilize him in a different way, possibly against Triple H with no titles on the line.
2. Daniel Bryan
You would have to be blind and deaf to ignore the popularity Daniel Bryan has at the moment.
There are perhaps no other superstars who can elicit such a huge response from the WWE Universe, no matter how much we're told John Cena is the king of that.
Many people feel as though Bryan was screwed out of his deserved WWE Championship reign, and the virtue of patience will be rewarded with a comeback story that starts with Bryan's Royal Rumble win.
Defeating Randy Orton at WrestleMania and celebrating to end the night surely would be a grand moment that could make up for whatever mistakes in pushing Bryan WWE is responsible for.
What is better than the perfect underdog beating the odds and winning the Royal Rumble, especially if WWE is able to go the distance with Bryan and give him an early spot to work from?
It's simplicity is what makes it, and it's tough to argue against something that essentially writes itself.
But even if Bryan would be the easiest sell for a winner because of his star power and the fans clamoring for it, there is still one more person who stands in his way on the path to glory.
1. CM Punk
CM Punk is absolutely going to win the Royal Rumble.
In fact, one could argue that it is such a forgone conclusion that the only real question is who he eliminates last for the victory.
Punk has been distanced from The Authority for months and is only just now getting involved, which is the perfect time to start building toward the main event of WrestleMania.
Feuding with The Shield is a temporary stall in the meantime, and he will continue to wrestle them if they are still involved with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon over the next few months.
Once Punk wins the Royal Rumble, issues will start heating up that involve him, Triple H and Randy Orton just as they've been teased already.
The final segment before TLC showed Punk getting involved and exchanging blows with the two former members of Evolution as well as getting some Sweet Chin Music from the Chief Operating Officer's best friend.
Punk's character is anti-Authority with no pun intended, but obviously appreciated, and he is a popular enough star to justify putting in the main event without a shadow of a doubt.
At this point, the only thing standing in the way of Punk winning the Royal Rumble to face Orton at WrestleMania is some kind of an injury to either man.
Who do you think has a shot at winning the Royal Rumble this year? Are you rooting for someone new or would you like a repeat victor?
Tell us your theories and thoughts in the comments below and weigh in on your predictions!
Anthony Mango is the owner-operator of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment as well as the host of its podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.