WWE Royal Rumble 2014: Biggest Dark Horses to Watch for in Battle Royal

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2013

WWE Royal Rumble 2014: Biggest Dark Horses to Watch for in Battle Royal

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    In years past, the winner of the Royal Rumble has rarely been a surprise. Fans can simply watch the product, get a feel for who is on the receiving end of a push, gain an understanding of which direction the company wants to go in for WrestleMania and make an educated guess from there.

    Despite the winner being known ahead of time, there have been a number of instances in which a dark-horse candidate has come along and stolen the show from the victor, thanks to a particularly impressive performance featuring great endurance or sheer dominance, regardless of whether or not they leave with their arms raised in victory.

    Who can forget Bob Backlund's hour-long run in 1993 or Diesel's dominance in 1994? How about Shawn Michaels entering at No. 1 and winning the match in 1995 or Kane lasting an hour and eliminating 11 Superstars six years later?

    The five men you are going to read about may not be dark-horse candidates to actually leave Pittsburgh with a guaranteed shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, but they most certainly are dark-horse candidates to steal the show out from underneath the top stars in the industry.

    Who are these Superstars, and what role may they play when the biggest Battle Royal in wrestling kicks off?

    Let's take a look.

Roman Reigns

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    It has become somewhat of a tradition for a single Superstar to deliver a dominant performance capable of elevating him in the eyes of the audience.

    This year, the Superstar best suited to deliver one of those signature performances in The Shield's Roman Reigns.

    Reigns captured the attention of the WWE Universe at the Survivor Series this past November when he demolished the entire opposing team en route to being named the lone survivor and scoring the win for his team.

    Former World Heavyweight champion Rey Mysterio, Tag Team champions Cody Rhodes and Goldust and the talented Usos all tasted the punishing force of nature that is Reigns and his trademark spear. Since then, the Superstars like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and John Cena have experienced firsthand the impact of the explosive finishing maneuver.

    With 29 other competitors standing between him and a WWE World Heavyweight Championship match, look for Reigns to deliver a performance reminiscent of Diesel in 1994 and Kane in 2001 as management continues to position him as its next breakout main event star.

    His dominance, which will include a series of eliminations that could approach Kane's single-match record of 11 set a dozen years ago, may even come at the expense of teammates Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose and could be the emphasis for the faction's impending split.

Dolph Ziggler

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The Royal Rumble has typically featured one Superstar that serves as the workhorse of the match, entering the squared circle early on and lasting until late in the bout.

    That workhorse is usually one of the more talented workers on the roster and one that has excellent cardio and endurance and is capable of getting fans behind them.

    In 2013, Dolph Ziggler entered the match at No. 1 and lasted over 49 minutes before being the 27th man eliminated from the match.

    Despite the fact that the rest of the year saw him experience tremendous highs, followed by the lowest of lows, Ziggler remains one of the best wrestlers in World Wrestling Entertainment and one of the Superstars management can throw out in the squared circle and, win, lose or draw, have him deliver a strong match.

    Do not be surprised to see Ziggler enter the 2014 Rumble match early and, for the second consecutive year, be the longest-running entrant in the contest.

    Given his recent lack of push, he will not come anywhere near winning the match as he did last year, when he was one of the final four competitors. Instead, a 30-plus minute run should not be out of the equation.

    If done correctly it could be the start of a renewed push. Unfortunately, given that Ziggler has found himself in the doghouse for the second half of 2013, it is highly unlikely he finds himself out of it in time for the road to WrestleMania.

Alberto Del Rio

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    If Dolph Ziggler is not the "marathon man" of the 2014 Royal Rumble match, those duties may very well fall to former World Heavyweight champion Alberto Del Rio.

    One of the MVPs of WWE in 2013, Del Rio has been somewhat lost in the shuffle since losing the World title to John Cena back in October.

    Consecutive losses to Sin Cara and a concussion have halted any and all momentum the Mexican-born Superstar had built throughout the year.

    One of the best workers on the roster, Del Rio would be one of the few wrestlers on the active roster capable of holding down the match for a long period of time. A 30- or 40-minute run and a spot in the final four should not be out of the question.

    Despite his fall from grace here late in 2013, Del Rio figures to play a big role in the company's WrestleMania plans as one of the premier stars in the company.

    The best way for him to get back on track would be for him to impress in the biggest Battle Royal that professional wrestling has to offer.

    Expect him to do just that, though winning is most certainly out of the question.

Big E Langston

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The Intercontinental champion is clearly one of the Superstars management is banking on to be a huge part of World Wrestling Entertainment's future.

    By coming to the aid of CM Punk and John Cena on Friday night's SmackDown, clearing the ring of The Shield and popping the crowd in the manner he did, Langston immediately becomes a more visible star entering the annual Rumble bout.

    He has suddenly been positioned as a star to watch and one that may go on to be one of the more impressive, memorable stars in the 2014 match.

    Langston blends a chiseled physique with the type of speed and agility not seen since Lex Luger. If booked properly, he could deliver one of the most memorable performances in Rumble history.

    Unlike Kane, who dominated the 2001 match over time and piled up his record 11 eliminations over the span on one hour, Langston would be better suited to mimic Diesel's dominant stretch from 1994, which was shorter but explosive. Diesel eliminated Superstars one by one and earned the respect and admiration of fans for his impressive display.

    Langston has been very good since turning face, but fans have been somewhat hesitant to really get behind him.

    That could all change for the former NXT standout in the upcoming Rumble match.

Antonio Cesaro

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The Swiss Superstar had a resurgent second half of 2013, teaming with Jack Swagger in the Real Americans and getting himself over based on tremendous feats of strength, most notably the crowd-pleasing Cesaro Swing.

    Imagine a scenario where the Cesaro Swing dominates the Royal Rumble match, the former United States champion spinning several Superstars round and round before dumping them over the top rope.

    It would be an incredible memorable moment that would help Cesaro's performance stand out in the annals of Royal Rumble history.

    Regardless of whether that scenario actually happens or not is irrelevant.

    After a pitiful first half of the year, Cesaro regained the trust of the booking team and even had John Cena praise his work during a recent overseas tour.

    He has been booked strongly in his matches, despite a less-than-sparkling win-loss record. An impressive performance, long or short, should be expected of a competitor who has made the most of opportunities given to him over the last six months.