A trio of former champions and a rising meteor of a Superstar will be the last four men standing at WWE Royal Rumble 2014.
Current momentum, WrestleMania projections and word from backstage reports point to who will be this year's final four—CM Punk, Batista, Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns. Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio fans will end Jan. 26 in disappointment, as other Superstars will push them aside en route to WrestleMania XXX.
Aside from having Santino Marella nearly win the 2011 Rumble, WWE generally fills the Rumble's final four with men who could believably win it.
The following Superstars have that quality in addition to being plausible options for WrestleMania main events. They possess momentum capable of carrying them to victory and have backstage buzz surrounding them, suggesting that they could be in line for that honor.
For the last two Rumbles, Punk was busy defending the WWE title. He gets his turn in the 30-man bout this year, and it's safe to bet on him making it to the final stages of that match.
As a former champ and headliner, he makes a believable potential winner. He's never won the Rumble before but has achieved just about every other major goal a WWE Superstar could aspire to, from winning the Money in the Bank to holding both world titles.
Should he win it, he would make a suitable opponent for either Randy Orton, John Cena or Brock Lesnar.
Punk has had a long-running rivalry with Cena that has produced a number of great matches. WWE could be confident that a WrestleMania bout between them would be worthy of that event. Lesnar and Punk having a rematch is an intriguing option, as is revisiting the brief Orton and Punk feud in 2011.
If fact, according to F4WOnline, via WrestlingInc.com, WWE has discussed the possibility of a Punk vs. Orton clash at WrestleMania XXX.
With Punk's recent run-ins with The New Age Outlaws, The Shield and Kane, having someone from The Authority end his Rumble dreams is a strong possibility. The drama of that moment will be amplified should WWE put him in one of the final four spots.
Only his concussion will keep Bryan out of this spot.
With as feverish as fan reaction to him as been, his popularity still soaring, the audience will be rooting for Bryan to win it all. Putting him in the final four spots offers WWE two dramatic options. The first is to simply have him win, and the other is to tease victory.
The first choice will produce elation in the audience and a ear-damaging pop. The second would be the kind of heartbreaking ending fans have grown used to in Bryan's journey to the WWE title.
He's a believable winner because he's been a world champ and has taken down Orton and Cena before. Cena vs. Bryan II is a match worthy of WrestleMania should the company go that route.
Even if WWE has other plans, the fact that fans would buy into that possible matchup makes Bryan a viable option as one of the last four Superstars.
The Rumble has been the launching pad for Superstars' final push to the mountaintop. Chances are, Bryan joins Steve Austin, Batista and Lesnar as men to do just that.
Having won a Rumble back in 2005, Batista comes in as a favorite, even after a lengthy layoff. At least, that's the story WWE can tell.
His star power makes him a great fit for the WrestleMania main event as well. Revisiting a Cena vs. Batista feud is a believable option, as is a Lesnar-Batista matchup regardless of how much fans may gripe about part-timers getting the spotlight. Or else, Batista could face Orton.
Dave Meltzer, via WrestlingInc.com, believes that's exactly what's going to happen, speculating that "Batista is returning to win the 2014 Royal Rumble match and face Randy Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania XXX."
There has been a steady flow of hype surrounding Batista's return, which suggests that WWE wants us to believe he'll win (and will tease just as much) only to go in another direction for the sake of shock and drama.
He has history on his side, as the Rumble has seen men like Triple H, Edge and Cena make big returns at the Rumble and come out victorious.
Many fans' favorite dark-horse candidate to win the Rumble has been on a tremendous roll. He tore through several foes at Survivor Series and defeated Punk on a recent edition of Raw in singles action.
While picking him to win is not the safe bet, count on him having a strong showing. Pushing his way up to the precipice of victory will still give him a boost going forward. It's a bit soon to have him headline WrestleMania, though.
Backstage reports have given Reigns fans plenty of reason to be excited. According to Wrestling Observer, via WrestlingInc.com, "WWE has big plans for Roman Reigns in the 2014 Royal Rumble match."
What that means exactly is not clear, but accumulating a large number of eliminations and lasting until nearly the end of the Rumble among three former world champs is a strong likelihood. Word from WrestleZone.com that WWE plans to turn Reigns face and its view of him as "the newest golden boy" speaks to that.
The Rumble will bring its expected share of surprise guests and likely a jaw-dropping moment from Kofi Kingston, but in the end, it will come down to a battle of Reigns, Punk, Bryan and Batista. Those Superstars are only a few steps away from the spotlight of WrestleMania, and picking a winner from that group is a smart move.