The 2014 Royal Rumble pay-per-view is just over 24 hours away, and the anticipation is reaching a fever pitch.
Sunday night, the Superstars of World Wrestling Entertainment will enter Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center as the road to WrestleMania kicks into high gear.
As is the case every year, the show will be headlined by the enormous 30-man over-the-top-rope Battle Royal for the opportunity to challenge for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXX. Unlike previous years, however, the top talent in the industry is spread evenly throughout the card, ensuring that every match is of some importance.
John Cena will challenge WWE World Heavyweight champion Randy Orton in a basic singles match for the title, while Daniel Bryan looks to wrap up his rivalry with the devious, cunning and manipulative Bray Wyatt in hopes of bigger and better things come the Showcase of the Immortals.
Brock Lesnar returns to the ring to do battle with one of his greatest rivals, The Big Show, and WWE Tag Team champions Cody Rhodes and Goldust get the night started early on the kickoff show when they defend against the veteran New Age Outlaws.
Who will ride a wave of momentum into Monday's Raw following Sunday's show and, more importantly, who will put themselves in great position for a marquee WrestleMania match based on their performances at the Rumble?
In preparation for the 27th annual Royal Rumble extravaganza, here are all of your last-minute predictions for the biggest matches of the year.
That is, so far.
Three stars of the acclaimed Attitude Era and one of the brightest young performers in WWE today share the ring for what should be an excellent tag team match to kick off Sunday's festivities.
The New Age Outlaws made their WWE return on Old School Raw and wasted little time making an impact. After teaming with CM Punk in a losing effort against The Shield on the January 10 episode, the Outlaws created a buzz by dropping off the apron and leaving Punk to fend for himself in a rematch held three days later on Raw.
Since then, they have acted in conjunction with The Authority, creating several conspiracy theories based on their past history with COO Triple H.
On the January 17 episode of SmackDown, the Outlaws received a match against WWE Tag Team champions Goldust and Cody Rhodes, despite doing nothing to actually be put in that position. They won the match when Vickie Guerrero, SmackDown general manager, interrupted the match, providing a distraction and allowing Billy Gunn and Road Dogg to steal a win.
Prior to the January 20 episode of Raw, it was announced that the veteran tandem would receive a title opportunity during the kickoff show held prior to this Sunday's Royal Rumble.
Champions Rhodes and Goldust have been as hot, if not hotter, from an in-ring standpoint than any other performers on the roster since October. No matter how badly a show may be going or how unimpressed an audience may seem, the brothers have been able to pull a hot reaction out of the WWE Universe thanks to their unmatched timing and tag team ability.
Sunday will present a different challenge as neither Gunn nor Dogg are the performers that they once were. In their recent performances, they have been solid enough, but they have done little to suggest that they can hang with the champions at full speed—meaning the hot finishes fans have become accustomed to seeing in the Rhodes brothers' matches may not quite be what they usually are.
How that affects the match quality remains to be seen, but given the recent history of the champions, it should still manage to be a great appetizer for the night's main course.
The New Age Outlaws defeat Rhodes and Goldust for the titles
The Rhodes Brothers have been the best tag team champions WWE has produced in years.
Unfortunately, their time as champions is nearing its end. With the deserving Usos waiting in the wings, the best way to get them the titles is to transition them through a heel team. With the Outlaws poised to play meaningful roles in the Authority's rivalry with CM Punk, it would be a huge boost for Jimmy and Jey to capture their first titles in a meaningful manner.
A loss could easily set in motion the eventual split—and WrestleMania showdown—between Goldust and younger brother Cody as well. It is a match fans have been clamoring to see for years and would be a perfect way to cap off their months-long story while finally putting Cody over as a legitimate main event babyface.
But it all starts with Billy Gunn and Road Dogg Jesse James winning their sixth tag team championship Sunday night.
To say that the Daniel Bryan versus Bray Wyatt program has been badly butchered over the last three months would be an understatement.
First, Bryan was abducted, then left to be found in a parking lot. He showed up on television days later without any effects of whatever it was that was done to him in the hours following his abduction. He faced the Wyatt Family in handicap matches, singles matches and tag matches, yet nothing was done to follow up chapter one of the story.
Then, on the December 30 episode of Raw, Bryan suddenly gave up and joined the Wyatts.
It was a shocking twist that no one saw coming and ignited discussion on social media.
But that does not mean it made sense.
Bryan spent two weeks as a member of the Wyatt Family cult before inexplicably revealing that the entire thing was a charade. Locked inside a steel cage with Bray Wyatt himself, Bryan unleashed months' worth of anger and frustration as the WWE Universe gloriously rained down on the former WWE and World Heavyweight champion with chants of "YES!"
That moment, that show-closing segment on the January 13 episode of Raw, forgave every bit of nonsensical story development that led to it. It was an organic moment that returned Bryan to his status as the most popular star on the roster and put more heat on the Wyatt Family, in particular Bray, who has vowed to destroy Bryan.
Bray Wyatt defeats Daniel Bryan
The Royal Rumble does not feel like the end of the Bryan-Wyatt Family feud. Wyatt has promised great punishment for Bryan for his actions, and to have the latter simply beat his tormentor and move on would go a long way in killing any heat that Wyatt or Luke Harper and Erick Rowan have developed since their debut last July.
With the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view taking place between the Rumble and WrestleMania XXX, it would be plausible to suggest that the feud continues into that show, where it is wrapped up in time for Bryan and Wyatt to move on to their 'Mania programs.
Should Bryan be losing so close to finally regaining some of the momentum he lost over the fall? No. But winning would come at the expense of another young, talented individual who the company is counting on to be a key figure for them in the future.
There are plenty of ways to book Bryan's loss as to not weaken him or kill off any momentum, all the while strengthening Wyatt in the eyes of the fans. How the company goes about doing just that will determine how fans perceive two of the more prevalent Superstars on WWE programming coming out of the match.
When Brock Lesnar made his return to WWE on the December 30 episode of Raw, few could have expected that his first program back would be against the Big Show, whose recent performances in high-profile matches have been anything but inspiring.
In fact, it appeared as though The Giant had been demoted following his awful Survivor Series match against Randy Orton. He had fallen down the card and was relegated to tag team action, teaming with fellow veteran Rey Mysterio on a few occasions.
The fact that he could suddenly rebound and be programmed against one of the elite, marquee names in professional wrestling was seemingly out of the question.
Lesnar had targeted Mark Henry on two separate occasions, leaving the World's Strongest Man lying in a broken, battered heap. Big Show suddenly arriving to his former rival's aid and tossing the Beast Incarnate around the ring like a rag doll was both unexpected and somewhat shocking.
In fact, Big Show has been booked so strongly throughout the rivalry that one wonders where that booking was six months ago when he was left bawling every week on Raw.
Brock Lesnar defeats Big Show
There is no way anyone but Lesnar is winning this match.
Show is simply fodder for Lesnar so that WWE can promote the Beast for one of its biggest events of the year. He will move onto bigger and better things in time for WrestleMania, but where Show goes from here is more uncertain.
With the likes of Sheamus and, potentially, Chris Jericho and Rob Van Dam returning in time for the Showcase of the Immortals, WWE's most decorated giant is left without any clear direction for the biggest show of the year.
At TLC back in December, Randy Orton cleanly defeated John Cena to become the first Superstar to unify the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships since Chris Jericho did it 12 years earlier. It was a monumental moment for Orton, and the win should have been treated as such.
It was, for a moment, before it was revealed that Cena would challenge Orton for title.
Since then, the feud has flattened out significantly, with very little anticipation for the second-most important match on this Sunday's card.
And one cannot be surprised. The build for the match was incredibly lethargic, with creative booking repeats of angles that are seven years old.
Orton attacking Cena's dad was meant to get heat on the angle, but a significant portion of the fanbase, especially older men and women, remember a time when The Viper did the same thing previously.
Even a show-closing chaotic fight between the champion and his challenger couldn't do anything to really get the audience to invest themselves deeply in Sunday's title bout.
Randy Orton defeats John Cena to retain the title
Whatever direction John Cena ends up going in for WrestleMania XXX, he does not need a WWE World Heavyweight Championship to help add heat or importance to the rivalry. He is unquestionably the biggest star in the sport, and his name alone automatically enhances any program he is involved in.
Orton, on the other hand, has been booked so poorly at times over the last six months that the championship is really the only thing helping to salvage his latest main event run.
With the return of Batista to WWE programming and a hint at a potential feud between the two, it is nearly a slam dunk that The Viper leaves Pittsburgh with the title in-hand.
Besides, there is such a lack of legitimate main event heels that Cena entering WrestleMania XXX as champion would only serve to set up a repeat of a match fans have seen plenty of times before—or a match against someone undeserving of the spot on the card that they will be competing in.
The Royal Rumble is one of, if not the most popular gimmick match in WWE.
The company has done an excellent job over the last 26 years in terms of treating the match with a great deal of respect and importance, and as a result, fans have done the same.
In any given year, there are only a handful of Superstars who have a legitimate shot at winning the match and capturing that elusive, guaranteed title shot at WrestleMania. This year, that number is even smaller as only two Superstars can be considered true contenders for Rumble supremacy.
CM Punk is on a collision course with Triple H and The Authority. What better way to enhance the rivalry by giving Punk, an outspoken and confrontational rebel, a shot at the prize Triple H and Stephanie McMahon have done everything in their power to protect?
The other option is the freshly returned Batista.
The Animal has history with both Triple H and Randy Orton and would be able to play on their former alliance in Evolution to help tell a story heading into WrestleMania.
Potential surprises, such as the returns of Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam and Sheamus could all factor heavily into the Rumble match. Full-time competitors such as The Shield, the Wyatt Family and Big E Langston could all be dark horses in Sunday's bout.
Batista wins the 2014 Royal Rumble
WWE did not waste the time, energy and money on bringing The Animal back into the fold in time for WrestleMania only to have him fall short in his first match back.
All signs point towards a match between Batista and Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight title, a match that was originally slated for WrestleMania 22 way back in 2006. Injuries prevented that match from occurring then but, barring anything catastrophic, should not be an issue come April 6.
Punk will have an impressive showing, especially since he will enter the match at the much-maligned No. 1 spot. His feud with Triple H should be strong enough from a microphone work standpoint that a championship is not needed.
The aforementioned surprises, should they come to fruition, will make for exciting television, but neither of three above-mentioned stars seems poised to compete for the title in the upcoming months.
The Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, where decisions can be made or altered on the final stop before WrestleMania, could always play a role in whether the company surprises its fans or not. That should not be the case this year.
The Batista win may appear predictable, but predictable is not always a bad thing. As long as it makes sense and is done in a way that maintains the excitement of past Rumble matches, it will be a success.