A trio of dark horses trail behind the leader in their chances of winning the Fatal 4-Way at WWE Battleground 2014.
Roman Reigns, Randy Orton and Kane will all collide with John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on July 20, each with meager odds of winning. Cena's penchant for victory and a seemingly impending clash with Brock Lesnar suggest that Cena is the clear favorite.
Current storylines, each wrestler's position with the company and the marketability of their potential title bouts at SummerSlam help determine who are the next best bets for Battleground.
Should WWE choose a less-expected route, something bold and creative, Reigns or Kane will walk out of the Tampa Bay Times Forum with the world title in hand. Just don't put much money on either scenario.
WWE has portrayed Kane as The Authority's attack dog. He hasn't been the star of this narrative and likely won't be after Battleground.
During Money in the Bank's main event, Kane held the ladder as Orton climbed, standing guard next to The Viper before Cena interrupted. That image speaks to the fact that Kane values his allegiance to Triple H more than winning for himself.
In other spots, he's been used to showcase other Superstars.
On the July 7 Raw, Kane and Reigns brawled to open the show. It was Reigns who last clocked Kane and stood in the ring to celebrate.
Here Kane was the catalyst for Reigns' onscreen rage.
WWE has used him to propel Rollins as well, having him attack Cena to set up a potential cash-in attempt for Seth Rollins on June 30. Expect him to take on a similar role at Battleground. WWE is not likely to ask a 47-year-old to be its top champion, especially heading into a SummerSlam.
Kane vs. Reigns or Kane vs. Cena doesn't have the big-event feel that other potential matchups do.
Roman Reigns (20-1)
Reigns heads into Battleground with the kind of momentum that will have fans believing he can win.
He opened Monday's Raw by blasting Kane in the mouth. He ended it by clearing the ring of heels and giving Cena a look of distrust.
A spear gave him the decisive pinfall in a match that he and his partner were outnumbered in on June 20. On June 27, against Kane, Reigns was seemingly moments away from victory.
He had The Devil's Favorite Demon lined up for a spear before Orton interfered.
More importantly, it appears that Reigns is scheduled to sink deeper into his rivalry with The Authority. According to F4WOnline.com (h/t WrestlingInc.com), there have been backstage discussions about whom Reigns will face at upcoming pay-per-views, including the possibility of him facing Orton at SummerSlam and saving his expected match with Triple H for Night of Champions.
There is a chance that he could be a part of this narrative as champion, but it makes more sense for Triple H to cheat him out of his title opportunity at Battleground. That would give him the incentive he needs to start hunting The Game.
Randy Orton (12-1)
Orton stands a better chance of winning than Reigns or his ally with The Authority, but he is still no safe bet.
WWE has shown that it still believes Orton to be worthy of the world title. He was WWE champ up until WrestleMania and has held the company's two top championships a total of 12 times. While Reigns remains an unproven commodity, Orton is an option WWE has relied on before.
His momentum has been strong of late as well.
On Monday's Raw, he outlasted Dean Ambrose. After kicking his foe in the head, Orton landed the RKO for the win.
He didn't defeat Ambrose (instead losing by disqualification) on the July 4 SmackDown, but he pummeled him after the bell. While his four-man squads lost two consecutive handicap matches, he never took the pinfall. Instead, Alberto Del Rio was the one who was unable to kick out before a three-count on the June 20 SmackDown before Cesaro followed suit on Raw a few days later.
That momentum is not as great as what Reigns has experienced lately, but there are several narrative twists that would allow him to win.
Kane could assist him. Triple H doesn't want either Cena or Reigns to be champ and could interfere in any number of ways.
The potential SummerSlam matches WWE could have with him as champion include battling Reigns or yet another collision with Cena. The latter is one of the staler options on the table.
Repeating a main event match that fans have seen dozens of times over the last few years is not how the company can best go about getting people to subscribe to the WWE Network.
The former is a possibility, as the aforementioned reports suggest that Reigns and Orton will be feuding, just not a strong one.
Reigns and Orton sounds more like a semi-main event than a true marquee bout, especially for SummerSlam. It doesn't compare in star power and pull to the potential Brock Lesnar vs. Cena WWE could headline that show with.
John Cena (2-1)
As fans have learned after watching him play WWE's Superman for years, betting against Cena is rarely a good idea.
He rarely loses as seen by his 2013 win-loss record. The leader of the Cenation went 27-6-1 that year, per PWInsider.com, a .794 winning percentage.
He's been WWE champ more times than anyone in the title's history. While that means he has lost the belt a number of times as well, this wouldn't be an opportune time for WWE to have him dethroned again.
A showdown with Lesnar looms.
Before Money in the Bank, Dave Scherer of PWInsider.com reported that WWE sent out an email to its mailing list featuring Cena and Lesnar's faces on a SummerSlam poster. The email notes, "We have an early sneak peak at this year's SummerSlam poster, which seems to pit John Cena against the man who brought down the streak, Brock Lesnar."
Pair that with an earlier report about WWE's reported plans for The Beast Incarnate, and it seems that there is no safer bet than Cena retaining.
Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t WrestlingInc.com) reported that at SummerSlam, Lesnar would likely challenge whoever won the world title at Money in the Bank. That ended up being Cena, setting up a match bursting with money-making potential.
Cena hasn't lost in recent weeks either, although he's been laid out a few times after the official action ends.
Those moments of being out cold and vulnerable have been designed to offer Rollins a chance to cash in, which in turn has led to Ambrose attacking his former partner. These attacks have been more about that feud than Cena. It has usually taken Kane, Orton and Rollins combined to get Cena to start seeing stars.
Having to face two of those three men at the same time means he goes into Battleground with supposedly poor odds, but Cena's gimmick has been that he somehow beats the odds. Besides, there isn't a more enticing option for SummerSlam's title match than him and Lesnar.
Reigns winning his first WWE title or seeing Kane get one final run with the belt are the more fun options, but there's little evidence to suggest that anyone but Cena will take home the company's top prize at Battleground.