The numbers say Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn will be the underdogs against AJ Styles at WWE Royal Rumble 2018 despite a two-on-one advantage.
Fans of The Phenomenal One can rest easy. Never mind that he's on the wrong end of a handicap match. Never mind that he has to deal with both Owens and Zayn in the same bout. Chances are, Styles walks out of Philadelphia and on toward WrestleMania with the WWE Championship still in hand.
Zayn is plenty excited about the prospect of facing the champ alongside his best friend:
Sami Zayn @SamiZayn
AJ: *loses to Kevin Owens cleanly* AJ: *loses to Sami Zayn, clean as a whistle* Also AJ: "I should take them both on at the same time!" Haha great idea, champ! SZ & KO vs. AJ for the #WWEChampionship at #RoyalRumble This will be like taking candy from a very athletic baby.2018-1-4 16:50:30
You can't blame him. At first glance, it looks like Styles is the longshot here.
But a KO-Zayn victory would go against WWE history. For one, the heels would be co-champions, something we so rarely see. There has only been one time that two wrestlers were both WWE champ simultaneously, per WWE.com.
In 2011, CM Punk left the company as champion. Rey Mysterio and John Cena won the title in his absence, but Punk's reign continued and he battled Cena at SummerSlam to decide the undisputed titleholder.
Scott Fishman @smFISHMAN
If Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn win at the #WWE #RoyalRumble : https://t.co/KqGVvitnWr2018-1-10 03:02:13
Plus, the company doesn't like to move its top title at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view apparently.
The WWE Championship has changed hands at the Rumble only five times in 18 tries this century, per the Internet Wrestling Database. That includes Roman Reigns losing the belt in the Royal Rumble match itself to Triple H. Even counting The Big Dog's impossible predicament, a new champ has been crowned only 27 percent of the time at the Rumble.
And if it happened in 2018, that would make title changes at the event in three straight years, going completely against the historical grain.
The stipulation doesn't set up things well for Owens and Zayn, either.
WWE likes to put wrestlers in tough situations and force them to overcome the odds. There's great drama to a story like that. So, it's not surprising that the wrestler forced into a one-on-two disadvantage has been successful several times.
Since 2010, the outnumbered Superstars have gone 10-2 in PPV handicap matches, per CageMatch.net.
The Wyatt Family beat Daniel Bryan at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs 2013 and Apollo Crews and Kalisto defeated Dolph Ziggler at Elimination Chamber 2017. That's it. Otherwise, the underdog has prevailed.
On top of everything, the brewing tension between SmackDown general manager Daniel Bryan and its commissioner Shane McMahon may spill over into this title bout. Perhaps McMahon assures defeat for KO and his best friend to pay them back for the hell they have put him through. Maybe the authority figures' involvement leads to a disqualification or a no-contest.
Styles would retain in both those scenarios.
More and more, it feels as if Styles representing SmackDown as champion at WrestleMania is looking like the safe bet. Owens and Zayn are destined to stumble, to repeat others' past failures. The pattern of recent years spells defeat for them at the Royal Rumble.