Making the Case For 6 Dark Horses to Win 2023 WWE Royal Rumble Matches
Roughly one week out from the Royal Rumble, and most fans have made up their minds as to who they expect to win the men's and women's Rumble matches and punch their ticket to WrestleMania 39.
Cody Rhodes announcing his entry into the men's contest on Monday's Raw seemed to telegraph that finish, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. He makes the most sense to challenge Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship at The Show of Shows, though The Rock remains a strong contender to show up and emerge victorious instead.
As for the women's Rumble, all signs point to Rhea Ripley being the one to outlast everyone. Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey are solid second and third choices, respectively, but The Judgment Day member is by far the best bet.
WWE has historically had the odds-on favorites win past Royal Rumble matches, but the dark horses shouldn't be counted out. It would shake things up to kick off The Road to WrestleMania and send the message that anything can happen.
A case can be made for each of the following six Superstars coming out on top in this year's Rumble matches.
As a perennial underdog, Liv Morgan winning the women's Royal Rumble would make for an excellent story, especially if she enters first as she has been petitioning to do in recent weeks.
The 28-year-old is one of the few to compete in every women's Rumble match to date. Although she set the record for shortest elimination with eight seconds in 2019, she went on to have a strong showing in 2022 and lasted nearly 40 minutes.
Morgan has grown as a performer in the year since then, and her confidence has soared. She now has a reign as SmackDown women's champion to her credit and is willing to do whatever it takes to taste that glory again.
Everyone doubting her chances of winning makes her that much more of a favorite. She'd be a fresh opponent for either Charlotte Flair or Bianca Belair at WrestleMania, with the story being that she wants back what she never had the opportunity to attempt to regain.
Since returning to WWE in October, Bray Wyatt has not once stated an intention of chasing a championship. That day will come eventually, especially given his longstanding history with Roman Reigns and how he never went back after the top title upon losing it 2020.
Rather, his focus is on Uncle Howdy right now as well as his upcoming Pitch Black match with LA Knight at the Royal Rumble. If he can beat Knight, he can finally face his demons and put his past behind him.
That would free him up to enter the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship picture, meaning that a potential Royal Rumble victory is on the table.
Wyatt would have to pull double duty at the event, but that isn't an uncommon occurrence. He's been so popular as a babyface that the crowd would likely react favorably to him winning the men's match if it's executed properly.
On paper, Wyatt vs. Howdy isn't nearly as much of an attraction as Wyatt vs. Reigns. In fact, it's arguably one of the biggest bouts WWE can book right now and would be worthy of the WrestleMania 39 main event.
It's been almost three years since Shayna Baszler made her main roster debut in the women's Royal Rumble match, and it's safe to say she's lost a lot of her luster since then.
The Queen of Spades has gone from facing Becky Lynch for the Raw Women's Championship at WrestleMania 36 to being stuck in tag team purgatory to now being Ronda Rousey's lackey. The idea of them reuniting on television was intriguing at first, but nothing about their pairing so far has stood out as special.
Rousey's status with WWE is unknown, as she hasn't appeared since losing the SmackDown Women's Championship to Charlotte Flair on the final show of 2022. Her leave of absence shouldn't affect her ally, though.
The Queen of Spades resurfacing in the women's Rumble and winning the whole thing (similar to what Rousey did last year) would be an interesting turn of events. Not only would it immediately elevate her to the next level, it would also be logical seeing as how Baszler has bad blood with Flair for what she did to the former champion.
If nothing else, this would be a vast improvement over running back Rousey vs. Flair for the umpteenth time. Baszler deserves the spotlight.
Intercontinental Champion Gunther
As unbelievable as the idea of it sounds, don't underestimate the possibility of Gunther reigning supreme in the men's Rumble and challenging Roman Reigns for the prestigious prize.
The only Superstar on the active roster who comes close to matching The Tribal Chief's dominance is the intercontinental champion, who has been on an absolute tear since capturing the title last June and has shown no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Reigns vs. Gunther wouldn't follow your standard face vs. heel dynamic, though the latter will be so over in front of the fans from overseas during WrestleMania weekend that he would be cheered regardless.
The match has the potential to be a barn-burner, and a Rumble win would get Gunther one step closer to contending for gold again.
Having just defeated Sheamus twice decisively, emerging victorious in the Rumble would ensure the Imperium leader maintains momentum instead of sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone to step up.
It's been over three decades since the WWE and intercontinental titles were last defended (and merged) in the main event of WrestleMania. With so much at stake (and a real chance of Reigns being dethroned), this match would be the ultimate attraction for The Show of Shows this year.
It's easy to overlook Asuka as an option to win the women's Rumble match considering she hasn't been seen on WWE TV in about a month.
The last time she appeared on Raw, she teased adopting an edge following a loss to Rhea Ripley. Fans were excited about the possibility of her bringing back her Kana persona from prior to WWE, and perhaps the Rumble is where we will see it at long last.
It's worth noting that it was five years ago when Asuka made history by winning the first women's Rumble match, so to repeat that feat would lead to a nice career resurgence for her.
Of course, The Empress of Tomorrow can return to Raw without being in the hunt for a title ahead of WrestleMania, but the idea of rekindling her rivalry with Charlotte Flair (after Flair ended her undefeated streak at WrestleMania 38) is intriguing.
That's assuming she wouldn't challenge Bianca Belair, who she's had a few run-ins with as in-ring rivals but never a full-fledged feud.
Both bouts are appealing and would get Asuka back in a prominent spot on the show where she belongs.
Bobby Lashley is a man on a mission at the moment, which is bad news for everyone else slated to compete in the men's Royal Rumble.
He only returned to Raw a week ago following a month-long hiatus and has already left his mark. In addition to declaring for the Rumble, he's also become the No. 1 contender to Austin Theory's United States Championship on Monday's 30th anniversary episode of Raw.
The bigger prize, of course, is the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. Lashley never received a rematch after not being pinned for the WWE title last February, and winning the men's Rumble would earn him that opportunity.
The All Mighty has been positioned as a focal point of the program as of late for a reason. He's bound to rekindle his rivalry with Brock Lesnar any day now, but what if a Hurt Business reunion was leading to them taking on The Bloodline en route to WrestleMania instead?
Lashley vs. Reigns hasn't happened one-on-one in nearly five years, so a rematch at WrestleMania would be long overdue. If WWE really wants to take the unpredictable route with the Rumble and not have it come out of nowhere, this would be the bout to book.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.