WWE Royal Rumble 2016: Power Ranking Most Likely Rumble Winners
For the first time since 1992, the Royal Rumble match will have stakes higher than the No. 1 contender's spot at WrestleMania. For the first time since Ric Flair survived 29 other Superstars to leave the event with the WWE Championship, the top prize in the industry will be at stake as Vince McMahon and The Authority attempt to screw Roman Reigns out of his title.
Recent significant injuries to the likes of John Cena, Randy Orton, Seth Rollins and Cesaro have left the potential winners of the Rumble match a mystery.
Of course, Reigns could retain his title and head into WrestleMania riding a wave of momentum.
But what if he does not? Which other Superstars are most likely to emerge from the Rumble with the title, completely altering plans for the biggest show of the year in the process?
From Sheamus to Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt to Chris Jericho, the cast of characters is intriguing.
Which eight should fans count on to leave the biggest impression and possibly capture the gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow?
Take a look for yourself.
Kicking off our countdown is former WWE World Heavyweight champion Sheamus.
The leader of The League of Nations and the most recent Superstar to have an alliance with The Authority, Sheamus could very well benefit from the presence of Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and Vince McMahon as they attempt to screw Roman Reigns out of the top prize in the sport.
The one thing hurting the Celtic Warrior tremendously is the fact that he never felt like a legitimate champion in the first place. Instead, he was a means to an end—a heel to hold the title while management put the final touches on the Roman Reigns character.
If that were the case, the likelihood that it goes back to Sheamus is incredibly low.
7. Dean Ambrose
There is no denying Dean Ambrose's popularity. Unfortunately for him and his Royal Rumble chances, his run with the Intercontinental Championship almost assures The Lunatic Fringe will not leave Orlando, Florida, with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on January 24.
Ambrose is currently embroiled in one of the top feuds on WWE television with Kevin Owens and is among the most popular stars on the entire roster, but he is already a champion elsewhere on the show. Furthermore, Vince McMahon and WWE Creative have repeatedly made it clear they have no problem allowing Ambrose to flirt with the main event but do not necessarily see him as a consistent headliner.
Still, the voids left by the injuries suffered by John Cena, Randy Orton and Seth Rollins have necessitated the push of fresh young stars, so it is not out of the realm of possibility that someone insists the company pulls the proverbial trigger on Ambrose.
6. Bray Wyatt
The Reaper of Souls has been one of the most inconsistently booked stars on the entire roster for quite some time, yet as the Royal Rumble approaches, he is being heated up in preparation for another major push. As a result, he stands among the stars most likely to leave the January 24 event with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Wyatt is a compelling character, but he's one who is often sacrificed to put other top babyfaces over, leaving him as an incredibly talented talker whose words are harsh but whose actions rarely support them.
Booking The New Face of Fear to win the most coveted prize in the sport would be the surest way to begin erasing the WWE Creative mishaps that have plagued the character and his cohorts in The Wyatt Family since they debuted back in 2013.
The likelihood that scenario plays out is lower than the cases of the five men ranked above him, but the company's insistence to present him as an elite star—even if he never wins a major rivalry—makes him the strongest dark-horse candidate to win the Rumble match.
5. Chris Jericho
The January 4 episode of Raw brought with it Chris Jericho's return and the announcement Y2J will be entering the Royal Rumble match.
Jericho is an interesting addition to the match in that he is a legitimate star, one of the Attitude Era's most popular performers and a recognizable name to mainstream audiences. Yet, since 2012, he has lost significantly more than he has won and has underwhelmed in numerous storylines, though much of that can be attributed to WWE Creative's mediocre writing.
As he returns to the company that helped make him a household name, it will be up to bookers to present him as something other than a legendary name hanging onto past accomplishments to justify his push. They can certainly do it, and Jericho will assuredly be up for the task.
With the rash of injuries plaguing WWE at this point, Jericho brings star power to the Rumble match. How he performs, and whether or not he embarks on one last championship reign, will determine just how serious a role he plays in the immediate future of the product and on the road to WrestleMania.
4. Triple H
The last images fans have of Triple H are those of Roman Reigns pummeling him as if he were some unnamed jobber, finishing him off with a vicious spear at ringside and basking in the supportive cheers from the WWE Universe.
It is no accident the COO has been kept off television since TLC. His return will be key in whatever is planned for Reigns heading into WrestleMania, and thus his return to programming will be something grand and of the utmost importance.
While it would not make much sense for someone with such authority to enter the Royal Rumble—not when he can save himself and his body from tremendous punishment by booking himself in a title match at WrestleMania with or without a Rumble win—WWE Creative has not recently concerned itself with making sense.
Triple H entering the Rumble, eliminating Reigns and winning the title the former Shield member worked so hard to attain would be an extraordinary way to set up a huge showdown between the Superstars in Dallas on the grandest stage known to sports entertainment.
3. Kevin Owens
There is a reason Kevin Owens has been reignited the way he has as of late. Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with reinvigorating the WWE Intercontinental Championship or making Dean Ambrose look like a strong champion. No, Owens has been heated up to the extent that he has because WWE clearly has major plans for him in the very near future.
Don't believe me? Take a look at how Owens spent his summer and fall, splitting wins with guys like Cesaro and Ryback in meaningless midcard feuds and look at where he is now. Owens and Ambrose are engaged in a rivalry that has become as hot, if not more so, than the main event program involving Roman Reigns.
It is of no surprise whatsoever that Owens has been positioned as the star of the rivalry, either. He has rediscovered his edge and is as dangerous as he has ever been.
With Seth Rollins sidelined and a decided lack of quality heels atop WWE, Owens stands the best chance to somehow leave the Rumble event with the WWE title, establishing himself as the lead full-time heel on the roster.
Such a victory would instantly establish him and create yet another new headliner, something WWE will rely heavily on as the build to WrestleMania—and what it hopes is a record-breaking crowd of 100,000 fans—continues.
2. Brock Lesnar
The Beast Incarnate will make his WWE return on the January 11 episode of Raw, and with the Vince McMahon revelation one week earlier that Roman Reigns' WWE World Heavyweight Championship will be up for grabs in the Royal Rumble match, Lesnar is likely to enter the 30-man bout.
If that is indeed the scenario that plays out, Lesnar jumps near the top of the list as the Superstar most likely to win the Rumble and head to WrestleMania with the industry's top prize around his waist.
Such a scenario would mark the second consecutive year Lesnar heads into the biggest show of the year with the title, but would anyone really blame WWE for taking that route? The injury bug has bitten the company, and Lesnar is the business' undisputed biggest draw. Putting the title on him ensures a certain number of buys and a certain amount of mainstream interest for the Showcase of the Immortals.
It would also set up a rematch between The Beast and Reigns, who have unfinished business following the conclusion of last year's WrestleMania.
1. Roman Reigns
Despite the odds, Roman Reigns is the favorite to win the Royal Rumble match for the second straight year and, in the process, retain his WWE World Heavyweight Championship as a way of further sticking it to The Authority and Vince McMahon.
It would be a monumental victory and one that would complete one of the most impressive runs in the event's history. After all, Reigns was the runner-up in 2014 and the winner in 2015, and another victory would make him only the third man ever to win consecutive Rumbles.
Given WWE's determination to cement Reigns' status as the face of the company, especially taking into consideration the absence of so many top stars already, expect the company to go out of its way to book Reigns as strongly, and maybe even as sympathetically, as possible.
Of course, that scenario runs the risk of turning fans against Reigns once more, but it is a calculated risk you should still expect to see the company take come January 24.