Ranking the Superstars Most Likely to Steal Show During WWE Royal Rumble Matches
One look at Royal Rumble history provides fans an abundance of show-stealing performances.
From Shawn Michaels going the distance in 1995 to The Rock strengthening his star in 1998, Steve Austin enhancing his momentum with a winning performance in 1997 to Becky Lynch solidifying her status as the biggest star in the company in 2019, the event's long and illustrious history has made stars and strengthened them ahead of monumental pushes.
While 2021 has yet to suggest any rocket ship pushes are on the horizon, there are still plenty of opportunities for young and vibrant stars to enhance their futures with extraordinary performances in the 30-man and 30-woman matches.
Who are the stars to benefit this year and how?
Find out with this preview of the annual WWE extravaganza.
8. Shinsuke Nakamura
The 2018 Royal Rumble winner exploded back into meaningfulness with a stunning performance in the gauntlet match to crown the No. 1 contender to Roman Reigns' universal title, defeating Rey Mysterio, Daniel Bryan and King Corbin before being screwed over by The Tribal Chief.
Since then, he has regained his original babyface theme music and defeated Jey Uso in a singles bout, steadily gaining momentum for himself heading into the Rumble.
Unfortunately, a win should not be counted on, but rather a performance that continues his hot streak.
Nakamura will enter early, maybe even in the first two, before exiting midway through the match. The commentary team will talk him up big time as he appears to be the focus of a renewed push, and Nakamura will enter the following Friday's show significantly hotter than he was a month earlier.
What becomes of him then remains to be seen, but the Rumble will go a long way in helping him re-establish himself as a player on the blue brand.
Cesaro may well be, pound-for-pound, the best wrestler on the planet.
His in-ring skills are nearly unmatched, as is his ability to adapt his own strengths to match those of any opponent. He can work a mat-based contest with Daniel Bryan, then turn around and throw strikes with Big E and have both matches wow the audience.
He may not be the most dynamic personality, but in terms of pure in-ring ability, not even the more celebrated Kenny Omega can touch him.
This is why it is somewhat stunning that he has yet to accomplish more as a singles competitor in WWE.
A clean win over Daniel Bryan on the January 15 episode of SmackDown has him rolling heading into Royal Rumble, however, and a strong showcase for The Swiss Cyborg should not be discounted.
Will he win the match? Absolutely not, but some of the most memorable performances in Rumble history come from those who lost. Diesel made himself a star early in the 1994 match, while CM Punk carried the opening minutes of the 2010 contest by showing off his Straight Edge Savior character.
Imagine a scenario where Cesaro goes toe-to-toe with the biggest, baddest Superstars in WWE and even scores a few eliminations. It would help him build his star at a time where, at least on the surface, it appears management is paying closer attention him.
While not as surefire a case as someone like Big E or Keith Lee, his is a name that could well be on the lips of fans coming out of the January 31 PPV.
6. Keith Lee
Keith Lee may be the closest thing to a hybrid heavyweight that WWE has on its roster.
He can power his opponent down but also throw his own body around the ring like a competitor much smaller than he is. That makes him a prime contender for both the most eliminations and longevity records in this year's Royal Rumble match.
Considering how much momentum he has lost over the last six or so months, do not be surprised if WWE officials utilize the Rumble to heat him back up before the all-important march to WrestleMania.
They can accomplish this by having him enter early and eliminate others often, all the way to the end of the match, where someone else will benefit from tossing The Limitless One.
Is Lee a legitimate contender to win? Afraid not, thanks in large part to a lack of creative focus paid to him over the last month. Sure, he was booked to beat Sheamus and challenge Drew McIntyre for the WWE Championship, but he was never a serious threat to win the title and fans knew it.
WWE officials can easily right that wrong and provide Lee the boost he needs heading into the most significant stretch of the year. Expect the former NXT champion to shine, break out and steal the show on January 31.
5. Alexa Bliss
Alexa Bliss has become one of the hottest stars in wrestling, thanks to her willingness to reinvent herself and completely embrace a new character.
The unhinged harlequin—and right-hand woman of "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt—has enjoyed considerable television time and even squashed Asuka for a win in the Raw main event. Her work has been phenomenal, to the extent that she has earned television time opposite Randy Orton in a genuine main event program.
Her recent mid-match transformation against Asuka added a new element to her character that would bring a new wrinkle to the Royal Rumble match.
Imagine Bliss nearing elimination only for the lights to go out, and when they come back on, she is in a different outfit with darker makeup and ready to go on a mass elimination run. She can be equal parts fun and destructive, making her one of the surefire can't-miss performers in this year's Rumble matches.
4. Bianca Belair
The EST of WWE broke out in last year's Royal Rumble, lasting over 35 minutes and eliminating a record eight competitors.
It was a dominant performance by the most athletically gifted performer on the roster and a sign of things to come. This year, she enters the match riding a wave of momentum thanks to a feud with former SmackDown women's champion Bayley.
While nearly 40 minutes might be too much to ask for a second year in a row, and eight eliminations are highly unlikely, do not be surprised if Belair again establishes herself as one of the most physically dominant and impressive performers by evading eliminations and dumping former champions to the floor.
Belair is a favorite to win this year's match, and with good reason, but it still feels like she is a year or so away from really owning the Rumble and cashing her ticket to WrestleMania and a date with a champion.
She will still turn heads and leave you saying her name, though, making her a prime candidate for this list.
3. Big E
Big E is going to be a world champion.
It just isn't going to happen at WrestleMania, making the likelihood that he wins the Royal Rumble this year unlikely.
That is not to say he will not have the best run of any male competitor in the match, because that could well happen. The powerhouse of the New Day and current intercontinental champion has been as impressive and red-hot as any star over the last six months.
He has showcased his personality and, even more importantly, his ability to excel as a singles competitor. He is going to be a genuine main event performer by the end of 2021, but it still feels like it's a bit too early to launch him into the stratosphere at this point.
Much like Keith Lee, an eliminations record or longevity record is not out of the realm of possibility, nor is a runner-up spot. He may well be the last obstacle for the winner to overcome, thus elevating his own star in defeat.
Not only is he a Superstar to watch as a potential show-stealer at this year's show, but he may also be world champion by the time the 2022 spectacle rolls around.
2. Rhea Ripley
This time last year, Rhea Ripley was gearing up for the most significant run of her young career. The reigning NXT champion, she was weeks away from issuing a challenge to Charlotte Flair for a title match at WrestleMania. That contest, one of the best of 2020, should have elevated her to previously unattained heights.
It did not.
Ripley cooled off considerably before heating back up on the heels of show-stealing matches against Io Shirai and Raquel Gonzalez.
With her time in NXT almost certainly over, this year's Rumble brings with it the opportunity for her to remind Flair and the main roster women why it was not all that long ago that she was considered the breakout star of the future.
She will enter early and enjoy a lengthy stay. A confrontation with familiar foe Flair should not be ruled out, but expect Ripley to make a big splash by ridding the match of someone like Shayna Baszler, Nia Jax or Bayley as she sets up potential feuds for herself upon her main roster arrival.
Edge shocked the wrestling world a year ago with a return to the squared circle fans were absolutely sure was never going to happen.
The magical return and runner-up finish was enough to get fans buzzing, while his subsequent matches with Randy Orton proved The Rated R Superstar still had something left in the tank.
An ill-timed injury robbed fans of a storybook ending for the Torontonian, but another opportunity to enter the Royal Rumble certainly sets him up for the second act of his triumphant return.
Of everyone on this list, it could be argued Edge has the best shot at actually winning the Rumble match, if only because his star power is such that WWE officials could easily book him against a Drew McIntyre or Roman Reigns and have a marketable main event for the biggest show of the year without having to do much to elevate his status.
And he doesn't even have to work too long in the Rumble match, or risk injury, to do so.
The energy his return would bring with it would easily carry him through a run that lasts just a few minutes long. Edge hits the ring, eliminates a couple of fools and cashes his ticket to The Showcase of the Immortals. Easy peasy.
Even if he does not win, a return by the 2012 Hall of Famer will almost certainly earn him headlines and the most notoriety in this year's extravaganza.