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What’s At Stake: Royal Rumble 2016

As we head into yet another special event on the WWE Network, I’ll try to answer one simple question: What are these guys and girls fighting over? As always, we welcome your feedback. Leave a comment below or send an email to [email protected].

The Royal Rumble Match (Officially announced participants: Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, Sheamus, Chris Jericho, Stardust, Bray Wyatt, Erick Rowan, Luke Harper, Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, Big Show, Curtis Axel)
What’s At Stake: WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Potentially, a spot in the main event at WrestleMania. The reputation of the Royal Rumble match.
I’m one of those people who’s convinced there will be more than 30 entrants in this year’s Royal Rumble match, with Triple H entering as #31. But why stop there. The other day I was explaining my #31 theory to my wife, and she suggested there could be even more – 32, 33, 34, etc. I picture Mr. McMahon unloading an endless conveyor belt of disposable entrants for Roman Reigns to decimate en route to an epic victory against all odds.

As of the publishing of this column, there are 13 participants officially announced for this year’s Rumble match. 2 more decided by a match during the preshow (more on that a little later). That leaves a lot of question marks, and plenty of speculation among fans about who the surprise entrants will be.

One of the most interesting pieces of information included in the annual hype video airing on WWE television is that there will be 6 former winners in this year’s Rumble match. Take a look at the actual list of those men, and you’ll see why that statement got my attention. I’ve taken the liberty of crossing out the guys who will almost certainly not be making a surprise appearance in this year’s Rumble match.

  • 1988: “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan
    1989: Big John Studd
    1990: Hulk Hogan
    1991: Hulk Hogan
    1992: Ric Flair
    1993: Yokozuna
    1994: Bret Hart / Lex Luger
    1995: Shawn Michaels
    1996: Shawn Michaels
    1997: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
    1998: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
    1999: Mr. McMahon
    2000: The Rock
    2001: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
    2002: Triple H
    2003: Brock Lesnar
    2004: Chris Benoit
    2005: Batista
    2006: Rey Mysterio
    2007: Undertaker
    2008: John Cena
    2009: Randy Orton
    2010: Edge
    2011: Alberto Del Rio
    2012: Sheamus
    2013: John Cena
    2014: Batista
    2015: Roman Reigns

4 of the former winners are being heavily publicized for this year’s Rumble match – Reigns, Lesnar, Sheamus and Del Rio. The identities of the two other past winners is being kept under wraps. It’s reasonable to assume one of them will be Triple H, but who is the sixth?

Batista just wrapped principal photography last week on a film called “Bushwick”. So, he could be available for a surprise appearance. The Rock is extremely unlikely due to a huge insurance policy hurdle that reportedly prevents him from engaging in any in-ring physicality for WWE.

There were three leading candidates in my mind: Undertaker, Randy Orton or (*gulp*) Mr. McMahon. But then I realized “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan isn’t entirely out of the question. In fact, he may be the most likely candidate. He was in a tag team match at an Imperial Wrestling show in Oklahoma last weekend. I won’t be shocked if WWE drops a dash of nostalgia into this year’s Rumble match.

One of the best things about the Royal Rumble match is the minutia. It’s perfect for stat geeks, and WWE encourages us to dig into all the insignificant little details that have accumulated over the years. We know the records and the noteworthy accomplishments. There will likely be more this year.

Reigns will be the #1 entrant in this year’s match. There’s certainly a strong possibility he’ll win. If he does, he’ll be only the fourth back-to-back winner in Rumble history, and the third man to win from the #1 position. Only the #27 spot has produced more.

Don’t expect the record for longest time spent in a single Rumble match (1:02:12 by Rey Mysterio in 2006) to be threatened. WWE is promising 90 second intervals between entrants this year. If Reigns survives to see the #30 entrant, he won’t even be past the 45 minute mark. However, he would have a realistic chance at the fifth longest time for a winner.

If one of the favorites (Reigns, Triple H or Lesnar) wins this year, he will become only the sixth man in history to win more than one Rumble match.

Once Big Show enters this year’s match, he will stand alone in third place on the all-time list for Rumble appearances with 11 (unless Undertaker shows up. Then, he’ll have 11 too).

That’s just a small sampling of what could happen. When it comes to the Royal Rumble match, the possibilities are endless. Imaginations run wild. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to fall into the trap of being let down. The past two years have been remembered more for the disappointment and frustration of fans than for the match itself. Can WWE turn things around this year, and remind us what makes the Royal Rumble great?

Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens
What’s At Stake – WWE Intercontinental Championship. A new legacy for WWE’s Last Man Standing stipulation.
The rivalry between Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens has been running since last autumn, but it took a big step forward at the TLC event last December. That’s where Ambrose defeated Owens to win the Intercontinental Title. To say Owens didn’t take that loss well would be a bit of an understatement. He’s taken nearly every opportunity since then to attack the new champion. Fortunately for us, Ambrose has been more than willing to give a beating as well as he receives. In case you haven’t been watching SmackDown, these two have made it their duty to have some of the wildest brawls possible under the WWE banner.

The Last Man Standing stipulation doesn’t have the best reputation among WWE fans. Many have grown tired of seeing cute endings where one guy ties up or buries the other rather than beat him to the point that it’s physically impossible for his opponent to continue fighting. However, the last couple Last Man Standing matches in WWE have turned that unwanted trend around.

Without a traditional world championship match on the card, this is undoubtedly the most anticipated singles match at the Royal Rumble. If Ambrose and Owens are given the opportunity to steal the show, they’ll probably do it.

Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch
What’s At Stake – WWE Divas Championship. The possible rebirth of the Divas Revolution.
Last July, WWE attempted to launch a Divas Revolution. Six months later, it may finally happen. Fans have cried out for matches and rivalries as good as the ones in NXT’s women’s division. This could be that turning point, and it’s no surprise to see two of NXT’s so-called “Four Horsewomen” leading the way.

The evolution of this rivalry hasn’t always been pretty, but it’s been getting better by the week ever since Charlotte decisively severed their friendship at the beginning of the month. With their roles clearly defined (including Ric Flair behaving like an insane soccer dad), both started to come into their own. The results have been good, and sometimes great.

Lynch coerced Flair into agreeing to give her another shot at the Divas Title last Monday on Raw. She never won the NXT Women’s Championship. You get the feeling it may finally be her time on an even bigger stage. WWE is so close to something truly great with this match.

Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto
What’s At Stake – WWE United States Championship.
Riding a wave of momentum that began at TLC, Kalisto shocked the world two weeks ago on Raw. Picking up the slack for the injured John Cena, he upset Alberto Del Rio to win the United States Championship.

The crowd went wild, but Kalisto’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reign came to a screeching halt at the SmackDown taping the following day.

Where is this going? Is this setting up an even bigger title win for Kalisto, or is this going to solidify Del Rio as someone who could be moved up into the main event? WWE could certainly use a strong Del Rio heading into WrestleMania.

The New Day vs. The Usos
What’s At Stake – WWE Tag Team Championship.
WWE’s once promising tag team division has withered away to this – the last two teams still standing. It feels like The New Day has done just about everything it can with tag team titles. There are no challengers left. The Usos, on the other hand, could transition neatly into matches against an endless combination of challengers from the League Of Nations, the Wyatt Family and the various other factions. I’m sensing a title change here.

Darren Young & Damien Sandow vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Ascension vs. Mark Henry & Jack Swagger
What’s At Stake: Two open spots in the Royal Rumble match.
One of these teams will join the field of 30 (or more?) men in the Royal Rumble match. It’s nice to see a preshow match with something at stake, and it will be even better to see someone get some momentum. Not many in this year’s match can say that.