It's that wonderful time of the year again, the most exciting event in the wrestling calendar is upon us; the Royal Rumble. With this event we signal the direction of THE biggest show of the year, WrestleMania. What will be this year's main event? Who will be in line to become the next champion? The answers start here, but for now we're left with one more question; who will win the 2023 Royal Rumble?
For the Men, the situation is obvious. Cody Rhodes has to be the strongest favorite. They may use a fallback option in Seth Rollins should they want to delay the American Nightmare's coronation, but I'd give him better than 60% odds of winning. Sami Zayn would also be an inspired choice given his excellent story with Reigns, but that might not manifest itself with a singles match against Roman at Mania but rather a tag match against the Usos. Those feel like the only viable options.
In my opinion, there isn’t a terrible amount of suspense and intrigue there. However, I feel there are a few more interesting realistic opportunities in the women’s edition.
And so, I've decided to rank my five most compelling choices to win the 2023 Women's Rumble. I based my choices on numerous criteria, including past history with the current champions, storytelling possibilities with them as a Rumble winner, in ring reliability, and long-term upside should they successfully become champions at Mania.
Before getting into the contenders, let's talk about the current champions.
The 2020 Royal Rumble winner Bianca Belair is the Raw Women's champion, having held the title for nearly a year since besting Becky Lynch for it at last year's Mania. The EST of WWE has effectively played the top babyface of the company ever since then.
She faces Alexa Bliss at this event in a title match. The five time women's champion may not be favored to win, but she stands a chance with her renewed dark and spooky edge, so some mild consideration will be given to the possibility of her being champion.
Meanwhile 2019 Royal Rumble Winner Charlotte Flair is the new Smackdown Women's champion. After an eight month hiatus the Queen returned to Smackdown and immediately retook her throne by defeating previous champion Ronda Rousey. What's more, she seems to be running face, a turn from where she was this time last year.
So with that, barring any changes, we have two powerful and very strongly booked babyface champions at the top of the card. This means that the Rumble winner is likely going to be a heel, though that isn't set in stone as I'll explain in the list itself. Speaking of, let's begin with...
5. Liv Morgan
Liv recently raised eyebrows after declaring that she would be claiming the very first spot in this year's Royal Rumble. That's a very disadvantageous position, and a huge risk to take. But it's also par for course with Morgan; from managing to maintain her place in WWE when so many of her contemporaries have come and gone, to finally winning gold last summer, she's done nothing but overcome the odds.
Because, as it turns out, that's just the way she likes it. But why would actually choosing her to win the Rumble be a good idea? Because, as it turns out, that's just the way the audience likes it too.
Morgan has lasted as long as she has in WWE on the back of her scrappy, often rebellious, underdog charm. She's simply wonderful at playing the role of the little guy, figuratively and literally, and the crowd has been receptive to her development both in the ring and as a character over the years.
Whether as a rookie repping New Jersey, a Riott Squad member or a woman who tests her own limits, she's always punching up, always trying to prove herself, and always has something to prove in the first place. Even now, after winning the Smackdown Women's Championship she still has more to do. That reign proved she could win the "Big One", but only once and not for long, and she did it barely hanging on against an opponent like Ronda Rousey. That leaves the "fluke" argument chipping at her shoulder.
But winning the Rumble? After coming out first? And then challenging or even beating Charlotte, Bianca or perhaps a dark version of Alexa at Mania? Doing that would put her on that next level.
There are a few downsides to this choice. Liv isn't a ring general, if her opponent isn't up snuff she hasn't been known to elevate them, which is a premium skill for a champion. Even after years of in-ring improvement she still has her down moments and mistakes like her botched finish against Ronda at Summer Slam. And, unless they'd like to turn Charlotte or Bianca heel choosing her likely means a face on face encounter, or even turning Morgan heel, all of which is a tall order.
But isn't everything when it comes to her? There are a lot of potential unlikely heroes that could have an underdog run to greatness. But Morgan is the best at it and has a potential story of championship redemption that makes her the most intriguing dark horse candidate to win the Rumble outright.
4. Becky Lynch
The Man comes around one more time? Haven't we seen enough of Lynch on top?
Well...Sure, she's already won the Rumble four years ago. Sure, she proceeded to become the top face of the company after winning both titles in the main event of that year's WrestleMania. Sure, she's already among the most decorated women in wrestling. And sure, she's already passed the torch to Bianca Belair last year.
But even after all of that I believe she still has more to give the women's title scene- if they play their cards right.
This is mostly because, it's Becky Lynch, the most over woman in the history of the company. She had so much good will with the crowd they had to work double time to get her over as a heel last year. Her assertiveness, and consistent promo and match quality is all undeniable. I would argue that few would complain about her possibly winning a title again. Some would, mind, but few.
Now, as for the storytelling possibilities and the match itself, Becky has already buried the hatchet with Bianca. So, should she win the Rumble I would see her foregoing a rematch with her and instead aiming her sights on her old friend and bitterest rival, Charlotte Flair.
They've fought many times before. But this? This would be the apex. Like last year's bout between Brock and Roman this match would not be about crowning someone new but getting two titans in the ring together in order to create the biggest match possible for your biggest show of the year. It's about two storied rivals settling old debts and proving once and for all who's the best. And whoever wins? Smackdown wins, because it would be led by the bonafide biggest star in the women's division.
So, sure, Becky has already won that, and done that. But just as there's excitement in the unknown there's also possibility and upside in picking the known quantity.
The Role Model has won nearly everything there is to win in WWE. She's won the NXT, Raw and Smackdown Women's Championships, she was one of the first to win the new Women's Tag Team Championship and she's even won Money in the Bank.
But the one thing she hasn't won? The Royal Rumble. This year's Rumble might be her best chance to do so, and there are a number of reasons to embrace choosing the former "hugger".
For starters, she's an awesome option to facilitate a big match or become a champion at any given time. Bayley is about as reliable a technician as there is, she's always getting the best out of her opponents and pacing matches beautifully. This is the woman who got a good title match out of Eva Marie back in the day. There's a reason why she was champion for so long in the past.
And now? She has all of that and a faction of other workhorses behind her to keep her fresh. With Bayley, the equally reliable Dakota Kai and the often-specular Iyo Sky, Damage Control has the potential to be the backbone of the women's division; the leading ladies that everyone has to overcome to be a top star. So far so good, they're the tag team champions. All that's missing is for their fearless leader to have some gold of her own.
She came up short against Bianca Belair on Raw this past fall, and that feud's a beaten dead horse at this point. So, let's have her target the Queen's throne this time.
Bayley and Charlotte have their own history to build off of, and it's easy to see Bayley being resentful of Flair's well received return compared to that of hers. Charlotte returns from injury, changes barely anything about herself, wins a title, the fans love it. Bayley returns from injury, tries to lift two women with her, doesn't win the title, the crowd jeers her. Everything and everyone is fair to Flair. Somebody needs to fix that, and who better than these three? Besides, Bayley isn't just Charlotte's equal, she's her superior, and she'll throw everything she can at Flair to prove it.
Should Bayley best her fellow NXT Horsewoman she and Damage Control could finally reach their full potential and become a stable of top women lording over the card, specifically Smackdown. And should she lose? She's crossed off one last accolade on her long list of accomplishments, and Mania has a guaranteed high quality title match. Besides giving a huge win to someone who arguably doesn't need it there's very little downside with this possible choice, and I think we ought to consider it more than we do.
2. Raquel Roderiguez
It's been a quiet first year on Smackdown for "Big Mami Cool" (anybody else remember this nickname?) She's spent it endearing herself to the crowd as a humble yet powerful babyface. Her characterization has been very basic; she smiles (a lot), she helps her fellow babyfaces, and she shows courage in the face the actions of dastardly heels.
It's fine. She's fine. But there's something missing. She needs something to put her over the top, a signal that she is someone special instead of just one more smiling woman in a crowd. Winning the Rumble, and making a few changes after the fact, could be just what she needs.
This choice is ALL about upside; what she could do in the future more than what she has done in the past. With a tall frame, rare strength and a blend of charisma that matches her pride in herself with her pride in her background, Raquel could be the next big thing in the women's division. We've seen a glimpse of this potential when she was NXT champion, now it's time to translate that to the main roster. It's easy to envision the 6 footer dominating smaller opponents as a monster champion, let alone dominating the Rumble itself.
Now, Raquel is currently a face like both champions are. But should she win? It probably makes the most sense to tun her heel.
It's all about her resentment of her place on the card next to the two equally statuesque champions at the top of it. She is as powerful and athletically gifted as either Charlotte or Bianca, so why shouldn't she be the one that's running things instead of them? Why should she be wasting her time playing to the crowd or supporting others like Aliyah or Shotzi instead of lifting herself up? Where has that gotten her? One measly tag title reign that lasted a minute?
It's the perfect set up for a change, and exactly what's missing in order to let her reach her potential. And as a bonus this story works about as well with either current champion, so there's a bit of suspense as to who she'll choose to be her opponent.
The downside is that Raquel is still a little rough around the edges as an in ring performer, not bad at all, but not Bayley, Becky or even Bianca level of reliable. So, there is a small risk that Smackdown would be led by another woman who isn't the best at facilitating the Big Match, which was recently a problem with Rousey as champion. Also, she's probably not the most over woman on this list. Not loathed or ignored, but middle of the road.
But then again, that's why you pull the trigger on her here in the first place, to get her on the map. I can't think of a potential Rumble winner on this list that would be more of a come up than Rodriguez would be. Choosing her would most represent an investment in their future, a move that's most about putting somebody fresh and new over instead of going with another former champion.
1. Rhea Ripley
From the word go we've known that Ripley was something special. Ever since her days in NXT UK the Aussie from Adelaide has turned heads. She's great in the ring with convincingly smooth yet hard hitting powerhouse offense, and she commands your attention with her oozing confidence.
And it seems fans aren't the only ones who have taken notice. She's already won the Women's title on NXT UK, NXT and Raw. And yet, like Raquel, something was missing from her main roster run. Sure she defeated Asuka at WrestleMania 37 and won the Raw Women's Championship. But that reign was marred by inconsistent tweener booking that left her lukewarm to the crowd, and it was overshadowed by 2020 Rumble winner Bianca Belair wining the opposite title in the main event. Ripley was booked relatively well, but wasn't getting over the way she should. That is until Edge popped into her life.
Her work in the Judgement Day faction has been a revelation. You could say she was born to be a member, the black and violet metal inspired aesthetic (derived from Edge's brief return to the dark side) looks as natural on the Nightmare as her own skin. And it's given her ample opportunity to blossom as a character. From being a persistent and often physical problem at ringside, to coercing Dominick Mysterio to turn on his father in favor of his "mami", she's been the clear breakout star of the stable. Balor and Priest are great veterans, Mysterio is emerging, but Judgement Day IS Rhea Ripley.
And should she win the Rumble she can take this renewal straight to the feet of the EST, who just barely missed facing her last summer due to an injury. Or, even more interestingly, she can get revenge on Charlotte for ending her run as NXT champion three years ago. I'd prefer the latter scenario, but either works beautifully and should lead to another title reign, done right this time.
With her star in the ascendancy there's no better time or place to signal her time at the top than by having her win the 2023 Royal Rumble.
So there are my five picks! What say all of you? Agree with my takes? Disagree? Did I miss someone altogether? Leave a comment below!