The Royal Rumble is a fantastic event. It’s got it all: Surprises, the chance to advance and build new feuds, counting, and the biggest prize. That’s why every year, despite the build, there’s massive excitement for the Royal Rumble. And this 2017 Royal Rumble has something the last few didn’t: Unpredictability.
Whether you enjoyed the last few Rumbles or not, they weren’t very unpredictable. Take a look at the last four years:
2016: Triple H
- This was a bit more of a surprise in this one, but word of his likely return and victory had gotten around and by the time the match aired, people saw it coming. Even if they didn’t hear the buzz, there was little doubt that Roman Reigns vs. Triple H was going to be the big WrestleMania title match and the winner would be one of those two.
2015: Roman Reigns
- We all had a good idea that this was the way they were going for awhile, whether it was the rumor chatter on the internet or just watching the booking. What made matters worse, Roman lost time due to an injury prior and the fans in attendance ended up rejecting it all.
- Word was this was originally planned as a surprise return victory but when word leaked, they brought back the Animal earlier. And while we can bash internet rumors all we want, this was one that ended up being dead on and we knew at least a month in advance. Of course, the big problem wasn’t the predictability as much as he wasn’t Daniel Bryan, who wasn’t in the Rumble. Once again fans rejected it.
2013: John Cena
- While I don’t recall rumors spoiling the ending, the booking easily gave it away almost a year in advance. Cena lost to the Rock at WrestleMania the year prior and was going to get his win back. The night after beating Cena, Rock made it known he wanted to win the WWE title, which he did at the Royal Rumble, before John’s unsurprising win.
This isn’t to say that predictable is necessarily bad. If the correct story told well, it doesn’t matter. But the Rumble is the type of match that benefits from the air of unpredictability. There are 30 men in the match which gives way to numerous possibilities.
We’re a little over two weeks out from this Royal Rumble and I still don’t have an idea of who is going to win. Sure, Undertaker would be the easy choice, and maybe he will win and work with John Cena. But they also hinted at a Braun Strowman match for the Dead Man when they showed big Braun watching the Undertaker on a monitor last Monday on Raw. (The rumors haven’t been solid either, hinting at both Cena and Strowman for Taker at different points, likely because the plan within WWE is still fluid.)
One of the biggest contributors to the extra level of unpredictability is the brand split. Suddenly, the main story doesn’t have to go through the Royal Rumble match to make its way to the WrestleMania stage. Even if WWE wants to run John Cena vs. the Undertaker for the WWE title, that no longer requires Undertaker to win the Royal Rumble to get. Instead, whoever is going to challenge for the Universal title can win it and they can build Taker/Cena in other ways.
In the past brand split, the way the Royal Rumble worked is the winner got to pick which title he wants to fight for at WrestleMania. That adds the final layer of guesswork for our predictions and fantasy books. Because now there’s the added possibility of the winner challenging for the title on the opposite brand. So hypothetically, they can have Rollins win and challenge Styles for the WWE title if he retains or something like Orton vs. Reigns. And an added positive compared to years past is that none of even the likely scenarios have folks up in arms, meaning there’s much less of a chance the crowd rejects it like in ‘15 & ‘14.
I should reiterate that predictable is not bad if the story is good. But as wrestling fans, we like to spend our weeks leading up to the Rumble guessing who’s going to kick ass, who may be a surprise entrant, and of course who is going to win. While the next two weeks can hint at the finish, given the two separate brands competing in the match, we’ll likely be guessing all the way up to when the bell rings. And that’s much of the fun of it.