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Examining WWE’s Royal Rumble Conundrum

It may be a bit hard to believe, but WrestleMania season is just around the corner folks. Less than two months from now, WWE Superstars will be converging on the Alamodome in San Antonio for the 36th annual Royal Rumble — the official kick-off to one of the most anticipated WrestleMania seasons in years.

For the first time in the company’s history, WrestleMania will not be constructed around Vince McMahon’s creative vision. That buck has now been passed.

Since taking over as Chief Content Officer, Triple H has certainly breathed new life into the product. Ratings and fan enjoyment are up and morale backstage is reportedly the best it’s been in a decade.

Speaking subjectively, it hasn’t all been great. There’s always room for improvement and The Game would most likely tell you that himself. But we also need to remember that producing three weekly episodic television shows, equipped with several compelling and entertaining storylines, is not easy — especially when much of your time has been spent trying to establish or re-establish Superstars on the main roster and tweaking several elements of the shows to align with your own creative vision.

The tectonic plates are still shifting. The landscape of WWE has not quite settled and it might not for a while yet. Rumors continue to swirl around the possible returns of talent like William Regal, Matt Cardona, Chelsea Green, and now, Eric Young. And with each new addition, another stone drops to cause a creative ripple effect.

Luckily for WWE, many fans are still locked into the honeymoon phase with the Triple H creative regime. They’ve been willing to overlook the growing pains and focus on the positive changes within the company. But the Game’s biggest test is just on the horizon and it starts with Royal Rumble.

For many wrestling fans, Royal Rumble is their all-time favorite event in pro wrestling. They look forward to it every year with great anticipation and it’s incredibly important for Triple H to swing for the fences and deliver a big time HR for the WWE Universe - especially after what happened this past January.

A Universal Championship match that ended in a DQ. A dodgy finish to the WWE Championship match. Sasha Banks unceremoniously being the 3rd participant eliminated from the Women’s Royal Rumble. Very few surprise entrants in the men’s match. A lack of overall story-telling in each battle royal. Then there was all the reported Shane McMahon backstage drama.

Last year’s event was not short on issues that plagued it, but nothing that happened tarnished it more than Vince McMahon booking one of his biggest events like it didn’t even matter.

For those of you who may have wiped the ending from your memory, here’s a quick refresher. Brock Lesnar was booked to drop the WWE Championship to Bobby Lashley, thanks to outside interference from Roman Reigns — a very dissatisfying ending to a dream match for many.

Brock would then return to win the Men’s Royal Rumble Match to close the show. While that’s not the direction this writer would have gone, that was at least forgivable at that point in time. Vince wanted to do Roman and Brock again, fine. He had it set up. No issues. But then, Brock was booked into the Elimination Chamber match a month later, won back the WWE Championship and set up Vince McMahon’s most stupendous WrestleMania main event.

In an effort to make the biggest main event he possibly could, Mr. McMahon played hot potato with his World Title, just so he could bypass having another Royal Rumble winner gum up the works for his big Championship Unification Match.

The 2021 Men’s Royal Rumble match was booked like it was an obstacle. Like it was something that needed to be dealt with, instead of one of the most beloved and iconic matches in WWE. Mr. McMahon also laid the groundwork for a major booking issue, that his son-in-law now has to deal with.

If Roman Reigns vs. The Rock is the plan for WrestleMania 39, who wins the Royal Rumble?

WWE has a major conundrum on their hands. As of this writing, there is only one World Champion and spoiler alert — Roman Reigns is not losing anytime soon. And the chances seem pretty remote that they’ll find a way of splitting up the WWE and Universal titles as the company reportedly doesn’t want Reigns to lose in any fashion ahead of his heavily rumored match with The Rock at WrestleMania 39.

Roman Reigns going one-on-one with the Great One though, is far from a guarantee. No one has been able to confirm that The Rock has officially been locked in for the main event in Hollywood.

If the battle for family supremacy ends up not being in the cards this year, while that would ultimately be a disappointment and a major loss not having The Rock on the card, it would open up an assortment of interesting possibilities for this year’s Men’s Royal Rumble Match.

A returning Cody Rhodes would have to be an odds on and sentimental favorite. The American Nightmare fulfilling his family’s legacy by capturing the top prize in the pro wrestling industry, a prize that alluded both his father and brother, is something most of us want to see come to fruition. And there would be no better time or place to do it then on the Grandest Stage of Them All against the most dominant Champion of our generation.

Plus, Cody is very proud of his Royal Rumble stats, and finally getting to be the last man standing would be the icing on the cake for him.

Seth Rollins is someone else who makes a ton of sense. The only man to defeat Roman Reigns all year, albeit by that DQ at the Royal Rumble I mentioned earlier. Regardless, Rollins has always had the Tribal Chief’s number and the history is obviously there to tell a compelling story. And speaking frankly, Rollins has earned that spot.

No one has done more to put others over in the last couple of years than Seth Rollins — Cesaro, Edge, Cody Rhodes, Matt Riddle, Bobby Lashley, Austin Theory. He’s only won two Premium Live Event matches by pinfall since WrestleMania 37 and he’s still one of the most over Superstars in the entire company.

Despite Rollin’s losses, his in-ring work remains impeccable - arguably the best of his career. He’s long overdue to get his name on the marquee.

Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Bobby Lashley, Bray Wyatt, Karrion Kross, Drew McIntyre and Sheamus would all be on the table as well. All of them have a storyline tie to the Tribal Chief or the Bloodline in one way or another.

If you eliminate the potential of a WrestleMania match-up between Roman Reigns and The Rock, then this year’s Men’s Royal Rumble Match could be the most exciting and unpredictable in quite some time. However, that possibility does exist, which creates an issue.

Either you have The Rock make a surprise appearance in the Royal Rumble and win it for the second time in his career, a decision that has been at least discussed according to Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, or you find a way for the Royal Rumble winner to face someone other than Roman Reigns.

Earlier this week, my esteemed co-host on the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast, suggested Triple H could have the winner challenge for the top title on Monday Night Raw - The United States Championship.

I personally, loathe that idea. I’ve been all for the recent elevation of both the United States and Intercontinental Championships under Triple H’s watch, but I think that move would devalue the Royal Rumble more than anything. But I can get behind that kind of outside the box thinking.

Could the solution be the NXT Championship?

The Rock winning this year’s Royal Rumble, while I would understand the move and it would no doubt go over well with the live audience in San Antonio, just isn’t necessary. And it may not even be feasible given his busy schedule.

There’s also something about bringing in a partially retired Superstar, having them enter the Rumble at number 30, and then putting them over your current top stars that doesn’t sit well with me. Especially when the finish line will most likely see Roman Reigns once again victorious. It’s straight out of the Vince McMahon creative playbook.

Easy for me to say though. I’m not the one who has to make the decisions and deal with the aftermath. The Rock winning the Royal Rumble match may be the simplest way to set up this dream match. But then I go back to — what if he’s not available?

If taking the WWE, Universal, or both titles off of Roman Reigns is not an option, then it’s time to lean on your other World Championship.

People often overlook the NXT Championship in this scenario, but this is not entirely unprecedented territory. Remember when Charlotte Flair won the Royal Rumble in 2020, she went on to challenge and defeat Rhea Ripley for the NXT Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 36.

The problem in this situation, is what main roster Superstar would win the Royal Rumble and then willing choose not to challenge the Head of the Table. Unless it’s a member of the Bloodline, or Austin Theory maybe (joking, or am I?), I don’t see any situation where that makes sense.

Dare to do something that’s never been done. Have an NXT Superstar shock the world and win the whole damn thing. Having an up and coming stud like Carmelo Hayes win the Rumble and face Bron Breakker for the NXT Championship at WrestleMania would be far away from the worst thing you could do given the circumstances.

It’s just a thought. Ultimately the ball is in Triple H’s court and the clock is running out to get those WrestleMania 39 plans in place.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below. You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.

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