The 2021 Royal Rumble is creeping around the corner and at the time of writing, there’s no one clear winner for the men’s main event. In previous years, there’s usually been one or maybe two superstars that have been put on a metaphorical pedestal leading up to the big night, but this year is anyone’s game with only a few stepping up into the spotlight in time for the show.
As always, I’m going to try my hand at predicting who is in with a chance at being a dark horse Rumble winner, those that may not immediately spring to mind when thinking of who’s in with a chance of punching their ticket to WrestleMania. Taking into account the current feuds and creative directions on RAW and SmackDown Live, I’ve narrowed down 5 potential winners from the roster’s underbelly.
1. Shinsuke Nakamura
It came as a shock to all when Shinsuke Nakamura ran the gauntlet on last week’s episode of SmackDown Live. For a moment, it seemed like ‘The King of Strong Style’ was mounting a massive career resurgence in the middle of Rumble season. Although the Universal Champion now has a confirmed challenger in Kevin Owens, Nakamura’s plight to return to the main event scene is underway, and could definitely make him a viable choice to become a two-time Rumble winner.
Nakamura’s chance to ascend into superstardom was cut short in 2018, having won the Rumble and lost his title opportunity to AJ Styles in one of the marquee main events. Now a certified underdog on the SmackDown roster, Shinsuke has a lot to prove to the WWE Universe who may have fallen out of love with ‘The Artist’ since his fall from grace.
Having re-adopted his old theme song ‘The Rising Sun’, it seems that babyface Nak is back in town and looking for vengeance on ‘The Tribal Chief’ and his cousin Jey Uso as part of the Royal Rumble match. Should Nakamura succeed in the age-old quest to defeat the odds and earn his rightful pop at the champ, then this could make for a remarkable babyface programme on par with the likes of KofiMania and The Yes Movement in time for WrestleMania 37.
‘The Swiss Cyborg’ picked up an unexpected victory over Daniel Bryan on this week’s SmackDown Live. Considering that his partner is also on the road to career recovery, it seems only fair that perennial fan-favourite, Cesaro, also gets a bit of a rub as we head into the Rumble. For years, the WWE Universe has been waiting on hand and feet to see Cesaro’s rise to the top. There’s no denying that the man has incredible talent in between the ropes and has stuck around long enough to warrant a shot at a major championship.
For both Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura to be vying for a monumental Royal Rumble victory, it shows that WWE are willing to run with new ideas and experiment with untapped sources of potential. Hopefully this is a welcoming ray of hope as we enter a new year, one where WWE needs to restore the faith of their fanbase after the shit-show that was 2020.
Giving a Rumble win and a WrestleMania opportunity to Cesaro could go a long way in reclaiming ratings in the ongoing war with AEW, while also giving us the storyline we’ve been craving for almost a decade. Plus, a ‘Mania match between Roman Reigns and Cesaro would be straight fire.
3. Jey Uso
Roman Reigns’ right hand man was one of the highlights of WWE’s 2020. His rise to the top of the card was accentuated by two phenomenal championship matches against his cousin, proving that Jey belonged in the title picture and was more than just ‘one of the Usos’.
Things came to a bit of a halt for Uso and Reigns when they wrapped up their story at Hell in a Cell, though. Despite the emotionally charged match leading to Reigns employing the services of Jey as one of his man-servants (a la JBL/Shawn Michaels), there seems like there are loose ends left to tie in a third and final match between the two Samoans in a high profile environment, one where Uso can finally escape the shadow of ‘The Tribal Chief’.
Now that Jey has put his name forward for the Royal Rumble, imagine the headlines if he were to go on to win the whole thing and declare his intentions to finally defeat Reigns at WrestleMania. It would make for a perfect ending to the Anoa’i family civil-war and a massive credit to Jey’s success.
(Matt) Riddle has been touted as a ‘Shawn Michaels in the making’ by the WWE’s chairman Vince McMahon, for an NXT upstart to be getting such praise within a year of his main roster debut, he must be destined for big things in 2021. Riddle is currently caught up in a US title feud with The Hurt Business’ Bobby Lashley, which is probably the best thing for him as he rises through the ranks of Monday Night RAW. However, Riddle is a diamond in the rough and may not need to loiter in the mid-card for long before he ascends to the next level.
Pulling the trigger on Riddle as a main event star sooner rather than later could make him a huge star, getting him over with the casual audience who have yet to experience Riddle at his best. Putting him in the championship picture in time for WrestleMania would present him as a sure-fire megastar that has the ability to make it in the depths of the main roster.
With WWE being such a traffic jam of talent, it’s better to skip the formalities and rocket-strap the golden gooses to the very top before they have a chance to go stale. So many NXT call-ups have failed because WWE waiting far too long to make them into a big deal, they can’t afford to do that with Riddle.
5. John Cena
Who would have thought that John Cena would ever be a dark horse in WWE. I personally feel like it’s been too long since we’ve seen (get it?) the 16 time World Champion, even if he did receive a strange writing-off at WrestleMania against Bray Wyatt. A return to the ring from one of Hollywood’s biggest stars could be the exact move WWE need to make in order to pull things back in their favour. Should Cena make that big Rumble return, then anything other than a victory would be a discredit to his name.
I’m sure there’d be a large portion of the audience that would groan, but WWE just doesn’t feel right without Cena acting as the big draw for WrestleMania, especially when there are still a tonne of dream matches still left for him to tick off. Just imagine the buzz if he were to make a WrestleMania comeback to face-off against heel Universal Champion Roman Reigns, or issue a challenge to whoever the WWE Champion happens to be after January 31st.
Even though Cena remains pretty distant from the world of pro wrestling these days, a shock appearance from the leader of the Cenation would send shockwaves through the entertainment industry, bringing hundreds of thousands of eyes back to WWE at a time where they could establish a new crop of superstars in the aforementioned four and the likes of Keith Lee, Big E and any other pet projects they’re cooking up.
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