The Royal Rumble turns 30 this year, launching into its fourth decade as the greatest and most prestigious of pro wrestling’s gimmick matches. Careers have been launched by the results of Royal Rumble matches, and no other event in the WWE calendar holds the power to shake up the status quo so thoroughly, once each year. Sure, the last few years have seen a run of dismal rumbles, particularly in 2014 and 2015—both of which made our ranking of the worst rumbles ever—but at Sunday’s event, things are hopefully looking up. The field is stacked with both star power and legitimate threats to win the event. With very little understanding of the WWE’s current Wrestlemania plans, and no single superstar currently being given the rocket push treatment, there are more viable potential winners of the 2017 rumble than any time in recent memory. And any wrestling fan will know that makes for good TV.
To that already promising foundation, we’ve added a few potential twists/details that we’d love to see happen on Sunday. Consider these five items the Paste Royal Rumble wish list.
Tye Dillinger debuts at #10
Tye Dillinger, in short, is ready for the main stage. And not only is he ready, he deserves it at this point. He’s become this NXT generation’s version of Tyler Breeze; the guy who has risen into being one of the most over guys in NXT, without ever winning the championship. One would hope that his eventual ceiling on the main roster is a little bit higher than Breeze’s, and it seems like it would be—a solid midcarder at least, if not a world title contender. Having him come out at #10 is booking so obvious that it must have at least been mulled by WWE Creative at this point, but there’s no doubt that the pop would be absolutely tremendous; a legitimate star-making opportunity. Of course, in typical WWE fashion, that’s probably exactly what the company is afraid of. Rumors have swirled that they fear his “perfect ten” gimmick and chants of “ten” could become the sort of distraction that Stone Cold’s “What?!?” continues to be even in 2017, but we can only hope this doesn’t stop the company from giving Dillinger the best possible debut they can give him. This guy has been working the indies and developmental for more than a decade, and he’s earned a true payoff from the company that has continuously told him to just keep waiting. Don’t punish him for doing his job and becoming popular. – Jim Vorel
Brock Lesnar/Goldberg not involved in rumble finish
The specter of Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg III at Wrestlemania already hangs over the Royal Rumble like a cloud, threatening to take over the whole proceedings much in the same way as Stone Cold vs. Vince McMahon during the 1999 Rumble. That would be a huge mistake, because as we head into another brand split era, the Royal Rumble has become a more interesting tool than ever for shaking up the status quo. It can be used to put any superstar into the main event of Wrestlemania (please not facing Reigns, Vince), and it should be obvious to anyone watching the show that Lesnar and Goldberg do not need that treatment. Their next meeting will already be an automatic main event in and of itself—to also involve the Universal Championship in that story is complete overkill, and wasteful of the title itself. Putting Lesnar/Goldberg anywhere near the title picture doesn’t sell a single additional PPV buy or WWE Network subscription, because anyone who wants to see the two of them go at it again is already going to tune in, regardless of whether the title is involved. So please, keep these two far away from the actual finish of the match. Their presence in the match is already going to dominate at least a substantial portion of it, but at least get those two out of the match in time to give the end of the rumble an organic, sensible story. – Jim Vorel
Bring back the choice of champion to face at Wrestlemania
During the previous brand split era, the winner of the Royal Rumble was always faced with a choice. Yes, he got a pass to the main event of Wrestlemania, but which champion would he choose to face? The world champ from RAW, or from Smackdown? Or in context of the modern WWE, if the titles stay where they are: Do you want to face Kevin Owens/Roman Reigns or A.J. Styles/John Cena at Wrestlemania? Both fine choices, but it’s the decision itself that is a valuable storytelling tool for the WWE. It would be fun to see the winner deliberate on which champion he wants to face on the Grandest Stage of Them All, or which belt is truly the “top belt” in the company. I’m not certain how this would work in terms of going from one brand to another—if a RAW star wins the Rumble and wins the belt from Styles, does the new champ move to Smackdown? Or do both world titles come to RAW? Regardless, at least putting the illusion of choice into the storyline makes it more interesting than the automatic assumption that if a RAW star wins, they’ll face the world champ from RAW, and vice versa with Smackdown. This is a golden opportunity for the WWE to take advantage of the increased complexity of the brand split/separate rosters. – Jim Vorel
A main event-caliber NXT debut
Obviously Tye Dillinger at No. 10 is an amazing and obvious choice. But now that NXT has solidified itself as a true third brand in the WWE sphere behind Raw and SmackDown Live, fans are clamoring for debuts from top talents like Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura, two men who probably didn’t need to be in “developmental” anyway. And what better place for a surprise debut than the Royal Rumble match? Common wisdom used to be that a debut in the Rumble was a terrible idea: Unless the plan is a big title push, debuting in the Rumble is a guaranteed loss, and could bury a new wrestler. Then AJ Styles happened, and that logic was turned on its head. Styles entered the Rumble to tremendous fanfare in 2016, got eliminated by Kevin Owens, and hasn’t looked back since. A similar move with an upper tier NXT talent could be not only a great surprise, but the launch pad for a new superstar. – Paul DeBenedetto
There have been three women who’ve competed in the Royal Rumble match in the event’s history: Chyna, Kharma and Beth Phoenix. All three were powerhouse women’s’ wrestlers, and all were credible entrants, each eliminating one wrestler before being tossed themselves (Chyna did so in two consecutive years.) And just by their inclusion, the message was sent: Our women can hang. And almost two years since declaring a “revolution” in the WWE’s women’s division, it’s time to add another woman to the mix. Nia Jax or Asuka are obvious choices, but even a returning Tamina could fill that role as a surprise entry, albeit with less success. Asuka is another less likely choice than Jax purely because of size, but considering her total dominance of NXT’s women’s division, it begins to make more sense. And although it doesn’t make a lick of sense for her story right now, no one would bat an eyelash at Charlotte Flair tossing someone over the top rope. The addition of a woman (or, dare I say, women!) in the 2017 Rumble is a move that would help bring even more prestige to arguably the best and most talented women’s roster in the company’s history. Paul DeBenedetto