Before going ahead and asking who could win it's probably a good idea to look at what the winner will be doing. By knowing that we can better understand the situation and who may be placed into it.
Obviously the winner of the Rumble will go on to face the WWE champion for the WWE championship at WrestleMania, it’s the traditional prize. That match will be billed as the main event even if it doesn't go on last, not that that's important for our purposes here. Right now the champ is Brock Lesnar. At the Royal Rumble he will defend his title against John Cena. This means that it will almost certainly be one of those two defending the strap come 'Mania. If Lesnar retains against Cena he's unlikely to make an appearance (at least not a wrestling appearance) at new February pay-per-view Fast Lane. Should Cena defeat Lesnar he probably will wrestle at Fast Lane, potentially in a title match. But it's unlikely WWE would have Cena win the championship only to drop it a month later so it's safe enough to assume if he beats Lesnar he'll be the champ at WrestleMania.
|Lesnar's got to be the favourite to head into WrestleMania 31 as champ, right?
Which tells us we can expect the winner of the Royal Rumble to face Lesnar or Cena at WrestleMania. The number of guys who'd get to challenge for the WWE title at WWE's premier show is small already. That they'd be facing Lesnar, the company's highest paid guy on a per appearance basis, or Cena, the man the company has revolved around for the last decade, narrows things further. With Lesnar or Cena in the title match it's pretty much a guarantee the defence will go on last. Basically, having a second tier name win the Rumble and challenge the WWE champion on the WrestleMania undercard, something that was pretty standard for a while, doesn't seem like an option.
Which brings me back around to the slender number of prospective Rumble victors. Top of my list (and probably most other people's right now) is Roman Reigns. I mean, he's just the obvious choice, right? He looks the part and WWE have positioned him for a strong run. What better way to show that someone’s a big deal than by having him win the Royal Rumble and go on to topple a former UFC champion, a legitimate beast, in the main event of the biggest wrestling show of the year? I can only think of one thing bigger: having them defeat Cena at 'Mania.
Cena may have been handily dispatched by 'The Pain' at SummerSlam but he could gain retribution by blasting through Lesnar at the Rumble. Although WWE have done well making Lesnar into an unstoppable force of nature over the last year Cena is still the undisputed top star, no matter how many times Lesnar destroys him. Reigns versus Cena would also encourage fans to cheer Reigns, something that may not be quite so easy against a character like Lesnar. The boisterous ‘Mania crowd’s dislike of Cena would out weight their dislike of Reigns.
All of this is just as true for Dean Ambrose as it is for Big Roman. The reason Reigns edges ahead of Ambrose is that his face is a better fit. But Ambrose has the people on his side and that's not something that should be underestimated. Last year's WrestleMania is most remembered for WWE altering their planned Batista versus Orton main event to incorporate people's choice Daniel Bryan. Ambrose doesn't have such a fervent following as D-Bry but it's not impossible decision makers could learn from last year and go with the more genuinely popular choice rather than trying to force an embrace of their chosen one.
|Randy wins lol.
There’s Randy Orton to consider too. Orton and Cena have never squared off at a WrestleMania. As uninspiring as it sounds it's the sort of match that WWE seems to love promoting. More appealing is the prospect of an Orton versus Lesnar match. They haven't clashed since both became made men in the promotion over a decade ago. It's one of the few fresh matches between headliners WWE have at their disposal. It may not be the greatest thing ever but it would certainly be a credible WrestleMania main event in terms of star power. So a ‘Viper’ win can’t be ruled out.
Daniel Bryan's name needs mentioning. There's clearly scope to do a big story with him returning to win the Rumble and topple the champ at 'Mania. This is dependent on his medical status, which is unknown to the general public, but a late January return has to be at least feasible. What's particularly interesting about the prospect of D-Bry winning is that matches with Cena and Lesnar are equally interesting. Cena and Bryan haven't touched since SummerSlam 2013, whilst Lesnar and Bryan have never interacted in any capacity. Both are matches that would attract an audience, and just as importantly either match could help to bolster Bry's rep in the long run.
This isn't likely though. Pushing Daniel Bryan has never seemed especially high on the company’s priorities list and Cena versus Bryan doesn't feel like a direction WWE would take for WM31. They seem to currently prefer to use Cena to elevate mid-card guys if the last year's anything to go by. Meanwhile if Bryan has healed in time for a lengthy match in March the last person he should be facing from a safety standpoint is Brock Lesnar. That said I'd enjoy either match.
It's possible WWE will decide to go with a dark horse as the Rumble winner. If they do I think Rusev could be in with a chance. He’s been pushed stronger than any non-indy standout newcomer in years and that’s almost certainly going to continue into the Royal Rumble, whether he wins or not. If he did win Rusev v Lesnar wouldn’t really feel right. Both have been presented as near enough unstoppable and one would have to crumble. It's a match that could work but I don’t think it would work now with the way both men are used. Because who would people cheer for? The dominating monster who robbed us of Saint Undertaker's holy Streak or the man proud of not being American?
Rusev v Cena, on the other hand, strikes me as very plausible. American super patriot Cena is the obvious choice to deal Rusev his first proper loss. Making it a world title defence would make the match that bit more of a spectacle, especially if in the time between Rumble and 'Mania 'The Bulgarian Brute' was made to look even stronger, pushing his unbeatable tough guy act into overdrive. The United States championship could pose a minor problem (a mid-card champ challenging the world champ is not the sort of thing WWE goes for these days. But they could simply have Rusev retire that title in a heat-grabbing, pro-Russia ceremony.
|Could Ziggler do it? My guess: no.
It's possible a dark horse who’s been stuck in the mid-card for years will get the nod. Dolph Ziggler for example. It's not very likely though. They seem happy enough with 'The Show Off' in his current upper mid-card spot. And while Seth Rollins is just as well placed (if not better) he doesn't need the Rumble. The Money in the Bank briefcase is his ticket to 2015 main events.
Beyond this short list there's no one else who seems worth considering currently working for WWE. Bray Wyatt has floated around towards the top of the card but as 2014 draws to a close he’s in a dreary feud with Dean Ambrose, and before that a near two month layoff. Rey Mysterio is a big enough star but he never appears. Sting has yet to make his second appearance and it’s hard to see a part-timer in his late fifties being presented as the Rumble winner (especially with WWE’s attitude to incoming stars). And anyone who mentions Cesaro is doing some wishful thinking.
All of which illustrates just how badly WWE needs to get on with establishing their new batch of superstars. Hopefully WWE will make it a priority to try and elevate three or four guys this 'Mania season so that this time next year they have a thriving product that doesn’t seem as stagnant and formulaic. Not that I’m expecting that to happen.