Hi, and welcome to Lords of Pain’s very own Men’s Royal Rumble Match Preview brought to you by Just Business and Sir Sam’s Court!
Inspired by our shared love for embracing the fiction of pro wrestling before anything else – a philosophy that underpins my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, my weekly podcast, Sports Entertainment is Dead, and his end of year series The Stories That Defined Pro Wrestling In 2018 – and mere days out from this Sunday’s huge Men’s Royal Rumble Match and all of its traditionally huge WrestleMania Season implications, Sir Sam and I wanted to take some time to break down the ins and outs, the advantages and disadvantages, the personal agendas and individual motivations of the field of participants thus far announced, all of whom have their sights set on realising those big ‘Mania dreams!
My name is Samuel ‘Plan, his name is Sir Sam, and these are our thoughts on the announced participants for this Sunday’s Men’s Royal Rumble Match!
R-Truth (7 entries, 0 wins, 2 eliminations)
SS: You never know what you’re going to get with R-Truth.
SP: Truer words have never been spoken for sure! But you really need to remain cognisant of him if you’re one of the other 29. Guaranteed to be coming in last puts him in a place to be the only man capable of arming himself with a game plan of sorts ahead of time, because luck of the draw doesn’t factor into it. And if you are one of those 29 others, good luck predicting what the hell he’s going to do when he gets in there! This is a man who once pulled a ladder out in a Rumble, who chose Stamford as his holiday of a lifetime! The truth is, the complexion of the match could change in the most unexpected way once he’s in there. Plus…he is a former champion in his own right too, and a vet!
SS: You make a good argument and he does have the advantage of that number 30 position, he has just never got down to the end of any Royal Rumbles despite seven attempts. So while he might make a shake of it here and even change the complexion of what is going on when he enters I cannot see him doing anything beyond a quick cameo.
Drew McIntyre (3 entries, 0 wins, 0 eliminations)
SP: The so-called Scottish Psychopath, now anointing himself a Terminator too, has to be considered one of the prohibitive favourites of this entire thing this year. He’s motivated by the most blood-thirsty of mission statements – that being to put the locker room on notice as he says, but, I think, his lingering bitterness over the suffocation of his first stint in the company must play a part too – and he has the size and brutality that always does well in propelling forward motion through as dangerous an environment as a Rumble. That said, could an early number see him come unstuck I wonder? We know what Drew can do when dishing out the punishment, but for me question marks remain about how much he can absorb while still moving forwards and, for those drawing early numbers, such is the rub on which all else depends.
SS: The Rumble has always been a happy hunting ground for guys of Drew McIntyre’s stature. Be it Hogan going back to back, Cena and Orton taking out two each, right down to guys like Reigns or Sheamus who have one win in the bag, if these big, powerful but still athletic guys can snag a late number, they are very hard to beat and Drew will be no exception to this rule. On top of that he has another weapon at his disposal that few have spoken about, The Claymore, which is a move perfectly designed to send other wrestlers hurtling over the ropes while keeping Drew safe.
SP: His recent dealings with John Cena should be kept in mind though. There are question marks now hanging over whether Cena will even make it into the match, but if he does he automatically becomes a monolithic presence who may very well go gunning straight after McIntyre. That alone severely impacts the man’s odds of winning.
SS: Yeah that strikes at the heart of the biggest problem I foresee for him, he has made little effort to ingratiate himself to the rest of the roster and has soured his relationship with the only two allies he ever did have. Given that he is such an obvious favourite it is hard to imagine him not walking in with a huge target on his back that most of the roster would only be too happy to take a shot at.
Kofi Kingston (10 entries, 0 wins, 6 eliminations)
SS: Crazily enough Kofi Kingston is the most experienced Royal Rumble entrant so far announced for the match this year. The thing that has always stood out for Kofi in Rumbles has been his ability to combine his athleticism and creativity when it comes to working out uncanny ways of saving himself from elimination. Unfortunately he has never been able to apply that creativity or vision to his offence and has eventually always been overwhelmed despite his obvious skill and ability.
SP: Overwhelmed for sure, but one also wonders whether he’s been overlooked. It may feel surprising to think of him as the top veteran of this thing, but should it really be so? Kofi is a mainstay in WWE, has won more titles than you could shake a stick at and he might be chomping at the bit to transcend this ‘highlight reel’ cliché he’s been lumbered with over the years.
SS: Winning this kind of match is definitely not beyond him but he needs a stronger sense of discipline and needs to apply himself to offence as much as he does defence if he is to make it through to the elite end of the match.
SP: And you know what? His body language when New Day were quizzed on Smackdown Live this last week I thought was very interesting – head bowed, silent, staring at his feet. It might just be this is the year he decides he wants to move beyond the mid card and its plethora of titles – singles and tag team alike. But like you say, first he’s got to figure out how to bring together his tapestry of skills in a more proactive, elimination-oriented gameplan.
Big E (4 entries, 0 wins, 0 eliminations)
SS: When it comes to Big E, I actually think the other two members of The New Day have had a negative effect on his career. While it was important for him to learn not everything has to be so serious, the complacency and apathy to career progression of Kofi and distraction of outside projects from Xavier have rubbed off on him and left him a shadow of what he could have been.
By now a guy with his skill and size should be well and truly making his way up the ladder but instead his lack of discipline and motivation, that were never a problem before he joined the New Day, have seen him vastly underperform. Can he do well? Of course but it will take a complete rethink of his current approach to his career. Remember this is the guy that used to pin people till 5 because 3 wasn’t enough.
SP: That’s a high pressure assessment of Big E’s position heading into this thing on Sunday and I’m almost certain it’s not going to take too long to figure out whether or not the New Day’s resident muscle is going to seize his opportunity to maybe recapture a little something for himself. He’s got a power and a strength that means there are very few single people he wouldn’t be able to throw out on his own this year if he was motivated enough, and more than that we’ve seen he’s got the endurance to match as well. Granted, a Rumble is wildly different to a tag match, you can’t quite share the punishment the same way, but that doesn’t detract from E being a major, major threat. IF, as you point out, his motivations are in the right place; and, frankly, that’s a big if.
Xavier Woods (2 entries, 0 wins, 0 eliminations)
SS: I kind of touched on this with Big E but I feel like Xavier Wood’s focus is divided. The tremendous success of his Youtube show has been fantastic for his profile but while he is off previewing the next Mortal Kombat or shooting his show, other wrestlers are training to beat him.
SP: I get that, but I think it’s worth considering for all three members of New Day that the Rumble Match, at least up to this point for them, hasn’t perhaps been foremost among their priorities as competitors. Nobody will turn up the chance to get that big win, get that big ‘Mania World title bout of course, but they’ve been all about their life as a unit, as a team, so maybe the truth is the motivation hasn’t been there for any of them. And maybe that’s ok. But maybe this year is the year it changes because, as WWE has proven relentlessly over its existence, all things one day come to an end.
SS: Well Xavier showed what he can do when he is focused in 2017 but that was followed by a disastrous 2018 campaign with The New Day. In 2019 professional sport is not something you can do as a side project.
SP: Which is exactly why this year may be the year the New Day becomes old hat, and Xavier would be wise to stick that knife in and get ahead of the game first – he hasn’t the established precedent the other two can boast alone after all. The Rumble is the perfect environment to maybe make that move.
Seth Rollins (2 entries, 0 wins, 5 eliminations)
SS: The odds on favourite for the match and for good reason. Rollins has a great blend of power, athleticism and endurance to succeed in a Royal Rumble. In his two entrances he is yet to make a final four but he showed last year that when he puts his foot down there are few wrestlers that can keep going as hard, fast and as far as he can.
SP: It’s that will power I always bang on about, isn’t it? Like you say, Rollins has proven throughout 2018 time and again that he can run faster, fight longer, reach farther, bleed deeper than almost any other man in the entire company. That means, if anything, an early draw would only serve to help Rollins here, because if he lasts it means he’ll be tapping into those reserves late on when others begin to flag.
SS: Rollins moveset boasts a number of moves such as the superkick and Ripcord Knee that will allow him to dispatch his opponents too and he also has the agility to avoid elimination in the most athletic of ways. All in all, if his head is in the right spot he will be very hard to beat on the night.
SP: Precisely! He has the will, he has the ability – the only question will be if he has the focus. We’ve seen him come unstuck only very recently and in the distant past because of that obsessive personality he has, a trait easily manipulated by the right mind. All it takes is for Rollins to get ticked off and he could end up losing what otherwise has to feel like a sure-fire bet for him this year!
SS: Oh, also me and ‘Plan may have also written another thousand words as to why he should win over here.
Jeff Hardy (4 entries, 0 wins, 3 eliminations)
SP: The Charismatic Enigma has had something of a quiet build towards the Rumble and is far from the top of the list of favourites to win. It’s worth remembering though that he has, in the past, been a World Champion several times over, and he’s cut his teeth in some of the more violent, hard-faced Rumble moments in the past too. This man survived another day despite feeling the wrath of the Undertaker’s rampage in 2002! That level of experience, of hardiness (no pun intended, honest!) you’d have to think is likely to serve him well. But he’s no spring chicken either, and frankly I wonder whether the years of punishment to his body coupled with the reduced cardio capability that comes with age will just prove too much for him to overcome.
SS: I’d have to agree with you there, however Hardy is the kind of headstrong guy that is able to will his body to do things that most of us would never even contemplate. Have you ever actually stood at the top of a sixteen foot ladder? I stood at the top of an eight foot one once and I could not have forced myself to jump off that no matter how much motivation you gave me. That kind of willful attitude may allow him to force this broken body of his to survive just long enough. He is an outside bet no doubt but on his night he maybe could just do it.
Dean Ambrose (3 entries, 0 wins, 5 eliminations)
SS: The biggest two things Dean Ambrose has going for him in this kind of match is his endurance and durability. Ambrose is a man that can sustain a fast pace for long periods and can crucially absorb bucket loads of punishment and keep coming forward. This was really on display in 2016 when he made the final two after also fighting in a brutal Last Man Standing Match earlier in the night. It is a skill that is crucial to any wrestler’s success, especially if they end up with an early entrance number.
This year Ambrose comes into the match in a little form slump after losing his Intercontinental Title to Bobby Lashley a few weeks ago. He has the toolkit and the experience at the clutch end of the match so if he is focused on the match at hand and not playing spoiler to Seth Rollins or go after Lashley he will be one of the big time threats.
SP: You’ve again nailed it, my friend. Ambrose is unpredictable, he’s tough to predict – even for the Architect and Cerebral Assassin! – and he has a level of durability capable of rivalling the mythical likes of The Undertaker and Cactus Jack! Normally, I’d consider him a strong favourite. His promo this last Monday Night Raw, though, seemed to imply that he has some lingering issues in his head even now with a Rollins who may be looking to move on, not to mention the irritation he’ll feel at the Intercontinental title loss.
SS: That chip on his shoulder may actually be an advantage after all, he may be going in with something to prove, show the crowd he is more than just a wild man.
SP: Yeah, people shouldn’t be mistaken about Dean. He’s one of the smartest in-ring competitors in WWE. The question is going to be, though, if he’s more obsessed about continuing to prove whatever point he feels he needs to make at his brother’s expense or about getting that big W and headlining for the World title at ‘Mania. I fear it might be the former – and if Rollins doesn’t reciprocate, it’s unlikely be a good night for Dean.
Bobby Lashley (1 entries, 0 wins, 1 eliminations)
SP: This Sunday, for me, feels like a big window of opportunity for the All Mighty. He has consistently failed to impress since his return to WWE last year.
SP: And while is big title win not too long ago gives him a little boost, it came in the dubious circumstance of a triple threat that involved two obsessive brothers with some serious relationship issues.
SP: He’s still, therefore, to my mind, an unproven commodity in the company. That means he enters Sunday far from a favourite; but, it also makes him arguably one of the most dangerous men in the field.
SS: Show us those glutes.
SP: Can anyone really properly prepare for an unknown quantity about whom we can only be certain of his superhuman strength and athleticism?
SS: Um, what he said.
Samoa Joe (Royal Rumble debut)
SS: For me Joe is the dark horse for this that no one is talking about. His power and size combined with his ruthless cerebral approach make him a very strong proposition.
While this is his official WWE Royal Rumble debut, his time on the indy circuit has seen him take part in innumerable rumbles and battle royals so I don’t expect inexperience to play a part. If the luck that has deserted Joe since he made his main roster debut finally turns and he draws a late number he will be an extremely dangerous opponent this year.
SP: Has luck really deserted him for quite so long? Let’s not forget that AJ Styles never truly beat Joe as much as he did survive the man. The same can also be said about Brock Lesnar.
SS: But the very fact he never touched that championship, despite having the upper hand the entire time says something.
SP: That speaks volumes about Joe’s dangerous capabilities.
SS: No doubt.
SP: To me, the trick for Joe is to get himself in a position whereby he can control the ring and eliminate opponents as they enter. His best weapon is his mastery over the art of intimidation – it’s next to impossible to deploy that when the ring has 6, 8, 10, even 12 men inside of it at any given time. So he has the skills, absolutely, but it’s going, for my money, to be about whether he can tilt the environment to allow him to maximise their use. If he can…well, you may suddenly have to question the status of any other ‘favourite’ in the field.
John Cena (8 entries, 2 wins, 24 eliminations)
SS: Unsurprisingly John Cena is the most successful entrant on the entrance list, so of course he is a favourite and of course he can win but….
SP: But for two things.
First, a man named Drew McIntyre has apparently recently taken umbrage with John Cena and nobody wants to be in that sort of a position do they? Now there question marks hanging over whether or not Cena can even make it to the match – I wouldn’t bet against him though, not given his proclaimed motivation of not wanting to miss ‘Mania again after his experience last year, or because of his Rumble-specific precedent of returning shockingly early from sidelining injury of course. But even if he does make it back, even if he does go gunning for McIntyre, there’s no guarantee Cena will overcome the Scottish Psychopath and not just end up doing more damage to his own cause.
That’s the second point here. You saw last year that Cena is now struggling to keep up with the top tier, competitively. He got instantly beat down upon entering in 2018, and notable by its absence was his usual superheroic comeback. He got swatted aside by Roman Reigns with a single punch when Reigns entered and, despite making it to the Final Three, found himself ultimately out of his depth. So the question becomes not if he can make it in but rather whether or not he can make it through!
SS: You also have to wonder if his heart and head are totally in the game at this point. On the outside he is saying all the right things and he is at least going through the right motions but if he sat down and truly reflected on where he is right now, how committed is he to wrestling? As I said with Xavier Woods you cannot enter into any combat sport a half hearted manner and be successful. When you are well over half a foot in Hollywood and all that celebrity driven world entails it does not bode well for you if you are stepping into the ring with a group of full time athletes.
Elias (1 entries, 0 wins, 0 eliminations)
SP: Elias is a man to watch out for on Sunday, ya know. Sure, he’s not been at the forefront of Monday Night Raw recently, events may have conspired further up the card without him, but he’s a motivated performer and a Rumble is exactly the kind of environment he does well in.
SS: You are absolutely right. He is a guy that demands a spotlight every time he enters the ring, he wants to be the center of attention and at the Royal Rumble he has one opportunity, to seize everything he ever wanted, in one moment but can he capture it or will he just let it slip?
SP: Few are able to as quickly adapt in the ring as Elias has proven himself able to over the last year, and that was spoken to with his absolutely outstanding iron man run in his only Rumble thus far, being 2018’s. He’s a big dude, an athletic dude, a man who has taken the fight to names like John Cena and even pushed a peak Seth Rollins to his limits at Money in the Bank last summer. What’s more, he’s enjoying a swell of fan support right now from a crowd wanting and willing to walk with him wherever he may roam (that would include to the ‘Mania main event!) and that can only serve to further bolster his chances.
SS: I didn’t even realise he had an iron man run last year until you mentioned it but surviving 26 minutes in the kind of field 2018 had is not to be taken lightly. That said I have just never seen the kind of killer instinct from Elias that wrestlers who win rumbles need to have.
Baron Corbin (2 entries, 0 wins, 2 eliminations)
SP: Baron Corbin’s situation heading into Sunday is an interesting one. He’s impressed in Royal Rumbles before. He came in like an impressive house of fire in Saudi Arabia last spring and in 2017 eliminated a rampaging Braun Strowman single-handed! What’s more is he’s smarting right now thanks to losing his position as General Manager-Elect, fuelling a fire to prove a point. Unfortunately, he’s come unstuck in the past too – Finn Bálor made quick work of him in last year’s Rumble and there’s no tantrum or suit that can serve to provide him a victory in a Rumble field as strong as this year’s appears to be.
SS: It is so easy to forget he eliminated Braun in 2017 given how their paths have now diverged but Corbin has it in him to be a complete wrecking ball on his day. Those destructive instincts seem to have been lost recently though, replaced by a sycophantic coward who seems to have forgotten the raw power he has. If this lap-dog can remember he is actually a full grown wolf then he could prove a force to be reckoned with overall though I do not expect big things.
Jinder Mahal (3 entries, 0 wins, 2 eliminations)
SP: There’s not much to say for the Modern Day Maharaja. His fall from grace was inevitable and speaks for itself really. I’m sure he’d love to pick up another big career win but he’s not on the level of even most of the second tier favourites, let alone that first tier, so I wouldn’t expect major things from the former WWE Champion. Maybe his back-up will see him sneak in an elimination somewhere?
SS: I dunno ‘Plan, he is a master of meditation and you know that is the one thing most successful people have in common…. At least according to the meditation app ad I always hear on LOP radio.
Apollo Crews (2 entries, 0 wins, 0 eliminations)
SP: Apollo Crews is a ferocious athlete, so that alone seems to give him a strong foundation to impress on Sunday. He’s had recent run-ins with the Intercontinental Championship scene – one of the most highly competitive scenes in the entire WWE – and did well during them. Crews has failed to materialise any success for himself since arriving a couple of years ago though and it’s difficult to see Sunday being a turning point for him.
SS: It is funny that you mention that because I honestly think there must be some kind of mental bockl going on there. He has all the tools to be successful but just can’t make it happen when he gets the opportunity. He keeps smiling like that is going to make everything alright but the thing that separates top level athletes from one another is their mental focus and from what I can see that is the thing that is lacking when it comes to Apollo.
SP: Still, it would be only a fool who writes off his physical gifts as not being any kind of a danger. He could feasibly eliminate anyone at any time, and that alone means he could prove to be quite the unexpected difference maker.
Andrade (1 entries, 0 wins, 1 eliminations)
SP: Andrade’s recent run-ins with Rey Mysterio on Smackdown Live have proven once again what a threat he is in the ring. His performance in last year’s Rumble should still linger large in the memories of fans too – he put in a hell of an iron man shift, hanging in there alongside some of WWE’s very best for thirty minutes the night after putting on a consensus classic opposite Johnny Gargano in the heady environment of NXT. That’s damn impressive.
SS: It is by far one of the best NXT debutante runs we have seen and memories of it will no doubt fill him with confidence going into The Rumble this year.
SP: But I ask: with Zelina Vega, the key to Andrade’s career renaissance and the successes that have come with it, preoccupied with her own Rumble effort, could Andrade’s own focus prove to be a little too undisciplined for him to be able to manifest what would otherwise feel like some hard odds to bet against?
SS: That is a damn good point but you have to imagine these two share a lot and Vega’s own disciplined focus will have rubbed off somewhat in the lead up. Beyond that, you have to imagine that he makes a beeline for Rey Mysterio when he gets to the ring, in his pre-WWE career he made a habit of targeting other Luchadors specifically and he will be smarting after taking a loss in the 2/3 falls match.
Mustafa Ali (Royal Rumble debut)
SP: The Rumble can often be home to the most unexpected Cinderella stories and this year you have to think that Mustafa Ali is primed and ready to pull out one of his own. Few expected Ali to get to where he got to on 205 Live. Nobody expected a promotion to Smackdown Live to follow.
SS: He is a man that will be absolutely chomping at the bit to make his mark. He has overachieved in every position he has been in since joining the WWE. He was an alternate for the Cruiserweight Classic, only getting in because someone pulled out and was one of the last guys signed to the original 205 Live roster, yet he was the breakout star.
SP: He is the very definition of challenging expectations and overcoming presumptive thinking – the mix of his self-appointed social crusade and his indomitable spirit in the ring, all underscored by his remarkable in-ring abilities, make him not just an enticing underdog this Sunday but also a legitimate threat to the changes of some of the match’s biggest favourites even. Let’s not forget: Ali holds a pin fall victory over Daniel Bryan! But could recent issues with Samoa Joe have left him with an unenviable target on his back Sam?
SS: Yeah I would not want him to be walking to a ring that has just been ransacked by Joe but at the same time, he is exactly the guy that could pull off the kind of wild upset that hasn’t happened in the Royal Rumble for years now. I am really desperate for Rollins to win but if Ali somehow pulls it off I will be cheering from the rooftops.
Rey Mysterio (8 entries, 1 wins, 12 eliminations)
SP: How do you look past Rey Mysterio? Yes, he’s small in stature but he’s big in star power. He’s made unlikely successes for himself throughout his WWE tenure, among which of course sits a previous Royal Rumble Match victory emerging from a coast-to-coast effort. Indeed, going the distance is not unfamiliar to Rey who repeated the feat in 2009 in a highly proactive performance.
SS: If anything he is in better shape now than he was then as well. The long break from the grueling full time WWE schedule has worked wonders on his body.
SP: Yes, he looks like he’s in near-career form right now, has gathered sprinting momentum with victories over Andrade and has the veteran guile to now further bolster all of those skills. He might not be a favourite, but he’s far from an unworthy pick.
SS: He has proved time and time again that you would be a fool to bet against him however I would say that the absolute cream of the current crop, guys like Rollins, Ambrose and McIntyre, are better suited to handle him than the slightly more lumbering wrestlers he regularly outfoxed in the late 00s.
Titus O’Neil (4 entries, 0 wins, 1 eliminations)
SS: I just hope we get a rendition of Titus World-Slide.
SP: Hah! That’s left Titus painted as something of a joke in the Rumble, but listen, he’s a big man with some impressive strength and a past that boasts some championship gold. Titus is likely to be smarting from that embarrassing experience last year and that might motivate him to make an impact this year. Nobody likes to fall over after all, and nobody especially likes to fall over and then get laughed at.
Randy Orton (9 entries, 2 wins, 19 eliminations)
SP: The Viper, like his compatriot John Cena, could potentially walk away with a record-tying third Rumble win this year. You’d be a fool to consider that unlikely. Orton has thrived in Rumbles past, his winning performance in 2009 being a particularly imperious example. He’s rediscovered his sociopathic edge in recent times which means he could come to thrive in an environment that encourages the dolling out of hard punishment on your opponents and he’s as slippery and unpredictable as the snake he’s named after – as evidenced by his statement making conclusion to Smackdown Live this last week.
SS: He is one of the most cerebral competitors in the field. Randy Orton is obviously a great physical talent but when he is at his best the thing that sets him apart is his ability to work tactically and efficiently – combining that hard edge you speak of with the ability to pick his spots perfectly and execute moves that maximise impact but minimise effort. It is how he won in 2009 and is a recipe perfectly tailored for a match that regularly requires 30 minutes of its winners.
SP: Orton’s no stranger to success, to Rumbles or to those vital final passages of the match. If he can get down to those gritty last few, he could yet, to paraphrase Jim Ross, “shock the world and win it all.”
SS: To paraphrase another commentator with a famous hat, “if you had to build a WWE Superstar from the ground up to win a Royal Rumble it would look like Randy Orton.”
That does it for all the announced entrants at this stage. We hope you enjoyed our ‘in universe’ look at the Royal Rumble. Let us know in the comments, on Twitter @LoPPlan or @Sir_Samuel or in the Keepin’ It Kayfabe thread of the forums, who you think the favourites are in universe or if we missed anything in our preview.
‘Plan will also be reviewing the Royal Rumble immediately after it airs on LOP Radio so make sure you tune into that too.