Recently, I’ve been writing weekly “In The Land” columns for BelieveLand where I dive into one Cleveland sports topic each week, but this week is a special one because it’s Royal Rumble week!
Since 1988, WWE has held its annual Royal Rumble in late January. The match concept is simple: Thirty superstars participate in an over-the-top rope style battle royal to determine who main events the “Showcase of the Immortals" (or in the case of 1992 and 2016, who walks out the WWE Champion). Two superstars start in the ring. Every 90 seconds, a new superstar enters the ring. Superstars are only eliminated when they go over the top rope and both feet hit the floor.
What is a simple concept has turned into an annual tradition WWE fans look forward to once the calendar flips into the New Year. Fans know that when the Royal Rumble comes around, it’s WrestleMania season! The Rumble has had countless moments throughout history that have defined the legacy of WWE superstars. Many of the recent Rumble winners have gone on to have a championship belt wrapped around their waist at the Super Bowl of wrestling.
WWE hasn’t hit the mark on every Rumble event they’ve ever done. Last year, after being one of the most anticipated Rumble events in history, the consensus among the WWE fan base was that both the men and women’s 2022 Royal Rumble matches, and the event as a whole, flopped. As such, WWE has to atone themselves and ensure this year’s Rumble is unforgettable.
Whoever wins the men’s Rumble is most likely going to face the “Tribal Chief”, the “Head of the Table”, the Undisputed WWE Universal champion Roman Reigns at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, as Reigns’ historic 870-plus title reign should continue once he defeats Kevin Owens at the Rumble.
The odds on favorite to win the Rumble is The American Nightmare Cody Rhodes, whom the WWE Universe hasn’t seen since his ridiculous and unbelievable Hell In A Cell match with Seth “Freakin” Rollins in June, a match in which Rhodes wrestled with a torn pectoral muscle.
Many in the WWE Universe are hoping The American Nightmare goes on to win the men's Royal Rumble and challenge the Undisputed champion in Hollywood. Since his return to WWE at last year's WrestleMania against Rollins, Rhodes has been adamant about becoming the WWE Champion. The former EVP at All Elite Wrestling has quickly become one of the most popular superstars in WWE since returning to the company he began his career with. Many fans believe he is one wrestler on a short list of individuals who can dethrone Reigns.
However, I believe WWE should go a different route and not give the son of Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes the victory Saturday night. There’s a ready-made feud from last year’s Royal Rumble Event that needs to be played back.
The Tribal Chief defended the Universal Championship at the 2022 Rumble in St. Louis against Rollins in a feud centered around their days in the Shield. Before the match even began, Rollins played mind games with his former tag partner and entered through the crowd with the Shield entrance music and his old Shield vest.
The match ended in a disqualification after Reigns refused to let go of his Guillotine submission hold while The Architect had his hands on the ropes, leaving many fans with a sour taste in their mouth. The Visionary never received his rematch against The Head of The Table, and the two wrestling soulmates have never competed one-on-one against each other at WrestleMania. In my opinion, it's the best story WWE could tell for Reigns this year in Hollywood, more so than Rhodes and The Rock.
The winner of the women’s Rumble in all likelihood is either going to face Bianca Belair for the RAW Women’s Championship or Charlotte Flair for the Smackdown Women’s Championship at the “Showcase of the Immortals".
Nobody in the women’s division has separated themselves from the rest of the pack to look like a legit contender to win the Rumble and become champion come April in my estimation. Once “The Man” Becky Lynch made her return prior to Survivor Series: WarGames, WWE fans were getting prepared for the match they thought they were getting in two prior instances: Lynch vs Ronda Rousey.
It all seemed to be right there, as Rousey was the Smackdown Women’s champion for most of the fall after defeating Liv Morgan at Extreme Rules, and Lynch had made her return. However, The Baddest Woman on the Planet lost the blue gold to Flair on the Dec. 30 episode of SmackDown when Flair made her surprise return after a seven-month hiatus, which was caused by Rousey defeating Flair for the SmackDown Women's Championship in an I Quit Match at WrestleMania BackLash. The daughter of the Nature Boy appeared after Rousey had just defended her title in a grueling match against Raquel Rodriquez and was caught off guard when Flair challenged her for the strap and took the championship off her.
Flair is currently engaged in a storyline with Sonya Deville while Belair is set to defend her championship against Alexa Bliss at the Rumble. I don’t see a scenario where Belair and Flair enter WrestleMania without their championships.
The most likely scenario is that Rhea Ripley is going to be standing on the top rope pointing at the WrestleMania sign as the winner of the 2023 Women’s Royal Rumble. Ripley and The EST were the final two superstars in the 2021 Royal Rumble, which resulted in Belair having her hand raised in victory.
Since then, WWE has been teasing a storyline between Ripley and Belair but it hasn’t come to fruition. They were supposed to have a one-on-one encounter for the RAW Women’s Championship at Money in the Bank in July, but Ripley suffered a brain injury in mid-June, postponing the match. As a current member of the JudgMent Day, Ripley is the hottest heel in WWE right now, and the most logical choice to face Belair in Hollywood.
Oftentimes at the Rumble, WWE books the highly anticipated bout to set up storylines for the biggest show of the year. WWE has the chance to redeem themselves for last year’s Royal Rumble flop and make sure this year’s event blows the roof off of the Alamodome in San Antonio and sets up storylines for their biggest show of the year come April.