WWE will mark the true start of the road to WrestleMania 39 at the 2023 Royal Rumble, a blockbuster pay-per-view highlighted by Roman Reigns’ latest Universal title defense, a men’s battle royal featuring the return of Cody Rhodes and women’s Rumble that will lay the framework for WWE’s flagship event.
With the largest gate in the event’s history, the Royal Rumble is expected to live up to the hype as a newsworthy show filled with blockbuster returns, numerous surprises and the building blocks of multiple WrestleMania feuds. Arguably the most highly anticipated matches on the show are the women’s Rumble and the men’s Rumble, which has a loaded field packed with major names such as Bobby Lashley and Seth Rollins.
On the women’s side, the winner of the Rumble will likely go on to challenge either Bianca Belair or Charlotte Flair for one of WWE’s top women’s titles at WrestleMania 39. Over on the men’s side, winning the Rumble is oh-so important, as there is only one world title to compete for on “The Grandest Stage of Them All.”
That makes winning the match a crucial step on the path to WrestleMania 39, and entering the pay-per-view, these six stars—three women and three men—are emerging as the frontrunners to earn a coveted WrestleMania title shot.
Women’s Honorable Mentions: Asuka, Naomi and Ronda Rousey
If Asuka returns (likely) or Naomi reaches a new deal to come back to WWE as some company executives expect (less likely), they’d be strong candidates to not only receive a massive pop but also win this match.
Ronda Rousey would be a clear frontunner if she was going to be in the Royal Rumble, but plans have changed for the former UFC star, who is no longer expected to be in the match because WWE doesn’t want her in the match if she is simply going to lose it, which is the apparent plan. But if plans change yet again, it’s hard to ever count out a Rousey win.
Men’s Honorable Mentions: Brock Lesnar, Drew McIntyre, Gunther and Steve Austin
You can never count out anything when it comes to Brock Lesnar, can you? If he participates in the Royal Rumble, he’s likely going to either eliminate or be eliminated by whoever he’ll face at WrestleMania. One of his potential WrestleMania opponents is Gunther, and the other two frontrunners are Steve Austin and Lashley. But even with Lesnar looking like he’ll be left out of the title picture come WrestleMania, would it be a shocker if he won the match to set up yet another match with Reigns? Not with Vince McMahon back in WWE.
Gunther, of course, would be a more logical choice to win the Rumble, but as the Intercontinental Champion and a heel, a clash with Reigns may not happen until down the road. Drew McIntyre is a more likely option given the controversial ending to his match with Reigns at Clash at the Castle last September and the fact that he’s always pushed as one of WWE’s biggest stars.
And with Austin reportedly being offered a big deal for a match with Reigns, he certainly cannot be counted out.
3. Raquel Rodriguez
If WWE wants to go with a less established name to win the Royal Rumble, Raquel Rodriguez is the runaway frontrunner.
One of the betting favorites to win the 30-woman battle royal, Rodriguez’s strong booking under Triple H has clearly translated to SmackDown, where she’s been positioned as one of WWE’s most protected stars. Maybe it’s too early for Rodriguez, but with Sasha Banks gone and top stars like Bayley seemingly out of the title picture in route to WrestleMania, why not Rodriguez?
She has proven to be a very solid all-around performer thus far and would give WWE a rare fresh face in its women’s title scene.
3. Sami Zayn
The Bloodline is going to turn on Sami Zayn. It’s a matter of when, not if.
That, in theory, should lead to Zayn vs. Reigns, and according to one report, that match is slated for Elimination Chamber, which would ultimately lead to Zayn reuniting with Kevin Owens to take on the Usos at WrestleMania. But it would be arguably a better story if Zayn instead challenges Reigns on “The Grandest Stage of Them All,” and given how insanely over Zayn is, that could be a red hot match with a magical WrestleMania ending if Zayn dethrones Reigns.
Given the trajectory of this story, however, Owens and Zayn vs. the Usos still feels like the match we’re going to get at WrestleMania, which is why Zayn isn’t the odds-on favorite to win the Royal Rumble even if he might be the sentimental one.
2. Becky Lynch
It’s odd that Becky Lynch, one of WWE’s top stars, doesn’t have an obvious WrestleMania path so close to the pay-per-view. Maybe WWE decides to do Lynch vs. Rousey, despite that match reportedly being scrapped, without a title involved, or maybe Lynch picks up a second Royal Rumble victory.
The problem with Lynch winning the Rumble isn’t the victory itself. It’s the lack of a fresh feud if she does win it. Does WWE really want to do Lynch vs. Flair or Belair again? Both of those rivalries have been done time and time again, and there’s virtually nothing that can be done to reignite the flames of those feuds in exciting fashion.
That’s really the only reason why Lynch isn’t the clear favorite here. But because she’d be the biggest star in the match, she’s still a strong frontrunner.
2. Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins is one of WWE’s best overall performers and has a long history with Reigns, making him a logical choice to win the men’s Royal Rumble for the second time.
What’s more, Rollins is mega over with the crowd, so much so that WWE recently had no choice but to turn him babyface. For the second straight year, however, there isn’t a clear-cut route to WrestleMania for Rollins. He could potentially face someone like Logan Paul or even Austin in a marquee non-title match, or perhaps he continues to make his presence fault in the midcard title scene.
But even though Rollins vs. Reigns has been done many times before, it would have a much different dynamic with Rollins as the face and Reigns as the heel. Given how great of a performer Rollins has been for the past decade and the fact that he’s never truly main evented WrestleMania, most of WWE’s fan base wouldn’t object to Rollins winning the Rumble again.
1. Rhea Ripley
The overwhelming betting favorite, Rhea Ripley absolutely checks off all the boxes as far as what WWE should want out of its Royal Rumble winner.
She’s a young, rising star, she has a marketable look, and she’s a very good overall performer. Perhaps most importantly, though, Ripley is getting over in a huge way with the crowd at precisely the right time. Her tremendous work alongside Dominik Mysterio and her recent staredown with Solo Sikoa are prime examples of how she’s hitting her stride and generating the type of reactions that warrant a Royal Rumble win.
WWE could easily do what it typically does and have an established star like Lynch win the women’s Royal Rumble, but Ripley has emerged as both the best and most obvious choice.
1. Cody Rhodes
If Ripley is the obvious Royal Rumble choice on the women’s side, then what does that make Cody Rhodes? With the recent news that The Rock isn’t expected to wrestle at WrestleMania, Rhodes is indeed the one.
The lone argument against Rhodes winning the Rumble is the sheer predictability of him picking up the victory. But just because it’s predictable doesn’t make it bad, and in a field full of stars who’ve already feuded with or faced Reigns at some point, Rhodes is a great option to go toe-to-toe with Reigns at WrestleMania.
Rhodes is a massive star, has never won a world title and will be fresh off a lengthy absence that is sure to result in roof-rattling reactions from the WWE fan base. That is precisely what WWE needs out of its WrestleMania challenger for Reigns, and while there would be fan resistance to this decision just because you can see it coming from a mile away and because he’s not Zayn, that’s a much better option than a swerve just for the sake of a swerve.