2023 WWE Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

Cody Rhodes returns to the WWE in the Royal Rumble after suffering a gruesome injury while training for Hell In a Cell

Welcome to the most unique WrestleMania season we have ever known. As far as we know, Triple H is entirely in charge of the WWE creative product and for the first time in the history of WrestleMania, Vince McMahon is not. I say as far as we know because McMahon weaseled his way back into the WWE board of directors after having had to retire in disgrace because he is a lecherous old man. Ostensibly, his role as chairman of the board is not the same as his hands-on role as CEO and he is just there to re-negotiate the television rights and possibly sell the company.

Wrestling fans and critics largely are hoping McMahon does not return to WWE creative as he had become increasingly erratic with his decisions regarding talents and the on-screen product, and he was severely out of touch with his audience. Triple H has taken things in a much different direction. He brought back fan-favorite talents that McMahon abruptly fired. The NXT callups to the main roster were given a chance to get over on television without being instantly buried. He even gave two-named wrestlers turned one-name wrestlers their first (or last) names back!

The product is far from perfect, but it has been noticeably more enjoyable with Triple H at the creative helm. But the pressure is going to be on for him to deliver at WrestleMania, and that will only be a success if things get off to a good start at the Royal Rumble. There are only five matches on the card and two of them are inconsequential women’s matches, but there is still a lot to unpack here.

Bray Wyatt vs. LA Knight in a Mountain Dew Pitch Black Match

It is good to see Bray Wyatt back in the WWE after he was unceremoniously fired from the company following WrestleMania 37. However it is somewhat incongruous for his supernatural character to be featured in a match sponsored by Mountain Dew. It remains to be seen (or not, I guess) what a Pitch Black Match looks like, but if this progresses Wyatt’s character headed into WrestleMania, it will be worth the icky corporate tie-in.

Prediction: Winner, Bray Wyatt

Roman Reigns (c) (with Paul Heyman) vs. Kevin Owens in a singles match for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship

Roman Reigns may be the face of the WWE, but it is Kevin Owens that keeps the company running. There is no more important opponent for the main-event level talent in today’s WWE than Kevin Owens. This is his second high-profile match in the last twelve months, having experienced his career peak with a main event match against Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 38. Owens can work with anybody in any type of match and can come off as a credible opponent.

The tie-in with Sami Zayn is critical to this angle. Zayn has never been more popular than he is right now. The crowds at live shows are enamored with him and his compelling storyline with The Bloodline. His tenuous status with the Tribal Chief and his cohorts changes from show to show, and the twists and turns in their relationship always leave us wanting more. There will certainly be a twist to this match that propels Sami towards a high-profile clash at WrestleMania 39.

Prediction: Winner and still Undisputed WWE Universal Champion: Roman Reigns

Women’s Royal Rumble Match

There is virtually no build up to the Women’s Royal Rumble Match as evidenced by the fact following the go home episode of Smackdown, there were only a total of twelve entrants announced. One of them is Emma (insert face palm emoji here). The only one that has doing anything of note right now is Rhea Ripley.

Ripley is the centerpiece of the only interesting storyline involving any of the female talent on the WWE main roster right now. The Judgement Day is a serviceable faction, and she is their most visible member.

Prediction: After countless blown spots and anti-climactic surprise returns, your winner will be Rhea Ripley.

Bianca Belair (c) vs. Alexa Bliss in a singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

Alexa Bliss is in the longest yo-yo of a career arc we have ever seen. She was aligned with Bray Wyatt until his firing from the company, and the unwind of her supernatural character was pretty much wrapped up when he was rehired. So, it appears that she is headed back to be part of a faction with him. Other than that possibility, there’s nothing to see here.

Prediction: Winner and still champion, Bianca Belair

Men’s Royal Rumble Match

The return of Cody Rhodes from a gruesome torn pectoral injury has been the talk of the rumble. There has been criticism levied at the announcement of his return instead of making it a surprise. But this was obviously going to happen for quite some time, so it made sense to build up his return.

There are still at least ten entrants that have not been announced yet so there is room for legitimate surprise entries into the rumble. Edge seems like the most logical one because it is time for him to return to gear up for his WrestleMania program. After that you can let your imagination run wild. It could be a few NXT callups, a returning Hall-of-Famer who gets tossed in thirty seconds, or maybe The Rock?

I would guess that the winner is in the pool of entrants that were already announced. I have them bucketed as follows:

No Chance in Hell:

Kofi Kingston, Santos Escobar, Ricochet, Baron Corbin, Omos, Karrion Kross, Dominik Mysterio, Xavier Woods, Braun Strowman

Dark Horse Winner Potential:

Edge, Austin Theory, Rey Mysterio, Gunther, Drew McIntyre, Sheamus, The Miz

High Probability of Winning:

Seth “Freakin” Rollins, Bobby Lashley

Odds-On Favorites:

Brock Lesnar, Cody Rhodes

In reality, the condition that the winner of the Royal Rumble goes on to face the champion at WrestleMania is a creative trap that limits the pool of potential winners to a select few. But WrestleMania is two nights long now so there is potential for multiple angles to be set up from the outcome here.

WrestleMania 38 Postscript

After a 19 year absence, Stone Cold Steve Austin returned to the ring at WrestleMania 38 against Kevin Owens

I must move past my complaints about the WrestleMania two-night paradigm because it appears to be permanent. But when WrestleMania spans two nights for a total of 16 matches, there is a lot to unpack. First and foremost, as a whole WrestleMania was very enjoyable. Most of the matches were exciting and there were many unexpected moments.

In isolation, however, Saturday night was the better of the two. In fact, if WrestleMania 38 was just what was given to us on Saturday night, I would have been perfectly satisfied. It was full of great matches that were capped by a surprise main event match featuring Stone Cold Steve Austin that re-wrote the history of his career and legacy.

Sunday night was a good show, even if things were a little strange at times. The Gable Steveson segment was a bit awkward and made him look very green. The New Day match was unusually short. The Pat McAfee bonus match with Mr. McMahon was another awkward segment that did not do either one of them any favors. The main event between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar ran a little short for a champion versus champion match.

These are minor criticisms. A show this large would be impossible to make perfect. Not every wrestler is the best and not every match can draw five stars from the critics.

To look at it through a different lens, I offer a list of WrestleMania winners and losers every year. This year, there are far more winners than there are losers.

Losers

  • Rick Boogs: The show got off to a rough start when Boogs suffered a devastating leg injury in the first match. Things were looking good for the upstart wrestler, but now he is facing surgery and a lengthy rehab.
  • Otis: The big man has a lot of potential but got lost in the shuffle in his six-man tag team match.
  • Omos: Having him lose at WrestleMania is not a great way to build a monster heel of his size.
  • The New Day: As I mentioned, their match was so short it was a throw-away. Time to move on from this gimmick.
  • Mr. McMahon: He should know how to sell a Stunner by now!

Winners

  • The Usos: Their career began with them constantly being overlooked at WrestleMania. Now they are the top tag team in the WWE and made a strong statement by winning the opening match.
  • Drew McIntyre: He got to cut the ring ropes with a sword. Cool!
  • Logan Paul: I had no expectations for his wrestling ability given that as far as I could tell, he had never worked a match in front of a crowd. I was blown away with how well he performed. He carried himself like a veteran. He was smooth, paced himself well, and his mechanics were solid. He should sign a full-time contract.
  • Cody Rhodes: Jim Ross always says that when a wrestler leaves a promotion, it is usually because of one of “the two c’s: cash or creative”. Rhodes left the WWE for AEW for the latter but returned for the former. And while he was cashing in, he orchestrated himself a great WrestleMania moment with his win over Seth Rollins.
  • Kevin Owens: The big man from Marieville, Quebec was in a WrestleMania main event match against Stone Cold Steve Austin. Enough said!
  • Stone Cold Steve Austin: He looked a little slow, but it did not matter. His connection to the audience is as strong as it has ever been. He often said he did not want to return because he did not think he was physically capable of performing at a high level. But he proved himself wrong and found a way to make his match work.
  • Steve Austin Fans: If you ever chanted “ONE MORE MATCH” at Steve over the last 19 years, you finally got your wish!
  • Triple H: He got the send-off he deserves with one last WrestleMania moment.
  • Gable Steveson: The Olympic gold medalist and NCAA champion was spotlighted two nights in a row. I only hope for his sake that this sake he doesn’t get slapped with the “he’s being forced down our throats” label.
  • Randy Orton: What a pop for that hot tag!
  • Pat McAfee: He might not look like a wrestler, but he can sure work like one. He even got to call his own match on commentary. He should be on cloud nine all week after the weekend he had.
  • Austin Theory: Hey Mr. McMahon, you can learn a thing or two from your protégé about how to sell a Stunner!
  • Roman Reigns: I started this blog primarily so I could rant about how much I could not stand to see Reigns in the WrestleMania main event year after year. But since he took WrestleMania 36 off and returned as The Tribal Chief, he has been the top performer in the world. I have done a complete about-face about Roman. It is about time I finally say it: I acknowledge Roman Reigns!

Raw is beginning as I am finishing this post. I look forward to seeing where things go from here. Hey look, Veer is going to make his Raw debut tonight…