The Royal Rumble is the first true stop on the Road to WrestleMania, where at least one person who will be involved in a World Title match at the Showcase of the Immortals will be determined. It’s also the point where we really start to get a feel for what feuds might make it all the way to Mania, setting up the entire card for the biggest show of the year. Which means that the weeks before the Royal Rumble are the last chance we get to predict those matches before WWE starts giving us some serious hints (aside from the ones we’ve already gotten). With WrestleMania yet again scheduled to last at least four hours (plus pre-show), there’s lots of room on the card for any number of big matches, and while we didn’t include everyone who will likely put on an appearance in at the show, we did use our enormous powers of prognostication to come up with a handful of matches that we feel are fairly likely (and in some cases, almost certain) to take the stage at WrestleMania 33.
10. Seth Rollins vs Triple H
One of three matches that is reportedly ‘locked in’ for this year, so it’s not like we’re taking any huge leaps by including it. Rollins has made no secret that he wants revenge on Triple H for screwing him out of the Universal Title, and now that football season is over, Triple H can feel free to start showing up on Raw and taking credit for any ratings bumps that occur from the natural combination of losing their biggest Monday night competition and more people tuning in for the build to WrestleMania. Cynicism aside, even if we didn’t know the plan, it’s an obvious match, as Seth goes for revenge against the guy who originally hand-picked him for WWE Champion, spent most of his reign second-guessing him, and then outright turned on him in favor of someone else. The only concern right now is that Seth isn’t exactly catching on as a face, thanks to how WWE fumbled his return from injury, but at least a match between Rollins and a motivated Triple H will be something worth seeing at WrestleMania. Plus, there’s every chance Triple H will put over his former protege, which might be the final bump Rollins needs to become a babyface in more than just name.
9. The Big Show vs Shaquille O’Neal
Another match we already know is happening, even if it’s happening years after either man was relevant. Nobody does a “celebrity spectacle” match quite like the Big Show, and even though he’s walked back his retirement plans in recent months, the fact he’s appeared less than a handful of times on WWE in 2016 definitely suggests that this could be the final hurrah for the World’s Largest Athlete. We’re honestly intrigued by what Shaq might be able to bring to this match, even if the answer is likely “not a whole lot”, but the pictures circulating of Show walking around a hundred pounds lighter (it’d be a hundred and twenty if not for his addition of a truly Wyattesque beard), with actual defined ab muscles, which is something we’re not sure we’ve seen in his entire career, leads up to believe he’ll be coming in with something to prove, whether it’s his last time in the ring or not.
8. Baron Corbin vs Dean Ambrose
Ambrose and Corbin actually have gone on similar arcs to get to this obvious end point. Ambrose was WWE World Champion in mid-2016, but lost the title and several subsequent rematches, then settled back down in the midcard and won the Intercontinental Title, keeping himself in the mix on Smackdown without it looking like too much of a demotion. Meanwhile, the rookie Corbin, who WWE clearly has plans for, quickly rose up to a level where he was challenging John Cena to a match and fighting in #1 contender bouts in late 2016, and while he’s obviously not at the point in his career where he’s an actual World Title contender (although that day is coming, probably sooner than we think), taking him slightly down from that peak to a medium-profile match at WrestleMania definitely seems like the next step in his eventual rise to a consistent spot in the main event. After a couple years of seeing the Intercontinental Title defending in multi-man ladder matches, we think it’s better to leave that thing for, say, the Cruiserweights, and have Corbin challenge Ambrose one-on-one, and very possibly get the win and his first title in WWE.
7. Bray Wyatt vs Randy Orton vs Luke Harper
Once again, Randy Orton gets caught up in a disintegrating faction just in time for WrestleMania. The odd thing so far is, it really looks like Luke Harper is the one headed out of the Family, not Orton, who’s been a good little soldier this whole time. It reminds us of the dissolution of Legacy, which was supposed to be a star-making vehicle for Ted DiBiase Jr, but ended up making Orton into the fan favorite somehow because he was the best part of the group. That’s not the case here, but we could see Smackdown keeping alignments fluid over the next couple months, as we debate just who is actually in Bray’s good books, and who is secretly working against the Family. In the end, we’re pretty sure everyone could end up going their separate ways again, which leads us to the theory of a Triple Threat match where Bray, Harper, and Orton are all on their own sides, blowing the whole thing up and letting the chips fall where they may. While we were against breaking up the Family the first time it happened, at this point, simply to refresh some characters (and add some more singles wrestlers to the Smackdown midcard), letting everyone strike out on their own seems like the best plan for the future.
6. Charlotte vs Bayley
It’s all quiet on the Rousey front, so we’re going to assume that Charlotte’s going to have a regular Women’s Title defense instead of a showcase match with the former UFC Champion at this year’s WrestleMania. There are rumors of a Fatal 4-Way in consideration involving Sasha Banks and Nia Jax, but we’re hoping that’s just a smokescreen that gets us to Bayley winning the Women’s Title in a one-on-one match at WrestleMania. There’s no reason to throw Sasha and Nia in this match, there’s more than enough to work with between Charlotte and Bayley, and really, the only justification we could come up with is that the Raw Women’s Division isn’t deep enough to find anything else for them to do in the lead-up to Mania. That’s a bad reason to throw more bodies into this match, but on the other hand, we have concerns that WWE won’t know how to adequately stretch the Bayley-Charlotte feud until WrestleMania, especially with Bayley getting her first one-on-one title shot at the Rumble. Perhaps the 4-Way could take place at Fastlane? In any event, if WWE pushed through Sasha-Charlotte to get to Bayley-Charlotte, we have to assume the eventual plan is to put the title on Bayley, and WrestleMania seems like the logical place to do it.
5. AJ Styles vs Samoa Joe
That’s right, we’re predicting that AJ Styles manages to hold off John Cena yet again for the WWE Title at the Rumble, because if nothing else, we’re dreamers. That does leave the question of who Styles defends the title at WrestleMania against, of course, since we really would prefer they not continue dragging out Cena-Styles for the first four months of 2017. Conveniently, though, there is a man who by all accounts is ready to come up from NXT and may do so as early at the Rumble, and is reportedly set for a “monster push” following his debut. Given that Smackdown gets the Elimination Chamber PPV just two weeks after the Royal Rumble, we don’t feel like we’re tipping our hand to suggest that the Rumble is a Raw Superstar’s to win, and a Chamber match could determine the #1 Contender for Styles’ title. For all the talk about how John Cena would love to feud with his old friend Samoa Joe, how about we go a different direction and remind people that Styles and Joe used to tear it up during their time in TNA? Sure, there won’t be any Christopher Daniels this time, but two-thirds of the participants from what was possibly the best match in TNA history seems like a match worthy of WrestleMania, right?
4. Kevin Owens vs Finn Balor
Yes, Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho seems more obvious, because that friendship is absolutely going to explode, both violently and soon. The only problem is, all reports have Jericho not planning to stick around until WrestleMania, so we could see that getting blown off at the convenient Fastlane PPV just before Mania. And with Balor apparently targeting early March for his return, he’ll need a feud for Mania set up at about that time, too. So, it seems to us that the first Universal Champion, who never lost the title in the ring, might want to have a discussion with the second Universal Champion, who had the title essentially handed to him, about who the real champion is. Of course, this all means nothing if Kevin Owens loses the Universal Title to Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble, so maybe we’re going out on a limb here, but we’ve got a bigger fish in mind for Reigns, that we think might keep him from winning the Universal Championship, at least for now.
3. The Undertaker vs Braun Strowman
Now that the rumor is that WWE is walking back from their decision to finally have The Undertaker face John Cena, we’ll have to find new opponents for both Cena and the Dead Man. And when The Undertaker appeared on Raw to announce his entry into the Royal Rumble, the camera cut away to Braun Strowman watching Taker intently on a TV screen. That’s almost certainly no accident (even though inside sources are currently denying this match is in play), so we wouldn’t be shocked if Taker’s match this year went back to the “big fat heel” model of the early days of the Streak. If they’re not going to go high-profile with Undertaker’s WrestleMania opponent (which is pretty much down to Cena and maybe Reigns), then Strowman is actually a logical option. He’s a big, unbeatable monster with momentum, who probably wouldn’t be hurt by losing to The Undertaker, since he’d just show up on Raw the next night and smash more things and people in response to the loss. Our only concern is that Strowman is still fairly green, and putting him in the ring with the 51-year-old Undertaker seems like a recipe for a terrible match, but there’s never been any indication that this would factor into WWE’s decision making anyway.
2. Roman Reigns vs John Cena
The other side of the coin, of course, is John Cena, and call us crazy if you want, but we don’t see him in a title match. Instead, a match with Reigns could serve a lot of purposes. It gives Reigns a high profile bout that isn’t a title match, which he’ll most likely lose, so that WWE can point to it and say “see, we’re not over-pushing him, so please accept him already”, even though it’s obviously still Reigns getting star treatment that will continue to turn fans against him. But that’s actually okay in this case, because a feud with Cena will give him an opportunity to act more like an arrogant jerk, going against Cena’s current character iteration of “aging Superstar who doesn’t want to be replaced just yet and wants to fight these entitled ‘New Era’ punks to prove he still matters”. In fact, both of them can be dicks to each other for different reasons, and the fans can cheer or boo whomever they want. It’s literally a no-lose situation for WWE, and if they’re smart, it’s one they’ve already seriously considered.
1. Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg
This was carved in iron the second after Goldberg destroyed Lesnar at Survivor Series, or more accurately, when Goldberg signed on for additional matches just before that PPV. Sure, it’s not actually a rubber match, since Goldberg holds a 2-0 advantage, but it is a real chance to get a do-over on WrestleMania XX. Don’t go looking for any 86-second squashes here, while it won’t be a drawn-out match, this is the chance for WWE to actually do a longer “Power vs Power” match-up between the two. Goldberg will have had time to get more into match-ready condition, and Lesnar might have finally gotten motivated enough to put on a show after spending most of 2016 in auto-pilot (especially with no future UFC prospects seemingly looming). The crowds are clearly ready to buy into things this time around, the aura of Goldberg has been restored as well as it can be, and barring a shocking announcement on the level of thirteen years ago, this should be the main event spectacle it was always destined to be.