The potential, as we get closer to the 2017 Royal Rumble, is greater than ever.
One of WWE’s annual highlights, the January special event is many a fan-favourite that in recent years has been crippled by predictability. The year on the surface may be like no other as the 30-man line up is filled to the brim with believable winners, from Lesnar and Goldberg to Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.
Yet, with so many main eventers vying for the top spot, there has never been a better chance for a dark horse to rise from the shadows and take it all.
The competitors featured in this article might not be among the favourites, but they should not be ruled out, and if WWE want to pull the ultimate swerve on January 29th, they could do a lot worse than send one of the names within to WrestleMania 33.
Here are 5 potential dark horses for the 2017 Royal Rumble.
5. Baron Corbin
Baron Corbin can be likened to Marmite – hear me out – simply, it is because fans either love him or hate him. There is no doubt about it that Corbin is making himself known on Tuesday nights. He found the perfect dance partner in Kalisto, helping to solidify his bullying character next to the tiny luchadore. His obnoxious heel persona seems to get better each time he graces the screen, illustrated by his Talking Smack promos. If WWE keep him working with the right guys – obvious smaller – he could become the beast the machine wants him to be.
Of course, Corbin still has areas that he needs to work on. He can come across as a generic ‘big man’ in the ring, plodding around messily but his current eye-catching move set helps set him apart and onto the right track.
If rumours are anything to go by, WWE have huge plans for Corbin. His size already sets him up for a title hunt sooner rather than later. So could the Rumble be the way to get this ball rolling? Probably not, however it’s not something that should be ruled out. McMahon will always have a thing for ‘larger than life’ giants and Corbin is easily one of the talents that improved the most in 2016. Regardless of how the Rumble treats him, 2017 will be a big year for The Lone Wolf.
This would probably be a bitter pill to swallow, especially considering this man’s tag-team partner is Cesaro. However, Sheamus has been great alongside the Swiss Superman, and continues to highlight how he is one of the most divisive and consistent men within WWE.
While his work within The League of Nations and his title run in 2015 may have obliterated the idea with some fans that Sheamus isn’t a viable main eventer, whenever there is a gap to fill WWE know they can turn to him, time and time again.
His character may not be the most interesting, but he is a solid wrestler and regular candidate for transitional title runs and main event feuds. Sheamus last won the Royal Rumble in 2012 and if WWE were to suddenly be at a loss in 2017 (they most likely won’t) then there is an outside chance that the Celtic Warrior comes up trumps.
While having Sheamus as a title challenger at WrestleMania 33 may only end up in tears, the option shouldn’t be ruled out entirely. Clear example being, no one expected him to pick up the last Money in the Bank and cash in with a win, but he did. WWE trust him with big spots, and as long as Sheamus is around, there will always be a chance he is only a whisper away from another push.
3. Sami Zayn
2016 was a rollercoaster year for Sami Zayn. The former NXT Champion was thrown into a great (albeit it reignited) feud with Kevin Owens which help solidify his positive reactions. Sadly since the end of this feud at Battleground, Zayn has somewhat stalled, and while his current feud against Braun Strowman helps with his underdog character, there have been few opportunities thrown Sami’s way to help him advance.
Sami Zayn can definitely be considered the next top babyface in WWE and there is strong chance that this labelling could be leading WWE towards recreating Daniel Bryan’s rise with him. There a similarities between the two former indy-darlings, and having Zayn lose match after match, there is every chance that an upswing movement, similar to the ‘Yes! Movement’ could not be far off.
Yet, if this is the case, it does not seem to be working. Zayn’s crowd reactions are quieter than when he first debuted, meaning there is a lot of ground that needs to be made up.
If WWE ever have any desire of inserting Sami into the title picture, then the Rumble is the perfect point to kick start this. Given the underdog nature of his story up to this point, his victory could go over very well with the crowd and immediately establish him as Raw’s most popular baby face – especially if you consider his rivals are the likes of Roman Reigns. Sami would be a perfect candidate to be underdog foil for any heel champion walking into WrestleMania 33.
2. Bray Wyatt
Considering the all-round character that Bray Wyatt, the fact he is considered a dark horse at this point is a shame. Nevertheless here we are. Since his debut in 2013, Wyatt’s direction has taken a number of twists and turns – mostly unfortunately – which lead many to believe he may never reach his full potential.
At one point Wyatt was the most promising wrestler. A unique character, fantastic mic presentation and wrestling skills that allowed him to hold his own. He was set to become his generation’s Undertaker with a twist. Yet, his horrendous win/loss ratio during special events looks to have him locked in purgatory forever.
Things, however, seem to be on the rise for Wyatt lately. Alongside Randy Orton, Wyatt was one of the last men standing at Survivor Series and he got his first taste of WWE gold by becoming one-half of the SmackDown Tag Team Champions at TLC. The timing of this career upswing couldn’t be better.
In an ideal world Wyatt would be considered among the favourites to win the Rumble in 2017, instead due to circumstances of booking and card placement he is a huge dark horse. Considering his match record, his win would come as huge shock, but he is more than capable of filling those main event shoes. HIs immediate future may lie in the tag team division, but if not, then Bray is more than ready for his overdue turn in the spotlight.
1. Dolph Ziggler
Prior to the brand split, Dolph Ziggler was anguishing. Thanks to the move to Smackdown, the Show Offs career has rejuvenated.
While his feud against Ambrose ended on a bum note, the build was impeccable. The same could be said for his recent rivalry against the Miz, which ticked all the boxes and easily went down as one of 2016’s finest storylines.
On saying this, Ziggler still hasn’t been able to win the big one, but 2017 sees him back on the scene. He now has a guaranteed shot at AJ Styles’ WWE Championship in the Elimination Chamber and while he most likely won’t unseat the Phenomenal One, there is still plenty of steam in Dolph with being at the top of the card.
Ziggler is one of Smackdown’s top heels, but nobody is talking about him a potential Royal Rumble winner. This is understandable as he sits alongside Dean Ambrose and The Miz, who continually knocked him out of the spotlight in 2016.
The Show Off, however, is in great form presently. His popularity is restored. He looks enthusiastic, and if the higher ups are paying attention, Ziggler has an outside chance of laying waste to twenty-nine other men this year.
Winning the Rumble and entering a high profile programme at WrestleMania 33 will help complete the cycle of Ziggler. It will be a great cap off to rebuilding his character and well-deserved reward to beloved wrestler for many.