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Top 5: Dark Horse Men’s WWE Royal Rumble Contenders

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WWE Elias Royal Rumble

As much as we love the Men’s Royal Rumble Match every single year, the one thing it lacks is an element of surprise. We usually have a pretty good idea of who’s winning. It’s usually an established star that’s been building towards a title shot for some time now, or a safe choice that people can easily buy into winning even if they’ve hit a rough stretch lately.

WWE typically doesn’t have dark horses win the Royal Rumble. Randy Orton wasn’t one of the top names mentioned before last year’s Rumble, but that was strictly due to his booking. His victory didn’t make people go OMG WHAT A SURPRISE or anything like that. He was a safe choice based on his history. This week, I’m going in the opposite direction and listing the Top 5 Dark Horses that you might not expect to win this Royal Rumble.

For the purposes of this list, I’m considering dark horses to be people outside the top ten consensus picks in various worldwide casinos. When I wrote this column, the top ten was as follows:

  • Shinsuke Nakamura
  • Roman Reigns
  • Daniel Bryan
  • John Cena
  • Braun Strowman
  • Dolph Ziggler
  • Finn Balor
  • AJ Styles
  • Baron Corbin
  • Kevin Owens

I’m pretty sure at least half of those people won’t be in the match, but that’s who the gamblers are betting on.

5. Goldberg (33-1 via Skybet, 66-1 via Paddypower)

Goldberg at WrestleMania

[Image by WWE]

This is the only non-regular performer making the list. You can bet on plenty of non-regulars, as the top ten shows. The only name that makes me pause for a moment is the man that won the Universal Championship during last year’s Road to WrestleMania & was an entrant in last year’s Royal Rumble.

This year, Bill Goldberg’s involvement seems confined to the WWE Hall of Fame. Ten years ago, Ric Flair doubled as a Hall of Fame headliner & an active competitor at WrestleMania. Goldberg could easily follow in the Naitch’s footsteps & win the Rumble as a surprise to get the WrestleMania main event slot.

4. Kofi Kingston (50-1 via Skybet, 100-1 via Boylesports)

Kofi is celebrating his tenth anniversary with WWE. Traditionally, it’s been tough for people to last ten consecutive years on WWE television. As a singles competitor or as one-third of The New Day, Kofi has been an underrated consistent presence on whichever brand he’s on at the time.

One of Kofi’s best moments of every single year is his performance in the Royal Rumble. He comes up with new ways to avoid getting eliminated before eventually doing so. Lasting the whole match seems like a fitting addition to his litany of accomplishments. Xavier Woods got a spot in the US Championship Tournament. Big E got chosen for the Mixed Match Challenge. Is it Kofi’s time to shine?

3. Jinder Mahal (25-1 via Skybet, 40-1 via Paddypower)

The Modern-Day Maharaja has had a bit of a struggle since losing the WWE Championship to AJ Styles. He failed to reclaim that championship, then came up short against Bobby Roode in the finals of the US Championship Tournament. Jinder obviously still has a taste for gold, but he needs to re-establish his place in the title mix.

His recent shift down the card makes people that didn’t believe in him as a main event talent feel they were right. They thought Jinder was only on top because WWE wanted to get over in India. Once WWE found other things to focus their attention on, Jinder became yesterday’s news. A victory in the Royal Rumble Match would silence the doubters & prove that Jinder will not be hindered on a consistent basis.

2. Elias (20-1 via betway, 66-1 via Paddypower)

 

WWE Elias

Talk about strapping a rocket to somebody. The Drifter has caught fire since his arrival on Monday nights, to the point where he’s now getting one over on John Cena in a confrontation. He also earned a spot on Chris Jericho’s list. Elias gets good heat & the veterans seem interested in working with him. A win in this match on Sunday night could catapult him to the next level and make him one of WWE’s future legends.

If Monday night showed one thing, it’s that WWE doesn’t really have that much confidence in many of their current stars. Elias is one guy that got the spotlight, and he made the most of it. Why not give him the ball & see how far he goes?

1. The Miz (28-1 via Skybet, 40-1 via betway)

WWE The Miz

Miz was named Rolling Stone’s 2017 Wrestler of the Year, and while most of us probably voted for Okada or Omega or whoever, we didn’t knock it. The dude delivers more often than not in the ring & on the mike. He continues to elevate the importance of anything he’s involved in. He just became an eight-time Intercontinental Champion on Monday night at Raw 25. A return to WrestleMania’s main event and a chance to make up for his disappointing showing at WrestleMania XXVII could push Miz another level towards wrestling immortality.

I joked on Friday Night’s Main Event (podcast) about how Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar could have been another Ultimate Challenge pitting the Intercontinental Champion against the Universal Champion. Why not do it again? Heck, if you wanted to tie in the Miz/Daniel Bryan staredown from Monday night, Miz could opt to challenge for the WWE Championship. Should AJ Styles still be champion, it’d be another chance for Miz to target an Internet favorite, while annoying Bryan with his presence on Tuesday nights.


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Steve Cook’s Fave Five: April 2021

It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means…

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It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means.

It’s time to talk about my current five favorite wrestlers like I’m Booker T. Let’s break down the Fave Five!

5. Samoa Joe

I figure what happened between Samoa Joe & WWE was the following: WWE offered Joe an announcing contract since either they didn’t want to use him in the ring or their doctors wouldn’t clear him to wrestle. Joe looked at the contract, noticed the financial discrepancy, realized he could probably get NJPW to let him train young boys in California for that kind of money and said “thanks but no thanks”. Nothing else really makes sense to me.

Unfortunately, those who thought that WWE wouldn’t utilize Joe to their fullest potential were right. It wasn’t all WWE’s fault though. Joe had a lot of miles on his tires when he got there. Injuries are always more of a concern with larger wrestlers the older they get. And when Joe was healthy, he did get to do some good stuff and show people a glimpse of the Samoa Joe that people like me raved about back in the mid to late 2000s.

In any event, Joe got his WWE run. It was a thing that happened. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t wind up in AEW because he seems like the kind of guy Tony Khan would throw all the money at. Should be fun!

4. Kris Statlander

AEW does have a pretty insane number of factions right now. It risks the possibility of all of the groups blending together, with none of them really capturing the attention of fans. However, there are positive things about AEW’s faction warfare that shouldn’t be overlooked. It makes booking fresh matches to fill cards pretty easy. You can have groups facing off each week, but in different combinations that keep it fresh.

Another good thing: It can help us decide how we feel about characters that we might be on the fence about. Kris Statlander’s character was a topic of discussion from the moment she entered AEW. A lot of people weren’t sure how to take her. Wrestling aliens, or wrestlers who think they’re aliens, aren’t exactly common. Its the kind of thing that gets over in the indies, because those feds attract fans that are more willing to buy into unique concepts. Mainstream is a tougher sell.

Aligning Kris with the Best Friends makes sense to those in the know, since she came up working shows with them. It also helps people that don’t know about her figure out more. The Best Friends are a happy go lucky group that are the whitest of white meat babyfaces you’ll find in AEW, and that’s a good thing. They’re welcoming to people with unique personalities, as Orange Cassidy’s presence establishes. A friendly alien couldn’t ask for a better group to surround herself with, and from their appearances so far she seems like a perfect fit.

Add in the fact that the time on the shelf helped her get into better shape and refine her look & presence, and the sky’s the limit for Statlander. As long as she can stay in the ring, I’m expecting big things from her in 2021.

3. Tay Conti

Sometimes, all one needs is a change of scenery to approach their true potential. Tay spent a few years at the WWE Performance Center learning how to be a professional wrestler. During her time there, Tay never showed much in the way of potential. Even though she had a combat sports background and had the type of physical appearance that gets attention, Conti’s TV time was very limited and uneventful. She seemed like one of those wrestlers that was bound to stay in developmental until WWE gave up on them, then drop off the face of the earth without most wrestling fans noticing.

Tay’s story took a different route. She ended up being one of the cuts that AEW took an interest in, and was brought in for the Deadly Draw Women’s Tag Team Tournament. Her teaming with Anna Jay worked well on & off-camera, and she pretty much fit right in with the group immediately. She started training with Dustin Rhodes, and pretty much immediately started looking better in the ring & figuring out what worked for her. Now, she’s one of the people helping AEW’s women’s division go to a higher level.

This isn’t meant to denigrate WWE’s Performance Center or its methods. There just isn’t a wrestling training center out there that’s going to work for everybody. Tay had to find what worked for her. The people that recently got cut will have to do the same. Hopefully, the people that recently got signed by WWE will thrive in that environment.

2. Bianca Belair

We’ve recently seen three new Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella, all of whom are great in their own way. I’ve talked about Rhea Ripley before, she’s got unlimited potential and so far she’s done very well on the main roster. Raquel Gonzalez is doing very well on NXT and her push to the championship made perfect sense & got over. I do think the best of the title changes was Bianca’s defeat of Sasha Banks in the main event of WrestleMania Saturday. It was a special moment for Bianca, a very fun match to watch, and a great performance from both Bianca & Sasha Banks, who did everything she could to make Bianca in that match.

You see the video of the NXT segment up above, with the three current Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella celebrating together. Apparently there was a picture taken in 2019, and there were pictures taken after this week’s NXT, with Triple H making sure to get in there as he likes to do with all new champions. I’ve never really been a fan of that sort of thing, even the “Horsewomen” celebrations on previous NXT shows didn’t do much for me.

Besides the usual complaints people have about things like that, the thing that I didn’t like was how Rhea & Raquel came off. They were all smiling & happy like they were Big Daddy Cool Diesel after beating Mr. Bob Backlund in 1994. Completely against what Raquel has been up to this point, and what Rhea has been when she’s been at her best. Hopefully this is just a one-time thing for Rhea for the portion of the NXT audience that likes their lady wrestlers crying & happy after their performances, and hopefully it’s leading to Raquel getting dismembered by Dakota Kai, who can’t be happy about her heater winning the championship and then turning into Smilin’ Diesel.

Fortunately for Bianca, it does nothing to affect her character or our opinion of her. That’s why I think her title run will go best. I’m also putting her here because I’m pretty well convinced there isn’t a wrestling move or spot she can’t do well. Insanely talented, and the more experience she gets the better she’ll be.

1. Darby Allin

Sometimes you just want to watch something that’s stupid fun. Something that doesn’t need too much thought in order to enjoy it. Just people doing crazy things to entertain an audience. Darby Allin matches are just what you need when you’re looking for something like this. There isn’t anybody crazier in pro wrestling today than Darby, which is probably for the best. I’m convinced this kid has a death wish.

The one thing that kinda gets me about Darby sometimes is how he kicks out of everything. Poor Matt Hardy wasn’t going to beat that kid unless he shot him with a gun, and apparently there’s a metal detector at Daily’s Place. (Shoutout to Matt by the way, hell of an effort in that match.) But then I remember that Darby Allin is a daredevil and constantly posting videos online where he’s jumping off high places and doing crazy things. Obviously, it’s going to take a little more to beat a daredevil than your average pro wrestler.

What’s it going to take to beat Darby Allin? That’s a good reason to keep watching.


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NXT Minus 6: About that Cole-O’Reilly match…

It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong? 

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It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong? 

Exclusive: Kyle O'Reilly is ready to renew his career-long rivalry with Adam Cole at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver

6. I was jacked to 11 for Adam Cole versus Kyle O’Reilly. I was ready to give it a Tokyo Dome 6 stars. MOTY before the bell rang. A masterwork of storytelling. I correctly predicted it would be an unsanctioned match. Then the action started, and it quickly became “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”

NXT TakeOver: New Orleans | WWE

5. After the first few acts of violence, it was apparent that the problem with the match would be the stipulation. The last NXT unsanctioned match was Johnny Gargano versus Tommaso Ciampa in 2018. That was 3 short years ago, but things move quickly in today’s world. There is very little chance an unsanctioned match can deliver the level of violence it promises as long as NXT is on the PG-13 Peacock.

The Most Brutal Spots from Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly's Insane Unsanctioned Match at NXT Takeover - EssentiallySports

4. Fans are losing their minds over all the content Peacock is leaving on the cutting floor. A lot of it was offensive and would never work today, but that’s not the point. The fact is there’s only so much violence Peacock’s parent company NBC will tolerate from wrestling. Take the chain, for example. Other than the clothesline, it was practically useless. O’Reilly tried to make it work, but it fell flat. In an unsanctioned match, 20 feet of heavy duty chain should be all you need to decimate another human being.

The B Word: Did Pro Wrestling's Blood Dry Up? | Ring the Damn Bell

3. Maybe I’m a victim of my own wrestling memory. An unsanctioned match in Memphis in the 80’s would have been a bloodbath. Someone would have been hung over the top rope with the chain around his neck. Whipped across the back. Hog tied. Someone would have wrapped it around their fist for a few stiff shots to their opponent’s forehead. But that goes back to my original point. None of that would fly today even if NXT was only on the WWE network.

5 Hilarious moments from this week's WWE programming

2. I’ll go so far as to say the only violent-promising stipulation that interests me is Falls Count Anywhere. There is zero drama in wrestlers pulling chairs from under the ring. The chance to use the naturally occurring environment as a weapon still holds a world of suspense. Someone is going through windows, walls, off the stage, over the guardrail, stuffed in a locker. Honestly, I’m tired of people getting hit in the stomach with folding chairs. Of all the ways to hit someone with a folding chair, that’s the least practical. 

WWE Announces Multiple Injuries At NXT New Year's Evil - WrestlingRumors.net

1. I’m sorry to say Kyle O’Reilly versus Adam Cole didn’t deliver what I expected. Maybe I’m in the minority. Maybe I don’t need over-the-top violence to entertain me. Maybe I don’t need wrestling to keep pushing the envelope. Five of my top 6 matches of 2021 are straight up wrestling matches. Maybe all I need is two (or three or four) strong characters and a good story. Damn, I sound old. 


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