Wednesday, February 21, 2024

2024 WWE Royal Rumble predictions, picks: Superstars who can win and what it would mean for WrestleMania

One of the most exciting WWE events of the year is set for Saturday as the Royal Rumble comes to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. The event serves as the true kickoff of “WrestleMania season,” leading to WrestleMania 40 on April 6 and 7 in Philadelphia.

The Royal Rumble is an event that always invites speculation from fans. Who will be the surprise entrants? Who will go on the longest run of the night? And, most importantly, who will win and punch their ticket to a world championship opportunity at WrestleMania?

The CBS Sports experts sat down to decide who our best choices to win the men’s and women’s Rumbles will be, including a few dark horse picks for both matches. Let’s take a look at who we think could end the night pointing at the WrestleMania sign.

Men’s match — Favorites

CM Punk

Why he could win: Punk’s return to WWE was shocking, a moment that felt like it would never happen after Punk walked out of WWE in 2014. After returning to wrestling with AEW, Punk continued to trash WWE until things collapsed amid multiple backstage altercations. This all led to Punk’s return at Survivor Series. You simply don’t bring a star of Punk’s caliber in and do anything other than swing for the fences. This alone makes him a strong contender to win the Rumble because such a big star returning, and headlining WrestleMania is the right business decision.

WrestleMania outlook: Punk vs. Roman Reigns makes no sense, so cross that off. Seth Rollins, however, has a built-in storyline as someone who genuinely doesn’t like Punk but is always willing to do business. It’s been made clear through promos that Punk wants to take Rollins’ title. And, with Rollins dealing with a legitimate knee injury that he intends to work through until WrestleMania, whoever faces him at the biggest show of the year will almost certainly be walking out as the new champion. If Punk wins the Rumble, he likely leaves WrestleMania as world heavyweight champion. This also deals with Punk’s longstanding issue of never truly having a “WrestleMania moment.” — Brent Brookhouse

Cody Rhodes

Why he could win: Rhodes could be the first person in more than a quarter century to win consecutive Royal Rumbles. Doing so puts Rhodes in rarified air with Hulk Hogan (1990-1991), Shawn Michaels (1995-1996) and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (1997-1998). Rhodes is one of WWE’s most popular and protected superstars, a believable winner and a safe choice for this year’s 30-man battle. The man is WrestleMania destined.

WrestleMania outlook: “Finish the story” has been Rhodes’ slogan since returning to WWE at WrestleMania 38 and has only gained in importance in his pursuit to avenge his loss to undisputed WWE universal champion Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 39. Defeating Reigns at this year’s showcase is his destiny and I’m optimistic WWE will see it through. Win or lose on Saturday, Rhodes is WrestleMania bound — short of a “Rock” sized curveball. — Shakiel Mahjouri


Why he could win: We should start by pointing out that Gunther is an extremely unlikely Rumble winner. He set the men’s record for longest time in a Rumble match last year but never really felt like a threat to win the match, instead serving as the final hurdle for Cody Rhodes to clear. Still, Gunther has been elevated so much as a star during his record-breaking run as intercontinental champion that he fits into the classic Rumble role of “one of the true contenders” even if he isn’t really one. Still, Gunther’s interaction with Rollins after Rollins announced his injury, saying he’d win the Rumble and then take Rollins’ belt by targeting his knee and back makes him a fun “What if?” option.

WrestleMania outlook: Gunther would challenge Rollins, that was made clear on Raw during the aforementioned confrontation with the world heavyweight champ. While Rollins’ knee injury makes it extremely unlikely he walks out of WrestleMania with his title, this feels like a situation made for a Damian Priest Money in the Bank cash-in. At some point, WWE has to pull the trigger on Priest using his contract and it would make sense here with Gunther not feeling like the right option to become world heavyweight champion. —Brookhouse

Dark horse candidates

Jey Uso

Why he could win: My dark horse pick is a toss-up between Uso and Drew McIntyre. Ultimately, if you’re looking to send the fans home buzzing, you need a fan favorite to pull off the shocker. Uso has flourished as a singles superstar, scrubbing away his twin identity and growing into his own. It feels lately like Uso is taking a backseat in the crowded main event scene, but a surprise Rumble would go over well with the fans and inject new blood into his solo run.

WrestleMania outlook: Rhodes vs. Reigns and Punk vs. Rollins feel like WrestleMania guarantees. But if Rollins can’t work through his recent knee injury, Uso could work some serious babyface magic against a cocky veteran Punk. The outcome of the match might be determined by the weekend’s other main event. WWE has conditioned its audience to expect a “WrestleMania moment.” If Rhodes loses to Reigns again, creative could give fans a morale boost by awarding Uso his first world title in a scrappy win against a huge name. Either way, the match catapults Uso to new heights. — Mahjouri

The Rock

Why he could win: The newest member of the TKO board, The Rock returned to WWE for a surprise appearance at Day One Raw. More surprising, however, was Rock commenting on sitting “at the head of the table,” immediately kicking off speculation that a long-discussed match between Reigns and his more famous cousin would finally be facing off in the ring. Rock does not need to win the Rumble for that match to happen. Simply calling for it would be reason enough to make the match, but the pop if Rock’s music hit at the Rumble would be off the charts. Again, it’s unlikely this will happen, but if we’re talking fun dark horse options to win the Rumble, The Rock sits at the top.

WrestleMania outlook: Obviously, the only play is Rock vs. Reigns. Any other use of Rock would be a massive fumble. That said, it’s hard to imagine WWE putting Rock over at WrestleMania. Rock isn’t sticking around for a real run, even with his new deal with TKO, and cutting the knees out from Reigns’ longstanding “head of the table” gimmick for a single moment would be shortsighted in a way that WWE doesn’t seem to operate under Triple H’s creative vision. Maybe in the days of Vince McMahon, but not in 2024. — Brookhouse

Women’s match — Favorites

Becky Lynch

Why she could win: The Rumble isn’t exclusively about creating new stars or pulling off shockers. Sometimes it’s as simple as reheating a popular act and giving them a convenient route to WrestleMania. Lynch will always be a believable threat in this match. “The Man” has been engaging in a surprisingly solid feud with Nia Jax since wrapping up her NXT stint and still operates at a high level.

WrestleMania outlook: Lynch recently confronted women’s world champion Rhea Ripley on Raw. It was a rare and often underutilized promo that built up both women as elite threats. Ripley vs. Lynch isn’t the most inspired direction, but it’s a straight shot to a barnburner WrestleMania match. I’d expect Lynch to take the loss as Ripley builds further on a career-defining run.  — Mahjouri


Why she could win: Bayley has been on an interesting journey of late. From leading a dominant faction in Damage CTRL to clearly being the woman on the outs from the group. There’s a built-in story for Bayley with winning the Rumble and challenging Damage CTRL’s Iyo Sky for the WWE women’s championship after all the faction’s drama.

WrestleMania outlook: Bayley vs. Sky would be the move if Bayley won the Rumble. From there, it’s hard to say what the play is. Bayley winning the belt and going on to feud with the various members of Damage CTRL is a sensible play and one that gives Bayley a boost back to the main event scene. Damage CTRL could also help Sky retain and set Bayley on the course of chasing some measure of revenge. Still, I’d expect Bayley to walk out of WrestleMania as champion should she win the Royal Rumble. — Brookhouse

Nia Jax

Why she could win: Jax returned to WWE at last year’s Rumble to unanimous groans. Yet her new run with the company has been surprisingly good. Jax recently put on a career-best match with Lynch and has been presented as a legitimate force in the women’s division. Every year around this time, WWE leans into the trope of “who could possibly eliminate this physically imposing superstar.” Well, almost every year those superstars get eliminated. Jax’s success in the last 12 months makes this a year where optics and booking mesh together.

WrestleMania outlook: Pitting Jax against Ripley or Iyo Sky are both intriguing options. The Ripley match is a physical power struggle between two of WWE’s strongest women. It’s also a feud that has been brewing since Jax returned last year. Challenging the WWE women’s champion would force Sky into a face role, a David vs. Goliath story. I suspect Jax would come up short against Ripley but overcome the smaller Sky. — Mahjouri

Dark horse candidates

Jade Cargill

Why she could win: Cargill’s signing was huge for WWE and they made her an immediate presence on television, even if she wasn’t wrestling any matches. It may be the case that WWE wants Cargill to spend some time in NXT, but she’s been around long enough without doing anything in the ring that she makes a fun dark horse candidate to show up in the Rumble and win it all, establishing herself immediately as a player at the highest level. Cargill is also made for an impressive run in the Rumble. The real risk is that this would be a true sink-or-swim play by WWE but the reward could be worth the risk.

WrestleMania outlook: The options could be wide open for Cargill. Challenging Sky or Ripley would be interesting in their ways, but I think Cargill vs. Ripley sounds like the better option. There is no shortage of challengers for Ripley on Raw but a meeting of powerhouses at WrestleMania feels like a safer match than asking Cargill to keep up with Sky, who is a slightly trickier match and Cargill needs her hypothetical WrestleMania debut to go as smoothly as possible. — Brookhouse

Liv Morgan

Why she could win: There is a lot of buzz about a Morgan comeback. The former SmackDown women’s champion has been sidelined for six months with a shoulder injury. The men’s Rumble has too many WrestleMania storylines for a surprise entrant not named “The Rock” to win. The field on the women’s end is more open. There is enough evidence to expect the move to work: Morgan has a dedicated following, the buzz of a surprise return and she won’t be stealing a spot the fans believe is owed to someone else. Plus, she’ll have extra motivation to win…

WrestleMania outlook: Morgan was written off television in July after being attacked by Ripley. It was an attack that cost Morgan her half of the WWE women’s tag team championships. Morgan will have revenge in mind and would certainly go after Ripley. It’s a story that writes itself and gives Morgan some much-needed edge after her middling run with a top singles title. It’s unlikely Morgan beats Ripley, but it could do a lot for her long-term position in WWE. — Mahjouri

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