Royal Rumble 2014: Batista, Alberto Del Rio, CM Punk in contention
Last Updated: 27/01/14 11:20am
"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan won the first Royal Rumble and John Cena emerged victorious from the previous event in 2013 - but who will be this year's triumphant Superstar?
The iconic 30-man bout took place live on Sky Sports Box Office on Sunday and you can see repeats all week.
Batista, who has just returned to WWE following a lengthy sabbatical, is one of the big favourites to prosper in Pittsburgh and proceed to the main event of WrestleMania XXX.
But is The Animal ready to win such a monumental match - and which other Superstars are most likely to deny him a WWE World Heavyweight Title shot at the annual April extravaganza?
Read on for our assessment of the main Rumble hopefuls...
It's easy to see why The Animal is one of the major contenders for Rumble glory. He's big, he's strong, he's won the 30-man tussle before - in 2005 - and he has a spring in his step having recently returned to WWE after nearly four years out of the grappling limelight. Batista rarely freezes on the big occasion - a win in the main event of WrestleMania 21 against Triple H is testament to that - and rumours of any ring rust were shattered on Monday Night Raw when he shellacked Alberto Del Rio with a brutal Batista Bomb. It would come as no surprise if the powerhouse - who has never finished outside of the final four in his quartet of Rumble appearances and lasted almost 38 minutes during the 2008 event inside Madison Square Garden - prevailed in Pittsburgh and fought for the WWE World Heavyweight Title in Louisiana this spring.
ALBERTO DEL RIO
As we've just alluded to, Mexico's Greatest Import will not head into the Rumble in terrific spirits after his run-in with Batista, but he need only look back to three years ago to lighten his mood. Del Rio won the largest Royal Rumble in history in 2011 - the iconic match involved 40 Superstars that time - after fending off a late charge from Santino Marella, and the wily South American will fancy his chances of maintaining his 100 per cent record in the Rumble when he makes just his second appearance in the contest this weekend. Del Rio's amateur wrestling background should wear down his fellow Superstars in Pennsylvania, while his array of kicks could spell disaster for any grapplers perched perilously on the edge of the ring. He has endured a slight lull since losing the World Heavyweight Title to John Cena, but Sunday may begin an ascent.
The Ghanaian is one of the most happy-go-lucky wrestlers in WWE but has shown a ruthless streak in recent weeks, defeating Orton in a non-title tussle and then helping Cena launch an assault on the Viper. Kingston's new-found mojo will make him a dangerous proposition this weekend, as will his nimbleness, which has caught the eye in the past two Rumbles, in St Louis and Phoenix respectively. The former Intercontinental, United States and Tag Team Champion avoided elimination in 2011 by walking on his hands after tumbling out of the ring, while he used a combination of Tensai, the announce table and an office chair to keep himself in January's showpiece match last year. So, even if Kingston's Royal Rumble victory charge ends in failure, you can be sure that he will produce at least one daredevil moment that will live long in the memory.
The Second City Saint has achieved just about everything since entering WWE - but he has never won the Rumble. The odds of the Chicagoan rectifying that this year would appear slim, with his verbal and physical clashes with WWE's Director of Operations Kane seeing him placed as the number-one entrant for Sunday's duel. Still, Shawn Michaels battled his way to victory in 1995 from that berth, while Rey Mysterio and Vince McMahon has prevailed from the equally-difficult number-two position, and can you really bet against a man who defied the odds to hold the WWE Championship for a stunning 434 days? No, us neither. That said, Punk has accrued plenty of enemies over the years - he has current beef with the New Age Outlaws and The Shield and has questioned The Authority running of WWE - so could that come back to haunt him?
Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns could be faced with a big decision at the Rumble. The Hounds of Justice have been a formidable team since debuting at Survivor Series 2012 - bar a few minor hiccups - so will they maintain that bond in Pittsburgh or fight alone? Each man has plenty of plus points - Ambrose, United States Champion since conquering Kingston for the belt in May, deploys a peculiar offence which is hard to work out, Rollins is one of the sprightliest Superstars on the roster, while Reigns is blessed with power - but will those skills carry one of the black-clad renegades all the way to the WrestleMania XXX main event? And if it does, will jealously take hold and cause irreparable damage to the faction? There's a fair chance that - in the words of Chris Jericho - The Shield may "never, ever be the same again" once the Royal Rumble is over.
BIG E LANGSTON
Alongside Batista and Reigns, there is another "power" guy in the Rumble who cannot be discounted. Big E Langston began his WWE tenure as Dolph Ziggler's bodyguard but has branched out since then and is forging a hugely successful career as a singles competitor. The Floridian plucked his maiden title in the autumn, decimating Curtis Axel to snare the prestigious Intercontinental Championship, while he has not looked out of place during high-octane bouts with Orton. Langston's arsenal of impact moves - including his Big Ending - could create carnage on Sunday night, and he has to be a contender to collect the most eliminations on the night. A Rumble win on his first appearance in the event may be too much to ask, but if Big E manages it, whoever is WWE World Heavyweight Champion at 'Mania will hardly be licking their lips.
The Ultimate Underdog, as we've mentioned, already has a Rumble victory to his name and if he earned another one this year the WWE Universe would go wild. The masked marvel has the endurance levels - he lasted a record 1hr, 2mins, and 12 seconds to triumph in Miami in 2006 - and has lost none of his fizz since returning from injury in October, picking up a win over Del Rio, and knocking off Cody Rhodes and Goldust whilst teaming with Big Show. Mysterio - the shortest wrestler to win the Rumble at 5ft 6in - has never let a size disadvantage affect him but with more muscular performers such as The Wyatt Family's Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, not to mention younger ones like Xavier Woods, Damien Sandow, Fandango and The Usos twins, should the Master of the 619 stand tall this weekend, it could be the greatest achievement of his storied career.
There are always shocks in the Rumble, with last year's edition featuring a near 50-minute stint for Chris Jericho and a five-second salvo by The Godfather. 2012, meanwhile, witnessed cameos from WWE legends Mick Foley and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan as well as announcer Michael Cole, but, on occasion, a stunning returnee goes on to win the contest, with John Cena and Edge bouncing back from injury hiatuses to register victories in the 2008 and 2010 matches respectively. So who will send shockwaves through this year's Rumble? Will The Undertaker rise again and win the multi-man mash-up for the second time? Could WWE Chief Operating Office Triple H place himself in the match - and then go on to triumph? Will "Stone Cold" Steve Austin emerge from the shadows and seal one last 'Mania main event? Make sure you tune in to find out...
Royal Rumble repeat booking details
WWE Royal Rumble will be repeated on Sky Sports Box Office (channel 743) BUT NOT Sky Sports HD Box Office (channel 752) between 9am, Monday, January 27 and 9pm, Saturday, February 1. Repeats showing will last for three hours.
The event is priced at £14.95 for UK customers, €21.95 for customers in the Republic of Ireland.
You can order WWE Royal Rumble from Friday, January 17 by pressing the Box Office button on your remote. Select 'sports & events' and follow the on-screen instructions.
Viewers can call 08442 410 888 from Friday, January 17 to book WWE Royal Rumble. (There may be an additional charge for telephone bookings).
You can also book WWE Rumble online from Friday, January 17 by visiting this link: https://my.sky.com/orderboxoffice/
Cable customers should contact their local cable operator.