It's Royal Rumble season which means that WWE is officially on the road to WrestleMania 38 in Dallas, Texas on April 2nd and 3rd.
Historically, the Royal Rumble event provides a good blueprint for the major matches that will be featured at the premium event, as the winners of the Men's and Women's Royal Rumble matches earn the right to face the champions of their choice.
In looking ahead to the Women's Royal Rumble match and WrestleMania, it's not clear at this stage who the company is focusing on to potentially win and challenge Charlotte Flair for the WWE SmackDown Women's Championship. Due to recent releases and roster moves between SmackDown, Raw and NXT, the women's division, as a whole, is a bit thin. However, the following profiles five potential challengers for Charlotte at the big event.
5. Returning at the Royal Rumble, Nikki Bella
Would this be the match that fans would want to see? Would fans believe Nikki Bella has a chance to defeat Charlotte? Probably not, but WrestleMania is traditionally a showcase for big attraction matches and if Bella is healthy, a Royal Rumble win and high profile WrestleMania match could be in her future.
Nikki is clearly the best worker of the Bella twins with decent mic skills. Despite the outcome being predictable, Nikki vs. Charlotte could give the WrestleMania card a marquee match on paper that it needs to make it feel bigger than the average show. For one thing, Bella has mainstream appeal outside of WWE, given her past work on the "Total Bellas" and "Total Divas" reality shows.
She's also slated to be a judge on the upcoming "America's Got Talent Extreme" competition series. So there will be some good opportunities for some outside promotion for the match, potentially making this an attractive option for WWE.
While it is a long shot that Naomi will win the Royal Rumble, given that they just presented this match on SmackDown, it's clear that they are building a long-term story between Naomi and authority figure Sonya Deville.
Could Deville be the hurdle that Naomi has to overcome to finally get a fair shot at Charlotte's title? Will Deville have Naomi be the first entrant to tell the story of Naomi running the table to win the Royal Rumble and earn the title shot?
Again, this is a long shot... but as Naomi is being primed for something higher than the average mid-card feud, the WrestleMania showdown with Charlotte shouldn't be out of the question.
3. 2021 Royal Rumble Winner, Bianca Belair
The creative team is clearly still high on Bianca Belair, given that she's in the mix to challenge for the Raw Women's Championship at the Royal Rumble. She's also had several good matches with Flair, which would warrant a showdown on the big stage.
It remains to be seen if Bianca will face Becky Lynch for the Raw Women's Championship at the Royal Rumble, but even if she were to be in the match and lose, she still has enough credibility to enter the Rumble match, win and go on to face Flair at WrestleMania. It would be very probable to see her eliminate the field and stand tall that evening.
2. Alexa Bliss
As WWE builds to the Royal Rumble, it was announced on the January 3rd edition of Raw that Alexa Bliss is set to return. Two questions are outstanding. First, will she return with her original persona, or will she re-assume the role of "Lady Fiend" with Lilly the doll? Second, in the storyline, Flair was responsible for Bliss' haitus - will she return for revenge?
Flair and Bliss have met multiple times before so this match doesn't jump off the page. However, given that the storyline is that Bliss is out for revenge, it adds a reason for a showdown that doesn't appear so random.
1. The Royal Rumble Return of Bayley
Should Bayley be medically cleared, she would be the odds-on favorite to return and win the Royal Rumble. There's a history with Charlotte Flair and she's one of the best all-around performers in on the roster, as well as one who carried the women's division in 2020.
Should this be the path WWE takes, it would be interesting to see how it's presented given that both have been heels most recently. Will Bayley still be edgy with attitude, or will fans be introduced to the babyface hugger that everyone fell in love with at NXT?
The creative team botched this character when she was first called up to the main roster. Could this be their opportunity to redeem themselves and get it right?
Who would you like to see win the Women's Royal Rumble? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.