The sportsbooks have spoken and as of this morning (January 18), the favorites to win their respective matches at the Royal Rumble are Ronda Rousey, a female who’s never stepped foot in a WWE ring and may or may not be signed to a contract, and Daniel Bryan, a man who retired in 2016 and may or may not be cleared to compete.
Clearly, Las Vegas knows something the rest of the wrestling world doesn’t, begging the question, “How much stock should fans put into Vegas’ seemingly unlikely favorites?”
Are the Rousey Rumors True?
A few days ago, WWE announced its newest class of performance center signees and the names were all notable ones. The first to be announced was 29-year-old Trevor Mann aka Ricochet on the independents and Prince Puma in Lucha Underground. Mann is one of the most noted high-flyers in the world, a two-time PWG Battle of Los Angeles winner, and multi-time junior tag team champion in Japan. He headlined the class which also featured Mae Young Classic participant, Candice LeRae, who is the wife of NXT superstar Johnny Gargano and a huge advocate/proponent of intergender wrestling, and the duo of Hanson and Ray Rowe known as War Machine, who are former Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling tag team champions.
While the foursome alone makes up a remarkable class, according to rumors there was one more name who was signed, however unannounced, and that’s former MMA/UFC star and Olympic bronze medalist in judo, Ronda Rousey.
Rousey is no stranger to the world of pro wrestling as she is an avid, lifelong fan, and has made several appearances in a WWE ring, most notably at Wrestlemania 32 when a tag team match partnering her with The Rock against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, was teased, and during the Mae Young Classic as Rousey and the two of the other Four Horsewomen of MMA, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir, got into a confrontation with Charlotte and two of WWE’s own Four Horsewomen, Bayley and Becky Lynch, teasing yet another possible match for Rousey in the WWE.
That was in September and while the fourth horsewoman, Shayna Baszler, is beginning to carve out her own career in professional wrestling, Rousey hasn’t appeared in WWE since. That hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from running rampant though, especially recently, as TMZ reported seeing Rousey, her agent, and Triple H leaving an LA restaurant about a week ago. Confirming that it was more than just a dinner date, on the day before new recruits were announced, PW Stream tweeted this:
The Ronda Rousey deal is done. No news on who’s she’s facing at Mania; the 4-on-4 horse women match is still a possibility. Don’t expect to see her in the Rumble, though – unless WWE are craving major main stream attention. #RoyalRumble
— PWStream (@PWStream) January 15, 2018
PWStream’s claim of Rousey being unlikely to appear in the Royal Rumble is an interesting one but it certainly hasn’t deterred bettors from picking Rousey not just to enter but to win it all. According to Oddschecker, only Asuka, the second favorite, is a more popular bet.
Could Daniel Bryan Wrestle Again?
When odds for the Royal Rumble opened in mid-December, John Cena was the early favorite following talk of an anticipated big Wrestlemania match for the 16-time world champion. That talk has once again shifted to Cena/Undertaker being that match and as a result, up until just a few days ago, that left Smackdown Live‘s Shinsuke Nakamura as the new favorite. The prospect of Nakamura winning the rumble offered fans the chance to see the WrestleKingdom 10 main event re-created as Nakamura would most likely take on WWE Champion AJ Styles, in a match that would be a sight to behold.
As exciting as that is to consider, there is an even better possibility on the horizon and that’s the in-ring return of Smackdown Live General Manager, Daniel Bryan, who perhaps inexplicably saw his odds jump from a longshot 66/1 to now being the prohibitive favorite at many of the major sportsbooks.
Bryan hasn’t wrestled since 2015, but over the past year and a half, following what he felt to be a forced retirement by the company, the former world champion has been incredibly public about his intents to get back in the ring be it WWE or somewhere else. Bryan, who was forced to retire due to ongoing concussions and lingering symptoms, has been taking part in experimental hyperbaric oxygen treatment at the Joe Namath Institute and has reported on several occasions that doctors have cleared him to return to the ring. The only doctor who hasn’t cleared him, however, is the only one who matters, Dr. Joseph Maroon.
Maroon, who has been at the heart of controversy due to a certain character portrayal in the movie, Concussion, which paints him as on the wrong side of the NFL CTE epidemic, certainly has good reason to be wary of the treatment Bryan has been undergoing as it’s not FDA-approved. And at this point, all anyone has, except Bryan and the doctors who have reportedly cleared him is the man’s word.
That all being said, someone must know something because for odds to jump so drastically that Bryan is now the favorite, again, not just to enter the Royal Rumble but to win the whole thing, certainly suggest that something is in the works. In Bryan’s most recent interview two weeks ago, he opened eyes, telling Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso, “I assume that if I don’t wrestle by Wrestlemania, I probably won’t be wrestling with WWE at all.”
While the date of WWE retesting Bryan’s brain has yet to be disclosed, it’s possible it’s already happened and the company is just trying to keep a lid on what would be perhaps the biggest in-ring return of anyone in WWE history. That certainly would explain the jump in odds.
Betting the Odds
While Bryan and Rousey may seem like longshots to even enter the Royal Rumble, let alone win their respective matches, both could have compelling cases based on the facts that fans aren’t yet privy to such as contract status and medical clearances.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that unlike unscripted sports betting, wrestling odds are more apt to result in the favorite winning, due to insider information and future booking being leaked. With the rumble still over a week away, it will be interesting to watch the movement of the odds, especially any that occurs last minute as that is normally where Vegas gets it right, as even they know how frequently Vince McMahon likes to change booking on the fly.
It’s January 18, so take this with a grain or perhaps a whole shaker of salt, but ever since 2013, Vegas’ Royal Rumble favorite has won every single year.