The likeliest winners of the first women's Royal Rumble

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It's hard to overstate how critical a moment the first-ever women's Royal Rumble match will be for the future of female superstars in the WWE. They've been given the same platform and rules as the men's Royal Rumble match, the entirety of the Raw and SmackDown women's divisions are involved (save for champions Alexa Bliss and Charlotte Flair) and everything is set for Sunday.

But with this opportunity come massive opportunities as well as a laundry list of responsibilities to go along with them. If there's a future in which women are regularly the main event for pay-per-views; make up a higher percentage of the Raw, SmackDown and NXT rosters; and reach the top of the last true mountain to climb -- a WrestleMania main event -- this Royal Rumble match will be a major mile marker along that road.

So who will be the first-ever women's Royal Rumble winner? The beautiful thing is that this could go a number of different ways, depending on any of a dozen or more factors at play. A star could be made, one of the top contenders could be crystallized or we could even get an outsider completely upsetting the hierarchy of both women's divisions.

Among the 18 women currently announced -- along with one other rumored addition -- these are six women who can make a particularly strong case to be the last woman standing once the dust has settled.

Asuka

Why she could win: Dating all the way back to the beginning of her tenure in NXT, Asuka has never been pinned or submitted. Logic would dictate that anything but a victory in the women's Royal Rumble would take some of the shine off of that kind of unbeatable aura. Asuka has faced down every challenge put in front of her and beaten every challenger who has come her way. In the lone women's match on the 25th anniversary edition of Monday Night Raw, after her team picked up the win, Asuka made one last big statement by tossing each of her three teammates over the top rope.

Why she should win: As Asuka has made each step up along the way, she's faced major milestone after major milestone and earned her way up each time. She went from an NXT contender to the NXT women's champion without blinking an eye. From there, Asuka worked her way toward becoming the longest-reigning champion of any kind in NXT history. Since getting drafted to Monday Night Raw, she's beaten the Raw women's champion one-on-one and became the sole survivor in last year's women's Survivor Series match. As she looks to step up directly into the women's title picture, there couldn't be a more definitive statement than running through every woman and winning the Royal Rumble to secure her spot at WrestleMania.

Why she won't win: Asuka already has the most momentum of any woman on the roster, and with a win over Bliss already under her belt, it's possible the winner could come from the SmackDown side to balance out the other side of the WrestleMania equation. If Asuka doesn't ultimately win this match, another milestone like longest time spent in the rumble or most eliminations would be a fitting consolation prize.

Ronda Rousey

Why she could win: For a woman who may not even show up on Sunday, there's been a mounting list of circumstantial evidence that Rousey's entrance into the world of WWE could be imminent. She hasn't been shy about the fact that she's been training in the ring, and her confrontation with the Four Horsewomen of WWE while at Full Sail for the early rounds of the Mae Young Classic seemed to foreshadow a future meeting inside the ring. Add in Rousey's recent dinner with Triple H, and the breadcrumbs start to lead to one of only a few possibilities.

Why she should win: If all of the legwork is done and the WWE comes to terms with Rousey, it makes a lot of sense to put her directly on a path toward the biggest match WWE could make for her out of the box -- against someone with the pedigree and name value of Charlotte Flair. If the intent is to immediately establish Rousey as an alpha female in the world of WWE, having her win the women's Royal Rumble to prove that she can immediately hang in the ring sounds like a great way to go about it. If Rousey is a surprise entrant in the 30-woman field, a performance a la John Cena in 2008 or Edge in 2010 would make a lot of sense. There's a strong argument to be made that if Rousey had never broken through and changed women's MMA, the world of women's wrestling never would have had a renaissance of its own in the years that followed.

Why she won't win: Well, first off, she may not even be in the country for the event. According to a video that surfaced Thursday on TMZ, she is currently filming a movie in Colombia. That would put a pretty big wrench in a debut with WWE and the predictions above. Now, if she does show up, and even if she's been training like crazy since her last fight in the UFC, it will be her first-ever moment of true wrestling action. Throwing some strikes, locking on a few holds and knocking a few women out of the match might be a perfectly fine showing under the right circumstances. If the WWE doesn't feel she's ready to stand alone in the spotlight, some kind of team-up by Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch to eliminate Rousey could set the stage for a high-profile tag team match of some sort involving Rousey and one or more of her "Four Horsewomen" of MMA against Flair and one or more of her fellow "Four Horsewomen" of the WWE.

Becky Lynch

Why she could win: Since coming back from a couple of months off to shoot the latest movie in The Marine series, Lynch has enjoyed a significant increase in crowd support -- and she's channeled that energy in the ring. Of all the women on the SmackDown roster, no one appears to be in a better position to challenge Flair. Their dual history of friendship and rivalry could set up a fascinating path to WrestleMania and a potential show-stealing match for the SmackDown women's championship.

Why she should win: Since becoming the first-ever SmackDown women's champion, Lynch has largely taken a backseat while the other women on that roster have slowly caught up to her. A win in the women's Royal Rumble would represent a major step back to the forefront, and if you're handpicking an opponent for Flair -- provided she's still the women's champion come WrestleMania -- it doesn't get much better than Lynch.

Why she won't win: Lynch simply has too much utility, and with so many moving parts at play, there's a good chance she could play a part in a multiwoman match at WrestleMania. Like a handful of other women in this match, a long run in the match and/or a spot among the last few women leading to heartbreak seems a likely fate for Lynch.

Sasha Banks

Why she could win: When it comes to milestones in women's wrestling, few, if any, can boast as many as Sasha Banks. From all she accomplished in NXT, including a milestone TakeOver match against Bayley, to her four reigns as Raw women's champion, to her pay-per-view main event at Hell in a Cell, Banks has blazed a path in WWE, and she's still only 25 years old.

Why she should win: Between Asuka's dominance and Absolution's intrusion on Raw, women like Banks and Bayley have had to take something of a backseat. Still, with moments like her match in Abu Dhabi, it's still clear that the WWE has all the faith in the world in Banks and her consistent ability to have a great match. Whether it's a chance to reignite her rivalry with Alexa Bliss, or a chance to head over to SmackDown to revisit her storied history against Charlotte Flair, there's a lot to like about a Banks victory.

Why she won't win: There's a lot of history with each of the women's champions, and the women's Royal Rumble feels like an opportunity to explore new horizons. This doesn't feel like Banks' year when considering the other candidates, but this could finally be the opportunity for the long-teased breakup between her and Bayley to begin -- and that would be a big net positive.

Bayley

Why she could win: There's no woman on the Raw roster in more desperate need of an express ticket back to the main event than Bayley. After officially debuting in August 2016, Bayley had a few big moments, including a Raw women's championship reign, putting an end to Flair's pay-per-view winning streak and a successful title defense at WrestleMania. But from the time she started to feud with Bliss over the Raw women's championship, there hasn't been much that's gone in Bayley's favor.

Why she should win: The Royal Rumble is the perfect setting for a good underdog story, and you can't get a much better underdog in this spot than Bayley. In the vein of Rey Mysterio, or Shawn Michaels' first win, an early entry and an against-all-odds victory would be a memorable start to a women's Royal Rumble tradition.

Why she won't win: For whatever reason, Bayley seems to have fallen out of favor on Raw and doesn't seem to be well-positioned for a victory heading into this match. Like Lynch, she seems fated for a heartbreaking elimination, but perhaps this match could be something of a fresh start for Bayley. Also, as mentioned above, the Rumble could be used to begin the storyline of a feud with Sasha Banks.

Nia Jax

Why she could win: Because of her size, Nia Jax has been positioned as the gatekeeper throughout her stints in NXT and WWE. What better way to set Jax up as a true force of dominance than to have her physically pick apart every other woman in WWE and impose her will throughout the match? There's been a big move to add more dimension to Jax's character of late, and even though it's been short-circuited through no fault of her own, she's undeniably on the upswing.

Why she should win: No matter how often she's been positioned as a dominant, unmovable force, every time Jax has been put in a position to challenge for a title, she's fallen just short. Every once in a while, you have to prove that someone who has a physical edge can use it to their full advantage, and who in the current women's field should be able to eliminate Jax by herself?

Why she won't win: With a few notable exceptions, superstars with a height and size advantage rarely end up as much more than a big pillar for one of the favorites to knock down. While 2018 should be a pivotal year for Jax, a Royal Rumble win doesn't seem the likeliest way for her to take that big step forward.