Will Brock Lesnar walk out of the Royal Rumble with the Universal title on Sunday night?

This time last year, the speculation going into the Royal Rumble was centred around whether it would be time for Brock Lesnar to drop WWE's Universal title.

And now, 12 months later, the conversations are of a very similar nature ahead of Sunday's event, which is live on Sky Sports Box Office at midnight on Sunday.

They are similar, but not the same. In January 2018, the talk was about Lesnar losing the company's top singles title, to a certain white-hot superstar named Braun Strowman.

Strowman and Lesnar were joined in a triple threat by Kane but it was The Beast who prevailed, adding another pay-per-view victory to his resume and extending a championship reign which would run for another seven months.

Looking back, was that the correct decision? Should Strowman - whose popularity arguably peaked around that time and has never got back to the same level - have been given the push to the very top of the company?

It is a question which cannot be answered with any real accuracy. And it is also difficult to gain any insight or learning from the Lesnar-related events of last year's Rumble heading into Sunday's edition of it.

Finn Balor is a very popular competitor who is among the elite in terms of in-ring ability, a superstar with an incredible look and an ability to connect with fans from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Finn Balor faces the thankless task of attempting to defeat Universal champion Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble
Finn Balor faces the thankless task of attempting to defeat Universal champion Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble
He does not go into his Universal title match with Lesnar with the level of momentum Strowman had for his. So, it is a foregone conclusion, right?

Well, possibly. It will certainly require a greater suspension of disbelief to conceive of a man Balor's size competing physically with a man the size of Lesnar.

That is not to say it cannot - or should not - be done, though. Depending on which website you read, the rumour is that either Seth Rollins or Drew McIntyre will be the man to ultimately dethrone Lesnar at WrestleMania in April.

The first chapter in that storyline will be written on Sunday night and if the men's Rumble goes on before the Balor-Lesnar match, a strong hint could be given for its outcome.

Lesnar and Balor tangled on the final pre-Rumble episode of Raw
A McIntyre victory would surely mean he will face Lesnar at Mania; if Rollins wins, it would be a better fit for him - from a match mechanics point of view - to take on Balor.

The road to WrestleMania will truly begin in earnest on Sunday night. Across both the men's and the women's divisions, the seeds will be sown for the big one.

WWE does not have seasons, but they do have cycles and the January-April period is their play-off campaign, their run to the SuperBowl, their World Cup semi-finals and finals.

Strowman did not get his Royal Rumble win or his WrestleMania moment last year but neither did Lesnar's opponent in New Orleans, Roman Reigns.

And so if there is one lesson we can learn from last year, it is that you write off Brock Lesnar at your peril.

He may have an eye on the UFC. He may be more of a part-time attraction than he has ever been. But he was not ready to lose the Universal title 12 months ago, and the chances are he will not be ready to on Sunday either.