Royal Rumble 2017 - Top to Bottom
This year’s Royal Rumble was a great example of a satisfying, crowd-pleasing PPV, even if few of the best moments came during the titular match itself. Thankfully, the Rumble was far from terrible, even with a disappointing line-up and unsatisfactory finish. The undercard, however, provided an amazing title match from each brand, as well as a damn fine Women’s Championship match and an unspectacular Cruiser Weight match. Regardless of the show’s downfalls, the Rumble deserves its stature for dictating the course of the coming year. Not only is the challenger for the main event of WrestleMania decided, but a handful of storylines are set up during the match. And it’s been a long time since WWE delivered two title matches as satisfying as these, let alone on a single PPV card. Furthermore, all four of the contests preceding the Rumble were title matches the stakes, which raised the stakes as well as fan interest in each one.
The Charlotte-Bayley feud is still pretty fresh, beginning last month during the Columbus RAW. There’s a decent story in place between the two, again dating back to NXT, dealing with Charlotte’s undefeated PPV streak and the fact that Bayley has beaten her twice now. While not as fiercely competitive or developed as last year’s Charlotte-Sasha rivalry, things are off to a good start, and there looks to be plenty of room for the feud to continue to build.
The two kicked off the Rumble’s undercard with an impressively physical bout that was undoubtedly the best way to start the show. The match was fast-paced and incredibly hard-hitting from the beginning, so much so that even the obligatory rest hold a few minutes in seemed well-deserved. Bayley’s offense was credible from the start, and she initially seemed to get the better of the champ. The best spot came when Bayley hit Charlotte across the jaw with a very Randy Savage-esque elbow drop, drawing blood. Charlotte was in fantastic form as always, quickly taking charge of the match. The only problem, and it’s getting to be a reoccurring thing, was the sheer abruptness of the finish, which again saw Charlotte victorious. Climbing down off the top rope, Charlotte hit a Natural Selection on the apron and put Bayley away before the fifteen-minute mark. The match itself was terrific, but the ending was way too sudden, and the whole thing would not have overstayed its welcome lasting a few more minutes.
Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns’ feud for the Universal Title has been about as underwhelming as KO’s reign as champion. Chris Jericho’s interference was put to rest as he was suspended—a la Paul Ellering—above the ring in a shark cage. There was a lot of buzz that Roman would claim RAW’s top prize, and that speculation frankly pissed me off. It’s one thing to tell Owens as well as the fans that he’s ineffectual on his own, and another entirely to prove it outright and hand him a definitive loss. Thankfully, Owens not only pulled off a surprise victory, but both men came out of the match looking great.
The no disqualification stipulation was met with skepticism—why offer that kind of leeway if you don’t want interference on Owens’ behalf?—but that was all squashed as the wrestlers pulled out all the stops for this one. Making use of countless tables, chairs, and plenty of vicious brawling on the outside, the match totally delivered. It was so physical and savage, it’s almost easier to list some of the most impressive moments, including a frog splash from Owens off the top rope sending Reigns through a table, as well as a Stone Cold Stunner from the champ. On his end, Reigns hit KO with a big Samoan drop through a steel chair, and a powerbomb through the main announce table, nearly picking up the win. The most impressive spot of the entire night was WWE’s response to the incredible table spot from Okada and Omega’s already-legendary match at Wrestle Kingdom 11. Owens set up seven steel chairs, house of cards-style, on the outside, and for seventeen minutes the two teased their going through the stack. Reigns finally punched Owens off the top corner ringpost, sending him through the tower. It was one of the most painful things I’ve seen in weeks, and I’m amazed Owens was able and willing to do it. Incredible.
Reigns had the match won following that, but Braun Strowman came out, chokeslamming him onto another announce table, which refused to give, and ultimately dropped him with a powerslam through a corner-propped table. This allowed Owens, amazingly, to pick up a clean win under the stipulations and retain his title. Even without Jericho’s interference, this wasn’t exactly satisfying, but they made the right move in making Owens look vulnerable, yet allowing him a clean win. Once again, Roman Reigns proves he can deliver very good matches, and while Owens was the true star here, Reigns more than held his own. Great match.
There was no doubt that John Cena and AJ Styles would put on an incredible match following their SummerSlam classic. This rematch absolutely delivered, and nearly equaled their contest last August. The story was built-in, with Cena wanting to avenge his loss, as well as win the World Title in order to tie Ric Flair’s sixteen championship reigns. This made the outcome hardly a surprise, but even most John Cena detractors must feel the match lived up to its hype. The Alamodome looked packed, and the crowd reaction was deafening throughout the entire match.
There was little downtime, and the two traded some excellent back-and-forth action from the start. Cena looked absolutely determined throughout—in fact, half the time John looked downright deranged in his mission to score the win. On top of that, he pulled off a number of surprising maneuvers he rarely brings out. There weren’t any huge spots, but both wrestlers used nearly every move in their arsenal to try and put their opponent away. This led to numerous finishers being hit and kicked out of, most notably AJ talking an AA from the second rope and still managing to escape the pin. For his part, Cena took several Styles Clashes to the same effect. Most impressive was a long exchange of submissions in the middle of the ring midmatch, which provided some nice ground action, with Cena locking in a Figure Four in a nod to Flair’s record.
The sheer number of finishers, power moves, and near falls kept things exciting, and it’s amazing that they went twenty-five minutes given the ferocity of their strikes. Cena picked up the win after catching Styles on the ropes and delivering another AA. Not content, John rolled over AJ and dropped him with one more, finally getting the pin. I’m no big John Cena fan, but even I’ll admit he deserved the win after such an effort. It remains to be seen what each man’s direction will be in the coming months, but they can sit tight knowing they kicked 2017 off right.
I had high hopes for the Cruiser Weight title match between Neville and Rich Swann, particularly as they’re two of the division’s best pure talents, but I was ultimately let down. Neville’s heel turn and debut in the division was much-needed, and it was absolutely the right call to have him leave with the title. The match itself, however, belonged on RAW or even 205 Live, and just served to reflect how WWE have neutered the division since the Cruiser Weight Classic last summer. There were few high spots and little flying from either man, with the whole thing working more as a stiff ground-based battle. Still, Neville’s new submission finisher looked absolutely vicious, and it will be interesting to see where he takes the division as champion. The most disappointing match of the night.
The Royal Rumble
There was a lot of talk about this year’s Royal Rumble, with The Undertaker, Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar all announced as entrants. On top of that, there were rumors that Kurt Angle could possibly return, same for a rehabbed Finn Balor, and even talk that Samoa Joe would finally debut on the main roster. Finally, there was the sheer excitement of the fact that there was no single, clear-cut winner going into the match. Of course, hardly any of that mattered given the way that things were handled. Regardless, here’s a brief rundown of what happened during the hour-plus match:
The periods seemed to be somewhat shorter than two full minutes much of the time.
Chris Jericho did very little but was in over an hour and broke Triple H’s record for cumulative time spent in Rumbles.
Braun Strowman (#7) dominated the ring for his time in the Rumble, racking up several eliminations, and looked pretty good while doing it. He’s being properly booked as a monster heel and has a purpose on the roster at last.
Tye Dillinger debuted from NXT at #10, garnering a huge reaction. Of course, Tye was the only surprise entrant, and even his presence was hardly a secret. We’ll have to see which brand he gets drafted to (hopefully SmackDown).
Baron Corbin shockingly eliminated Braun, showing that he, too, is being primed for a major push this year.
Sheamus and Cesaro (after losing the RAW Tag Titles on the preshow) eliminated all three members of the New Day, before Sheamus tried to turn on his partner. Jericho dumped both of them out at once, and they continued to argue, creating the long-expected rift between them.
The Wyatt Family seemed to stick together, until distrustful Luke Harper hit Bray with a big lariat and tried to go for a Sister Abigail. Orton interfered on Bray’s behalf, proving he’s been loyal all along, and another team split up. This could sow the seeds for a very interesting storyline, and Harper should be given time to shine now.
Lesnar came out at #26 and proceeded to wreak havoc on everyone in the ring.
Goldberg was #28, eliminating Lesnar in a matter of seconds, receiving the biggest crowd reaction of the show.
That is, until the Undertaker appeared mid-ring as #29, getting an enormous pop from the entire Alamodome. He took on Goldberg very briefly.
Roman Reigns was the unannounced final entrant, and the boos were deafening. The Undertaker lowered his singlet straps and looked concerned as Roman headed to the ring, so their rumored WrestleMania match seems to be locked in. This was only furthered as Reigns eliminated The Undertaker (go back and read that again). I don’t think I’ve ever heard such an enormously negative reaction. It was amazing how loud the crowd made their disdain, and rightfully so.
Orton, Wyatt, and Reigns were the final three, and Roman made quick work of Bray. Thankfully, in a surprise upset, Randy Orton took out Reigns and won the Rumble, keeping the World Title on SmackDown winning yet-another WrestleMania main event.
The Rumble itself only set up a few notable feuds for 2017, and raised several questions. For the most part, the story lines we did get a glimpse of look to be interesting. Sheamus and Cesaro have been a good odd couple team, and now that they lost their titles to Gallows and Anderson they have little reason to stick together. As it stands now, it looks like they’ll continue their turn on one another rather than trying to win their belts back. Of course, this is nothing new as their partnership came out of their Best-of-7 rivalry last year, which may raise some complaints. I’m willing to run with it, especially given how fun those matches actually turned out to be.
The most exciting of the new directions, as far as I’m concerned, is the Wyatt family’s dissolution. Luke Harper never trusted Orton, and it would have made sense for the Rumble to be the place for Randy to turn on Bray. However, Orton stayed loyal throughout the match, with Luke leaving the ring as the odd man out. There were a few minutes near the end where it seemed like Orton and Wyatt would have to go one-on-one, but that never materialized. There’s talk of just how many times Cena and Orton have already faced one another for the World Title, and while that’s valid, I don’t see Cena’s run with the belt lasting all that long. He’s set to defend it next month at Elimination Chamber, and I’m willing to bet right now that he’ll lose it in that match so he can go on later to beat Ric Flair’s record. It would be amazing to see Bray win the belt, not just because he deserves it after all these years, but because an Orton-Wyatt main event at WrestleMania would be something unique and truly different. Of course, as a friend pointed out, “It’s WrestleMania season, which means it’s time to push the Wyatts for a couple months then bury them for the rest of the year.” Let’s hope not.
Reigns seems locked in for a short-term feud with Braun Strowman, before he takes the grand stage battling the Undertaker at WrestleMania. Honestly, this isn’t the worst turn things could take. ‘Taker is well past his prime, and it would serve better to have him go against a more-limited performer such as Reigns, rather than waste an incredible athlete such as Finn Balor (another rumored opponent) on what will inevitably be an underwhelming match. It still remains unclear whether Braun is set to challenge for the Universal Title in the upcoming weeks (hopefully not), or if Reigns will come after Owens for another shot (also not preferable).
Goldberg and Lesnar still look to be set for a final confrontation at WrestleMania, which provides an interesting issue. Their disaster match at WrestleMania XX had Goldberg go over, just as he did at Survivor Series and now the Rumble. We need to see a longer match of better quality, which Goldberg has often been unable to provide. So, will we get a real battle between the two, or will it be another over-hyped squash? And what does Lesnar think of taking so many losses?
Jericho and Owens still seem set to face off at Wrestlemania, but there has been no major rift between the two to set it off. It seems unlikely that the Universal Title would be on the line for such a match, unless the US Championship were also on the line. If that’s the case, having Owens win the match and hold both titles would be a nice way to settle things definitively. Hopefully he makes it to Wrestlemania with his title reign intact, it would be great to see him in one of the major matches. Plus, I’m still holding out the hope that he and Balor square off once again with the Universal Title at stake. It makes perfect sense for Finn to come after having been stripped of the title, and they’ve had several great matches in the past.
Finally, John Cena and AJ Styles’ current directions remain to be seen. Again, I doubt Cena’s title reign will last too long, but it also seems unlikely that AJ will win back the belt so quickly. Sure, a Styles-Orton main event would be a good match, but it’s hardly interesting from a storyline perspective. AJ’s future is the one most up in the air after his amazing debut year, and hopefully he’s put back into the title picture soon, but with a real direction