WWE kicked off the Road to Wrestlemania 33 with the Royal Rumble pay-per-view (PPV), this year from the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Storylines are starting to get set into motion and it feels like WWE has a direction that they’re heading, whether you may agree with it or not.
WWE had a lot of tickets to sell tonight. All hands were on deck for the show and the hype levels were through the roof. Part-time stars like The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar and Goldberg were all booked for the Royal Rumble match, while John Cena made his return to PPV with a championship match.
Fans everywhere were speculating all sorts of outcomes for the show that could set up matches for Wrestlemania. The Royal Rumble winner gets a championship match at Wrestlemania, with the addition of the brand split providing more booking possibilities.
Ultimately, WWE kept it safe and predictable.
They kept the show concise, with only 5 matches booked for the main card.
Charlotte (c) defeated Bayley
Raw Women’s Championship Match
Charlotte and Sasha Banks finished up their feud at the end of last year and Charlotte has moved onto Bayley. Their feud is fine and they are both solid characters but some of their promo work doesn’t do it for me. Charlotte seeks to continue her undefeated PPV streak while Bayley goes for her first main roster championship.
They had a decent match with some memorable spots. Objectively fine, but nothing special. Bayley hit a nice looking elbow drop off of the top rope and Charlotte hit her finisher on the ring apron, looking extra vicious. Charlotte outsmarted Bayley for the win. Bayley’s story should be about chasing the title anyways. Match Rating: 3/5
Kevin Owens (c) defeated Roman Reigns
Universal Championship Match
(No Disqualifications with Chris Jericho suspended above the ring in a shark cage)
You read that right. Chris Jericho kept interfering in his best friend Kevin Owens’ matches, so he was set to be suspended above the ring in a shark cage. Then they added another stipulation saying the match would be No DQ. Pro-wrestling campiness at its finest right here.
If anything, my expectations for this match were low. They had a wild, WWE-style brawl full of weapons and big spots and they blew my expectations out of the water. The No DQ stipulation benefited them since they could use props, keep Roman Reigns from getting pinned clean and differentiate their match from Cena and Styles later in the show. They brawled around the arena, brought out tables and chairs, and Chris Jericho even dropped some brass knuckles from the cage as an old school wrasslin’ throwback. At one point Kevin Owens even hit a Stone Cold Stunner, much to the delight of the Texas crowd.
KO hits a frogsplash through a table on the outside.
Owens set up a pile of chairs only for his plan to backfire on him.
Finally, when it looked like Reigns almost had the match won, Braun Strowman runs down and smashes Reigns, allowing Owens to get the victory.
Was this match ridiculously overbooked? Absolutely. Was it fun and entertaining? Absolutely. Match Rating: 3.5/5
Looks like Kevin Owens is heading to the Fastlane PPV to defend the belt against Goldberg next month. Never would have seen that coming six months ago.
Neville defeated Rich Swann (c)
Cruiserweight Championship Match
Monday Night Raw was featured heavily for a joint branded show. Neville has been doing great work since he returned as a heel last month and it was definitely his time to take over the dying cruiserweight division.
This match started at a crawl and picked up towards the end. Neville started off with some heel tactics like headlocks and stopping Swann’s aerial offense before they ramped up the intensity with some brutal looking kicks and high flying flips. The last few minutes were just a taste of what these two are capable of and I left wanting more. Match Rating: 3/5
John Cena defeated AJ Styles (c)
WWE Heavyweight Championship Match
This was my most anticipated match for the night. I loved their Summerslam match from last year and really hoped they would try and top it, especially on the heels of Okada and Omega from New Japan giving them something to prove.
I think they did. I liked Okada/Omega more, but this match was outstanding. I’ve been saying for months that AJ Styles brings his A-game to PPVs, and John Cena brings out something even better from him.
The crowd was electric the entire 25 minutes giving this match that WWE-style big fight feel. They kicked out of huge moves back and forth from each other, called back to their previous matches and kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire ride.
Some fans aren’t really into this kind of match with both competitors kicking out of finishers back and forth, but I fall for it every time. Every single move feels like it could end the match at any moment and it keeps the melodrama high. What could possibly put their opponent away?
Matches like this bring out wrestlers like John Cena doing moves they never normally do.
This was a sprint for 25 minutes with both of these guys approaching their 40’s. After trying everything in the book, Cena gets AJ up for the Attitude Adjustment, rolls over with AJ still on his shoulders, hoists him up for a second one and gets the pin and his 16th world title (tying Ric Flair’s record as part of the story.) It’s going to be hard for WWE to top this one. Match Rating: 4.5/5
Randy Orton won the 30-Man Royal Rumble Match
Most of the time the Royal Rumble match is an entertaining way to spend an hour, regardless of what the outcomes are. I like showing Rumbles to casual fans since they can be a good way to show off a roster of diverse characters. Surprise entrants, returns and storyline swerves can all make the match fun and unpredictable.
This year, we didn’t get much of any of that. Most of the build for the match was centered around Goldberg, Undertaker and Brock Lesnar all entering the match, then they ended up never being in the ring together. Fans were hoping for surprise returns from Finn Balor, Samoa Joe getting called up from NXT or even someone like Kurt Angle, who is coming back to enter the Hall of Fame.
Big Cass and Chris Jericho were the first two to enter. Made sense for Enzo and Cass to be first to hype up the crowd and they need the promo time during their entrance. Kalisto and Mojo Rawley were next until cruiserweight Jack Gallagher entered at #5. Mark Henry made a return next at #6, getting a big ovation for being a Texas guy.
Jack Gallagher uses an umbrella as a prop, because he is an English gentleman, you see.
Braun Strowman came out at #7 and it felt like the match was finally getting started. He’s the next big monster they’re building up, so him having a dominant presence in the match was expected. Sami Zayn was up next at #8, continuing his storyline with Braun, followed by the Big Show at #9.
Big Show’s there to help Strowman get over, so they had a hoss-off and Show got tossed pretty quickly.
#10 was Tye Dillinger, the “Perfect 10” from NXT. Great surprise moment for the match, I wasn’t sure that they would bite the bullet and do the obvious thing by debuting him here.
Strowman soon gets ganged up on and eliminated by Baron Corbin and the match came to a grinding halt. For about 10 more entries they sent out midcarder after midcarder while the crowd died waiting for the next mega star to come out. Bodies were building up in the ring and eliminations slowed to a halt until finally Brock Lesnar came out at #26.
Lesnar cleans house, hits a few F5s, and gets a couple eliminations himself, clearing up the ring for the next entrant, Enzo Amore. He was the sacrificial lamb for Lesnar to destroy in a comedy spot, building up the crowd’s anticipation for Goldberg and Undertaker.
Goldberg came out at #28. He immediately went after Lesnar with the spear and tossed him out with ease, a callback to Survivor Series. Lesnar probably made more money in 5 minutes tonight than I will in 5 years.
Undertaker was out next at #29. Goldberg and Taker effectively teamed up for a minute and tossed some more people, and Taker eliminates Goldberg while he was distracted.
So with Goldberg and Lesnar both eliminated, Undertaker in the ring and one entrant left, anticipation levels were high for who could possibly come out at #30. So whose music hits? Roman Reigns.
It was the collective groan heard around the world. The live crowd was furious and it was the biggest letdown of the night. He was quite possibly the last person anybody wanted to see at #30, but I think I understand why they did it.
Roman tossed out The Undertaker and Bray Wyatt, until getting eliminated by Randy Orton. Orton gets cheered by virtue of not being Roman Reigns. Orton wins and the crowd is happy enough. I hope they’re planting the seeds for a Roman Reigns heel turn. They’re clearly heading towards Undertaker and Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania. Undertaker didn’t look so hot tonight, and any Wrestlemania feels like it could be his last. Reigns retiring the Undertaker at Wrestlemania could be a great way to start Reigns’ turn, which logically makes sense for a direction.
Orton winning is a safe choice, albeit underwhelming. This is his second Royal Rumble win. He’s probably going on to face champion Bray Wyatt for the Smackdown title, which seems strange going from Cena to Wyatt so quickly, all before Wrestlemania. I wish WWE would have tried something unexpected and have Bray Wyatt win and go on to challenge a champion Orton, if they are dead set on going that way.
Predictability in pro-wrestling definitely stinks. It takes away the drama of an unexpected outcome, but more often than not it’s more about the journey than the destination. Maybe they can have something interesting and compelling on the Road to Wrestlemania with Bray and Orton’s story, even if Orton winning the belt at Mania seems obvious.
Lesnar and Goldberg are set in stone and Taker and Roman looks probable as well. These part-time talents coming back for the big shows is unfortunate in how they take spots away from the performers who are there year round, but that’s another article. The casual fan will be excited to see Brock Lesnar and Goldberg fight for the title, especially since if they can get a free trial of WWE Network just for Wrestlemania.
Overall I enjoyed the show. The title matches all delivered, with Cena and AJ stealing the show. The Rumble match itself was lackluster with a lack of surprise entrants and lots of dead air. I’m intrigued, but not necessarily enthused by where this could all go towards Wrestlemania 33.
Royal Rumble 2017 gets a solid grade of B.
by Nate Dimit