This Sunday, the WWE held the 2017 Royal Rumble. More than any other year in recent memory, this year’s event offered fans the a diverse and mysterious collection of competitors creating a scenario where the inevitable winner of the main event could be any number of people. Did the company deliver on that promise? Were new stars created in the process? Was the event any good?

Preshow Notes

The Pre-show this year ran 2 hours and featured 3 matches of varying degrees of quality. Here are some notes.

  • I know most people don’t watch the pre-show, but man WWE sort out your production efforts. Faulty microphone levels and poorly timed camera changes shouldn’t be an issue with a company of your means.
  • The opening six woman tag match that sees Naomi, Becky Lynch and Nikki Bella take on Alexa Bliss, Mickey James and Natalya is fine for what it is (an excuse to get the Smackdown women on the card). Not everyone gets time to shine (I don’t even recall Nikki being in the match), but Becky and especially Naomi come out looking strong.
  • Match 2 is for the Raw Tag Titles and is between She-saro and The Club. The gimmick of the bout was that there were two refs to prevent cheating, but it barely comes up. The match is about as good as any of their fights on Raw; The Club wins with a roll up and a handful of Cesaro’s tights for their first title win. It may be too little too late for the Club to be the badasses we want, but it was nice for them to FINALLY win something of import.
  • Charile Caruso does a backstage “Social Media Lounge” interview with Dean Ambrose and WOOF. She’s got the look, voice and cadence to be a competent sports reporter, but MAN can she not improvise or banter in these interviews. She only works in scripted dot com segments.
  • Match 3 is Nia Jax essentially squashing Sasha Banks. Banks gets a few bits of offense in, but Nia mostly just shrugs it off and flattens the Boss. I guess she’s due for a push, because Sasha looked really outgunned in this match.
  • All night the WWE does some serious shilling for both KFC and their new iPhone game, and both are like insufferable. God I hope they don’t keep airing them on regular programming. In one of them Enzo acts like he’s going to fuck some chicken. Seriously.

The Main Card

Match 1: Charlotte Flair Vs. Bayley for the Raw Women’s Championship

The keyword for so much of this card is physical, and man was this a physical match! Unlike most matches with the Four Horsewomen, which start out slow but pick up, Bayley and Charlotte keep pushing the pace throughout. Their chemistry isn’t quite as strong as either of these performers’ comfort working with Sasha Banks, but they put on a hell of a show.

Bayley hits an amazing flying elbow that lands a little high on the champ, and later Charlotte hits one of her famously perfect (seriously, her form is immaculate) moonsaults only for Bayley to get her knees up and clock Flair in the face. One of these must’ve knocked out one of Charlotte’s teeth or something because she has a mouth full of blood for the rest of the night.

Eventually, Charlotte manages to hit the Natural Selection on the ring apron (THE HARDEST PART OF THE RING!) before rolling Bayley inside for the victory. I like Bayley, but probably the right call to keep the belt on Charlotte. It’ll be better to see her get her comeuppance on a bigger stage–like Wrestlemania.

Match 2: Kevin Owens Vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Title

The Universal Championship is supposed to be the top title in the company, and yet it’s the second match on the show. Seriously, the Cruiserweight Championship has a higher spot on the card, and this is supposed to be the championship of the entire universe. Also they send KO and Jericho out first. If they were going to put Y2J in the cage before Roman came out that would be one thing, but no, they just trot him out there like a schlub. Still, Jericho and Owens jump Roman before the opening bell and get some of their heat going before Reigns manages to turn things around and lock Jericho in the shark cage. Once the cage is hoisted above the ring things start in earnest.

Side note: Whoever made that sign that said “Stop trying to make “Big Dog” happen” only for it to end up right next to Roman’s face as he walked to the ring deserves a high five from everyone in the Alamodome.

This is another supremely physical match, harkening back at times to the old hardcore division–only without all the flimsy trashcan headshots and blading. Early in the match they brawl through the audience, even making a stop to bounce Owens’ head off the Japanese announce table, startling Smackdown #1 Announcer Funaki. Once they get back to ringside the spots start ratcheting up. Owens hits an awesome frogsplash to send Roman through a table, rolls Reigns into the ring only to get Samoan dropped through a steel chair for his troubles. Later, Roman superman punches owens off the top rope and he falls through a weird little tent-like structure of seven chairs.

To set up for the finish, Roman hoists the already out cold KO up and powerbombs him through the announce table. He rolls Owens back into the ring and sets him up for the spear when Braun Friggin Strowman–like the fans’ collective will personified–runs in and wrecks THE Guy. He chokeslams him onto (rather than through) the German announce table, then hits his running powerslam through a table in the ring. A barely conscious KO rolls over for the cover and win.

That was a great match from both guys, and giving Braun that assist will do a good job of keeping Reigns away from the title scene at least through WrestleMania. The whole Jericho in the shark cage thing hardly plays into the match despite all the hoopla around it.

Match 3: Rich Swann Vs. Neville for the Cruiserweight Championship

While not as great as many fans think these two are capable of, the showdown between Rich Swann and Neville was a good, competitive WWE style cruiserweight match. They don’t get to move at the same kind of pace they may’ve on the indies but both guys looked great in the match and managed to get the crowd really into their contest through nearfalls and the occasional flippy move.

Both men did great ring acting. Neville’s facial expressions have progressed from just “scowls all the time” to a point where he can project a range of emotions subtly. It is Swann, however, who is the real revelation. Allowed to show more fire here than he has ever before in WWE to this point, there are moments in the match where his aggression borders on heelish. His kicks are crisp, his transitions snap–it’s the best work the Baltimore native has shown since he came to the main roster. Quick side note: Maybe don’t bring up dude’s dead parents every time he wrestles. I’m sure there’s a lot more to his personality than that.

Anyway, the pace builds to a number of decent spots, notably including Nevilles dive right into a super kick. The finish comes when Neville manages to hit a superplex and transitions it into a Rings of Saturn (which I guess they’re calling the Iron Maiden now) that forces Swann to tap out.

Solid bout. The right guy went over and there was nothing particularly wrong with the match, but given the talent of the two guys involved, I’d like to see the match those two put on in their minds.

Match 4: AJ Styles Vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship

With this caliber of performers, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to hear that this was easily the match of the night. AJ Styles is one of those elite performers who could wrestle a 4 star match with a broomstick–and a properly motivated Cena (AKA Big Match John) can put on a hell of a show. That’s precisely what we get here, a hell of a show.

Even before they finish the announcements the crowd is roaring, and the actual action is competitive and well thought out. Sure, “CENA WINS LOL,” but the match is outstanding. Like all of their best matches, both guys bust out some of their more rarely seen moves (and Cena drops some new cutter that I don’t think I’ve ever seen from him). AJ does that cool torture rack into a spin out powerbomb that became a signature while he was in Japan, while Cena hit the prettiest Code Red he’s ever done since he introduced the move into his repertoire a few years back.

The match moves through stages as if the two guys are trying to work through several different disciplines over the course of the bout. They start with strikes, move on to suplexes, hit some submissions and then move into the traditional finisher exchange.

Cena eats two Styles Clashes (Including one they replay where Cena clearly hits his head), and AJ Kicks out of two AAs (Including one from the second rope). Both dudes look great heading into the end where, AJ gets caught going for the Phenomenal Forearm and eats another AA, only for Cena to roll through and hit a second AA immediately after for the pin. With the win, Cena now ties the arbitrarily ascribed 16 World Title reigns record set by Ric Flair, meaning the money story for the near future will be his record breaking 17th title win.

It’s hard to be mad at the outcome, because both guys put on fantastic performances. The booking does come into question knowing that, given the events of the actual Rumble, it seems unlikely that Cena is going to go into Wrestlemania with the title. If that is indeed the plan, why give Cena the rub here at all?

It should also be noted that after the match, Cena goes into the crowd to celebrate with a Make-a-wish kid. Then on the ramp up he gives some of his (like 5,000) sweatbands to another child at the top of the ramp. As an adult fan I am one of those people hoping for a Cena heel turn, but when you see the good that guy does for kids, I get why they don’t want to go through with it.

Main Event: Royal Rumble Match

Recapping this entire match would take quite a while, but before we get to the finish, I’ll hit a couple of notes from this match.

  • The aisleway from the stage to the ring is like a mile long. It’s seriously ridiculous how long it takes some guys to get down to the ring. It came to light on Twitter that some of the larger competitors were actually tossed on the back of a golf cart to get them down to the ring without winding them. That’s more than a little funny.
  • Big Cass (1) and Jericho (2) are the first to enter, with Cass and Enzo cutting a rambling, not funny and entirely too long promo before he got into the ring.
  • Early in the match they make the point that Jericho has surpassed the “overall time spent in a rumble match” record held by Triple H. Shame he hasn’t won one of these things.
  • Jack Gallagher (5) is the only cruiserweight in the match. He’s over, sure, but like why? It’s not like he made much of an impact. He had a funny moment hitting Jericho in the crotch with his umbrella, but is then easily eliminated by Mark Henry (6) of all people. What purpose did this serve?
  • Braun Strowman comes in seventh and goes on to eliminate seven people (Mojo Rawley, Kalisto, Big Cass, Mark Henry, Big Show, James Ellsworth and Tye Dillinger). He looks like an absolute monster, more so than anyone else in the match. It takes the combined efforts of Sami Zayn (8), Dean Ambrose (12) and Baron Corbin (13) to take him out of the match.
  • Also kudos to the WWE for bringing in Tye Dillinger at the 10 spot. You didn’t listen to fans on any of the other booking decisions you made tonight, but you got this one right.
  • Ellsworth (11) and Enzo Amore (27) both get comedy jobber spots. Again, I question this booking. Did we need two? Couldn’t one of those spots have gone to a surprise competitor?
  • Poor Handsome Rusev (18) is competing in a facemask after legitimately breaking his nose on Monday.
  • There’s some development on the breakup of the Wyatt Family storyline as Harper (25) attacks both Bray (21) and Randy (21) before he eventually gets knocked out by Goldberg (28).

The end really starts to take shape when Brock Lesnar enters the Rumble at the 26 spot. The action essentially stops as he enters, knocks everyone over and then chucks Ambrose and Ziggler (24) out and basically stalls until Goldberg (28) comes in. They face off and Dadberg spears the Beast again, then tosses him out pretty quickly. I’m guessing Brock costs Goldberg a chance at the title or something and that sets up their blowoff match at Wrestlemania.

The Undertaker (29) is out next and he and Bill have a face off, then get into an elimination pissing contest. Goldberg gets Rusev (18) and Harper, while Taker takes out Baron Corbin and Goldberg himself.

Then the bell rings for entrant number 30 and it’s…. A huge let down. Roman Reigns comes in at the final spot to a chorus of boos and a “This is bullshit” chant. Indeed the only surprise entrant in the entire Rumble was Dillinger, and he didn’t make much of an impact at all. Worse yet, Reigns comes in and eliminates Taker to a DEAFENING chorus of boos. He then eliminates Jericho (eliciting even more “Bullshit” chants) and leaves himself in the ring with Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton. While setting him up for their group finisher, Roman fights out and eliminates Bray, only for Orton to come from behind and chuck Roman out and win the Rumble.

If you’ve been following the Vegas odds, you know Randy was considered a favorite going into the match, but for the life of me I can’t understand why. He’s got a ready made Mania match with Bray waiting to happen that doesn’t need the title, and should not be a main event. Randy Orton Vs. John Cena should not be a Wrestlemania main event in 2017 (surely they can’t have forgotten how poorly received their last rivalry was), and if you did Randy Vs. The Universal Champion you throw away the whole Wyatt Family storyline. General consensus is that Bray will likely win the title during the Elimination Chamber event in a few weeks, but that also feels odd.

In any case, it was clear that they wanted to put Randy over and found a way to make him cheered for it (by throwing the universally reviled Reigns out last). That being said, this is now the fourth time in five Rumbles where the winner is an established star that didn’t need the rub (Cena in 2013, Batista in 2014, Trips in 2016). So much for the “New Era.”

Conclusion

There’s little denying this was an entertaining show, with both the Universal and WWE Championship matches being stellar exhibitions for those competitors. The Women’s and Cruiserweight title matches were both strong, and despite a questionable ending, the actual Royal Rumble was a lot of fun.

Hopefully WWE can build some worthwhile storylines out of this in time for Wrestlemania, but at least they can be sure that the talent of the performers is there.

Final Score: 9/10