The Royal Rumble, theoretically, is supposed to be one of the most unpredictable events on the WWE calendar every year.
But in the two years leading up to the 2017 event — the 30th instance of the longstanding battle royal — the ending was far from surprising. Roman Reigns’ win in the 2015 Rumble was predictable (almost as predictable as the horrible reception the decision would get), as was Triple H returning to win last year.
Entering the 2017 Rumble, things seemed much more wide open.
Did WWE deliver? Let’s get into our Royal Rumble report card.
Charlotte defeated Bayley (RAW women’s title match)
Liked: This match didn’t have the same sizzle and, ahem, “flair” the previous NXT matchups between these two women featured, but it still was a fine way to open the show. The highlight of the match, though, was the finisher as Charlotte planted Bayley with a “Natural Selection” on the ring apron, a new wrinkle in one of the champion’s finishing moves.
Disliked: This is a total nitpick here, but having Charlotte win by some nefarious means maybe would have suited Bayley’s character a little stronger in the short term, at least, instead of Charlotte going over her in the middle of the ring. But again, that’s a nitpick for no other reason than to come up with something to “dislike.”
Kevin Owens defeated Roman Reigns (Universal championship match, with Chris Jericho in a shark cage above the ring)
Liked: If you like physical matches with plenty of carnage, then this match delivered and then some. For all the flak Reigns gets from the crowd, he’s made it more and more difficult to criticize his work rate. That’s especially true on the big stage — Reigns is building a very nice list of quality pay-per-view matches, and this one certainly can be added to the list. He and Owens beat the hell out of each other with a couple of really physical spots, like Owens frog-splashing Reigns through a table on the floor or Owens falling through a pyramid of steel chairs.
The ending also was a nice twist, as next to no one saw Braun Strowman getting involved and affecting the finish. Which direction they send Strowman in after this still is up in the air, but between this spot and his time in the Rumble match, it’s clear they have options.
Disliked: That they put Jericho in the shark cage above the ring all but signified he’d still get involved somehow, and he did by dropping a set of brass knuckles through the cage down to his “best friend” Kevin Owens. It was a little odd that Reigns then kicked out after taking a punch with the brass knuckles, but then again, #SuperReigns.
Neville defeated Rich Swann (Cruiserweight championship match)
Liked: Good for Neville. He kind of got lost in the shuffle after being injured and then returning after the brand split with the Cruiserweight division already set in motion. But since he’s “returned” as a heel, he’s done nothing but good work and the build to this moment has been great. He’s a recharged, reenergized character, and his motivations — someone who’s ultra talented but never really was over as a babyface — certainly are believable.
Disliked: It was a fine match with a good ending, but it’s still hard to care too much about the Cruiserweight division, which has floundered since being relaunched.
John Cena defeated AJ Styles (WWE world championship)
Liked: Just about everything. This easily was the best match on the card, which is saying a lot when you consider how good the Owens-Reigns match was. This was the third installment of Cena-Styles, and after it ended with Cena winning his 16th world title (tying Ric Flair), you couldn’t help but hope for another rematch down the line. Styles arguably is the best in the world at what he does — he’s like an awesome combination of Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart — and he always gets good matches out of anyone. But that’s not to sell Cena short … at all. In a lot of ways, Cena is like the Tom Brady of the WWE. He’s had success from the time he was given an opportunity, but he actually might be doing his best work later in his career. This match should end up in the “match of the year” discussion.
Randy Orton wins 30-man Royal Rumble match
Liked: We’ll run down a quick list for both.
–Roman Reigns didn’t win!
–By having Randy Orton eliminate Reigns, it ensured the night ended with a positive crowd reaction.
–At the very least, there’s some uncertainty on the “SmackDown” side about what the WrestleMania card will look like. Will they really go with a Cena-Orton title match? Or does Bray Wyatt win the title at Elimination Chamber and maybe set up a Wyatt-Orton showdown? And if that’s the case, which direction do you go with Cena? With Styles? There are lots of questions to be answered, which usually makes for good storylines.
–On the “RAW” side, it certainly looks like we’ll see a Reigns-Undertaker match at WrestleMania. That certainly lends itself to a much-desired Reigns heel turn either leading up to, at or just after the ‘Mania match. If WWE plans on stubbornly pushing him out there as a babyface against one of the most popular wrestlers of all time, he’s going to be booed out of the stadium at ‘Mania.
–For all the talk about how unpredictable this year’s Rumble should have been, there wasn’t a whole lot of surprise. Fans hoping to see a star or two from the past — not counting older part-timers like Goldberg, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker — were disappointed to see no surprise returns. Save for Tye Dillinger entering at No. 10 to do his “10!” gimmick, there weren’t any real NXT surprises, either, despite the hopes and wishes of many wanting to see Samoa Joe and/or Shinsuke Nakamura.
–The Undertaker is 51 years old and, well, he looked it at times despite entering at No. 29. He didn’t look bad; he just never looked convincingly Undertaker-y, if that makes any sense.
–Which full-time, younger wrestler got a push? Strowman? Maybe Baron Corbin? The “old guys” — Lesnar, Taker, Goldberg, Chris Jericho — dominated the match, which isn’t necessarily conducive to building for the future.
–We could be picking a few more nits here, but wouldn’t it have made sense for Brock Lesnar to enter a little earlier and then eliminate Goldberg? That would have at least given Lesnar some retribution for Survivor Series. It’s hard to get too bent out of shape about that, though, as you can see the storyline they’re going with those two for WrestleMania, centering around whether Lesnar finally can conquer Goldberg.
OVERALL SHOW GRADE: A-
The Rumble match itself lacked some sizzle, but from top to bottom, that was one of the best WWE pay-per-views in a long time, and the road to WrestleMania looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Thumbnail photo via YouTube screenshot