The Royal Rumble 2017:
Friend vs. Friend
Foe vs. Foe
Freddy vs. Jason
Batman vs. Superman
Aliens vs. Predator
Y’know, maybe WWE shouldn’t have used “blank vs. blank” model for their tag-line this year…
Emanating from San Antonio, TX
RAW Team: Corey Graves, Byron Saxton, Michael Cole
Smackdown Team: Tom Phillips, Mauro Ranallo, David Otunga, John ‘Bradshaw’ Layfield
Royal Rumble Team: Michael Cole, Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler, Corey Graves
RAW WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP: CHARLOTTE (c) vs. BAYLEY
WWE UNIVERSAL CHAMPIONSHIP: KEVIN OWENS (c) vs. ROMAN REIGNS- NO DQ, CHRIS JERICHO LOCKED IN A SHARK CAGE
WWE CRUISERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP- RICH SWANN (c) vs. NEVILLE
WWE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP: AJS STYLES (c) vs. JOHN CENA
30-MAN ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH
WARNING- SPOILERS TO FOLLOW, Y’ALL BEEN WARNED!
This years edition of the Royal Rumble had a certain pleasant unpredictability to it: I mean, yeah, we all had our ideas of how we figured it would play out, but unlike the previous few years, no-one could be 100% sure. It’s a good thing too, considering how much predictability and uninspired booking choices have hurt the Rumble as an event over the past few years, without naming names (*cough* 2015 Royal Rumble *cough*). And if there’s one thing I can say above all else for this year’s Rumble match, it sure as hell wasn’t predictable.
That said, The Rumble match itself wasn’t actually the highlight of the show. That distinction goes to the WWE World Title match. And after the amazing performance that he put on, anyone who seriously keeps insisting John Cena is a bad worker is an unabashed, bald-faced liar, and they should probably run for office. Really though, Styles and Cena put on a absolute master-class in wrestling with a bout that was intense, fast-paced, and loaded to the nines with drama aplenty. Sure, there were far too many false finishes and finisher kick-outs for my liking, but in a weird way, this just served to heighten how much the contest meant, although I think at this point we can probably all agree the AA has about as much credibility as a finisher as a chin lock. Both Styles and Cena threw an impressive amount out during this match. Cena especially pulls some stuff out that he rarely ever uses, including a beautifully executed Code Red. This isn’t to sell Styles short at all, however, who was his usual phenomenal self, and then some. Even if you’re not thrilled at the prospect of Cena being champion again, after such an incredible contest, it’s impossible to be frustrated. Plus, for the first time in a long time, Cena got pretty much an overwhelmingly positive reaction as he hoisted that belt up, and after years of people being so polarized by him, that was weirdly heart-warming. Basically, the TL; DR version of all that: instant classic that was worth the price of admission alone.
The rest of the card outside of the Rumble match and the WWE World Title match was more of a mixed bag. While none of the other matches were bad matches by any stretch of the imagination, there were elements of all of them that just didn’t quite click. Charlotte and Bayley wrestled a fine match, but something about it just felt off: perhaps the lack of decent build or the way the feud had been handled up to this point was to blame, but when the finish came it just felt abrupt and hollow. Charlotte winning was unsurprising, although her completely clean win over Bayley was surprising. The Cruiserweight Title match was a strong contest, and Swann and Neville pulled out all the stops to make it work. That said, the crowd still seemed a bit muted, even in spite of this being a Cruiserweight match having some decent build and story to it. Hopefully, the decision to put the belt on Neville will help the division: having someone with name recognition to build around will hopefully do the struggling Cruiserweights some good.
That brings me to the Universal Title match, and well…that was a thing. The popular opinion going in seemed to be that Roman was pretty much a lock to take away the win. While I guess I have to credit WWE for not going with the blatantly predictable option, what they did go with was slightly baffling: Braun Strowman costing Reigns the match was bizarre and didn’t feel even remotely properly motivated. While they’ll probably try to explain it on Raw, it still doesn’t change how baffling it was at the Rumble itself. The match itself up to the point was a typically great bout for Roman and Owens, and I wish I could be more complimentary of it. But fact is, Reigns-Owens has been spammed so much up to this point that its difficult to keep welling up some excitement for each bout. With all that said, it’s tough not to feel bad for Roman these days: he’s consistently delivering and improving himself, but he still struggles to get any kind of decent reaction.
So, that brings me to the Rumble match itself. Honestly, the match really just left me confused by the end of it. While the Rumble had some great and fun moments, there was a lot of stuff that went on it that was just baffling and more than slightly confusing. For one, there seemed to be little to no attempts at decent story-telling and feud progression going on: Strowman, a strong favorite to win, entered the match, and faced zero reprisal from Roman, only to get thrown out inexplicably early; Brock and Goldberg had their much bally-hooed showdown, only for Goldberg to hock Brock out in about thirty seconds, with zero follow-up from Brock; Roman Reigns entered the Rumble at number 30 in spite of having already had a world championship match earlier in the night and eliminating the Undertaker; all the biggest names touted for this match were barely in the thing for more than 15 minutes total; and perhaps most baffling of all, the Rumble’s eventual winner: Randy Orton. Yeah, no, seriously, Randy Orton, a pick literally no one had. Again, while all this was certainly unpredictable and surprising, it was all so confused and random that I wouldn’t necessarily say it “worked” in the conventional sense.
That said, the Rumble did have its genuine delights: most of what I just rattled off actually happened near the end of the match, and most of the match was actually pretty good up to that point. There were a number of fun and entertaining spots, even if Kofi’s annual “Rumble daredevil save” was kind of shit this year. It was cool to see Jack Gallagher get a turn in the Rumble, and Tye Dillinger making a surprise entrance at number 10 was quite literally an NXT fan boy fantasy come true, and it couldn’t have made me any happier than it did.
So, is the 2017 Royal Rumble worth your time? Well, it’s certainly worth the price of admission for the insanely awesome WWE World Title alone, but as an overall show, the Rumble proved entertaining enough to be worth a watch. Even if the Rumble match itself kind of devolved into a mess of confused booking and questionable story telling, that fact that it was genuinely unpredictable and exciting up to its very end was pretty awesome in its own right, and that right there is about as recommendation as a recommendation can get.