In my 25 years as a wrestling fan, Royal Rumble has always been one of my favourite annual events. The opportunity to see a bunch of your favourite WWE stars and the potential for surprises make it a night to keep an eye on. This year has some interesting matches, and the Rumble itself it set to be a star-studded affair featuring a handful of veteran names from the past, primarily Goldberg, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker.
The Kick-Off show matches began with the women of Smackdown Live going at it in a six-woman tag team match. It was a shame that this seemingly got bumped from the main show, and I hope more effort is given to the women’s division on Smackdown soon. There are seperate feuds going on, so maybe we will see multiple women’s matches at the next Smackdown Live exclusive PPV. Nikki Bella, Naomi and Becky Lynch took on Smackdown Womens Champ Alexa Bliss, Mickie James and Natalya. It was a typical three-on-three tag affair, with not enough time for it to really heat up. Nikki Bella looked good here, she seems to have her confidence back since her return from major neck surgery. Naomi pinned Alexa to pick up the win for her team.
The second match of the Kick-Off show pitted the WWE RAW Tag Champs Sheamus and Cesaro defending against Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. This was an enjoyable match with some hard-hitting spots. Sheamus looked great and hit some very cool spots, and Anderson is just a workhorse. The end of the match saw some back and forth stumbles between the teams and the referees (yea, this match had two referees in order to better control things) before Anderson rolled up Cesaro for the three-count, winning the Tag straps for his team. The Club are your new RAW Tag Champs.
Match number three of the Kick-Off featured Sasha Banks against Nia Jax. The two women have been feuding on RAW for a few weeks, with Jax attacking the “injured” leg of Banks on numerous occasions. Banks is fresh off her history-making feud with Charlotte so this is a step down the ladder for her. The match wasn’t on the level of Sasha’s battles with Charlotte, Bayley or Becky Lynch, and Jax just kinda threw her around the ring. The finish, which didn’t take long to arrive, saw Jax his a Samoan Drop on Banks for the victory. This was too easy a win for Nia Jax.
We then head into the main portion of the 2017 Royal Rumble, with the opening match pitting WWE RAW Women’s Champion Charlotte against the challenger, Bayley. The crowd were on board here and Bayley got a nice response. Charlotte is a great heel and the two had a very good match. There were a few parts that seemed clumsy and at one point Charlotte either cut her lip or had one of her bottom teeth knocked out. Bayley failed here in her first attempt at the WWE RAW Women’s Title, falling to Charlotte clean. Going forward I’m not sure how they will be booking things in the RAW women’s division. Bayley didn’t look weak, but she was defeated fair and square by the champ.
Next up was the WWE Universal Championship match between Champ, Kevin Owens, and challenger, Roman Reigns, with Chris Jericho (Kevin Owens’ best friend, by the way) being locked in a shark-cage that would hang over the ring, meaning Jericho would be unable to interfere on K-O’s behalf (again). Roman was booed loudly from the offset (as it usual and has been for some time). The match was fun though, some of the spots in this no-DQ encounter were pretty wacky, like the Owens frog-splash through Roman who was laid on a table outside the ring, or Owens falling into a large tower of steel chairs. It was back and forth until Braun Strowman hit the ring to attack Reigns (who seemed to be ready to spear Owens through a wooden table). Strowman left Reigns in a crumpled heap allowing Owens to cover him for the win, retaining his Universal Title.
The WWE Cruiserweight Title was on the line next, with defending Champ Rich Swann taking on the challenging Neville. I have been thoroughly enjoying the cruiserweight division, and have enjoyed both of these guys for some time. Neville’s new heel character is great and he seems to have a new boost of energy as a villain. The match went longer than I expected, which was a nice surprise, and though the crowd didn’t seem into it most of the time, it was a very strong showing from both men. In the end, Swann was made to tap to Neville’s new arm and chest-stretch submission finish. Neville is the new Cruiserweight Champion. I think this is a good thing and brings a much-needed boost to a division with tons of potential.
The WWE World Champion AJ Styles headed to the ring next to face challenging John Cena. The promos leading to this match have been hard to watch. Styles is a veteran and arguably the best wrestler in the world. Cena is a veteran who never did the indie scene, and has recently made light of it, and insulted it. It can be rough to look at Cena as anything other than a heel at times like this. The match started slow but built up into a very enjoyable one. Styles hit some incredible moves here, some of which we haven’t seen in his WWE run until now. Cena didn’t do much early-on but pulled some interesting moves out of his playbook as time went on. I may be biased here as a Styles fan, so excuse me for that, but Cena hit a bunch of AA’s on AJ and picked up the win. This Championship victory for Cena puts him at 16 World Title reigns, tying the historic record of Ric Flair.
It was now time for the Royal Rumble match. Big Cass was the first man out, and he and Enzo cut a promo on the ramp much to the pleasure of the San Antonio crowd. Second out was Chris Jericho, and the Rumble was underway. Things began nicely, with guys like Jack Gallagher, who did some fun spots with an umbrella and Tye Dillinger who was a surprise entrant at number 10. “The Perfect Ten” got a big pop and showed off some of his skills in the ring. It was nice to see Dillinger out there on the big stage. Mojo Rawley was in there early on and looked clumsy much of the time. Braun Strowman cleared out many of the early wrestlers, eliminating a bunch of them in the usual “big-monster” manner. Braun also added Mark Henry and Big Show to his list of eliminations. Eventually, Strowman was thrown out by Smackdowns’ Baron Corbin. Lesnar was in there and he tossed Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler out like they were nothing. A real shame for two of Smackdown’s biggest names, one of which is the current Intercontinental Champion. Feeding guys to Lesnar, in my view, is harmful and frustrating.
Chris Jericho spent much of the match outside the ring, coming in now and then to take some finishing moves, before sliding back out. I’m unsure if this was for comedy purposes or if Jericho had some sort of injury. Goldberg came in late in the game and eliminated Lesnar before seeing elimination himself at the hands of The Undertaker. The likes of Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper entered, with Harper snapping and attacking his Wyatt Family team-mates before being thrown out of the match. The clock ticked down to the 30th entry and rumours of a returning Finn Balor or a debuting Samoa Joe were in the minds of many watching. Instead, Roman Reigns hit the ring to a chorus of angry boo’s and “this is bullshit” chants from the Texas fans. The Undertaker fell victim to “The Guy”, with Roman standing and declaring to the “Dead Man” that it was now his yard. This likely sets up a WrestleMania match between the two and hopefully the beginning of a heel run for Reigns, who desperately needs it. The final four were Reigns, Jericho, Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt. Jericho was eliminated by Reigns, as was Wyatt, but before Orton could also be kicked out by Vinnie Mac’s favourite Samoan, Orton eliminated him and stood victorious as the winner of the 2006… sorry, 2017 Royal Rumble. Underwhelming and odd, it was frustrating to see a Rumble with potential to excite and exhilarate completely drop the ball. It’s sad to see how full-time and talented performers get treated on the Road to WrestleMania, I have to say.
Royal Rumble 2017 was a mixed bag. The undercard exceeded expectations in the ring, though some of the booking was confusing. The Kick-Off show was enjoyable, kinda, but the Rumble match left a bad taste in the mouth of many, myself included. Going forward and heading towards the Grand-daddy of them All, WrestleMania, I’m not entirely sure what the younger, full-time and talented wrestlers who bust their butt’s all year will be doing at the event. There are so many spots set to be taken up by the likes of Goldberg, Lesnar, Undertaker, Shane McMahon, Big Show and even Shaq, that I don’t see how the other guys will get a chance to shine on the biggest stage. A real shame. Still, ending on a positive note, how about that frog-splash!?