The crowd was raucous as World Wrestling Entertainment presented the 2017 Royal Rumble event from the Alamodome in San Antonio. The Royal Rumble is one of the sports entertainment leader’s “Big Four” events of the calendar year (the other three being WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series) and contains arguably one of the best gimmick wrestling matches of all time – the Royal Rumble itself. The event also serves as the kickstarter to the “Road to WrestleMania.”
As this was the 30th annual Royal Rumble there was a feeling of nostalgia. Going through the way, way back machine of the video tape, WWE treated fans to archived footage of past winners and achievements during the show, but the event itself was a nice balance of young talent and aging stalwarts performing in front of a crowd of 52,020. The freedom of airing live on the WWE Network (launched in the US in Feb. 2014) allowed them to deliver a near four-hour telecast of high-flying action which involved hits, flips and even an umbrella at one point.
Female superstars Bayley and Charlotte Flair kicked off the main show with Flair defending her WWE Raw Women’s Championship. A nice opener with requisite sloppiness with certain grapples and counters, but the crowd got into it as the match progressed.
Up next, it was a No Disqualification Match for the WWE Universal Championship as Kevin Owens defended against challenger Roman Reigns. Owens’ BFF Chris Jericho was suspended above the ring in a shark cage to prevent interference. A hard-hitting affair that saw Reigns crash through not one but two wooden tables. At one point champion Owens was powerbombed through the announcer’s table and also fell into a pyramid of stacked steel chairs at ringside. With the no DQ stipulation, Reigns’ chance to regain the Universal Championship was snatched from him with interference by Braun Strowman, a 6-foot-8, 385-pound beheamoth who treated Reigns like a rag doll. This allowed Owens to get a pinfall victory.
After this brutal encounter fans were treated to some cruiserweight action has Rich Swann defended his championship against the self-proclaimed King of the Cruiserweights, Neville. The sizable crowd was sort of relaxed with this bout, clearly still euphoric from that no DQ match. Nevertheless, the match had some nice chain wrestling and submission work, and announcer Austin Aries delivered the first best comment of the night when he referred to Swann’s standing frog splash as a “tadpole splash,” on account he wasn’t coming off the top rope. Neville picks up a win and the title at the 14:00 mark as he makes the champion tap out to his Rings of Saturn submission hold.
The match of the night (and early Match of the Year Candidate for 2017) was John Cena squaring off against AJ Styles for the WWE Championship. Styles has been on a bit of a hot streak. The 18-year veteran of the squared circle made his WWE debut one year prior during the Royal Rumble. From there he has had feuds with the likes of Chris Jericho and Roman Reigns, but it may be his feud with John Cena that was one of the most memorable of 2016. At first welcoming a returning John Cena, Styles would go from hero to villain to set up a match at June’s Money in the Bank, which saw Styles defeat Cena with some help from friends Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson (better known as The Club). Two months later Cena and Styles would wrestle at SummerSlam and again Styles was victorious. At September’s Backlash event, Styles defeated WWE Championship Dean Ambrose to win his first championship. He has had successful title defenses against Ambrose, Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler.
As the third match in their series of one-on-one encounters, but the first where a championship belt was up for grabs, the match was every bit as enthralling as their encounter from SummerSlam. In what I like to call “Fighting Spirit” matches, both competitors were giving their all, kicking out of finishing maneuvers and not willing to submit. But as impressive as it was seeing this, it seems to have become a redundant theme for John Cena’s big money matches. Just like his feud with Kevin Owens in 2015, where KO defeated Cena in his first match with the company at May’s Elimination Chamber.
Still, I have to hand it to John Cena. Call him “The Face that Runs the Place” or the guy who preaches “Hustle. Loyalty. Respect.” Cena has been WWE’s biggest star for more than a decade and its greatest ambassador in making the sports entertainment giant and global powerhouse. And he has granted over 500 wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses through the Make-A-Wish Foundation; the most in Make-A-Wish history. The guy’s work ethic is unparalleled.
In the end, Cena was victorious and claimed his 13th WWE Championship and his 16th heavyweight championship, which ties him with hall of fame wrestler Ric Flair.
The main event of the evening was the eponymous match. The big story line leading up to this match is the anticipation of having stars Bill Goldberg, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker in the same ring. Well, the fans got that, but they would have to wait close to fifty minutes before the wrestlers made their arrivals to the ring. The first twenty minutes of the match were very entertaining with Big Cass and Chris Jericho starting the contest, later to be joined by the likes of “World’s Strongest Man” Mark Henry, Braun Strowman, underdog Sami Zayn, and making his WWE debut at No. 10, NXT’s Tye Dillinger.
The highlights of this year’s Royal Rumble match were Strowman’s brute strength as he eliminated seven wrestlers, including The Big Show. SmackDown Live stars Baron Corbin and The Miz managed to survive a little more than 32 minutes before being eliminated. Chris Jericho made history in becoming the wrestler with the longest cumulative time in the Rumble’s history with 4:56:12. The 2017 event was his 14th Royal Rumble and he lasted 60:13. That time puts him in select company. He became only the second man to go 60 minutes in the match and not win.
When Roman Reigns came out at No. 30, the crowd was none too pleased. Frankly, they were going to scream bloody murder if he somehow won his second Rumble in three years. They especially didn’t like the fact that he eliminated The Undertaker. Brock Lesnar was a house of fire when he entered the match but was quickly eliminated by Bill Goldberg when he entered the contest. A few minutes later Goldberg was eliminated by The Undertaker.
The final four saw Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton in the ring. When Jericho got eliminated by Reigns those in the Alamodome and watching at home feared the worst. But in the end, Randy Orton hits his patented RKO finisher out of nowhere on Reigns and gets him over the top rope to win his second Royal Rumble.
Randy Orton will now go on to face the WWE Champion at WrestleMania 33!