WWE Royal Rumble 2017 Review feat. AJ Styles vs. John Cena

Logo for WWE Royal Rumble 2017
Image Source: WWE
CompanyWWE
EventRoyal Rumble 2017
SeriesRoyal Rumble
Edition30
FormatPay-Per-View
DateSunday January 29 2017
VenueAlamodome
LocationSan Antonio, Texas, USA
Attendance52,020

WWE Royal Rumble 2017

WWE Royal Rumble 2017 is going to live up to its tagline of “Remember The Rumble”. Certainly, WWE has an abundance of star power as we head towards WrestleMania 33. And therefore the events of the Rumble will shape Mania season in a bigger way than usual. But was the Rumble memorable for reasons good or bad, especially given the show’s reputation in recent years? Let’s find out.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PREVIOUS TV SHOWS? READ OUR PRE-PPV REVIEWS OF RAW, 205 LIVE & SMACKDOWN!

Oh, I must mention the elephant in the room. This card emanated from the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, exactly (well, near enough) 20 years from the 1997 Rumble being in the same building. This meant the largest Rumble crowd in two decades, making this feel like one of the bigger Rumbles ever. That being said, WWE just used the normal PPV entrance set rather than an aisle suitable for such a massive dome, which was a shame.

Kick-Off Show

Six-Woman Tag Team Match
Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella & Naomi vs. Alexa Bliss, Mickie James & Natalya

Just one year ago, Royal Rumble was a three-hour PPV with a one-hour Kick-Off Show boasting one bonus match. Now, for some reason, it’s a four-hour PPV with a two-hour Kick-Off Show containing three matches. What happened? Anyway, the first of these highlighted SmackDown’s women’s division, particularly focusing on Mickie James’ recent return to assist Alexa Bliss in her feud with Becky Lynch. This was okay, but with fans still filing into the Alamodome, it was instantly forgettable. Naomi surprisingly pinned Bliss to score the win, which seemingly positions her to challenge the SmackDown Women’s Champion at Elimination Chamber in two weeks.

WWE Raw Tag Team Championship Match
Sheamus & Cesaro (C) vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

Next up, the Raw Tag Team Titles were on the line. Sheamus and Cesaro ended The New Day’s historic, record-breaking title reign at Roadblock: End Of The Line. And yet their own stretch with the belts would end after just one PPV. That’s right, this would be Gallows and Anderson’s night to finally win their first set of WWE tag titles. It didn’t come clean, though, with Karl Anderson successfully pinning Cesaro after a handful of tights. Do The Club care? Not a jot. I would assume we’re working towards either New Day regaining the belts or Enzo Amore and Big Cass winning their first set of belts at WrestleMania. But we shall see.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PREVIOUS EDITION? READ OUR WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2016 REVIEW!

Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax

Beforehand, I would say that this match existed solely to give the very popular Sasha Banks something worthwhile to do. And yet she would come up short against Jax, the monster who has attacked her several times in recent weeks. This didn’t flow as well as Banks’ matches with Charlotte, but that’s understandable. In some ways, Nia remains inexperienced, meaning that this occasionally-dodgy effort probably stands as one of her better matches. If nothing else, Jax knows how to use her power to look like a truly devastating force. And that she did when she pinned Banks with a huge pop-up Samoan Drop.

Prior to the PPV starting proper, Shawn Michaels cut a quick promo in his hometown. HBK had been on the Kick-Off Show panel before quietly disappearing, which had me thinking he would actually appear in the Rumble itself. Thankfully for those who want him to remain retired, he didn’t. This would be his only other contribution, and the fans lapped it up, because why wouldn’t they?

Main Show

WWE Raw Women’s Championship Match
Charlotte Flair (C) vs. Bayley

Kicking us off, we had the Queen defending her title against the Hugger. These two have a bit of history from NXT, but generally speaking this is a fresh rivalry on Raw. It’s also a welcome relief with the Charlotte-Sasha Banks feud now finally over. For the time being, at least. Bayley had garnered some momentum, which normally suggests that a title victory is the logical result. But Bayley’s underdog character that fights from underneath means that it’s actually preferable to see her fall short a few times before achieving maximum success.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PREVIOUS PPV? READ OUR WWE ROADBLOCK: END OF THE LINE 2016 REVIEW!

Hence why it’s acceptable to see Charlotte retain here. And so she did after hitting Bayley with Natural Selection on the ring apron (the hardest part of the ring, remember). Though Bayley submitting to the Figure-Eight seemed more likely, a pinfall win is something different for Charlotte at this point. And it also sets up Bayley potentially tapping out in an upcoming rematch before finally winning the Raw Women’s Title at WrestleMania. I know that sounds odd, but if WWE wants to give Bayley the biggest title win possible, that’s how I’d do it. And this also protects Charlotte so that her PPV winning streak ends in the grandest fashion imaginable. Whether Sasha Banks figures into the equation between now and Mania remains a subject of debate. And the match quality was also fine, which continues the showcase of the Women’s Evolution.

WWE Universal Championship No Disqualification Match
Kevin Owens (C) vs. Roman Reigns

Next up, it was time for The Big Dog to challenge KO for the Universal Championship. Chris Jericho had attacked Owens at Roadblock: End Of The Line to deliberately keep the belt on Owens. So, to avoid such mischief, Raw General Manager Mick Foley forced Jericho, who recently dethroned Reigns to become United States Champion, to stand in a shark cage above the ring during this match. It’s odd that WWE hasn’t used a shark cage in years and then uses it twice within ten weeks (when you consider NXT TakeOver: Toronto). This was also a No DQ match, which allowed the combatants to have the usual WWE stunt brawl.

Owing to the usual weapons and high-spot formula, Owens and Reigns put on a thrilling encounter. There were a few unique moments too, such as Owens taking a Samoan Drop through a chair, and KO hitting Roman with a Stunner. The latter got a big reaction, with this being the building where Stone Cold Steve Austin won his first Rumble in 1997. Reigns, to the chagrin of the huge crowd (hardly a surprise), seemingly had Owens poised for the Spear and a likely title win. But then Braun Strowman surprisingly appeared and pummelled Reigns, leading to a Running Powerslam through a table in the corner.

This went over big with the Texans, and KO scored the cheap pin to retain his crown. Ultimately, Jericho was a non-factor, with Strowman being the real difference-maker. I’ll come back to Roman and Strowman later, other than to wonder if Owens and Jericho can stay there together until WrestleMania, or if their bond may suffer a break prior to the biggest show of 2017.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FIRST EDITION? READ OUR WWF ROYAL RUMBLE 1988 REVIEW!

WWE Cruiserweight Championship Match
Rich Swann (C) vs. Neville

Swann became Cruiserweight Champion on the first episode of 205 Live. But Neville’s heel turn on Rich at Roadblock: End Of The Line established him as a serious contender. Though the cruiserweights haven’t enjoyed a lot of success since the division returned proper in September 2016, this felt like a high point. You have a likeable and talented champion, who is hoping to become the face of the division during 2017. Then, you have an established star who is already very comfortable as an aggressive and nasty heel.

Something that stood out to me during Swann’s entrance was the sheer amount of time it took to introduce the international commentators. Seriously, I know WWE likes to show off its global popularity, but this is a bit much. Anyway, the match itself was very good. Both men performed to a suitable standard for the occasion, and Neville added credibility which ensured the audience would be invested throughout. I thought Swann would retain the gold (well, silver) or at least sneak away with the belt via a controversial decision. But instead WWE went all the way with Neville, as he made Swann submit with the Rings Of Saturn. I’m not sure where this leaves Swann, but with 205 Live as Neville’s new personal playground, the cruiserweight scene should heat up sufficiently from here.

WWE Championship Match
AJ Styles (C) vs. John Cena

Now, we come to a truly epic encounter. So, Cena had returned from an injury layoff in May 2016, only to be attacked by a heel-turning AJ Styles and The Club. AJ would defeat Cena under controversial means at Money In The Bank before cleanly pinning him in a SummerSlam classic. Styles even beat Cena again during a three-way bout with Dean Ambrose at No Mercy. But Cena would return on December 27 with a new chip on his shoulder. Big Match John announced he was getting a WWE Title shot by saying “I’m John Cena, recognise!” Since then, these two would exchange several highly intense and very compelling promo battles. All of which made this a must-see WWE Title battle, with Cena also chasing a record-tying 16th World Championship triumph.

Honestly, this could have just been very good and fans would have been satisfied. Thankfully, though, we were treated to what may have been their best match yet. Styles and Cena once again created magic with a mix of strong strikes, logical psychology (both men looking out for one another’s signature moves to avoid them) and plenty of false finishes. There is a risk in modern WWE of main event matches overdoing it with finisher splurges. But when it’s a truly big occasion such as this show, it becomes more forgivable.

Cena survived both a Styles Clash and a Phenomenal Forearm, while AJ withstood both the Attitude Adjustment and the STF. AJ even kicked out of an AA off the ropes as fans popped huge. Cena looked distraught, just as he did under similar circumstances at SummerSlam. But he would regroup and drill AJ with a third AA, followed immediately by a fourth and final AA for the pin. AJ’s WWE Title reign is over, and Cena is now officially a 16-time World Champion. Will John hold onto the WWE gold through to WrestleMania 33? If so, he could be in for a career-defining match on April 2 2017. As for AJ, I have no idea what he may do at Mania, but I’m sure we’ll soon find out.

Royal Rumble Match

Now, we come to the big one: the 30th annual, 30-man Rumble match. In terms of notable pre-match comments, Goldberg had declared entry following his stunning win over Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series. So, in retaliation, Lesnar also declared for the match to increase the stakes and the star power. Meanwhile, The Undertaker was also added to the match, suggesting that he could win one final heavyweight title. It’s also worth noting that Seth Rollins wouldn’t be in the match; he lost a qualifier against Sami Zayn due to Triple H’s music distracting him. (Yep.) This led to Rollins invading NXT TakeOver: San Antonio the night before in an intense angle involving HHH. There’s no doubt that they will clash at Mania, but I was surprised that Seth didn’t even try to enter the Rumble by force, despite Stephanie McMahon having him banned from the Alamodome.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE LATEST EDITION? READ OUR WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2020 REVIEW!

The Rumble (preceded by two separate “by the numbers” videos detailing the top 30 moments in RR history) began with Big Cass and Enzo Amore. Sort of. Cass actually drew #1, but Amore joined him as they did their super-over entrance routine with the expected audience participation. Chris Jericho was #2, meaning that he would have to go the distance if he was to earn a title match against his buddy Owens. Kalisto as #3 increased the pace of the match, while Mojo Rawley as #4 was an unexpected, if almost unwelcome, participant. Hey, this was the biggest Rumble in years; why have Rawley involved, even as jobber fodder?

Jack Gallagher represented the Cruiserweight division as #5, and he even brought his signature umbrella for the occasion. At this point, we still had no eliminations, but this would shortly change. Mark Henry made a return of sorts as #6 and sent Gallagher, umbrella and all, flying to the floor. Cue a Mary Poppins reference by our announce team. (Incidentally, all of the heavyweight performers were apparently transported down the aisle on a motorised cart, which is both helpful and hilarious.)

Braun Strowman was #7 and he immediately turned the match in his favour. Strowman threw out Mojo, Cass and Kalisto, establishing himself as a major threat. His recent (and overmatched) rival Sami Zayn was in at #8, but while both targeted one another, Sami survived for a good while. Big Show was a more formidable challenge to Braun as #9, providing a “pick on your own size” moment. That Strowman did, and he actually eliminated the slimmed-down Show to further prove his dominance. At this point, fans were chanting “TEN!”, and #10 was … Tye Dillinger from NXT1 Fans reacted as if Stone Cold himself had declared entry into the Rumble. WWE got this NXT Rumble surprise spot-on.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FOLLOWING PPV? READ OUR WWE ELIMINATION CHAMBER 2017 REVIEW!

James Ellsworth as #11 looked scared stiff of Strowman, so much so that he wouldn’t even enter the ring. His former friend and recent rival Dean Ambrose as #12 tried to convince Ellsworth to join him in tackling Ellsworth. So, James ran in, only for Dean to stay at ringside in a humorous moment. Strowman then sent Ellsworth flying in a pretty dangerous fashion. After Baron Corbin came in as #13, Strowman dumped out Dillinger to big boos. But then Corbin clotheslined Strowman out of the Rumble in what felt like a star-making moment for The Lone Wolf.

Kofi Kingston’s arrival as #14 had fans wondering what his miraculous elimination escape would be this year. And we didn’t have long to find out. After The Miz arrived at #15, Kofi found himself cradling the now-chunky ring post from an external position in order to remain involved. This came after Kingston was dropped stomach-first onto the top of the post, so he suffered for his moment here. Sheamus as #16, Big E as #17 and Rusev as #18 helped to fill up the numbers in the match. And with Cesaro as #19 and Xavier Woods in as #20, we had the entire New Day along with the now-former Raw Tag Team Champions.

Bray Wyatt as #21, with Woods momentarily frightened by The Eater Of Worlds once again. He didn’t have to suffer from the leader of the Wyatt Family for long, though. That’s because Sheamus and Cesaro managed to eliminate all three New Day members in one fell swoop, which was impressive. But Jericho, who spent much of the match almost invisible, snuck up and eliminated the two Europeans simultaneously. Apollo Crews as #22 didn’t make much of a difference, but Randy Orton as #23 did, as he hit RKO’s for fun.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FOLLOWING EDITION? READ OUR WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2018 REVIEW!

Dolph Ziggler as #24 demonstrated how much momentum Dolph has lost in recent months, as few cared about him. Luke Harper was #25, and he eliminated Crews before staring down uneasy Wyatt Family ally Orton. When Bray tried to stop him, Harper surprisingly attempted to hit his leader with Sister Abigail. That got a huge pop. But Orton denied Harper this moment with an RKO. Then came Brock Lesnar as #26, who took many of those in the ring to Suplex City. The Beast would eliminate Ambrose and Ziggler, before the lucky 27th entrant came in. And it was … Enzo Amore!

Corey Graves on commentary was delighted at Enzo being on the verge of an absolute mauling. A cocksure Amore tried his best, but Lesnar floored him with a brutal clothesline before eliminating him. Brock looked strong, but then came Goldberg at #28 in the confrontation everyone came to see. After a brief exchange, Goldberg Speared Lesnar and clotheslined him to the floor! Then, we had a GONG, and rather than do his entrance down the massive aisle, The Undertaker simply appeared in the ring. Taker had a face-to-face with Goldberg as fans popped; we were getting, at least momentarily, a dream match. Taker then eliminated Corbin and Goldberg dispatched of Rusev and Harper, before Taker surprisingly hurled Goldberg to the floor! Goldberg was my pick to win, so this was totally unexpected.

Then came #30. The final spot of the Rumble could be the highlight of the entire thing. It may be a major debut, a shock return, or simply a crucial storyline twist. What WWE used the slot for here, though, was tough to take. With fans expecting anyone from Finn Balor to Samoa Joe, the last man was … Roman Reigns! Yes, The Big Dog who has struggled to gain fan acceptance as the top babyface for two years. The same Roman who lost his own heavyweight title shot earlier in the night. And the same Roman for whom it was never suggested that Rumble match participation was even an option. Now, WWE has used this tactic in recent years for Randy Orton and Dolph Ziggler amongst others. But Roman being the beneficiary, and as #30 no less, left many fuming. “Bullshit!” chants filled the Alamodome.

And these only increased within minutes. Because, after Taker eliminated Miz and Zayn, Roman dumped out Taker to huge boos. The other major contender was out, but more importantly, the subsequent stare-down implied a future Roman vs. Taker match. But wait, didn’t we get the set-up for a Roman vs. Strowman feud? Yes. So, I can only assume that we’re either getting a three-way, or Strowman is a warm-up for Reigns to face Taker at WrestleMania 33. This is doubly frustrating for those desperate to see Taker and John Cena finally clash at a WrestleMania. But we shall see.

We still had a Rumble to decide, though. Jericho was finally eliminated by Roman, with Y2J having perhaps the longest uneventful Rumble stretch ever. This left The Big Dog along with Bray and Orton, essentially being in a handicap match against The Wyatt Family. Roman did eliminate Bray to some cheers, but when he tried to Spear Orton, he was met with an RKO. Orton then tossed Reigns out to a big cheer, though many believe this was simply because Roman didn’t win the Rumble. A clever way to ensure cheers for Orton, perhaps? Either way, Orton had won his second Rumble, and as things stand, he’s likely facing John Cena for the WWE Title at WrestleMania 33. But what of his alliance with Bray Wyatt? I guess the Road To WrestleMania will reveal all.

This is a hard Royal Rumble match to sum up. It sounds like tons happened, but when watching it live, I was waiting for a truly major moment. I was also hoping for at least one major surprise participant that we didn’t get. In hindsight, I’d have not announced Undertaker and had him show up as a shock. Because while the Rumble had a weighty line-up, it still felt like something was missing. Meanwhile, Roman’s involvement left a bad taste, with the only consolation being a Reigns heel turn. And it doesn’t like we’re getting that anytime soon.

On the bright side, this felt bigger and better than any Rumble in years, with a few shock eliminations to keep fans interested. The Goldberg-Lesnar feud moves forward, ahead of what will surely be a final clash at WrestleMania, albeit without a title at stake, apparently. And Orton winning was unexpected (at least if you avoided Dave Meltzer’s Twitter feed), which raises doubt as to who he will face at WrestleMania. Fans revolting online about another Orton vs. Cena match at WM 33 should be patient. Unless they’re right? We’ll soon know for sure.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FOLLOWING TV SHOWS? READ OUR POST-PPV REVIEWS OF RAW, 205 LIVE & SMACKDOWN!

Overall, WWE Royal Rumble 2017 was an excellent show, with a classic WWE Title bout, a strong Universal Title clash, two worthy under-card battles, a pre-show title change and a memorable Rumble match. Yes, there will be some frustration at aspects of the Rumble itself, but it was miles better than the likes of 2014 and 2015. Plus, with so many big names at WWE’s disposal, WrestleMania 33 looks set to be a monster card. So, I would definitely recommend checking out this PPV, even if the Rumble was a shade or two beneath being a runaway success.

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