Pre-show notes: If you missed the show, you can watch it here on WWE Network. If you don’t have a Network subscription, just close your eyes late and night and listen for the distant, lonesome cries of the Internet.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Royal Rumble 2017.
Actual Pre-Show Notes
Up first, for the enjoyment of about a third of the crowd (because a lot of fans were still outside, and some of us don’t know how time zones work) was the Smackdown six-woman tag team match. It seems weird that Smackdown only had two matches on the 7-matches-besides-the-Rumble card and one of them was not only on the pre-show, but OPENED the pre-show when almost no one was watching.
Anyway, in the easiest layup from our Royal Rumble predictions post,
What Will Happen: “Naomi has pinned the Smackdown Women’s Champion!”
Naomi is pretty great, and I really hope they come up with a better talking point for her than “she’s the best ATHLETE in the women’s division,” also known as the Billy Gunn memorial “we don’t know what else to say about this person, but they’re in shape.” At least Alex Riley isn’t around anymore to tell us how much she reminds him of Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
Up next was The Club vs. Sheamus and Cesaro for the Raw Tag Team Championship, featuring Anderson and Gallows finally winning “the big one.” Big one is in quotes because I can’t imagine a less prestigious moment for a team’s first title win. They spent the entirety of their early WWE career as a team losing non-stop title matches to the New Day. New Day finally breaks Demolition’s record and loses to Sheamus and Cesaro. The Club then loses MORE Tag Title shots, because there are only three active teams in the Raw tag team division. Ultimately they win the belts in the second of three pre-show matches, and Sheamus and Cesaro team up to eliminate New Day in the Royal Rumble. So the tag feud is still Sheamus and Cesaro vs. New Day, whether The Club is champs or not. Cool?
If Finn Bálor isn’t cleared to compete yet, just bring him back to Raw as an NPC so he can hang around with Gallows and Anderson and make them look like pro wrestlers again instead of skinhead-shaped white noise.
Finally we have Sasha Banks, who main-evented a pay-per-view three months ago, getting squashed on the kickoff show by Nia Jax. It’s barely even a match. Sasha fought in a Hell in a Cell, won a falls count anywhere title match by bending a lady in half with a stair railing, wrestled the first women’s iron man match in WWE history and miraculously kicked out of about a billion Charlotte Flair nearfalls, but she loses here to one Samoan drop.
I dunno, man. If this leads to Sasha turning heel, being okay being Charlotte’s number two and joining an actual Four Horsewomen with Charlotte, Nia and preferably Tessa Blanchard (if only for the name), I’m into it. Bayley could stand to be a little less Sting and a little more Dusty Rhodes anyway. If not, join us at Fast Lane for Sasha Banks losing a pre-pre-show parking lot brawl to Renee or whatever.
The pre-show ends with Shawn Michaels reminding us that twenty years ago in this very building he won a championship he didn’t want and would vacate less than a month later due to hurt feelings by having a 62-year old man distract Sycho Sid long enough for him to hit Sid in the face with a camera man’s camera. Shorter version: “the boyhood dream.”
The best part of this is that I was getting to my seats right as Shawn was finishing up, and had to navigate like 100 guys in their early 30s who were really, really into getting the chance to stand up and point at their dicks whilst yelling SUCK MY DICK. It’s like going to Disney World as an adult and meeting Mickey Mouse, but for wrestling fans.
Worst Best: Bayley Vs. Charlotte Was Fine
Opening the show was the Raw Women’s Championship match between Bayley, whose gimmick is that she’s very nice but rarely wins, facing Charlotte Flair, who is very mean and always wins. Can you guess what happens? I was actually surprised this opened the formal show, as I would’ve started things off with Swann vs. Neville in the hopes of giving that match SOME kind of heat. But I also wouldn’t put two hours of pre-show before a four-hour show, so maybe I don’t know how wrestling works.
I wanted this to be a lot better than it was. It was fine, but it was technically a mess. There’s a ton of miscommunication right at the beginning of the match, which caused Botchamania Maffew to say Bayley “wrestles like a Create A Wrestler that you’ve made three foot tall and the game’s glitching to make the moves work.” I can’t really say it better. I love Bayley and she’s honestly one of my favorite characters and wrestlers — shocking, I know — but she’s like Lucha Underground’s Sexy Star in that her strengths are in her passion and her ability to connect with crowds moreso than “being good at the physical wrestling parts of wrestling.” Again, she’s not bad, she’s just loosey-goosey sometimes, and if you don’t have the right moment or opponent or story it can kinda fall apart. That’s why Full Sail Bayley worked so well, and while Royal Rumble opener Bayley is a little underwhelming with the ranas through the ropes that take a little too much awkward setup. Or knees to counter a moonsault that don’t actually connect or counter the moonsault.
Charlotte ends up winning clean with a Natural Selection on the ring apron, the Hardest Part Of The Ring™, and extends her pay-per-view win streak to 16-0. No way they don’t keep that going until WrestleMania, and toss her in a championship match against everybody.
Worst: Enzo Lays An Egg
In an early front-runner for worst backstage segment of the year, Enzo Amore completes his transformation into Gonzo from The Muppet Show by dressing up and telling his friends he’s about to have sex with some chicken.
Here’s exclusive video of me reviewing this segment:
I hope this is the beginning of an angle where Tyson Kidd returns and feuds with Enzo over who gets to fuck a bucket of fast food chicken. I guess we already established that Enzo puts his dick into trombones, so whatever. I’m just sad this didn’t end with Cass leaving the room and Colonel Sanders sneaking in, locking the door and beating the shit out of Enzo for trying to put it in his Georgia Gold*.
*Lana is blonde and Russian, get it
Best: Kevin Owens Killing Himself For Our Enjoyment
Worst: Same Old Story
Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns is best explained by Byron Saxton of all people, who says the following after the match, I shit you not:
“So what it is is the same story, different character. Kevin Owens thanks to, insert the name, still Universal Champion.”
That’s not my jaded, jokey ass “thinking too much” about wrestling matches with stories for babies, this is WWE’s least offensive announcer pointing out Raw’s worst booking tendencies. Every match Kevin Owens has had as Universal Champion has been built around him needing help. He only won the title because Triple H showed up and magically helped him. He beat Seth Rollins three times in a row thanks to Chris Jericho interfering. He beat Reigns at Roadblock Dos thanks to Jericho, so they put Jericho in a shark cage above the ring so nothing shady can happen. Then they MAKE THE MATCH NO DISQUALIFICATION, as though Owens couldn’t have possibly made two friends. And Jericho can just drop foreign objects to him if he wants, because it’s fine. Or jump Reigns before the match, because it’s fine.
Roman more or less no-sells getting frog splashed through a table and punched in the face with brass knuckles and has the match won, only to lose when Braun Strowman appears from out of nowhere, chokeslams him onto the Hardest Part Of The Announce Table™ AND powerslams him through a table. Keep in mind that this is the same Roman Reigns who in the past three weeks got beaten up by three guys at once to set up a handicap match in which he got beaten up by two guys, got Code-broken twice, got powerbombed on the ring apron, got F-5’d by Brock Lesnar and wrestled a six-man tag that ended with him being assaulted with a steel chair and powerbombed through the announce table. And he’s just FINE, through ALL of this. So fine that when he loses, he’s able to enter the Royal Rumble ON THIS SAME SHOW and be strong enough to eliminate the Undertaker, and only lose thanks to good timing from two of Smackdown’s top guys.
So basically what you’re doing is telling a story that hurts the people working hardest (Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho can’t ever win without someone helping them) in a title match for a title you haven’t put even a second into adding value to (every title match ends in interference for six months), booked for the benefit of an unstoppable dickhead entitled babyface nobody likes who simultaneously always and can never win, to set up another opportunity and the same fucking story next week. Whether you think that’s good or bad, it’s the same, and it’s always the same.
Byron Saxton’s words, not mine.
Best/Worst: Where’s Your Crown, King Nothing
First of all, thank God (Adrian) Neville is finally Cruiserweight Champion. It seemed so weird that WWE would only have one cruiserweight on Raw and put him in purple, then do an entire cruiserweight tournament with a purple aesthetic for a purple belt without him, THEN bring the other cruisers to Raw without him involved and then take away his high-flying and purple as soon as he was. The guy deserves it, certainly more than anyone else competing for it, and I’m all-in for a balls-to-the-wall Neville/Kalisto Cruiserweight Championship match at WrestleMania that wipes the slate clean and finally does the division justice. Or, if we’re special lucky snowflake babies, Neville vs. Kota Ibushi.
Second of all,
The cruiserweights are the new bathroom break. I don’t know why WWE likes having one thing on the show nobody likes to cool down the crowd and let them go have a snack. Can’t you just have an intermission or a halftime or something? Do musicians put a bunch of shitty songs in the middle of their sets so the crowd that paid to come see them can go do something else and stop seeing them for a while?
But yeah, this is the cruiserweight division. The most disappointing thing about Neville vs. Swann is that it could’ve been Kendrick vs. Perkins and been the exact same match. Seriously, watch it again and imagine TJ Perkins as Rich Swann and Brian Kendrick as Neville. There’s nothing to differentiate it. Neville even has a submission finish where pulls back on your face now. On top of that, what exactly is supposed to get us hype for the division? Back in the day it was a chance to see little guys do crazy shit big guys couldn’t do. Now you’re asking the littlest guys on your show to chinlock and kick and put submissions on each other after we’ve just watched two 265-pound heavyweights do frog splashes through tables from the top to the outside and fall backwards through pyramids of chairs.
On a positive note, I think it’s pretty funny that Neville spent so much time feuding with King Barrett, then ended up an angry, mouthy British king with facial scruff who beats up cruiserweights. He needs to bang a gavel and announce his championship reign from a lectern on a scissor-lift.
Best: Big Wrestle Kingdom Match John
This justified the entire show.
You don’t need me to tell you that AJ Styles vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship match would be good. Cena generally brings it in marquee championship matches against smaller guys who can work — his best matches are generally against guys like Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and Styles, rather than guys like Orton, Triple H or Bray Wyatt — because they allow him to be a strong, confident veteran (which is believable) instead of a scrappy underdog (which is never, ever). Styles could work a four-star match on the fly with the timekeeper right now if he wanted to. He’ll get a chance to basically do that if those Styles vs. Shane McMahon at WrestleMania rumors are true.
But yeah, it’s great. It’s fun to stress out about John Cena’s presence and character, but you’re a fool if you can’t observe how consistently good that guy’s been in the ring for a decade. Sometimes the John Cena of it all overpowers the in-ring work and the finishes negate the previous however many minutes, but sometimes it doesn’t, and those are pretty much as good as WWE gets. This match with Styles allowed Cena to play to his strengths as an aging, increasingly angry, increasingly accepting of reality veteran who can still murk everybody because he’s John Goddamn Cena, and do the best thing ANY Cena match does, which is acknowledge Cena’s aura of expectation and play with it.
It’s hard to ever bet against him. It always feels like he’s going to win, even when he doesn’t. If he wins, you’re like, “well, he’ll win the next three to make sure we know he won the most.” Even people like me who KNOW the guy is dope and type it all the time also know what an asshole the John Cena Booking Stratagem is, and how disheartening it can be. ESPECIALLY right before a WrestleMania, where guys like Cena and Undertaker and Goldberg and Lesnar and The Rock and Unrelated Sports Celebrity just saunter in and take the top spots from guys like Styles and Owens and Jericho and whoever else, who have been busting their asses all year. Both points of view are super true. It’s complex. It’s like a Roman Reigns that actually justifies itself.
So yeah, Cena is back and finally outwardly accepting of what makes Cena “Cena.” He’s getting weirdly angry and weirdly flexy before he throws big corner lariats. He’s visibly disappointed that he can’t put away Styles, then MORE visibly disappointed when he ups the ante and STILL can’t put him away. He won’t verbally say he respects the guy, but at some point he stops expecting the Cena of it all to overpower the guy and hits him with goddamn ROLLING ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENTS, physically acknowledging that one won’t be enough, and it takes something special and stronger than even his bulletproof AA off the ropes to get the job done.
It feels a lot like what would happen if Cena walked onto a Wrestle Kingdom card against Styles. The psychology is there. The callbacks are there. The pace they keep up is CRAZY, considering the moves and counters they’re hitting. Styles falling onto Cena’s back and somehow turning that into a Calf Crusher is so, so dope, as is that STF-one-upsmanship sequence, even if Cena still can’t ever remember to close the window. That sequence made his refusal to lock it in feel like a weakness for the first time maybe ever.
Styles losing is a bummer from a fan perspective, but Cena getting to 16 World Championships was an inevitability, and he couldn’t have won number 16 in a better match. Styles debuting at last year’s Rumble and walking into this year’s as WWE Champion is special, whether he’s able to keep the strap and walk into WrestleMania with a match like this or not. If he’s got to wrestle Jabby Adult Baseball League Dad Shane McMahon, at least he’ll be on the card.
Short version: watch this match, and maybe finally let go of your Cena hate. Cena knowingly accepting himself and achieving his final form as a veteran who has slowed down but is still working on a naturally higher level than everyone else is key. God, give him someone better to fight at Mania than Orton. Make those Cena/Samoa Joe rumors happen. Give him someone who makes him like THIS, on a show that will need people who aren’t him to carry it in a few years.
And now, let’s Royally Rumble.
This year’s Royal Rumble featured a pretty lackluster collection of surprises — Apollo Crews! Hooray? — but what it lacked in the unexpected, it made up for by remembering the shit that’s actually been happening.
The best standout for me in the entire Rumble was Braun Strowman, who got to enter early and not only establish his dominance over the match’s less-important hosses like Big Show, Big Cass and Mark Henry, but connect a lot of pre-existing storylines. Strowman and Big Show had a staredown on Raw, so they get another one here, and Strowman gets to single-handedly eliminate him. That shows that no matter who you are, even if you’re the largest athlete in the world, you can’t take on Braun Strowman alone. That’s big. Nervous Woody Allen-ass Sami Zayn entered after Braun, bringing back Raw’s most engaging rivalry of the past few months (for better or worse). Sami managed to last in there a long time. They even used the Rumble appearance of James Ellsworth to tie back into Braun, as seen above, and used Dean Ambrose as the entrant after James to motivate him to get in the ring and get his ass kicked. Dean Ambrose is not a good friend. My only complaint about the continuity here is that the child-sized Pidgeotto didn’t show up in his new G clothes from Smackdown. Also that Roman Reigns got screwed out of his match by Braun and is in the same Rumble match, but is okay just showing up at #30 instead of, you know, getting back at Braun and costing him THIS match.
The other major continuity moment for me (besides Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin, which you KNOW I’ve missed) was when Bray Wyatt and Xavier Woods came face to face, and Woods was terrified of him again. Little stuff like that helps these shows feel truly connected beyond words and shouted announcements from the broadcast team, and rewards fans for watching and paying attention. And these are very broad, obvious story connections. I’m not asking for minute details to reward me like I’m watching Bojack Horseman and noticed a background detail, I just want folks to remember each other when they’re done spending months supposedly hating each other and fighting.
Best: TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN TEN
God bless them for actually doing this. Tye Dillinger showing up as the number 10 entrant was so obvious that the Full Sail crowd started a “Royal Rumble/Number Ten” dueling chant. Sometimes you’ve got to grab that low-hanging fruit, you know?
He should be number 10 every year until he retires. And we need a backstage segment on Smackdown or whatever this week where we find out he originally drew number 27, but traded up 17 spots with Enzo Amore so he could get the number he likes.
Best: Oh God, The Kofi Kingston Spot
Kofi Kingston and Baron Corbin are going at it when Kofi goes up to the top rope, but Baron stops, points him out and prevents him from jumping. Kofi tries to escape backwards onto the ring post for some reason, so Baron pushes his legs. Kofi pretty much impales himself on the damn post and dangles his feet above the floor. Jesus Christ.
It’s not one of his more visually impressive saves, but it’s definitely the one helped most by Kofi Kingston having a concave chest.
Worst: Building The Match Around People Who Can’t Or Won’t Work
The Royal Rumble is honestly super fun until about number 26, when Brock Lesnar enters. Funny how the entire selling point of the Rumble was seeing Lesnar, Goldberg and Undertaker interact, and they all randomly drew numbers in the final five, huh?
Once Lesnar shows up and Goldberg and Undertaker get in the ring, we start to figure out how little everyone else matters, and how much of the match is built around guys who can’t physically wrestle or, in Brock’s case, seemingly refuse to. Brock shows up and everyone just feeds into German suplexes. Goldberg shows up, immediately hits a spear on Lesnar and clotheslines him over the top rope like an idiot. I love them continuing to say that Goldberg just has Lesnar’s number and is the one dude capable of making The Beast Incarnate look like a total scrub, but it doesn’t really help anybody ELSE in the ring, and kinda puts the spotlight on the fact that we just watched Lesnar wrestle for what, four minutes? Brock killing Enzo was at least worth the price of admission.
It gets even worse after that. Goldberg’s trying to hit the ropes and apparently forgot how, so he just tumbles into them sideways like a drunk Kelly Kelly and runs back in the opposite direction with no bounce. Undertaker doesn’t even bother walking the 70 yards between the entrance and ring in favor of just teleporting in, because he looks and moves like a guy who would’ve broken down and had to take a nap at the 40 yard line. Seriously, Undertaker looked great around Survivor Series, but at the Rumble he looked like that same depressingly old concussed Undertaker from WrestleMania 30. He straight up looked like a goth grandpa. I felt bad for him.
Taker draws number 29, meaning number 30 was still an unknown. People in my section were excitedly chatting with each other about who it could be. What if it’s Nakamura? What if it’s Shawn Michaels? What if it’s DANIEL BRYAN, how cool would that be? Maybe Kenny Omega is gonna stop by and make an appearance. Maybe Kurt Angle’s here. WHO KNOWS? THIS IS SO EXCITING. Oh wait, what if it’s Samoa Joe? It’s definitely Samoa Joe.
And you’re right, it IS a Samoan named Joe.
Best: Know Your Audience
I don’t think I ever laughed as hard in my life as I did when Roman Reigns entered at number 30. How the hell did that even happen? How’d he get that number? Did he have so little faith that he’d win the Universal Championship match like two hours earlier that he agreed to a Rumble spot, just in case? Zayn took Rollins’ spot, right, so he couldn’t have just borrowed dude’s number. Did Mick Foley give him #30 in a weird attempt to make Stephanie happy and let Raw win the Rumble full of Smackdown guys? Did Stephanie slip Roman #30 because he’s in cahoots with the Authority, and is gonna turn on Rollins to help Triple H? There’s gotta be SOME explanation other than “WWE hates you, LOL.”
I do appreciate the genius of how this was booked, though. Randy Orton winning the Royal Rumble without anything special happening independent of him would’ve been the biggest letdown ever. Well, at least since Roman in Philadelphia. Randy Orton? In 2017? To get a match with JOHN CENA? Really? But then they threw in this weird instance of Roman Reigns entering at 30, played on Bray Wyatt’s ANYBODY BUT ROMAN, had Roman ELIMINATE THE GODDAMN UNDERTAKER in TEXAS for the ultimate disgruntled fan groan, then built up Orton as this exciting alternative. It was brilliantly done. The timing of the RKO counter to the spear was great, too. Orton was like, turned over in mid-air before Roman’s head was even in position. Orton is cold boogers on a paper plate forever, but the RKO is still the best and most popular thing.
So that’s where we are now. Roman, Undertaker, Goldberg, Lesnar and Braun Strowman are in this big pentagonal circle jerk over nothing, really, Seth Rollins and Triple H are hating each other off-screen, Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho hold the top two titles on Raw without being able to win matches, John Cena’s wrestling Randy Orton at WrestleMania unless something happens at the Elimination Chamber — please, let something happen at the Elimination Chamber — and guys like Styles, Zayn and the rest are just kinda floating in the breeze. It’s an exciting time, and also a very stressful one, and WWE’s making me feel like Seb from La La Land talking about jazz. There’s nothing in the world I like more than this, but it also sends me into an existential depression and takes away all the other shit I love.
Onward to WrestleMania, I guess!
Best: Top 15 (!) Comments Of The Night
“Roman has to be as frustrated as anybody.”
Whatever. Jericho’s like the 15th Canadian with dual citizenship locked up this weekend.
Cut to the Iranian announce team and it’s just a desk and two empty chairs.
Cena will beat Styles to a pulp and turn emotionless heel. Cena walks up the ramp amidst a silent crowd and the camera pans right in front of him. “I just wanted to destroy something phenomenal.”
A tag team of referees. Teddy Long’s career in a nutshell.
Baron Von Raschke
Even Coca-Cola knew when to pull the plug on New Coke
Baron Corbin, screaming to Undertaker: “Shut up, Mark! You’re not my real dad!”
Beige Lunatics, King of String Style
Time for Rusev to handsome eliminations out.
Damn, Kofi. That’s one way to cave in your ches-
“Go back to Tinder” – Baron Corbin.
THE FIGURE JORT
LIKE ACHILLES INTO THE RIVER STYX, CENA IS DIPPING INTO HEEL TERRITORY!
The evolution of John Cena
1 has Chain
2 no chain
Shane: Uh steph, there’s only 29 balls in here…
Stephanie: I’ll be deep in the cold, cold ground before I recognize Missourah
The match should’ve ended with Chris Jericho causing a distraction by peeing on Reigns from the cage whilst yelling “Drink it in Maaaaaaaan!”
That’s it for this week, everybody. I love you like Enzo Amore loves dipping his balls in low quality honey mustard.
Be here on Tuesday for the Best and Worst of the Raw after the Royal Rumble, and again pretty much every weekend between now and WrestleMania for pay-per-views. Make sure you drop a comment to let us know what you thought of the Rumble, and share the column around so people you kinda know can do the same, how you doin’.