5:38 PM EST
And we’re LIVE from San Antonio – well, WWE is live from San Antonio, I’m live-ish from my couch in Ohio – for the 2017 WWE Royal Rumble! Yes, it’s time for the Road to Wrestlemania to begin, and for fans like myself to begin a new season of asking “why the fuck are you booking this way?!”
The pre-show is currently on, with a panel consisting of the always smoking-hot Renee Young, Booker T, Jerry Lawler, and Hall of Famer and San Antonio resident HBK Shawn Michaels. I’m going to step away for a bit, partly because I’m just not interested in a Women’s Division six-man tag, even if it IS the return of Mickie James, and partly because I’m hungry before the show proper starts. But let me say this to one of my all-time favorite performers – Shawn, we get it. WE FUCKING GET IT. You’re happy to be retired, you aren’t coming back, you can stop reiterating it over and over and OVER. Either you’re setting up for a HUGE swerve of a comeback match (which I wouldn’t put past you, you rascally devil) or you’re running out of things to say and just starting to repeat yourself.
Also, JBL, I like the shout-outs to Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson. Wooooo! See you back in a bit, humans.
6:00 PM EST
You know, sometimes the purpose of this pre-show panel is lost on me. WWE killed and buried kayfabe a long time ago. They make no pretense that this is anything but scripted entertainment. Sure, part of the drama in the ring is that we don’t know who’s been scripted to win – but we all know it’s scripted. So when the hosts and analysts all sit there and offer their expert opinions on who is going to win as if it’s an actual competition…it’s not a promo from one of the participants, it’s not a story segment…the whole thing just strikes me as awkward and pointless. But then again, most of life strikes me as awkward and pointless, so maybe it’s just me.
6:15 PM EST
Next up, we’ve got the Raw Tag Team Titles on the line as the Odd Couple of Sheamus and Cesaro put the straps on the line against the should’ve-been-champs-months-ago Club of Gallows and Anderson.
Seeing the Club gets me to my first prediction/wish for the evening. If I’m booking this shit – and let’s face it, I should be – the Club knock off Sheasaro here and become the Tag Champs, AJ Styles continues to #BeatUpJohnCena and remains the WWE World Champ, and the surprise entrant in the Rumble match that goes on to win it all is…Finn Balor. And the Club helps him with the victory, thus welcoming him back into the fold. And the Club then becomes the first cross-show faction since the brand split, with Balor winning the Universal title at Mania, Styles retaining the World title, and Gallows/Anderson remain tag champs. Somebody better be writing this shit down!
Cesaro controls early until the Club drop him on his perpetually taped shoulder and he gets beat around for a while. Cesaro ends up turning it around – Sheamus hasn’t done much here, except Brogue kick one of the two refs in the match – until Cesaro locks in a sharpshooter and eats a kick to the head by Gallows. The Club quickly hit a Magic Killer on Sheamus and then roll up Cesaro and pull the trunks for the pin and the titles! Yes! I’m officially 1 for 1 on the night! That deserves another beer in celebration. Smart booking, even if it should’ve happened a while ago. Better late than never, and the Club looked dominant in the win. Hopefully this is the start of a long title run.
6:35 PM EST
And now we are going to the Social Media Lounge with…famously anti-social-media Dean Ambrose. Believe it or not, this is fantastic, because Ambrose is just fucking hilarious anytime he is able to freestyle a promo, so his responses to the questions (some of which are decent, some of which are fucking awful) are universally hilarious. Highlight comes when he describes his Royal Rumble strategy as being nuzzled under the Big Show’s arm like a lamprey while he does all the work. I’m seriously dying. Go find this segment and watch it. Now.
6:45 PM EST
Back to the ring for Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax. You know, I’m going to make a really sincere analysis here – Nia Jax needs a different gimmick. Right now, every time I see her I feel like they had a bunch of ideas left over from Kharma / Awesome Kong, but Nia just doesn’t fit them. I don’t think it’s Nia – I just can’t get into her as this character. I don’t like her, or hate her…I just don’t care. My only thought on this match is that I hope Jax doesn’t get sloppy and fuck up and accidentally legit injure Banks.
She’s not given much time as Jax kills Banks in a squash within about five minutes. This match was there. I don’t think it did anything at all for either performer.
7:00 PM EST
Recap of the Rollins-Triple H non-feud followed by Stephanie banning Rollins from the building. Because why would we want one of, if not THE, top wrestlers in the company to be on the kickoff to the biggest payday season of the year, amiright?!
Video package next shows us how AJ Styles has thoroughly owned John Cena for the entire time he’s been in the company, so OF COURSE Cena deserves a title shot! Look, you can have as much slick video editing and mood setting music as you like, but the fact remains that EVERYBODY KNOWS CENA SHOULDN’T BE IN THIS MATCH.
The panel discusses this as if John Cena is still the established man and AJ Styles is still the unknown kid that is shaking at facing him – somehow forgetting that Styles has been beating Cena like a drum since the LAST Royal Rumble. Suddenly, the music hits and here comes HBK to the ring! Look, I love a good Shawn promo as much as the next guy – but if pimps his movie and tells us to #RememberTheRumble without finally admitting that he’s still a better wrestler than 98% of the guys on the card tonight, I’m gonna be annoyed.
And…I’m annoyed. Thanks for telling us that the Rumble is tonight Shawn. I might have forgotten somehow. And now it’s time for the Royal Rumble proper to begin!
7:30 PM EST
We open with another melodramatic, over-the-top video asking us to #RememberTheRumble. You know, honestly, the fact that this is the 30th annual rumble doesn’t really do anything for me. Maybe it’s because they’ve never done the whole Roman numeral thing with this show, I don’t know. Or maybe I’m just worried because historically, if the writers are going to monumentally fuck up the product for months to come…this is where it tends to start.
We open with one of the matches I’m most looking forward to – Bayley vs. Charlotte Flair for the Raw Women’s Title.
Bayley starts quickly, sending Charlotte outside and hitting a baseball slide into a flying head scissors, and then a crossbody off the second rope. Bayley rolls Charlotte in for a 2 count, then they go back outside where Charlotte nails a STIFF shot, bouncing Bayley’s head off of the video screen ring apron and then tossing her hard into the ring steps. Back into the ring where Charlotte maintains control, nailing some chops and a few moves that call back to her legendary dad, but in a much more athletic way. She even hits the rest hold – a reverse chin lock – making this look like a good psychological NWA match from the 80s.
Charlotte maintains control and scores a couple of near falls, until making the fatal heel error of slapping Bayley around and telling her she’s just a pathetic fan. Double clothesline results, and Bayley starts to mount a comeback. Double-springboard crossbody and a few double sledges, and Bayley heads to the top. Charlotte appears to muff the sequence and they reset, and then a Randy Savage Elbow gets a close 2 count for Bayley. Bayley tries to follow up but Charlotte quickly kicks her knee out and locks in the Figure 4. Bayley reverses it briefly, but Charlotte reverses it back and bridges into the Figure 8, but the ref catches her using the bottom rope and breaks the hold.
Charlotte goes up and launches a HIGH moonsault, but Bayley gets the knees up (kinda) and gets another 2 count on the champ. Bayley tries to set up Charlotte for the Super Bayley to Belly, but Charlotte tosses her off and hits Natural Selection on the apron for the sudden pin and retains. That finish kinda came out of nowhere…but the overall match was every bit as good as I expected. Good booking, sets up the continuation of the feud nicely.
8:10 PM EST
Next up the shark cage begins to lower from the ceiling, signaling the Universal Title match between Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns, with Chris Jericho suspended above the ring in the cage. I’ll be honest, Owens and Jericho are the most genuinely entertaining, funny pairings to come along in a long time in this business, without sacrificing a single bit of their violence or threat to hurt opponents. Talk about Canadian Magic.
Owens and Jericho make their way out first, followed by Reigns to a mixed (at best) reaction. Formal in-ring introductions, and then the heels jump Reigns before Jericho can be placed in the cage. Sure enough though, Reigns turns it around and tosses Owens, then subdues Jericho and forces Y2J into the cage, to predictably hilarious effect.
This match also has a No DQ stipulation, so after Jericho is raised into the air, Reigns goes out and starts beating Owens around the ringside area, to the tepid reaction of the crowd. Reigns makes the mistake of taking his eye off of Owens to look at one of the announce tables, and Owens just DESTROYS him by throwing him into the stairs, and then gets a baker’s dozen chairs out from under the ring. He spends some time setting them all up, then hits a cannonball on Reigns against the barrier. He then continues building a pyramid out of steel chairs at ringside, then rolls Reigns up onto the apron. Owens goes for a powerbomb through the Jenga puzzle of chairs, but Reigns blocks it, then tries to suplex Owens through his own chair pile. Owens blocks, but Reigns comes in and nails several clotheslines.
Now it’s Reigns’ turn to get a table from under the ring and slide it into the ring, but Owens nails him and slides the table right back out. Owens charges Reigns, but Reigns catches him with a sitout powerbomb for a 2 count. Reigns cocks the Superman punch, but Owens rolls outside, so Reigns hits the Drive By instead. Reigns sets up a table, but turns around to a pair of superkicks from Owens and is layed out on the table. Owens goes up and hits a SICK frog splash from the top, driving Reigns through the table and earning a near fall.
Back in the ring and Owens tosses in a couple chairs, then grabs one and just PASTES Reigns with it for another 2 count. He sets up another chair between the top and middle turnbuckle in one of the corners, then nails another superkick and tosses Reigns facefirst into it for yet another 2 count. Now Jericho gets Owens’ attention and drops him a pair of brass knuckles, which Owens uses to nail a Superman punch on Reigns for a very close 2 near fall. Now Jericho is incensed and rattling the cage bars, which if you buy into the massive fear of heights they’ve been playing up, is the exact opposite of what he would be doing. Owens sets up another chair and attempts to powerbomb Reigns through it, but Reigns reverses into a Samoan drop, crushing the chair under Owens and earning a 2 count himself.
Reigns is now one angry Samoan, so he goes out and violently tosses aside the remains of the table to…get a fresh table and set it up in another corner. He gets rolled up for a 2 count by Owens, but comes back and nails a Superman punch on Owens for a 2 count of his own. Reigns tries to hit the Spear on Owens through the table, but Owens hits a stiff looking stunner on Reigns and gets another 2 count, then stomps Reigns down in the corner and hits another cannonball. Owens now tries to superplex Reigns to the outside and down through the pyramid of chairs from earlier, but Reigns blocks and then nails a Superman punch on Owens, who tumbles backwards off the turnbuckles and splatters through the chair pyramid. Reigns declines to get the pin, instead electing to do a one-man Shield-style powerbomb through the announce table. Reigns rolls a limp Owens back into the ring and sets up for the Spear – when out of nowhere and for no particular reason, Braun Strowman yanks Reigns out of the ring, chokeslams him off of the German announce table, throws him through a table, then tosses the carcass back into the ring for Owens to roll an arm over Reigns for the pin and to retain the title.
This was actually a fantastic street fight – but what a shitty ending instead of having one guy go over clean. You could have set up the feud with Strowman tomorrow on Raw. Just another example of having TV writers doing the angles instead of wrestling bookers.
8:40 PM EST
We get a shit ton of commercials, meaning I get to take a bathroom break. I come back to a comedy segment backstage involving Shane, Daniel, Stephanie, Mick, Sami Zayn and Dean Ambrose drawing Royal Rumble entries. Poor Daniel Bryan really had to force himself to get his “Sami, grab you ball!” line out. This drags on far too long. Next we get a video package showing us the buildup to the Cruiserweight Championship match between Rich Swann and Adrian Neville. Yeah, I know that for some reason WWE has decided that Neville only can have one name, but fuck it – he’s goddamn Adrian Neville.
I’ve got to be honest here – I’m not going to give a blow by blow account of this match. Partly because I’m really looking forward to it and kinda just want to enjoy it, and partly because these guys fly all over and I expect a back and forth affair that will be far too quick to try and keep up with. And as the match starts, I am proven correct, as both men exchange control of the match, with Neville getting the better. Neville keeps Swann grounded, grinding away at Swann and maintaining control of the champ. Sadly, the crowd doesn’t seem particularly into this match, which is a fucking shame because it’s things like that that will give WWE the excuse to end up shitcanning the whole division.
Fortunately, just as I think that, Neville goes for a move off of the top rope and Swann just STICKS him in the face with a dropkick. Swann takes control now, and gets the crowd more into the match by going for and hitting several high risk moves. Swann with several near falls, including a SICK kick to the head that Neville just barely gets a foot on the rope after. Suddenly, Neville hits a HUGE superplex and locks in a vicious combination of the Crippler Crossface/Rings of Saturn and taps out Swann for the submission and a new Cruiserweight Champion! Great match, probably underappreciated by the crowd.
9:15 PM EST
And now it’s time for the one I’ve been looking forward to all night – John Cena vs. THE WORLD CHAMPION…A…J…STYLES! Truth – I’m a huge Styles fan, have been since he first started in ROH and TNA. I’m not going to sit here and pretend for a second that there is any scenario in which I think Cena should be booked to go over Styles here. And for that reason, you will see no pictures of Cena unless they include Styles beating the shit out of him.
Plus, as I said earlier, I’ve called tonight as being the Club’s night.
Formal in-ring introductions. Cena, the booked babyface, is booed out of the building. Styles, the booked heel, is the most over guy of the night thus far. So, you know – business as usual. Cena with a quick clothesline at the outset, but this seems more to piss Styles off than anything else, and he quickly takes down his challenger down and begins to #BeatUpJohnCena.
Styles maintains control, with some brief interruptions by Cena. Worth noting here, the moments of offense by Cena are booed, which isn’t unusual, but Cena is displaying some clearly heelish tendencies in this match, in keeping with some of the more asshole promos he’s been cutting in recent weeks. Could we finally, FINALLY, be seeing the long-overdue Cena heel turn needed to breathe some semblance of life into his character? Would the company even know how to book a heel Cena at this point?
Turning point as Styles hits the Phenomenal Forearm (grazing blow only) and Cena kicks out. Styles takes to the air again, but Cena catches him and nails a REVERSE electric chair that drops Styles directly onto his face. Cena can’t cover, but the ensuing slugfest is won by Cena, until AJ counters the AA into the Calf Killer (I won’t call it crusher – fuck PG). Cena rolls out of it and hooks the STF, which Styles reverses into a jackknife cover for 2, and then Styles hits an STF of his own, which looks better than Cena’s. Cena once again goes with the only counter he knows – stop selling and power out. A series of counters ends with Cena locking in a decent figure 4 on Styles right in the middle of the ring. I will say this for Cena – he has continued to evolve his game these last few years and I as a wrestling fan appreciate the dedication to the craft.
Styles counters into a cross armbreaker, and Cena just deadlifts Styles into a powerbomb for a close 2 count. Cena slowly climbs to the top but Styles counters the top rope legdrop into a powerbomb, then hits the Styles Clash BUT CENA KICKS OUT OF A FINISHER AGAIN. Just when I say something nice the guy goes and does his same old shitty undercutting of another guy’s moves.
Now that each guy has prostitute their finisher, they begin to hit increasingly creative – and dangerous looking – improvised moves, including a swinging cutter by Cena that looked like it came a hair from breaking Styles’ neck. Cena then hits the super AA off of the second rope, for a CLOSE near fall. Crowd is solidly behind Styles now, and Cena looks angry and frustrated. Styles goes for another AA, but Styles counters into a second Styles Clash. Styles goes for the Phenomenal Forearm, but Cena catches him, hits the AA, rolls through and hits another AA for the goddamn motherfucking pin.
Look I’m not going to say that it wasn’t a great match – it was. I’m not going to say that Cena didn’t hang right in there with Styles – he did. But this booking is just pathetically stupid and short-sighted. Cena is past his prime and Styles is the best wrestler in the world right now. The title should’ve stayed on Styles.
I know that at some point Flair’s record needed to be broken, and Cena is right there, so this ties him. I understand it. I just don’t agree with undercutting a guy like Styles – on fire, at the top of his game, over like a motherfucker – to put a strap on a guy who has zero need for it at this stage.
10:00 PM EST
We get another recap of how Seth Rollins is banned from the building for going after Triple H at NXT Takeover last night. Still think this feud has been mishandled. Back to the ring and here comes Jerry “the King” Lawler to call the Rumble match itself. Now we get a bunch of random meaningless Rumble statistics.
I read a fantastic scenario the other day where Goldberg drew number 1 and Lesnar drew number 2, did their full entrances, beat the shit out of each other as the crowd went nuts, then simultaneously eliminated each other just as number 3 came out. I thought this would be perfect. Instead, WWE decides that the way to fire up the crowd is with Big Cass at number 1. It actually does a pretty good job of it, because Enzo and Cass are the most over tag team in the company. They put over all of the big names in the match, then we get US Champ Chris Jericho at number 2. Bell rings and Y2J decides it’d be a great idea to slap Cass across the face. Cass disagrees. Crowd chants “stupid idiot” and I’m not sure if they’re talking to Cass or Jericho.
The buzzer brings Kalisto in at number 3, as Cole reminds us that back in 1992 it was Ric Flair coming in at number 3 and winning the WWE Title in the Rumble. Because if anyone reminds of Flair, it’s Kalisto. Mojo Rawley is in at number 4, and the crowd is already dying out. The next guy had better be someone worth giving a shit about or this could get ugly.
And number 5 is…cruiserweight Jack Gallagher. Interesting note in that Jack brings his umbrella into the ring, hits a few guys with it, and then crotches Y2J with it. Jericho is hands down the funniest performer on the roster. I just wish Owens was in the Rumble too – they’d concoct some hilarious scenarios. Number 6 is Texas’ own Mark Henry – and somebody’s gonna get their ass kicked! At least, I hope so – I’m still of the firm belief that Mark Henry should be given one last run on top – the whole Hall of Pain, that’s what I do, absolute monster gimmick he had as a heel champion, but AS A FACE. Henry gets the first elimination, launching Jack Gallagher over the top to the floor, just in time for number 7 to be Braun Strowman. Things are getting interesting. Strowman tosses Mojo Rawley, Cass, and Kalisto, then faces off with Henry as Jericho bails and hides outside the ring. Strowman quickly eliminates Henry as well – damn. Sami Zayn comes out at 8 to continue his feud with Strowman – boy, wonder how this will end? Jericho is still staying the fuck out of the way. Smart man.
Number 9 is the Not-So-Big-Anymore Show. Credit where it is due – the transformation Show has gone through at his age, and the shape he is in, is fucking phenomenal. Tons of props to him on a personal level.
Show gets the edge on Strowman briefly, and even knocks out Chris Jericho, but Strowman tosses Show just in time for the number 10 entrant…the Perfect 10, NXT’s Tye Dillenger! The crowd comes unglued for this. Dillenger and Zayn team up to beat on Strowman, but he double suplexes them. Number 11 is James Ellsworth…this won’t end well. Ellsworth stalls outside, distracting Strowman and allowing Dillenger and Zayn to nearly eliminate the big man.
The buzzer goes off, and someone must’ve woken up Dean, because the Lunatic Fringe is number 12. Dean fires up Ellsworth to join him against Strowman, then watches Ellsworth go in, and get chokeslammed right back out by Strowman. Ambrose comes off the top and nails Strowman, and goes to work on the big man along with Zayn and Dillenger. The buzzer sounds and Baron Corbin is number 13, where he quickly joins the assault on Strowman. Strowman powers out and tosses Dillenger. Zayn catches the Heluva kick on Strowman and stuns him, and Baron Corbin eliminates the big man! Crowd popped for this big. Buzzer sounds and Kofi “what crazy stunt will he pull this year” Kingston is number 14.
The action has slowed down now with Strowman no longer mauling everything in sight. Miz is out as number 15 and immediately hits a Skull Crushing Finale on Zayn. Kofi’s stupid spot saw him drop his face on the ring post but hang on. Meh. Next at number 16 is former Raw tag champion Sheamus. The ring is finally beginning to fill up and people are pairing off. Big E is in at number 17 and promptly…spanks the Miz in time to the crowd chanting “New…Day Rocks! New…Day Rocks!” Well then…that’s something I can never unsee. Fortunately, Rusez is out next…not that I care about Rusez, but he’s accompanied by Lana who is looking incredible and that can distract me briefly from the image of Big E spanking Miz…goddammit.
Number 19 is Cesaro, who literally hits the Swing on everyone in the ring, to the point he’s so dizzy he falls over at one point. Credit – I’d have thrown up doing that. Next out at 20 is Xavier Woods, and now all three members of New Day are in the ring at once, and they are working it as a team, taking Sheamus apart. I’m not sure if I’ve missed some eliminations since Strowman went out or not, but the ring is getting really full now, and Bray Wyatt is out at number 21 to add to the pile. He quickly beats down Miz, Ambrose, and several others. Rusev apparently broke his nose at some point, as he’s wearing a protective mask. Xavier briefly goes after Wyatt, but Wyatt destroys him and attempts to toss him, but Woods holds on. Now Kofi gets tossed right next to him and holds on. Both are on the apron as Apollo Crews enters at number 22.
Sheamus and Cesaro jointly eliminate all three New Day members, then are both in turn eliminated by Y2J and argue on the outside. Number 23 hits and “I hear voices in my head…” Randy Orton hits the ring and starts to RKO everything in sight. The newly heel turned Dolph Ziggler is out next at number 24. You know – it’s worth noting here that the entrance is a fucking mile from the ring, and if someone just wandered down at a reasonable rate of speed, the next guy would be out before he got to the ring. Luke Harper is out at number 25, and now all three of the tension-filled Wyatt Family are in the ring together. Harper quickly eliminates Crews and stares down Orton. Wyatt tries to make peace, and Harper levels him with a spinning clothesline, then takes down Orton as well. Harper picks up Bray for a Sister Abigail of his own, but Orton hits an RKO outta nowhere to break it up. The buzzer counts down, and…”whelp…here comes the pain!” Brock Lesnar powers to the ring with Paul Heyman and you can say goodbye to a lot of these guys in the ring right now.
Ambrose gone, Ziggler gone, suplex to Rusev, suplex to Y2J, suplex to Corbin, F5 to Y2J, F5 to Orton…and Lesnar just smirks at his destruction. The buzzer counts down and number 27 is…Enzo Amore. HAHAHAHAHA. Oh this is going to be hilarious.
Enzo sprints to the ring, jumps in, dances, and Lesnar gives him the Zipper clothesline and tosses him. Lesnar now returns to suplexing everybody in sight. The countdown is on and number 28 is…GOLDBERG!
Everyone else lies in the ring as Goldberg and Lesnar stare down. Goldberg ducks a clothesline, spears Lesnar, and clotheslines him out for the elimination. HOLY SHIT! Well, I’ll give you credit WWE – when you want to book a guy as a dominant monster, this is EXACTLY how you do it.
Goldberg takes over from Lesnar beating everyone all over the ring, until…GONG. Number 29 is the Undertaker, and he appears in the ring behind Goldberg. Taker goozles Goldberg for a chokeslam, but a few others break it up. Goldberg eliminates Rusev, Taker eliminates Corbin, SPEAR FROM GOLDBERG! Goldberg eliminates Harper…and Taker sneaks up behind Goldberg and eliminates him. Crowd does not like that…but looks like we now may have a potential Goldberg-Taker feud to go along with the the Goldberg-Lesnar issue. Very intriguing.
Number 30 is out, and it’s Roman Reigns, and the crowd is not happy. He and Taker exchange bombs back and forth, until Reigns gets decapitated by a clothesline by Taker. Crowd is chanting “this is bullshit” – not sure I’d go that far, but I will say it’s some strange booking, and I don’t know why Reigns needs to be in this match. Taker eliminates Miz, then Zayn, and is going for the chokeslam on Y2J…but Reigns sneaks up from behind and eliminates him! Crowd HATES Reigns for this!
We are down to the Final Four – Reigns, Y2J, Bray Wyatt, and Randy Orton. Reigns eliminates Y2J and the crowd is ALL OVER him. Wyatt and Orton double team Reigns and the crowd is VERY restless right now – they don’t really like any of these guys to win, but they’re just hoping Reigns gets eliminated now. Reigns eliminates Wyatt, and we are down to Reigns and Orton. Reigns charges for a spear, but it’s an RKO OUTTA NOWHERE! Orton eliminates Reigns, and Randy Orton has won the 2017 Royal Rumble and is heading to Wrestlemania!