WWE Royal Rumble review and results: Plenty for the rest of the year to live up to but main event falls a little flat

The first major event of 2017 delivered, even if the Rumble itself lacked the element of surprise that's become so popular in recent years

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The Independent Online

As the first major event of 2017, there’s no doubting that Royal Rumble has ensured WWE has plenty to live up to over the course of the next 12 months. 

From the very start of the night’s in-ring action to the moment Randy Orton’s hand was raised as the event’s big winner, the kick-off show delivered almost impeccably – blighted perhaps only by a weaker-than-expected Rumble match. 

Undoubtedly there were things that helped – a Texan crowd in excess of 50,000 almost guarantees you the kind of atmosphere that not only works live but also translates superbly on to television. And the build-up to this year’s event, not blighted and punctured by too many unnecessary pay-per-views along the way, was as good as it’s been in weeks. 

NXT Takeover: San Antonio on Saturday night was so enjoyable, you wondered whether the ‘senior’ rosters would be able to match it. They managed to do so and then some. In fact, the only thing that perhaps left you feeling a little flat was the much-anticipated Rumble match. With its star-studded billing, anticipation was high but, in truth, it was something of a sore thumb in terms of quality. That is not to say it wasn’t without its highlights; Kofi Kingston supplying his usual survival trickery and Tye Dillinger of NXT and 205 Live’s Brit Jack Gallagher being welcomes addition, but that’s probably about it.   

Big things were expected of Brock Lesnar, Goldberg and the Undertaker as the headline entrants given the amount of television time they’d been afforded pre-show, but as the match wore on it became clear that they’d been positioned in the entry order to ensure they had to do as little as possible for as short a time as could be managed. Of course, you don’t expect the trio to work the full hour given their ages and conditions, but by entering as three of the last five spots, their efforts seemed rushed at best, forced at worst. The only possible exception there is the Undertaker’s elimination by Roman Reigns and the subsequent stare-down that teased a Wrestlemania match between the two. 

Also lacking was the surprise value that’s become so popular in the Rumble match in recent years. Dillinger’s short participation was nice and a treat for the live crowd given his fan-base, but as we edged towards the coveted number 30 entrant, you were still looking for something unexpected. Samoa Joe is set to join the main roster soon, while Fin Balor is cleared after injury - even a cameo from Hall of Fame inductee, Kurt Angle, had been trumpeted. In the end, Reigns was the last man out which – and this is probably a little harsh on him – only ended up feeling anticlimactic.

Goldberg and the Undertaker were two of the headline entrants (WWE)

Orton would go on to win by eliminating the former Shield member. His 20-minute performance was as strong as you’d expect for one of WWE’s mainstays, but just who he’ll face at Wrestlemania in Orlando doesn’t seem cut and dry as yet - it seems unlikely the company will turn to an oft-seen feud of Orton-Cena to headline their marquee event. There’s no harm at all in having to ‘watch this space’ with so much time to go until the biggest event of the year, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. 

Elsewhere, the night’s two title bouts were fantastic effort from all concerned. In my preview for the Rumble I felt John Cena and AJ Styles would almost be without peers when it came to match of the night – but give credit where it’s due, the match between Raw’s Kevin Owens and Reigns pushed them hard. Reigns takes punishment like an absolute pro and so it was no problem for him to be on the receiving end for the majority of the match.

While Owens did enough to prove his character can stand toe-to-toe with his competition without the aid of Chris Jericho – suspended above the ring in a shark cage – for the storyline’s sake it probably made sense for him to pick up another aided victory after Braun Stroman, another of the night’s big stars, provided the assistance with a beat down to Reigns. The Prize Fighter had retained, and his partnership with Jericho has enough momentum in it to perhaps take the pair to a match at Wrestlemania.

John Cena tied Ric Flair’s record of 16 world championships with a superb performance against AJ Styles (WWE)

Later in the night, Cena tied Ric Flair’s record of 16 world championships with a superb performance and win over AJ Styles. Styles is one of the best in the business, and it’s a billing he only served to solidify here. The bout, 24 minutes long, was balanced and even and, while you felt the tide of momentum was with Cena for much of it, these two were good enough to make you believe it could still go either way. In my view Styles wasn’t harmed whatsoever by this defeat, and Cena’s returning effort was arguably one of his finest matches of all time. The 39 year-old even rolled out a few new offensive manoeuvres, in what was an entertaining retort to the age-old quip that he’s no in-ring technician. True enough – he may not be remembered as a wrestling artist when all is said and done, but the picture these two painted was a true masterpiece. 

The Rumble’s undercard was so good that it’s hard to know where to start in detailing the rest. The night started with a real boost for Smackdown’s Naomi as she netted a pinfall over champion Alexa Bliss in a six-person tag affair on the kick-off show. There was also something of a surprise in Raw’s tag title offering as Gallows and Anderson finally snared the tag-team gold from Sheamus and Cesaro. The veteran pairing have had too many title opportunities to mention since joining WWE around a year ago, and their programme with the New Day across 2016 only served to belittle their standing within the company. Over the course of the last few weeks, though, they’ve been taken a little more seriously and they’re now wearing the shirt – it would perhaps be wise to give them a new feud altogether from here. 

Sasha Banks, still recovering from a knee injury, was roundly squashed by Nia Jaxx in barely five minutes, while England now has a Cruiserweight Champion after a dominant Neville continued his relentless run since his return with a convincing win over Rich Swann. The Geordie had been touted as contender for the country’s first World Champion someday – while that seems some way off just now, his performances in the ring will not be going unnoticed. 

We end, then, with how the main Rumble show started – Charlotte’s successful title defence against Bayley. I can’t recall the last time that a women’s bout opened a major WWE pay per view, but it should very much become the norm when you consider the ability of the divisions across Raw and Smackdown right now. Charlotte remains flawless in terms of her performance and pay per view record, but Bayley’s gutsy showing was rightly noted by the champ herself on Twitter after the match.

It’s guaranteed that the first entrance music to play on any night of wrestling will garner a strong response – but the huge reaction Bayley received from a great crowd on this night is only the latest endorsement of what is the strongest women’s product of a generation – dare we say, of all time?

So while the Rumble match may have left you feeling a little flat without being a let-down, there’s little doubting that the 2017 edition of the January staple very much delivered. It answered a fair few questions, and rightly asked a few more. Quite what awaits Rumble winner Orton and a number others remains to be seen, but we’re now well and truly on the road to Wrestlemania…

Royal Rumble results

Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella, and Naomi def. Alexa Bliss, Mickie James, and Natalya

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Cesaro and Sheamus
New Raw tag team champions

Nia Jax def. Sasha Banks

Charlotte def. Bayley

Kevin Owens def. Roman Reigns

Neville def. Rich Swann
New cruiserweight champion

John Cena def. AJ Styles
New WWE Champion

Randy Orton won the 2017 Royal Rumble match.