Last Sunday, over 50,000 fans were in attendance at the Alamo Dome to watch the Royal Rumble live and the the crowd added a "big fight" atmosphere to the event. Before discussing the particulars of the show, it should be noted that it was refreshing that the direction of the Wrestlemania main event wasn't (and still isn't) obvious the way it was in recent years, adding a level of suspense to the battle royal. In 2014, everyone knew Batista returned to set up a Wrestlemania match, the following year it was known well in advance that Roman Reigns was the booked winner, and even last year, the writing was on the wall that Triple H was penciled in for victory. The brand extension, along with the general direction of the booking, kept the element of surprise around the match.
Charlotte vs. Bayley opened the show, providing a solid match. In this scenario, the payoff should be at WM 33because it's the ultimate win for Bayley as the underdog and longtime fan. Some reports suggest a possible four-way match at the show, adding Nia Jax and Sasha Banks, but that would dilute the storyline. Too often, even as far up the card as the main event, an extra performer would be added to a match simply to get a spot on the card, which is an example of lazy booking rather than a situation that justifies a multi-person match. Nia's inexperience shows during most of her in-ring work, but you can't really blame her for it, as she was put in a tough spot since her main roster debut. She signed a WWE deal just three years ago and started to train to become a sports entertainer. Since that time, she worked a relatively short run in NXT and then debuted on Raw, a global television show where it's more difficult to camouflage inexperience. At 32, maybe her age was a factor in the decision to rush her to the main roster, but it seems like it would've been beneficial for her to spend another year or so in NXT to get seasoning. Granted, the WWE developmental system has some of the best trainers in the world to help the talent learn, but there's no substitute for experience, and it's tough to expect Nia to be a polished performer, considering that she first stepped into the ring to learn only three years ago. Again, you can't blame her too much for it, but Nia's work is rather sloppy and despite the monster type character, she doesn't really sell like a monster, which diminishes her character. Because of that, Sasha isn't going to get much from this feud and hopefully, there are better opportunities on the horizon for her.
Despite their extensive rivalry in NXT, I still think there's money to be made from a Sasha/Bayley feud on Raw. Particular when you consider that a majority of the WWE TV audience actually aren't network subscribers, the feud would be mostly new material. In fact, if Bayley does win the title, that could set up an angle where Banks turns heel because she was in the background while Bayley had a chance to win the championship. The bottom line is Sasha Banks has the star quality, and WWE brass would be wise to push it as much as possible because she has ability to be a major star for years. The exact same thing could be said for Bayley, she's a Ricky Steamboat type baby face and she could have a John Cena level impact on the company. Considering how over she is and the way she represents the company, she could be a female version of Cena, and that's a good thing.
As for Charlotte, she was overrated in the past, but is growing into the role well. Her selling is still somewhat awkward, but she continues to develop the heel persona with vastly improved promos. Don't get me wrong, Charlotte is very athletic, but that doesn't always transition into smooth ring work, which was apparent during most of her early run on TV. That said, she has done well recently and I'd expect a solid match as WM 33.
Next, Kevin Owens defended the Universal title against Roman Reigns in a good match. Truthfully, I thought Roman was winning the belt here because it wouldn't surprise me if he somehow went into WM 33 as champion. Braun Strowman interfered, something that was explained on Raw, and Owens retained. Even though Owens remained the champion, I doubt he goes to Wrestlemania with the title because despite a solid run that elevated his status, there's not a heated feud for him going into the biggest show of the year. It's doubtfully that dropping the title will downgrade him, and if the rumored Jericho match happens, it gives Owens a decent spot on the card. According to The Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer, Bill Goldberg might actually win the championship from him to defend it against Brock Lesnar at WM 33. While nothing of the sort was set up yet, there are several weeks of TV to book before the next pay-per-view so it's at least possible.
The Cruiserweight title match was decent, and Neville as champion gives the division something to build around, but until there are well established characters, the audience isn't going to invest into the division. Tony Nese's heel promo on Raw will provide more structure for the division, and when Austin Aries is medically cleared, he could provide a boost, but at this point the 205 division still has the atmosphere of random cruiserweight vs. cruiserweight without much story behind it.
AJ Styles vs. John Cena was another tremendous bout, very similar to their match at Summer Slam. Nobody should've expected anything less, AJ is arguably the best in ring performer in WWE today and John Cena always delivers in big match situations. It's nice to see that after a decade, most of the misguided flak that Cena received was put aside for the moment and he got the recognition that he certainly earned. Comparing the territory era to the global entity of the current WWE is apples to oranges, but in my view, John Cena is definitely worthy of reaching Ric Flair's title record.
In the social media era, anyone of any notoriety must be very careful because one misstep can easily be recorded and then it becomes a public story. As hard as Ric Flair worked in the ring, had his prime been at a time when camera phones existed, can you imagine the media headlines that would've surfaced? Even retired, Flair made a series of headlines for all the wrong reasons a few years ago. One of the reasons that John Cena is as great as he is, he's a great representative for the WWE. There's no doubt about it, Cena's work ethic puts him among the greatest of all time.
The Royal Rumble match was somewhat stale, mostly because the contest had all the top names booked for the end so there wasn't much to really follow for the majority of it. Another aspect of the rumble that was somewhat disappointing is there weren't any surprise entrants. Granted, everyone knows that Nash or Rob Van Dam isn't going to win the match, but a nostalgia pop is one of the things that makes the event fun. While someone like Apollo Crew is a tremendous athlete and probably deserves better than floundering on Smackdown, wouldn't it provide something fun for the rumble if a few legends appeared instead of some of the mid carders that aren't being featured on TV?
When Roman Reigns entered at the last spot, I literally said, "oh no" because I thought he was going to win the match, setting up another Wrestlemania main event. As I've said before, it's not toward Roman Reigns the competitor, but rather how the character is booked. Reigns eliminated The Undertaker and there's some speculation that it will be used for a WM 33 match. If that's the case, WWE brass should be prepared to turn Roman heel because nobody wants to see The Undertaker lose at Wrestlemania again. If Reigns is booked to defeat him, even if The Undertaker gives him the "respect" approval, it will only fuel the hostility toward Reigns. I've written it previously, but if the WWE wants to get him over as a long term baby face then he will probably have to turn heel to become a more complete character before the eventual baby face run, which is similar to the formula that allowed The Rock to became a major star.
Roman's entry was ultimately used to create the surprise when Randy Orton won the match, which was good in terms of an unexpected finish, especially when the audience thought they knew what was going to happen, but I don't know if Orton in the main event on Wrestlemania is the best choice. In my opinion, Orton's popularity plateaued several years ago and that's not to say he doesn't have name value, more just an observation that he has already had a lengthy main event run. Among the rumors for the WM 33 card is that Orton's rumble win will set up for a title match with Bray Wyatt. If that's where this leads then I completely approve of the Orton win because Bray Wyatt has been ready for the main event for at least 2-3 years. Because Wyatt can still look strong while getting his opponent over, he was often booked in angles that were specifically designed to get others over. One of the most notable examples of this is when Reigns was struggling to get a reaction between title runs, he was booked for a feud with Wyatt.
If Bray doesn't get involved for WM 33, that puts another Orton vs. Cena match as the main event and that has a "been there done that" tone to it. Orton/Cena is one of the most extensive and possibly overused feuds so it's doubtful there's demand for it in 2017. Plus, Orton winning the rumble before led to one of the worse Wrestlemania main events in history in 2009.
Overall, the Royal Rumble was solid and there's still some element of surprise about what will happen at the next pair of PPVs to solidify the card for WM 33, which is a good thing. Too often, the Wrestlemania main event was predictable in the past few years so it's refreshing to have relevant TV leading to the biggest event of the year.
Until next week
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