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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Despite Another Unstable WrestleMania Foundation, The 2017 Royal Rumble Event Was Very Good
By The Doc
Jan 30, 2017 - 12:03:28 AM

The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment (Third Edition) is on sale throughout Royal Rumble Week for as low as $4.99 (click here)

”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: How are you feeling about the Road to WrestleMania after tonight's Royal Rumble?

The Road to WrestleMania has begun! As we prepare to run-down the action from the 2017 Royal Rumble, it must be stated clearly that there are two ways to receive the January Classic and it is hard to extricate one from the other. First, there is how we rate the show itself and, second, there is how we rate the show as a vehicle for hyping its big brother WrestleMania. Tonight's show, by itself, was one of the best Royal Rumble shows in ten years or more; time will tell how we consider it with its older kin.

Popular reception for this year's Rumble Match is another discussion for another time but, from this author's perspective, the weakest part of the show was its opener for the Raw Women's Championship. Expectations are always higher for the Raw division because they have three of the four revolutionaries. Whenever two of them step in the ring together, something special is the ceiling and something really good the basement, so to speak. Charlotte and Bayley underwhelmed. The timing was off at various points, never in such a way mind you that greatly hindered the match or the story, but in a manner that – when combined with the fairly short duration on such a long show and the somewhat abrupt finish – somewhat inevitably weighed down the overall impression it left. Charlotte winning so decisively did not seem to leave the door as open to rematches as one might have previously thought going in. Raw will have to work hard from here to ensure that their champion and division as a whole were not limited to one all-time great rivalry (Boss vs. Queen). (Doc's Rating - ** ¾)

As mentioned on “The Doc Says” podcast last week, prospects of a great match for the Universal Title were thwarted in the minds of many by such a weak storyline between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens. Reflecting back, there were a lot of things that were setting up to allow Reigns and Owens to have the kind of match tonight that most would have assumed they would have already had, namely the No-Disqualification stipulation that afforded it pretty much a blank canvas. In what proved an exceptional match, Reigns and Owens crushed the lowered expectations en route to the kind of match that will probably be underrated by mid-year. If last night's Bobby Roode vs. Shinsuke Nakamura bout was WWE's first Match of the Year candidate of 2017 based on excelling within its basic, old school format, then Owens vs. Reigns emerged as a dark-horse candidate based on its maximization of the environment afforded it. They beat the hell out of each other, came up with several innovative spots – the chair set-up that Owens went through was one of the most unique additions to the hardcore library in years – and generally did well to help people think of their rivalry for something other than the creative deficiencies of Monday Night Raw. It was a Strowman-less finish away from being potentially remembered in the same breath as Styles vs. Reigns from Extreme Rules 2016, but if you extracted Braun then you would have gone into a third straight WrestleMania with Reigns leading the charge as primary challenger for the top title. (Doc's rating - ****)

Thanks to the general malaise about Reigns-Owens leading up to the show, the San Antonio crowd never seemed to get too heavily invested in the title bout, though they were not quiet like they were for the come-down match for the Cruiserweight Championship between Neville and Rich Swann. The audience may not have cared yet again, as has been the case at every PPV thus far since the division returned to Raw, but anyone who pays regular attention to 205 Live should have cared. 205 Live is a really good, simply booked wrestling show on which Neville has been thriving. If you have not been paying attention to the cruiserweight-only program, then Neville's methodical work tonight probably did not make a ton of sense; perhaps you might have been expecting a barn-burner (or at least the attempt at one). Neville vs. Swann instead continued the storytelling that they began on Tuesday nights after Smackdown and had a really strong match that told an engaging story and made its highly athletic spots and well-timed sequences count extra on account of it. The now-confirmed King of the Cruiserweights was the right choice for winner. (Doc's rating - *** ¼)

Based on the build-up and the history, AJ Styles defense of the WWE Championship against John Cena, along with the Rumble itself, was always going to earn the bulk of the audience's energy. Styles vs. Cena was the best feud of the past month; they also had the 2016 Match of the Year as named by Pro Wrestling Illustrated at last year's Summerslam. Anything less than amazing was going to be a disappointment in their third PPV singles match; and they did not disappoint. It had the big fight feel that you want at this time of the year and it delivered like a big fight should. Though Cena's victory would, by the end of the night, be questioned because he shares a brand with the Rumble winner that nobody ever wants to see him wrestle again, the match in which he won it was a spectacular sequel to the Summerslam match. It was very similar to the match from the Summer Classic, which will some will criticize, but Cena continued to show extra attitude that added a layer of depth absent in the Summerslam bout. The Golden Boy reigns atop the wrestling world once again with another classic addition to his growing list of “epic” matches full of big moves, kick outs, finishers, and more kick outs. Disappointment in Styles not carrying the title into WrestleMania is well-founded; if the rumored Mania clash with Shane McMahon comes to pass, then it might be difficult not to feel a little jaded by the comparison of what Styles gets to do versus what he might possibly could (or should) have done. (Doc's Rating - **** ½)

The Royal Rumble Match was tasked with the responsibility of putting the finishing touch on an otherwise all-time great level Rumble event, but to be honest it has become difficult to judge the Rumble on the night of even when it ends up being really good. While safe to say that this was a solid Rumble Match with many interesting happenings, the past several Roads to WrestleMania have been wrought with disappointment often triggered by the lack of an enticing direction taken in the weeks after the January Classic had ended, both by its winner and by the wrestlers who appeared to incite via the Rumble rivalries that might culminate at Mania.

Right now, the biggest question mark moving further down the RTWM is who Randy Orton, as the unlikely winner that few were walking about as a possibility before he suddenly emerged a Vegas favorite late last week, will actually wrestle on the grandest stage. Surely not Cena and most likely Bray Wyatt right? With an outside shot at Styles regaining the title in the Elimination Chamber after someone costs Cena? Like it or not, the Rumble's success is often going to be connected directly to its winner and the match at WrestleMania that stems from it; seeing as how it has been so long since we have seen that classic one-two punch of a satisfying Rumble winner and an engaging crescendo at “The Showcase of the Immortals,” it certainly seems appropriate to wait and see how this all plays out.

Key observations regarding the meat and potatoes of the reverse Battle Royal were that Braun Strowman, though suddenly seeming like the odd man out of the WrestleMania picture, had the kind of night that advanced his career that much further; he looked every bit the next great giant that WWE has been making him out to be these past six months. Between his elimination and the influx of Wyatt Family members and the big three part-timers (Lesnar, Goldberg, and Taker), it felt like the match was in a holding pattern; there were a couple of things that stood out, like the decision to slot Tye Dillinger in at #10 and New Day's teamwork, but for the most part it felt like for about twenty minutes we were waiting around for the top stars who would influence the finish to arrive. Once said superstars entered the fray, the intrigue increased through to the climax, which was well-booked given that WWE would not have wanted Orton's win to fall flat with the audience against a younger, fresher main-event prospect (Reigns was the perfect choice to play the role of last man out).

As far as the impact that the Rumble may have had on the rest of WrestleMania 33, Reigns vs. Taker was all but booked with the foreshadowing of the WrestleMania logo in the background on numerous occasions throughout their brief interactions. The Deadman needs to hit the gym and do some crunches, poor old guy. Assuming he gets in shape, a match with Reigns could light up Orlando. Goldberg vs. Lesnar is on track to finish up in nine weeks as well; the story of someone having Lesnar's number is definitely better than what we had been getting from Brock since Silicon Valley two years ago. (Doc's Rating - *** ¼)

Overall, from top to bottom, it was probably my favorite Rumble event of the decade, a statement that could be enhanced by Orton and Wyatt (and/or Styles) smoothly and creatively bringing the angle sparked by the Rumble Match victory to an enjoyable conclusion, Goldberg-Lesnar not tanking between now and April, and Reigns vs. Undertaker fulfilling its considerable potential. Given how good the rest of the card was – when was the last time we had a pair of 4-star matches in support of the titular battle royal? - we are good memories of this year's Rumble Match away from this going down historically as an awesome show.

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