The Eternal Optimist Presents: Ranking The Royal Rumbles (#8)

QUESTION OF THE DAY:  Do you feel that a Royal Rumble that largely focuses on old timers can still be an effective one?


Hi kids.

Welcome back to another edition in my Royal Rumble column series.

In today’s column, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at 9th place on my countdown. As a reminder, here are the criteria that I used to analyze the matches:

The Participants – The easiest way to create a Royal Rumble is to have a compelling roster that people want to see participate. I’ll take a look at the level star power, the level of “overness” of the other players, and whether or not there were an unnecessary amount of jobbers and/or non-factors in the match.

The Storylines and Flow of the Match – The storylines are without question the most important part of a Royal Rumble match. I’ll look at whether or not the storylines presented enhanced the match. I’ll also look at the surprise entrants and evaluate whether or not they added value. Lastly, I’ll look at whether or not the match had a solid flow or if it dragged at times. This is by far the most important category, and it will be the category in which I spend the majority of each column discussing.

The Final Four – Every Rumble inevitably comes down to a “show down” between the final four competitors. Here, I’ll look at whether the WWE chose a strong group to represent the final four, and whether or not the end game to the Rumble was compelling.

The Winner – I’ll evaluate three things relating to the winner of each Rumble. First, was the winner a surprise? I have a strong appreciation for Rumble winners that weren’t necessarily expected to win. Second, was the winner satisfying? Just because the winner wasn’t someone I expected doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the outcome. On the other hand, just because the winner was a foregone conclusion doesn’t mean that I didn’t love every minute of it. Lastly, how did winning the Royal Rumble impact this wrestler at Wrestlemania and beyond? The overall success of the subsequent push impacts how I view many of the Rumbles and their winner.

A couple additional disclaimers:

First – lengthy Royal Rumble runs rarely move me. Sure, you might love Rick Martel lasting 53 minutes in 1991. I didn’t. He, as well as almost everyone else that goes coast to coast, spent the majority of the match sitting in the corner getting kicked. For me, a single wrestler’s longevity is the most overrated factor in evaluating the strength of a Royal Rumble.

Second – these factors aren’t weighted evenly. They are merely talking points. My overall impression of the Rumble is what ultimately mattered when I made my rankings.

Last, but certainly not least – I’ve added a new wrinkle to this column series. As you already know, my thought process on wrestling seems to wildly differ from the majority of the fans in our community. Many have taken me to task in other forums over where my rankings ultimately landed. I’ve decided to incorporate that into this column series. As such, every entry will end with a guest “rebuttal” telling me exactly why I’m an idiot for ranking that particular Rumble where I did. The guests range from my fellow columnists, both on the main page and the Forums, to real life friends, to buddies I frequently interact with on social media. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I think you’ll enjoy the alternative takes.

This week’s rebuttal comes from our very own Sir Sam – believe me when I tell you, he’s going to spit fire.

Here is where the countdown currently stands – links to the previous columns are embedded:

Without further ado, here’s the Royal Rumble that came in at #8 on the countdown:


#8: The 2017 Royal Rumble.


The Roster:

  1. Big Cass
  2. Chris Jericho
  3. Kalisto
  4. Mojo Rawley
  5. Jack Gallagher
  6. Mark Henry
  7. Braun Strowmann
  8. Sami Zayn
  9. Big Show
  10. Tye Dillinger
  11. Ellsworth
  12. Dean Ambrose
  13. Baron Corbin
  14. Kingston
  15. The Miz
  16. Sheamus
  17. Big E
  18. Rusev
  19. Cesaro
  20. Xavier Woods
  21. Bray Wyatt
  22. Apollo Crews
  23. Randy Orton
  24. Dolph Ziggler
  25. Luke Harper
  26. Brock Lesnar
  27. Enzo Amore
  28. Goldberg
  29. Undertaker
  30. Roman Reigns

What an unbelievable collection of talent.  First off, 2017 was absolutely loaded at the top.  The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho and Randy Orton are all in the top 25 on the all time greatest list.  Just having that many great wrestlers at the top would be more than enough to carry a Royal Rumble, but that doesn’t even come close to doing this roster justice.

The Miz was absolutely electric in 2017 – arguably the hottest heel in wrestling at the time.  Dean Ambrose was a bonafide superstar as well, and Bray Wyatt was in the midst of the biggest push of his career.  This was during a time period when tag team wrestling was peaking, so the inclusion of all three members of the New Day, Enzo, Big Cass and both members of The Bar were viewed as much bigger than they would have been in other time periods.

Both Braun Strowman and Baron Corbin were at the beginning of their mega pushes, and they each played an important part of the match.  All in all, the 2017 Royal Rumble had tremendous star power at the top and an equally impressive amount of depth.

The Storyline & Flow Of The Match:

The first half of the match is all about Braun Strowman.  Many, myself included, chuckled when just a couple of months prior rumors started to circulate that Strowman was in line for a big push.  The report stated that he could do a lot more than what was being asked of him, but it seemed impossible to believe.

The 2017 Rumble did a lot to change that perception.  It was without question Braun Strowman’s breakout performance.  His launch of Kalisto was a personal favorite moment of mine in any Royal Rumble.  The sheer visual of Kalisto being heaved was amazing to me.  

I thought he had a great hoss spot with Mark Henry.  Henry was at the tail end of his career at this point, but he was the hometown guy and this came off as being a big deal when it happened.  Mark Henry really isn’t appreciated for how willing he was to look weak in order to put others over.

The same can be said for The Big Show.  He had an even better hoss spot with Braun because the interaction was prolonged and the action itself was stronger.  Again, The Big Show should receive a tremendous amount of credit not only for what he did for Braun in the 2017 Royal Rumble, but also for his repeated efforts in one on one matches to make Strowman look like every bit the monster that he is.

The story of Braun in the 2017 Royal Rumble wasn’t just about squaring off with other monsters.  He had a really great one on one with Sami Zayn as well.  I felt that the Zayn/Strowman feud went largely unappreciated due to the majority of the fans wanting to over hype Sami’s potential while not being willing to look at Strowman for the tremendous upside that he brought to the table.  People really felt that Zayn was going to get his revenge of Braun here, but it was not to be.  I thought the interaction with Sami was a great counterbalance to the action he had with Henry and The Big Show within the same stretch of time.

Many of you who feel that Baron Corbin never deserved the monster push that he received should look at the 2017 Rumble and listen to the MASSIVE pop he received for being the man to eliminate Strowman when all others had failed.  I advocated for Corbin to WIN the 2018 Royal Rumble and I just might do so again for 2019.  Regardless, the first half of the 2017 Rumble did a tremendous job of establishing both men as impact players.

Tye Dillinger showing us at the #10 spot was absolutely brilliant.  It fit perfectly with his gimmick and the live crowd ate it up with a spoon.  Sure, we now know that Tye Dillinger was always a bum who was fortunate enough to be saddled with a gimmick that couldn’t miss, but it worked at the time.  Then again, maybe he’s the one who made it work, and I’m sure bitter than he goes home to Peyton Royce and I go home to my wife yelling at me for leaving a dirty diaper on the living room floor.  I’ll let you be the judge.

As I mentioned in the roster section, tag team wrestling felt important in 2017 and the Rumble derived benefit from that.  There was a particularly good spot between The New Day and The Bar that saw Sheamus and Cesaro eliminate all three members of The New Day at the same time, only for Sheamus to attempt to eliminate Cesaro in a cheap manner.  The end result was a failed attempt and a double elimination of The Bar by Chris Jericho as they argued with each other near the ropes.  This felt like the beginning of a break up that would culminate in a Wrestlemania 33 match, but it ended up being a red herring as The Bar is still going strong today.

I’m at a point in the countdown where I have to take a critical look at some of the smaller nuances within a match in order to differentiate between Royal Rumbles that I think are simply fantastic.  Such was the case for this one and the ten to fifteen minute stretch in the middle of the match where there wasn’t a lot of interesting action.  In fact, so little was happening that the fans got restless and began to chant for Goldberg.  Everything that happened before this point and everything that occurred afterwards was exactly where it needed to be, but it was enough to differentiate between this match and the Rumbles yet to come.

I really enjoyed the angle that saw Luke Harper turn on both Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt mid-match.  At the time, it felt like a lead in to what would have been a really strong mid-card match for Wrestlemania 33 between the three men.  Obviously, the WWE had other plans.  More on that in a bit.

I’ll say it right now.  From the minute Brock Lesnar arrived in the number 26 spot until the finish of the match was the BEST stretch of any Royal Rumble ever.  The WWE had megastars of yesteryear and they absolutely used them to their fullest potential.  

Having Lesnar kill everyone was smart.  He had just lost a bit of his aura of invincibility when he got smashed by Goldberg at Survivor Series, so it worked as a reminder that he really was a world beating force of nature.  So much of the Rumble had been built around the showdown between Lesnar and Goldberg.  It was hard to feel like anything that they did could live up to the hype, but it did.  Their one on one popped the crowd in a massive way and it was SHOCKING to see Goldberg dominate and eliminate Lesnar with ease AGAIN.  Someway and somehow, the WWE did a marvelous job of making Brock freaking Lesnar look like an underdog heading into Wrestlemania 33.  That’s unbelievable to me.

With Lesnar out of the way, the inevitable showdown between The Undertaker and Goldberg felt massive.  They felt like the only two possible winners left in the match.  I loved the way it was presented.  Both eliminated other people prior to squaring off with each other, and Taker only got the upper hand by sneaking up on Goldberg from behind.  The WWE only gave us a taste in the action between the two, and it left me wanting to see them go at it again on a big stage.

When Taker eliminated Goldberg, it felt like the end of the drama in the match.  He seemed to be the only wrestler left that could win.  Enter Roman Reigns.  NO ONE expected him to be in the match, as he was in the Universal Title match earlier in the night.  Everyone was STUNNED.  After great back and forth action, seeing Roman eliminate Taker was a complete shock to the system.  

ALL of the hype going into the match surrounded Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg and The Undertaker.  The idea that the 2017 Royal Rumble could have a final four that didn’t include ANY of them was never a thought in anyone’s mind.  I give the WWE major props for pulling that off.

The Final Four:

I was elated with what the WWE did with the final four in 2017.  Removing Lesnar, Goldberg and The Undertaker from the equation allowed the WWE to tell a wonderful story with Roman Reigns.  Before I dive into that, a quick note on Jericho.  While it was impressive that he lasted from the beginning to the final four, this wasn’t a vintage performance like the one he pulled off in 2013 as described in my last entry.  He largely survived while other people were involved in important business.  

Eliminating Jericho first led to tremendous drama.  You have to remember, Roman Reigns was such an enemy to the Royal Rumble crowds in Philly.  In 2015, Daniel Bryan was moved out of the way so that he could have the spotlight.  In 2016, Dean Ambrose was sacrificed in order to set up a main event feud between Reigns and Triple H. 

With the final three being Reigns, Orton and Wyatt, it felt like a traditional ending to a Royal Rumble match.  The expectation was that Reigns would overcome the heel stable and once again emerge victorious.  The crowd was ready to revolt.  The idea that the WWE would tell them same story they didn’t want to be told three years in a row was an idea that the fans just weren’t going to embrace.

With all that in mind, you don’t have to imagine the pop that occurred when Orton immediately RKO’d and eliminated Reigns just moments after Wyatt had been dumped.  Joy was had by all and it was one of the best finishes in the history of the match.

All in all, this final four was perfect.

The Winner:

Orton as the victor was completely unexpected.  At no point during any of the buildup did the WWE give any indication that he could be the winner.  He was toiling in the mid card and it felt like his days as a main event player were behind him.  Again, only Goldberg, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker were focal points going into the match.  Even after all three were eliminated, another Reigns victory felt inevitable.  I didn’t give ANY consideration to Orton winning the match until the second that it happened.  That is the very definition of a surprise.

I’m also going to take a couple of minutes to defend the decision to make Randy Orton the winner.  Everyone wants to look back at this Rumble and say “I can’t believe that the WWE went down the Randy Orton path again”, but that’s a hindsight perspective.  When he ACTUALLY won the match, people were ecstatic.  As discussed earlier, anyone but Roman was an improvement.  Thus, I believe that Orton’s win was VERY satisfying.

I also need to distinguish between the debacle that happened as the result of Randy Orton winning the Royal Rumble and the actual criteria that I chose for purposes of evaluating the match.  I am not here to dispute the idea that A.J. Styles and especially Bray Wyatt had their legs cut out from under them in favor of Randy Orton.  However, the criteria I used was “did the Rumble elevate the winner to bigger and better things”.  

The answer to that question is yes.  Randy Orton was the second banana in a mid-card stable going into the Royal Rumble, and he left as the challenger for the WWE Title at Wrestlemania.  Sure, the match stunk, but Orton won the belt and rose back to main event status.  It cannot be argued that the 2017 Rumble win didn’t lead to bigger and better things for him.

Overall:

With the first half of the Rumble being a masterclass on how to elevate an emerging superstar and a final fifteen minutes that are the best in the history of the event, I put real consideration into ranking this one even higher than I did.  That lull in the middle really was the difference maker, as the remaining seven Rumbles on the countdown simply didn’t have it.  Nonetheless, 2017 is a Rumble that I will happily re-watch repeatedly for the next twenty years.

The Rebuttal – by Sir Sam:

Mr Fenichel, I know they call you the Eternal Optimist but by any stretch of the imagination putting the 2017 Royal Rumble this high on the list is silliness bordering on absurdity. Not only is it a Rumble that displays the WWE at its absolute worst, its conclusion would be a significant part of what derailed an entire show for the majority of 2017.

Let’s stick to the Rumble first though. If I wanted to distill in one hour something that showed off all the worst habits of the modern WWE I could not do any better than this. It’s all here from the propensity for absurd, impractical size demonstrated by the extra long ramp that left the wrestlers comically standing around in the ring waiting for the next performer to run or ‘scooter’ their way to the ring, to the far more serious plague that is the WWE creating #MOMENTS at the expense of genuine character building and story telling.

To be charitable, when I sat back to re-watch this Rumble I was quite enjoying myself at first, I had forgotten that the first half of this watches as quite a fun show with different twists and turns. However as it built to a climax it steadily lost all its tension, true drama and story, as great performers simply lay around the edge of the ring while a procession of has-beens stood toe to toe in the center and Chief of Propaganda Michael Cole screamed about how significant this or that MOMENT was. Here is a tip, just as someone who needs to says they are a leader rarely actually is, if you have to scream till your horse how significant something is, it isn’t really significant. Sure you’ve got the cavalcade of hall of farmers Dave has no doubt listed off above but ultimately what did they add, particularly when their entrance order removed all sense of drama from the match and their elevation to God tier came with the elimination of so many performers that are vital to the everyday product but were made to look expendable?

Finally and I think the ultimate nail in the coffin to this Rumble, the results. The thing that truly makes the Royal Rumble special is how it sets up the most important time of year, how stories from it go on to forge legendary Wrestlemania matches and elevate talent to new levels. Yet what did this supposedly top 10 Rumble achieve? The horror show that was Bray Wyatt v Randy Orton, a match that would lead to the Jinder Mahal misstep and the tragedy that was Roman Reigns v The Undertaker.

This Royal Rumble is many things, the word hubris in particular comes to mind, but one of the top rumbles of all time it is not.

That’s a wrap kids.  I’m going to pick my wounded ego up off the floor after that beating Sam gave me, regroup and call it a day.  Agree or disagree with my assessment?  Sound off below!

I can best be reached @The_Eternal_Optimist

 

 

 

 

 

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