Hardwood and Hollywood

The Third-Annual Royal Rumble Running Diary

7:00 pm – Welcome to the Third-Annual Royal Rumble Running Diary! Joining me tonight are no human beings, but I do have a Michelob Ultra’s and a box of Cheez-It Duoz that will serve as my trusty companions for a four-hour evening of professional wrestling. Oh yes, four hours (and by four hours I mean six hours since I did check in on the two-hour pre-show) watching grown men, and a few grown women, perform the most elaborate soap opera on television. Since I felt compelled to clear this up two years ago, I might as well do the same now: I do indeed have a very pretty girlfriend (fortunately, it’s the same one I had two years ago) and a social life … it just so happens I have a deep love for the WWE that both my girlfriend and many other acquaintances find quite odd.

Anyway, the Royal Rumble has been my favorite wrestling pay-per-view since my cousin Tony let me borrow (own) his copies of the 1993 and 1994 Royal Rumble’s many moons ago. Last year I had the opportunity to be at the Royal Rumble live in Orlando, Florida, and it didn’t disappoint. Let’s hope the same can been said of this years Royal Rumble, an unusually unpredictable one, which is coming to us live from the Alamodome in San Antonio. With that said, let’s dive right in!

7:10 – After one of the best video intros WWE has put together in recent memory, the Royal Rumble kicks off with the the WWE Raw Women’s Championship Match. It’s Charlotte Flair (the Nature Boy’s daughter, who is 15-0 in WWE pay-per-view matches) vs. Bayley (the lovable underdog that fans will inevitably turn on within the next three years). Bayley has two victories over Charlotte in the last few weeks, but much like the points on Whose Line Is It Anyway, sometimes the wins don’t really matter in WWE.

7:13 – With how much the announcers play up the fact that Charlotte claims she is the best pure athlete in WWE history, you’d think they were building towards a Charlotte vs. Shelton Benjamin feud.

7:20 – Announcer Corey Graves compares Bayley to Macho Man Randy Savage. I have to believe this is due to her eccentric ring gear and the elbow drop off the top rope that she just delivered … not any crazed promos, domestic violence tendencies or Slim Jim commercials. Regardless, it’s been a solid match thus far, but nothing to blow the roof off of the Alamodome. The common belief among wrestling fans in the know is that this won’t be Bayley’s moment to capture the Women’s Title. There’s a bigger, better match somewhere down the line, most likely at WrestleMania 33.

7:23 – And out of nowhere, Charlotte hits Bayley with her “Natural Selection” finisher and it’s all over. That’s 16 straight wins to start her career. I understand that wrestling is pre-planned (don’t you dare say fake, It’s Still Real to me Dammit!), but Charlotte is one of the most gifted women’s wrestlers ever. The total package. The mic skills, the look, the in-ring chops, the psychology … it’s all there.

7:30 – Next up, a little earlier on the card than I expected, is Roman Reigns vs. WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens. Three interesting wrinkles for this match … first, Kevin Owens’ best friend (or former best friend, we aren’t totally sure yet), Chris Jericho will be suspended above the ring in a shark cage. Second, the title will be defended under No Disqualification rules. Third, KO is the traditional heel in this match, but roughly 75 percent of the crowd will be pro-Owens tonight. Despite that third point, WWE will continue to attempt to push Reigns as the biggest babyface in the company, probably well beyond the time that we’re all dead. It will be 2084 and WWE announcers will be touting Reigns as “The Man” and the second most popular wrestler to ever live behind only John Cena, who will somehow still be WWE Champion even though he’d be 107 years old.

7:35 – Before Jericho can get locked in the cage he and Owens launch a sneak attack on Reigns. Naturally, Reigns beats both down both of them and throws Jericho into the cage. And yet, we’re supposed to be uncertain about if Reigns will win the title.

7:40 – Right out of the John Cena playbook, Reigns has mastered the “get thrown into the ring steps and hit them with a shoulder as hard as you possibly can instead of doing your best to avoid that contact” move. I’m shocked and offended that Michael Cole didn’t come with a “That’s vintage John Cena” right there.

7:44 – Has anyone ever explained why WWE keeps 75 steel chairs under their rings at all times? Or 15 wooden tables? Or ten ladders? Or the occasional sledge-hammer? Do they do home construction and design on the side?

7:48 – Our first big spot of the night: Owens delivers a big time frog splash off the top rope to the outside of the ring onto Reigns through one of those 15 tables that are sitting under the ring. You aren’t going to believe this, but Reigns, fighting with “broken ribs” kicked out after a two-count.

7:52 – With Owens in control, Jericho drops a pair of brass knuckles down to his buddy for KO to use. Apparently Jericho hasn’t seen all of the chair shots Owens has hit Reigns with. A pair of knucks aren’t going to phase “The Big Dog.” Owens needs a tranquilizer gun and all of the plastic wrap and tape that Dexter Morgan used to subdue his victims in order to keep Reigns down.

8:00 – Truthfully, I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed by a match until we reached the Rumble, but this Owens/Reigns battle has me officially one step beyond “whelmed.” KO just hit a Stone Cold Stunner on Reigns. You aren’t going to believe this, but Reigns kicked out after a two-count. Two minutes later, Reigns punched Owens off of the top rope down to the ringside area through a pyramid of steel chairs Owens built earlier. To cap things off, Reigns power-bombed Reigns through the announce table. What a sequence.

8:05 – Hey, what a plot twist! Just as I was preparing myself to be downgraded to whelmed after Reigns inevitably defeated Owens for the title, Monday Night Raw’s monster heel Braun Strowman came down to the ring to take out Reigns because Reigns and Bill Goldberg hit Strowman with a double spear a few weeks back on Raw. Wow, I’m genuinely overwhelmed. And again, I do have a girlfriend, a sassy Bolivian girl named Maria. She’s a legit person and everything. I need a breather … and another beer.

8:30 – And we’re back! I grabbed myself another adult beverage, scouted out my Rumble Match snack situation (It’s looking like Popcorn) and now I’m enjoying the Cruiserweight Title Match between the fun and bouncy Champion Rich Swann and Neville, the challenger with a new-found mean streak who was formerly Adrian Neville, only WWE prefers their wrestlers to be like Brazilian soccer players.

8:35 – Neville makes Rich Swann tap out to become Cruiserweight Champion, and it was a well-executed and entertaining match, but there is still a problem … the Cruiserweight Division just hasn’t worked, and that’s coming from someone who devoured the Cruiserweight Classic this past summer. I sincerely hope that things turn around because there are some talented dudes on WWE’s Cruiserweight roster. Maybe tonight’s Swann/Neville match will spark that turnaround.

8:40 – Up next it’s John Cena challenging AJ Styles for the WWE Championship. Styles made his WWE debut a year ago at the Royal Rumble (to a huge pop that I am happy to have participated in) and he had one of the best first years in company history. Relevant feuds, big time PPV victories, a ton of good matches and a captivating WWE Title run. And all of that goes out the window tonight when Super Cena gets his title back.

8:45 – One of the four dudes on the Smackdown Announce Team (seriously, four fucking guys?) just likened this match-up to Super Bowl LI. A dynasty from New England (Cena) vs. the new kid on the block from Atlanta (Styles). As far as cross-sport comparisons go, this might be the best one a WWE announcer ever made. Props to whichever of those four guys came up with that.

8:53 – A very slow moving first eight minutes of the match. It’s not even 9 o’clock yet, and only the Rumble match is left after Cena/Styles. This one might be a marathon.

8:55 – No heel is better at generating heat for themselves than John Cena is when he milks the crowd reaction when he’s getting ready to deliver the Five Knuckle Shuffle. Oh that’s right, Cena isn’t a heel, is he? Meanwhile, one of the four Smackdown Announcers just compared Styles to 18-time Grand Slam Champion Roger Federer. That cross-sport comparison fell flat. It’s been at least a decade since Fed had a hair-do nearly as stupid as the one AJ currently has.

9:04 – Some fun back-and-forth action leads to AJ locking Cena in Cena’s signature STF submission hold. JBL calls Styles hi-jacking of Cena’s finisher “audacious.” I’d say it’s even more audacious that the announcers are panicking as if Cena, a man who has never tapped out, may choose to tap out tonight.

9:13 – The first truly shocking moment of the match: Cena delivers his Attitude Adjustment finisher off the top rope and Styles manages to kick out. Usually that wraps it up. That didn’t slow him down though. Cena hits two more AA’s and defeats Styles to win his 16th WWE Championship. But bigger than that victory … Cena won the crowd over, almost unanimously, for the first time in years. He and Styles put on a clinic and the fans in San Antonio recognized that, and Cena’s decade-plus long body of work. Well-deserved. The Champ is back.

9:23 – Jerry Lawler makes his way down to the ring to call the Royal Rumble Match. Probably for the best that they prevented him from calling the Women’s match earlier. All he would have been talking about was Charlotte’s “puppies.”

9:30 – Well folks, it’s time. The Rumble match is about to begin. I’m well beyond giddy.

9:34 – Big Cass is the #1 entrant in the Rumble, and his tag team partner Enzo Amore accompanies him to the ring, serving as the hype man for the already much-hyped Rumble match. ChrisJericho second, and he’s one of the pseudo-favorites to win the Rumble, and one of my personal favorites. I have mad love for anyone with the courage to wear sparkly trunks that say “GOAT” on the back.

9:36 – Kalisto enters third and comes to the ring on a dead sprint, which is like running a 100 yard dash. He almost came up short on a spring-board drop kick. That would have been high comedy.

9:40 – One of the Cruiserweight Division’s rising stars Jack Gallagher comes to the ring armed with an umbrella and a truly fantastic mustache. I don’t think he’s going to win.

9:42 – Mark Henry snags the third of the eight unconfirmed spots in the Rumble Match and now we’ve arrived at underwhelmed. He quickly eliminates Gallagher and his umbrella at the same time.

9:44 – One of the odds-on favorites, Braun Strowman, enters at #7. He wastes no time, eliminating Mojo Rawley, Kalisto (still out of breath from his pre-match sprint), Big Cass and Mark Henry in less than two minutes. Meanwhile, Jericho leaves the ring under the ropes, a classic heel Rumble move.

9:48 – Sami Zayn, another pseudo-favorite, enters 8th and promptly gets pummeled by Strowman. Big Show is the 9th entrant, briefly puts up a fight against Braun, and them gets tossed over with relative ease. Braun is not only being fast-tracked to a main event push, but also to breaking Roman Reigns record for most eliminations in a single Rumble.

9:50 – Tye Dillinger enters 10th, which is fitting since his whole gimmick is centered around being “The Perfect Ten.” Weird, it’s almost like the positions these guys enter at aren’t random.

9:56 – Baron Corbin, Smackdown’s poor man’s version of Strowman, enters 13th.

9:58 – Before I had the opportunity to elaborate on that point, Corbin eliminates Strowman. Shows how much I know.

10:10 – Kofi Kingston, The Miz, Sheamus, Big E, Rusev, Cesaro and Xavier Woods are the next seven entrants and now the ring is getting crowded. Along with those seven it’s Sami Zayn, Dean Ambrose, Baron Corbin and Chris Jericho, who is still hiding somewhere, presumably having a late dinner at one of the many tables that are underneath the ring). Strowman was the last man eliminated and it feels like an hour ago.

10:12 – The 21st entrant is the Eater of World’s, the leader of the Wyatt Family, Bray Wyatt. He’s one of my sentimental favorites. A great worker, fantastic mic work, amazing in-ring psychology, a unique look … he’s the total package. He should have had a full-blown main event push a year and a half ago. He’s overdue.

10:14 – Apollo Crews takes one of the three remaining unconfirmed entry spots. All you need to know about his short-lived WWE career is that Daniel Bryan once called him Apollo Creed live on Smackdown.

10:16 – Sheamus and Cesaro team up to eliminate all three members of The New Day, and they’re immediately eliminated by that sneaky, dastardly Chris Jericho who is finally back in the fray. Speaking of “in the fray,” Randy Orton enters 23rd and hits RKO’s on half of the dudes in the ring. Most of them were out of nowhere. For those who haven’t been tuning into WWE programming recently, Orton is currently a member of the Wyatt Family and it appears as if he’s supplanted Luke Harper as Wyatt’s right hand man.

10:20 – Luke Harper enters the Rumble 25th and completes his separation from Bray and Orton. It’s a sad day for all backwoods cults around the world.

10:22 – In my best Tazz voice, “Well, here comes the pain!” Brock Lesnar enters the Rumble and immediately eliminates Ambrose and Ziggler. He follows that up with a barrage of F-5’s and German Suplexes, the only two moves he currently has in his pro-wrestling arsenal. Even Hulk Hogan is discouraged by Lesnar’s recent in-ring work.

10:34 – Alright, so these last twelve minutes have been incredibly hectic. I’ll do my best to break it all down using bullet points.

  • After Lesnar cleaned house Goldberg made his way to the ring, and yet again squashed Lesnar. All it took was one spear and Goldberg had already dispatched Lesnar. You have to think a longer, more even encounter between the two is somewhere down the line, most likely WrestleMania, but given how over Goldberg is and how roided up Lesnar was six to eight months ago, maybe WWE is just content with letting Goldberg continue to dominate the once-dominant Lesnar.
  • Shortly after Lesnar was eliminated The Undertaker made the long, slow walk to the ring as the 29th entrant. It took Taker so long to get to the ring that I went and took a pee and got back right as he was entering the ring. He’s never really moving in a hurry.
  • Right away The Undertaker eliminates Baron Corbin and then gets hit with a Bill Goldberg spear. In typical Undertaker fashion, he barely sells the spear and quickly got up and eliminated Goldberg from behind. What a bummer. And for what it’s worth … Goldberg looked a millions time better than Taker. Taker is only one year older, but there are about 15,000 more miles on Taker’s odometer than there are Goldberg’s. Goldberg looked like an in-shape 40 year old. Undertaker looked like an out of shape 60 year old.
  • To the crowds dismay, Roman Reigns gets the last spot in the Rumble. Incredible. I guarantee you the writers backstage were at least a little shocked that the crowd shit all over it too. What, he’s The Guy. He’s the Big Dog. People are supposed to love Roman! It didn’t help that Reigns took the place of Samoa Joe and/or Finn Balor, two of the unconfirmed guys fans were expecting would get a spot in the Rumble Match.
  • OK, so maybe WWE’s creative team is coming around. Adding fuel to the audience’s fire, Reigns eliminates Taker to a chorus of “This is Bullshit” chants and nearly unanimous boos. Reigns looks down stoically at Taker and says, “This is my yard.” Friends, I think we’re building for a Reigns/Undertaker WrestleMania match and the full-fledged Reigns heel turn, because nobody will cheer for Reigns at Mania.
  • The Final Four – Reigns, Jericho (who eclipsed an hour in the Rumble match), Orton and Bray Wyatt. Jericho was eliminated by Reigns quickly and then Wyatt (still waiting on his main event push) followed suit. And then …
  • RKO OUTTA NOWHERE!!!!!!!!
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2017 Royal Rumble winner, Randy Orton. Now here’s something I find interesting … the last six winners of the Rumble have been Sheamus (a face that half of the crowd didn’t like), Cena (a face that half of the crowd didn’t like), Batista (a face that the majority of the crowd didn’t like), Reigns (a face that the majority of the crowd didn’t like), Triple H (a heel that most of the crowd did like), and Orton (a heel that most of the crowd did like).
Now, the big question is where do things go from here? Are we building towards Reigns/Taker at WrestleMania? Will Wyatt win the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber and defend against Orton at WrestleMania? Will people actually be excited for Goldberg/Lesnar? Where does Styles go from here? Are Jericho and Owens still best friends? Where do Samoa Joe and Finn Balor fit into the WrestleMania picture? And at what point will I stop caring so damn much about pro wrestling?
I don’t know the answer to those first seven questions, but the answer to the last one is never. As always, I’ll have my seatbelt fastened as I join WWE on the Road to WrestleMania.
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Sonny Giuliano

Contributor at Hardwood and Hollywood
I'm a wanna-be NBA historian, the pride of Elba, New York and the greatest racket sport player you'll ever meet. I write about the NBA, NFL, WWE and other relevant pop culture topics as well. My parents taught me never to talk to strangers, but if you ever want to engage in a friendly sports debate, you can follow me on Twitter @SonnyCG.

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