The Royal Rumble was filled with huge names this year. Undertaker. Goldberg. Brock Lesnar. Yet, when the smoke cleared, while a big name won, it wasn't necessarily the one people expected, as Randy Orton won the Royal Rumble for the second time.
Before delving into the complaints people had, let's look at the good behind this. This gives the opportunity to pay off arguably Smackdown's biggest storyline at Wrestlemania. Orton and Bray Wyatt have been entangled with one another for over five months now. They started their feud in late-August, right after Summerslam. They continued to feud until Orton decided to join the Wyatt family, sending that storyline into another path. They were the sole survivors for Team Smackdown at Survivor Series, won the tag titles, then surprisingly lost them quickly.
Whatever you think of the storyline itself, it has been a constant on Smackdown basically since the brand split. They now have a chance to pay that off in the biggest way possible at Wrestlemania.
If Bray wins the title at the Elimination Chamber, which isn't crazy now that Orton has earned that title shot, you get to do just that. Whatever you think of Orton, of Bray, of any of that? That's a good thing. Of course, they have to pull the trigger on that, which isn't a given. But you have to think that Orton/Cena isn't on the table. Orton going to RAW without resolving the Wyatt Family situation doesn't seem likely. So Orton/Bray at Wrestlemania, for the WWE title, seems like it's very much in play right now.
Now, for the bad? Well, of course, people are going to point at Roman Reigns' inclusion in the match, entering at No. 30 after he lost the title match to Kevin Owens (more on that later). When you look at what he did in the Rumble, eliminating Undertaker before being eliminated by Orton, you can see where they were going. This allowed you to set the stage for Undertaker/Reigns if that's where they are going, and that's a storyline that really needed to start here.
Getting the extra heat for Reigns eliminating Undertaker could be important in the upcoming months. It also allowed a somewhat positive feeling about Orton winning the Rumble. People were relieved, if nothing else. If that No. 30 had been Samoa Joe, like people had hoped? Nobody is happy with Orton tossing Joe over that top rope to win.
Now, granted, Joe could have been earlier in the match. People desperately wanted to see him enter, especially after not being on NXT Takeover this weekend. I am certainly one of those people who would have liked to see Joe. However, let's look at it once the decision was made to have Orton win. Would the Joe callup been impactful if he debuted here? Let's say he's put in the middle of the Rumble. He could have eliminated Braun, and maybe a few other guys. But then he starts getting overshadowed when the Ortons, Goldbergs, Lesnars and Takers start showing up. They have an opportunity now to debut him any time in the next few weeks, potentially giving him the biggest debut they can.
Was this year's Rumble perfect? No. It got a little bit clogged at times, and saving most of the big names for the final eight entrants was probably a mistake in retrospect. You can also argue that they could have used the Rumble to elevate someone, as opposed to letting an established wrestler like Orton win it. However, what it did do was set us up pretty solidly for Wrestlemania. WWE has a chance to pay off multiple major storylines at Wrestlemania, on both shows. Now they just need to do it.
The rest of the Royal Rumble:
-John Cena beat AJ Styles to win the WWE title. Of course, this means he has tied Ric Flair for most all-time title reigns. To nobody's surprise, this was a great match. I'm not sure if it topped their matches from this past summer, but it was right there to create a fantastic trilogy from these two. Somewhat surprisingly, submission wrestling was a major part of the middle of the match, before they started really going for their trademark moves. There were many false finishes as the two peeled off Attitude Adjustments and Styles Clashes. If you loved their prior encounters, you'll love this one. It's a pity that the next pay-per-view is Elimination Chamber, as we won't get another one-on-one encounter, probably for a while.
-As mentioned above, Kevin Owens successfully retained his title against Roman Reigns. However, it wasn't without controversy. At the end of a brutal match between the two, Reigns had Owens where he wanted him. He had slammed Owens on top of a chair-structure, through an announce table, and was setting up for a spear. Chris Jericho had been successfully neutralized for most of the match (with the exception of dropping brass knuckles down to Owens at one point, which didn't end up getting the job done). However, just as he was about to earn his victory, Braun Strowman came out and attacked Reigns, throwing him around, and hitting a running powerslam through a table, allowing Owens to pin him.
This was an interesting ending with Braun. Up until the Rumble match, it seemed like they might be going that way for Wrestlemania. Instead though, after Reigns and Undertaker had their confrontation, I would guess that this will be a Fastlane match. They'll have their confrontation, and The Undertaker will interject himself either into the ending of the match, or right after. And by retaining the title, WWE has a chance to pay off another long-term storyline, if they have Kevin Owens defend the Universal title against Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania. It's not definite, as Owens could end up dropping the title at Fastlane. But the chance is there.
-Neville took the Cruiserweight title from Rich Swann. Hopefully this is what finally kickstarts the cruiserweight division. Despite another great outing from these two, the crowd was dead for most of it, though partially that was due to coming down from the Reigns/Owens match. Neville has been great in his heel role, and feuds should shape up nicely for him now that he has the title.
-The other title change happened on the pre-show, when The Club, Gallows and Anderson finally won the titles that they had been chasing for the better part of eight months. They won it fairly convincingly, and now can add WWE tag champs to their already impressive worldwide resume. The question now becomes where do they go from here. Does The New Day re-enter the picture? Could Enzo and Cass finally get a push in the tag division? The tag scene heading to Wrestlemania is extremely unclear, but it's good to see The Club finally get that big win.
-Charlotte continued her PPV win streak, as she beat Bayley to defend her RAW Women's title. Somewhat surprisingly, she won cleanly, eventually hitting the Natural Selection on the apron for the win. It certainly didn't shut the door on a rematch, but if this feud was going to continue, you would have thought that Charlotte would win with some sort of chicanery.
-As far as the other RAW women's match, Nia Jax dispatched Sasha fairly easily on the preshow. You could see all four of these RAW women dance around each other for the next two months on the road to Wrestlemania, but it is a little surprising to see both heels get such decisive wins at the Royal Rumble.
-The Smackdown six-woman tag match kicked off the show, and the face team won, with Naomi pinning Alexa Bliss for the win. Particularly with that finish, it wouldn't shock me to see all six of these women compete in the Elimination Chamber in two weeks.