The Royal Rumble featured two outstanding championship matches. John Cena’s triumph over A.J. Styles to capture the WWE Championship in a 26-minute classic is an early candidate for match of the year. The crowd was buzzing throughout this match, rising to a fever pitch for numerous big moves and near-falls.
Kevin Owens’ defense of the WWE Universal Championship against Roman Reigns, with Chris Jericho suspended above the ring in a shark cage, was also a terrific match. With assistance from Braun Strowman, Owens retained his title. (Reigns returned the “favor” the next night on RAW by interfering as Strowman challenged Owens for the WWE Universal Championship.)
Strowman was the featured performer during the first portion of an excellent Royal Rumble match. At one point, Strowman had seven straight eliminations, including Big Cass, Mark Henry and Big Show, whom Strowman eliminated for the second straight year.
Another big man who looked good during the Rumble was Baron Corbin. The Greek God of Wrestling has been on the fence about whether Corbin was worthy of the push he is receiving, but he looked good during the Rumble. He looked quick and powerful, eliminating Strowman and sticking around for a long time until he was eliminated by the Undertaker, who entered at No. 29.
The featured confrontation during the Rumble was between Brock Lesnar and Goldberg. And WWE made the fans wait for it, building the anticipation.
Lesnar entered at No. 26. He suplexed Corbin and Rusev, delivered F-5s to Randy Orton and the Miz. There was carnage everywhere. Lesnar eliminated Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler, then quickly disposed of Enzo Amore, who entered at No. 27.
And then came Goldberg! The showdown ended quickly, with Goldberg eliminating Lesnar. Goldberg has had Lesnar’s number throughout this rivalry, which is why Lesnar challenged Goldberg to a match at WrestleMania the following night on RAW.
Goldberg didn’t last too much longer, though. Undertaker entered at No. 29. He had a staredown with Goldberg. A minute or two later, he eliminated Goldberg, which drew a stare from Goldberg toward the reaper of souls.
Roman Reigns entered at No. 30. He has a staredown with Undertaker similar to the one between Undertaker and Goldberg. After Undertaker eliminated The Miz and Sami Zayn, Reigns dumped Undertaker over the top rope and, while staring down at the dead man, said, “This is my yard.” It will be interesting to see how Undertaker fits into the feuds between Lesnar and Goldberg and Reigns and Strowman at WrestleMania.
Another interesting story involved Luke Harper. He immediately got into a confrontation with Orton, who defeated him on Smackdown. Bray Wyatt tried to serve as a peacemaker, but Harper delivered a clothesline to Wyatt and a big boot to Orton. Harper was about to execute “sister Abigail” on Wyatt, but Orton caught him with an RKO. (On the Smackdown following the Rumble, Harper teamed with Cena against Wyatt and Orton, but would not fight Wyatt.)
Orton, as almost all of you already know, won the Rumble. The final four were Orton, Wyatt, Reigns and Jericho, who has entered at No. 2, starting the match with Big Cass. Reigns eliminated Jericho and Wyatt, but Orton eliminated Reigns to notch his second Royal Rumble and earn a title shot at WrestleMania.
In other matches, Charlotte successfully defended the Raw Women’s Championship against Bayley, and Neville captured the WWE Cruiserweight Championship from Rich Swann. Both were good matches.
During the preshow, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows defeated Cesaro and Sheamus to win the Raw Tag Team Championship. In women’s matches, Nia Jax defeated Sasha Banks, and the team of Naomi, Nikki Bella and Becky Lynch beat Natalya, Mickie James and Alexa, with Naomi pinning Alexa to move into contention for the Smackdown Women’s Championship.
PREVIEW PRAISE: Although Achilles Heel admits that he didn’t pick the winner of the Royal Rumble, he was correct in predicting that none of the favorites – Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, Undertaker – would win. And I will pat myself on the back for the gutsy dark horse pick of Chris Jericho, who lasted from No. 2 until the Final Four. Although I chose Jericho as the winner, Orton was prominently mentioned as another strong possibility to win the Rumble.
ORTON’S RISE: The Greek God of Wrestling is looking forward to seeing how the Randy Orton storyline plays out. Orton is affiliated with Bray Wyatt, which adds another dimension to his title chase. At some point, the Greek God of Wrestling suspects that Wyatt is going to intimate that Orton will turn the title over to him after defeating John Cena, which will lead to tension between Wyatt and Orton. Or, if Orton wins the title at WrestleMania, this storyline could be saved for afterward, with Wyatt ordering Orton to turn over the title – and Orton refusing.
Some were surprised by Orton winning the Royal Rumble. The Greek God of Wrestling was not. First, the Rumble was wide open. Second, the storyline should elevate Wyatt into the upper echelon of WWE. And, finally, Achilles Heel wonders if Orton’s Rumble victory and WrestleMania title shot isn’t a reward for the savage beating Orton took from Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam.
PHILLY READY TO RUMBLE: Don’t forget that the Royal Rumble will be coming to Philadelphia in 2018. The Rumble will be accompanied by NXT Takeover the night before the Rumble and Raw and Smackdown on the two nights after the Rumble. Wells Fargo Center will be a busy place for four straight nights next January.
BAD NEWS FOR ROLLINS: Seth Rollins experienced an awful eight-day stretch. First, he lost to Sami Zayn on the Raw before the Royal Rumble, knocking him out of the Royal Rumble but furthering his feud with Triple H, whose music distracted Rollins when he had the upper hand on Zayn. When he confronted Triple H on the Raw following the Rumble, he was attacked by Samoa Joe. During that attack, Rollins reinjured his right knee. That’s the same knee that required reconstructive surgery, causing him to relinquish the WWE Championship.
There hasn’t been an update on Rollins’ condition, but expect one on Raw. Rollins left last week’s Raw on crutches. Achilles Heel hopes that Rollins’ injury is not severe enough to require major surgery, which would prevent him from facing Triple H at WrestleMania.
CARELESS JOE? Samoa Joe has waited a long time to get to WWE, but he needs to be more careful if he wants that tenure to last. The Greek God of Wrestling isn’t saying that Seth Rollins’ knee injury is Joe’s fault. It may have been a freak accident. But, considering that Tyson Kidd sustained a devastating injury during a dark match with Joe when he first arrived in WWE/NXT, Joe needs to be careful about injuring his opponents.
CHIKARA KICKS OFF YEAR: If you’re reading this on Saturday morning or early afternoon, you still have time to get to CHIKARA’s first event of 2016, which will take place today (2 p.m.) at CHIKARA’s Wrestle Factory as part of National Pro Wrestling Day. The event, which is highlights by the Young Lions Cup, is free. In addition to the Young Lions Cup, announced matches include Dasher Hatfield vs. Juan Francisco de Coronado, Missile Assault Man vs. Race Jaxon, and Fire Ant, Worker Ant and Silver Ant vs. the Legion of ROT.
NXT TITLE CHANGES: Bobby Roode defeated Shinsuke Nakamura to win the NXT Championship at NXT Takeover: San Antonio, which took place the night before the Royal Rumble. The Greek God of Wrestling is a big fan or Roode, who was one of TNA’s best world champions. By the way, Roode winning gold is yet another of my 2017 predictions, along with John Cena winning a world title and Braun Strowman throwing out a bunch of competitors at the Royal Rumble, that have come true during the first month of the year.
In another title match, The Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar) defeated Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa to win the NXT Tag Team Championship. Asuka bucked the trend by successfully defending the NXT Women’s Championship in a fatal four-way with Nikki Cross, Billy Kay and Peyton Royce. In non-title matches, Eric Young beat Tye Dillinger, who was the 10th entrant in the Royal Rumble the next night, and Roderick Strong beat Andrade Almas.
ROODE WELCOME IN PHILLY: Bobby Roode will make one of his first appearances as NXT champion on Thursday (7:30 p.m.) when NXT comes to the Tower Theater in Upper Darby.
FLAIR FOR WINGS: Ric Flair is rarely anyone’s wing man, but he was a celebrity guest Friday morning during Wing Bowl 25 at Wells Fargo Center. Some may question why Flair was at Wing Bowl, but an arena floor full of scantily-clad women is right up the Nature Boy’s alley.
RING OF HONOR LOSES VOICE: Broadcasters are an underrated part of the wrestling business. Ring of Honor has lost three of its voices this year. Steve Corino left to be a trainer for WWE, Nigel McGuinness left to be involved with WWE’s United Kingdom Championship Tournament and to replace Corey Graves on NXT broadcasts, and now Kevin Kelly has given up his full-time job with Ring of Honor so he can also work for New Japan Wrestling.
EARLY ELIMINATION: The Elimination Chamber pay-per-view comes way too soon after the Royal Rumble. The Smackdown brand event will take place on Feb. 12, just two weeks after the Royal Rumble. This doesn’t leave enough time to build storylines.
John Cena will defend the WWE Championship in an elimination chamber against former champion A.J. Styles, Intercontinental champion Dean Ambrose, Baron Corbin, Bray Wyatt and The Miz. In other matches, Naomi will challenge Alexa Bliss for the Smackdown Women’s Championship, Natalya and Nikki Bella will continue their feud, and American Alpha (Jason Jordan and Dan Gable) will defend the Smackdown Tag Team Championship in a tag team turmoil match that highlights the weakness of the Smackdown tag team division. I’ll have a complete preview of Elimination Chamber in the next edition of Heel Turns.
RAW IN PHILLY: The last Raw before WrestleMania will take place on Mon., March 27 at Wells Fargo Center. The timing alone should make this an exciting show.
CZW RETURNS: Combat Zone Wrestling returns to Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees next Saturday with CZW Eighteen: Still Like Nothing Else! The main event features Joe Gacy defending the CZW World Championship against Shigehiro Irie. Other matches include Progress Atlas champion Matt Riddle, one of the fastest-rising independent stars, against WXW Shotgun champion David Star, a “fans bring the weapons match” match pitting Danny Havoc and Conor Claxton against Notorious Inc, and an intergender match pitting Greg Excellent and Crissy Rivera against Homicide and Mercedes Martinez.