As the 2017 Royal Rumble match ticked and tocked ever closer to its culmination, I still had no idea who was most likely to win. I saw potential storyline options for Undertaker, Lesnar, Goldberg, Jericho…. Interesting ones, at that. Part of me even held out hope that maybe, just maybe, it was Bray Wyatt’s time.
When it got down to the final three, even with Bray Wyatt still in the match, the only outcome I thought possible was yet another Roman Reigns moment. I figured we were a few moments away from seeing the former SHIELD member punch his ticket amidst a chorus of boos from disappointed fans.
But they give us Randy Orton as the winner?!
I just don’t get it. And while he’s a better choice than some of the 29 other men who entered that match, I don’t understand what great main event storyline they’re going to give Randy Orton to warrant having him get this accolade which could have gone to someone far more deserving. Someone far more intriguing. Someone whose win would trigger excitement in the WWE Universe – and possibly beyond to casual fans.
Orton doesn’t do that. Not for me. Not for anyone who’s actually considering the options for whose opponent Randy Orton might be at WrestleMania.
The obvious would be Bray Wyatt. Sure, he’s not a World Champion on either show at the moment, but the Elimination Chamber takes care of that. Bray could easily win the big cage match and find himself with gold with which to defend against Orton.
The fact that they’re currently friends, working together without hint of dissention, doesn’t matter. Despite the hooded sweatshirt Randy now wears to change up his attire, slightly, to fit in with the Wyatt Family aesthetic, and the joint theme music they have, I don’t think anyone views The Wyatt Family as something that’s going to last through the entirety of 2017. It’s only time until they split.
But if they’re going that route, why not have Bray Wyatt win the Royal Rumble match? The tag titles he just held with Randy Orton is arguably the biggest achievement Bray has reached since he debuted. It immediately forces fans to take notice, and they immediately start questioning how Randy will respond. Does the opportunity make Orton jealous? Is he going to play second fiddle? And then when Orton goes into the Elimination Chamber, fans are on the edge of their seat, waiting to see if WWE goes the route of giving Randy the belt, and how Bray Wyatt responds.
Sure, they might go the mirrored side and have Bray win the Elimination Chamber, but if that’s the case, the feud leading to Orton vs Wyatt at WrestleMania doesn’t NEED there to be an Orton victory in the Royal Rumble to make it a heated feud. The moment they’re face to face, one of them as champ, the other playing second fiddle, there’s tension. But then it’s a situation with tension that has been forced upon them.
So who are the other options for opponents Randy Orton might face?
At the moment, John Cena is the champion on Smackdown, and the idea of Orton vs Cena as a headlining match at WrestleMania isn’t very interesting at all. Just go to Randy Orton’s wikipedia page and do a word-search for “Cena”. It shows up 67 times. Bray Wyatt references show up 18 times.
Orton vs Cena is old. It’s tired. We’ve seen it too many times. It doesn’t scream “can’t miss” like a WrestleMania headlining match should. It doesn’t break new ground or give us the culmination of a feud going on for the better part of the prior year. There’s no steam to it, and even if Bray Wyatt stays loyal to Randy Orton, the best case scenario is that Smackdown ends up looking a bit too much like they’re copying RAW, having two heels work together to screw over the good guy.
And, sure, like I mentioned before, there’s the Elimination Chamber, so there are a number of opponents Orton could face.
The Undertaker? We’ve seen it. It’s not intriguing.
AJ Styles? They’ve spent a long time building up Styles as a heel, and building up the idea that Orton is a loyal member of the Wyatt Family… so one of those ideas is going away if we get AJ Styles (c) vs Randy Orton. Not interested.
Dean Ambrose? He’s still the Intercontinental Champion, so he would have to lose that belt, then win the Elimination Chamber, and then we get two guys fighting who don’t have any heat with one another, one of them moving back up to the World Title picture and moving away from a heated feud with The Miz, to face a guy who is also sold to the WWE Universe as a guy who is unhinged.
Dolph Ziggler? They’re trying to cement him as a heel by putting him over mid-carders. He’s more likely to dethrone Dean Ambrose than he is to get booked against a guy who only turns face if he turns on Wyatt… and then you’ve got a situation too muddy to interject anyone else.
There are no other top tier wrestlers to hop up into the Smackdown world title scene, face or heel, so we’re left with subpar options for Orton. Insert Bray Wyatt into those options, and suddenly they seem more fresh.
Cena vs Wyatt? With a Royal Rumble victory under his belt, it suddenly seems far more believable that the long overdue Bray Wyatt push is finally upon us, and that Wyatt might dethrone John Cena for the belt and get a huge WrestleMania moment.
Wyatt vs The Undertaker, with The Dead Man carrying the championship? It’s very easy to envision Bray getting that huge WrestleMania moment by not only capturing the belt, but getting a win over a man who is almost unbeatable at WrestleMania. It’s easy to envision that The Undertaker wouldn’t be sticking around after WrestleMania, and this would help cement Bray Wyatt as the heir apparent to the man who relies on dark, mystical forces to intimidate opponents.
Wyatt vs AJ Styles? It’s far better than Orton vs Styles because in Bray Wyatt, you’ve got a guy who has been a heel forever, so the fans are far more likely to cheer AJ Styles and not be torn like they would be with Orton, not knowing which direction they’re supposed to be pulled.
Wyatt vs Ambrose? We’ve seen it before, and the problem of Dean being the current Intercontinental Champion still exists.
Imagine if The Undertaker had won. He could have made good on the promise he made when he returned several weeks ago, that he was going to hold the top tier guys of Smackdown accountable for greatness. He could’ve stalked the Elimination Chamber, that guaranteed title shot in his back pocket, instilling fear in the guys vying for the world title.
Dolph Ziggler winning the Royal Rumble would’ve taken his heel turn to the next level, bringing him out of the mid-card where he’s currently building heat, and it gives him a significant feather in his cap to use as a way to legitimize him against whoever comes out of that Elimination Chamber.
They wanted someone from Smackdown, and we got Randy Orton, in the face of far better options. A guy whose potential options are lackluster. Yawn-inspiring.
The best option would have been to let someone from RAW win the Royal Rumble and let the Smackdown angles boil up naturally. Giving it to Chris Jericho would have been an amazing moment. Brock Lesnar would have put people on notice, and we likely would have seen Goldberg win the Elimination Chamber. Goldberg would have been just as interesting, and Lesnar would’ve probably been the one winning the Elimination Chamber. Sure, Roman Reigns would have disappointed the fans, but WWE has made it clear that they consider him a top guy, so he would at least seem at place in the main event. Braun Strowman would have been a weird pick, but who wouldn’t be interested in seeing what the big man was going to do?
But we got Randy Orton.