Seven years after winning his first Royal Rumble, 12-time WWE world champion Randy Orton has once again booked a ticket to WrestleMania.
Orton was the last man standing among 30 participants at Sunday night's Royal Rumble pay-per-view event at the Alamodome in San Antonio. In the main event and titular match of the night, Orton eliminated Roman Reigns with a clothesline after an RKO and tossed him out of the ring.
In a Royal Rumble match that was short on surprise entrances, business picked up in a hurry late in the match, following appearances from Brock Lesnar (No. 26), Goldberg (28), The Undertaker (29) and Reigns (30). After a series of memorable standoffs that could very easily be the ignition for a variety of WrestleMania feuds, it was Orton who secured a title opportunity at WrestleMania 33 on April 2, in Orlando, Florida.
"I'd say I feel like I've accomplished a lot of great things here, more than most," Orton told ESPN.com immediately following his victory. "I think I heard today that there were 23 winners here in 30 Royal Rumbles. That's quite a short list, given the history of WWE and how long WWE has been around. But not only am I one of the 23, I've done it twice. It's just accolade after accolade stacking up, and I couldn't be more grateful."
Orton, a member of The Wyatt Family, entered at No. 23 and instantly cleaned house with several of his signature RKOs, including an impressive one in which he caught Sami Zayn in midair after Zayn leaped from the top rope. Two spots later, however, embattled Wyatt Family member Luke Harper entered the match, creating a memorable moment.
Harper and Orton have feuded in recent weeks due to a lack of trust in the group, which caused Bray Wyatt, the leader of the faction, to become the peacemaker for a time before ostensibly booting Harper from the group. Wyatt attempted to extend an olive branch one last time, before Harper surprised his former leader with a stiff spinning lariat before eating a retaliatory big boot to the face from Orton.
Moments later, after Harper attempted to put Wyatt in his own finishing move, Sister Abigail (including a signature kiss on Wyatt's forehead), Orton rescued Wyatt again with an RKO on Harper.
Asked about the memorable sequence, and where things appeared to be headed, Orton understandably wanted to keep much of it "close to the chest." But he explained how important the move to The Wyatt Family has been to his career.
"I'm a Wyatt because I wanted to be in the most dominating group in WWE currently," Orton said. "I'm not going to say the most dominating in history, because you always hear about the best group in history, the most dominating group in history, etc. Everything is 'in history.' Screw that."
"Right now, we're the baddest guys in here. I'm doing what I've got to do, so to speak," Orton continued. "But tonight was cool to see how it unfolded, because Luke definitely has a chip on his shoulder. He tried to give Bray the Sister Abigail. I saved Bray. As far as I'm concerned, whether it's me, Bray and Luke, or just me and Bray, we're a wrecking crew. And that's what we've got to do. That's what we are good at."
The most enduring moments of the 2017 Royal Rumble match came down the stretch. Lesnar entered the ring like a wrecking ball, quickly eliminating two superstars before handing out German suplexes to Chris Jericho and Baron Corbin. He then added an F5 apiece for Jericho and Orton.
Shortly thereafter, Goldberg appeared -- setting up the first physical meeting between the two since Goldberg's one-sided victory at Survivor Series. After an intense stare-down, Goldberg ducked a clothesline and hit Lesnar with a massive spear. He followed up with a running clothesline to eliminate "The Beast" and once again embarrassed his rival.
The Undertaker's music hit just minutes later, replete with a complete blackout in the arena, and instead of walking down the ramp, The Undertaker surprised Goldberg by showing up in the ring behind him when the lights came back on. Even though Goldberg hit him with a spear, The Undertaker later rallied to eliminate him.
Reigns, who lost a WWE Universal championship match to Kevin Owens earlier in the night, was a surprise entrant at No. 30. After an electric stare-down against The Undertaker, in which both superstars traded punches, Reigns escaped a chokeslam and landed a Superman punch.
Moments later, after The Undertaker eliminated Jericho and celebrated with a throat-slashing gesture, he was immediately eliminated by Reigns, who joined Orton and Wyatt in the final three. Reigns broke free from early double-teaming to land Superman punches on both men before eliminating Wyatt and setting up a showdown with Orton.
"I came in late at 23, and it kind of gave me an edge," Orton said. "A couple of times, like after that F5, I had to kind of sit and do a head to to check mentally to make sure I'm in one piece, because that was a rough landing.
"That spear from Goldberg was a little much too. He runs through you. It has been 10 or 12 years since I have taken that. A couple times that I was down, kind of playing possum, I was able to watch. What still sticks out in my mind is when Undertaker took Goldberg out, [and] when Roman took Undertaker out. The faceoff between Undertaker and Goldberg. Of course, Brock decimating everyone. I think I was one of them. All of those spots were cool to me."