By crowning Randy Orton at the 2017 Royal Rumble on Sunday, WWE maintained its recent habit of bunting to move the runners over, rather than taking a mighty hack with a home run in mind.
The Royal Rumble match could have propelled a fresh face into the spotlight and changed a wrestler's career forever. Instead, the promotion will lean on an established star. Orton outlasted the competition inside the Alamodome in San Antonio to win his second Royal Rumble, tossing Roman Reigns to claim victory.
A barrage of RKOs floored his opponents earlier in the bout. Orton had to fend off stablemate Luke Harper as their infighting continued. He then marched into the match's final four with assistance from The Wyatt Family's patriarch, Bray Wyatt, before scoring the win.
His prize for being the last man standing is a trip to the WrestleMania 33 marquee on April 2 in Orlando, Florida.
It's a place he knows well. Orton headlined both WrestleMania XXV and WrestleMania 30. He has long been one of the promotion's bigger names. The Viper's resume includes four reigns as world heavyweight champion and eight WWE title wins.
Considering Orton's previous success, it's not surprising that his Royal Rumble win lacked sizzle.
Former WWE Creative member Seth Mates tweeted about Sunday's result:
Will Pruett of ProWrestling.net wasn't thrilled about how the Rumble unfolded, either. He was critical of the possibility of Orton facing John Cena at the top of the SmackDown card:
Orton's win is no anomaly. WWE has gone this route often in recent years.
Triple H won the Royal Rumble in 2016. The Game had been world champ several times at that point. He had main-evented WrestleMania and previously won the annual Battle Royal. His Hall of Fame entry was already locked up.
He didn't need the Royal Rumble win.
Triple H wasn't alone. Batista in 2014, Cena in 2013 and Sheamus in 2012 all followed this pattern of world champions claiming the Rumble victory. And in four of the last five years, the event saw a wrestler win it for the second time.
There's a clear logic to this strategy.
WWE knows what it has in men like Orton and Triple H. It isn't taking a flier on some grappler who may not pan out.
But that lack of bold booking has been disappointing.
The Royal Rumble match has at times been the catapult that sent a wrestler soaring to stardom. In 1995, the match was Shawn Michaels' launchpad to the top. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's 1997 win was crucial to his ascension up the WWE ladder.
When Rey Mysterio won in 2006, the company invested fully in an underdog. The same goes for Chris Benoit in 2004.
These were cases where WWE walked into the dark. It didn't know if Benoit's skills would translate to the big stage. It couldn't be sure Michaels was the type of performer to carry a company.
Regardless, WWE went for it. The decision-makers booked based on potential, not on certainty.
That bravery has been missing in recent years, including in 2017, when a made man walked out of the Alamodome with a second Royal Rumble win in hand.
Aside from Reigns in 2015, it's been too long since WWE has backed an up-and-comer in the PPV that marks the start of the Road to WrestleMania.
Sami Zayn, the gutsy everyman, didn't get the call Sunday night. The monstrous Braun Strowman dominated the early part of the 30-man match but fell. Samoa Joe didn't make the leap from NXT, as many had hoped.
Orton's ally, Wyatt, could have won, but he will now have to hope he's involved in WWE's WrestleMania plans for The Viper.
Going with one of those options would have been stunning—a bold move with an eye toward the future. But that's not what the Royal Rumble match has been about of late.