By Jason Powell
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WWE Royal Rumble Hits
30-Man Royal Rumble match: You don’t have to like the Rumble winner decision to appreciate the way they got there creatively. The word leaking that Randy Orton was going to win the Rumble match was truly disheartening on a number of levels (seriously, tighten up your leaks, WWE). And while I’m still not sold on the move (more on that later), WWE did a masterful job of creating the only scenario that would guarantee the live crowd would react positively to Orton winning the Rumble match.
The use of Roman Reigns as the 30th entrant and the last man eliminated was brilliant. Has Vince McMahon finally accepted that Reigns needs to be a heel or is he still going to position him as a babyface and play the game of “any reaction is a good reaction”? They certainly used the negative reaction that Reigns gets to their advantage last night, and they also positioned him to get boos as the 30th entrant and when he eliminated Undertaker. Reigns as the 30th entrant is interesting. We’ve been conditioned to not overthink convenient numbers (see Tye Dillinger at No. 10), but they could always play connect the dots with a full fledged Reigns turn by stating that he finally gave into the dark side after losing his U.S. Title in a handicap match and then the Universal Championship match when he was attacked by Braun Strowman. In other words, Reigns entering at No. 30 could be positioned as a gift from Triple H and Stephanie McMahon for agreeing to be their new face of the company.
Aside from the match outcome, the biggest complaints regarding the Rumble match seem to be the lack of surprises and/or nostalgia. I was left hoping for a major surprise, but I feel strongly that if WWE wasn’t going to have a main roster newcomer such as Samoa Joe or Shinsuke Nakamura win the Rumble match, then they are better off saving them for a time when they can be spotlighted properly. The most depressing moment of the Rumble was when Enzo Amore entered at No. 27, as fans realized that there were only three spots left and two of them belonged to wrestlers who were advertised. Nevertheless, the Rumble held my interest from bell to bell. Sure, there were slow moments, but the entrances were quickly paced (closer to 90 seconds rather than the advertised two minutes) and they are always suspenseful even if you don’t get the big payoff you are looking for. The moment of the match? A tie between WWE doubling down on Goldberg having Brock Lesnar’s number, and Roman Reigns telling Undertaker that it’s his yard now.
AJ Styles vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship: You don’t have to like the outcome to enjoy the match. Notice the theme? My fantasy booking daydream scenario was AJ Styles retaining the title and getting a big title match at WrestleMania against Royal Rumble winner Samoa Joe or Shinsuke Nakamura or even mega surprise Kurt Angle. Obviously, none of those scenarios played out and Styles dropped the title, but this was still one hell of a match. They didn’t make a big fuss over Cena going for his record tying title win going into the match. Did they avoid that as a swerve or because they intend to lay it on thick when Cena eventually goes for his record breaking title win? Does Styles regain the title at Elimination Chamber? Does he have a date with Shane McMahon at WrestleMania? Ugh. Does WWE realize that WreslteMania crowd won’t cheer Shane over Styles?
Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship: The best of the Owens vs. Reigns matches. Their feud needed the big hook of Chris Jericho hanging above the ring in a shark cage, but the match was strong enough that there were several moments when I forgot that Jericho was even present. This was a really good brawl and we’re starting to see more of badass heel Owens after watching him be positioned as a guy who could only win when Jericho interfered. Granted, Owens needed Braun Strowman’s interference, but the body of the match was an all out brawl between Owens and Reigns. Unfortunately, I don’t believe Owens will be champion heading into WrestleMania, but I’ll wait to see who he faces at Fastlane before locking myself into that. My guess? Jericho vs. Owens for the U.S. Title.
Charlotte vs. Bayley for the Raw Women’s Championship: WWE did a great job of establishing Bayley’s character as a lifelong fan who is living out her dream in the two weeks leading up to the match. It’s already paying off if the live crowd’s reaction to her was any indication. Charlotte going over was the right move, as the Bayley character should suffer a number of setbacks before she eventually wins the big one. Her run in NXT is proof that the payoff is worth a long wait. It was also nice to see the Natural Selection look more painful for the person taking it and less like a gentle yoga stretch. Even so, it’s still a poor finisher for a great women’s champion.
Rich Swann vs. Neville for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship: A minor Hit for WWE wasting no time in getting to Neville capturing the championship. He’s clearly the best thing going in the cruiserweight division, but I was worried they were going to drag this out. Instead, Neville won the championship and remains undefeated in the cruiserweight division. WWE is introducing Akira Tozawa on 205 Live on Tuesday. They have been hyping Tozawa in a major way by having main roster talent talk about how great he is. Does this mean we can look forward to Neville vs. Tozawa at WrestleMania?
Nia Jax vs. Sasha Banks: A minor Hit for a solid match with the monster heel going over the wounded babyface. It was a simple formula that I missed live. Perhaps I missed it while writing my report for the site, but the replay and the broadcast team effectively told story that Sasha aggravated her knee injury while performing the double knee press, which gave Jax time to recover before Banks could cover her.
Becky Lynch, Naomi, and Nikki Bella vs. Alexa Bliss, Mickie James, and Natalya: A minor Hit for the show opening match. The women had it tough, as it seemed like a lot of fans were still finding their seats when the match started. I was hoping that this would be a showcase win for Mickie James, but I understand the decision to go with Naomi pinning Bliss, as they are likely setting up a title match for the Elimination Chamber. I just hope that James being positioned as the champion’s buddy and then not being spotlighted in this match isn’t a sign that they really don’t have any big plans for her.
WWE Royal Rumble Misses
Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble: Why? Is Vince McMahon overestimating the appeal of the Wyatt Family drama? This has felt like a mid-level program on Smackdown since Orton joined Bray Wyatt’s faction, yet McMahon also had Orton and Wyatt win the Survivor Series main event. I can’t imagine that Orton will truly headline WrestleMania. My guess is he won’t be in the main event, he’ll be in a main event. I’m not a fan of the way that diminishes the Royal Rumble match. However, I also don’t believe he will be facing John Cena, as most fans seem to suspect. They may tease it, but there’s certainly buzz that Bray Wyatt could leave Elimination Chamber with the WWE Championship, recreating a feud between Wyatt and Orton that felt so flat the first time around that it seemed like they called a creative audible by putting Orton in the Wyatt Family just to get out of the singles program. And don’t give me any nonsense about how Orton had to join the group in order to destroy it. The Wyatt Family never even held a title belt before Orton joined the group, so it’s not like they were positioned as an NWO-like threat to Orton or anyone else. Orton winning feels like a Vince McMahon comfort zone pick at a time when fans are craving something new and fresh.
Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson for the Raw Tag Titles: A minor Miss for a forgettable match, albeit with a title change that pleased me. Gallows and Anderson have been wasted and downright abused since they arrived in WWE (remember those horrible testicle and nursing home skits?). Nothing short of winning the tag titles was going to make viewers look at them differently. Unfortunately, we still didn’t get the big, physical battle that you just know these teams are capable of having. Forget the two refs and any squabbling between Sheamus and Cesaro and just let these four do their thing.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Vice TV's "Dark Side of the Ring" executive producers Evan Husney and Jason Eisner discussing the March 24 second season premiere focusing on the Benoit family tragedy, plus their pro wrestling fandom, the show's name and origins, highlights of season two, Chris Jericho becoming the narrator, and much more...