By Jason Powell, Prowrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Royal Rumble Hits
The 30-Man Royal Rumble match: The most dramatic Rumble finish in years. Creative wisely played on the fears that fans had of Roman Reigns or John Cena winning the match by putting them in the final three with Shinsuke Nakamura. Both men deserve credit for doing their best to help make Nakamura shine. At this point, everyone assumes that Reigns will challenge Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania, but the company didn’t ruin the Rumble match by taking the predictable route. It was refreshing to see WWE stop fighting with their most passionate fans and instead deliver a fan friendly finish. And while I’m sure Reigns will be booed when he wins the Elimination Chamber or however he gets to to the Lesnar match, the fan backlash will be minimal compared to what it would have been if Reigns won the Rumble again. The rest of the match was solid with a nice mix of surprise returns and a couple of NXT appearances. It felt like there was room to tell more stories during the first half of the match, but it never dragged and it was great to see that dramatic, crowd pleasing finish.
The 30-Woman Royal Rumble match: It was fun to see the female legends return to the ring for a change. Trish Stratus and Molly Holly were especially good and one can only hope that WWE shining the spotlight on the women’s division means there will be more of an effort and financial commitment made to bringing back some of the legends for key matches just as WWE has done with the male legends over the years. The match was sloppy at times, which is to be expected given the number of returning veterans. Many of those women haven’t been in the ring in years, and some simply were not very good in the ring during their actual full-time runs. It was a different era and there were not the same in-ring expectations for most of the women that there are today. It was wise to have Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch in the match from the start to be there to work with some of those veterans. The surprises were laid out nicely and while I enjoyed the men’s match more, this was also a very entertaining Rumble match. I did come away wishing that there was a little more storyline attention given to the main roster regulars. Asuka was a fine choice as the winner and they made Nia Jax look strong before she was bounced. We’ll see if they do more with Sasha Banks eliminating Bayley from the match, but there wasn’t a lot of storytelling involving today’s women. Even so, WWE played this up as historic and they did a very nice job of making this match live up to the hype. Putting Trish Stratus at No. 30 was brilliant as she is popular enough that fans who were hoping to see Ronda Rousey in that spot put their disappointment aside in favor of cheering for Stratus. The closing minutes of the match left something to be desired. I never thought for a second that one of the Bella Twins was going to eliminate Asuka even though the plan seemed to be the same as the men’s match in terms of putting a fan favorite in the ring with wrestlers that many fans perceive as being management favorites.
Ronda Rousey debuts: Rousey and Paul “Triple H” Levesque are liars! And I applaud them for it. The little white lies that Rousey did not have a deal and would be filming a movie in Columbia on Sunday were told in an effort to surprise the fans with the UFC legend’s appearance. Some savvy fans did figure it out during the show when they spotted people associated with Rousey in the building, but anyone who stayed off social media and simply watched the show was likely surprised to some extent. I could have done without Stephanie McMahon’s hint and perhaps the women’s Rumble match going on last was a big clue that Rousey would appear, but I give the company credit for generating some buzz over the potential of Rousey appearing and then doing their best to still make it a big surprise in the end. The actual angle was decent. I was hoping for a home run, but only the surprise factor and Asuka slapping Rousey’s hand away carried this to a double. Here’s hoping they have something big planned for tonight or a future Raw show.
Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman vs. Kane in a Triple Threat for the WWE Universal Championship: A minor Hit. There was never any doubt that Lesnar was going to defeat Kane to retain the championship, but the match was laid out nicely with plenty of crowd pleasing table spots along the way. Strowman was protected and even got to yell that Lesnar didn’t beat him, which would have felt more significant Strowman had not already lost to him in a singles match. I missed it live, but those punches that Lesnar threw at Strowman as a receipt after taking the stiff knee were vicious.
AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a handicap match for the WWE Championship: A minor Hit. The storyline going into the match was a complete mess and the outcome left me fearful that there’s more to come. As expected, though, the three wrestlers involved in this are talented enough that they made the actual match as entertaining as it could be. Smackdown has taken a serious turn for the worse lately. Hopefully they put this handicap match nonsense behind them and deliver a payoff to the Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan bickering soon so they can turn the page and get back on track.
WWE Royal Rumble Misses
The Usos vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable in a best of three falls match for the Smackdown Tag Titles: A well worked match that never clicked with the live crowd. Creative never got behind Benjamin and Gable and they paid the price for that here in that the fans didn’t seem invested in the match. The wrestlers worked hard and deserved better. Does the clean sweep for the Usos mean they are going to split up Benjamin and Gable?
Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan vs. Sheamus and Cesaro for the Raw Tag Titles: These guys were put in the unenviable position of following the Royal Rumble match. Plus, they were clearly shorthanded, as Jordan never got physical during the match, nor did he tag into the six-man tag main event of the Saturday house show. Jordan is still dealing with an injury and creative did their best to work around his limitations. The storyline of him suffering a head injury during the match and not being able to work was solid and this would have worked better under different circumstances.
Bobby Roode vs. Mojo Rawley in an open challenge for the U.S. Championship: Rawley accepting the open challenge was a letdown. They would have been better off just advertising the match in advance. Sure, they got some extra viewers to tune in for the Kickoff Show, but will those same viewers be as quick to bite the next time the company hypes an open challenge? The match was fine for what it was, but the live crowd never seemed to get over the disappointment of the uneventful open challenger.
The Revival vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson: I guess Gallows and Anderson are babyfaces now simply because they associate with Finn Balor. I like both teams, but they don’t mesh well together. Part of the problem is that both teams should be heels. The outcome was expected in that it gave The Revival their win back after losing in short order to Gallows and Anderson at Raw 25.
Kalisto, Lince Dorado, and Gran Metalik vs. Jack Gallagher, TJP, and Drew Gulak: Insert the broken record line that the match quality was Hit worthy. This match played to an empty arena. It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Sure, the fans would have popped for the high spots like they always do, but none of the heels have any sense of heat and the vast majority of the cruiserweight matches feel inconsequential. Here’s hoping for a major reboot of the division starting on Tuesday with the reveal of the new general manager and perhaps the announcement of a tournament to crown the new champion. Meanwhile, here’s also hoping that WWE will stop putting their talent in these tough positions of playing to empty arenas. There’s really no reason for a two-hour Kickoff Show, but if they insist then the least they could do is open the doors earlier or simply wait until a decent number of fans arrive before starting the first match. Hey, maybe they can kill the first hour of future two-hour Kickoff Shows by asking Alundra Blayze to pick a match winner.
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