By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
ProWrestling.net Live airs today at 3CT/4ET start time with Jason Powell and Will Pruett taking your phone calls regarding the WWE Royal Rumble, and NXT Takeover: Phoenix. Listen live and join the show via PWAudio.net.
WWE Royal Rumble Hits
Ronda Rousey vs. Sasha Banks for the Raw Women’s Championship: Bittersweet. It was my favorite match of the night and it featured great work from both women and yet it was hard not to wonder how much bigger the match could have been had the company not booked Banks so horribly for so long. Here’s hoping that this match is a fresh start for her. Meanwhile, Rousey continued her amazing streak of top notch pay-per-view performances. I couldn’t care less about how much rehearsal time goes into her pay-per-view matches. I look at the end result and I have yet to be disappointed. Rousey is a phenomenal performer who delivers show stealing performances despite being roughly ten months removed from her first match.
The 30-Woman Royal Rumble match: The more entertaining of the two Rumble matches even if the men’s match featured better in-ring work. I didn’t think that was going to be the case during the first half of the match, which featured way too many stretches of the women doing very little in the corners of the ring. Ultimately, though, the women’s match had enough fun NXT surprises and benefitted from being the first Rumble on what turned out to be a really long night. It also helped that the match concluded with the crowd pleasing finish of Becky Lynch going over. But will it stand? Yes, we saw Fit Finlay give Lynch permission to enter the match, but perhaps the storyline will be that only a McMahon family member can make that decision. I could see Charlotte protesting and this somehow being the company’s way of getting to Lynch and Charlotte facing Ronda Rousey in a Triple Threat at WrestleMania.
Asuka vs. Becky Lynch for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: A very good match and a big win for Asuka. I don’t really understand the logic of having Lynch tap out, but I’m taking a wait and see approach in terms of whether it’s necessary for whatever story they intend to tell going forward. Obviously, Lynch got the big Royal Rumble win and the idea is that it erases the damage, but it still seems odd to have her lose clean when they could have simply gone with a different opponent for Asuka, had Lynch simply enter the Rumble and win without taking a loss. Lacey Evans had a good showing and all signs point to her getting a push right out of the gate on the main roster.
The 30-Man Royal Rumble match: More of an in the middle. The match clearly suffered from going on last on a long night and felt rushed in some ways as a result. Seth Rollins winning saved the match and put the show over the top. I can’t imagine how different the post show fan reaction would have been if Braun Strowman would ended the night by winning this match. Fortunately, it feels like Vince McMahon is finally listening to his audience rather than trying to force feed them the matches he wants to give them. We’ll see if it lasts. It felt unnecessary to have Rollins laid out at ringside for a long stretch following the big table spot. WWE did the same thing with Roman Reigns one year and it doesn’t do the winner any favors. And while I once enjoyed the big Kofi Kingston inspired near elimination spots, they have reached a point of absurdity with male and female wrestlers lying flat on their backs at ringside, yet not technically being eliminated because their feet didn’t hit the ground. Zach Gowen should make a WWE comeback because he would be unbeatable in the Rumble match and would be guaranteed to headline WrestleMania every year.
Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Shane McMahon and The Miz for the Smackdown Tag Titles: Yes, I was tempted to put this match in the Miss section simply because Shane didn’t wear Miz’s pre-match gear. Putting that aside, this was exactly what we thought it would be with Miz being isolated, Shane eventually taking the hot tag, and Shane performing big spots. As silly as it is to have a storyline that claims Miz’s Dad was more proud of him winning the tag titles with Shane than he was when his son headlined WrestleMania as the WWE Champion, there’s something about the Miz and Shane partnership that is working. And yet we’re still waiting for the seemingly inevitable split…
Buddy Murphy vs. Hideo Itami vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Kalisto in a four-way for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship: The usual strong match from the cruiserweights and it was nice that these guys didn’t get the opening slot and play to a half-empty building. The usual issue remains in that these guys work their asses off on all the Kickoff Shows and yet it doesn’t seem like the company is serious about driving viewers to the weekly 205 Live show.
Rusev vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the U.S. Championship: A solid Kickoff Show match with a surprising title change. Here’s hoping that Rusev doesn’t follow up Lana’s latest injury angle with another promo that opens with him joking about his good looks.
WWE Royal Rumble Misses
Show length: Look, WWE, if you want to hold seven-hour shows for whatever reason then it’s your prerogative. But at least have the decency to list the proper show length on the network show page so that viewers know what they are in for. I know there are some fans out there who can’t get enough wrestling and wish the show was still going. But at some point you have to consider the possibility that these marathons are driving away casual viewers, asking too much of even some of the hardcore fans, and burning out the live crowds. Every major sport has taken steps to shorten the length of their games, yet WWE keeps coming up with excuses to make their shows longer. I like to be left wanting more, not begging for shows to come to a merciful end.
Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship: It pains me to put the match in this section because from a pure in-ring work standpoint it was clearly a Hit. But this match was put in the unenviable position of following the long women’s Rumble match and the big Becky Lynch win. Attendees noted that a lot of fans made a break for the bathrooms and concessions after the women’s match, so it understandably took some time for Bryan and Styles to get the fans engaged. Still, I question the match placement and the idea of putting a nearly 25-minute match on right after the women’s Rumble. Perhaps this would have been a better spot for the Smackdown Tag Title match? Either way, the match felt longer than it needed to be in this slot, and that sentiment was cemented when it ended with a bad ref bump finish and the odd Erick Rowan interference spot. It also didn’t help the cause that I never bought into the possibility of Styles regaining the championship so early in Bryan’s reign.
Brock Lesnar vs. Finn Balor for the WWE Universal Championship: A minor Miss in that I just never bought into the idea of Balor scoring the upset win no matter how much Lesnar sold an abdominal injury. Both men worked hard and had a quality match, yet we’ve seen this formula with Lesnar and smaller opponents before and it’s just not clicking with me.
Bobby Roode and Chad Gable vs. Rezar and Scott Dawson in a non-title match: Why did this match even happen? I like Roode and Gable individually and they even work well in the ring together, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are ice cold as tag team champions of a lackluster division that’s been ruined by bad booking.
NEW: Help support ProWrestling.net when you shop Amazon by starting your online Amazon shopping at ProWrestling.net/amazon. You are not charged extra, but we receive a small and very helpful commission on everything you purchase. Thanks for thinking of us every time you shop at Amazon.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features ProWrestling.net staffer John Moore returning for an in-depth discussion on NXT, AEW, Impact Wrestling, MLW, and the NWA, and more...