By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
ProWrestling.net Live returns today at 3CT/4ET with Will Pruett and I taking your Royal Rumble and additional pro wrestling calls at PWAudio.net.
WWE Royal Rumble Hits
The 30-Man Royal Rumble: This was one of my favorite men’s Rumble matches in recent memory and it goes beyond who won the match. Edge’s return was heavily rumored and yet still packed a major punch when his music hit. I enjoyed the Lesnar third of the match when he dominated his opponents, but Dot Net reader GTS attended the show and noted that this did not play well in the building. I could have done without the quick eliminations of Erick Rowan and Cesaro, though I can’t say the latter surprised me. Keith Lee wasn’t in the match long, but he had a fun exchange with Lesnar, who did a good job of putting over Lee’s size with his initial reaction to him. Furthermore, Lee was protected by being tangled up with Braun Strowman when both were eliminated by Lesnar, which is better than being directly eliminated by Lesnar in a one-on-one situation. Matt Riddle’s entrance was flatter than expected, though it came just two spots after the big Edge return. King Corbin eliminating Riddle was weak and yet par for the course, as the creative forces love to use Corbin to troll fans. I also liked the MVP surprise. Yes, it’s strange in a storyline sense that the company gives returning wrestlers a shot to main event WrestleMania, but fans have come to expect returning legends, and it was nice to see him in a WWE ring again. Seth Rollins coming out with AOP and Buddy Murphy at the end was also well done in terms of making it seem like the heel faction leader had a good chance to win based on his sidekicks getting involved.
Men’s Royal Rumble match winner: WWE got it right. I can’t even imagine the backlash had they gone with Roman Reigns winning the men’s Rumble on the same night that Charlotte Flair won the women’s Rumble. But they made the right call in using the Rumble match as the launch point for Drew McIntyre. When Brock Lesnar stuck around ringside, my fear was that he was going to eliminate McIntyre, and the idea would be that McIntyre eliminating Lesnar would be enough of a moment for one night and then he would go on to win the Elimination Chamber. But they doubled down on McIntyre by giving him the Lesnar elimination and then had him go on to win the match. Putting Reigns in position to be the last man eliminated is a good call in that Reigns is always among the favorites and it means something to eliminate him. While there may be some trepidation from fans who haven’t seen McIntyre work as a babyface, Impact Wrestling viewers saw just how good he can be in that role during his 2016 run. I am anxious to see what type of build Paul Heyman and his crew will come up with for what should be a hell of a WrestleMania main event with Lesnar.
Roman Reigns vs. King Corbin in a Falls Count Anywhere match: The big brawl around the stadium with outside interference from Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode being thwarted by The Usos was all fairly predictable, but they worked hard and this turned out to be a fun way to open the main show. This really should have been the blowoff, but Corbin talking in his promo about eliminating Reigns from the Rumble tells me that it’s not over even though he didn’t back up his words. I suspect they will drag this into the Elimination Chamber where Reigns will punch his ticket to WrestleMania for his title match with The Fiend.
The 30-Woman Royal Rumble match: Another reason that I separated the winners from the actual matches was that I wasn’t going to give this match a Miss based solely on the outcome. This was the best of the women’s Rumble matches to date. The pacing was solid and there were multiple layers to the match. Bianca Belair was the early star of the match and it would be surprising if she doesn’t join husband Montez Ford on Raw at some point following her NXT Takeover: Portland title match with Rhea Ripley. Naomi’s return was well received and she was given the Kofi Kingston spot for finding a creative way to avoid elimination. It took a long time to develop, but the initial image of Naomi holding onto and then pulling herself up the barricade was solid. Beth Phoenix had a strong outing and went deeper than anticipated given that she’s a legend turned broadcaster rather than a full-time wrestler. The Santina comedy did nothing for me and felt especially out of place, especially so late in the match. Shayna Baszler was given a number of eliminations. Unfortunately, the thing I’ll remember most about Baszler in this Rumble match is that she lost.
“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan in a strap match for the WWE Universal Championship: A physical battle with both men taking some nasty lashes with the strap. This was the best of The Fiend matches to date. They pulled back on the amount of horror movie monster spots that we saw during his matches with Seth Rollins. He still has those no-sell moments, but they are saved for key times rather than happening so frequently. Bryan deserves a ton of credit for the beating he took and his overall work in the match. Meanwhile, I continue to hope that Vince McMahon and the creative forces will someday realize that the thing that makes any Wyatt persona so interesting is the idea that he’s a highly intelligent, master manipulator, whereas the supernatural hocus pocus alienates a good portion of the audience and makes the product seem hokey.
Becky Lynch vs. Asuka for the Raw Women’s Championship: A well worked match that suffered because there was just no reason to view Asuka as a threat to win the championship. They told a good story of Asuka having Lynch’s number and yet it just didn’t seem like the fans bought into the idea of Asuka winning. Even so, the in-ring work was strong and I hope this isn’t the last we see of Asuka in the title picture. The Kabuki Warriors have their moments as a team, but the women’s tag division lacks importance and both women should be singles stars.
Andrade vs. Humberto Carrillo to retain the U.S. Championship: More of an in the middle for a match that suffered from the Andrade and Rey Mysterio feud feeling far bigger. As talented as Carrillo is, he just hasn’t truly clicked as a personality. And despite doing the Raw injury angle with Andrade taking Carrillo out with a hammerlock DDT on the floor, there just didn’t seem to be much interest in his return let alone the possibility of him winning the U.S. Title days later. I hope they get it right with Carrillo because he has a ton of upside. Meanwhile, Andrade’s stock is on the rise and the U.S. Title is finally starting to feel meaningful again.
WWE Royal Rumble Misses
Women’s Royal Rumble winner: The 2020 Royal Rumble was a Shayna Baszler win away from being viewed as the night that WWE finally shook things up with an eye toward the future. And while Charlotte Flair will clearly play a big part in this company’s future, she was a made woman coming into the Rumble match, and it’s obvious that many fans resent just how aggressively she is pushed. Flair winning sets her up with undesirable title matches with Becky Lynch or Bayley barring a title change between now and WrestleMania. Lynch and Flair have great matches and I really want to like their feud, but they just haven’t been given enough time away from one another. And at this point, it’s tough to be excited about Bayley defending her title against anyone.
Bayley vs. Lacey Evans for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: I really do feel bad for Bayley. The company botched her main roster babyface push and finally turned her heel, but her heel persona just sucks all the oxygen out of the room the moment she comes out with that mopey look on her face. But the creative forces made the right call to keep the title on her. Evans put in a better than usual performance and they went above and beyond to make viewers think this was her night, but her character is a mess. She’s playing on her real life in promos, which his great, but she’s doing so while coming off like a cliche southern belle character. That persona worked for her as a heel, but it just doesn’t feel right now that she’s a babyface. If they want to get real with Evans, then it’s time to abandon her heel look and promo style in favor of something as genuine as the subject matter of her promos. So while this wasn’t a bad match and the right person went over, neither outcome was particularly appealing, and the Smackdown Women’s Championship feels like an afterthought despite Bayley’s lengthy reign.
Sheamus vs. Shorty G: Like every Shorty G match, this was doomed due to his terrible name and gimmick. The wrestlers worked hard and Chad Gable is very talented, but this gimmick is beyond awful and needs to be scrapped.