By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Royal Rumble Hits
Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens in a Last Man Standing match for the WWE Universal Championship: A strong match that stood out as unique from the other matches on the card. Time stood still while Paul Heyman struggled to unlock Reigns from the handcuffs, but it wasn’t enough to ruin what was an otherwise top notch brawl and a quality blowoff match. Here’s hoping that Heyman’s issues with the handcuff lock will put an end to WWE’s recent overuse of handcuffs. I also hope that there’s a plan for Owens coming out of this feud and he doesn’t just fall back into the mid-card abyss where wrestlers trade wins and losses in meaningless feuds.
Men’s Royal Rumble match: The satisfying finish with Edge going over helped make up for some of the flaws of the match. Edge is a feel-good story and therefore few fans are complaining, but this company desperately needs to make new male stars. And they could have made more of an attempt to do that during the Rumble match even with Edge winning, but there was no real effort made to make someone else stand out. I thought Damian Priest was going to be spotlighted, but then they had the poor guy take a Caterpillar during his first match on the main roster. Whatever good that came from Priest eliminating Kane, The Miz, and John Morrison faded once Otis performed his signature move and then Priest was eliminated in forgettable fashion by Bobby Lashley. And while it was a nice hook to announce that Edge and Orton would start the match, I don’t think it was worth telegraphing the outcome with Orton’s over the top injury angle. The Rumble event didn’t need another hook, and the match would have been better if Orton had been a late entrant that a weary Edge somehow managed to eliminate. Again, though, it was an entertaining and satisfying match, and I loved the true surprise of the night with Christian’s return to the ring.
Women’s Royal Rumble match: While the men’s division is filled with talented wrestlers that the company has failed creatively, the depth of potential female stars was on display during this match. And that’s not even counting Io Shirai, Raquel Gonzalez, and the other talented NXT wrestlers who were not involved in the Rumble match. Best of all, the two wrestlers with the most upside were the final two entrants in the match. Sure, they scared the hell out of everyone by having Charlotte Flair in the final three, but once she was eliminated (what was with that strange smile?), it felt like the company couldn’t go wrong with either Bianca Belair or Rhea Ripley winning. They ended up going with Belair, which led to her emotional and highly memorable post-match promo. I wonder if they are working toward turning Ripley heel following her frustrating loss to Flair at WrestleMania and now a second place finish in this match. Raw could definitely use a young babyface star in the women’s division, so hopefully that’s not the plan.
Drew McIntyre vs. Goldberg for the WWE Championship: It was quick, explosive, and the right guy went over in dominant fashion. I’m not sure how much McIntyre gets out of beating Goldberg at this point, but they did it the right way with McIntyre winning clean and having his hand raised by Goldberg afterward.
Sasha Banks vs. Carmella for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: A step down from their previous match and yet still a solid outing. Did Reginald really get ejected from ringside for catching Banks? Are they ever going to put some actual heat on the guy? The finish was awkward in that Banks was taking some big shots and then just applied her submission finisher out of nowhere. Overall, though, this was a passable outing and another example of Carmella’s in-ring improvement.
Asuka vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax for the WWE Women’s Tag Titles: Vince McMahon seems hellbent on turning fans on Flair in the same way that his overprotection of babyface Roman Reigns led to a major backlash. The match was laid out to show that she could have won twice had it not been for the interference of Lacey Evans, just as they felt compelled to show that Flair was on the verge of beating Shayna Baszler in one minute had it not been for Nia Jax interfering on Raw. Charlotte is a helluva wrestler and I really want to enjoy her work, but they are not making it easy. The title change was logical. Baszler and Jax need the tag titles, and this frees up Asuka to defend the Raw Women’s Championship while Flair feuds with Evans.
WWE Royal Rumble Misses
None: It was far from a flawless show, but WWE deserves a lot of credit for delivering a memorable Royal Rumble event without having fans in attendance. Still, here’s a list of petty grievances that don’t really qualify as Misses, yet I need to get out of my system.
-A wrestler landing on his/her back at ringside should count as an elimination. The idea that Naomi was allowed to stay in the match because her feet never touched the floor was ridiculous. It’s not creative. It doesn’t come off like an impressive save. It’s just stupid.
-I’d love to see WWE tighten up the Rumble rules. Save the creative forces from themselves. No more wrestlers hanging out at ringside for several minutes before they actually enter the match. No more hiding under the ring. No more long injury absences. Fans have seen it all before. There’s a reason I feel obligated to write “unless there’s someone hiding under the ring” whenever they get down to the final four. It’s all been run into the ground.
-No musical performances during live pro wrestling events unless the musician(s) open the night with the show’s theme song or, better yet, play a live version of a wrestler’s entrance song (Dolph Ziggler’s shitty entrance theme excluded, of course).
-Don’t reveal any of the entrant numbers beforehand. Did we really need to know that Natalya was No. 30 in the women’s Rumble match? Did they ever bother to explain why she and Tamina were given the opportunity to have a match for the 30th spot? Side note, please stop acting like Tamina is a badass once a year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure she is a legit badass who could destroy me, but you can’t book someone to lose nearly every match and then expect fans to suddenly see that wrestler as a badass monster just because it’s Royal Rumble time.
-Why did they bring back Braun Strowman on Smackdown? Were there even five people who were on the fence about ordering the Rumble and ended up being nudged to do so because they saw Strowman return? He could have been a good Rumble match surprise and even felt like a bigger threat to win, but they oddly felt the need to kill the suspense of both No. 30 spots. No, they didn’t actually announce Strowman as No. 30 in advance, but he’s a big enough name that anyone who was paying close enough attention knew that his name was about to be called once they got to No. 30.
-Seth Rollins actually returned for that forgettable appearance in the Rumble match? Rollins should really have a chat with Chris Jericho about how to make a splash when you return, even if it means balking at throwaway appearances like this one.