By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Royal Rumble Hits
Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship: Quite frankly, we’ve seen better Reigns vs. Owens matches. This was good, but it wasn’t particularly memorable, and there was just no reason to think that Owens had a chance of ending Roman’s run as champion this close to WrestleMania. The real story was the amazing post match angle. Emperor Roman finally pushed Darth Sami too far by violently attacking Kevin Skywalker. Yes, everything good in life somehow reminds me of Star Wars. Anyway, we all knew the turn was coming eventually and it was awesome to finally see it happen. Jey Uso walking out on The Bloodline due to the beatdown of Zayn was a great twist. And it all went down just in time to begin the push for Owens and Zayn returning to their home base of Montreal for the Elimination Chamber. As much as I wanted to see Zayn win the Rumble, I’m all for whatever is best for this story. And aside from the hiccup of what felt like a time jump between Smackdown and the Raw XXX that followed, the creative forces behind this saga have more than earned our trust. I don’t know where this is going next and I love that. I can’t wait to sit back and enjoy the ride that is one of pro wrestling’s all-time great stories.
Men’s Royal Rumble match: An excellent Rumble match with Cody Rhodes taking a step toward fulfilling the mission that he laid out when he returned to the company. Gunther going from bell to bell was awesome, and the welts he left on Cody’s surgically repaired pectoral muscle looked vicious. It must be good to be Brock Lesnar. He was only in the match for a few minutes, he destroyed a few people, and then got to trash the ringside area after he was eliminated. Booker T’s surprise appearance was well received to the point that the fans were upset when he was eliminated. The Logan Paul and Ricochet spot was insane. Was it just me or did the creative forces finally lean into the fans seeing him as a natural heel? I wonder how long it will take for WWE to come up with a name for Logan Paul’s version of the Buckshot Lariat, which Michael Cole labeled “that move” on commentary. There wasn’t much mystery when the match came down to Cody and Gunther. Nevertheless, I like that they fought for several times and didn’t just go to right the elimination, as it made it feel like Cody had to earn his win despite having the storyline luck of drawing number thirty.
Women’s Royal Rumble match: A good Rumble match with Rhea Ripley and Liv Morgan going the distance from the one and two spots. Ripley was the most logical choice to win. And while some will argue that it was too predictable, it’s not a negative to have the right person win even if fans see it coming. Plus, they actually did a good job of creating some drama with new look Asuka, Morgan, and Ripley as the final three. I picked Ripley to win and yet I couldn’t completely rule out the possibility that evil clown Asuka was going to win. I never really bought into Morgan winning coming off of her forgettable Smackdown Women’s Championship run, but she did a good job and I really liked that she had one more hope spot even after being blinded by Asuka mist. The return of Piper Niven was a welcome character shift. Nia Jax as the thirtieth entrant was a heat generating surprise. It was also nice to see a few NXT appearances from women who should end up playing meaningful roles on the main roster when their time comes.
Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and Pat McAfee: Cole has been so much better since Vince McMahon stopped producing him. He’s armed with statistical information and just seems to be having a lot more fun. The comedic exchanges between the three was so much better than the robotic calls of the past where everyone seemed to be concerned that their next word could lead to a verbal berating through the headsets. For instance, we never would have heard Cole poke fun at the ridiculous number of times that Adam Pearce and the producers run out if Vince McMahon was the person booking those segments. On a side note, it was really cool to hear Paul Levesque sing the praises of the production army that WWE has assembled when he spoke at the post show press conference. It’s easy to take for granted just how much work goes into a WWE stadium event and the company continues to be among the best in the world at producing these spectacles.
WWE Royal Rumble Misses
Bray Wyatt vs. LA Knight in a Pitch Black match: Bray Wyatt is a sports entertainer. That’s not an insult. Rather, it seems to be a fact after listening to his comments from the Royal Rumble press conference. He indicated that he was pleased with the Pitch Black match. He also spoke about the beauty of there being something for everyone in wrestling and taking pride in attempting to do things that no one has ever done before. The black light match did nothing for me. I was really hoping that Wyatt returning under Paul Levesque’s creative direction would show that Vince McMahon was responsible for the over the top aspects of Wyatt’s act. I really hoped that Wyatt wanted his character to be grounded in reality rather than being some sort of supernatural being. Unfortunately, I came away from the press conference with the feeling that Wyatt wants to be more than a traditional pro wrestler. And that’s okay, it’s just not for me. It’s not that I won’t find any enjoyment with what Wyatt does. I’ve enjoyed most of his character work since he returned. But the over the top production that we saw last night and with The Fiend is going to lead to a serious disconnect for a lot of traditional pro wrestling fans. Even so, I can’t rule out that his approach will appeal to the masses, as there’s no denying how successful The Fiend was from a merchandise selling standpoint. Wyatt’s creativity is off the charts. I wish that he could harness it so that it would within the traditional pro wrestling narrative structure, but unless I’m misunderstanding his post show comments, it doesn’t seem like he has much interest in taking that approach. On the bright side, Knight did really good work during his time as Max Dupri and he was great during the build to this match. Here’s hoping that Knight will be rewarded with a strong push coming out of this feud.
Bianca Belair vs. Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship: They kept it basic and fairly short. That’s about the best I can say for a match that didn’t look appealing on paper. Here’s hoping that Belair’s clean win means she’s moving on from Bliss.
Hardy: I’m not going to turn into a music critic by breaking down his actual performance. Rather, I’ll just say that this added nothing to the show and made a long night even longer. I continue to believe that for the most part, the only good live musical performances during pro wrestling shows are some renditions of “America the Beautiful” at WrestleMania and when bands play wrestlers to the ring.