This shapes up as the most interesting Royal Rumble in years. It probably has the most star power of any Rumble since 2008. Goldberg is on fire. Undertaker being in the match for the first time since 2009 is intriguing. Brock Lesnar is still The Beast. Braun Strowman is getting a monster push. And with two world titles, there’s an added sense that anyone could win.
Venue looks beautiful. I love dome shows, just makes things feel more important. Big crowd, looks like they sold almost all the of the available seats (set obstructs a large number).
Raw Women’s Championship: Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Bayley
This build has been good outside of that promo where Bayley recited poetry. Big reaction for her, I’m not sure she’s quite clicked for the general audience but in front of a crowd heavy on hardcore fans she’s made. Likewise, Charlotte’s one of the few heels on the roster with genuine heat.
Bayley starts off hot but gets cut off by Charlotte. And then Charlotte proceeds to get a lot of heat. No surprise, but definitely the right way to structure the match with these two. The spot with Charlotte trapping Bayley’s head between her legs and slamming it into the mat was excellent.
Charlotte’s Moonsault is beautiful, and the Natural Selection on the apron was a good wrinkle. Surprised that was the finish, but a good match.
Rating: ***. Good stuff there. Bayley losing here is the right call, needs to take some lumps before she gets her big win.
WWE Universal Championship: Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns
It feels like this feud has been going on for six months. I know it hasn’t, but there’s absolutely no gas left between these two. I will say that I’m sucker for the manager in the cage gimmick. Such old-school carny wrestling nonsense, but I love it. The only thing better is the deal where the face gets five minutes with the heel manager if he wins.
This match going on so early in the card has my Spider Sense tingling.
They definitely turned the crowd mics down when Roman came out, but the boos were still defeaning. Two years of this now, no end in sight. It’s a weak champion against a babyface no one likes, not ideal for a world championship match.
Good for Owens and Jericho to jump Roman before the match. Only logical strategy.
This feels very Attitude Era with the cage gimmick and them fighting in the crowd. Not a bad thing, these guys have had enough matches that it makes sense to do something different. Owens constructs a Tower of Chairs but no one goes through it, so they’re Chekhov’s Chairs.
The lack of camera shots of Jericho are surprising and really taking away from this match.
That Frog Splash through the table on the floor was nasty. Owens follows it up with a sick chair shot. This is certainly a level of violence befitting a world title match. Owens gets brass knuckles from Jericho and goes for a mocking Superman Punch with them.
Am I wrong in thinking being dropped on a sitting chair would be brutally painful? Maybe it’s not so bad because it breaks when you hit it? Not eager to find out in either case.
Steve Austin is going to be pissed that Reigns kicked out of that Stunner. Owens proceeds to stomp the shit out of Roman in the corner to big cheers.
Owens tries to Superplex Reigns through the Chair Tower and ends up going through it himself after a Superman Punch. Credit to Owens for going all out on this match.
Braun Strowman shows up to screw Roman out of the title to cheers.
Rating: ***¼. I liked it, I didn’t love it. Both guys busted their asses and took some sick bumps, especially Owens. I think KO walks out looking stronger as champion than he ever has here despite the interference, he just took so much punishment.
WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Rich Swann vs. Neville
I guess I shouldn’t be shocked that the Cruiserweight Division has been a flop since coming to the main roster, but they really got my hopes up with how good the tournament was. Neville has been the only real highlight. Putting the belt on him might actually give this division some spark. A credible champion to build things around.
Neville is working as a sort of meta-heel by grounding and pounding rather than flying. Not a lot happens until Swann catches Neville with a Superkick coming off the top rope. Then breaks out a beautiful Frankensteiner and a Front Flip Senton of some kind. Okay, this is the Cruiserweight style we want to see.
Crowd is really dead even though this match is solid. Division just isn’t working. They did pop for Swann tapping out though.
Rating: **½. Good match, didn’t blow me away. Hopefully this is a new beginning for the division.
WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena
Biggest world title match since Lesnar lost the title, I’d say. This is a legit big fight. AJ is the biggest thing WWE’s got as far as a full-time wrestler, and John Cena is still the man until dethroned.
Crowd is HOT for this match. The ultimate sign that AJ’s made it is when the crowd is chanting his name instead of “Cena Sucks.”
AJ’s a step ahead early. Feels like he has Cena’s number. Cena gets the advantage with his superior power. Landing some big shots. Cena scores with an AA, but of course that’s not enough to get a pin. He keeps leveling him with massive Clotheslines. Styles ducks one and connects with the Pele Kick, follows up with the Phenomenal Forearm. That doesn’t get the pin, why would it?
Nice series of reversals leads to the Calf Crusher and then the STF. Then AJ shows Cena how the STF is really done. They just keep countering each other and I love it. Figure Four, Cross Armbreaker, Powerbomb. Styles Clash can’t keep Cena down.
AJ kicks out of the Super AA. I’m sure that’s happened before, but not often. Cena hits Rolling AAs to become the 16 time world champion.
Rating: ****½. One hell of a match. Great showing from both guys. Wish AJ had gotten the win here, but I’m not salty about it.
Post-match celebration feels special. That’s what I like to see, championships being treated as a huge deal. Especially tying a storied record like Flair’s 16 world titles.
The Royal Rumble Match
Big Cass #1 to a big pop. I don’t think Enzo is the in match? But he’s there to do the hype routine. I guess it’s perfectly logical for Cass to be in first because otherwise they weren’t going to be able to do the entrance. Jericho out #2 and the crowd is wild for him. Kalisto #3, sprints down the ramp and is probably panting by the end. Mojo Rawley is #4. #5 is Jack Gallagher, another unannounced entrant. He whacks everyone with his umbrella, which is an odd move for a face.
Mark Henry is #6. Burning through the open spots here, that’s three already. He cleans house and gets a nice cheap pop for flashing “Hook ‘Em Horns.” Henry tosses Gallagher and we’ve finally got our first elimination. Braun Strowman is #7 and we’ve got our first big player. He tosses Mojo, Cass, and Kalisto in short order. Nice big man showdown between him and Henry. Henry’s gone quickly, no one can touch Strowman.
#8 is Sami Zayn. I guess we knew that from earlier, but I’d forgotten it. Big Show is #9 and he actually gets a pop. I’m blown away by how good he looks. He hasn’t been in this good of shape since he was in WCW. Big Show KOs Strowman and Jericho, but Strowman recovers and dumps Show. That’s his fifth elimination already. Oh God, it’s #10…yup, it’s Tye Dillinger. I kind of wanted it to be Miz at ten and have him mock the crowd for wanting Dillinger. And then you could bring Tye out at #11.
#11 is James Ellsworth. Strowman skinning the cat is a remarkable feat of athleticism for a guy that size. #12 is Dean Ambrose. Good pop here, but I feel like he’s cooled off a lot since the summer. Nasty bump Ellsworth took going out there. #13 is Baron Corbin. Strowman tosses Tye, who didn’t really get to do anything. Corbin eliminates Strowman with a huge Clothesline! Wow, that’s a shock. Great bump by Strowman. Kofi is #14. #15 is The Miz and we’re halfway home. We get Kofi’s first crazy spot as he gets knocked off the top rope but hangs on the ring post to avoid elimination.
#16 is Sheamus. #17 is Big E. #18 is Rusev. He looks terrifying in that mask. Cesaro is #19. He’s got Big Swings for Miz and Sami. And Ambrose. And Kofi. And Big E. And Corbin. And almost Sheamus but he gets interrupted by Rusev. #20 is Xavier Woods. Can the longest reigning tag champions actually do something? They beat up Sheamus. Bray Wyatt is #21. #22 is Apollo Crews. Sheamus and Cesaro combine to eliminate all of New Day, and then they get eliminated by Jericho. Well, that clears the ring a bit.
Randy Orton is #23. He’s got RKOs for everybody. #24 is Dolph Ziggler. Luke Harper is #25. He eliminates Crews. Then he turns on Wyatt and Orton. #26 is Brock Lesnar and business is about to pick up. Lesnar tosses Dean. And Dolph. Everyone gets a trip to Suplex City. F5 on Miz. F5 on Orton. Just cleaning house here. Literally everyone is down but Lesnar. #27 is Enzo. Love this spot.
He’s gone in about ten seconds. #28 is Goldberg! He’s in amazing shape. Clash of the titans to come. And Goldberg eliminates Lesnar in ten seconds. Unreal, they did it again. Goldberg Spears both Wyatt and Orton. #29 is Undertaker, so we’ve got a mystery entrant for #30. Oh man, Goldberg vs. Taker. That’s electric. Corbin and Rusev heel off by breaking it up. Both thos jabronis get eliminated and Goldberg Spears Taker. Goldberg eliminates Harper and gets dumped from behind by Taker. Well, that’s a bit anticlimactic. Taker Chokeslams everybody, who’s coming for him at #30?
#30 is…Roman Reigns. Oh no. Not this again. They can’t be serious with this. The crowd isn’t really hot for Roman vs. Taker, they just seem scared. Taker dumps Miz and Zayn. Reigns skins the cat and I’m surprised a fan didn’t jump the rail and pull him down. Reigns eliminates Taker and the heat is massive.
Final four: Reigns, Jericho, Wyatt, and Orton. Jericho goes to the top and goes off to the floor after a Superman Punch. Wyatt and Orton double team Reigns. Reigns blocks the RKO and throws out Wyatt. Randy blocks the Spear with the RKO and wins! Wow, upset of the century. Grown men are crying in relief.
Rating: ***. It was okay. Not a lot of sizzle or creativity. No legend entrants, which I sort of expected because they’ve used them all. Seth Rollins in the match would have been nice since he ended up having no role on the show. The Roman tease was ballsy, it worked in the sense that the crowd exploded when Randy eliminated him.
So this sets us on a strange path to Wrestlemania. John Cena’s the newly crowned WWE Champion, Randy Orton is the #1 contender. Kevin Owens is still the Universal Champion and has no clear challenger. Feels like there are some twists to come in the next two months.
Overall: A good show, it didn’t quite blow me away. A better Rumble with a more interesting winner and this show would be a classic. It’s like a lot of current WWE where the sum feels like less than the parts because the booking is just strange.