So we’ve reached the event that is arguably the most exciting Pay Per View for hardcore wrestling fans every year; The Royal Rumble! While Wrestlemania is seen as the biggest show of the year, it’s often tailored more to try draw a casual audience. This has led to the Royal Rumble becoming the event for more hardcore fans, due to the surprise returns and debuts that happen every year. In recent years the Royal Rumble has been a bit of a let down, due to some poor booking decisions and WWE’s insistence on ramming a certain superstar down viewers throats. However this year we had TWO Rumble matches to look forward to, since we would also have the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble. All in all, it was a cracking show from start to finish…
Before we break down the action, we do also have an audio reaction to the show (video below), where Steve, Nicky & I talked about the whole show. We also have our recap of Saturday night’s stellar NXT Takeover show.
We’ll kick off our coverage with the main event, because it’s what everyone is talking about; the Women’s Royal Rumble.
We were treated to some fantastic nostalgic moments during the match. There were returns for Lita (#5), Torrie Wilson (#9), Molly Holly (#12), Michelle McCool (#14), Vickie Guerrero (#16), Kelly Kelly (#19), Jacqueline (#21), Beth Phoenix (#24), the Bellas (#27 & 28) and Trish Stratus (#30). We also had appearances from Kairi Sane (#6) and NXT Women’s Champion Ember Moon (#23). Watching those 2 in there it was clear they’re already so far ahead of a lot of the main roster.
The best “spot” of the match was Naomi doing a compilation of Kofi Kingston spots to avoid elimination. She was caught by people that were already eliminated, walked the barrier to get to a chair, then walked on her hands to the stairs. The whole sequence was fantastic to watch.
Our final 3 were Asuka & the Bella Twins, which didn’t look good for the Empress of Tomorrow. However Nikki turned on Brie (again), and Asuka eliminated the soon-to-be Mrs Cena after a nice ending sequence to win the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble match.
We never got a chance to find out what champion she wants to face at Wrestlemania though. During her face off with the champions she was interrupted by “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett. Thanks to some terrible camera angles it took a minute for any non-UFC fans to realise this indicated that Ronda Rousey, one of the biggest stars in MMA, was making her debut. Rousey strolled down to the ring and pointed to the Wrestlemania sign (a few times). She then shared an awkward handshake with Stephanie McMahon, to everyone’s confusion. It’s since come out that she is signing a multi-year, full time contract, so she will give some extra star power to the division, even if she is still only learning the business.
After seeing Roman Reigns drop the Intercontinental Title to The Miz at Raw 25, a lot of fans were worried the stage was set for “The Big Dog” to win another Royal Rumble. If this had happened the Philly crowd may well have started a riot. Thankfully WWE were sensible enough to realise they can have the Universal Title match they want at Wrestlemania without having him win the Rumble, but they still had to make him look strong.
We were treated to a funny sequence across a number of entrances where Heath Slater was getting knocked out by everyone before he could make it into the ring. This started with Baron Corbin, who had been eliminated by the Iron Man Finn Balor and went into a rage. It was followed up by Elias, the NXT Champion (and MVP of the weekend, in my eyes) Andrade Cien Almas, Bray Wyatt & Sami Zayn. We also had Big E decide he didn’t want to hurt him, so he fed him some pancakes. When Heath was eventually thrown into the ring by Sheamus, he eliminated the Celtic Warrior within seconds.
We saw a fragile alliance between Bray Wyatt and Woken Matt Hardy for a few momenta. This was soon broken and they eliminated each other. We also saw John Cena get ganged up on by 5 others, but of course they couldn’t eliminate him.
Our Kofi Kingston spot this year was very clever. Jinder Mahal was on a rampage, eliminating Big E & Xavier, and he then threw Kofi out after them. Luckily for Kofi, Xavier caught one of his feet, stopping it from hitting the floor. They then slid the plate of pancakes under his foot to keep him safe, until they could vault him back into the ring and he could eliminate Mahal. Every year I think they can’t possibly have something original, but every year they have something new.
We had the surprise return of The Hurricane, who tried to Chokeslam John Cena, but failed. I swear, one day he’ll hit that on someone big in a Rumble and the pop will be insane! We also had the surprise return of Dolph Ziggler at #30, but they dropped the ball with it. They could have at least given him more than the 90-ish seconds that he lasted in the match.
Some stronger debuts/returns were those of Almas, Rey Mysterio & Adam Cole (BAYBAY!). Almas entered at #7 and had a very strong showing, lasting almost half an hour. Mysterio returned at #27 and it was nice to see him get cheered in Philly. He looks in phenomenal shape and they should really try sign him, even just to push 205 Live. And Adam Cole really did “Shock The System” when he entered at #23. Surely nobody expected to see him after the war he was in at NXT Takeover the night before.
We had some nice exchanges near the end between the “Old Guard” & “New Guard”. The final 4 staredown featured Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, John Cena & Roman Reigns. Balor got eliminated first, which started to have fans worry that Roman was going to be victorious once again, but Nakamura eliminated both Big Match John & The Big Dog to get the win! After the match, in a moment that made every hardcore fan a bit happy in their special areas, he announced he wants to face AJ Styles at Wrestlemania… that should be incredible, and a possible match of the year, if given enough time!
The Triple Threat match for the Universal Title went the way most people expected it to. Personally I was calling Strowman to win, but that was me going with my heart instead of my head. We all knew Kane was in the match to eat the pin, and it was Brock Lesnar that pinned him to retain.
The interesting moment of this match was within the first few minutes. Strowman seemed to accidentally connect with a stiff knee to Lesnar. This caused him to go into UFC 100 mode and came back swinging, connecting flush to the side of Braun’s skull. That left Strowman looking a bit dazed for a few minutes, to be honest, but he eventually recovered.
A side note I made on this was how dead the crowd felt after Lesnar won. I think at this stage the crowd are no longer invested in his matches. They feel like they know he’s going to win every match until he loses it to Reigns. This whole thing felt like another missed opportunity to pull the trigger with Strowman, who is the hottest guy in the company right now.
The opener was the 2v1 handicap match for the WWE Championship, with AJ Styles vs Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens. The match itself was really good, but it definitely looked like Owens was a bit banged up. They played the numbers game story nicely, with AJ getting the upper hand on one guy only for the other to stop him building too much momentum, then rinse and repeat throughout the match.
There was a beautiful spot at one point where KO hit AJ with a monkey flip, and as he flipped he caught Sami with a hurricanrana. The timing and positioning on it was absolutely perfect. In the end AJ got the win by rolling up KO, who wasn’t the legal man. The referee debate rolls on….
The two disappointing matches of the night were the two tag team title matches. The Shield-Bar division gave us another title change, with The Bar winning back the titles. However the bigger story here was the injury angle with Jason Jordan. He was not tagging into any matches at live shows over the past week or so, so he does appear to be legitimately hurt, and they made it part of the match, which was clever. They can also use this to further the story of dissension between him and Rollins. However I felt it took a lot away from the match.
On the Smackdown side of things, we had the 2 Out Of 3 Falls match between The Usos and Gable & Benjamin. A lot of people were calling this a potential match of the weekend. There were a handful of nice spots, but nobody really shone in the match. It was a failed opportunity to show how good Gable & Benjamin are in a straight up tag match. In the end The Usos won 2 straight falls to retain the titles.
A poor night for tag team wrestling, if I’m to be completely honest. Overall the main roster really brought their A game after a stellar NXT Takeover the night before. However, it’s still clear that NXT is miles ahead when it comes to putting on amazing tag team spectacles.
So we’re now officially on the Road to Wrestlemania. We know that Nakamura & Asuka will both get title shots on the Grandest Stage of Them All, but who will Asuka face? Also, what part will Rousey play in all of this? And who will be facing the Universal Champion in less than 10 weeks time? I guess you’ll just have to keep watching Raw & Smackdown (or reading our weekly recaps) to find out….