Wrestling Review: WWE Greatest Royal Rumble 2018

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Written By: Mark Armstrong

(Read the original version on Pro Wrestling Journal at http://prowrestlingjournal.com/index.php/2018/04/27/wwe-greatest-royal-rumble-2018-review-analysis-04-27-2018/.)

The Greatest Royal Rumble, held at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was definitely the most unique WWE show of the year, if not for many years. Seemingly a hybrid of a WrestleMania-level supershow, an event in the style of old UK PPVs InsurreXtion and Rebellion, and a glorified house show, GRR was viewed as a major step forward for WWE in the Saudi market, if not for the culture of the country in general. I won’t go into the politics of Saudi Arabia here (including the fact that females were literally unable to perform on this show), as that is an article in and of itself. Instead, I’ll provide a quick overview of the card, match-by-match. With a five-hour running time (not including a one-hour Kick-Off Show, albeit one without any extra matches on this occasion), there was plenty going on, so let’s get to it!

John Cena vs. Triple H

This was the perfect way to begin proceedings, due to the huge star power of both men. The action itself was a bit basic, as it followed the standard big-match formula (though HHH countering the AA directly into a Pedigree was sweet), but it garnered the desired reaction from the fans, and Cena’s victory following a second AA, a slingshot into the corner and a third AA, went over brilliantly with those in attendance. For a show such as this, it was the best possible choice for an opener.

Cruiserweight Championship Match

Cedric Alexander (C) vs. Kalisto

This Cruiserweight Championship match was one of my favourite bouts from GRR. Though there wasn’t a major issue between the champion and challenger (which was the case for many of the bouts on this supershow), the action was fine and there were some great spots, including a stunning sit-out springboard Spanish Fly by Kalisto. Alexander countering the Salida Del Sol directly into a Lumbar Check ended things on a high note too.

Match For The Vacant Raw Tag Team Championship

Matt Hardy & Bray Wyatt vs. The Bar

The outcome of this contest was made obvious by Sheamus and Cesaro moving to SmackDown, since they would no longer be around on Monday nights to defend the vacant championships. Sure enough, Matt and Bray picked up the victory, and are likely to rule Raw’s doubles division for the foreseeable future. Cesaro carrying Sheamus to the back was a funny sight, and it wouldn’t be the last unintentionally humorous visual from those performing here.

United States Championship Match

Jeff Hardy (C) vs. Jinder Mahal

There wasn’t too much going on here, to be honest. The result was under slightly more doubt for this bout, since WWE could potentially have had Jinder regain his title and bring it back to Raw (after a whopping 20 minutes on the red brand), and then had the IC gold move to Tuesdays later on. Instead, Jeff went over in a match that I felt was inferior to their previous meeting on the April 16 Raw. Also, it delivered a glaring botch when Jeff almost entirely missed Jinder with a Whisper In The Wind, and after an awkward delay, Mahal went down anyway.

SmackDown Tag Team Championship Match

The Bludgeon Brothers (C) vs. The Usos

Harper and Rowan continue to be booked strong, as they knocked off Jimmy and Jey here. Despite the result, I envision this feud progressing, since Naomi had just gotten involved in the rivalry on this past week’s edition of SmackDown (she wasn’t able to appear at The Usos’ side on this card for reasons alluded to earlier). Incidentally, while their matches haven’t been given much time, it seems strange that The Bludgeons-Usos matches have yet to create much in the way of excitement after the barn-burners that the combos had in 2014, and especially given the career year that the twins had in 2017.

Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match

Seth Rollins (C) vs. Finn Balor vs. The Miz vs. Samoa Joe

After a few unremarkable contest, this match got the card back on track with some strong spots and the star power of Rollins (he got one of the biggest reactions on the show) making this one of the highlights of the event for those in attendance. Balor seemingly had the match won, only for Rollins to spring off the ropes and snatch the gold (whacking Finn in the face with the strap in the process, which cut him open). This felt like it was just getting really good when the ending came, but it was still a fine effort by all four.

WWE Championship Match

AJ Styles (C) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

Nakamura’s heel turn at WrestleMania has revitalised his on-screen persona, despite him having lost to AJ at Mania. The upshot was that this match was superior to their showdown in New Orleans, with better storytelling and closer false finishes. Here, one particularly strong moment came when Nakamura struck AJ with a low blow as the referee cowered from almost being accidentally hit with a Phenomenal Forearm, only for the ropes to save Styles. The double countout finish wasn’t popular, but their feud is far from over, as the announcement of a further contest at Backlash proves. I expect Shinsuke to win the WWE Championship there, but even so, this rivalry is really just getting started.

Casket Match

The Undertaker vs. Rusev

The Dead Man rose once more for this by-the-numbers Casket collision opposite Rusev. The Bulgarian Brute had more offence against Taker than John Cena did at WrestleMania, which is interesting, and Rusev even caused Taker to pass out from the Accolade. Nevertheless, the result was never in doubt, and a Chokeslam to Rusev was enough to finish him off. Aiden English took a Tombstone (presumably because The Phenom cannot physically Tombstone Rusev at this point of his career), and English ultimately joined Rusev in the Casket as Undertaker triumphed. Not a blow-away match, but entertaining stuff, and the fans were well into Taker here.

 

Universal Championship Steel Cage Match

Brock Lesnar (C) vs. Roman Reigns

Unlike AJ vs. Nakamura, a title change seemed assured here; most believed that Lesnar only went over Reigns at WrestleMania so that Roman could become the Universal Champion here, in front of a crowd which was more likely to cheer The Big Dog. But instead, a more competitive and varied match than their WM 34 showdown led to Lesnar retaining again, albeit in unusual (and creative) circumstances: Reigns Speared Lesnar through a wall of the cage, causing Lesnar to hit the floor back-first and win. But Roman’s feet were the first to touch the ringside mats (and you’d think that the officials would be noticing the feet touching the floor first on a card with “Royal Rumble” in its name), so Reigns has a legitimate storyline gripe to demand another rematch (at SummerSlam, I would guess), where he surely has to win the red-strapped championship. Whether fans want to see another Lesnar-Reigns match is another story, but the bout was at least more enjoyable than their WrestleMania collision.

50-Man Royal Rumble Match

I won’t be breaking this down blow-by-blow, partly because of the huge number of entrants, and in case you wish to watch the match yourself. So, I’ll just make reference of the key moments, which were:

Daniel Bryan setting a new record of 76:15 for the most time in a Rumble match, having entered at #1 (and since this had 20 more entrants than usual, will anyone ever break this milestone?); Hornswoggle making a surprise return; appearances by Mark Henry, Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho; another last-ditch escape by Kofi Kingston (using Xavier Woods’ back to hold on); Randy Orton looking as fired-up and coming across as more popular than he has for a long time; Bobby Lashley inadvertently almost breaking Big Cass’ neck off a suplex gone wrong; incidentally, Shane McMahon hitting Braun Strowman with a Coast To Coast (Shane dominating Braun with punches at an earlier point in the match was unintentionally amusing. But not as much as Titus O’Neil literally falling under the ring as he came rushing down the aisle, which was replayed multiple times and ended up being one of the most memorable moments of the entire evening.

In the end, it came down to Strowman, Cass and Bryan. Since Bryan had been there since the very beginning, Cass came off like a true villain in being the one to finally send Daniel to the floor. It didn’t take long for Strowman to crotch Cass off the ropes, and then bulldoze into him to eliminate him and win the match. A rather large trophy and a green, customised championship title were his rewards for coming out on top in this 50-man Rumble, though he’s unlikely to earn a shot at Raw’s premier prize, the Universal crown (especially since Lesnar is presumably about to take another extended hiatus). As for the quality of the match? It wasn’t as good as either of the Rumbles from earlier this year, but given the nature of this card, it was adequate enough. Nobody was expecting this to be, erm, the greatest Rumble match to date; by providing enough big names and notable spots, it was an enjoyable contest, even if it did last too long and have too many participants (then again, the selling point of the whole thing was the fact that it boasted 50 participants, so you can’t win).

To judge this show, you have to view it in a vacuum, because it was a strange one. On the one hand, the set-up implied that this was part of the usual WWE canon, with WrestleMania rematches and new Raw Tag Team Champions crowned. On the other hand, you had several random matches which had no on-screen build-up (which isn’t always a necessity, by the way), and of course you had the presence of a 50-man Rumble which is unlikely to trigger any future storylines on Raw or SmackDown. Then, you factor in the stunning stadium setting, the mega-budget for the card (pyrotechnics also made an appearance in Jeddah), and WWE’s hopes that this might be a milestone not only for its presence in the country but for local Saudi culture in general, and you have a truly unique night of sports entertainment.

From a match quality standpoint, the Cruiserweight, WWE and Universal Championship matches were the best, followed closely by the Ladder bout, and the novelty of seeing John Cena vs. Triple H in 2018, The Undertaker and the legendary cameos in the Rumble itself, along with some unintentionally hilarious botches scattered throughout the night, all combined to make this a fun, but overly long, supershow. I wouldn’t suggest going out of your way to see this show, but if you do sit down to watch it and watch the bouts that I’ve suggested above, it will provide a decent amount of entertainment. Just skip a couple of matches or be prepared for a long viewing session.