The 32nd annual Royal Rumble was held last night at Chase Field baseball stadium in Phoenix, Arizona. The Rumble is one of the most anticipated WWE events of the year, largely because it begins the Road To WrestleMania. As with 2018, this year’s card promised both a men’s and women’s Rumble match, along with five title matches, and plenty of room for big surprises and major booking decisions to set the tone for the coming months. Let’s start this review with the bouts from the Kick-Off Show.
Bobby Roode & Chad Gable vs. Rezar & Scott Dawson
This was a very random bout. With Akam injured, Dawson replaced him to team with Rezar, and if either got the fall, they’d earn a Tag Team Title shot against Raw champs Roode and Gable. Not that it mattered, since the reigning titleholders won anyway, and fairly easily at that. Pretty pointless really.
United States Championship Match
Rusev (C) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
More notable was this U.S. Title clash between Rusev and Shinsuke, a rematch from their Christmas night SmackDown showdown. Lana reappeared at ringside, and the finish was similar to when Rusev previously lost the U.S. gold to John Cena at WrestleMania 31: Lana was stood on the apron, Rusev inadvertently knocked her to the floor, and Nakamura struck with a Kinshasa to reclaim the title.
Cruiserweight Championship Fatal Four Way Match
Buddy Murphy (C) vs. Kalisto vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Hideo Itami
The sad thing about the Cruiserweight Title matches on WWE PPV pre-shows is the fact that they are often forgotten about despite those involved being forth a strong effort almost all of the time. And that happened again here: everybody gave it their all and, besides one or two contrived spots, it was the clear highlight of the Kick-Off Show, but how many fans will recall it in the future? Murphy will, though, as he picked up the win to continue his reign with the purple-strapped title, a run that I assume will carry on all the way to WrestleMania 35 now.
From there, let’s get to the matches from the main supercard …
SmackDown Women’s Championship Match
Asuka (C) vs. Becky Lynch
This was a strong opener, a match that I had predicted would take place at WrestleMania before Becky’s star power took off. There were some powerful striking and submission exchanges, with the most notable move coming when Asuka struck Lynch with a dangerous swinging neckbreaker off the ring apron to the floor. The clean submission win for Asuka surprised me, even given Asuka’s reputation as a bad-ass; I assumed Becky would lose, but having one of WWE’s most popular performers submit (and pretty quickly at that) was unexpected. Still, it didn’t make a big difference based on what happened later, which I will come to shortly.
SmackDown Tag Team Championship Match
The Bar (C) vs. The Miz & Shane McMahon
The storyline between Miz and Shane has led to the two forming an unlikely tag team and catching the eye of The Bar. Sheamus and Cesaro’s current reign as SD champs hasn’t set the world on fire, which made me believe that a title change was very likely here. And so it proved, with an incredible Shooting Star Press by Shane O Mac onto Cesaro ensuring the title change. Post-match, Shane and Miz celebrated at ringside with Miz’s dad (since Miz wanting to impress his father by teaming with Shane is the premise of the plotline). It was a fun moment, but it will be interesting to see when we get the inevitable Miz betrayal of Shane, culminating in what will surely be a Mania match between the two.
Raw Women’s Championship Match
Ronda Rousey (C) vs. Sasha Banks
The bad news first: Ronda was once again booed here, which considering that she was originally the wronged babyface in her storyline with Becky and Charlotte Flair, and has picked up wrestling amazingly well in her one-year WWE career, was pretty disappointing; apparently, some fans simply have to find a babyface character to dislike. Now for the good news: this was an awesome match, with both ladies putting forth a great effort in what may have been the match of the night. Though there was the potential for an upset title loss instigated by one of the aforementioned women from SmackDown, Ronda triumphing was always the probable outcome, and indeed she retained her crowd via pinfall. Post-match, she tried to endorse Sasha, but The Boss was having none of it, and giving the Four Horsewomen salute may have been a teaser of what to expect in the future.
Women’s Royal Rumble Match
Despite what some are saying online, I found most of this match to be pretty dull. There were some cool escapes from elimination, along with NXT cameos and a fun moment where Hornswoggle appeared to greet Zelina Vega (who had took to hiding under the ring), but prior to the final participants coming out, this was totally forgettable stuff. Then, Lana hobbled out (still selling her fall from earlier) and was blindsided by Nia Jax, which paved the way for Becky Lynch to march down and seek approval to replace her. Finlay gave her the go-ahead (hey, we are all the authority these days), which was fitting as not only are they both Irish, but Finlay is well-regarded for his work in helping WWE’s female division in the past. Anyway, as soon as Becky became a part of the match, you knew that either she or Charlotte would be winning, and so it proved as they were the final two. Jax attacked Lynch at ringside, and Charlotte worked on Becky’s knee in an almost-heelish manner to prepare for the elimination that would earn her victory. But Becky fought off The Queen, and eventually knocked Charlotte off the apron and down to the floor to win the Rumble. If you’ve been following WWE over the last three months, it’s obvious that Becky will be targeting Ronda at WrestleMania, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlotte somehow found a way into the match. The huge pop for her triumph largely made up for the disappointing 45 or so minutes that preceded it, and ended up being the most memorable moment of the show.
WWE Championship Match
Daniel Bryan (C) vs. AJ Styles
After that emotional high, fans were largely subdued for this bout. It was well-executed, and both men grafted (Bryan played up his heel persona brilliantly, as usual), but the crowd were just worn out. Knowing that there were still 90 minutes remaining of a card that had begun over 3 hours earlier didn’t help, nor did the fact that AJ’s chances of recapturing the WWE Title here were slim. Nevertheless, the match was watchable if you could focus solely on the action, though there was a swerve to be had when Erick Rowan randomly returned and walked towards ringside. One ref bump later, and a Styles Clash provided the opportunity for Rowan to run in and chokeslam (well, faceslam) Styles, allowing Daniel to pick up the victory. Presumably, Rowan will be Daniel’s new bodyguard; where AJ goes from here remains to be seen.
Universal Championship Match
Brock Lesnar (C) vs. Finn Balor
As expected, Lesnar also retained in this contest. But Finn put up one hell of a fight during the match, and the layout of the bout was smart, as Lesnar suffered stomach pain via the corner of an announcer’s table which not only allowed Finn to unleash increased offence, but also reduced the possibility of him being suplexed like a rag-doll. Fans believed in Balor when he hit Brock with the Coup De Grace, but Lesnar rolled out of the pinning predicament to trap Finn in the Kimura Lock for the tap-out victory. Afterwards, Lesnar pummelled Balor with suplexes and an F5, which clearly positioned him as a villain yet again (since Lesnar’s face/heel alignment flip-flops depending on who his next opponent will be).
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
Elias drew #1 for the Rumble, and after preparing to sing, he was interrupted by a shock second entrant in Jeff Jarrett! The potential for an all-time great duet of With My Baby Tonight didn’t happen, though, and Elias smashed his guitar over Double J’s back before eliminating him. This was a better Rumble than the earlier bout, with appearances by Kurt Angle, Curt Hawkins (who eliminated Titus O’Neil, who himself managed to avoid tripping over), Johnny Gargano, Aleister Black and Pete Dunne being surprises of sorts. Alongside those, we had the usual suspects, along with some typically miraculous elimination escapes from Kofi Kingston, other memorable high-spots (including a Tower Of Doom), and some eye-raising removals of bigger names from the match by younger stars. Perhaps the stand-out moment came when Nia Jax attacked R-Truth to replace him as #30, and though she looked dominant to begin with, she was shockingly superkicked, 619’d and RKO’d in a sequence that had the crowd on its feet in awe. The final four were Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman, Andrade and Dolph Ziggler, with Rollins and Braun being the last two. Strowman looked super-dominant (that fans booed him here justified Daniel Bryan’s belief that fans are fickle), but Rollins fought back, and eventually Curb Stomped Braun on the apron to eliminate him for the win. Rollins is going to WrestleMania, where he surely faces Brock Lesnar (if he opts for Daniel Bryan, who the hell could face Brock?). I was expecting one more big surprise (Angle could have been saved for the final third rather than coming in so early), but this was still a very entertaining match.
Overall, I really enjoyed Royal Rumble. The titular matches may have been superior last year (especially for the women), but it was a card packed with big moments, and the supporting bouts were more than adequate too. Best of all, this show only marks the start of our journey towards WrestleMania, and this week’s episodes of Raw and SmackDown should be very interesting as the seeds are planted for other big Mania contests. Summing it up, then, this wasn’t the best Royal Rumble show ever, but it was one that I definitely got a kick out of.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good