WWE Royal Rumble (2018) Review
AJ Styles vs. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens—Handicap WWE Championship Match
On paper, this match sounded like something that would main event Smackdown—even with the names involved. When the handicap stipulation was announced, it seemed like we were going to see the classic story of Zayn and Owens losing from not being able to coordinate. However, when Zayn and Owens announced they'd be co-champions, it was clear AJ Styles would have to fight both of them.
Telling this story with three men who understand that psychology is what put this match over the top. Owens and Zayn showed their trademark personalities with antics like tagging each other in repeatedly just to show they could. These guys were creative in working several 2-on-1 spots including Owens tossing AJ into Zayn, only for Zayn to eat a hurricanrana from AJ. Backstage, Shane scored a wicked burn on Owens and Zayn.
Match Rating: 3.75 stars (Out of 5)
The Usos vs. Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin 2-out-of-3 Falls for Smackdown Tag Titles
Both teams took their time before that crucial first fall. This helped build a lot of suspense, especially with so many near falls. Highlights included Gable moonsaulting both Usos on the outside and the Usos taking Gable to superkick city. Surprisingly, the Usos scored a 2-0 victory. This was a pretty good match, save two issues. 1.) The second fall was a tad anticlimactic. 2.) Despite an excellent spot-heavy match, the crowd just wasn't feeling it. They did not dump all over this match like one would expect from a Philly crowd. However, they were pretty out of it for this one.
Match Rating: 3.75 stars
2018 Men's Royal Rumble
It seems like the Royal Rumble match has been a disappointment in the last few years. The normally exciting match has been bogged down by questionable winners. Even 2016 featured a GREAT Rumble, but Triple H winning was head-scratching.
This year, WWE got everything right.
This was a Rumble with everything: You want returns? Say hello to The Hurricane and Rey Mysterio. Even Ziggler came back after abdicating his US title. You want some debuts? While they'll probably stay in NXT for a while, Adam Cole (Bay-bay) and current champion Andrade "Cien" Almas appeared in the Rumble. Want comedy spots? This match succeeded in that department too. Kofi Kingston put on his annual showing in a hilarious spot where Xavier Woods caught his foot and put it in pancakes so Kingston could stay safe. Another hilarious spot saw Heath Slater ambushed by Corbin. There was a recurring gag where everyone beat him up on the way - except Big E who gave him pancakes. Eventually Sheamus tried getting in Slater's face, only for Slater to toss him out in 2 seconds.
Not everyone can win the Rumble and most people—such as Rusev and Finn Balor—looked good even in defeat. 2007 is noteworthy for one of the most suspenseful final bouts between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. That still holds up, but this year had one of the most suspenseful final four's. With Nakamura, Balor, Reigns and Cena in the ring, the division between WWE's guys and IWC darlings was pretty clear. Considering it was believable either man could have won, Reigns and Nakamura battling it out was an absolute nail-biter. How Nakamura vanquished both Cena and Reigns were creative and allowed Nakamura to show his swagger. Overall, this was one of the best Rumbles in a while.
Nakamura got the duke, exciting because it is fresh to see someone new in the title scene. When asked who he would challenge at Mania, he picked AJ Styles.
Oh yeah, it's on.
Match Rating: 4.25 stars
Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan vs. Sheamus and Cesaro—Raw Tag Team Titles
By no means was this a bad match. The problem is we've seen variations of this match since AUGUST when Rollins was teaming with Dean Ambrose. Those matches set a rather high - a-hem - bar and they just haven't upped the ante with this one. Another problem: Ever wonder why the Rumble almost always goes on last? The audience just didn't have the energy for this one. (Plus they had to save their energy for another Rumble.)
For all those gripes, these men—especially Rollins—TRIED. They tried to have a good match, but it just wasn't happening. They did set the table for descent down the road with Jordan sitting out most of the match after injury. Cesaro and Sheamus won back the tag titles. Look, you guys had a good run, but it's time to move on to different opponents.
Match Rating: 2.75 stars
Kane vs. Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar—WWE Universal Championship
This match was everything I expected it to be, but in a good way. After Strowman and Lesnar had an underwhelming affair at No Mercy, and this almost felt like the match that should have been. I expected Kane to be the weak link, but he actually looked like he belonged—high praise for Kane in 2018. The use of weapons helped. It turned this into a spot-heavy brawl that hid some of these guys' limits. Strowman and Kane were put through tables. Brock won the match by pinning Kane, to the surprise of nobody. The crowd woke up a little more, but not as much as they could have.
Match Rating: 3.5 stars
Inaugural Women's Royal Rumble
Part of me was hoping that this would be on par with the men's Royal Rumble, but part of me knew it wasn't going to happen. Look, I know the women are capable of it. These are some genuinely talented women. But as always, the WWE bookers just don't give the women the chance to breathe. Again, many of these women put in a great effort, but the women's roster is slightly thinner than the men's so while the men's Rumble had to shut out plenty of talented performers, a lot of women made it in, ready or not.
Also, because the women's roster is so thin, this match served as more of a nostalgia trip, with at least a third of the returns being one-night returns. Even if it was just nostalgia, it was fun to see women such as Molly Holly, Beth Phoenix, Trish Stratus and Lita. These women still looked good, and I don't just mean their appearance. I could buy another full-time run from many of them.
Plus, they were respectful to the current roster. Sasha Banks put up a valiant fight. Nia Jax looked like a beast. Naomi became the female Kofi Kingston by saving herself after landing on a pile of her fellow ladies, grabbing a desk chair and crawling back.
The biggest problem of this match was that women kept rolling out of the ring. I kept wondering if I missed major eliminations. Asuka won the Rumble. While I like Asuka, that felt a little predictable at this point. But it also felt like the right choice
The real news was after the match when Rhonda Rousey made her long-awaited debut. Coming out to "Bad Reputation" and wearing Roddy Piper gear she... smiled and shook hands.
Okay, Rhonda is a big enough coup that she can kinda just show up. But her debut could have been so much more. It's bad enough that she wasn't in the Rumble in any way, but why did she not do anything? This is Rhonda Rousey! All she does is shake hands? She should be beating people up, running roughshod over people. She came off less Brock Lesnar or Roddy Piper, more 2008 Dolph Ziggler. Oh well, here's hoping things get better in the future.
Match Rating: 3 Stars: Yeah, it wasn't a great match, but it was fun.
Match of the Night?
So the Royal Rumble was overall good but not perfect. The show was oddly split down the middle with the first half belonging to Smackdown and the second half belonging to Raw, each half almost being a mirror image of each other. And boy, Smackdown won in just about every category. Still, every match was at least watchable, though the men's Rumble was the show-stealer. It may go down as one of the classic Rumble matches. Rousey's debut was exciting but it could have been so much more.
© 2018 Alex deCourville