The Royal Rumble pay-per-view (PPV) elicits a special kind of buzz every year that transcends the hardcore fanbase and draws in the casual viewer, similar to Wrestlemania. For me, the Rumble is always a touch more special, due to the unpredictability of the main event; the namesake of the PPV, whereby a random blast from the past may show up or an exciting debutant could appear that sends the spectators wild when the countdown buzzer hits 0.
Recently, the last few Rumbles have been a let down for me. Familiar and predictable faces winning took the tension away and particularly last year, there were hardly any noteworthy spots or surprises. However, the PPV on the whole usually delivers at least one match of the year candidate; Cena vs Styles last year was an instant classic and the triple threat in 2015 with Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar, and John Cena was one of the best three-way bouts in recent times.
Going into this year’s event, my expectations were rather downplayed. I had hopes instead. Hope that AJ would put on yet another classic and further his reputation in the WWE, hope that the winner of the men’s Rumble match would be someone fresh and give us an exciting Wrestlemania main event, not the bizarre snooze fest of Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt from last year. Finally, I hoped the women would crush it with their historic first ever 30 women royal rumble match. I hoped they would be treated with the respect they deserve and allowed to shine, which wasn’t really the case for the Money in the Bank ladder match earlier in 2017. So let’s dissect the event and see how things fared at the end of the night.
As is the norm for any PPV event, before the action commences we are treated to a video package that helps set the scene. Say what you will about WWE, but this is something they consistently get right. The clips are cut together in a way that reminds viewers what the general storylines are, whilst inserting a montage of big spots that have occurred over the last month or so leading up to this night. The way these images are woven into the overarching story help newcomers and returning fans understand who is who in a way that’s exciting and fresh.
After a brief moment of fanfare, we’re launched into the first match, for the WWE Championship.
Match 1 – AJ Styles (C) Vs Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a two-on-one handicap match
Wisely, WWE decided to set the tone of the evening by giving us their best in-ring performer, AJ Styles right off the bat. Combined with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens (KO) and you have three of the best workers in the whole company opening to a hot Philadelphia crowd who know their wrestling and want to be entertained. A quick side note, it’s amazing how over AJ Styles is. He consistently gets big reactions when he enters and his move set, especially the calf crusher, generates great responses. Over to Zayn and Owens then, who played the role of heels perfectly. Their quick tagging in and out was a stroke of genius and really told a good story in the ring. KO continues to be a joy to watch as a heel, with innovative maneuvers that have you laughing and shaking your head in the way you would to a naughty child. His spot early on, where Styles attempted to block his tag to Zayn and he simply rolled out of the ring and ran back in had me grinning from ear to ear at its sheer simplicity but excellent execution. As the match progressed, the dastardly duo began to lay their offense in and this is where AJ is able to shine once more. He is phenomenal (pun intended) at gathering sympathy from the crowd and coming back with the babyface fire. See his match against Brock Lesnar for a true masterclass of this art. Within this comeback, AJ dug deep into his repertoire of moves, pulling out a long absent springboard reverse DDT that had me wide eyed and then following up with an amazing spot whereby he was launched by KO into Zayn and somehow countered it into a flawless hurricarana. This had me clapping and cheering, as did the aforementioned calf crusher, which is likely the most over submission move in the WWE. At the climax of the match, we had our first spot of controversy for the evening. KO was not tagged in, however, the ref didn’t see this and thought he was indeed legal, so when Styles reversed the pop up powerbomb into a pin, the referee counted 1-2-3 incorrectly. I felt this was an appropriate ending as it kept all three competitors looking strong and it helps further the feud KO and Zayn have with Shane McMahon, as seen in the backstage segment afterwards. Overall, this was a very good match and one of my favourite performances from Styles, who continues to show why he’s the best in the world.
Match 2 – Two out of Three Falls for the Smackdown Tag Team Titles: The Usos (C) vs Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin
Firstly, it’s clear that The Usos are one of the best tag teams in the world, from any promotion. They are mechanically great, have intense and fun promos and were part of one of the best feuds of 2017 with The New Day. Having said that, this match didn’t quite reach as high as the aforementioned exchanges with The New Day, but overall it was still a great tag-team exhibition. Gable and Benjamin had good teamwork from the off and the former was his usual intense self, which is coupled with amazing athletic ability, his moonsault is probably the best in the WWE. It’s a shame then that this match played out the way it did; The Usos won with two quick falls after some impressive false finish sequences, but I would have preferred to see the falls tie up at one apiece, leading to a more frenzied finish. This aside, there was some fantastic spots throughout; Jey Uso performed some sublime suicide dives and the twins were as usual on point with their superkicks, which I think rival those of The Young Bucks. The crowd were certainly not as hot for this as they were for the previous matchup, but you can expect that, especially with the next match on the card fast approaching..
Match 3 – Men’s Royal Rumble
A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one, the arrival of this match and its placement on the card signaled that the women would likely be closing the show with their Rumble match, which was a great call. More on that later.
For now, the attention focuses on the men. As we’re used to by now, the promo package before things kicked off was expertly done, showcasing historical and special moments throughout the event’s illustrious past. Putting the ‘Royal’ firmly in Royal Rumble was the legendary Jerry “The King” Lawler, who sauntered down the ramp and took up his rightful place on the commentary table. Long live the King.
Our first two entrants were Rusev (who is obscenely over, “Rusev Day” chants thundered around the arena during his arrival and throughout his stay) and Finn Balor, who is competing in his first ever Royal Rumble match and would emerge as this year’s Iron Man competitor. Baron Corbin entered fast and furious at position number four, causing havoc before being promptly eliminated. He then went on to decimate the other competitors, including a freshly announced Heath Slater, who would be used as a comedy prop for his tenure in the match, to great effect. With Baron, I really like him and he gets a good legitimate heel reaction, but his booking continues to raise eyebrows. He’s shown to be dominant, yet gets undermined by losing the big moments, such as his Money in the Bank cash in and now a fast elimination from the Rumble. I’m curious to see how his 2018 pans out.
Andrade “Cien” Almas was a nice surprise entrant, being called up from NXT after an excellent showing the night before and he more than held his own in the bout. Tye Dillinger again got the number ten spot to go along with his Perfect Ten gimmick, which had me rolling my eyes, as we had already seen that last year. However, we were then swerved as the camera cut to backstage, where Tye was being victimized by Kevin Owen and Sami Zayn, who were still seething from their earlier unjust loss. Zayn took Tye’s place to be followed by Sheamus, who soon entered, and it was here that Heath Slater was finally introduced to the matchup, being rolled in by the Celtic Warrior. Slater then proceded to dump Sheamus out and just like that, the Birthday boy had his Rumble dreams dashed. Poor Sheamus.
Then we get to number fourteen and what a reaction this man got. Even after his entrance music had long since faded out, Shinsuke Nakamura was being serenaded by the crowd and cemented his spot as a popular performer. Moving along, the much-maligned Jinder Mahal got some more great heel heat by eliminating two-thirds of the New Day. The Modern Day Maharaja set his sights on Kofi Kingston and once again we got a spectacular spot where Kofi manages to survive longer than he should by using the prone Xavier Woods as a landing pad and then a plate of pancakes to steady his footing. It’s this ridiculousness that can only be found in Wrestling that makes it special. Speaking of ridiculous, Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy had a brief, but interesting dynamic where they teamed up against others in the ring, only to then eliminate each other. It got me thinking that a Wyatt-Hardy family could work as a great stable, something which WWE is sorely lacking of late. But we’ll likely get a spooky house and some poor CGI to end their feud on a whimper. Yes, I’m cynical.
“Big Match” John Cena made his appearance to the usual chorus of “John Cena sucks” which he helped conduct and then he was promptly ganged up on by everyone in the ring, which was a fun moment. Last year’s Rumble lacked surprises, this year we were treated to a great nostalgia pop from the one and only caped crusader himself; Hurricane Helms! His stint was short-lived, but it was nice to see him go for the chokeslam all the same. Another surprise was the entry of Adam Cole BAY-BAY who continues to receive favourable booking and is surely a big part of WWE’s plans going forward, which is a great thing. Sporting his new and slightly weird looking hairdo, Randy Orton came and landed a superb RKO on Almas, but besides that the Viper didn’t really do a lot else.
We had one more surprise in store to be treated to; number twenty seven, Rey Mysterio. Coming out to a huge ovation, the innovative high flying charismatic master looked absolutely incredible and he had the movement to back up his look. Nailing multiple people with the legendary 619, the diminutive former champion was looking every bit the part. I hope this marks his actual return and he can be someone to carry the 205 Live show, either in an active General Manager role or as the title holder.
A noteworthy spot was Roman Reigns eliminating Seth Rollins, perhaps being the final nail in the doomed SHIELD reunion’s coffin. We reached the final entrant, number thirty and who could it be? Dolph Ziggler. The reaction was lukewarm and to me, it was a waste of the final spot. He came in, threw out a few superkicks and got eliminated without much fanfare. Dolph continues to be put in a position where he’s not treated seriously and thus, the crowd simply don’t care for him anymore.
Going back to our Iron Man, Finn Balor, he had a really successful Rumble overall. Managing to get opportunistic eliminations and one counter on Nakamura that looked incredibly brutal, Finn should be able to capitalize on this and have a great 2018. There was a great moment where the “old guard” of Cena, Randy, and Rey squared off against the new talent of Reigns, Nakamura and Balor which exploded into a brawl, pitting some interesting matchups like Reigns vs Mysterio and Nakamura vs Cena, who he eventually eliminated.
The closing moments of the macth were superbly done, the tension was ramped up to the extreme and it was a real nail biting finish. Nobody wanted to see Roman Reigns win and yet, it was becoming a distinct possiblity the more the match continued. Thankfully, Nakamura won and it was a moment of pure jubilation and celebration for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Roman didn’t win and secondly, we should be getting AJ Styles vs Nakamura at Wrestlemania. Strap in for that one. To conclude then, this was a brilliant rumble, unpredictable, tense, fun and full of great moments that makes up for the last few years of duds.
Match 4 – Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan (C) vs. The Bar for the Raw Tag Team Titles.
Oh boy, the cooldown match. After an exhilarating Royal Rumble bout, the following match was always going to suffer and sadly it fell on the Raw Tag Title match. Rollins and Cesaro tried their best to get the crowd going with some sublime wrestling in the opening moments (their chemistry is fantastic) but ultimately, there wasn’t much they could do to get the crowd to react. Jason Jordan has been working legitimately hurt for weeks now, so to combat his inactivity, the match had him take a big knock on the head courtesy of Cesaro pushing him into a ring post. This meant a jaded Jordan was basically ineffective throughout and at one point even tagged himself in and out due to being unable to compete. This was a smart move, storyline wise, as it furthers his character and widens the gap between Rollins and himself which will surely lead to a split in the future, possibly when Dean Ambrose returns. There really isn’t much to say here, apart from Seth Rollins was as usual performing at a high level, executing crisp moves and partaking in his usual wonderful selling. At the climax, we crowned new Tag Team champions and the crowd simply did not care.
Match 5 – Triple Threat Match for the Universal Title: Brock Lesnar (C) vs Braun Strowman vs Kane.
The promo opening this match was sublime. It neatly went through all of the big moments in recent weeks (such as Braun going all Dark Knight and using a grappling hook to bring down some scaffolding onto Brock and Kane) as well as the usual narrative about who will come out victorious? We all know it will be Brock, but still, it’s always a fun ride whenever he’s involved; the man has had one bad match in two years. Braun exploded out of the gates and got in the quick offense, thundering across the ring from opposite turnbuckles to squash his opponents, but then his lack of experience showed. Lesnar encourages his opponents to go in with a degree of “stiffness” (get your mind out of the gutter) in that he expects some form of contact when you hit him. Braun took it a little bit too far and a misplaced knee visibly upset Brock, who immediately no sold it, hit Braun with a quick jab to the gut before issuing the former strongman with a hefty right hook to the temple, which took Braun down to his knees. What’s surprising is that both incidents were repeated multiple times and commentary had no problem in explaining how hard hitting the two were, but it was an obvious off-script moment from Brock that reminded everyone, locker room included, do not take liberties.
The match was fast paced, full of fun table spots (poor announcers) and a nice callback to Summerslam where Lesnar enacted a degree of revenge, tipping the announce table onto Braun’s face and chest, causing commentator Corey Graves to exclaim “he’s dead.” To contrast this, Kane put Braun through a table by gently pushing him shoulder first into one that was set up against the turnbuckle. Poor Kane, he’s always been my favorite but his role in the match was obvious; he was simply there to eat the pinfall. Which of course he did, Brock hit his F5 onto a steel chair and that was that. Braun still looks strong as he wasn’t technically defeated and the belt remains with Lesnar ready for The Big Dog Roman Reigns to take it off of him at Wrestlemania 34.
Match 6 – The Women’s Royal Rumble Match
WWE bravely took the huge decision to put the women’s Royal Rumble on last. This allowed it to really feel like the spectacle that the Men’s is usually afforded and I was certainly not disappointed. In short, there were great spots, unbelievable returns and it felt like a truly great match and a massive step in the right direction for women’s wrestling.
Before the match commenced, the women who were known entrants were showcased in the opening video segment, which was a great move as it allowed newcomers and casual fans to get acquainted with these superstars quickly. WWE took the decision to put two of their best, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks in the first two spots. This allowed them to have a great opening exchange and also carry a lot of the “wrestling” portions of the match as time continued. There was one horrendous moment though, unfortunately. Sasha Banks had some blatant air kicks whilst waiting for another entrant, but to be fair, the Rumble is notorious for strikes looking soft or non-existent, there’s simply so much going on.
Our first legendary return was the iconic Lita, who quite frankly can still go. Yes, her moonsault looked like she was a fraction away from death, but I’m pretty sure that’s how she always hit them. Kaire Sane from NXT made a welcome addition and she looked extremely effective, landing a flurry of moves and even nailing her extremely impressive finisher a couple of times. More returns followed, with Torrie Wilson and Molly Holly coming in hot and again, looking like they haven’t missed a beat. Molly, in particular, was always quite underrated and she looks like she can definitely still go. Michelle McCool swiftly followed and this is where I got a bit concerned. Michelle got at least four eliminations and that seemed a bit much for a returning legend, I would have preferred that accolade to go to one of the current crop of talent. In fact, the returning superstars, in general, got a lot of eliminations, which did bug me somewhat. The men’s rumble gave us some comedy in the form of Heath Slater and Kofi Kingston, but then women’s match blew that out of the water completely. The detestable Vicky Guerrero entered, shrieking her famous “EXCUSE ME!” While clambering into the ring, only to be unceremoniously dumped out by all of the active competitors. Her time wasn’t up though and after a brief exchange with an entering Carmella, Vicky took Ms. Money in the Bank’s briefcase and used it against her which was a brilliant moment.
Even more familiar faces surfaced, Kelly Kelly and Jacqueline entered and the latter still looks fierce and able to throw down, executing some tremendous moves. Nia Jax came in and completely dominated, running Riott (get it) as she hoisted Ruby above her head, displaying her impressive strength. Nia is a dominant force in the same way Braun is, and she’s managed to gradually get more and more popular with the crowd, which is great to see. Naomi took up the Kofi spot – she had a great moment where she was able to save herself using firstly the bundle of eliminated women, then proceeding to walk on the guardrail before finally using a swivel chair that a selfie-taking Maria Menounos was occupying to get back into the mix. Another NXT talent entered, none other than the current NXT Women’s champion Ember Moon. Always impressive, she got some great moments in and in particular her interaction with Asuka was something the crowd (who were back to being boisterous and invested) lapped up.
The Glamazon Beth Phoenix came in and much like the other returnees; she looked damn good. Her interaction with Nia was sensational and all of a sudden, Beth vs Nia is a dream match I never knew I wanted. Beth was summarily betrayed by her real-life best friend and all round boring wrestler Natalya. This did get the latter some good heat, but again, I’m not a fan of her so I didn’t care too much. Brie Bella made her return and again, to a good reaction. She’s been criticised in the past, but I wouldn’t mind seeing another run from her, but her elimination by sister Nikki could be the spark of a feud I don’t really have much interest in seeing.
Finally, the last spot was beginning to count-down. For me, there was only one woman in the whole world who it could and should be. One trailblazer who was ahead of her time and the greatest female competitor the WWE have had; Trish Stratus. I was not disappointed. The roof became unglued at her arrival and she looked simply jaw-dropping. She hasn’t lost a beat either, her offense was sharp and her moves were executed flawlessly. I would love to see a final run from this bonafide legend. There was a great exchange between her and Mickie James, harkening back to their electric rivalry from years gone by. The last big surprise of the night was Iron Woman Sasha Banks turning on Bayley and throwing out her best friend (there’s a pattern emerging here) and hinting at a possible heel turn down the road, which if done correctly, could eclipse their fantastic NXT rivalry.
The final moments were not as tense or unpredictable as the men’s; once it was down to Asuka and The Bella Twins it was fairly obvious that the Empress of Tomorrow was walking out the victor, which is the correct decision. One disappointment for me was that we didn’t get to see a Lita and Trish interaction, but I’m sure they can do that for a future Rumble, after all, I doubt WWE wants to give away everything in the inaugural match. A quick word on commentary. Stephanie McMahon donned the headset and for the most part did relatively okay, save for a few genuine “what” moments; something about Becky Lynch wearing the costume of the future which was head-scratching, to say the least. Otherwise, the Billionaire Princess held her own and even managed to quip well with Corey Graves at times.
Anyway, minor discrepancies aside, the Women put on a grand showing and truly showed why they got the final spot, which was further exemplified by the surprise guest at the end; Ronda Rousey. Her arrival got the reaction you would expect and WWE knows they have gold here. Ronda, like Brock, is a legitimate mainstream draw and she will guarantee butts in seats, especially if there’s a big Wrestlemania match in the pipeline, which looks apparent (she pointed at the sign enough times).
So that was the Royal Rumble 2018. It’s one of the best PPV’s in recent memory and certainly has two of the best Rumble matches in a long, long time. Storylines were not only developed, but sewn anew in many cases and there’s plenty to look forward to now that we are officially on the road to Wrestlemania.