The Royal Rumble has been a pretty big debacle for a few years, so I had low expectations. Kicking things off, Mark Henry and Jack Swagger on a four way tag to get spots in the Rumble. No need to go into detail. The actual PPV opened with the first ever Last Man Standing match for the Intercontinental Title. Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens have had two previous PPV matches but it always felt like they were kind of holding back. That rang true as they had their best match so far here. The crowd was hot and they worked like two guys who hated each other, which is what their feud has felt like. Owens creatively used a kendo stick, they brought tables into play and had some really close calls in the end. Owens would take a big bump through two tables, sealing the win for Ambrose. A great opener that was one of the better matches in a crowded January. ****
The New Day's Tag Team Title reign has been a ton of fun, but some of their matches have honestly lacked. Outside of SummerSlam and TLC, most of it in the ring has been lackluster. This match was different though. The chemistry between real life friends the New Day and the Usos really clicked here. They worked at a very good pace and did some smart things. Xavier Woods brought out a new trombone, which may have gotten a bigger pop than 90% of the Rumble participants. In a very cool finish, Big E caught an Uso in midair with the Big Ending as the New Day retained. Two for two in good matches. ***1/4
Up next, the fourth match in the series between Alberto Del Rio and Kalisto happened. Kalisto won their first match on Smackdown, then won the United States Title on Raw, only to lose it back to Del Rio on a Smackdown. Like those matches, this one was good but didn't quite cross into great territory. They worked at a quick pace, which led to them botching a few things. That tends to be a thing with Del Rio, where if one mistake happens, he is unable to recover. It reared it's ugly head here. Kalisto bumped well for Del Rio before rallying and regaining the belt with Salida Del Sol. I kind of wish he never won it on Raw. A program where he finally won it at the PPV would have made this a better feel good moment. Still, this was solid. ***
For the first time in a very long time, I was invested in a Divas Championship feud. Becky Lynch is so likable and I badly wanted to see her capture the belt and beat Charlotte. Their match was pretty good, but not on the level of their outing on Smackdown a few weeks ago. Ric Flair was, of course, at ringside and kissed Becky at one point. When Becky locked on the Dis-Arm-Her, Ric threw his jacket over her. She let go, which freed up Charlotte to steal it. Sasha Banks came out to the biggest pop I may have ever heard for a female. She kicked Becky and teased a BFF reunion with Charlotte, only to attack her and pose with the title. I suspect we get Sasha/Charlotte at Fastlane before a Triple Threat at Mania. The match itself was alright but the post-match angle was a blast. **3/4
So far, the show had been a really good effort but the Royal Rumble itself needed to deliver. Obviously, Roman Reigns was first. Rusev was next but was quickly disposed of. I was disappointed though things quickly turned around. An unfamiliar theme hit and AJ Styles made his debut at number three. He and Reigns had a little back and forth before some other guys got involved. While there weren't many surprises like last year, it was a much better match. Chris Jericho lasted a ton of time but honestly spent a good chunk of the match laying down. The League of Nations showed up and attacked Reigns. However, they pulled him out of the ring and put him through a table. Like, why not just eliminate him? They came off looking dumb.
Kofi Kingston was the only New Day member in the Rumble. Big E saved him from elimination and they ended up having a fun moment. Big E walked around with Kofi on his shoulders and they ate popcorn from a fan. Jericho eliminated him though the cameras missed it because they were shoddy all night. Kevin Owens limped out and got rid of Styles after 28 minutes. Then, in our second surprise, Sami Zayn arrived and got right into it with Owens. It was great. Sami sent him out, finally getting some sort of revenge on Owens for their long rivalry. Brock Lesnar came out and got into it with the Wyatt Family. He dumped them out and then Bray Wyatt showed up.
It was cool seeing Bray and Brock get into it, but the rest of the Wyatts got back in the ring. Brock tried to fight them off, but they proved to be too much and teamed up to eliminate him. Why didn't the Wyatts just keep doing that? Instead, they gave up after that and allowed Bray to get chucked out too. Reigns returned after Sheamus arrived at 29. He cleaned house until HHH was the "surprise" 30th entrant. He had some cool interactions with Bray and Reigns. Reigns eliminated Sheamus only for Triple H to get rid of him. They left it down to Triple H and Dean Ambrose. Ambrose gave him everything he had, but HHH ducked down and sent him out to win his 14th World Title. This now sets up HHH/Reigns at Mania for the gold. I thought this was a marked improvement on the 2015 Rumble, which was awful. ***3/4
After a terrible Rumble Pay-Per-View last year, this was one of the better ones. Every match was good, with one really standing out as great (Ambrose/Owens). The other title matches were fun, the show flew by and the Royal Rumble match itself was pretty fun. Plus, seeing Sasha Banks in the title picture, the appearance of Sami Zayn and the debut of AJ Styles really added to the show for me. 8/10.