Monday, January 29, 2018
The last time WWE held a Royal Rumble in Philadelphia was 2015, and it was a travesty. Could 2018 be the improvement we all hope for?
As usual with these two hour Kickoff Shows, a match started way earlier than it needed to. By now, they should know to put the focus of the Kickoff matches in hour two, when the crowd has filled in more. These six guys worked hard in front of almost nobody. They got a good amount of time and had a fun little match to start things out. There was a truly funny spot where Gallagher went for a middle rope move and Gulak yelled at him for it. Gallagher assured him it was okay, but missed anyway. TJP took the loss, continuing his struggles, as he fell to a cool Salida Del Sol in 13:13. They don’t have enough cruiserweights, but a Trios Title of sorts would be cool and different for the division. This match showed why. It was very enjoyable.
On Raw, the Revival jobbed to the Good Brothers in about three minutes. Not ideal. Here, things were better. The Revival got to showcase a bit of what makes them so good. Karl Anderson played the face (?) in peril, with the Revival being very good at all the little things that make a heat segment work. Gallows’ hot tag lacked fire and was the biggest problem with the match. Anderson became the legal man again and lost to a chop block in 9:09. I didn’t expect that to be the finish. Solid enough thanks to the Revival being good and Anderson’s selling.
Mojo answered Roode’s open challenge. This match was kind of just there. Other than popping for a few things Roode did, the crowd didn’t seem very interested. Mojo had control through the ad break, before Roode fired up. Roode’s babyface fire lacks something. He’s much better as an old school style heel. Roode avoided a forearm and hit the Glorious DDT to retain in a ho-hum 7:37. A nothing match.
The official PPV got started with this match. I was a bit concerned, as KO/AJ was lackluster in 2016 and handicap matches usually suck. However, these are the three best guys on Smackdown and they made it work. Owens and Zayn were great at playing mind games and using the stipulation to their advantage early on. As usual, AJ bumped like a madman for both guys. The superkick/Blue Thunder Bomb near fall worked very well. AJ and Owens had much better back and forth here than most of their singles matches. I also loved how they avoided the overbooking nonsense. Shane’s presence at SummerSlam hurt more than it helped. Here, they just let them do their thing. AJ managed to dump Sami outside and counter a Popup Powerbomb into a pin to retain in 15:51. However, Owens wasn’t really the legal man, so they have reason to continue complaining. The match was laid out excellently. Sami and Kevin came off great, while AJ was great at fighting from behind.
The Smackdown tag team division doesn’t get the credit it deserves. The Usos have been the best tag team since early 2017 and it continued here. They continued that trend here. Everything they did felt so crisp. Gable and Benjamin were also strong. The teams built up some very good near falls throughout this. I bought the first fall ending at several points. Specially on a Paydirt and an Uso splash. I thought Gable had it with Chaos Theory, but the Usos cut it off. He ducked a superkick, but ate one from the other Uso. They sandwiched him with superkicks to get the first fall at 12:07. I was surprised it took so long to win the first fall. The second fall was kept short, with Jey rolling Gable up to sweep things at 13:51. Though I like how the sweep keeps these kind of matches from being predictable, the way it was laid out made me feel it probably should’ve just been one fall. Regardless, the action was high quality and they had some good drama late.
Though I enjoyed the 2016 Royal Rumble, they’ve all been very lackluster since 2010. Of course, the one year the match is in the midcard, it delivers in spades. It started with Rusev and Finn Balor, making for one of my favorite pairings to start in history. Both guys lasted over thirty minutes. Baron Corbin (#4) got eliminated surprisingly quickly, and left people lying. There was a funny bit where he attacked Heath Slater (#5) during his entrance, and everyone who followed for a while also got in a shot on poor Heath. Elias (#6) got to sing for the crowd, before NXT Champion Andrade Almas (#7) got to come in and shine. I was so happy he got in. He nearly lasted thirty minutes. Tye Dillinger drew #10 again, but was attacked backstage and replaced by Sami Zayn. Sheamus (#11) was the one to put Heath in the ring, but it backfired when Heat eliminated him in a mere two seconds. There was a fun Kofi Kingston (#16) elimination save, as well as an awesome comedic moment involving the appearance of the Hurricane (#21). Adam Cole (#22) made an appearance, though he didn’t do much. Rey Mysterio (#27) returned and looked great. I was disappointed with Miz’s showing. However, the final six were GREAT. We got a faceoff between the present and past of WWE as Reigns, Balor, and Nakamura stood against Mysterio, Cena, and Orton. It came down to Balor, Nakamura, Cena, and Reigns. They all got to have great interactions together. Finn caught Nakamura with an incredible double stomp, before Cena got rid of him after 57:37. Nakamura then eliminated Cena and was left with Reigns. Their exchange was up there with HBK/Taker and Sheamus/Jericho among the best final two battles ever. Nakamura pulled out the win at 66:02 in one of the best Rumble matches ever. It had a little bit of everything. Reigns is a great choice for one of the last guys in the Rumble, because the crowd is so emotional in wanting him to lose. It made for a great atmosphere. Post-match, Nakamura said he was choosing AJ Styles and the WWE Title at WrestleMania.
The crowd was kind of dead after the Rumble. Putting it on in the middle of the show was tough. It didn’t help that this match wasn’t that exciting. However, it succeeded in telling a very good story. Seth started the match and when he went for his first tag, Jordan was pulled off the apron and attacked. From there, trainers came to check on him, leaving Seth to handle all the work inside. When Jordan finally got up, he tagged in and held his head in pain. It was so much, that he tagged right back out. The exhausted Seth questioned this, but Jordan was too busy selling the injury. Seth did hit the Ripcord Knee, but was leveled with the Brogue Kick to lose in 12:48. As I said, this wasn’t great from an action standpoint, but told a strong story and featured a quality performance by Seth.
They went to war right from the opening bell, which was the right decision. No need for fluff with guys like this. Just like the fantastic SummerSlam match, Braun stole the show. He dominated at points and made up for a few sloppy moments involving everyone else. There were some random uses of weapons, though the table spots involving Braun and Brock were very good. As was Braun standing up and almost no selling having a table dropped on top of him. Braun nearly had it won, but Kane took him out with chair shots. That left Kane to fall to the F5 at 10:53. About as good as I could’ve expected. It was a bit of a war, though other than taking the pin, Kane didn’t serve much of a purpose.
With the main event slot, this had to be good. And thankfully, it was. They hit on a lot of the right notes, similar to the men’s match. With a smaller roster to work with, a lot of the match relied on surprise entrants and nostalgia pops, which made for a really fun match. Sasha Banks (#1) played the iron woman, lasting 54:46, while Becky Lynch (#2) also got a strong showing. Special appearances from Lita (#5), Kairi Sane (#6), Torrie Wilson (#9), and Kelly Kelly (#19) were fine. The highlights were some of the others. Michelle McCool (#14) threw out five girls and looked great. Vickie Guerrero (#16) had a hilarious appearance. Ember Moon (#23) was a nice surprise, as was the Beth Phoenix (#24) faceoff with Nia Jax (#22). Both Bella Twins appeared to big pops, as did Trish Stratus (#30), who still looked like she could go better than most. We even got a callback to the awesome Trish/Mickie James feud. In the end, Banks threw out Bayley (#29) and Trish out, before turning on Asuka. She was then thrown out by the Bellas, leaving it down to them and Asuka. Nikki eliminated her sister and had a fun little exchange with Asuka at the end. It looked like Nikki was going to win after a forearm, but Asuka kicked her in the knee and got rid of her at 58:59. Everyone worked hard and they laid out the surprises and interactions very well. Most importantly, I had so much fun watching this. Kudos to everyone involved.
Post-match, Alexa Bliss and Charlotte entered the ring so Asuka could make her choice for WrestleMania. Before she could, “Bad Reputation” hit and out came the debuting Ronda Rousey. She pointed to the WrestleMania sign (and looked awkward while doing it) and wanted a handshake from Asuka. Asuka, being amazing, just kind of slapped her hand away. She exited and shook Stephanie McMahon’s hand (Steph was on commentary) to close the show. I’m glad Rousey wasn’t in the Rumble. I understand why she’s being brought in and it makes sense, I just think doing it here took the focus off Asuka too much.
Overall: A great start to 2018 for the WWE. Other than lame US Title match, everything was solid at the very least. There’s a good cruiserweight tag and two solid tag team matches from the Raw brand. The Smackdown Tag Team Title match is very good, while the Universal Title match was a fun car crash. I thought the WWE Title match was better than expected, with all three guys delivering the best handicap match I’ve ever seen. This show really succeeded with the two Royal Rumble matches. Recently, most of the Rumble matches were lackluster. But, they delivered two very good Rumble matches this year and the long show didn’t feel very long.