Thirty years of the thirty man battle royal (apart from when it was forty men or included Chyna) brings us to a unique moment in WWE PPVs: there are no clear winners to choose from in this year’s Royal Rumble.
First up, we had the Raw Women’s Championship match. Charlotte is pound-for-pound better than her old man. He may have had the charisma, she has pure ability than not many male performers from any period of sports entertainment history can better. The Bayley match didn’t showcase this, the result wasn’t surprising.
Charlotte is the champ with only Sasha Banks on her level but they can’t fight every PPV.
Next up, was the Universal Championship. Even though most expected a Roman Reigns win, with it, another forced push at the top, the Chris Jericho subplot meant an Owens victory could lead to a fight between the buddies later down the line for the gold.
Fans clearly cheered KO, the Cena fans (kids) liked Reigns throwing Y2J into the shark cage. Roman being hated for being the next Cena isn’t a marker of success. He needs a character reboot.
The match had a good pace. A pyramid of chairs early on was a teaser. The first big spot was Owens frog-splashing from the top rope to the outside, putting Roman through a table in the process.
Of course, Reigns kicked out. The commentators played up broken ribs but considering The Beast Incarnate Brock Lesnar fell so fast to Goldberg with this kayfabe injury, it makes no sense Roman Reigns can shrug off the same ailment.
Jericho then provided brass knuckles (knuckle dusters, my UK friends). Owen provided a brass knuckle punch. Reigns provided a kick out at two.
Owens ended up going through the stacked chairs and an announce table. Then appears Braun Strowman to smash Reigns against another announce table, his head dangerously close to a monitor in the process. Then a slam through a table propped in the corner of the ring.
Again, head smashing against objects.
It gave Owens the win, keeps the rise of Reigns at bay, and raises questions about Strowman’s big game mentality.
It also increased Jericho’s chances of winning the Rumble later in the night.
In the following match, Neville took the Cruiserweight title but that’s all I’ll say about a division that hasn’t worked and should be given a separate platform on a permanent basis. Other than the awkwardness of changing the ropes every twenty minutes, it is sinking on the normal roster.
Styles and Cena in their WWE Championship match told a good story, the tease of tying with Flair’s record by winning with the figure-four was good.
Fair play to WWE, after seven hundred different finishers followed by two-counts, an AA from the top rope, followed by the look on Cena’s face, victory seem assured. Styles kicked out.
In the end, it took another AA, immediately rolling into another AA, for Cena to get the three count and record equalling sixteenth title.
The victory increased The Undertaker’s chance in the Rumble.
Remember Jericho’s chance improving early in the night? Well he started against Cass as the number two draw in the Rumble match. We’ve done this twice before with Y2J, there’s no suspense or enjoyment watch him set stamina records again. It would have been better to see him emerge in the last five.
So, this isn’t the place to deliver a blow-by-blow account of the entire Rumble. There are live feeds for that, and to be honest, there weren’t that many big spots. Even Kofi Kingston’s annual Rumble breath-taking escape was reduced to him landing on his chest on the top of the ring post.
Also, there were no surprise blasts from the past. No Kurt Angle.
If you can detect a slight disgruntlement it’s because once again, the modern WWE managed to build an event, add all the right ingredients, then not know how to use them.
The omission of Seth Rollins is a bizarre decision. As the entrants came and went, we quickly came down to a thin field with not too many names to follow. That trimming was thanks to Braun Strowman but again, he looked dangerous. His size should be storyline scary, his actions in the ring storyline devastating. The reality is, he’s one move away from ending someone’s career.
Baron Corbin relieved the wrestlers of Strowman and it set up the final act. We all knew Brock Lesnar and Goldberg were to come, along with The Undertaker. That was one potential combination to end the match.
When Lesnar finally appeared, he either threw people over the top rope or took them to Suplex City. Until Goldberg entered, speared and dispatched him over the top rope. Embarrassing for Brock, but more awkward for WWE that after that quick act, the aged superstar look immobile.
Chris Jericho had spent half the match hidden from the ring action. So was this to preserve him for a big finish? The KO v Y2J Wrestlemania main event? Nope. It was to serve zero purpose other than extend his record for longest career time in the Rumble match.
When the final man entered, the arena erupted – into a chorus of boos. It was Roman Reigns, a man no adult wanted to win. Again, he was booked to look strong, eliminating The Deadman who had taken the ring for his own with a dashing late appearance.
It was cheeky of WWE to tease the idea of another Reigns Rumble win. It riled the crowd and a match that started with several possibilities came down to Roman or the Wyatt family.
Thank the Lord that the RKO exists and a fresh direction, with a continuing storyline woven in, takes centre stage. Maybe WWE has finally learned, and Roman will have to earn his crust.
After this Rumble, it looks like that will be against The Phenom. And hopefully best friends Jericho and Owens can still book that big Universal Title bout.
6/10 (I’d have added 3 points for a shock The Miz win.)