Quick Hits – Royal Rumble 2018

Ronda Rousey makes her WWE debut. Photo from WWE.com

Thirty years after the WWF put the first Royal Rumble on the USA Network, WWE makes history with one of the better pay-per-views we’ve seen in a while!

Maybe it’s because I’m not watching any wrestling regularly anymore, keeping me from getting burnt out from all the hours of sports entertainment WWE produces each week, but I thought the 2018 Royal Rumble was one of the better events the company has put on in a while.

Coming from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, it’s time to rumble… it’s time for the ROYAL RUMBLE!

WWE Championship Handicap Match: AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn – I know they’ve all been in WWE for a few years now, but I’m still getting used to the idea that Styles, Kevin Steen and El Generico are not only IN WWE, but they’re in a match for the company’s most storied championship. I would call it the company’s main title, but it’s defended on SmackDown! Live and I’m not sure that counts as the main title, even if it’s the one with the lineage that includes Hogan, Sammartino, Austin and The Rock. The trio kicks off the night and makes sure the show is in high gear right from the opening bell. Even with the high expectations and the handicap stipulation – which ironically could handicap the match’s quality – Styles, Owens and Zayn put on quite a show, and you were never quite sure if WWE would pull the trigger on a weird co-championship run for Owens and Zayn. Styles continues to be the company MVP – both in story and in kayfabe – with the rollup on illegal man Owens to get the win and retain the WWE Championship. This is the guy who SHOULD be defending that belt at WrestleMania.

SmackDown Tag Team Championship Best of Three Falls Match: The Usos (c) vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable – Last month, for CLASH OF CHAMPIONS – I said I wanted to see more Usos vs. Benjamin and Gable. Obviously, the bookers over at WWE are big fans of the Geekery and gave me what I wanted. It’s not just a tag title match between the two teams, but best of three falls! I was giddy when I saw this on the card. The match was a lot of fun, and the build to the first fall, with the Usos getting the nod after Gable took a series of Superkicks from the champions, was great. But the second fall felt rushed and ended in the second roll-up pinfall of the night, giving the Usos the duke in two straight. I think the right team won – the Usos are fantastic in these heel personas – I just wish we got a couple few more minutes.

30-Man Royal Rumble – “These men are fighting for the chance to go to WrestleMania!” I’m really sick of hearing that. Of the 25 or so main roster guys in the match, how many of them do you think WON’T be at WrestleMania? The whole thing drives me crazy. But it’s the ROYAL RUMBLE! It’s my favorite match. And it’s on THIRD?!? Hmm… I’ve seen people on Twitter calling this “the best Rumble in the last 10 years” – which I buy – and “the best Royal Rumble since Flair won in 1992!” – which may be a bit hyperbolic. But make no mistake, it was a GREAT Royal Rumble. The match was structured better than it has been in years past, with the one-on-ones with the rest of the participants down “recovering” left to the beginning of the match.

My favorite moment in the match came at number 10, when Owens and Zayn beat up Tye Dillinger backstage and Zayn stole his spot. Seriously, I can’t stand Dillinger. The best surprise entrant of the match is a tie between The Hurricane coming in at number 21 and Rey Mysterio entering the match at 27. I wasn’t expecting either of them and they both provided great moments in the match.

Fourteen competitors in the Rumble had no eliminations at all, including Sheamus, Rusev, The Miz and Goldust. Not on that list is Heath Slater, who was knocked out by Baron Corbin when he tried to enter at number 5, was thrown in the ring by Sheamus at number 11 and quickly clotheslined Sheamus over the top, giving the Celtic Warrior the Santino/Warlord Memorial 2-Second Man Award. Every competitor from number 6 to 11 smacking poor Slater around as he crawled to the ring was a fantastic bit.

On the other end of the spectrum, Finn Bálor was this year’s Iron Man, going 57 minutes from the number 2 spot. Bálor also tied for most eliminations, even though he spent a good deal of time in the Reigns position on the floor. Coincidentally, he tied with Roman Reigns for that honor, with both guys getting four people out.

New Day members Big E and Xavier Woods saving Kofi Kingston from elimination by keeping his foot from hitting the floor was cute, but not nearly as good as some of his past near-elimination scares.

When Roman Reigns came in at number 28, and as the number of competitors left in the match started to whittle down, I legitimately thought WWE had lost its damn mind. Giving Reigns ANOTHER Rumble win – IN PHILADELPHIA AGAIN! – when the Philly crowd was booing the shit out of him not only felt like a terrible idea, but it was absolutely believable considering the match was on third. I had some thoughts of reprieve. Maybe they’d give it to Ziggler. Maybe to Bálor. But when the Final Two came down to Reigns and Shinsuke Nakamura, it seemed the writing was on the wall and Reigns was getting another win and going to main event WrestleMania. Thankfully, WWE surprised me, both in that Nakamura and Reigns had AMAZING chemistry in battling for the win and that Nakamura got the elimination and the win. He’s going to WrestleMania to face AJ Styles for the WWE Championship in a match that I guarantee you won’t main event the pay-per-view.

WWE delivered a fantastic Royal Rumble match – did they bring Pat Patterson back to book the thing? Great stuff. And there’s still three matches left on the card!

Photo from WWE.com

Raw Tag Team Championship Match: Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan (c) vs. Sheamus and Cesaro – Two former world champions, one of the best workers in the company and Jason Jordan get in the ring for a tag team title bathroom break match. Everyone but Jordan was in the previous match. Rollins spent 25 minutes in the Rumble and Sheamus and Cesaro did a combined 5:01. These guys did a great job adjusting the style of the match to meet its placement on the card, with the story being Cesaro and Sheamus keeping Rollins in the ring and avoiding the fresh man. Rollins fought off valiantly and once Jordan was finally able to tag in, the head injury caused when he got his noggin knocked into the ring post was too much and he tagged back out, giving the former champs the chance to take advantage of Rollins’ fatigue. Cesaro and Sheamus win their fourth tag team titles in what is, so far, the worst match of the night, and even that wasn’t very bad.

Universal Championship Triple Threat Match: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Kane vs. Braun Strowman – These three guys come in at a combined billed weight of more than 990 pounds, but all three of them were impressively limber here, taking some serious bumps through tables – both of the folding variety and the announce tables outside the ring – and really, all around the ring. Lesnar and Strowman, especially, showed scary strength throwing each other around with German suplexes. For three giants, they kept the crowd hot throughout the match with the wonton destruction. Lesnar gets the win after hitting Kane with an F-5 on a chair, but Strowman continues to look impressive and the crowd is completely behind him. I know the rumors are for Reigns to get another chance at a WrestleMania coronation against Lesnar this year, but they should really just elevate Strowman and see how he does on top.

30-Woman Royal Rumble – With Maria Menounos doing her best Howard Finkel impersonation as guest ring announcer and Stephanie McMahon on commentary with Michael Cole and Corey Graves, the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble kicked off with two of the wrestlers who were essential in kicking off the Women’s Revolution (evolution? I’ve heard it both ways) – Sasha Banks at number 1 and Becky Lynch at number 2. I suppose it makes sense to put this in the main event given what’s going on in the world and the historic nature of the match, but that men’s Rumble was amazing.

We also got SmackDown! Champ Charlotte Flair and Raw Champ Alexa Bliss watching the match from ringside, and I’m admittedly a little sad we didn’t get Charlotte in this match to imitate her dad’s 1992 performance. There’s always next year, I guess.

The first two competitors had some staying power in the match, as Lynch lasted almost 31 minutes, but The Boss was the Iron Woman of the night, going 54 minutes of a 59-minute match. She also gets the Roman Reigns Award for the match, though, as she spent a lot of time on the floor recovering from various beatings. Honestly, and I’ve said this before, with how petite she is, some of the bumps she takes are really cringeworthy. Banks did manage 4 eliminations, though, giving her a pretty impressive night. Nia Jax and Nikki Bella also had four eliminations.

The woman with the most eliminations, though, was surprise legend entrant Michelle McCool, the real-life wife of the Undertaker. And she did her best impersonation of the Deadman by throwing out 5 women, including Molly Holly and Lana.

Having a 30-woman Royal Rumble was a great idea for the show, but the Raw and SmackDown! rosters don’t really have the depth for it. Of the 30 participants, 11 aren’t on the main roster. We had two NXT wrestlers, NXT Champion Ember Moon and Kairi Sane; four Hall of Famers in Lita, Jacqueline, Beth Phoenix and Trish Stratus; and six other former wrestlers entering the match, including Brie Bella, Torrie Wilson and Kelly Kelly. Phoenix, as pointed out during the match, is the only woman now to compete in the women’s Rumble and the men’s Rumble, eliminating The Great Khali with a kiss at the 2010 event. Having some of these former wrestlers in the ring really highlighted the difference in talent between the former roster and the current one. We have it a lot better today… One only needs to look at the dropkick Wilson threw when she got in the ring.

Best Moment of the match easily goes to the showdown between Mickie James and Trish Stratus, giving a shoutout to their famous rivalry. Runner-up was Trish mocking Sasha’s taunt.

Former Women’s Champ Naomi went for the Kofi Kingston Award for avoiding elimination, landing on the ring barrier and then copying a Kingston move from a few years ago, grabbing Menounos’ chair and crawling back to the ring… just to be eliminated by Nia Jax.

WWE gave us our second Japanese Royal Rumble winner in one night, as Asuka came in at number 25 and threw out three women in just under 20 minutes to get the WrestleMania title shot. Given how dominant Asuka has been, it makes sense for her to get a coronation at WrestleMania, but I think people were expecting someone else to debut before the match ended. Instead, we got it AFTER the match, as former UFC champion and all-around badass Ronda Rousey walked out, having just signed a contract with WWE. Not sure I get the wisdom of not debuting Rousey here and having her dominate to a win for the WrestleMania spot against Charlotte, but there’s no doubt she’s going to play a major part in WrestleMania.

Final Thoughts – This was easily one of the best Royal Rumbles in recent memory, with great action and some great moments. After the last few years – maybe the last decade or so – of feeling disappointed when the Rumble came to a close, this was a very welcome change.