Here we go, it’s WWE’s first show of the year, and it sets the stage for the biggest show of the year. Who will win the Royal Rumble and go on to “main event” WrestleMania? We find out here!
Are those quote marks around main event? You know it, because the winner of the men’s and women’s Royal Rumbles are about as likely to close WrestleMania as they are to open the show. Maybe this year the winner will be fighting for the title on the pre-show.
This used to be my second favorite big show of the year – after SURVIVOR SERIES – but the bloom has come off the rose a little bit over the years. Although, LAST YEAR‘s show was really great. It’s another stacked card this year, so I’m hoping we get more of the same tonight.
We’ve got six hours or so to get through with the pre-show, so let’s get going.
Bobby Roode and Chad Gable vs. Rezar and Scott Dawson – The “Frankenstein team” of Rezar of Authors of Pain and Scott Dawson of The Revival are fighting the Raw Tag Team Champs for future title opportunities, since Rezar’s partner is injured. This is three of my favorite guys on the roster – and Rezar – going at it. The match was short but sweet, as the champs prove too much for two guys who have never teamed before. Match worked perfectly for what it was, though I’m surprised, since the titles weren’t on the line, that Rezar and Dawson didn’t pull through to set up future opportunities.
U.S. Championship Match: Rusev (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – How long will I have to bemoan Rusev not being more of a featured player in WWE? The guy continues to be fantastic in the ring and on the stick and fans love him! Nakamura I can take or leave, but Rusev should be in the main event, damn it! I missed the beginning of this, as I got up from my desk at the wrong time. These guys have great chemistry and I think they could have a classic match if given the time and focus. Even Lana’s involvement – yelling at the ref as Nakamura tried to untie the turnbuckle, leading to Rusev knocking her off the ring apron – was a great visual. The challenger hits the Kinshasa on Rusev to get the win and the title. Fun match, would watch again.
Cruiserweight Championship Fatal Four Way Match – Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Kalisto vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Hideo Itami – I’m really starting to dig Buddy Murphy, from the limited times I’ve seen him in action, mostly against Cedric Alexander in one-on-one championship matches. I’m not really a fan of WWE-style multi-man matches, though this one had some fun spots (like Tozawa running through the ropes under Itami’s legs to hit Kalisto, who proceeded to huracanrana Murphy into the barricade – yes, it looked as complicated as it sounds). Also, I can’t believe Itami is still around. I can’t remember the last time I saw him in the ring (but then again, I only watch the WWE Network Specials, and not the weekly shows). Murphy knocks Itami out to retain the title. Fine match, but I enjoyed the other two preshow matches more than I did this one.
Royal Rumble 2019
We are live on the WWE Network, coming to you from Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona!
SmackDown! Live Women’s Championship Match: Asuka (c) vs. Becky Lynch – I am all in on Becky Lynch, and it seems as though I am not alone. It’s amazing how WWE needs a new face of the company and all the leading contenders right now are women, with Lynch being right up there with Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey. Asuka won the title last month at TLC, beating Flair and Lynch with an assist from Rousey, which sets up a much more promising match than this one somewhere down the line. The brutal battle turned into a submission switch off down the line, which Asuka got the better of. The champ got the Asuka lock and then added a bridge to it to get Becky to tap. I didn’t expect Becky to win here, but I definitely wasn’t expecting her to tap clean. Interesting way to start the show, which leaves some potential for the rest of the evening.
SmackDown! Live Tag Team Championship Match: Cesaro and Sheamus vs. The Miz and Shane McMahon – Based on McMahon’s ridiculous “victory” in the WWE World Cup tournament at CROWN JEWEL, Miz and McMahon have bonded. I love The Bar. I cannot believe they are placed in a position to sell for Shane McMahon… but I guess they are at the very least getting some prime focus on TV and Network Specials. They don’t have the tag team titles anymore, though, as Shane hit a Shooting Star Press on Cesaro to get the win and the titles. Between that and the coast to coast dropkick, Shane’s probably going to be one sore 49-year-old tomorrow morning. But at least we get to see Miz and Shane celebrate with Miz’s dad. They should make him their permanent manager.
Raw Women’s Championship Match: Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Sasha Banks – Time to see how much damage Sasha Banks can take once again! One of these days, Banks’ opponent is going to do a Mortal Kombat-style fatality on her accidentally. She’s just gonna snap in half. Rousey, right away, tries to homage Banks’ hero Eddie Guerrero with a Three Amigos triple suplex. And then, after Banks slapped her, Rousey just kicked her in the stomach, sending the former champ out of the ring. Banks, though, manages to get the upper hand and puts Rousey into one of the sickest looking armbars I’ve seen outside of an Alexa Bliss match. This actually turned into a pretty good match, with Banks bringing Rousey to the brink, though Rousey was the one who pulled it out and got a pinfall win.
Banks confronted Rousey after the match and flashed the four fingers signifying the Four Horsewomen, which calls out two separate groups: Rousey’s MMA running mates and the wrestling women Banks came up with through NXT. The Rumble is known for its set-ups, and this could be a pretty big tag team match down the road.
30-Woman Royal Rumble – Last year, the women main evented, though it could be argued the men’s match was better. Let’s see if fortunes are reversed here. Lacey Evans – who I’ve neither seen not heard of before – draws number one and cuts a promo on everyone to let us know she’s a heel. I appreciate that. She’s paired off with Natalya to kick off the second-ever women’s Royal Rumble.
There were a lot of women in this match that I’d never heard of – the side effect of not watching regular Network programming. It didn’t take away from the match at all, just interesting for me to see new faces like Evans, Xia Li, Kacy Catanzaro, Io Shirai and Rhea Ripley.
This whole match was, honestly, overshadowed for me by waiting to see how they integrated Becky Lynch into the match, because it just made sense for her to be in it. With an injured Lana (no. 29) crumpled in a heap in the aisle well after Carmella came in at No. 30, The Man took her opportunity, convincing WWE agent Fit Finlay to let her in. We do need 30 women in the match, after all. Lynch’s opportunistic entrance brought her to the final two with Charlotte Flair, though the showdown was delayed by Nia Jax injuring Lynch’s knee, payback for Lynch eliminating Jax. Lynch was defiant when she finally got in the ring, yelling at Flair, “This is my time, you’re not taking this from me!” And then Flair clipped her knee. She made good on that, flipping Flair to the apron and then hitting her with a clothesline to win the second women’s Royal Rumble.
Flair was one of three women to go more than 50 minutes in the one hour and 12 minute match, along with Natalya (55:58) and Ember Moon (53:10). They join Sasha Banks, who went 54:46 last year in the 50-minute club. Will we have a woman go an hour next year?
Former American Ninja Warrior competitor and current NXT superstar Kacy Catanzaro competed with Naomi for the women’s division’s Kofi Kingston Award for avoiding elimination by wrapping her legs around the ring post and forcing herself up. Naomi took a leap from the barricade to the ring steps successfully, but was kicked off the steps by Mandy Rose.
My Favorite Elimination goes to Zelina Vega, who spent a good chunk of time hiding under the ring, a la Jerry “The King” Lawler. When she popped out of the ring to laugh at an eliminated opponent, former Anonymous Raw General Manager Hornswoggle popped out, too, chasing her from her spot and leading to her being eliminated by Rhea Ripley. You should never intrude on someone’s office, after all, and we all know that’s where ‘Swoggle liked to hang out.
Vega also had the best entrance outfit, coming out with a facemask and claws as a callback to Vega from STREET FIGHTER II.
This was a better effort, I think, than last year’s women’s Royal Rumble, on the strength of the anticipation of Lynch’s involvement. Maybe it could have been better with more of a final battle between old enemies Lynch and Flair, but everything still worked overall.
WWE Championship Match: Daniel Bryan (c) vs. A.J. Styles – How can you be expected to steal a show when EVERYTHING on the card feels like an epic encounter. From top to bottom, the main ROYAL RUMBLE CARD is made up almost entirely of big time matches, more so even than what we see at WrestleMania. Styles and Bryan slow the pace down a little bit, giving us more of a psychological encounter than what we’ve had on the rest of the card. It’s a great match, filled with moves and counters in a succession that only Styles and Bryan – two of the greatest wrestlers the company has employed – can deliver. But after having seen the match a few times, you need something else to elevate it into classic status. The ending of the match – with Erik Rowan coming out and facepalm slamming Styles while the ref was knocked out – wasn’t going to do that. But Bryan retains and is probably heading into WrestleMania as WWE Champion, and I can’t see anything wrong with that.
Universal Championship Match: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Finn Bálor – Finn comes out as himself, not The Demon, so you know he’s not going to win this match, which is disappointing. Brock Lesnar as the part-time champion who only shows up occasionally is getting really boring. Bálor makes it interesting, though, probably dealing out more damage to Lesnar than anyone else over the last few years has. When he hit the Coup De Gras, the fans were into it. But Bálor’s Coup De Gras was his own coup de gras, as Lesnar flipped the pin into a Kimura lock and forcing Bálor to submit. Short and sweet but completely enjoyable. And then Lesnar attacked Bálor with German suplexes and an F5 after the match as Corey Graves and Michael Cole sold how it meant that Bálor embarrassed him. The reign of Lesnar the Absent continues.
This show is ridiculously long. Can we get a 60-second interval Rumble, like we did in 1995? I have to listen to JBL and Lawler during the main event? This isn’t going to end well for me…
30-Man Royal Rumble – Oh good… before we start the match, we have to listen to Elias sing? Isn’t this show long enough? Even the commentary team wants him to get on with the match. And then Jeff Jarrett comes out and I am regretting my commitment to recapping this thing. Who thought this was a good idea? At least they’re leaving “With My Baby Tonight” to Bruce Prichard.
When you start the main event Rumble off with Elias and Jeff Jarrett, it can’t get much worse going forward, right? Well, it didn’t really get much better. There was no real story to the match with little to anticipate. Former Shield members Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose went at it for a bit. And Braun Strowman entered the match as a substitution for John Cena. But the commentary team did a terrible job of getting us hyped for what was coming, or even telling a compelling story throughout the match.
I had to catch up with the main event Monday morning, and after watching it, I feel like I had a pretty good idea of everything that happened from looking at the results on Wikipedia.
Was anyone really hyped for a Seth Rollins victory? I’m certainly not excited about a potential Rollins-Lesnar match for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania. A Rollins-Daniel Bryan match for the WWE Title might pique my interest a bit more, but it’s still only slightly above “meh” at this point. WWE has a bunch of guys who could easily break out with a big moment and freshen up the main event scene. Drew McIntyre, in particular, could have used a major push here, with more than the 4 eliminations (tied with Braun Strowman for the most this year) and 20 minutes in the ring. Instead, there was more focus given down the stretch to Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio, completely unnecessarily.
Adding to the blah feel of the men’s Rumble – they copied two gimmicks from the women’s match! I know the card felt like it took an eternity to get through, but having the same spots in two separate matches on the same night just screams of a lack of creativity. Just hours after Zelina Vega hid under the ring, so did Curt Hawkins. And then, when No. 30 R-Truth came out, Nia Jax attacked him and took his spot, like Becky Lynch took Lana’s.
Speaking of Nia Jax, as the fourth woman to enter the men’s Rumble match, it was a little weird watching the glee with which guys who are supposed to be good guys attacked her. Dolph Ziggler nailed her with a super kick. Rey Mysterio hit her with a 6-1-9. Randy Orton hit her with an RKO… OK, that one makes sense, given Orton’s history as a sociopath… but still… and the commentary team sold the attacks with glee. I admit, my perceptions may be stuck in another time, and I acknowledge that Jax made the choice to attack Truth and enter the match, but watching the series of strikes against a woman in the match just felt uncomfortable.
Much like last year, the earlier Rumble match far out-shined the main event one. The show would have benefitted greatly from switching the order there.
We are officially on the Road to WrestleMania, though, and WWE will have another Network Special in three weeks with ELIMINATION CHAMBER, and then another three weeks after that with FAST LANE. Hopefully we don’t hit too many speed bumps…