Okay, while I just said in my earlier article this morning that the NXT brand is consistently the best brand in the WWE for putting on pay-per-views/live events, especially after the NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia event, I gotta admit the 2018 edition of the Royal Rumble was, well… it wasn’t a great event all-around but it certainly delivered on what it needed to. There were some matches that left me scratching my head, wondering what the hell the WWE creative team was trying to get across, and the ending, while certainly uplifting, was a bit confusing; but the two main events of the night, the men’s and women’s Royal Rumble matches gave the fans just about everything that they wanted. I wish both Royal Rumble matches would have lasted a bit longer, but to ask what more from the participants in these matches would just be a bit greedy – but man, I wish we could have seen more.
To start off, let me get the Royal Rumble pre-show matches out of the way. In a cruiserweight 6-man tag match, Gran Metalik, Kalisto, & Lince Dorado defeated Drew Gulak, Gentleman Jack Gallagher, & TJP in a surprisingly entertaining match. Next, we had The Revival (Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson) took on and defeated Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows in a rematch from the RAW 25 match. And the final pre-show match saw the debut of the Glorious United States Championship Open Challenge saw Booby Roode successfully defend his United States Championship against Mojo Rawley. And while the cruiserweight match was the standout match of the pre-show, the other two matches were passable but not memorable.
To start off the main show, AJ Styles had to defend his WWE Championship in a handicap tag match against Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn. Owens & Zayn absorbed a fair amount of the offense from AJ Styles who pretty much carried the entirety of the match, but that is not to take away from the jobs that Zayn & Owens delivered. In fact, I would even say that Zayn was the main workhorse of the match. But damn, did Owens take a lot of offense to his back. Styles finally managed to outsmart both Owens & Zayn with a semi-screwy finish to retain his championship, but in the end, while I was happy with the outcome, the match was kind of on the fence between good and memorable.
The Usos (Jimmy & Jey) then set out to defend their WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship in a 2-out-of-3 falls match against the team of Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin … … … Um, I’ll be honest: I was lost in this match, probably because there seemed to be some kind of miscue or misstep that occurred at the end that kind of befuddled me. I mean, it was a good match up until the first fall was finally scored by The Usos over Gable & Benjamin. And almost immediately after a devastating attack on both Usos by Gable & Benjamin, Jey rolled up Benjamin to score the quick second fall for the victory.
Next up on the card was the Men’s Royal Rumble match with Rusev coming out in the #1 spot followed by Finn Balor in the #2 spot, and the crowd was popping loud for both men. (For the purpose of time and my sanity at not having to watch the match for a third time, I will skip every entrant and just talk about the highlights of the match.) Heath Slater came out at #5 only to be laid out before getting in and then was proceeded to be beatdown before he could get into the ring by the next several entrants. The #7 spot was the surprise entrant of Andrade “Cien” Almas, hot off of his match the previous night against Johnny Gargano at TakeOver. Tye Dillinger was supposed to come in at #10 but was attacked backstage by Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn with Zayn taking his spot in the match. Sheamus came in at #11 and forced Heath Slater into the ring (finally) before having the tables turned and being immediately eliminated by Slater. Kofi Kingston came in at #16 and did his usual “both feet haven’t hit the floor spot” in this goofy skit with the other members of The New Day (Big E & Xavier Woods) before finally being eliminated. The #21 spot provided another surprise entrant in the form of The Hurricane, Shane Helms. The Undisputed Era’s Adam Cole shockingly came in at the #23 spot despite a hellacious extreme rules match against Aleister Black the previous night. Rey Mysterio made a surprise appearance, coming in at #27 to a huge ovation from the crowd. And Dolph Ziggler finally came in as the #30 entrant. The end of the match saw the crowd whittle down to six with John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton, Finn Balor, Roman Reigns, and Shinsuke Nakamura staring each other down across generational lines. After Orton and Mysterio are eliminated, Cena surprised everyone by eliminating Finn Balor, who had been in there since the beginning of the match. Nakamura then eliminated Cena, and he and Reigns battle back and forth for a while before Nakamura finally gets the upper hand and tosses out Roman Reigns to win the Royal Rumble match and state that he will face AJ Styles at WrestleMania 34 for the WWE Championship. And this is my match of the night as it certainly delivered on everything that it should have. But the women would certainly challenge this later in the evening…
Next, what should have been a cool down match for the WWE RAW Tag Team Championship between the defending champions of Jason Jordan & Seth Rollins against the challengers of The Bar (Sheamus & Cesaro), turned into a surprisingly decent match carried by Rollins for much of the match. Ultimately, Jordan is injured and sells his injury to the point that Rollins is pretty much facing The Bar solo, his is ultimately pinned after Jordan refuses to get tagged back into the match and lets Rollins eat the pin, costing the team their championship belts.
The triple threat match for the WWE Universal Championship is up next as Champion Brock Lesnar faced off against both Braun Strowman and Kane. And this was another match on the card that surprised me and disappointed me in what turned out to be the shortest match of the night at just under 11 minutes in length. I mean, I’ve never been a fan of Hoss-type wrestlers facing off against other Hoss-type wrestlers, but you compound that feeling by having three big Hoss-type wrestlers face off against each other. And the pacing of the match was so confusing as they had these three men work a fast pace that they obviously looked so clunky performing. The match mercifully ends as Lesnar pinned Kane for the win with Strowman yelling at Lesnar that he never pinned him for the win. And that’s all I want to say about that cause, ugh…
Finally, to end the night, we had the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble match with Sasha Banks coming in at the #1 spot and Becky Lynch coming in at the #2 spot. (Again, for the purpose of time and my sanity, I will skip every entrant and just talk about the highlights of the match.) Lita was the first surprise entrant of the match when she came in at #5 and immediately followed by the #6 entrant, Kairi Sane. Torrie Wilson came in at #9 with Molly Holly entering the match at #12. Michelle McCool enters in at #14 and then, in the funniest spot of the night, Vickie Guerrero comes in at #16, screaming “Excuse me” at the women in the ring before they all turn on her to eliminate her, tossing her out of the ring. Kelly Kelly makes a surprise return at the #19 spot followed by Jacqueline at the #21 spot. Ember Moon and Beth Phoenix both come in at the #23 and #24 spots, respectively. Then, both Bella Twins entered the match back-to-back with Nikki Bella coming in at #27 and Brie Bella coming in at #28. Finally, Trish Stratus made her return at the #30 spot to fill out the match. The final four women in the match featured Sasha Banks teaming with the Bella Twins to try and eliminate Asuka, who came in at #25, before The Bellas double-crossed Banks and faced off against Asuka on their own. To no one’s surprise (but to my delight), Nikki then turned on Brie to eliminate her from the match before her and Asuka fought on the outside of the ropes, on the edge of the mat, before Asuka kicks out the legs from Nikki Bella to win the Royal Rumble match.
To end the night, as WWE Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss and WWE SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair stood in the ring to see who Asuka wants to face at WrestleMania 34, Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” played and out came former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Rhonda Rousey to a loud pop from the crowd and just kind of stood in the ring, pointed at the WrestleMania 34 marquee, tried to shake hands with Asuka before exiting the ring and shook hands with a tentative Stephanie McMahon before shaking hands with the fans and making her way back up the ramp and… that was it. Nothing more was made of it. And while I definitely marked out seeing Rousey at the Royal Rumble, it was just a kind of confusing segment that said everything and nothing at the same time. But even with all that, I thought it was a fitting end to the event.
All in all, despite a couple of slightly disappointing matches, this year’s Royal Rumble event was far more enjoyable than I figured it would be, even with the added anticipation of the historic Women’s Royal Rumble match. It was a fun and exciting show, had many of the fans in attendance pleased with many of the outcomes they expected, and produced some of the best emotions from the fans, sending them home fairly satisfied. I still think that NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia was the better show this weekend, but the 2018 Royal Rumble definitely entertained on more levels than I imagined.