After the fantastic NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia the WWE is under the gun to produce something memorable. This is becoming a regular occurrence though, and it doesn't seem to make any difference.
Kickoff: Kalisto, Gran Metalik & Lince Dorado vs TJP, Drew Gulak & Jack Gallagher
That picture looks like TJP and his two dads. Gulak is my favourite member of the cruiserweight division and it isn't really close. This wasn't a bad way to start the in ring action, even though the few fans that were in attendance didn't give a shit. There was a spot where all of the faces did simultaneous moonsaults to the outside, and it looked great. The faces won and TJP threw a shit fit. ***
Owens and Zayn are in the social media lounge and it is just superb. Their refusal to answer anything that Rosenberg says is brilliant. Everybody hates Rosenberg.
Kickoff: Gallows & Anderson vs The Revival
This was a solid tag match. The Revival worked over the left knee of Anderson, while isolating him from Gallows. The hot tag was a bit lukewarm but the match itself was decent. The Revival picked up the win to get back on track somewhat. **1/2
JBL and Alundra Blayze have a weird shouting match about nothing. It was something else.
Bobby Roode US Open Challenge
The challenge is answered by Mojo fucking Rawley. Fuck it all. The fans aren't happy and I don't blame them. Mojo showed some decent fire but I wasn't really interested in any of it. The finish looked fucking awful too. **
WWE Title, Handicap Match - AJ Styles vs Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
I don't really think this is a sensible stipulation but Smackdown in general has been somewhat nonsensical. At least it is tag rules. The early going is all Owens and Zayn, as they make quick tags and don't allow Styles to get a foothold. Owens misses a cannonball and reinjures his ankle, and this allows Styles to get back into the match. There is a spot where Styles hits a headscissors out of a monkey flip that is something you don't see often. This match is way better than a handicap match should be. The structure is excellent and some of the near falls are great. The finish sees Styles roll up Owens for the win, even though he wasn't the legal man. Good start to the main show. ***1/2
Owens and Zayn talk to Shane McMahon. Shane comes across like a prize prick, as per usual.
Smackdown Tag Titles, 2/3 Falls - The Usos vs Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable
This match has potential. The first fall has the challengers working over the knee of Jimmy, it's a match structure that actually makes sense. Great team work. They get cocky and it allows the Usos to make the hot tag and Jey runs wild. Benjamin powerbombs one Uso into the other and hits Paydirt but still can't get the pin. Gable does a moonsault to the outside, and it's lovely. The Usos hit the splash but that doesn't get it done either. The Usos end up picking up the first fall with a series of superkicks. Usos 1 - 0 Benjable.
Shortly into the second fall the challengers hit a Hart Attack to the floor and try to pick up the winning fall, but the Usos pull a sneaky roll up out of nowhere to take the clean sweep victory. It was a really good match, even if the finish could have been better. ***3/4
Men's Royal Rumble
I would say that Rousey is probably in the other Rumble. The first two participants are Rusev and Finn Balor. Both of them are stupendously over. They have your standard back and forth until entrant number 3 comes out, and it's Rhyno. There is a short gap and number 4 is Baron Corbin. Corbin eliminates Rhyno but gets eliminated by Balor. He is fucking pissed about it and murders both Balor and Rusev. Entrant number 5 is Heath Slater and he gets murdered too. Good start this.
Entrant number 6 is Elias. Who has nobody to deal with so he sings a song, stopping to stomp Slater along the way. Elias is over. Elias says that he is going to spit in the face of the Rocky statue. We all need dreams. Entrant 7 is Andrade 'Cien' Almas. Tranquillo. I popped hard for that. He has a back and forth with Elias before entrant number 8 appears. It's Bray Wyatt. Whatever. Number 9 is Big E. He feeds Slater some pancakes. Top bloke. The 10th entrant is Tye Dillinger, what are the chances?, but he is mugged backstage by Owens and Zayn and Zayn takes his place.
Entrant 11 is Sheamus, who finally gets Slater into the ring and is then immediately eliminated by him. Wyatt then eliminates Slater. Dick. Number 12 is Xavier Woods. 2 members of the New Day are in. 13th is Apollo Crews. I have nothing more to add. 14 is Shinsuke Nakamura. There are a ton of people in now. Philly loves Nakamura. He eliminates Zayn. Cesaro completes the first half of the Rumble line up.
Number 16 is Kofi Kingston, meaning that all 3 members of New Day are in. Cesaro eliminates Apollo after a back and forth. Number 17 is Jinder Mahal. I forgot about him. Lawler is picking him to win. Jinder eliminates Woods, then eliminates Big E. Rollins is the 18th entrant, complete with flame tights. Rollins eliminates Cesaro. Jinder throws Kofi out of the ring but one of his feet lands on Woods. He uses a plate of pancakes so that he doesn't touch the floor. Jinder blocks his way but Woods and Big E launch him back in. That was great. Woods eliminates Jinder but is then eliminated by Almas. Number 19 is Matt Hardy. Hardy and Wyatt eliminate Rusev. They are heels for life. They then eliminate each other. Cena is 20th and everyone piles on him. He eliminates Elias.
Entrant 21 is, incredibly randomly, The Hurricane. He tries to chokeslam Cena but gets thrown out immediately. Number 22 is Aiden English. Number 23 is Adam Cole BAYBAY!. Balor eliminates English. Orton is in at 24. Almas springboards in but gets caught in an RKO. Orton then eliminates him. Fuck Orton. Good for nothing prick. Number 25 is Titus.
We are into the last 5 entrants and number 26 is the Miz. He would be a popular winner with me. He goes to work on Rollins and Cena. Number 27 is Rey Mysterio, who eliminates Adam Cole and hits a 619 on Miz. Number 28 is Roman Reigns and he comes out to deafening boos. He immediately sets his sights on Miz. Titus makes the mistake of going near him and is eliminated. Miztourage saves Miz but not for long. He gets Shield bombed out of the ring. Reigns then eliminates Rollins. The weasel bastard. Goldust is 29th and the last entrant in the Rumble is....Ziggler.
We are in the final stretch now. Ziggler eliminates Goldust. Ziggler is eliminated by a combination of Nakamura and Balor. AA to Balor, 619 to Reigns, RKO to Naks. Reigns eliminates Orton. 619 to both Cena and Reigns but he is then eliminated by Balor. The final four are Balor, Reigns, Cena and Nakamura. They have a stand off and Reigns and Cena attack. They face off to 'you both suck' chants. Balor takes out everyone but is caught off guard and eliminated by Cena. Cena and Reigns attack Nakamura then set their sights on each other. Cena hits an AA on Reigns but gets outsmarted by Nakamura who eliminates him.
We are down to Nakamura and Reigns, and I am genuinely nervous. They trade strikes and Reigns hits a Superman punch. Nakamura goes over the top but hangs on. He tries to pull Reigns out with a head and arm lock but Reigns reverses into a powerbomb. Nakamura fights back and goes for the Kinshasa but gets hit by the spear. Reigns can't finish the job though and Shinsuke drills him with the Kinshasa. He picks Reigns up and throws him out of the ring. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA WON THE ROYAL RUMBLE!
That was fucking brilliant. It had everything I could ask for in a Rumble. It had a great ironman in Balor, a bunch of well spaced crowd favourites, some crazy returns, Ziggler being disappointing, a final four that were all believable winners, and genuine emotional investment from the fans. Superb. ****3/4
After the match Nakamura says he will face Styles at WrestleMania. I am a happy camper right about now.
Raw Tag Titles - Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan vs The Bar
This match was pretty good, and the wrestlers worked hard, but this was an absolute death spot to be in. Following that Rumble was an unwinnable situation. The story was that Jordan got ran into the post early and never managed to recover, leaving Rollins to fight alone, unsuccessfully. The story they told was good and the three of them tried their best to make it work but the crowd was spent. **1/2
Universal Title - Brock Lesnar vs Braun Strowman vs Kane
Beef! We ain't fucking around here. Braun drills Lesnar with a stiff knee so Lesnar punches him square in the face. Kane chokeslams Lesnar. Lesnar hits Kane with a chair but Braun punches the chair out of Lesnar's hand. Good first 2 minutes. Braun sets up some tables. Lesnar hits 3 Germans on Braun who retaliates with a powerslam through a table. Some shit goes down, Braun throws himself through a table and there are a bunch of pinfall break ups.
Lesnar F5s Braun through the announce table and in a callback to last year he throws the announce table on him. Lesnar then F5s Kane through the last remaining announce table. Braun is not fucking done though. He hits a pair of powerslams on Lesnar but gets taken out by Kane, with the help of a chair. Lesnar hits an F5 onto a chair on Kane and that is that.
I cannot even begin to make sense of that. It was simultaneously brilliant and terrible and it gave me the same kind of enjoyment that the hardcore title match from Mania 17 did. A match that also involved Kane. **1/2 (This number is irrelevant)
Women's Royal Rumble
Maria Menounos does the ring announcing. She sucks at it. Stephanie McMahon is on commentary for this, that should be a joy. The respective champions are at ringside. Sasha Banks is entrant number 1 and Becky Lynch is at 2. We get a nice back and forth start before Sarah Logan comes in at 3. Mandy Rose is 4th and Graves loses his mind. Lita is in at 5. I approve is this, especially as she wasn't on Raw 25. Lita eliminates Mandy Rose as she wasn't paying enough attention.
Kairi Sane is in at 6. She gets to drill a couple of people with the super sweet elbow. Tamina is in at 7, looking like she should be in a glam band. Lita eliminates her before getting eliminated herself by Becky Lynch. Dana Brooke comes in at 8 and proceeds to eliminate Kairi Sane. I hate her. Torrie Wilson comes in at 9, she looks great but was never the most capable wrestler. She does eliminate Dana though so she's okay by me. Sonya Deville is number 10. Deville eliminates Torrie, which is probably for the best.
Liv Morgan is in at 11. Molly Holly is in at 12, eliminates Sarah Logan and hits the Molly-go-round. In at 13 is Lana. She gets the Rusev Day pop. Michelle McCool is in at 14 and she goes about eliminating fucking everyone. Well, nearly everyone. Sasha and Lynch are left. Riott is in at 15 and we return to some sort of sense.
Vickie Guerrero is in at 16 and my ears are bleeding. She is eliminated by everyone. Carmella is in at 17. Vickie gives her one of the weakest shots you will ever see with her briefcase. Natalya is the 18th participant. Carmella delivers a cornucopia of superkicks. Kelly Kelly is in at 19. She is possibly the worst champion the company has ever had. Michelle McCool is eliminated. Naomi is in at 20. Becky Lynch is eliminated by Ruby Riott.
Jacqueline is in at 21. Nia Jax is in at 22 and immediately eliminates Jacqueline, Kelly and Riott. She throws Naomi out too but Naomi gets to the barricade without hitting the floor. She gets back in using a chair but Jax eliminates her anyway. During this Ember Moon came in at 23. I think she should have not competed to help sell the arm. Beth Phoenix is 24th and has some nice spots before being eliminated by best friend Natalya. Asuka is in at 25. She throws some strikes and has a good back and forth with Ember Moon before eliminating her.
Mickie James is 26th. Nikki Bella is 27th. She gets a pop but I will never understand why. I associate her with being the face of a worse time in women's wrestling. She eliminates Carmella. Brie is 28th. The Bella Twins run roughshod for a bit before Bayley enters at 29. The crowd is chanting for Rousey but it isn't. It's Trish Stratus. I am cool with that. I do think it cuts down the potential winners somewhat.
Trish and Mickie face off, which is a nice, and Trish eliminates Mickie but gets murdered by Jax. Everybody piles on Jax and she is eliminated. Sasha eliminates Bayley. Keep your wits about you is the key here. Banks eliminates Trish. By proxy heel work here. The final 4 are Sasha, Asuka and the Bella Twins. The Bellas eliminate Sasha as she was going full on heel. Asuka is on a murder spree but gets cut off by Nikki. Nikki then eliminates Brie, for reasons that make no sense. They end up on the apron and Asuka takes out Nikki's legs to win the match.
This match had an absolute ton of pressure on it, not least of all from how much the WWE has been on a media frenzy and the men's Rumble actually delivering for once. For the most part they delivered brilliantly. The use of the past wrestlers was good for the most part, Trish, Lita, McCool, Jacqueline and Phoenix were all good additions, though I do question the additions of Torrie and Kelly Kelly as they were more associated with their looks than their nonexistent wrestling ability and are kind of emblematic of what this match was helping to leave behind. I have never cared for the Bella Twins but I get why they are there. That is a small gripe in the big picture though. It was another well laid out match that was better than recent Rumbles have been. A triumph, all things considered. ****
After the match Asuka faced off with both of the champions but was interrupted by Ronda Rousey, who was apparently wearing a jacket that actually belonged to Roddy Piper. Rousey pointed to the WrestleMania sign and wanted a handshake from Asuka but Asuka ain't up for it. Rousey points to the sign again and shakes hands with Steph. It didn't really clear up anything with regards to either Asuka or Rousey's Mania plans.
Overall Grade - B+
At the end of the day if the Rumble matches delivered then this show would be a success and they did, so it was. The men's Rumble was the best in a long time and the women's Rumble managed to take the pressure of being a pioneer and nail it. Well done all round.