The WWE Royal Rumble took place on Sunday night and it was a huge success. The highlights of the show saw two Japanese stars – Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka – win the two Royal Rumble matches while former UFC superstar Ronda Rousey officially made her WWE debut, which was expected for several months.
I thought it was a good show carried by the two Rumble matches, with the men’s Rumble going over an hour and the women’s Rumble going a few minutes less than that. Obviously, Rousey’s arrival is getting a lot of attention since WWE let ESPN in on the news, so that they could shill it heavily as soon as the Rumble went off the air.
As far as predictions go, I got Nakamura and Asuka right as the Rumble winners. It’s shocking that WWE put the right people over! I was also right in going with Brock Lesnar and AJ Styles retaining their titles. I correctly picked Sheamus & Cesaro to win back the Raw Tag Team Titles and my only wrong prediction was thinking The Usos might lose the Tag Team Titles, but that didn’t happen.
Before I start talking about the Royal Rumble event, a quick note on NXT Takeover Philly from Saturday because there was an incredible main event on that show. Andrade “Cien” Almas defeated Johnny Gargano in a 31-minute classic that I rated five stars out of five and I highly recommend watching it if you missed it.
Here are 10 thoughts I had on the show and where things might be headed in some cases:
10. The WWE Championship match ended in controversy
— WWE (@WWE) January 29, 2018
I had my doubts about the WWE Championship match with AJ Styles defending the gold against Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens in a handicap match. Most of the match saw the heel duo of Sami and Kevin tagging each other in and out to their advantage, but Styles kept on coming back for more. When it looked like Styles was done for, Owens went back to selling his left leg injury from last week’s Smackdown. I thought the match could have used a few more near-falls to make it look like Styles was going to lose. The best near-fall for the heels was when Zayn hit a Blue Thunder Bomb after an Owens kick.
The finish was controversial because there was a spot where Zayn tried to tag in Owens and clearly didn’t tag him, but ref Mike Chioda allowed the tag. Styles dumped Zayn out of the ring and when Owens went for a Powerbomb, Styles turned it into a pinning predicament that led to him winning the match. Styles’ shoulders may have been down too.
Owens and Zayn complained to Shane McMahon about it backstage, but Shane did nothing about it except walk away with a smile on his face. No sign of Daniel Bryan.
I didn’t expect Styles to lose the title. He should carry it all the way to WrestleMania and I sure hope that happens with no changes on the way.
9. The Usos retained 2-0 in a best-of-three falls match over Gable & Benjamin
— WWE (@WWE) January 29, 2018
Any time there’s a “two-out-of-three falls” match, the expectation is that one team will win the first fall, the other team will win the second, and then whoever is going over gets the win. Going to the third fall happens about 95% of the time. It didn’t happen here, though. Somebody in WWE must have felt they needed to do a different finish by going with just two falls instead of three. I thought that decision hurt the match.
It took about 10 minutes for the first fall to happen, with each team pulling out some big moves to try to get a fall. The Usos eventually managed to get the first fall with a barrage of superkicks, including a double superkick spot. Shortly after that, Gable & Benjamin looked like they were going to get the second fall until Jey rolled up Benjamin and got the win.
I think the match was hurt by the way the finish was booked. These teams are awesome and if they were given 15 minutes to have a regular match, it would have been a lot better than this.
8. Sheamus & Cesaro became four-time Raw Tag Team Champions
— Sheamus (@WWESheamus) January 29, 2018
The crowd was dead for this match because it followed the men’s Royal Rumble, which was full of excitement and had a satisfying finish. I feel bad for Sheamus & Cesaro, as well as Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan, because they were working hard (at least everybody but Jordan, who was in an injury angle for the match) and nobody was reacting to anything. At one point, Rollins made an incredible comeback with a lot of exciting offense, but the crowd didn’t even react to him. He was on the top rope for a Frog Splash trying to urge the crowd on and they didn’t care at all. A Frog Splash off the top rope onto two guys at the same time can’t get a reaction? That’s tough. The crowd was good most of the night too. It just wasn’t a good spot for the match.
Anyway, the story of the match was that Jordan was sent into the ring post by the heels and he sold it like he was knocked out. When Rollins tried to tag him in, Jordan wasn’t there. When Jordan got back on the apron, he tagged in and wasn’t able to do much. Rollins was basically was fighting on his own and lost the match due to a Sheamus Brogue Kick, as well as a double-team White Noise by Sheamus & Cesaro. I’m fine with the title change, but Raw needs more face teams right now.
It’s time to pull the trigger on the Jordan heel turn. They should do something where Rollins is too nice to blame Jordan for the loss, but then Jordan can blame Rollins for it and attack him. I’m not sure if the WrestleMania plan is Jordan vs. Rollins or maybe Jordan vs. his “father” Kurt Angle. There’s still the Elimination Chamber PPV at the end of February too.
I hope Rollins is used as a singles wrestler from now one. He’s been tagging too often. I’m a huge fan of Rollins and he needs a bigger role on the Raw brand.
7. Brock Lesnar pinning Kane was the easiest prediction of the night
— Paul Heyman (@HeymanHustle) January 29, 2018
The Universal Championship match went about 11 minutes and it was the most violent match of the night because they managed to break five tables (including all three at ringside) while also using other weapons, including steel chairs.
The result of the match was no surprise. Here’s what I wrote in my preview:
“I think as soon as the Universal Championship match was set up, the obvious outcome was that Kane was going to be pinned. That’s because WWE wants to protect Braun Strowman by keeping him out of the finish of this match. Lesnar will pin Kane, Strowman will be out of the ring while it happens and the 50-year-old Kane will probably retire later this year.”
That exactly how it happened because Lesnar shoved Kane into Strowman to knock him down outside the ring, then Lesnar hit Kane with a F5 to beat him.
I thought the most interesting part of the match was early on as Strowman nailed Lesnar with two stiff knees to the head. Lesnar came back with two hard punches to the head. You could hear Lesnar say something to him and I had people on Twitter comment to me that he said, “Calm the f**k down,” which was muted on the broadcast. I think that was Lesnar telling Braun he hit him a bit too hard, so Brock paid him back with that punch. The broadcast replayed Lesnar’s punches a few times.
It would have been nice to see Strowman win the title, but I didn’t expect it. The rumored plan for Strowman is to face The Miz at WrestleMania for the Intercontinental Championship. Lesnar is likely going to defend the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania with Reigns ending the one-year run of Lesnar. That’s been the plan for the last year.
6. Putting the men’s Royal Rumble on before the women’s Royal Rumble showed how much WWE believes in their women superstars
— WWE (@WWE) January 29, 2018
The placement of the matches was very interesting. The men’s Rumble match started at around 8 p.m. ET, so it was about one hour into the show. Normally, that’s the match that will main-event the Rumble. When I saw it going on earlier in the night, I knew that meant something big was going to happen in the women’s match.
It’s another example of WWE really pushing their “Women’s Revolution” (or is it evolution?) story that they talk about all the time on every show. I’m all for the women getting more of the spotlight. It was just weird to see the men’s Royal so early in the night and like I said earlier, the Raw Tag Team Title match had a dead crowd due to how loud they were for the men’s Rumble match.
The decision made sense by the end of the night, due to all the attention Ronda Rousey was getting. It just felt like Nakamura’s win may not have got the attention it deserved because of when it happened.
5. The men’s Royal Rumble was lacking in big surprises aside from Rey Mysterio
In my preview of the Rumble, I mentioned names like The Undertaker, Bobby Lashley and EC3 as possible surprise entrants in the match. None of them were a part of the match. The Undertaker was at the show backstage because his wife Michelle McCool was in the women’s Rumble. The Undertaker is still expected to wrestle at WrestleMania this year, most likely in a match against John Cena.
As for Lashley, he wasn’t in the Rumble — although he’s expected to start in WWE at any time since his Impact Wrestling contract is done and he’s likely agreed to some deal with WWE. They could wait a few months to bring him back, but I think now is the right time to get him back in the mix as an upper midcard talent who could be a main eventer with the right storyline.
Regarding EC3, who used to wrestle in WWE as Derrick Bateman, he appeared at the NXT Takeover event on Saturday and they made it clear that he’s going to start on the NXT brand for now.
We ended up getting one big name from the past in Rey Mysterio, as well as a comedic character in The Hurricane (he was tossed out easily) and two NXT guys with Andrade “Cien” Almas and Adam Cole. Everybody else in the match was a regular from the current roster. As for Mysterio, this was considered a one-time appearance for him. But he’s not under contract to anybody else, so he’s able to sign a longer-term deal if WWE offers him something he likes.
I don’t think the lack of big surprises hurt the Rumble at all because the match was booked well. I’m just saying some of the names that fans may have been expecting were not a part of it.
4. Shinsuke Nakamura was the right choice to win the Royal Rumble
— WWE (@WWE) January 29, 2018
I thought the men’s Royal Rumble was the highlight of the show and one of the best Rumble matches ever. The last great one was probably 2010 and I enjoyed 2007 a lot as well. Going back further, I think 1992 is the best Rumble ever. This one was nearly as good as those four.
Nakamura entered the match at #14 and lasted 44:25, which meant he was in the match the second-longest after Finn Balor’s time of 57:30. Balor was #2 and lasted all the way to the final four along with Nakamura, John Cena and Roman Reigns.
It was smart to have four faces to end the match with Nakamura, Balor, Cena and Reigns. Of course, Reigns is booked like a face even though he was booed like the biggest heel in the building because the fans had no interest in seeing him win the match.
Nakamura eliminated Cena and then he got rid of Reigns. It’s the right way to book the end of the match because Cena and Reigns had the most credibility in the match as main event level guys who have headlined multiple WrestleManias. Use the more established names to help get over the guys that you hope can reach that level. That’s why this match was so great, because they planned moments like that so well.
I’m very excited about Nakamura vs. Styles for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania, assuming Styles is still the champion. Styles is ready for it too.
— AJStyles.Org (@AJStylesOrg) January 29, 2018
3. Names from the past helped the women’s Royal Rumble have some memorable moments
Due to the WWE roster lacking in women to fill up 30 spots, they had to call in several women from the past to take part in the match. Here are the names who were involved with some quick thoughts on each.
Lita (#5) – Huge pop for the WWE Hall of Famer. She did some of her trademark spots, including a moonsault.
Torrie Wilson (#9) – She was never known for her in-ring work, but she did a decent job. Still looks great, of course. One of the best-looking women in wrestling history.
Molly Holly (#12) – I always thought she was underrated and a consistently good in-ring performer. She is definitely somebodywho would have thrived in this era when they take the in-ring action more seriously.
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) January 29, 2018
Michelle McCool (#14) – Mrs. Undertaker had a great showing and looked like she hadn’t missed a beat. The surprising thing was she eliminated the most women with five. Nia Jax was second with four eliminations. I thought Jax would have the most.
Vickie Guerrero (#16) – Vickie was a non-wrestler, but good comic relief with her “EXCUSE ME” yelling to get some heat. The other women in the ring teamed up to gently toss her out of there.
Kelly Kelly (#19) – When she retired she was only 25, so she could definitely return full-time if she wanted since she’s younger than some of the current women. Kelly wasn’t really known for being a wrestler, but she had some good moments. She didn’t do that much in this match.
Jacqueline (#21) – Another WWE Hall of Famer who had a brief run here that lasted under two minutes.
Beth Phoenix (#19) – She was the third WWE Hall of Famer in the match. They gave her a big showdown with Jax as two power wrestlers. Funny moment when she hugged her best friend Natalya and then Natalya tossed her out. I thought Beth should have been in there longer than two minutes.
Nikki & Brie Bella (#27 & #28) – Since they aren’t full-time anymore I’ll include them. Brie had a daughter last May, so she was out of action for a while. Nikki has been off since WrestleMania due to her neck injury. They both made it to the final three and combined for six eliminations. Strong showing for the Bellas.
Trish Stratus (#30) – Another WWE Hall of Famer in the final spot of the match. She looked like she hadn’t missed a beat after retiring over a decade ago. The crowd was hot for it and she looked hot, of course. I really enjoyed her showdown with Mickie James, which led to big cheers from the crowd. Their feud in 2006 was outstanding, so it was great to see them have a fun moment. Trish was eliminated by Sasha Banks near the end of the match.
The match also saw two women from NXT involved: NXT Women’s Champion Ember Moon and Kairi Sane. I thought more NXT women would be a part of it, but WWE chose to go with more names from the past instead.
2. Asuka’s win was predictable and also the right decision
— WWE (@WWE) January 29, 2018
As soon as the match was announced in late December, my pick was Asuka. I doubt I was the only one to think she would win, since Asuka is booked as an undefeated superstarwho is able to beat anybody in her way. The only reason I had some doubt is because of all the Ronda Rousey rumors. When Trish entered at #30, that’s when I knew they were going with Asuka for sure and I’m happy they did.
The crowd was solidly behind Asuka as she entered the final four battle with Sasha Banks (who was the Ironwoman with 54 minutes in the ring, even though she was on the floor for a lot of it), Nikki Bella and Brie Bella. The Bellas teamed up to eliminate Banks when Banks was trying to get rid of Asuka.
I didn’t expect both Bella Twins to end up in the final three with Asuka the way they did. That makes me think the Bellas may be back as regulars or at least until WrestleMania season. Otherwise, why would they booked so strongly if they were going away? The interesting thing was that Nikki eliminated Brie, rather than working with her to get rid of Asuka. That led to Asuka eliminating Nikki to win.
It was the right call to have Asuka win the match. The question becomes, who does she face at WrestleMania? I think a match against Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair is really intriguing, while they could have Nia Jax challenge her “best friend” Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss. There are other plans for Ronda Rousey.
1. Ronda Rousey made her official WWE debut after the main event
This story is the talk of the sports world right now, which is why WWE has signed Ronda Rousey to what is likely a great deal for both sides. Rousey will make a lot of money wrestling for WWE, which is something she has always wanted to do and WWE is going to benefit from Rousey being there due to her mainstream appeal to sports fans.
The good news is Rousey is saying all the right things about how she wants to be in WWE, she’s committed to it full-time and will be there for several years. I’ve followed her career since she was dominating in UFC. She is a legitimate wrestling fan who loves the business and got the blessing from the late great “Rowdy” Roddy Piper to use the “Rowdy” nickname. That’s why she had the Piper style t-shirt and the leather jacket she was wearing was brought to her by Piper’s son Colt for her to wear for her debut.
What is Rousey doing in WWE next? We don’t know the specific details yet, but I assume she will be on Raw regularly going forward and if WWE is smart, they will save her debut match for WrestleMania. Rousey has been training to wrestle since last summer and revealed that she’s been going to WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando as well.
The plan for WrestleMania, according to Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, is for Rousey to team up with The Rock against Triple H and his wife Stephanie McMahon for a huge tag team match. Meltzer notes that it may not be Rock because of insurance issues that exist due to past injuries that have slowed down movie productions. I think if they can’t get Rock, they should have Kurt Angle in the match since he would fit in well against Triple H due to their history. Obviously, Rock is the bigger name and more mainstream name.
The way the Royal Rumble ended, it looked like Rousey may face Charlotte, Asuka or Bliss soon. Those matches will probably happen, but there’s no rush. Build to them. I’m fine with Rousey’s debut happening in a tag match in two months.
I’m happy for Rousey because she’s a genuine wrestling fan who’s going to be living out a dream. She wants to be in that ring, so it’s great that she’s going to do it. As a guy who watches and write about WWE, it also shakes things up a bit because Rousey’s a big name from the sports world that may lead to some more fans watching WWE shows.
I enjoyed the show a lot. The two Rumble matches took up over two hours of time with 60 people involved in the matches, so it wasn’t easy to book, but both matches were a lot of fun to watch. The undercard could have been a bit better because I didn’t love the finish to the Smackdown Tag Team Title match. I don’t have many complaints about the show, though. I rated it 8 out of 10 in my detailed review and a lot of people seemed to think that was a fair score.
It was a historic night with not only the first women’s Royal Rumble, but two Japanese wrestlers won the Royal Rumble matches on the same show.
Next up on the WWE PPV calendar is Raw’s Elimination Chamber show on Feb. 25. I assume there will be a men’s Elimination Chamber match to see who will face Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania. That will probably mean that Reigns gets the win. I assume there will also be a women’s Elimination Chamber match as well. They could have Nia Jax win that leading to her challenging Alexa Bliss.
It was a very good weekend for WWE because NXT Takeover Philadelphia was an excellent show on Saturday and the Royal Rumble followed up nicely. Let’s hope they can continue this positive momentum as the road to WrestleMania continues.