15,170 fans filled out the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida last night to watch the annual Royal Rumble event. It was a night full of predictable moments, coupled with a certain landscape changing debut that will have fans talking for a long while to come. Before any of that, though, there was the little matter of the Pre-Show to sit through.
Renee Young, Corey Graves, Booker T, and Jerry Lawler made up the panel for this hour of unnecessary chatter and they proved once again why this whole concept is a waste of time. There simply isn’t enough content to fill up the time and you find yourself listening to same inane conversations over and over again. In this instance, it was the various panel’s members’ predictions for the forthcoming event. Lawler brought his infamous jokes with him and then fell as flat as ever, one has to wonder if he will ever just stop with the tortured attempts at humor. Renee was actually very good at leading the panel, but that’s very little consolation when no one has anything interesting to say. Both Booker and Corey were fun enough, but again, everything they said was nothing more than filler.
Some high points from this hour of pointless jibber jabber were a solid promo by the Social Outcasts. They are unlikely to ever take off in a meaningful way by that doesn’t stop them from being wildly entertaining in the meantime. Owens was even better in his interview with Jojo, he is proving week after week that he truly is the best heel in the WWE. Now that his program with Ambrose is over it would be great to see him take a step up to the main event. In amongst all of this talking, there was actually a match pitting four teams against one another for the chance to be in the Rumble.
Fatal Four Way Tag Match- The Dudley Boys vs. Swagger and Henry vs. Sandow and Darren Young vs. The Ascension.
This was not a good match. For starters, how far have The Dudleys fallen since they returned? It seems like they should be sure-fire entrants to the Rumble but instead they’re slumming it with jobbers on the Pre-Show. Maybe they would have been better off staying in TNA. It is actually difficult to recall anything specific from this match aside from Sandow being completely over with the crowd and Mark Henry messing up the ending. We all know Henry is a botch machine so why bother putting him in a match of even mild importance? Much less have him win it. To cut a long story short, Henry and Swagger won to the collective apathy of the entire audience.
Winners: Mark Henry and Jack Swagger.
The event proper started in a much more exciting manner as fans were treated to a Last Man Standing Match. You know, that event where everybody suddenly become Super-Cena and can get up after near enough anything.
Last Man Standing Match for the Intercontinental Championship- Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Kevin Owens.
These are two of the most promising young stars in the business right now and they put it all on the line to deliver a hell of a match for the capacity crowd. The action kicked into a high gear early on with Ambrose launching Owens over the announce table, taking out Michael Cole in the process. People were very grateful to these two for shutting him up for a few minutes. Other highlights included a Cannonball through the timekeeper’s area, a good old’ kendo stick beat down, plenty of steel chairs, and gleeful use of table spots. It can be hard to make these high-octane gimmick matches feel fresh or fun in the PG era but they definitely managed it here. Owens looked suitably unstoppable for much of the contest and Ambrose played the role of the plucky fighter to perfection. The end spot which saw Owens somersault from the top rope through two tables on the outside was a spectacle that brought the fans to their feet as did much of what preceded it. If the idea behind an opening contest is to build the crowd’s energy, then this proved to be the perfect way to start the show.
Winner and still Intercontinental Champion: Dean Ambrose.
Tag Team Title Match- The New Day (Big E and Kofi Kingston) (c) vs. The Usos.
Before the match even began The New Day treated everyone to another energetic promo. They started by mourning the sad loss of Francesca the Trombone before Xavier Woods joined his stablemates, new Trombone in hand. Francesca 2 proved to be an immediate hit with the crowd and it is a testament to this group that they can take such a ridiculous gimmick and prop and get it more over than the entire main event scene, long live The New Day. Next to enter are The Usos and they do not get much of a reaction. This is definitely a heel-loving group of fans and it shows through the boos that rain down every time either Uso takes control.
It is something of a tradition in these matches for Woods to get involved on the outside and, in this case, he hit a perfect tornado DDT to the floor. That may have got a decent pop but his continued playing of Francesca 2 threatened to bring the house down. The Usos also got a few highlights in as one of them reversed a Kofi springboard into a Samoan Drop which was fun to watch. The also nearly took the victory but, much to the crowd’s relief, Kofi’s foot found its way under the bottom rope keeping the match alive. The ending provided one of the coolest moments of the night as Big E caught Jey Uso in midair and delivered the Big Ending for the victory.
New Day continued to show their immense worth in another wildly entertaining outing. The hope has to be that they reign as Tag Team Champions for a long time to come.
Winners and still Tag Team Champions: The New Day.
Following on from this fans were given a chance to relax and regain their energies for a moment as The Wyatt Family gave a promo likening themselves to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It was a rather creepy affair but it didn’t really serve to further any storylines. All it really did was remind people that there is a clear dominant force in this year’s Rumble.
United States Championship Match- Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Kalisto.
Just a few short weeks ago Kalisto pulled off the biggest upset in years when he defeated Del Rio on Raw to gain the US title. Fans were legitimately surprised which does not happen all that often as of late and there was real intrigue as to where his reign would take him. That was all squandered as Del Rio won the title back the next night on Smackdown. All of this set up a rubber match for the belt and the two Mexican Superstars put on a decent performance to cap off their series.
What is obvious in the booking of Kalisto as of late is that he is being primed to be the next Rey Mysterio. He certainly fits the role extremely well and has the unmistakable look of an underdog but there are actually better choices out there that the WWE might want to look into. For example, Fenix is another Luchador who has the desired diminutive stature but is a lot more exciting and charismatic. For those not familiar with Fenix, do yourself a favour and check out Lucha Underground where he’s had fantastic matches most notably with Mil Muertes.
The action was of a quicker pace that is typical of Del Rio and it was mildly entertaining but it did not excite the crowd as much as either of the previous two showdowns. The most memorable moment was Kalisto botching a variant of the Sunset-Flip Powerbomb and landing straight on his head. Thankfully he was not hurt by the ugly looking mistake and was still able to finish the match with a Salida Del Sol. Let’s hope this second reign with the title is a little more impactful than his first.
Winner and the new United States Champion: Kalisto.
Diva’s Championship Match- Charlotte (c) w/ Ric Flair vs. Becky Lynch.
Over the past few weeks, Becky has come into her own on the main roster and is finally making an impact for the first time since her NXT call up. Charlotte has also been finding her groove as she settles into her new heel role, something that feels much more natural on her than the happy smiley face persona ever did.
It wouldn’t have been unreasonable for fans to expect this to be an absolute classic after the matches that these two women delivered along with Sasha and Bayley down in NXT. That’s probably why the audience seemed a little switched off to this match as it didn’t hold a candle to those fantastic outings.
It did still have its moments though as Ric continued with his dirty old man gimmick (is it a gimmick if it’s true to life?) by planting an unwanted a kiss on Becky to distract her. It was just as uncomfortable and disgusting as it sounds and honestly it was a curious decision to include this spot at all as it did no one any favours whatsoever.
The back and forth between the women was just fine and an Armbar Takedown by Becky from the tope rope showed a lot of ingenuity. That being said it just didn’t really work for some reason, occasionally that happens to matches and it can be hard to put your finger on exactly why. The ending came via Ric’s jacket. No, really his jacket was essentially the finish here and it was so stupid. please just let the women have a match that doesn’t have old man Flair getting involved. Sasha returned afterwards to a huge pop and nicely set up a future title match with Charlotte and possibly Becky too.
Winner and still Diva’s Champion: Charlotte.
The Royal Rumble Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
There are two major takeaways from this 30-man epic and those are that Triple H is now a 14-time World Champion as he went home victorious here and that AJ Styles has finally made his WWE debut! You all know which one is the most exciting of the two.
Let’s start with The Game. He entered the Rumble at number 30, presumably, the intention was for it be some big shocking moment but the problem was the everyone already knew he was going to be there and so it didn’t really work as one. He did have a few cool moments though as he slugged it out with Ziggler, Wyatt, and Reigns before it came down to just him and Ambrose. That’s right, Reigns was the second to last to be eliminated which made for an electric finish to this match. Fans were happy the moment Reigns was sent over the top rope and the cheering continued as the final two fought for the title. Of course, most would have been happiest if Ambrose had taken home the gold but it should be just as comforting to know that the company has this much faith in him for him to not only beat KO earlier in the night but also come to a whisker away from winning the top prize. Very surprisingly nobody seemed to be angered by Trips winning the gold once more as he was met with a decent amount of crowd appreciation upon his victory. This speaks volumes to how unpopular Reigns is in the lead role although you can bet your bottom dollar he will be in the main event of Wrestlemania, probably reclaiming the title.
The moment that fans will never forget though had to be the arrival of AJ Styles in the number three spot. It was well-known that he was to be debuting for the company soon but very few people thought he would be in the Rumble. From the moment, he came out the chants of ‘AJ Styles’ were overwhelming and it just proves that he is hot property for the WWE. A fact that should be further supported by his first shirt selling out already. It’s not entirely clear who he will be feuding with now he is here but fingers have to be crossed for a run in with Owens very soon.
Other talking points were the Wyatt Family all getting eliminated by Lesnar, with the exception of Bray, before returning and eliminating The Beast Incarnate. This will set up an epic Wrestlemania showdown just please don’t be against Strowman. Reigns was booked very similarly to Austin in ’99 complete with an attack by McMahon’s stable, returning a little later on, and being eliminated by the boss. R-Truth mistook the contest for the Money in the Bank Ladder Match and that was brilliant. Sami Zayn is not done with Kevin Owens and no one can wait to see them tear each other apart on the main roster.
All in all, this was a good Rumble match and a decent PPV in general. It is a little concerning that the freshest thing on the company has done in almost a year involved a 46-year-old part-timer winning the World title but, at least, it wasn’t Reigns retaining.
Winner and new WWE World Heavyweight Champion: Triple H.
Match of the night: The Royal Rumble Match.
The Highlight of the Night: AJ Styles Debuting!
Most Underwhelming Match of the Night: Fatal Four Way Tag Match.