Once upon a time, this pay-per-view event was my favorite of World Wrestling Entertainment’s monthly spectacles. The titular match was worth the price of admission in and of itself. However, over the last two to three years, the Rumble has left a sour taste in my mouth. From ill-conceived storyline resolutions to blown opportunities to push superstars that were over to everyone on Earth except for WWE management, this pay-per-view has been tarnished to say the least. So, how was the Royal Rumble this year?
KEVIN OWENS vs. DEAN AMBROSE (Last Man Standing Match for the Intercontinental Championship): This was a match that I was most looking forward to, yet was the most apprehensive of. These men fight such an intense high impact style with a reluctance to rely on ring psychology that it makes it difficult to raise the stakes in a gimmick match of this nature. Still, they managed to deliver. From Ambrose’s rapid fire kendo stick shots to Owens’ cannonball that slammed Ambrose through the security barrier, they left it all on the mat. At the mid-point of the match, both men looked like they went through the ringer. Owens shouted, “I hate you,” with Ambrose replying, “I hate you too.”This completely sold the stakes beyond just the title. A double stacked table, set by Owens, came back to haunt him as he was pushed off of the top turnbuckle through them, the impact of which keeping him down for the ten count. WINNER: DEAN AMBROSE
THE USOS vs. THE NEW DAY (Tag Team Championship): These teams seem to work so well with each other in the ring, that it’s a shame that the Usos aren’t given more time on the mic to go tit-for-tat with the self proclaimed “Unicorns”. From the early going, the teams did everything possible to make this match look different than their prior outings. Xavier Woods’ interference with a Tornado DDT off of the security wall was a thing of beauty. A botched double super kick by Kofi Kingston and Jey Uso was turned into a devastating splash by Big E. The finish with Jimmy Uso going for the splash, but getting caught in mid air by Big E, who then delivered the Big Ending, couldn’t have been executed better. WINNERS: THE NEW DAY
KALISTO vs. ALBERTO DEL RIO (United States Championship): This feud with Kalisto seems to have been the fire that needed to be lit under Del Rio as he was already beginning to flounder less than 3 months into his return to WWE. Their prior two matches may have been great, but this one could have taken the cake. Kalisto’s attempted head scissors takedown being reversed into a chest breaker by Del Rio was a brilliant spot. However there were quite a few blown spots in this match that prevented it from being their best. They rebounded and after a second Salida del Sol, ADR went down for the count. WINNER: KALISTO
BECKY LYNCH vs. CHARLOTTE (Divas Championship): This feud has been a methodical game of cat and mouse. Though I’m not a fan of Flair accompanying his daughter, as I feel it takes attention away from Charlotte, he has been entertaining with his interference throughout these matches. The ground game of both of these athletes was on full display. Becky actually worked on Charlotte’s arm to set up her finisher, the Disarmer. Setting up a finisher is not something that occurs much in WWE of late, so this was refreshing. Charlotte delivered a spear that was, quite frankly, better than nearly all of the ones delivered by Edge. Had it not been for the opening bout, this could have been match of the night. Due to timely intervention by her father, Charlotte escaped with the victory. However, the post match attack by Sasha Banks, laying out both contenders, sends a message that there’s another person in the hunt for the Divas Championship. (WINNER: CHARLOTTE).
ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH (WWE World Heavyweight Championship): I have major misgivings with the championship being defended in this match, especially given who has the championship. Despite WWE being hell bent on making Roman Reigns look strong, even at the sacrifice of logic and common sense, this match had numerous memorable moments. The WWE debut of AJ Styles had the crowd on their feet. The return of Sami Zayn to renew his feud with Kevin Owens will make for interesting television during the next few weeks. Braun Strowman, in his first Rumble appearance, eliminated Big Show right off the bat. Brock Lesnar nearly exterminated the entire Wyatt family. But what hurt the match overall, was how obvious they were with making Roman Reigns look strong. There’s a difference between getting the audience behind the person you want to be the new face of the company and forcing someone down the audience’s throat. The WWE has chosen the latter when it comes to Reigns. And they wonder why the crowd boos the hell out of him. Though Triple H, the surprise 30th contender, won it in the end, it is pretty obvious that the next three months will be Reigns chasing for the belt, then ultimately beating HHH at Wrestlemania. WINNER: TRIPLE H
Despite its few flaws, this year’s Royal Rumble restored my faith in this pay-per-view event to deliver. Did it exceed, or at least meet your expectations?