WWE kicked off its pay-per-view calendar with the Royal Rumble. With 2018 seeing a decline in ratings from the WWE fans, the Rumble needed to start on a high note here heading into WrestleMania season. There were 10 matches total, including two exciting Royal Rumble matches.
How did the PPV go? Here are my thoughts. Like the review of TakeOver: Phoneix, I’ll a quick recap of each match, give my thoughts and grade it.
Bobby Roode & Chad Gable def. Rezar & Scott Dawson (pre-show)
This match was announced during the Kickoff Show, as AOP’s Rezar and The Revival’s Scott Dawson battled Raw Tag Team champions Bobby Roode and Chad Gable in a non-title match.
Dawson and Rezar took the fight to the champions early and isolated Gable. Trying to fight out, he found himself in the grasp of Rezar. Gable was able to fight out and made the hot tag to Roode, who exploded into the match. It was simple for Roode as it was clear that Dawson and Rezar were unable to sync together and the Raw tag champs got the victory.
This match seemed more of a better fit as a filler match for Raw rather than on a big four PPV. If anything, it keeps the momentum of Gable and Roode as tag champs. It is a clear sign that the Raw tag division needs to be completely revamped.
United States Championship – Shinsuke Nakamura def. Rusev (c) (pre-show)
The United States champion Rusev was seeking revenge for the injury caused by Shinsuke Nakamura to wife Lana in the build to Sunday’s match. Rusev attacked Nakamura from the opening bell but Nakamura took control of the match and grounded his more powerful opponent with a front facelock.
Momentum was building for Rusev and set up for a Machka Kick, but Nakamura slid to the arena floor and caught a running Rusev with a kick. Nakamura was about to set up a Kinshasa, but the champ evaded and caught him with a Machka Kick. Later on in the match, Lana went up on the apron and called out Nakamura’s attempted cheating tactics. Rusev rushed toward the challenger, only to move and he wiped out his own wife. This distraction allowed Nakamura to deliver the Kinshasa to win his second United States Championship
You can tell Rusev and Nakamura have solid in-ring chemistry together. The match itself was good, but the odd finish and seemingly hot-potato with the title leaves a question. Why doesn’t WWE pull the trigger with a lengthy title run for one of the most over superstars in the business? Not sure what happens next for both, but this second reign add another accomplishment to Nakamura’s impressive wrestling career.
Cruiserweight Championship – Buddy Murphy (c) def. Kalisto, Akira Tozawa and Hideo Itami (pre-show)
Cruiserweight Champion Buddy Murphy has defeated his title against Mustafa Ali and Cedric Alexander. Sunday night he had a hard task as he had to defend his title against Kalisto, Hideo Itami and Akira Tozawa in a Fatal 4-Way match.
The action started off fast as expected, with the 205 Live members trying to become the top champion of the brand with quick pinfall attempts. Itami early on stood back watched his opponents go against each other to try to gain an advantage. Kalisto finally took the fight to Itami using his high-paced offense. A few moments later, Tozawa and Murphy squared off against each other.
Towards the end, each competitor unloaded with strikes that left the opposition down. The champion took the fight to Itami, surviving an attack and finishing him off with Murphy’s Law to retain his title.
The cruiserweights seem to always be relegated to the pre-show, but one positive from that was that it set the tone for the event with high-energy and creative spots. This just helps Murphy legitimize his status as a top guy defending against three other high-flyers. Sooner than, later the matches these guys put on will get recognized enough to make the main card.
SmackDown Women’s Championship – Asuka (c) def. Becky Lynch
The main show opened up with Becky Lynch looking to reclaim the SmackDown Women’s Championship as she faced Asuka for the title.
A running hip attack from Asuka sent Lynch to the floor. Lynch responded with a big boot that sent Asuka crashing to the floor and turned the momentum for her. She continued her momentum with a Bexploder into the barricade. Lynch then applied a Dis-arm-her in the ropes, but the champion answered with a knee to the face. She unleashed another hip attack and a German suplex for a two-count. She applied her own arm-bar to Lynch but was able to make it to the ropes, forcing a break.
Towards the end of the match, Asuka dodged a leg drop from Lynch and applied the Asuka Lock being countered the Dis-arm-her. Another counter and applied Asuka Lock to the champion occurred but another countered was applied by Lynch. Asuka countered again and trapped Lynch in the Asuka Lock. She bridged over her opponent and forced the tapout to retain the title
This was a great hard-hitting to kick off the show. With this being the opening, it was easier to see that Lynch would find her way to enter the Women’s Royal Rumble match later in the night. The win for Asuka helps her credibility on the main roster after seemingly being booked poorly in 2018. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Asuka now when it comes to who will her WrestleMania 35 feud will be against, especially after what happened later in the night.
SmackDown Tag Team Championship – The Miz & Shane McMahon def. The Bar (c)
The tag team that no one asked for in Shane McMahon and The Miz challenged Sheamus and Cesaro for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships.
The challengers had early momentum but Sheamus halted the action for a bit. He then took a diving clothesline from McMahon, but Cesaro sent him into the barricade, taking him out of the match. The Bar isolated Miz but a back body drop created separation and allowed the hot tag to McMahon.
McMahon planted Sheamus with a DDT set up for a Coast-to-Coast. He went up in the air but Cesaro caught him and executed the Cesaro Swing which got a nice pop from the crowd. He countered with an awful looking triangle choke. A big knee drop from the top by Sheamus forced the break. Miz came back into the match to deliver a Skull-Crushing Finale to Sheamus, followed by a 450 Splash from McMahon to Cesaro allowed them to become SmackDown Tag Team Champions.
Sheamus, Cesaro and Miz helped make this match watchable but McMahon was the one they were trying to put over. The title win was predictable with the amount of build both Miz and McMahon have had in the past few months. What is more predictable is the breakup of the team and the singles match that follows at ‘Maina 35.
With so many great tag teams on the SmackDown roster, these titles deserve a better run heading to WM 35.
Raw Women’s Championship – Ronda Rousey (c) def. Sasha Banks
It has been one-year since Ronda Rousey walked into a WWE ring. On Sunday, she defended her Raw Women’s Championship against Sasha Banks.
Banks downed Rousey early with an arm drag, but she answered with a kick off and mocked The Boss’ trademark mannerisms. She followed by breaking out Eddie Guerrero’s famous Three Amigos suplexes, but Banks countered out of the last one and tried for the Bank Statement. The fight moved to the floor where Banks dodged a hard right hand from Rowdy, who punched the digital ring post and broke it.
Towards the middle of the match, Banks worked the arm of Rousey. She continued her assault, using open-hand thrusts to the arm of her opponent. Rousey finally caught Banks and tried for Piper’s Pit, but she countered into an armbar. Banks later delivered a superplex and returned her focus to the arm. The action spilled to the floor once again, where Rousey tapped out Banks to the armbar but the tap does not count due to being outside of the ring. With momentum fully on her side, Rousey unloaded on Banks with a series of strikes.
In the end, a gut-wrench slam and another Piper’s Pit from Rousey ended Banks’ night and retained the title. After the match, Rousey and Banks exchanged signs of respect. The Boss returned to ringside and flashed the Four Horsewomen sign, signaling that this might not be the last time we see them in the ring.
Despite a somewhat predictable outcome, this was a great match between these women. This was an intense match that had the crowd invested from the start. Banks turned back the clock and looked like The Boss persona we saw during her NXT and early WWE roster run.
The post-match tease of a war between the Four Horsewomen of MMA and NXT is something the fans have been waiting for. When that match comes is anyone’s guess, but the early signings from the post-match show that it could happen sooner than later. An excellent with layers of storylines to start the New Year.
Women’s Royal Rumble – Becky Lynch last eliminated Charlotte Flair
Both Royal Rumble matches had a lot of action and storylines, which is expected in this hour-plus match. I’ll keep it brief with the recap, giving the highlights here.
The Women’s Rumble kicked off with recent NXT call-up Lacey Evans drawing No. 1. She cut a promo, vowing fans would witness history as The True Lady of WWE would clean up the women’s division. Former SmackDown women’s champion Natalya entered at No. 2. Having a veteran in the business and a young up and comer is a perfect way to start the Rumble.
Mandy Rose entered at No. 3. Natalya trapped both Evans and Rose in a double Sharpshooter that the crowd loved. Liv Morgan entered at No. 4 but was immediately eliminated. Mickie James and Ember Moon entered at No. 5 and 6 respectively. Moon wiped out Natalya and James with a springboard cross-body block and flattened Evans with a front suplex.
The IIconics’ Billie Kay arrived at No. 7 but refused to enter the match, saying she would not enter until her partner Peyton Royce’s number was called. Nikki Cross coming in at No. 8 got a huge reaction from the crowd. She sprinted to the ring and shoved Kay to the ground in the process. She scaled the ropes and wiped out every one of the women involved with a cross-body. Kay eventually entered the match and tried to fight Cross but wound up on the receiving end of a beating.
Peyton Royce came down at No. 9. The IIconics double-teamed Cross before Royce ate a headscissors from Moon. Tamina entered the bout at No. 10 and immediately exchanged with James which lead to a James elimination.
Entering at No. 11 was NXT’s Xia Li, which meant she was the first Chinese woman ever to compete in a WWE ring. She had a nice spot where she did a spinning kick to Tamina and followed with a few kicks to Evans and Moon. Sarah Logan was out at No. 12 and a heavy favorite to win the match Charlotte Flair arrived at No. 13. 2017 Mae Young Classic winner and former NXT Women’s Champion Kairi Sane entered her second Royal Rumble match at No. 14.
Maria Kanellis made a surprise entrance at No. 15, followed by Naomi at No. 16. Naomi set her sights on Mandy Rose, who have had problems during the last few weeks of SmackDown. A brief exchange on the apron led to Rose’s elimination. Rose attempted to eliminate Naomi but was able to save herself by walking across the barrier and landing on the steel steps. The celebration was short lived as Rose knocked off Naomi to be eliminated.
NXT’s Candice LeRae was a surprise entrant at No. 17, followed by Alicia Fox at No. 18. She eyed up Kanellis, who tried to make friends with her and form an alliance. They teamed up momentarily before Kanellis stomped on Fox’s hat, causing a tantrum from Fox, who then dumped her out of the ring.
No. 19 was former American Ninja Warrior contestant and current NXT member Kacy Catanzaro. Zelina Vega then entered at No. 20 and came face-to-face with LeRae, revisiting the past problems they had down in NXT just one year ago. Ruby Riott came in at No. 21, accompanied by previously eliminated Morgan and Logan. The trio targeted Flair and pulled her under the ropes and attacked her at ringside. Riott went on a tear, eliminating both LeRae, Fox, Sane before Dana Brooke came out at No. 22.
2018 Mae Young Classic finalist Io Shirai from NXT was the next to enter at No. 23. She stood up to The Riott Squad and performed her trademark moonsault, wiping them out in the process. Rhea Ripley from NXT UK was out at No. 24. She paired off with Moon while Brooke tossed Catanzaro to the floor. Her feet never hit the floor so she walked on her hands back to the ring, similar to what Kofi Kingston has historically done. Her time back in the ring did not last long as she was taken out by Ripley. While this was happening, Sonya Deville entered the match at No. 25.
While the action was going on in the ring, Vega was hiding under the ring but came back after an appearing Hornswoggle surprised her under the ring. She was eliminated by Ripley as soon as she entered and was chased by the previously mention Swoggle.
At No. 26 was former Raw and SmackDown women’s champion Alexa Bliss, who was making her first in-ring appearance since October after dealing with a concussion. Bayley came out at No. 27, getting a huge reaction from the crowd. She came in energized as she took down Bliss and Flair and eliminated Riott and Ripley in the process
Lana came out at No. 28 but could barely walk as she sold her injured ankle from kickoff show. She never entered the ring and was sitting on the entrance ramp. At this point, the “We want Becky” chants were loud and clear. Nia Jax entered at No. 29 and further injured the ankle of Lana. Jax eliminated Natalya, who has the record for the longest-lasting woman in women’s rumble history at 56:01. Finally, Carmella entered at No. 30, which we knew way before Sunday.
Becky Lynch walked down the aisle to replace Lana. The crowd erupted as her music started playing. Lynch came face-to-face with Jax, unloading with a series of rights. She avoided elimination and dropped Jax with a dropkick. After that exchange, Bliss elminiated Moon, Bayley and Carmella eliminated Bliss, Flair eliminated Carmella and Jax eliminated Bayley. The final three were Flair, Lynch and Jax and the crowd came alive. Jax was eliminated by Lynch leaving a Lynch-Flair epic finale.
Jax didn’t take the elimination lightly as she attacked Lynch at ringside, pulling her off the ring steps and setting up an injury storyline in the process. Flair used that as an advantage as she targeted the knee. Lynch nearly eliminated Flair, but a kick to the knee saved her. Lynch survived a big boot to the face and dumped Flair to the apron. She clotheslined her out of the ring to become the winner of the 2019 Women’s Royal Rumble.
From start to finish, this was easily better than last year’s inaugural event. The action was great from the start and there no shortage of stories during the match. Keep in mind I enjoyed this before Lynch even entered the ring. When she did, it was icing on the cake. Her early disappointing lose was more than made up in the Rumble.
There was no Hall of Famer surprise legends like last year, but I feel that they made for it with the amount of good NXT superstars they added and they add had their chance to shine. Overall, a well booked Rumble with a fantastic finish. Down the line, this definitely is in the conversation as one of the best Royal Rumbles overall in WWE history.
WWE Championship – Daniel Bryan (c) def. AJ Styles
AJ Styles looked to regain the WWE Championship against “The New” Daniel Bryan. He punished Styles early which included bloodying his nose. An infuriated Styles downed Bryan with a backbreaker and clubbed away with hard rights to the face.
The hard-hitting action continued as Bryan caught Styles. THe responded with a springboard inverted DDT. Styles went for a springboard 450 splash, but the champion got the knees up to block the impact. He applied the LeBell Lock but Styles escaped and applied his own Calf Crusher.
Late in the match when both men were down, Erick Rowan returned to television. We last saw Rowan as a member of the Bludgeon Brothers with Luke Harper but injured his arm during a tag match back at SummerSlam. When the ref was down, he entered the ring and beat down Styles. The allowed Bryan scored the pin to retain his title.
Styles and Bryan put on an excellent, hard-hitting match. The silence crowd did not help. It might not have been a good idea to put them right after an action-packed Rumble but take the crowd away, they still put on a good match.
Rowan had always been solid when it comes to being an associate to a team/stable, from his days in The Wyatt Family to as recent as being part of The Bludgeon Brothers. It is interesting to see him team with Bryan now, as he will look as a follower of Bryan as being “The Planet’s Champion.”
The pairing helps the character of Bryan while also giving someone like Rowan more T.V. time.
Universal Championship – Brock Lesnar (c) def. Finn Bálor
Finn Bálor looked to regain the Universal Championship he never lost but had a hard task ahead as he took on Brock Lesnar.
A big overhead suplex stunned Balor right away but targeted the midsection of Lesnar which sent him stomach-first into the exposed corner of the announce table. Lesnar sold the injured midsection but manhandled Bálor. Bálor delivered a Sling Blade, but Lesnar continued to obliterate his opponent. He tried to follow up with suplexes but was unable to with his midsection injury.
Bálor countered out of an F-5 with a DDT for a near three-count. He followed up with a stomp to the stomach of his opponent. The Coup de Grace followed, but Lesnar kicked out at two and applied the Kimura. After some fight, Bálor submitted, allowing Lesnar to retain.
I found this match better than I thought as Bálor was able to get some offense in against the powerful Lesnar. The seeling of the midsection and unable to perform some suplexes shows that Lesnar can be vulnerable when challenged.
Lesnar retaining will annoy fans and most likely will keep him around until WrestleMania where hopefully will finally have a full-timer holding up Raw’s top prize. Credit to Bálor here for giving Lesnar a fight and showing that he can go up against larger and more powerful performances.
Men’s Royal Rumble – Seth Rollins last eliminated Braun Strowman
The 2019 men’s Royal Rumble started off with Elias drawing No. 1 and serenading the Phoenix fans with his guitar. We had our first Rumble surprise here as Jeff Jarrett entered at No. 2. A proposed singing duet was teased, but Elias smashed Jarret with his guitar to eliminate him.
New United States champion and last years Royal Rumble winner Shinsuke Nakamura entered at No. 3. At No. 4, another surprise entrant appeared as Kurt Angle entered. It is crazy to think that before Sunday, Angle’s last Rumble appearance was 2005 (anyone else felt a little old after reading that?) He suplexed both opponents before stomping away at Elias in the corner.
As New Day member Big E entered at No. 5, Nakamura eliminated Angle. Johnny Gargano from NXT joined the match at No. 6, drawing a big pop from the crowd. He delivered a slingshot spear to Elias as chants of “NXT” erupted the arena. No. 7 was former WWE champion Jinder Mahal but was not there long as Gargano eliminated Mahal.
Samoa Joe entered at No. 8 and eliminated Big E and changed the mood of the Rumble, taking down everyone else in the match. No. 9 was Curt Hawkins. Joe trapped him in the Coquina Clutch but rolled under the ropes to the arena floor and hid under the ring, similar to what Zelina Vega did earlier in the night.
Rumble favorite Seth Rollins hit the ring at No. 10 and got a huge reaction from the crowd. The crowd got louder as he eliminated Elias, giving him his first elimination of the night. Titus O’Neil entered at No. 11, ran to the ring and did not slip like the last time he entered a Royal Rumble. He did chase Hawkins under the ring and was eliminated by Hawkins, only for Hawkins to be thrown out by Joe.
Kofi Kingston, Mustafa Ali and Dean Ambrose entered at No. 12, 13 & 14 respectively. Ambrose went after Rollins for a few seconds before attempting to eliminate Kingston but saved himself as his feet did not touch the floor and rolled over to the ring steps while his feet were still on the ring apron.
No Way Jose was out next at No. 15 but Joe eliminated him in 2 seconds, almost breaking the record for shortest time in a Royal Rumble match. At No. 16, another Rumble favorite entered, as Drew McIntyre walked toward the squared circle. Once he entered the squared circle, he leveled Rollins and Ambrose with Claymore Kicks before throwing fists with Joe.
The final New Day member Xavier Woods entered at No. 17. After some shenanigans involving Kingston’s elimination again where one of his feet did not hit the ground, McIntyre clotheslined both New Day members to the floor.
At No. 18, NXT United Kingdom champion Pete Dunne arrived in the match as a surprise entrant which got a nice reaction from the crowd. Andrade entered at No. 19. He targeted Dunne and engaged him in a back-and-forth that ended with him escaping the Bitter End and countering into a DDT. Apollo Crews’ arrival at No. 20 began to fill the ring.
At No. 21, NXT’s Aleister Black entered the match, drawing a huge pop from the WWE crowd. The former NXT champion delivered Black Mass to Ambrose and surprisingly eliminated him. Shelton Benjamin entered at No. 22 and took the fight to Crews. Across the ring, Ali dumped Joe to a big pop and a staredown happened, signs that their rivalry is just beginning. Baron Corbin hit the ring at No. 23. He dropped Ali with Deep Six and sent Crews to the floor.
Jeff Hardy arrived at No. 24, drawing a big pop while Corbin eliminated Black and McIntyre eliminated Dunne, which lead to an eruption of boos. Rey Mysterio then entered at No. 25, followed by Bobby Lashley entering at No. 26. Rollins dumped him right away, and the Intercontinental champion beat down Rollins and sent him through the announce table. Braun Strowman entered at No. 27 and had a string of eliminations with Corbin, Benjamin and Hardy falling in the hands of The Monster Among Men.
Dolph Ziggler surprisingly at No. 28, despite legit reports that he was on the verge of walking away from WWE. What was more surprising was that he eliminated McIntyre in the process. Randy Orton entered the match at No. 29 and went right for Strowman. He tried for an RKO but Strowman powered out and hit him with his running powerslam. No. 30 was R-Truth as expected, but Nia Jax attacked him before he entered and took his place, making it the fourth time a female competitor entered a Men’s Royal Rumble match. She eliminated Ali, which led to a series of boos.
Orton teased an RKO but Jax was not afraid. When she hoisted Mysterio overhead, Ziggler dropped her with a superkick. A 619 and RKO followed which led to one of the biggest pops in the match so far. Mysterio and Orton teamed up to dump Jax out of the ring. Orton eliminated Mysterio, followed by Andrade eliminating Orton.
The final four was Ziggler, Andrade, Rollins and Strowman. The three smaller competitors teamed up to take down Strowman but took out Andrade and Ziggler in the process, leaving Rollins against Strowman. In the end, Rollins nearly eliminated Strowman but took a chokeslam. They fought onto the apron, where The Architect stomped him to win the match and earn a title match at WrestleMania 35.
The Men’s Rumble was an okay one, nowhere near what the women did earlier in the night. Ambrose being eliminated by Black was questionable, given the star power of Ambrose. Orton and Mysterio are legitimate main event attractions but outside of their spots with Jax, they did not do anything memorable. Guys like Ali, Andrade and Ziggler for example, had a much better showing than what we expected.
The Jax entry was awesome and showed that she is not afraid to take anyone on for her chance to be at the top, thought taking out R-Truth was a bummer, who I was looking forward to seeing what he would do here. The ending, however, was great as Rollins used all of his fight left to take out a much bigger and stronger opponent in Strowman. It shows WWE is all behind Rollins as he looks to take on Brock Lesnar at ‘Maina 35 for the Universal Championship.
An overall solid Rumble, but I think the women’s one was way better here.
Despite some predictable outcomes in the title matches, WWE definitely started out on a high note with their first pay-per-view of 2019.
The Women’s Royal Rumble was the best match of the night, especially with Becky Lynch winning here. The Men’s Rumble was solid too and the picked the right guy to win in Seth Rollins. Erick Rowan joining Daniel Bryan was interesting to see as WWE look to build on his heel persona. The Universal title match was better than expected, giving Finn Bálor some offense against Brock Lesnar. On top of that, both women’s title and Cruserweight championships matches were great also. An overall good start for the WWE PPV’s. Now, we move on to the Elimination Chamber February 17.