Monday, January 29, 2018

WWE Royal Rumble 2018: Nakamura, Asuka and RONDA ROUSEY

Well.  It seems WWE has rediscovered how to put on a fun Royal Rumble.  TWO in fact.  For a while there the Rumble had become one of my least favorite events on their calendar, but between last year's pretty great show (with admittedly the wrong ending) and last night's pretty great show (with the exact right results across the board), the Royal Rumble has officially returned to form.  There was nary a bad match on the main card, both Rumbles delivered, there were memorable moments abound, lots of fun surprise entrants, a clear direction for WrestleMania, and a monumental debut to end the show.

First up, oddly, was the WWE Title match.  AJ Styles defended against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, in a crisply worked 16-minute match.  Nothing spectacular here, but the three of them worked well together and AJ even got to bust out his moonsault-reverse DDT combo (which I don't remember seeing since his WWE debut two years ago).  Styles retained after countering an Owens pop-up powerbomb into a roll-up, but Owens and Zayn protested since Owens technically hadn't tagged into the match.  Solid opener.

Next was the Smackdown Tag Title match (SD kinda got shafted with this lineup; both of their bouts went on first), as The Usos defended against Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin.  The Usos have been on fire and this continued that trend.  Energetic, fast-paced and well-booked, with a shocking two straight falls for Jimmy and Jey, this was a fine undercard match.  I liked that the first fall was long and the second fall was surprisingly short - it was realistic and defied the typical structure for a 2/3 Falls match.

The men's Royal Rumble was third out of six, which was pretty baffling until the end of the show when it was made clear why.  I dare say this was the best Rumble match of the past decade, if not longer.  The booking of this match was predictable in a good way; everyone who should've gotten to shine did.  The final five ended up being the five most plausible winners.  Finn Balor entered at number 2 and made the final four, having lasted 57+ minutes.  And of course Shinsuke Nakamura got his WWE career-defining moment by outlasting both John Cena and Roman Reigns to win the whole thing (after 44 minutes of in-ring time).  It seems my WrestleMania wish is coming true - AJ vs. Nakamura will tear the house down.  This is how you book a Royal Rumble match in 2018.  Other notes: Rey Mysterio looked better than he has in probably ten years and I wouldn't mind seeing him return as a part-timer.  Andrade Almas and Adam Cole both had good showings and it was great to see the NXT guests not geeked out on the main roster for a change.  Fuck you Comcast, for my internet going out RIGHT AT THE END OF THE MATCH.  Anyway, this was a pretty fantastic Rumble match that ranks up there with the 1992 and 2004 editions.

Participants: Rusev, Finn Balor, Rhyno, Baron Corbin, Heath Slater, Elias, Andrade Almas, Bray Wyatt, Big E, Sami Zayn, Sheamus, Xavier Woods, Apollo Crews, Shinsuke Nakamura, Cesaro, Kofi Kingston, Jinder Mahal, Seth Rollins, Matt Hardy, John Cena, The Hurricane, Aiden English, Adam Cole, Randy Orton, Titus O'Neil, The Miz, Rey Mysterio, Roman Reigns, Goldust, Dolph Ziggler
Final Four: Shinsuke Nakamura, Roman Reigns, John Cena, Finn Balor
Long Man: Finn Balor (57:30)

The match given the unenviable post-Rumble spot was Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan vs. The Bar.  I didn't really see any of this match except the finish, thanks to Comcast and my piece of shit wifi modem.  By the time I got back online the match was almost over.  From what I understand it was passable and served its purpose in furthering the Rollins-Jordan feud.  And The Bar regained the straps as they should have.  So no complaints there.

The Universal Title match was one of those bouts I knew I shouldn't have enjoyed as much as I did.  But goddamn this was a helluva good car wreck match.  They cut right to the chase and brought in the plunder, and the three monsters proceeded to beat the shit out of each other.  I'd say Kane's involvement in this match was a bit pointless but he took some big bumps and was clearly there to take the fall so Strowman didn't have to.  Brock and Braun worked stiffly with each other, Braun nailing Brock with a knee and Brock throwing a legit punch to Braun's head.  All three announce tables were destroyed and Braun even got buried under one of them.  Just pure carnage from start to finish.  Lesnar came back from two Strowman powerslams (thanks to Kane interference) before ejecting Braun from the ring and F5ing Kane for the win.  This was about as good a match as we could expect from these three and the bells & whistles worked to a tee.  Side note: How much more fun would it be to see Brock vs. Braun in an all-out war at WrestleMania, than a Brock-Roman rematch?

History was made on this PPV as the women's Rumble got to close the show.  I had my doubts about this decision going in, particularly since the men's match was so strong, but WWE pulled this off quite well.  The women's match, while not quite at the same level, was nevertheless a ton of fun and featured numerous well-respected female stars of the past to supplement the current roster.  Lita, Trish, Torrie, Beth, and Michelle all looked very good here without overshadowing the current generation of stars, and it was fun to see them all again.  We also got two NXT cameos in Ember Moon and Kairi Sane, both of whom came off strong despite not much ring time.  As with the men's Rumble this was smartly booked and the exact right person went over, multiple other participants were booked strong in defeat, and one of the starters got to be the long man (Sasha showed her heel tendencies throughout, which I hope is a harbinger).  The only complaints about this match were that several of the participants spent too much time selling injuries outside the ring, and some of the eliminations looked weak due to the comparative height of the ropes.  Asuka winning was the right move, as it preserves her undefeated streak and keeps her looking like something special.  Not sure who she ends up challenging at WrestleMania, or if she'll face WWE's newest signee, Ronda Rousey.

Rousey made her debut after the match ended, pointing to the Mania sign and telling Asuka and the two women's champs, "See you there."  I've seen complaints that this took away from Asuka's moment, and I get that, but it's also the biggest women's division news in ages and I can understand them executing it the way they did.  Plus it justified the women's Rumble closing the show.  This is a huge deal; Ronda is as close to a female Brock Lesnar as we've ever seen, in terms of being a true PPV giant.  She's been announced as a "full-time" member of the roster, but I'd recommend splitting the difference between a true full-timer and Brock's schedule.  Ronda needs to be presented as more than just "one of the girls," as it were.  Asuka-Rousey is the best possible match for Mania but supposedly they're still considering Ronda vs. Stephanie in some fashion.  I sincerely hope it's the former option.

Participants: Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Sarah Logan, Mandy Rose, Lita, Kairi Sane, Tamina, Dana Brooke, Torrie Wilson, Sonya Deville, Liv Morgan, Molly Holly, Lana, Michelle McCool, Ruby Riott, Vickie Guerrero, Carmella, Natalya, Kelly Kelly, Naomi, Jacqueline, Nia Jax, Ember Moon, Beth Phoenix, Asuka, Mickie James, Nikki Bella, Brie Bella, Bayley, Trish Stratus
Final Four: Asuka, Nikki Bella, Brie Bella, Sasha Banks
Long Man: Sasha Banks (54:46)

Regardless, the 2018 Royal Rumble ranks very near the top of this event's 30-year history.  We got one of the best-ever Rumble matches followed by one of the most memorable, plus four perfectly good undercard matches.  It was missing the AJ vs. Cena of last year or the Angle-Benoit of 2003, but aside from that I can't complain about this PPV.  2018 is off to a "rousing" start.  Get it?  Rousing??

Best Match: Men's Rumble
Worst Match: Rollins/Jordan vs. The Bar by default
What I'd Change: I might put the Men's Rumble fourth on the card with only the Lesnar match in between.  Also Asuka and Sasha should've been the final two in that match.
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing really disappointed
Most Pleasant Surprise: That the show went pretty much exactly as it should have.  They didn't overthink it or try to swerve us.
Overall Rating: 9/10

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