Monday, January 30, 2023

WWE Royal Rumble 2023 Review: Cody's Rhode to WrestleMania

Welp, this show was certainly better than last year's.  By a wide margin.  WWE Royal Rumble 2023 was no instant classic PPV by any means, and WWE keeps insisting on tacking on thirty-plus minutes of nothing across their PPVs, thus stretching this 210-minute show to well over 240 minutes (Fortunately I didn't watch it live and I was able to fast-forward - I'm particularly glad I wasn't subjected to that Hardy country-rock shit).  But this Royal Rumble boasted one of the better Rumble matches they've ever done, plus a hot angle to close the show, which right away makes it one of the best Rumble PPVs of the last five years.  

For the first time in seemingly forever, the men's Rumble match had actual stories woven throughout and was designed to set up numerous WrestleMania matches, which is really the bare minimum that should be expected for any Rumble match.  If you just spend a little time creating and/or furthering individual conflicts and sprinkle those things across the hour-long Rumble match, that automatically makes it stand out from the others.  It gives everyone a reason to become invested and makes the 60-plus minutes fly by.  WWE did this in the men's Rumble this year.  Not so much with the women's unfortunately, but I'll take what I can get at this point.  The 2023 men's Royal Rumble was for me a top-five Rumble match, boosted by the work of Gunther, who entered at number one and was the last man eliminated, breaking the longevity record for a 30-man Rumble (Bryan Danielson still holds the overall record but that Rumble was a 50-man field).  Brock Lesnar entered surprisingly early and after a dominant few minutes was even more surprisingly ousted by Bobby Lashley, thus setting up their inevitable WrestleMania clash (Let's hope Brock-Bobby II is actually good).  Rey Mysterio no-showed his number 17 entrance and it became apparent when his son Dominik entered at 18 wearing Rey's mask that he was attacked backstage (in reality Rey was injured the night before on Smackdown, but this was a pretty good way to cover it up).  Other standouts included Sheamus and Drew McIntyre, who teamed up for most of their time together and looked dominant, Ricochet and Logan Paul, who provided one of the coolest-looking spots ever in a Rumble match, a simultaneous springboard leap that resulted in a massive midair collision, and of course Cody Rhodes, who made his triumphant return at number 30 and survived a brutal seven-minute finale with Gunther to win the whole thing.  This is how you book a Royal Rumble match.  Sadly it was the opening contest and the show never reached these heights again.  ****

Participants: Gunther, Sheamus, The Miz, Kofi Kingston, Johnny Gargano, Xavier Woods, Karrion Kross, Chad Gable, Drew McIntyre, Santos Escobar, Angelo Dawkins, Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley, Baron Corbin, Seth Rollins, Otis, (Rey Mysterio), Dominik Mysterio, Elias, Finn Balor, Booker T, Damian Priest, Montez Ford, Edge, Austin Theory, Omos, Braun Strowman, Ricochet, Logan Paul, Cody Rhodes
Final Four: Cody Rhodes, Gunther, Logan Paul, Seth Rollins
Long Man: Gunther (1:11:40)

From easily the best match we went to easily the worst match, as Bray Wyatt once again proved why his outside-the-box character ideas don't translate well to professional wrestling.  First off, like I said in my preview, a scary horror movie character wrestling in a match sponsored by a fucking soft drink product is unbelievably stupid.  There is nothing scary about Mountain Dew.  On top of that, the Pitch Black gimmick, while an improvement over the Fiend's red light thing, was still dumb.  Instead of headache-inducing darkroom lighting we got a black light gimmick that revealed Bray's secret facepaint and red contact lenses.  This match was competently worked but only went five minutes and was totally forgettable.  Worse, the post-match featured Bray putting on a mask that made him impervious to pain (Why wouldn't he just wear that all the time?), and chasing LA Knight to a stage area, where Uncle Howdy leaped off a platform, missing LA Knight completely.  This was early 90s pro wrestling at its worst.  Can Bray please for the love of fuck, just go back to the backwoods cult leader gimmick??  *

Next up was Bianca Belair vs. Alexa Bliss in another forgettable match, this one seven minutes instead of five.  They did a bunch of moves and Bianca won.  Then Alexa had a flashback to her Bray Wyatt days, teasing that she's going back to that awful gimmick.  Fuckin' hell.  WWE needs to stop trying to do horror schtick.  They're simply no good at it.  *1/2

The women's Rumble was next, and unfortunately this match fell much more into the same pattern of most recent Rumbles, where it's just a bunch of people doing stuff till the next entrance.  Rhea Ripley was this Rumble's biggest story, repeating Gunther's feat of entering first and staying until the end.  But unlike Gunther, Rhea actually won.  Problem is Liv Morgan entered at number two and was the final elimination.  WWE has been doing the bell-to-bell thing way too much in recent years.  Edge in 2021 ran the table, and only two years later Rhea did the same thing, on a show where Gunther and Liv Morgan almost did the same thing.  Sorry Ric Flair, your amazing 1992 performance isn't that impressive an accomplishment anymore I guess.  Anyway, Rhea and Liv looked good in this match, and Asuka returned to televison, sporting Kana-style facepaint (it's about goddamn time), and looked fantastic as always.  The other stories were Bayley and her friends ganging up on everyone for a while, until they ran afoul of Becky Lynch, who tossed Iyo Sky and Dakota Kai.  Bayley then tossed Becky, and was herself eliminated by Liv.  The other noteworthy event was the return of Nia Jax, who entered at 30 and still looked clumsy and unmotivated.  If this is a full-time return for her, she needs to improve very quickly or she won't last long.  Anyway, not a great match by any means, but I was glad to see Ripley finally win a Rumble - the final few minutes of this were very good, particularly Rhea's spectacular elimination of Liv with a head scissors.  I'm interested to see what they do with Asuka, hopefully she gets a title match with Charlotte and actually gets to beat her this time.  ***

Participants: Rhea Ripley, Liv Morgan, Dana Brooke, Emma, Shayna Baszler, Bayley, B-Fab, Roxanne Perez, Dakota Kai, Iyo Sky, Natalya, Candice LaRae, Zoey Stark, Xia Li, Becky Lynch, Tegan Nox, Asuka, Piper Niven, Tamina, Chelsea Green, Zelina Vega, Raquel Rodriguez, Mia Yim, Lacey Evans, Michelle McCool, Indi Hartwell, Sonya Deville, Shotzi, Nikki Cross, Nia Jax
Final Four: Rhea Ripley, Liv Morgan, Asuka, Nikki Cross
Long Man: Rhea Ripley & Liv Morgan (1:01:08)

The main event slot went to Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens, and as usual they worked a good match.  Aside from a botched moonsault attempt by Owens, and the obligatory spear-through-barricade spot (Guys, just stop doing this bit, it's not shocking anymore and why would it always be the same part of the barricade??), they had an intense brawl, with the story being "What will Sami Zayn do?"  One of the most noteworthy spots involved Roman slamming the back of Owens' head on the ring steps - Jesus that looked brutal.  Anyway, this match built to traded finishers and nearfalls and Roman countered a pop-up powerbomb with a Superman punch and hit a spear to retain.  But what made this stand out was the angle afterward.  The rest of the Bloodline came out and the group beat down Owens, handcuffed him to the ropes, and Roman demanded Sami bring him a chair.  Sami did so but tried to talk Roman out of using it, telling him such a move is beneath him.  Roman agreed and instead demanded Sami beat Kevin with the chair.  Sami hesitated and hesitated, and finally turned and hit Roman with the chair instead.  Jimmy Uso and Solo Sikoa beat Sami down but Jey Uso refused, walking out on his friends.  The show went off the air with Owens and Zayn decimated.  Good match, great angle.  ***1/2 

The logical next move is Roman vs. Zayn at Elimination Chamber, where presumably Jey Uso will ultimately side with his Bloodline pals and Owens will run out to save Sami, thus setting up the huge WrestleMania Tag Title match of The Usos vs. Owens & Zayn.  Meanwhile that will free Roman up for Cody.  Logical storytelling is the best kind.

Overall a solid Royal Rumble show thanks to an excellent men's Rumble and a memorable post-main event angle.  Triple H has set the table for an intriguing WrestleMania season, the first in five years from where I sit.  Let's hope he can stick the landing and more importantly that Vince doesn't shove his hopelessly out-of-touch nose in Hunter's business.  

Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes
The Usos vs. Owens & Zayn
Seth Rollins vs. Logan Paul
Bianca Belair vs. Rhea Ripley
Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka or Liv Morgan
Becky Lynch vs. Bayley
Brock Lesnar vs. Bobby Lashley
Gunther vs. ???
Austin Theory vs. John Cena

That's a decent enough start to a WrestleMania lineup.  Hey, maybe this'll actually be good.....

Best Match: Men's Royal Rumble
Worst Match: Bray Wyatt vs. LA Knight
What I'd Change: Add some storyline intrigue to the women's Rumble, and for fuck's sake cut the fat off these PPVs.
Most Disappointing Match: Women's Royal Rumble
Most Pleasant Surprise: That they remembered how to book a great Rumble match
Overall Rating: 7.5/10

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