Monday, January 29, 2024

WWE Royal Rumble 2024 Review: Was That the Best They Could Do?

The 2024 WWE Royal Rumble was....a show.  Some stuff happened, there were some winners and losers, and the ending was the right one.

Whereas last year's Rumble show, while not a great PPV, felt purposeful and featured one of the best Rumble matches of all time in the men's edition, this year's felt rather obligatory and pretty bereft of memorable events, some surprise entrants excepted.  Both Rumble matches where just kinda there, and the crowd responded as such.  The hot San Antonio crowd from 2023 was sorely missed, as the St. Petersburg audience this year sat on their hands for a lot of the show, which dragged down large chunks of the two Rumble bouts.  The two non-Rumble matches likewise failed to light up the fans, no doubt in part because the results were a forgone conclusion.  Even CM Punk's return to a WWE ring for the first time in a decade didn't land the way it should have (which just further points to AEW executing his return better).

The show started with the women's Rumble, which as I expected contained virtually no storyline advancements.  Women would come in, do some stuff, get thrown out, and the first two thirds of the bout were quite forgettable.  Naomi returned to WWE after a two-year absence and brought with her a friend from TNA, the current Knockouts Champion Jordynn Grace, who looked better in this match than most of the WWE field (How she's never been signed by one of the Big Two, I'm sure I don't know).  Bayley and her Damage CTRL friends Asuka and Kairi Sane were all in the match at the same time but the numbers game made very little difference; both Kabuki Warriors were dispatched by Kayden Carter in pretty short order.  Chelsea Green became the butt of some amusing collateral damage spots as Nia Jax and Piper Niven both ended up squashing her while fighting other people.  Nia was presented as the monster heel in this match, eliminating eight women during her 20-minute tenure.  But it was all to set up Jade Cargill as the monster babyface who came along and slew the giant, so to speak.  Jade was presented well but still looked very green, and I'm not sure what it will take for her to shed her rookie-level awkwardness.  Another standout was NXT's Tiffany Stratton, who got to do some fun high spots in the few minutes she was given.  In the end it boiled down to Bayley, Liv Morgan and Jade.  Liv did a hurricanrana to Jade, flipping her over the ropes, and Bayley knocked Liv off the apron to win her first Rumble match, also setting the women's longevity record at sixty-three minutes.  The final third of this was fun but the rest was a slog, and there were some pretty glaring miscues throughout.  This win sets up Bayley vs. IYO Sky no doubt, and it looks like Damage CTRL will morph into an IYO/Asuka/Kairi trio.  Side note: During this match Pat McAfee asked Michael Cole if there had ever been co-winners in a Rumble match, and Michael said no.  Umm, Mike?  1994.  Bret Hart and Lex Luger.  One of the most famous Rumble finishes ever.  You ass.  **3/4

Participants: Natalya, Naomi, Bayley, Candice LaRae, Jordynn Grace, Indi Hartwell, Asuka, Ivy Nile, Katana Chance, Bianca Belair, Kairi Sane, Tegan Nox, Kayden Carter, Chelsea Green, Piper Niven, Xia Li, Zelina Vega, Maxxine Dupri, Nia Jax, Shotzi, Becky Lynch, Alba Fyre, Shayna Baszler, Valhalla, Michin, Zoey Stark, Roxxane Perez, Jade Cargill, Tiffany Stratton, Liv Morgan
Final Four: Bayley, Liv Morgan, Jade Cargill, Tiffany Stratton
Long Man: Bayley (1:03:03)

The Universal Title match was next, strangely, and it was the exact match you'd expect from Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton vs. AJ Styles vs. LA Knight.  They did a bunch of stuff, everyone hit finishers on each other for nearfalls that the crowd didn't really buy into, Roman was down for the count but got saved once again by Solo Sikoa (who pulled the referee out of the ring after Roman fell victim to an RKO), there was yet another fucking broken barricade spot (STOP. DOING. THESE.), and Roman hit a luckily-timed spear on AJ for the win.  This guy is so far past his peak as champion at this point.  What a far cry from his early 2023 title defenses which all had a big story behind them and massive crowd heat.  ***

The best match of the night as expected (though they still fucked it up with a lame finish) was Logan Paul vs. Kevin Owens for the US Title.  They worked a stiff match with a lot of chops, traded big moves, nearfalls and everything you'd expect from a Logan Paul spectacle.  There were swantons, frog splashes, superplexes, etc.  Late in the match one of Logan's friends tried to hand him brass knuckles but the referee ejected him.  Austin Theory and Grayson Waller ran down but Owens got the knux and knocked Paul out with them, but like an idiot forgot to take them off his hand when making the cover, and the referee disqualified him.  Owens has been a heel many times and should know enough to dispose of a weapon after using it.  I assume this sets up a rematch, maybe at 'Mania?  Owens flipped out after the match and put Paul through the announce table.  Good match, shit finish.  ***1/2

And finally the men's Rumble, which was nowhere near as good as last year's but at least had the right result.  The first third of this match had zero happening, even with Jey and Jimmy Uso as the first two participants.  There was shockingly little heat for this.  From there it was a buncha nothing-happening guys entering, with the exception of the returning Andrade, who still did very little of note in this match.  Dude went from a really strong showing in the AEW Continental Classic, to just another Rumble guy.  Hope it was worth it, buddy.  Seriously, nothing big happened till very late in this match.  Cody entered at 15 but even his entrance didn't light the place up.  One of the most noteworthy aspects of this match was the main roster debut of Bron Breakker, who took Brock Lesnar's intended spot due to Lesnar being implicated in the Vince McMahon lawsuit (and if this stuff is true, Brock should never appear on WWE television ever again).  Breakker only got five minutes but looked like a million bucks, eliminating four guys and having a big staredown with Omos.  Brock would've been tossed by Dominik Mysterio to set up a squash match between them at Elimination Chamber, and it's possible Breakker gets that spot too.  Good for him, he's got immense potential (but they still need to change his name) and I'd be totally on board with him challenging Gunther for the I-C Title at 'Mania.  Speaking of Gunther, he had another strong showing and another Final Four appearance in this match.  But it was the CM Punk-Cody Rhodes showdown that everyone will remember from this.  Still, considering how hard they pushed the animosity between these two prior to this, there wasn't a whole lot of urgency to it.  At one point Cody, Punk and Drew were all in there together and barely interacted with each other until it was time for one to eliminate another.  Punk tossed Drew, Cody repeated his 2023 feat of eliminating Gunther, and then Punk and Cody had a long exchange before Cody threw out Punk to become the first man in 26 years to win back-to-back Rumbles.  It looks like WWE is actually going to set things right from last year and finally have Cody dethrone Roman.  At least they aren't totally stupid.  Anyway, this match was from a technical standpoint better than the women's Rumble but I enjoyed it less.  There was hardly anything of note going on past the result; even Kofi Kingston didn't get a memorable elimination.  They also put Pat McAfee in the match and didn't have him do anything - he just pulled a Drew Carey and eliminated himself.  Surely there was someone else they could've put in that spot.  This felt a lot like the 2012 Rumble where the final minutes were good but everything else just kinda sucked.  **1/2

Participants: Jey Uso, Jimmy Uso, Grayson Waller, Andrade, Carmelo Hayes, Shinsuke Nakamura, Santos Escobar, Karrion Kross, Dominik Mysterio, Carlito, Bobby Lashley, Ludwig Kaiser, Austin Theory, Finn Balor, Cody Rhodes, Bronson Reed, Kofi Kingston, Gunther, Ivar, Bron Breakker, Omos, Pat McAfee, JD McDonough, R-Truth, The Miz, Damian Priest, CM Punk, Ricochet, Drew McIntyre, Sami Zayn
Final Four: Cody Rhodes, CM Punk, Gunther, Drew McIntyre
Long Man: Jey Uso (50:55)

So yeah, far from the best Royal Rumble card, this show got easily and cosmically outclassed by AEW's Collision episode airing at the same time, and sadly only about 300,000 people watched that live.  I'm still baffled that WWE is as hot a product as it is, given the stilted, phoned-in nature of so much of their programming.  

Unpleasant side note: Triple H appeared at the post-show media scrum and predictably was asked by numerous reporters about the Vince McMahon lawsuit, and gave an absolutely tone-deaf response to all of them.  "I'm just trying to focus on the positives of this week, we had a great week."  Umm, no you didn't.  You had an appallingly terrible week; these allegations are at best a massive stain on the company, and you were personally implicated in helping to cover them up.  Fucker actually claimed on camera that he hasn't read the lawsuit filing.  Really Paul?  You didn't read the filing that pertains to your father-in-law's vomit-inducing sexual misconduct and alleges that you and your wife tried to sweep the whole thing under the rug?  As a senior leader in the company you're either willfully ignorant of what's going on, or you're lying so you can claim ignorance.  Which one is it?  Oh but let's make fun of AEW's use of the phrase "forbidden door" as a deflection, while ignoring WWE's litancy of stupid corporate buzzwords.  I've lost so much respect for Paul Levesque over the last year, and this shameful performance might've make that irreparable.  Also, there need to be criminal charges filed against Vince.

Best Match: Logan Paul vs. Kevin Owens
Worst Match: Men's Royal Rumble
What I'd Change: Once again, put ANY thought into these Rumble matches so there are multiple stories being advance and multiple WrestleMania matches being set up.  Get CM Punk on a treadmill so he gets back his cardio (Seriously, the guy was only away from the ring for four months, what the hell happened?).  Figure out another way to book a Roman Reigns match so it doesn't feel like a Greatest Hits compilation every time.
Most Disappointing Match: Men's Royal Rumble
Most Pleasant Surprise: I guess that Bron Breakker is finally being set up for a big main roster run.
Overall Rating: 6/10

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