Well, Patrick Ross called it. For better or worse, the 2019 Royal Rumble was everything it needed to be, even if that was kind of predictable. The right people won (almost) all of the matches, the wrestling was pretty good to great where it needed to be and only one match ended in what I would consider a stupid manner. If it weren’t for the fact this was the single LONGEST non-Mania PPV I can recall (and that Shane McMahon won a title on the show), this would’ve been a near-perfect event. Still, as far as seven hour wrestling shows go, Royal Rumble was a solid start to the Road to WrestleMania — even if there were a few potholes along the way. How’d it all shake out, you ask?
- You guys, bad news. John Cena is currently filming a mo…uh, currently injured due to that dastardly Drew McIntyre and won’t be competing in the Royal Rumble. The consolation is that Braun will be taking his place. I know Cena’s the bigger star, but this has to be seen as an upgrade.
- It’s not quite as fun as the old promo parade they used to run at the beginning of the Coliseum Video releases of the Royal Rumble, but the pre-show features a number of pre-taped promos from several performers heading into the rumble match. Joe’s isn’t bad, Mac does fine, and Daniel Bryan cuts a promo on that gross looking Royal Rumble Burger that Chase Field sold during the event.
- The most interesting video stars Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville and sees the duo tease dissension between them before not actually interacting with each other during the match. The real notable element is that Mandy’s acting is TERRIBLE — like sub-soap opera stuff. Sonya fares better, but she’s not the one getting the push.
- In the first half of the show they set up the most baffling tag match I can think of, by having Drake Maverick petition the McMahons (not pictured) for another title shot for AOP. The thing is, Akam’s out with injury. So what do they do? They have Rezar team with Scott Dawson of the Revival…and lose decisively to Bobby Roode and Chad Gable in about five minutes. I guess I get why they didn’t advertise this match, but why did they do it at all?
- By the way, if you were wondering, Coach is still terrible at this whole talking into a microphone thing. Sadly, it turns out, so is Shawn Michaels. He loses his train of thought so easily and rambles nonsense all the time. He’s definitely a legend and can cut an okay promo to hype a PPV, but keep Shawn off commentary, please.
- The second match of the pre-show sees Shinsuke Nakamura regain the U.S. Title after Rusev accidentally trucks his wife off the ring post and she briefly forgets that she’s a professional athlete. I’m not sure what the goal with either of these guys is, but if you didn’t think RuRu should break his contract and head to AEW once they’re up and running before, this should do it. Small side note: When Lana hopped up on the ring to claim that Nak was cheating, he just yelled “Don’t your business!” at her. Fantastic.
- They announced the return of “Halftime Heat,” which will see the six top men in NXT (Ciampa, Gargano, Cole, Black, Dream and Ricochet) face off in a six-man tag during halftime of the Super Bowl. I know WWE took the cheap shot of it being better than watching Maroon 5, but…I mean they’re not wrong…
- Of course the high point of the pre-show (as always) was the Cruiserweight title match. All four guys looked spectacular (Kalisto monkey-flipping Tozawa into Murphy made my non-wrestling fan girlfriend literally exclaim “Oooooooh!”) and Murphy retaining was the right move. I’m not sure what you do to make 205 Live more of a success, because it’s certainly not for lack of talent. These guys bust their ass and put on good to great matches on the reg, but most of us (myself included) just don’t care enough to watch their regular show.
Asuka (c) vs. Becky Lynch for the SmackDown Women’s Championship
Once I saw this match at the top of the card, I sort of already knew how the women’s Rumble was going to play out. All that said, this was an exciting match that did a lot to put over Becky as a strong and dangerous competitor, sure, but did A TON toward rehabbing Asuka into the dominant monster she always should have been. The Empress and The Man laid into each other with some stiff shots and extended submission exchanges, and it was clear that they were fighting on an even level. In the end it would be Asuka pulling out something we haven’t seen from her before in a sort of cross-face Cattle Mutilation submission that looked just brutal. I’m a little surprised that they had Becky tap cleanly to a move like that, but it certainly helped that it was after a long, competitive match and to a new and intense looking hold.
Of course we know how this one would play out, and Becky wouldn’t have to lose any steam due to this loss, but it is curious to have your uber resilient babyface who is (probably) heading to the main event of WrestleMania tap out when her opponent at the show is known for her submission holds, but think of what it did for Asuka. The Empress of Tomorrow was on a leash for much of 2018, and though she won the title in a show-stealing affair at TLC, she was the third most important person in that match, and got a considerable assist from Ronda Rousey. This match, however, shut the haters down and showed that Most Dangerous Kana is back, and god help whoever gets in her way. Hopefully, that someone is Charlotte. Hopefully it’s at WrestleMania. Hopefully Asuka gets her win back in another epic encounter.
The Bar (c) vs. The Miz and Shane McMahon for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships
Let me start by saying that this was a competently paced and booked match, performed well by three experienced wrestlers and a non-athlete, and I hated it. I hate this Miz/McMahon storyline. I hate that it’s spinning out of the Blood Money WrestleMania that was Crown Jewel. I hate that Sheamus and Cesaro (one a former world champion, the other well deserving of that acclaim) had to sell for a 50-year old executive in sweatpants and Jordans like it was Steve Friggin’ Blackman in there. I hate that Miz is forced to look ridiculous (the wrong kind of ridiculous) in a baseball jersey and his little trunks. I hate Shane’s stupid little rabbit punches. I recognize that this match wasn’t bad from a performance or storyline perspective, but why the hell is it that The Bar can defeat tag specialists like the Usos or the New Day, but a midcard tweener and his shadow-boxing boss are too much to handle? Also, what was the deal with Miz’s dad being there? Commentary was acting like “he must be so proud of his son for this win,” but like…Miz has won the tag titles like a dozen times…he has been WWE Champion…he successfully defended it at the main event of WrestleMania…beating John Cena in the process…but sure, this win with his boss means a lot to papa Mizanin. Oh, also Shane’s Shooting Star Press looked like crap. I’ve been seeing other people say it was great, it was not.
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Sasha Banks for the Raw Women’s Championship
Before the match even starts, Charlie Caruso catches up with Sasha to tell her “Everyone thinks you’re going to lose.” I know this is all scripted, but what a s----y thing to say to someone before they go out to fight for a title. Like, you don’t see sideline reporters talking to Sean McVay about “So I hear that the Rams are farty butt loser babies, how do you respond?” before the Super Bowl. But I digress. Sasha did totally lose, but she did so much to make this match great. Ronda did good work too, of course, but holy crap was Sasha selling. Not just the pain, but the severity of the threat that Ronda poses and the intensity of her own efforts. It’s an ace job in a better-than-good match. Like all Rousey (and Banks to be fair) matches, it’s sloppy at points, but Sasha’s viciousness really helped to hide a lot of the mistakes. I like that Ronda had to both hit a powerbomb and then roll right into the Piper’s Pit (side note: change that name) in order to put The Boss down. After the match, however, Ronda loses me again. Twice she attempts to shake Sasha’s hand or put her over, but Sasha no-sells (throwing up the 4 Horsewomen symbol in the process). I get, it’ll make Sasha look like a sore loser of sorts, but given that Sasha wasn’t rude about accepting the praise, the second attempt felt like Ronda needed the validation which…is pretty petty, right? Like, you shot your shot, got turned down. Move on. It’s a real passive aggressive one-upsmanship move, where Ronda already proved the better competitor (kayfabe) in the match, but wants to show she’s the better person too? Good people don’t do that. Bad people who want to look good do.
Women’s Royal Rumble Match
I’m a bit curious why this one went on in the middle of the show given the ending, but this was a strong outing from the WWE’s women’s division, writing staff and producers. I feel like no one got short shrift in this outing, a lot of new faces got time to shine out there and the most over person in the company got to stand tall in the end after a gutsy, redemptive performance. I seem to be alone among my peers, but I think the women’s rumble was better than the men’s. But let’s break it down into moments.
- Speaking of new faces, Lacey Evans was the first to enter the Rumble. She looked great out there (minus the hat she wore in) and lasted a while, even eliminating both Iiconics. That being said, her pre-match promo was pretty bad. Hopefully she makes a bigger splash in coming weeks.
- Other cool newcomers that had great spots in the match include NXT’s Xia Li, Candace Lerae, Kairi Sane, Io Shirai, Kacy Catanzaro (who got her own “Kofi avoiding elimination” spot) and NXT UK’s Rhea Ripley (who was awesome, and had the best reaction to Hornswoggle’s cameo appearance of the night). It was a cool collection of performers, and though all of them had brief runs, I think they each made a good impression.
- The best character beats (outside of the finish) came when Naomi eliminated Mandy Rose, only for Rose to try to powerbomb her rival on the outside. Naomi manages to escape and ends up running the barricade and leaping to the ring steps ala Kofi in 2014 (or John Morrison in 2011). It’s a cool spot made all the better when, as Naomi lands safely on the ring steps, Mandy runs back in to pull her down and eliminate her from the Rumble. Great heeling there.
- Charlotte Flair tied the record for most eliminations in the Women’s Rumble by tossing out five competitors (Xia Li, Tamina, Lacey Evans, Carmella and Bayley), while Bayley, Nia Jax, Rhea Ripley and Ruby Riott all tied for second with three eliminations apiece.
- For what it’s worth, Natalya was the Iron Woman, spending about 56 minutes in the Rumble match, which was longer than the men’s Iron Man spent in his match, but we’ll get to that later.
The real crux of the match emotionally is, oddly enough, the emergence of Lana, whose fall from the ring apron in the “nobody beside me watched it” pre-show evidently destroyed her ankle (again, she is a professional wrestler and must make that fall several times per week). As she’s hobbling toward the ring, Nia Jax’s number is called and she wrecks Lana on her way into the match. As if from my dream journal, Becky Lynch rolls out to take Lana’s place, and Fit by-god-Finlay allows for the substitution. It’s an Irish conspiracy is what I’m getting at.
Anyway, the final three come down to Becky, Charlotte and Nia, with the two Horsewomen each doing their part to eliminate the accident prone Samoan. Jax, not taking her loss in stride, just up and wrecks Becky on the outside to set our favorite underdog even more against the odds. Fortunately, WWE is in the mood to listen to fans nowadays and Becky is able to duck a big boot attempt and send the Queen toppling over the top rope. It’s a great signature win for the Man, and well deserved. Now the question remains whether or not Charlotte will find a way to get in on this whole Becky vs. Ronda thing in time for WrestleMania. I hope not, as I’d much rather see Asuka get her win back in a rematch of last year’s event.
Daniel Bryan (c) vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship
Funny. I know that Daniel Bryan is supposed to be this sanctimonious “holier than thou” heel type, making normal folks feel bad for what they drive, eat and enjoy, but this feud has actually made me like him a lot more — and AJ Styles a lot less. Styles, who seemingly can’t handle a razor company asking men to be nicer without seeing it as an affront to his own perceptions of masculinity, did himself no favors with those lime green X-Pac-lookin-ass tights out there. Regardless of character motivations or the men portraying these roles’ personal stances on societal norms, this is a matchup between two of the best performers of all time being given 12 minutes to work a back and forth title match and it’s a mostly successful affair. Both men look inventive, resilient and strong, even if this whole feud feels like a placeholder for more interesting storylines for both of these guys. The real problem comes in the ending, when a wild Rowan appears. Having evidently regained his first name during his time away (as well as quite a few tattoos that I think are new), Erick Rowan marches out there in a casual flannel and a Tom Savini shirt (side note: shoutout to Tom Savini) only to chokeslam AJ while the ref is down and gift D-Bry the win. Afterward he even held Styles up while Bryan hit the Busaiku knee, cementing himself as a goon with a new boss. I wonder if my man Harper will be out there to join this new, eco-friendly version of the Wyatt Family. I don’t feel like Bryan needs muscle to be over as the champ, but I also don’t think AJ should remain in the title picture, so I guess WWE will go with both of those things in the future.
As an aside, WWE really needs to figure out how they want to plot these things out better. The crowd was mostly dead for this match because they had just seen what should have been the end of the show, and were then asked to sit around for another hour and 40 minutes. I don’t want to put the Men’s and Women’s Rumbles at odds, but Vince may want to consider holding them on separate nights. I just can’t see the crowd sustaining the level of enthusiasm and excitement they’re looking for through two Rumble matches on a seven hour show. Less is more sometimes, you know?
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Finn Balor for the Universal Championship
It has to be said, while most of us are absolutely DONE with Lesnar as champ, the man can put on a captivating match when he’s actually invested in the product. That’s exactly what we get in this matchup with Finn Balor, a beloved fan favorite who weighs about as much as the slab of beef Brock ate for breakfast. In a shoot fight, Brock would absolutely murder this little LEGO-loving Irishman. But what does he do? He sells. He puts this guy over as someone that he may have underestimated at first, but is a genuine threat. Sure it took two “dick to the corner of the table” spots to get him there, but it’s WAY more ground than he gave to Dean Ambrose a few years back, and makes this match a whole lot more interesting. Finn gets in great underdog babyface spots, hitting all sorts of dives, kicks and stomps, and beginning to feel his own hype catching up to him. When he eventually hits the Coup de Grace, he thinks he’s got it won — until a desperate Brock grabs his arm and throws him in a deep Kimura lock that is perfectly accentuated by his crazed look while applying it. Eventually Finn taps out, and an enraged and embarrassed Brock beats his ass well and good after the fact. I’m not usually too into one-sided post-match beatdowns, but I like the story it told. Brock was embarrassed that he let this little guy get so close to beating him so he had to reestablish his dominance. It’s like when you play Red Dead Redemption and one of the Night Folk gets the jump on you so you fire a couple of additional rounds in them after they’re dead because you’re embarrassed that this ghost-painted weirdo got the drop on you. Speaking of which, why didn’t Finn get all Demon’ed up for this? It’s literally against The Beast. Think these things through, Fergal.
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
I really liked last year’s men’s Rumble, but the star power of this one was just fantastic. There were several moments (especially later in the match) where I thought to myself “I would love to see any two of these guys go one-on-one.” Oh sure, there were some gag appearances here, like the return of Jeff Jarrett in that ugly ass party streamer getup he wore in the early 90s, No Way Jose being eliminated before his music even stopped playing, and Curt Hawkins copying the Zelina Vega spot (minus the awesome Vega cosplay or Hornswoggle cameo) of hiding under the ring, but for the most part the performers were all treated well in the matchup…except Titus O’Neil. That guy will forever be a Royal Rumble joke now. Other notes from the Men’s Royal Rumble:
- As mentioned, Jeff Jarrett drew number 2 in the Rumble and got wrecked by Elias before the two could sing a note. Elias even busted a guitar over Double J’s back before unceremoniously dumping the Hall of Famer. I’m glad the only Attitude Era remnant was ditched good and early, as the other surprise entrants were mostly NXT guys.
- Okay, so Kurt Angle was there too, but he’s less an Attitude Era holdover, and more a living legend. Now please Kurt, stop wrestling. You’ve done enough, bud, you’re good.
- And what a list of NXT guests, as guys like Johnny Gargano, Aleister Black and Pete Dunne all had fun runs in the match, with Black even eliminating Dean Ambrose before being unceremoniously dumped by Baron Corbin of all people. Gargano also eliminated a former WWE Champion in Jinder Mahal, before — funnily enough — being dumped by Ambrose. The Circle of Life indeed.
- Seeing that the Women’s Rumble had two “Rumble save” moments, they thought to give Kofi two spots of his own — funnier still, if you watch either close enough you see his feet hit the ground on both of them.
- There should be something said about some of the odd attire in the match, as Andrade’s school bus yellow pants stood out, though not as much as Jeff Hardy’s weird salmon scaled shirt (which looked more like he had been skinned alive). Still, there’s little more odd than Seth Rollins rocking Chicago Bears colors and yet still going on to win the big one.
- Unsurprisingly, Braun Strowman had the most eliminations for the match at five (Baron Corbin, Shelton Benjamin, Jeff Hardy, Andrade and Dolph Ziggler). Three men (Drew McIntyre, Samoa Joe and Seth Rollins) tied for second with three eliminations apiece.
- Another unsurprising stat shows that Seth Rollins was the Iron Man of the Men’s Rumble, entering at number 10 and lasting 43 minutes.
Toward the end of the match we see the (baffling) return of Dolph Ziggler, who manages to eliminate Drew McIntyre before finishing in third. More baffling than that, Nia Jax beats up R-Truth on his way to the ring and enters into the match herself, even eliminating Mustafa Ali in the process and eating finishers from Dolph, Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio before being eliminated by the latter. Rey has another highlight moment when he crossbodies Ali, who is being superplexed by Andrade, who is being electric chaired by Braun in the most convoluted Tower of Doom spot I can recall in a Rumble match.
The match all boils down to Braun vs. Seth, but both got to take a breather late in the match after a table spot for Seth and a…something? For Braun? I’ve watched the Rumble twice now and missed it both times. Anyway, as it always does when you’ve got two finalists with this kind of size difference, the finish comes down to the Ch[Name Redacted]it spot, with the smaller man leveraging the giant over the rope. This year, however, it all ends with Rollins hitting a stomp on Braun on the ring skirt for the win. This was a really good Rumble and great performance for the winner, but the result doesn’t seem as miraculous and heart warming as the women’s result. Maybe they were worried about the crowd so late in the night? Not sure, all the same. The right man won, it was a good match, and anything beyond a nitpick criticism is probably just me being an ass.