WWE’s 33rd annual Royal Rumble event took place Sunday night from Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. The show was headlined by two Royal Rumble matches for both the men and the women to illuminate the main event picture for WrestleMania less than 70 days away. Elsewhere, we saw the culmination of the months-long feud between Roman Reigns and King Corbin and we saw the second Women’s Championship match in as many years between Becky Lynch and Asuka.
Roman Reigns vs. Baron Corbin
Roman went right after King Corbin’s court and gained the upper-hand early, throwing the King of the Ring into the ring steps and ringside barricades. Luckily for Corbin, he was able to take the momentum back in his favor with a huge Deep Six Slam. Both men made liberal use of the vast seating arrangement at Minute Maid by running all around the infield in chase of the other. Corbin delivered two hard-and-heavy chokeslams to the German and Spanish announce tables (the latter of which broke under the weight of Roman’s body), although they only resulted in a two-count. Roman returned the favor by driving Corbin through two international announce tables in the outfield seating area for more close two-counts. I was a big fan of including Roode, ZIggler and the Usos to this match, especially because their involvement could not result in a disqualification loss for their compatriot. Shout-out to Jimmy Uso for flying like Seth Rollins at Extreme Rules 2014 off that scaffolding. From here, we went to the climax of the match where Roman got revenge for his dog food-embarrassment by locking the King in a port-a-potty and flipping over the structure, eliciting an appropriate “Holy Shit” chant from the Houston crowd. The two eventually made their way to the third baseline where Roman would capture the pinfall after a huge spear on top of the dugout. A barebones (but fun) falls count anywhere match.
Winner: Roman Reigns Time: 21:20 Rating: 3 Stars
Women’s Royal Rumble
Bianca Bel Air is easily going to be a future star on the main roster. Her in-ring work here was very believable (using Alexa Bliss as a weapon to eliminate Nikki Cross and over-head pressing many of the women) and she had what was arguably her break-out performance here in Minute Maid Park. I’ve been over the Rusev-Lana-Lashley-Liv love quadrilateral for quite some time, but I did enjoy their pull-apart after eliminating each other. I thought the spot where Mandy Rose was saved by her on-screen unrequited lover Otis serving as a literal doormat was hysterical. They’re part of one of the most interesting angles on television right now and I sincerely hope they stick the landing on its conclusion. Naomi made her triumphant return to TV to a huge ovation and with an even bigger afro. She was almost eliminated as quickly as she came in, but she used her momentum and saved her chances by catching and hanging on the ring barricade similar to what John Morrison did in the Royal Rumble 10 years ago. She scooted her way to the announce tables and built a make-shift bridge to the steel steps. I’ve always wanted someone to do that trick in a Royal Rumble match, so good karma to you, Naomi. As a young wrestling fan of the late 2000’s, I got a kick out of seeing Beth Phoenix and Santina Marella share a ring together again. Speaking of the Glamazon, she once again proved that she is tough as nails for getting the back of her head split open on the ringpost and continuing on with the match, ultimately making it to the final four. My original pick for this match was Ronda Rousey, but once Shayna Baszler appeared at number 30, I thought for sure she would be the one to take it all. Charlotte Flair is a predictable-yet-logical pick that’s another trophy place on her crowded trophy shelf. I don’t see her transitioning to SmackDown in the near future, so it looks like we’re in store for Becky-Charlotte Part…I couldn’t even tell you. But, they’re two of the best in the world right now, so I’m fine with another match under new pretenses at the Grandest Stage of them All. Ups-and-downs taken into account, this was a fun Rumble match.
Winner: Charlotte Flair Time: 54:20 Rating: 4 Stars
Bayley (C) vs. Lacey Evans
Bayley understands wrestling psychology as well as anybody, spotlighted when she was playing possum while feigning a knee injury. Lots of headlocks from the SmackDown Women’s Champion that really slowed the pace of this match. I liked the inclusion of Evans’ daughter Summer to give the challenger an extra boost of babyface support as well as add a few more layers of storytelling to this match. A very quiet crowd looked on as Bayley pulled the tights to retain her championship in less than thrilling fashion. I appreciate the company trying something different with Lacey as a “Liberty Belle-esque babyface” (shout-out to all you G.L.O.W. fans out there), but she still needs that secret ingredient to take her to the next level of crowd support. A perfectly okay, but not interesting, match.
Winner: Bayley Time: 9:20 Rating: 1.5 Stars
The Fiend (C) vs. Bray Wyatt
I’m confused as to why this was a Strap Match. The whole point of a Strap Match is to ensure “your opponent won’t escape your grasp,” right? Neither man (or beast) have ran from the other man in the scope of this feud, so I don’t really get the storyline reasoning why this stipulation was chosen. I will say, one positive of this match was to show off the Fiend’s brutality through whipping the challenger with the strap dozens of times throughout this match. By the end of the night, Bryan was more red than any other skin color from all the punishment he took. But don’t let that description make it seem like this was a one-sided affair. Bryan possesses an excellent attribute that instantly makes you believe he can defeat a larger opponent, even after taking minutes of punishment. A few well-placed kicks to the head and a momentum-shifting running knee nearly gave Bryan a three-count to win the WWE Universal Championship at the match’s midway point. But even after legions of falls from the top-turnbuckle and slamming the Fiend’s head into the ringpost, the Fiend would seemingly regenerate its energy back right away and knock Bryan off his feet. My favorite part of this match was the in-motion counter of the Fiend grabbing Bryan (trying to score another Running Knee) and creating a Sister Abigail in the process. This was arguably the best match the Fiend has had and presumably the end of its months-long feud with Bryan. A fantastic match filled with twists and turns that lived up to the legend of Bray and Bryan’s previous encounter six Royal Rumbles ago.
Winner: The Fiend Time: 17:35 Rating: 4 Stars
Becky Lynch (C) vs. Asuka
If it weren’t for the Rumble matches, this would have been the match I was looking forward to the most. Two of the best in the world rocking it out in an attempt to top their performance from one year ago. The woman holding the belt may have changed, but the skills on display are as crisp as ever. I’m pretty sure some of the kicks that Asuka throws are stronger than the strap shots the Fiend gave Daniel Bryan. She would throw all kinds of dropkicks and shots to Becky’s head, but nothing seemed to knock the Man down for a three-count. But even all the top-rope leg drops and Bex-sploders in the world couldn’t put away Asuka early either. The story of this match focused on Asuka delivering strike after strike to Becky’s head over the course of the match, which at one point seemed to “knock out” Lynch momentarily. But right as the referee was about to call for the bell, Becky rose back to life and gained a second wind of energy. That second wind made Becky extra aware of an Asuka green mist attack and knocked down the Empress of Tomorrow before the latter could blind the RAW Women’s Champion. Rolling her challenger into a Dis-Arm-Her, Becky now gets to add her name to the short list of women who have been able to tap out Asuka in a WWE ring.
This whole feud felt like a legitimate obstacle for Becky to overcome. Asuka had her win hanging over Becky for a year now; she was the last domino for the Lass Kicker to knock over to cement herself as “The Man” in 2020. This was a big babyface win that is due to the fine work from Becky, Asuka and even Kairi Sane over the last few weeks. A very good match that is on-par with, and maybe even better, than their previous match last year in Phoenix.
Winner: Becky Lynch Time: 16:25 Rating: 3.5 Stars
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
I’m going to go ahead and call the first half of this match “The Brock Lesnar Show.” I know a lot of fans were aggravated by Lesnar completely decimating the RAW and SmackDown rosters for roughly 20 minutes, but I for one loved it. We’ve never seen that kind of dominance in a Royal Rumble match before. It was the perfect exemplification of what they’ve built Lesnar up to be in the last nine years. Elias, Erick Rowan, Bobby Roode, it didn’t matter. Lesnar looked absolutely dominant. That being said, I hope the quick tease of Keith Lee squaring off against Brock was just a sample for something bigger down the line. Those two men have such a similar stature that I’m sure if they ran into each other at full speed, car crashes couldn’t replicate the amount of force they would create. I wish Lee would have been the one to cut down Lesnar here, but I’m not too upset with who was given the honor instead.
Coming into this match, Drew McIntyre was regarded as a dark horse candidate to create a dream match between two hosses in him and Lesnar. Thanks in part to a lowblow from Ricochet, McIntyre knocked a stunned Lensar over the top rope and received the second biggest pop of the night. That in and of itself, Drew raised his stock immensely with the fans as well as myself. I’ll get back to Drew in a second, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention THE pop of the night, the rumored-return of the Rated-R superstar to a WWE ring for the first time in nearly eight years. For Edge to return to the ring and look as smooth and quick as he did in his pretty decently long time in the match is nothing short of a medical miracle. I really hoped he took a moment to breath in the excitement and happiness that he gave over 40,000 people around him and the thousands more watching at home.
Going into this, I thought it was all but confirmed that Roman would walk out of Houston with a punched-ticket to WrestleMania. He hasn’t been a part of the main event picture since he returned to the company roughly a year ago, and the essential ending of his rivalry with King Corbin made it appear he was ready to take on a new challenge by way of returning to the main event title picture. With that said, I was shocked when it ended up being McIntyre who survived the Beast, Edge, Orton and Reigns to book himself for the main event of WrestleMania. I love this decision. Coupled with the elimination of Brock, this win makes Drew a made-man for the main event picture on RAW for the next few months, something Roman Reigns has possessed going back to his days in the Shield. Drew needed this win more, and I’m so glad WWE recognized that fact as well. Well done, WWE.
Winner: Drew McIntyre Time: 1:00:50 Rating: 4 Stars
Overall Thoughts: With the exception of Bayley-Lacey Evans (which I almost have to give my least favorite match of the night honors by default), this was a very, very strong show. No match really bored me and even though a show going at least four hours is hardly without lulls, this was one of the best WWE shows in quite some time. My favorite match of the night, as much as I loved the Rumbles, would have to be the Fiend and Daniel Bryan in what might be the last time those two share the ring together. Not because either man is retiring soon, but I don’t see Bryan long for the main event title picture after this loss.
Final Royal Rumble Rating: 4 Stars