WWE Royal Rumble 2018 Was Surprisingly Compelling
WWE Royal Rumble 2018

With a new format, here’s another attempt at being a pro wrestling journalist with half the talent and quarter the understanding. Royal Rumble 2018 was not bad at all, especially when compared to previous Rumbles that have mostly been about building whatever Vince McMahon saw as good. This time, it was obvious how the old genetic jackhammer had a lot less to do with this one due to the recent announcement of the new XFL venture (because second time lucky during his friend Trump’s administration).
So it looks like this PPV has more of Aitch’s fingerprints on it, and his wife’s as well. The whole Stephanie as the face of the Women’s Revolution thing does rub the wrong way, but at least the Women’s division has come this far now, so much that there are now more women’s matches main-eventing PPVs. For those who are still skeptical or critical of women’s wrestling, that may seem like a bad idea. However, this Royal Rumble is actually rather compelling to watch.

I also want to mention how much I like the graphic package for this event. It’s quite nice.

NOTE: I spoil big chunks of this event in this piece. You’ve been warned.

The Openers

Never mind the kick-off, although Bobby Roode could’ve gotten something better than wrestling Mojo Rawley in a semi-dark match. However, having AJ Styles open the show may be a bit of a stretch. Perhaps the handicap match between him and the BFF duo of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn was bound to be a main card opener to begin with due to both its odd use of star power and its storytelling function.

It was amusing to see the dynamic between Kevin and Sami that had been in development since their indie days, and it made for an entertaining match. That spot with Kevin getting out of the ring to go around AJ and tag Sami was case in point. However, as far as the storyline goes, Shane McMahon showing up only at the last moment was like telling the audience “That was a great match, but remember the story.” It was clunky.

As for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship match that followed, there were less moving parts. I’ve always liked heel Usos, and the team of Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin—I’d like to call them American Gamma (because American Beta sounds bad)—work pretty well together. This was certainly better than the Raw Tag Team Championship match later on.

Men’s Royal Rumble

It seems like if you enter the Rumble first or second, you should last for a good while. This precedent was set by Shawn Michaels entering the 1995 Royal Rumble at #1 and winning the whole thing. It’s all well and good, but WWE should make sure to maintain those spots as disadvantageous. The last time those who entered at #1 and #2 had lasted for less than 10 minutes was in the 2015 Royal Rumble, with The Miz and R-Truth lasting just over 4 minutes.

In this case, Rusev entered first and stayed there for 30 minutes, while #2 Finn Balor was among the final four and got thrown out by John Cena after 57 minutes. Balor then got pinned clean by Johnny boy at Raw the next night.

Poor Heath Slater went through hell to reach the ring as suffering is his calling. Then there was Tye Dillinger, who got ten in the pain index after being pearl-harbored by the BFFs Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, and the latter took his place. I always liked the impromptu “punch the ticket” way of getting into the Rumble.

I wish there was more Woken Matt Hardy, but he was just there for Bray Wyatt anyway. Brother Nero would’ve also been a welcome addition, although he may not be fully healed yet and not at the point of being able to pull of an Edge-style comeback. Meanwhile, the dynamic between Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns later on and how Seth had a knowing smile when he got eliminated by his Shield brother was amusing to me.

The Hurricane is an okay gimmick, especially since the man behind it pretty much owns it like a second skin. He’s not above doing silly things as signatures, and he did enough durinng his short stay in the ring. If only the Rock were there for him to share backstage screen time again because his interactions with the Rock were some of the best segments in the Ruthless Aggression era.

It turned out Adam Cole was supposed to answer Bobby Roode’s Open Challenge for the US Championship, but plans were changed at the last minute. They must like him to have him make a main roster debut this early in his first WWE stint. He also got a pretty good pop, which should further impress the upper brass.

Rey Mysterio is in talks with Impact Wrestling at the moment and he had just finished his stint with Lucha Underground, so there must have been a lull that just coincided with the Royal Rumble. These things tend to happen every now and then and WWE tends to treat its alumni quite well, as long as they left in amicable terms. I certainly liked how Rey wasn’t wearing one of those tops he started sporting in recent years.

Even if he got the coveted #30 spot, they did Dolph Ziggler dirty. They could’ve had him in the final four since he had turned CM Punk with a walkout, leaving the US Championship behind. A Dolph Ziggler with a chip on his shoulder after many years of labor could’ve been awesome. However, we got is the usual Dolph Ziggler with icky-looking pants and a premature elimination.

The final six was interesting as they had the old WWE mainstays (yes, including Rey Mysterio) against the new guard (two New Japan alumni and Roman Reigns) facing off in a generational war of sorts. What transpired was something I’m not entirely sure if Vince McMahon would’ve signed off on.

The finish was well done, pitting the man expected to win against the man fans (smarks) wish to win. With it being WWE, it looked like the obvious was so obvious, you might as well stop holding your pee and let go of what seemed like a foregone conclusion. However, Roman Reigns versus Shinsuke Nakamura was compelling enough of a story to not leave the chair for.

What transpired was Roman Reigns not being a two-time Royal Rumble winner (not just yet). You may worry how Shinsuke Nakamura can get over with his English, but he’s still heading to Wrestlemania regardless.

The “Cool-off” Matches

In between the Men’s and Women’s Rumbles, there were two matches to cool-off the audience. First was a Raw Tag Team Championship match between The Bar and The Not-Shield. This may have been a good idea, although at the cost of the wrestlers here. The crowd was mostly dead and could only manage clapping and the occasional jeer.

There’s also making Seth Rollins work two matches in a roll, but perhaps there was still faith in him not going by the way of Dean Ambrose, especially with that knee of his. We got some story build-up here, so it’s not a total waste. The Bar get the belts and there’s going to be hell to pay for Jason Jordan checking out of the match prematurely.

Then there was the triple threat match for the Universal Championship between three giants—that’s not a cool-off match. This would be the main event in any other PPV. Perhaps they positioned it here as a warm-up for the Women’s Rumble, which was brave and is usually what they do for the Men’s Rumble. This is a progressive move, and I approve.

There was little chance Kane was winning this unless he could use the Universal Championship to win the mayoral race in Knox County, Tennessee. Meanwhile, it was likely another breakout moment for Braun Strowman, who went from a head-scratcher as a new member of the Wyatt Family to the most over giant of this generation.

However, this was just the Royal Rumble, the first big PPV of the year. With how they’ve been booking the Universal Championship with Brock Lesnar as the unbeatable part-timer who only comes out for the big matches, him losing the title here isn’t as productive. But with how Braun threw Brock around and how Brock had to cover Kane instead of Braun to defend, we may get a changing of the guard at Wrestlemania instead.

Meanwhile, Kane now has mayor stuff to do.

Women’s Royal Rumble

It lasted for about an hour and I didn’t feel sleepy in any part of it. It was only when the final surprise came out when I wanted to turn away. Never mind how the Women’s Royal Rumble was a historical moment since tardiness isn’t a virtue. I want to talk more about the wrestling itself, which was mostly alright. There were plenty of chances for things to go wrong throughout the whole match, yet most gripes are minor at best.

Starting off with Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch was a pretty good choice as they’re the workhorses at the moment. The ones I liked early in this rumble are Sarah Logan and Sonya Deville. Dana Brooke looked good too, although she didn’t stick around that long. Torrie Wilson looked nice, but I’ve never been impressed with her ring work.

Kairi Sane got two diving elbows in, which I marked out on. Molly Holly did the Molly Go Round, which I also liked as it’s an underutilized aerial maneuver. Lana still needs more work, but I see potential with the dynamic she tends to bring in her ring work. If she can gain a specific strength in her game, she should be able to do better as an active wrestler.

I don’t see why Tamina doesn’t get the same status as Nia Jax since both of them are roughly the same type of character. She should’ve been able to give a good showing after being set back for so long, but Lita then eliminated her a minute and a half later.

Lita still looks good and she used the Twist of Fate, which makes me wonder how she is with Matt Hardy these days. However, her moonsault was terrible, most likely owing to years of never having done it again. She had a good six minute run and eliminated two before being eliminated by Becky Lynch.

Sasha Banks’ stomps on Lita in the corner had commitment problems. She’s a case of both botching and lack of commitment, most likely due to being afraid to botch in the first place. It belies her smoothness and ability to sell, which means most of her problems are mental.

I’m a little disappointed in Michelle McCool not doing the Faithbreaker. Mrs. Undertaker pulled off five eliminations before getting eliminated by Natalya. I’m okay with heel Natalya for the most part, although her choice of ring gear continues to perplex me. Eliminating her bestie Beth Phoenix—who herself looked amazing—adds to her current character. It’d be good if WWE can put her in a storyline that can elevate new talent.

Nia Jax was made to look like the female Kane, but that also made it obvious that she wasn’t winning. She then gets ganged upon, which adds to how strong she looked and how pitiable she can be. She also made Ember Moon look good, thus introducing her to a wider audience.

I never liked Kelly Kelly as a wrestler, but that’s like saying I never liked migraines. She was pushed to high heaven during her tenure, but she never got good enough to justify the investment put on her. I’m sure she did her best while she was still active, but she never stood out as far as her wrestling went.

Mickie James’ presence immediately confirmed Trish Stratus’ participation. Trish’s bleached hair—brunette Trish is best Trish—and her less-than-perfect double springboard Stratusfaction irked me. She also alluded to Mickie’s infamous finger-lick spot, which I saw coming. Of course, the camera had to cut away as it wasn’t PG.

It actually was compelling, and all credit is due to everyone who contributed to the Women’s division. The development of the Women’s division throughout the years culminated in this Rumble, making it a resounding success. The quality of the wrestling is now parsecs away from the era of bra-and-panty matches.

With that said, there was no way Asuka was not winning. Her current status as an undefeated monster is too valuable to waste on a loss in a battle royale, even if it’s the biggest of them all. Her defeat should be in the hands of an upcoming superstar, better planned than the breaking of the Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak.

Early Wrestlemania Preview

Styles-Nakamura II

We’re actually getting the Styles-Nakamura rematch in Wrestlemania. It’s a good time to be alive, and Vince McMahon can just stay busy with preparing the new XFL while we get what we want for once. Having two Royal Rumble winners who are Japanese may just be enough to fix the damage WWE has wrought upon previous Japanese talent who’ve wrestled for the company.It’s not to say Sho Funaki should feel bad for having been made a mascot of sorts during his days of wrestling for WWE, but fans like me would’ve wanted more out of guys like him, Ultimo Dragon, and Tajiri other than just comic relief.

However, the thing with this match-up between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura in WWE is how stylistically different it’ll be from their legendary encounter in NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10. New Japan’s style has heavy sprinklings of fighting spirit, which is characterized by battles of attrition and full of strategic no-selling to see who is tougher. WWE’s style is more on a blend of tried-and-tested methods that rely more on psychology and finesse.

It’s not to say New Japan’s style doesn’t have good psychology at all—on the contrary. However, at least from how I understand it, WWE’s style offers a lot more restrictions as it has a different philosophy of what a good wrestling match is. If you want to oversimplify it, wrestling is simply a storytelling tool in WWE. Meanwhile, it’s most of the focus in New Japan. Perhaps the best way to put it is WWE is all about what happens next, while New Japan is more on how things turn out.

WWE is about the destination, while New Japan is more about the journey.

Universal Championship Changing of the Guard

Meanwhile, if there’s a time for Brock Lesnar to lose the Universal Championship, it’s in Wrestlemania. Braun finally winning it makes total sense, and that match will have ample time for build-up. Then again, Roman Reigns is in the picture and that may happen too. Braun gets wiped out in Elimination Chamber and Roman takes his place ahead of Wrestlemania.

Unfortunately, that second scenario seems more plausible as of this writing. We already know that at this point, Roman Reigns is back in the Universal title picture since he let go of the United States title. Much to the fans’ chagrin, that does throw a wrench in the Braun Strowman works.

The Ronda Rousey Problem

Her coming out at the end of the PPV was poorly executed. The best way to explain it is she will go up against Asuka and will be the one to finally defeat her. That booking makes sense as the only one who can defeat an undefeated monster is someone with legitimate credentials outside of the WWE. That would also make more sense for the Asuka character as she may not simply be just about gold, but also about glory.

If ever that doesn’t pan out, it’ll be interesting to see how they shoehorn Asuka into a title match. Perhaps she does finally get a belt in Elimination Chamber. But if that’s so, she’ll then have to put it up against Ronda. Having Ronda wrestle for a title in her very first proper PPV would take away from the belt, even if she happens to be a former UFC champion. I just don’t see sense in that booking.

Despite that, I think Asuka putting Ronda over makes sense. However, there’s only one thing that really worries me—Ronda Rousey is a terrible actor. The way she awkwardly pointed at the Wrestlemania sign was just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a reason why her movie deals eventually got axed.

She has two modes—either mopey and angry or trying to look cool with that stupid smirk on her face. I hope she has been taking acting lessons seriously because she’ll be a cringe-fest if she doesn’t. Besides, that illusion of her having more of a personality was shattered during her two-year meltdown after her loss to Holly Holm. There’s a lot of things to both fix and build up as she enters WWE with her tattered yet still marketable reputation as a former UFC champion.

Anyway, she stole a good bit of Asuka’s thunder with that timing. Her coming out became bigger news than Asuka winning the Women’s Rumble, and that should be resented as it undermines what took years to build up with fresh ink on a new contract. As far as wrestling goes, Ronda is unproven—all she has done in a WWE ring thus far is a hip toss.

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