How WWE Fixed the Royal Rumble by @Bigvinvader
The crowd in Philly was right: Holy Shit. I don't think anyone expected the Royal Rumble to be nearly as good as it was. Saturday's NXT TakeOver was one of the company's best PPVs in years and looked to totally eclipse the main roster's PPV. And while nothing at the Rumble was as mind-blowingly great as Aleister Black vs. Adam Cole or Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade Almas for the NXT championship, we still got the single best men's Rumble match I've ever seen, and a hell of a first-ever women's match. Those two seemed like surefire duds just because the past two years have been such colossal train wrecks. There was no precedent for the women's match, so it should have been fine on paper, but I wasn't optimistic that WWE would make it anything truly special or respectful. Wrong. Not only was the in-ring action itself incredible, but the booking decisions for each match were nearly perfect, delivering exactly the sorts of spots and outcomes that the entire audience wanted to see. The whole show bodes very well for the company's 2018, and even the nature of the surprise entrants shows that things are going to play out well this year.
I was legitimately surprised when the men's Rumble came in the middle of the show. It's always the main event, the focus of the entire PPV itself, so it seemed odd to put it in any other spot. Then again, it was tricky to structure a show featuring two separate one-hour matches, so it wasn't the worst choice. It was also nice to realize the women would be headlining the show, no longer being cast as the "bathroom break" match in the sub-main event spot. If anyone was stupid enough to just tune out during the women's Rumble, they missed a great match with a fantastic conclusion and several more legitimate surprises. I've never been quite so excited about the result of a Royal Rumble, let alone two in the same night, so that's what I want to focus on here. The rest of the card is harder to discuss, since I'd initially been looking forward to it more than the Rumble matches. That wasn't necessarily because of their potential quality, since nobody really needed to see Kane in a Triple Threat title match in 2018. I just expected WWE to totally botch the dual Rumbles and planned to find solace in the other matches on the show. None of that was necessary, however, and as it stands now, I don't have too much to say about the undercard. Lesnar, Styles, and the Usos retained, while The Bar won the RAW tag titles from Rollins and Jordan. Nothing was terrible, but there was also nothing especially memorable or remarkable about the rest of the show either.
It's always hard to run down the Rumble itself and touch on even half of the important moments in the match, but I'm gonna do my best. Rusev came out first to a huge pop; the crowd has already turned him face. He is so incredibly over that he needs better opportunities. Finn Balor was out second, and he got about the same reaction, which is hardly surprising since only Vince McMahon believes that he isn't over with the fans. Then again, somebody in the company must have faith in him, as he was this year's Iron Man, nearly making it coast-to-coast, lasting fifty-five minutes in total. It was a pretty great showing, and it should have done wonders for Balor's stock in the pre-WrestleMania season. At least until he lost clean to John Cena (who had eliminated him from the Rumble) on RAW the very next night. I guess it's better than another loss to Kane. There were several big surprises throughout the match, and each one was great. First was Andrade Almas coming in at #7, which was especially surprising so soon after he retained the NXT championship the night before. Almas put in a good showing and lasted nearly half an hour, so there's little doubt that he'll connect with the audience once he's called up to the main roster. The in-ring portion of the Rumble was a few notches above what we've grown used to in the last few years, so the whole thing was already exceeding expectations. Things picked up even more at the mid-point, with Shinsuke Nakamura, crowd favorite alongside Balor, coming in at #14 to a huge reaction.
Both brands were represented by great talent, with all three members of the New Day entering, as well as other favorites like Cesaro, the finally-Broken Matt Hardy, and Seth Rollins all making appearances. Shane Helms returning as The Hurricane was another legitimate surprise, though he only lasted forty-five seconds. Shortly after that, Adam Cole made a surprise appearance at #23, which is especially impressive after the brutality of his Extreme Rules match from Saturday’s NXT TakeOver. Just like Almas, Cole got a great reaction from the crowd, and will definitely find his place on the main roster once they make the decision to call him up (which should be sooner rather than later). By this point, Jinder Mahal was the least received entrant into the match, and his presence here makes sense as the crowd needs someone to react against with little overall stakes. So by the time the final five or so entrants were due, everything had been great, and things stayed consistent. Entrant #27 was the biggest surprise of all, with Rey Mysterio coming out of nowhere to return to WWE, and last a good ten minutes. Granted, his presence means nothing at the moment since he's still a free agent and has committed to nothing as of yet. Still, that was the sort of surprise that the company always strives for yet fails to deliver. Roman Reigns was in next and got the expected split reaction, while racking up several eliminations. Dolph Ziggler was out at #30, which should have been a huge deal. Ever since he forfeited the US title on SmackDown late last year, there was quiet buzz that he was the dark horse to win the match, reclaiming his tarnished legacy in the most spectacular fashion. Instead, he eliminated Goldust, lasted for two minutes, and was thrown out by Balor. At that point he shouldn't even have been booked in the first place.
The final stretch of the match was some of the best action on the PPV. Mysterio hit both Reigns and Cena with a 619 at the same time, which was probably the best thing he could have done to rile up the Philly crowd. Right after that, Balor got rid of him, leaving himself, Reigns, Cena, and Nakamura as the final four. That was brilliant booking, especially in a hardcore town like Philly, with the two company golden boys pitted against the clear fan favorites and two of the company's best wrestlers. At that point, it really seemed like anything could happen, especially given the number of times better, more deserving wrestlers have been sacrificed to Cena and Reigns. Cena eliminated Balor, but Shinsuke went after him fast and got him out of there. There was some legitimate tension as the final two went back-and-forth, and they really teased this one out. I can't recall ever feeling that sort of anxiety during the conclusion of a Rumble match; usually it's more of a sunken sense of foregone inevitability. So imagine the genuine elation I felt when Shinsuke Nakamura, who has been misused and horribly booked since debuting on the main roster, took out Roman Reigns to win the Royal Rumble. Obviously, the Fargo Center went nuts for that one. Renee Young came out to interview Nakamura and asked which champion he wanted to face. The answer was somewhat predictable, but no less exciting: AJ Styles. I'll take it as a given that AJ will retain the WWE Championship until Mania, but that's hardly the sort of spoiler to get upset at.
All said, this was the Royal Rumble that I've enjoyed the most in recent memory, as well as the one that seemed most engineered to satisfy the company's fan base. Apart from possibly Finn Balor, nobody but Shinsuke should have even stood a chance at winning the match, and even then, Nakamura vs. Styles is the dream match fans have been waiting to see. WWE were smart and waited for the right time, to give the match a good build and the biggest possible stage to be seen on. Everything about this is shaping up to be a classic, which is hardly a surprise given AJ and Shinuke's past match in New Japan living up to that very title. On the other side of things, the Rumble itself was about as good as it gets given the nature of the match. None of the competitors were wastes of time, and the fan favorites, save Dolph Ziggler, were booked incredibly well. Best of all, in this particular Rumble at least, there was no McMahon/Helmsley ego stroking to be seen at all. As expected, Daniel Bryan did not make an appearance.
Big Vin Vader covers WWE for Pencilstorm. Follow@Bigvinvader