WWE – Royal Rumble 2018 (Cert 12)

1 Disc Blu-ray /2 Discs DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 244 minutes approx.

Originally dismissed as a “stupid idea” by Vince McMahon the Royal Rumble is 30 years old this year and to celebrate, history was made when the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble match took place. Hold on, there aren’t 30 women on the main roster I hear you say? Well, there is NXT and a few outside surprises too, made up of former women wrestlers and Hall of Famers.

The other point of interest is that this event is held in once again Philadelphia, the site where the big Roman Reigns rejection officially began when he won the Rumble in 2015. With Reigns vs. Lesnar at Wrestlemania 34 being the worst kept secret in wrestling, one has to marvel at the size of Vince’s testicles to replicate the events of 2015 in the same building. Or does he?

Held on January 28th 2018 at the Wells Fargo Centre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before a reported 14,700 fans, the commentary desk is rather crowded with Michael Cole, Booker T, Corey Graves, Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton and, whilst Booker, Saxton and Phillips are replaced by Stephanie McMahon for the Women’s Rumble match.  

Onto the matches and as always no results spoilers – something the DVD cover artwork does for me instead – but plenty of opinion.

 

WWE Title Handicap Match – AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn

It’s quite a surprise to see the WWE Title defended in the opening match of the main card, which I hope isn’t a reflection on management’s opinion of Styles as champion, whose title reign has helped lift the ratings of Smackdown Live following the drop with Jinder Mahal on top.

The story behind this handicap match was a result of a flippant comment Styles made on SD when he faced Owens and Zayn individually over two weeks, with Owens interfering in Zayn’s match and vice versa. SD GM Daniel Bryan took Styles at his word and booked this match, with Team Kami looking to become the first WWE Co-Champions.

Good match but nothing too exceptional as Owens was limited her due to injury leaving Zayn to do most of the work. However, the finish was designed to further the angle of Kami claiming to have been screwed over by referees, making this one of the less vital title matches of recent times.

SD Tag Title 2 out of 3 Falls Match – The Usos (c) vs. Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin

This should have been the show stealer as Gable is a superb wrestler, Benjamin has his moments and The Usos have been on a tear for the past year, plus they have had some good tag and singles matches on TV. While the effort was there, the booking showed a lack of confidence in letting these two teams loose and really go to war.

Not wishing to spoil anything but having 2/3 falls match run under 15 minutes basically suggests this might as well have been a one fall match instead. Action was very good but this time restriction and counter-productive booking made it an anti-climatic affair

30 Man Royal Rumble Match

If having the WWE title defended in the opening match was a shock, holding what is traditionally the main event of this PPV third on the card is perhaps a greater shock, but understandable now there are two Rumble matches happening.

A fairly star studded Rumble with some of the hotter new faces getting a chance to shine like Bálor and Nakamura, rubbing shoulders with the more “established” names like Cena, Reigns, Orton, Rollins, Matt Hardy et al. As usual, they threw in a few surprises – including one genuine shocker – but not many goofy ones as they have in the past. Two of the more pleasant ones came from guys who had worked hard fought matches just the night before at the NXT TakeOver event.

Structure wise there were no real lulls or time wasting as has occurred in the past but many of the favourites had late draws which didn’t exactly give some of the other guys much to work with in getting the rub from working with them. For the record Finn Bálor was the iron man of this match lasting nearly 58 minutes, while Sheamus was this year’s Warlord.

The finish was red hot and designed to vex the “smart” fans as it saw the current internet favourites against the “old guard” they love to hate, keeping the trolling going right up to the last seconds. This was followed by a bit of typical heavy-handed contrivance when Renee Young interviewed the winner seconds after he won and asked him “Have you decide who you want to face yet?” Geez, let him catch his breath, love!

RAW Tag Title Match –  Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan (c) vs. The Bar

More and angle than a prestige title match, this was hurt by having to follow the hot Rumble ending as well as three of the participants having also been in the Rumble – Rollins lasting 19 minutes. With Jordan already injured before this match and needing surgery, he was written out of this match early leaving Rollins to work a handicap match. You can guess the rest.

BTW – this one fall match was only a minute shorter than the earlier 2/3 falls match.

Universal Title Triple Threat Match – Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Braun Strowman vs. Kane

In between campaigning to be mayor of Knox County, Glen Jacobs found time to done the mask once more to stack the deck against “the longest reigning active champion” (per Michael Cole, whose definition of active is clearly different from ours) Brock Lesnar. Perhaps more accurately, Strowman needs protecting, Lesnar needs protecting so someone has to eat the pin.

Originally Finn Bálor was going to face Lesnar but Vince didn’t think he was over enough (I guess those pops Finn gets aren’t enough to penetrate Vince’s hearing aids) so we have this instead. Not really a classic, as it was three big guys knocking the stuffing out of each other using tables and stairs. There was a stiff exchange early on when Strowman kneed Lesnar a bit too hard in the head so Brock gave him a nasty receipt via a blow to the side of the head! Ouch!

30 Women Royal Rumble Match

To solidify the historical significance of this match, the women get to headline the first PPV of the year although the reason for this was revealed afterwards (spoiled on the DVD cover). The match was set-up in the worst way – all the women on RAW were brawling when Big Steph came out, her music apparently enough to stop a mass brawl, before she announced the match and lead the previously fighting femmes into a unified “yes” chant.

When Big Steph came out (to a huge chorus of boos), Michael Cole described her as a “trailblazer” for women’s wrestling; this would be the same Steph who was in charge of creative when they did the Trish Barks like a Dog skit, bra & panties matches, gravy bowl matches, HLA and the Al Wilson/Dawn Marie angle.

Anyway, while the men’s Rumble was technically better this was in many ways more enjoyable and fulfilling because it was history in the making and the fans were very respectful and receptive to the surprise appearances of the women from the past (some once again spoiled on the cover). Some didn’t miss a beat despite being over a decade away from action while one in particular must have connections in high places (or six feet under – subtle hint) as she got to eliminate five women!

Two women from NXT were also give spots, one having worked the event the night before, while the entire current roster (sans Alicia Fox who was injured whilst training for this match – tough break) took part. We can question some of the booking but they all did what they could with their spots, some really shining but no stars were made.    Reigning champs Alexa Bliss and Charlotte were at ringside to find out in person who their Wrestlemania opponent will be.

And the answer to the trivia question “Who was the first Women’s Rumble iron man?” is Sasha Banks, clocking up almost 55 minutes!

 

Bottom Line:

Many times the Royal Rumble PPV has been a “one match show” because of the Rumble match which, for a “stupid idea”, has proven to be quite a draw for the company over the past 30 years. This year it was a “two match show” and who would have thought a few years back that it would be because of the women?

I know that there are still some misogynists out there who still refuse to give the women of the WWE their due (and the creative teams still have some way to go too) but one cannot argue that letting the ladies break new ground has made the overall product so much fresher and relevant. And whilst there might be an ulterior motive to putting the women’s match on last, it would have been the right call regardless of this last minute bonus  surprise.

Without going into spoiler territory, there was another significant breakthrough with the two Rumble winners as well, one at least being an obvious choice. It would be nice to think that this was a positive step towards recognising the range of talent on the current roster and not always kowtowing to the good old US of A (big hint there) for its heroes, but history has shown that Vince likes to troll the fans before asserting his own will again as usual.

Sadly the undercard was riddled with flaws in the booking and placement on the card, the RAW tag match in particular dying a death having to follow the first Rumble match. Four-hour shows are always a slog and this was no different so kudos to the Philly crowd for staying hot for the Women’s match at the end.    

The big question now is – can they stuff up Wrestlemania 34 after this or is there a new era finally on the horizon?  

Best match – 30 Women Royal Rumble Match

 

Extras:

Royal Rumble Kickoff Matches:

Kalisto, Lince Dorado & Gran Metalik vs. TJP, Drew Gulak & Jack Gallagher

Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows vs. The Revival

WWE US Title Open Challenge Match – Bobby Roode (c) vs. Mojo Rawley

 

Rating – ***

Man In Black

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