WWE – Greatest Royal Rumble (Cert 12)
2 Discs DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 285 minutes approx.
The belated DVD release of the controversial event held in Saudi Arabia upsets the chronology of WWE PPV releases, originally taking place in April between Wrestlemania 34 and Backlash. It is the first show of many as part of a ten-year deal with Saudi Arabia to produce a number of special live PPV events, worth a rumoured $45 million dollars to WWE and their shareholders.
Unfortunately others were less enthused, since Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is, to put it politely, hardly exemplary and their archaic attitude towards woman is in direct contrast to the WWE’s “Women’s Revolution”. Viewed as the height of hypocrisy for WWE as Saudi law won’t allow women to wrestle on the show (or appear on camera), this was seen as a huge step backwards.
But there’s more. During the show a promo for Backlash aired featuring the women in their wrestling gear, this “indecent” material causing outrage. Male wrestlers weren’t told it was a joint propaganda event to promote the new regime’s Saudi Vision 2030 social reform programme (all broadcast clips are omitted from this release), and Sami Zayn, of Syrian descent, was also banned from appearing. On a lighter note, in arranging the line-up the Saudis requested legendary names like Ultimate Warrior and Yokozuna to be included. Yeah, I know…
The Greatest Royal Rumble took place on April 27th 2018 at King Abdullah Sports City’s King Abdullah International Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia before an estimated (but unconfirmed) audience of 50,000 with commentary provided by Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and Byron Saxton.
As ever, while my match review won’t contain any results or major spoilers, expect plenty of opinion and backstory to the matches.
Triple H vs. John Cena
Designed to appease the outdated tastes of the Saudi paymast…I mean hosts where the legends they wanted to see were actually still living. Basically, this was a greatest hits package from both guys, except at a much slower pace since they last faced off a decade ago. Nothing offence in the match itself but Cena’s fawning post match promo was cringe worthy, but he made a mint off this appearance then went straight back to Hollywood so I doubt he cares.
WWE Cruiserweight Title Match – Cedric Alexander (c) vs. Kalisto
Alexander beat Mustafa Ali on the pre-show at Wrestlemania 34 to win the vacant title after previous champ Rich Swann was fired over allegations of spousal abuse which were later dropped. Match was pretty good and both guys worked hard but the Saudis seem to have as little interest in the cruiserweights as US fans do judging by the lack of reaction they got from the fans, while the VIPs in their comfy chairs (read: sofas!) at ringside were either sleeping or wandering about with their backs to the ring.
WWE RAW Tag Title Match – The Bar vs. Bray Wyatt & Matt Hardy
This was the culmination of a tournament to crown new champs after Braun Strowman and his schoolboy partner Nicholas relinquished the titles because the youngster couldn’t attend school and work a full WWE schedule at the same time. Maybe he should have hired Paul Heyman as his manager and get a “work whenever you feel it” deal like Brock Lesnar has.
Perhaps the dumbest thing about the booking of this scenario is that The Bar had been drafted to Smackdown prior to this show and this match was for the RAW tag titles so who do you think was going to win? A nothing bout with a crowd deader than the names on the Saudi’s wrestler wish list!
WWE US Title Match – Jeff Hardy (c) vs. Jinder Mahal
Hardy beat Jinder for the US title when Mahal was drafted to RAW then Jeff was drafted to SD the following week! Another instance where the result was telegraphed by the absurd short-sightedness of the planning, or lack therefore. The only thing of note about this match was Jeff completely missing a Whisper In The Wind but Jinder bumped for it anyway!
Chris Jericho returned to add someone to his list in a backstage segment that got no reaction because it was prayer time in the stadium thus only we got to see it. I wonder if they prayed for some better matches in the second half?
WWE Smackdown Tag Title Match – The Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs. The Usos
With two teams with a history of decent bouts to their names, when given no time to have a good match as they were here, this was a huge disappointment, not to mention bereft of any drama or inkling that the titles would be in jeopardy, especially when the champs are twice the size of the challengers.
It’s a shame that the only highlight of this bout has been edited off from this release – Michael Cole on commentary credited to a move to “the late, great” Sgt. Slaughter when (at time of writing) he is still alive. This isn’t Saudi Arabia, Cole, you can’t kill off people when you feel like it. Oh wait…
WWE IC Title Ladder Match – Seth Rollins (c) vs. Samoa Joe vs. Finn Bálor vs. The Miz
Once again, holding this match after Miz and Joe had been drafted to SD from RAW means only 50% of the participants were assured a chance of victory, and one of them is the reigning champion! I know there is always “ a chance” the title could switch shows but with Jeff Hardy already retaining the US title for SD earlier and the fact it hardly ever happens anyway, that chance is slimmer than Vince’s grip on reality.
Good match and debatably the show stealer with the usual big bumps and sick spots to wake even the deadest of crowds. To illustrate the value a season pro working on instinct, the ladder fell down during the set up for one spot but Joe carried on without missing a beat, this improvisation keeping things going until they could try it again. Anyone used to exacting rehearsals would have been lost had it happened to them.
We take another break to welcome some of the local Saudi wrestlers (all males, natch) getting a WWE tryout – I say “local”, one of them, Monsoor Al-Shehail is actually active on the US indie circuit as Manny Faberino, but he speaks English so…
Anyway, being in a country already embroiled in controversy doesn’t deter Vince McSenile from showing his lack of class as this segmented is interrupted by Shawn and Ariya Daivari waving their Iranian flag because Vince won’t exploit a real life war for a wrestling angle (except at Wrestlemania 7 where he used the Gulf War to sell Hogan vs. Slaughter). Since patriotism rules, having the rookies beat up the Daivari brothers got the biggest pop of the night, so common decency and class can do one, apparently.
WWE Title Match – AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
The first rematch after Nakamura turned heel on AJ at Wrestlemania 34, ahead of their “official” (i.e. on US soil) rematch at Backlash a week later. Good match from both but still not to the level they can achieve together, whilst the finish was designed to keep both guys strong for Backlash, begging the question why book it here in the first place? Not that the crowd cared of course…
Casket Match – Undertaker vs. Rusev
For the record there is no beef between Taker and Rusev, they just needed a fall guy for the only dead man who could actually make it to the show, so of course they pick the guy who fans have been cheering for despite still being booked as a heel. At one point Jericho offered to replace Rusev to make it more of a bigger deal name wise, and this nearly happened, but when Jericho revealed he was still working with New Japan, Vince threw a hissy fit and stayed with Rusev.
Taker is still immobile but his entrance got a reaction which is something. Rusev tried to get something happening but this wasn’t going to be pretty. Taker also nearly killed Aiden English with a Tombstone, as if this match wasn’t already painful to watch.
WWE Universal Title Steel Cage Match – Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns
One thing about this miserable crowd means that Reigns wasn’t booed out of the stadium when he came out, he was simply ignored which must have been music to his ears. Having failed to slay the Beast at WM 34, Reigns got another shot here and with Brock having supposedly close to returning to UFC, this would have been the right time to get the Universal Title off him.
Except the man in charge is an idiot. Instead we got their usual match of exchanging their finishers to no avail for 10 minutes but inside a steel cage with a scrappy finish that was either pure Botchamania or designed to get heat on Lesnar and sympathy for Roman, but was botched anyway so it didn’t make any sense to anyone not already dribbling in their cornflakes.
50-Man Greatest Royal Rumble Match
At the risk of playing semantics, the term “greatest” is used here to denote size and not quality – in other words it is the largest Rumble match with 50 entrants, and by extension the longest, running over 77 minutes, and not the best – not by a long stretch.
Some notes about the participants. A few names from the past, both recent and within the last decade, were flown in for this show as well as some faces that may not be so familiar if you don’t watch NXT (and shame on you if you don’t). On hand to help with the tryouts, hence their appearances in this match were Roderick Strong (current NXT tag champion, former ROH World Champ), Tucker Knight (one half of Heavy Machinery), Dan Matha (number of NXT TV matches – 1) and Babatunde (number of NXT TV matches – 0).
One name you definitely won’t know is Hiroki Sumi, a former Sumo champion whose real name is Hishofuji Hiroki, the replacement for the selfishly deceased Yokozuna.
But all of this irrelevant as this match will only be remembered for one thing:
Money clearly talked here but the BS didn’t walk, as it remained part of the booking. On the plus side I suppose this show could have been worse if many of the younger wrestlers didn’t make the effort in their matches, but politically it is very difficult to wash the sour taste of sycophancy from our mouths, ever if this is the rare sight of the mighty Vince McMahon Dammit!! having to acquiesce to someone else’s insane whims for a change.
Still, this happened so it’s not all bad:
Best Match – IC Title Ladder Match
Monday Night RAW April 16th 2018 – 10-Man Tag Match – Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman, Finn Bálor, Bobby Lashley & Bobby Roode vs. The Miz, Curtis Axel, Bo Dallas, Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn.
Smackdown LIVE! April 24th 2018 – 6-Man Tag Match – AJ Styles, Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Rusev & Aiden English
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black