WWE – Royal Rumble 2023 (Cert 15)
2 Discs DVD/1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 257 minutes approx.
Release Date: March 20th
2022 kicked off the WWE’s PLE calendar with what was to be a new annual tradition in Day One, running a show on January 1st, but for a number of logistical reasons, they were unable to repeat this, leaving this new annual tradition to end, ironically, with just the one show. Oh well, there is still the Royal Rumble!
One of the more storyline driven iterations I think we’ve ever seen, this was once again built around the Bloodline and how Sami Zayn fits in with his erstwhile friend/enemy Kevin Owens challenging Roman Reigns for the Undisputed Universal World Heavyweight Lactose Free Super Duper WWE title. On the 30th Anniversary of Monday Night RAW, Sami was put on trial for undermining the Tribal Chief, only to escape expulsion and near death thanks to Jey Uso.
Whilst this created interest in the show, there was still the matter of establishing the challengers for the top titles at Wrestlemania 39 via the Rumble matches. The smart money would have been on Sami Zayn to win to screw with Roman, but it was made abundantly clear he would not be in the match – a critical lesson learned after the 2014 Rumble where the crowd wanted Daniel Bryan, who didn’t appear in the match, and rejected eventful winner Batista. Then again, Cody Rhodes was on his way back…
For the women, it was probably a little easier to figure out, and no, Charlotte Flair wasn’t in the match this time. For that matter, neither was Ronda Rousey which is quite a big omission give her salary and supposed drawing power for the company, but she has a Brock Lesnar type deal meaning a lesser schedule. Instead, the big question was which relics from the past would they add to the match to make up 30 entrants or if any NXT names will get a shot.
Held on January 28th 2023 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas before a crowd of approximately 44,569 fans. Commentary is provided by Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and surprise guest Pat MacAfee – a surprise to everyone, including Cole, who had spoken to MacAfee that day and he never let on!
Onto the matches and as always no results spoilers (the back cover art does that) but plenty of opinion.
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
This was a precedent I never thought I would see – the show opening with a Rumble match and the men’s no less. Usually, the women get to be curtain jerkers in this instance. I can only assume it was to stop the fans from being disappointed that Sami Zayn wasn’t in the match and getting the match out of the way meant they wouldn’t feel let down after waiting three hours to have their hopes crushed.
As Triple H’s first Rumble match, he really needed to stamp his own authority on it whilst honouring the integrity of Pat Patterson’s original vision. There was actually much less ca-ca this year with no wasteful cameos (bar one because they were in Houston), and one surprise that will have a pay off. Since Cody had said he’d be back for this match, he as the hot new favourite to win but he, nor the fans, reckoned on the big Austrian IC champion GUNTHER who went bell to bell – i.e. starting at number one and lasting over 71 minutes until the end, setting a new (regular) Rumble record!
Work wise, there was a lot of heavy hitters, a few smaller guys to shine, one insane high spot involving Ricochet, Kofi Kingston botching his acrobatic spot for a second year in a row, and thankfully the eventual winner wasn’t booed out of the building either. Another interesting thing is the indication of how big the current roster is that it didn’t feel as if the match as padded out with lesser names, and only one tag team was featured (Alpha Academy).
Pitch Black Match – Bray Wyatt vs. LA Knight
Any match that had to follow the Rumble was going to be in trouble so maybe it was wise that this abortion was next on the card. It was actually sponsored by a soft drink brand in the US (it may exist here in the UK, I don’t know) but as I’m not being paid to shill it, I’ll leave to the WWE instead. Not that it has any bearing on the match, which was designed to settle this poor feud between LA Knight and the living embodiment of diminishing returns, Bray Wyatt.
Basically, Bray has been attacking Knight backstage on TV who got just one slap to the face in retaliation – and he is the heel in this mess! Bray is also being haunted by Uncle Howdy (Wyatt’s real life brother Bo Dallas in a costume), unable to decide which side he is on until settling for Bray’s. The “pitch black” match is a no holds barred match where the lights are turned out (presumably so we can’t see how awful Wyatt is in the ring) whilst the ring ropes and the wrestler’s gear are phosphorescent – or in Wyatt’s case, his face paint – to act as lights.
Just like with The Fiend, Wyatt no sells everything, even going through a table which spews out fluorescent beans for no reason, and kendo stick shots. After the match, Wyatt puts on a new mask changes chases Knight to the stage where Uncle Howdy dives off the platform above, missing Knight completely, a fitting metaphor for this utter waste of time and effort. Wrestlecrap with a capital “W”.
RAW Women’s Title Match – Bianca Belair (c) vs. Alexa Bliss
Could this be the sequel to the previous match? After all, Alexa Bliss turned heel when Wyatt returned and his supernatural voodoo stuff would distract her during promos, then she hit Bianca with the Sister Abigail to cement the turn. Thankfully, the spooky stuff was kept to a bare minimum here, limited to after the match, but the bout itself wasn’t one of their best, with the crowd hardly reacting.
Bianca has been on a roll since Wrestlemania 38 whilst Bliss has always been hit or miss with the ring work, depending on her gimmick. As it transpires, we in the latter phase as these two worked hard and it was a solid effort but couldn’t win the fans over or do the title match status justice, not helped by the finish coming out of nowhere. A shame as we know they can both do better
Women’s Royal Rumble Match
Over the past few years, the women’s Rumble match has relied heavily upon bringing back older faces, Hall of Famers, and NXT stars to fill the 30 spots, despite only really needing two or three spots filled. This year is probably the closest this has been realised, with just two returning faces, three NXT stars, and one surprise. One of the NXT girls was Roxanne Perez, the current NXT Women’s champ and a Houston native, whilst one of the returnees was a really surprise, in a hell freezes over type deal.
Because there were fewer storylines going into this match, the only feud really being the ongoing Damage CTRL vs. Becky Lynch rivalry, this was more a case of random bodies chucking each other about for an hour. The winner also went coast to coast to set a new record, along with the No 2 draw. Interestingly, two women returned having adopted persona of their pasts – one was Doudrop, reverting back to her much better NXT UK name of Piper Niven. The other was the return to a past incarnation I’m sure nobody was ready for.
Solid work from the women this year, including NXT’s Zoey Stark looking ready to move up to the main roster, and no majorly embarrassing botches either. The winner may be predictable but it was the right one for the moment.
There is a brief intermission from the matches in the form of a “musical” performance from a country rock artist named Hardy. Me neither. He looks like Kid Rock but sounds a lot worse – definitely not country and terrible even for rock. I don’t know if it was the mix but the band couldn’t be heard properly (if they were live which I am suspicious of) whilst the vocals were just abysmal. That the live Texas crowd gave him a polite response says it all. They could have cut this from this release and it wouldn’t have made any difference. The “skip” button is your friend here.
WWE Undisputed Universal Title Match – Roman Reigns (c) vs. Kevin Owens
This is the third time these two have clashed at the Rumble, and the second where Owens is the challenger. The difference this time is that Owens snuck in by the back door having been drawn into the Bloodline saga via his on/off friendship with Sami Zayn who was in Roman’s corner here, along with Paul Heyman. It was Sami who avoided facing off against Owens at War Games, only to deliver the pivotal low blow leading to Owens losing the match.
Following a tag team victory over Reigns & Zayn by Owens and John Cena on SD, Owens made the challenge to Roman for the title match. The question, even after the trial on RAW, was whether Sami could remain loyal to the Bloodline or be conflicted over his history with Owens. This would come into play in what was a decent main event but not a great one, probably because the Roman match formula is getting a bit stale.
Not that it matters, as it was what happened post-match where the news is. With the whole Bloodline now surrounding a battered Owens, it was time to put him in his place one and for all but there is a twist. More than one actually. I’ll say no more, but after a tepid 20 minutes of ring action, the Houston crowd was molten for what occurred, giving Roman heat like he has never felt before as heel (as a face, it’s debatable), though the more profane sentiments aired have been muted here.
Quite the pressure cooker show with regard to the main event angle as the steam was finally let off with an almighty bang. It is a testament to good writing – courtesy of Paul Heyman and Roman Reigns – that this overrides the prestige of this long running event and the implications of the Rumble matches. This year’s show was the most profitable financially as well as the most watched on the WWE Network/Peacock as well as drawing a healthy number on traditional PPV platforms.
Whether it was just this storyline that brought the fans in, or a buzz for the product in general, the numbers don’t lie – the creative under Triple H is revitalising the company. Financially, it was always making money but fan interest has been on the wane with AEW making a small dent in attracting the hardcore fanbase, as it provided something new against Vince’s repetition of the same matches with the same old faces.
It’s not perfect as even Triple H knows he must cater for an audience with tastes wider than his loyal NXT fanbase, which is why we have abominations like the Bray Wyatt caca taking up valuable airtime, but fresh faces moving up the card and being established is the way to go and it is working. Overall, this particular show is evidence of this: both Rumble matches set the scene for change in the title pictures whilst the main event was a hit emotionally and narratively, as it should be.
For me, it is refreshing not have to bemoan the creative and conclude every review with “great work from the wrestlers, everything else sucked”, which I have done for the past few years now. I don’t love everything WWE is doing right now but it is a marked and welcome improvement over the past decade’s output.
Good show to start the year! Skip the Pitch Black debacle and the so-called musical interlude have some fun with this one.
Best match – Both Royal Rumble Matches
Royal Rumble 2023 Press Conference
Rating – ***
Man In Black