The Royal Rumble 2018 Report Card: Learning From Mistakes

It’s arguably the most exciting night in a WWE year and thankfully, it’s finally here. The Royal Rumble match brings an intrigue completely unique to itself and with a women’s version featured also, this year brings a whole set of new questions. Two rumbles in one night? This could either be unforgettably special or a harrowing disaster. Will Rousey show up? The Undertaker? Trish or Lita? None of us know and in many ways, that’s the absolute beauty of it.

Elsewhere, we also have two major title matches as well at two tag team clashes with the potential to steal the show. Basically, this is all very exciting so let’s get to it!

WWE Announces Details On Vladimir Abouzeide Documentary

DISCLAIMER: any wild predictions I make that you disagree with will likely be proven completely wrong in the coming weeks, months and years anyway so don’t worry too much. Basically, take everything you read from this point forward with a grain of salt as its credibility is preposterously low.

ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: I’m very much still recovering from Almas vs. Gargano and my attempts at using chocolate as fuel have seemingly failed. I apologize.

A FINAL DISCLAIMER: Guys, I just can’t be doing the pre-shows of these big four PPV's. It’s simply too much. Nonetheless, Alexa Bliss rules, Mojo’s entrance is very funny and The Revival vs. The G & Express was pretty good pro wrestling.

WWE Championship

Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles (c)

A handicap match feels like an interesting choice for PPV opener but then again if anyone can make this work, it likely is Styles. Early on Owens and Zayn used their advantage and opted for quick tags, not allowing Styles to build momentum. We then went pretty much straight into a control segment as the heels worked AJ over and attempted pins consistently. After a meandering few minutes, AJ made his cool move-filled comeback and brought some energy back into things.

He overwhelmed both KO and Zayn before catching Owens in the Calf Crusher. After tremendous selling from both men, Sami made the save and this had now picked up in a big way. Owens soon scurried out but hit a superkick on AJ from the apron to allow Zayn to score Blue Thunder Bomb for a tremendous false finish. Styles quickly fired back, bumped Owens off the apron and hit The Phenomenal Forearm on Zayn but this time KO broke the fall.

AJ and Sami went back and forth with Styles seemingly stopping a tag. Owens came in anyway and went for a Pop-up Powerbomb but AJ rolled him up for the win. Replays showed that Owens indeed didn't make the tag to Zayn and this was the topic of the pair’s following backstage argument with Shane McMahon. As a match, this over-delivered for me and other than a lifeless start, it had me very much invested which is impressive as the angle itself has done nothing for me. Styles really is phenomenal.

Grade: B

2-Out-Of-3-Falls

SmackDown Tag Team Championship

America’s Greatest Alpha Tag Team vs. The Usos (c)

Our first tag title match is up now and after a feeling out process in which the heels talked strategy, a chop block to Jimmy Uso set up the match’s layout. The heels immediately focused on the leg from there and did so with a nice intensity and aggression. They did some tandem offense too and I’m enjoying this even if the crowd doesn't care much at all. Either way, Jimmy soon fought free with an enzuiguri and made the hot tag.

Jey ran wild with a flurry including two big dives but was soon countered as AGATT turned things around again. They couldn't get a pin though, even with a tiger suplex and paydirt. Gable then hit a moonsault onto both men on the floor but confused who the legal man was which allowed a superkick and big splash. Chad kicked out this time but soon the first fall would come anyway as The Usos took him out with a big flurry of strikes.

Now desperate, Benjamin & Gable took Jimmy out with their finish on the floor leaving Jey isolated. However, the numbers advantage wouldn't matter as Jey quickly rolled Shelton up for the 2nd straight fall, retaining their titles. This was a good match but sadly, just as it was getting going it ended and that issue was emphasized by how flat this finish sadly was. These two teams are capable of much, much better but this was enjoyable nonetheless.

Grade: B

Men’s Royal Rumble

Well, it looks like the women are headlining here and that’s….brave. Either way we are getting started with two of the match’s most popular contestants as Rusev and Finn Balor square off. Rhyno came next for the easy “ECW” chants but after a brief flurry, he was eliminated by #4 Baron Corbin. ‘The Lone Wolf’ didn't last so long either as Balor eliminated him within a minute. This understandably upset Baron immensely and he lashed out, leaving everyone laying including #5, Heath Slater. This was the perfect entry for Elias who came in at #6.

We were all walking with Elias when suddenly THE GREATEST PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER ON OUR EARTH ARRIVED…..ANDRADE ‘CIEN’ ALMAS. The NXT Champ is here as a fiery babyface and the crowd are very happy about it. Smart people…I guess. Big brother Bray followed and he beat everyone up before Big E came in next. Tye Dillinger was supposed to follow him at TEN but was taken out backstage by KO and Zayn which allowed Sami to take his place.

Some Battle Royal brothering is now taking place and Sheamus is out next. He picks Heath Slater up from the ramp an….oh yeah, Slater still hasn't made it to the ring and everyone has simply hit him on their way down. Sheamus doesn't do this though and smugly throws Heath in instead. Slater turns around and immediately eliminates Sheamus in a tremendous spot but he was then quickly thrown out himself by Bray. #12 is Woods and #13 Crews as everyone brawls in separate corners.

Up next is Shinsuke Nakamura and he quickly eliminated Zayn who felt like a bizarre addition here. #15 is Cesaro and he’d soon eliminate Apollo as Kofi Kingston and Jinder Mahal came in at #16 and #17 respectively. Mahal eliminated Woods and E in pretty quick order as Jerry Lawler (yep, he’s here) said that he was his pick to win it. Mr Burn it Down Seth Rollins was in next and he ran wild with all his signature offense. Meanwhile, Jinder almost removed Kofi but his foot landed on Woods, keeping him alive.

Big E then allowed him to walk on their plate of pancakes (wrestling) and after failing to hop back in, Kofi was catapulted back in by his partners, jumping over Mahal and eliminating him with Trouble in Paradise. KING ALMAS quickly snatched Kofi though and hit a violent Hammerlock DDT before launching him out of the ring. Matt Hardy is out next and a brawl with Bray Wyatt removed both of them. Cena was #20 and everyone attacked him but he quickly eliminated Elias nonetheless.

THE HURRICANE then arrived and did some fun comedy with Cena before being thrown out by The Franchise Player as English made his way down at #22. Nexus leader Adam Cole followed to a big pop as Balor eliminated English. Orton came next and in a spot put together purely for my little heart, he caught Almas out of the air with an RKO and threw him out. Look, if anyone is removing our King, its Randall. Hunter and I agree on that if nothing else.

Titus and Miz were next before REY MYSTERIO came out at #27. Immensely happy for Rey to get this moment after his Royal Rumble experience only a few years ago and wow, he looked great. Mysterio hit some of his signature stuff and even eliminated Cole. A 619 on Miz followed and #28 is Reigns. He run wild with punches for all and eliminated Titus as well as almost Miz until Curtis and Bo made the save. Rollins and Reigns then teamed up to launch Miz to the floor but Roman quickly took the chance to eliminate Seth and did so, leaving Mr Burn It Down with a wry smile, knowing he’d been out-thought.

#29 is Goldust and everyone sold some for ‘The Natural’ until Dolph Ziggler was here as the final entrant. He jumped on Cena, eliminated Goldust and was then immediately removed by Balor in a quite bizarre moment after this wacky ‘he’s retired’ angle. This left Balor, Nakamura, Reigns, Orton, Mysterio and Cena. In one of my favorite wrestling moments in some time, the groups formed a generational split as John and Randy proudly pulled Rey between them. This was beautifully executed.

A big brawl broke out as Mysterio hit 619 on Roman and Randy an RKO on Shinsuke. Reigns then eliminated Orton but Rey scored 619 on him and Cena. Balor eliminated Rey soon after but this almost felt like his 2002 Mr Perfect moment and I wouldn't be surprised to see him back full-time real soon as he genuinely looked great. Down to the final four and all of these men have a serious chance which makes this quite enthralling.

A big brawl leaves Reigns and Cena standing but Balor and Nakamura quickly re-entered the action. Cool moves are being hit all around and Finn began to run wild before being eliminated by Cena after 57 minutes. Three remain. Big Match John and Roman went back and forth until Shinsuke attacked and eliminated Cena. From there, Nakamura and Reigns went into an absolutely incredible final few minutes that had everyone on the edge of their seat until Nakamura finally eliminated The Big Dog to get the win. Amazing stuff.

Wow, this has to be an all-time great rumble for me. The line-up was stacked, Slater did some nice comedy, Almas lasted almost half an hour, Balor and Shinsuke thrived and Rey was the absolute perfect surprise. This was just magnificently laid out and they were incredibly smart to have Shinsuke left with Cena and Reigns at the end as they are two guys that the audience really believed could win. You simply can’t get much better than what was done here, tremendous job by all involved.

Following the match, Nakamura told Renee Young that he would be facing AJ Styles at WrestleMania. Sounds good to me pal.

Grade: A*

RAW Tag Championship

Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan vs. The Bar

Look, this series has gained such mediocre success due to the honesty between me and you. None of us watched this match. If you think you did you’re lying to me and you’re lying to yourself. We were all exhausted and far, far too busy sharing hot takes.  

In all seriousness, I tried my best to focus and this was fine. After a very brief babyface shine from Rollins, he was left all alone when Cesaro threw Jordan head first into the ring post. Trainers checked on THE NEXT GENERATION OF GREAT whilst the heels worked Seth over and though the work was good, this crowd was just spent and no in-ring effort was changing that. After a lengthy segment of selling, Rollins made a comeback and tagged in a finally alive again Jordan.

THE NEXT GENERATION OF GREAT was still holding his head though and tagged straight back out, leaving Rollins isolated. Moments later and The Bar had regained their tag titles. This match was fine but none of us cared unfortunately. It served its purpose regardless and added another layer to Rollins’ issues with Jordan.

Grade: C+

Universal Championship

Braun Strowman vs. Kane vs. Brock Lesnar

THIS IS IMMEDIATELY CHAOS. A wild brawl gets us started and Braun is running wild until Brock gives him a two punch receipt that legitimately wobbles him quite badly. Kane then hit a chokeslam on Lesnar but was cut off by Braun and those two began brawling. Brock grabbed a chair and took out Kane but Strowman simply shooed it away and launched Lesnar. Strowman is now in control and set up two tables but Brock soon returned to hit three German suplexes.

Strowman simply returned to his feet and powerslammed him through a table though. Kane made the save this time and mildly pushed Braun through a table himself. The chokeslam followed but Lesnar broke it up and hit the F5. Strowman then broke this up and hit a terrifying German on Brock. He then beat Lesnar up on the outside but the champ fought back and F5’d Braun through the announce table. This wasn't enough though so Brock then pushed another announce table on top of him.

Kane is then also F5’d onto a table but Braun emerged from the rubble to powerslam Lesnar. He didn't go for the cover though and hit another but Kane then returned, removed him with a chair and turned into an F5 that allowed Lesnar to retain his title. Look, this wasn't a good ‘wrestling’ match at all but it was absolutely insane and I had tremendous fun watching it. This got me back engaged in the show and that could be pivotal for the women who are up next. Pure violent fun.

Grade: B+

Women’s Royal Rumble

Welp, here we go folks. Maria Menounous is here, Stephanie McMahon is here, Alexa Bliss is here and Charlotte too. The actual rumble match begins with Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch and they did some decent stuff until Sarah Logan came in. She’s becoming a guilty pleasure for sure and took control quickly. #4 is Mandy Rose and I have to say this, young Mandy has been the absolute opposite of charisma since coming to RAW. She just looks so unnatural and that’s not her fault, she has almost no TV wrestling experience.

#5 is LITA and she quickly eliminates Rose after brawling with Banks and Lynch. Kairi Sane is in next and showed some nice fire which really allowed the actual wrestling aspect to get more engaging. She hit all her signature offense and Tamina came in at #7 to do the same (superkicks). Lita cut her off though and ran wild even hitting an absolutely terrifying moonsault on Becky and Sasha. She then eliminated Tamina but was thrown about by Becky right after.

Dana Brooke is in next and she eliminated Sane in a tremendous rib. Torrie Wilson followed and she did moves and stuff. These moves allowed her to eliminate Dana and this is also very funny. Sonya Deville is in next and she hit all her cool looking strikes before eliminating poor Torrie. Liv Morgan was #11 and she and Logan immediately teamed up. MOLLY HOLLY came after and she run wild, eliminating Logan and hitting the MOLLY GO ROUND on Banks.

Lana followed and others had rolled to the floor which left her with just Liv and Sonya. She fired up in hysterical fashion and Michelle McCool came in at #14. She removed Morgan, Deville, Molly and Lana. Wow. Ruby Riott was in next and unlike my prior Mandy critique, I’ve loved how she’s carried herself since coming up to the main roster. Suddenly “EXCUSE ME” rang through the arena and Vickie Guerrero was here. She’s yelling for attention until all the women eliminated her together.

Carmella was up next but Vickie bumped her on the ramp, tremendous. Natalya was #18 but Carmella then got back up to fight her off and hit superkicks on everyone other than Becky who seemed confused. Kelly Kelly is next and she’s just as good as she was before. After taking some vintage Kelly Kelly offence, McCool was eliminated by Natalya. #20 is Naomi and she went right to her flurry of dope moves before Becky cut her off and built some momentum of her own before being eliminated by Ruby.

Miss Jackie came in next and beat everyone up until Nia arrived and eliminated her and Kelly. She also press-slammed Ruby onto the buckles and removed her in the process. Naomi was Nia’s next victim but all the women on the floor caught her, keeping her in the match. Ember Moon was #23 and she received a nice pop before going into a neat sequence with Nia, all whilst selling her arm. In the mean-time Naomi walked the barricade and used a chair to make it back in, Jax immediately eliminated her afterwards though.

She’s now all alone in the ring but #24 is Beth Phoenix and she’s more than happy to fight her. They do some power stuff to a great reaction and Natalya saved Beth but then eliminated her after a hug. Asuka was in next and she had an awesome face-off with Ember Moon that the crowd absolutely loved. A great sequence followed in which Ember hit The Eclipse but Asuka eliminated her soon after nonetheless. Mickie James came in next and Nikki Bella followed, eliminating Carmella quickly.

Asuka cut her off but that doesn't matter as BRIE MODE IS HERE! She saved Nikki and ran wild before Bayley came in at #29 and finally, TRISH STRATUS. She looked tremendous here and seemingly hadn't missed a beat, really getting this crowd going. Suddenly she and Mickie were left for a big stare-down and the people loved this. After a brief exchange, Trish eliminated Mickie and then all of the women did the classic big person elimination on Nia. Banks then shockingly threw Bayley out and was now apparently a fully-fledged villain.

SHE HAS TO BE A HEEL NOW. I REFUSE ANY OTHER OPTION.

Stratus eliminated Natalya and went nose to nose with Banks, after some mocking back and forth Sasha then removed Trish to solidify her turn. Asuka and Banks went head to head next and in her most heel move yet, Banks teamed up with The Bella Twins for an advantage. Together they beat Asuka up for a moment until Nicole and Brianna smartly eliminated Sasha. She was rightly in for a long time but I almost wonder if Banks still had more to offer in the body of this match, seemed like a lot of time on the outside I felt. Very good showing either way.

It’s now Asuka vs. The Bella Twins and after getting control, Nikki bumped Bella off the apron in a superbly executed character moment. Nikki and Asuka then went into a wonderful back and forth in which ‘The Empress of Tomorrow’ was floored by some big forearms but in the end, she kicked out Bella’s leg for the win. Look, there was only a couple of minutes of genuinely good wrestling in this match but it was a lot of fun. It also did a really nice job highlighting the division’s evolution and crediting those important to it. Rough around the edges? Sure. Enjoyable? Undeniably so.

After the match, Charlotte and Alexa entered to see who Asuka would be facing at WrestleMania when suddenly Ronda Rousey appeared. She pointed at the WrestleMania sign and attempted a handshake with Asuka before greeting Stephanie and departing. No idea what happened here but it was a cool moment and allowed them big time media coverage without damaging the first rumble’s credibility. Smart.

Grade: B-

Final Thoughts

For a variety of reasons, there’s a lot of talk about WWE not understanding their audience right now. Those complaints were absolutely without merit tonight though as they went with the popular winners and booked their victories perfectly considering the crowd. The two rumble matches entertained even if in different ways and the other matches ranged from solid to outlandishly crazy. Overall, this was a great show and one that perfectly set the table for WrestleMania. A great weekend for WWE.

Grade: A

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