After yet another predictably great (sarcastic yawn) NXT TakeOver, Royal Rumble 2018 was faced with being shown up by little brother again. But for the first time in seemingly years, the main roster was up to the task — with a little help from some friends.
I’m not going to break down the move by move and full card rundown. There’s others who are way more comprehensive on that front. I’d rather look at the moments that really stood out. Here are my 9 Takeaways from Royal Rumble 2018.
The card layout felt off
Kicking things off with the SmackDown Title felt match was an interesting choice especially with two tag team title matches sandwiched between the two Rumbles. There was definitely a case of fan burnout after Nakamura won the men’s Rumble. In hindsight, the Rousey debut was the buzziest moment and validated the women’s Rumble going on last, but a better mix of the card would have helped matches like the RAW tag title and Universal title bouts.
AJ Styles is BITW
Admittedly, I came in to the AJ Styles vs Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn match with low expectations. The non-traditional three-way match seemed like it was going to be limiting and lack suspense. Of course, it’s possible I forgot it featured The Phenomenal One. AJ is so good he made this match better than it should have been.
I doubt anyone else on the roster would be capable of pulling it off with their offense, constantly fighting through the disadvantage and selling the drama better. Styles entered the Rumble two years ago and after an initial rocky start due to lousy booking, has looked every bit like the Best In The World. He’s delivered in every spot and every role and it’s nice to see the best wrestler on the roster carrying the world title and getting a true showcase moment at Wrestlemania.
Andrade Cien Almas completely looked like he belonged against the main roster competition with a lengthy run. I’m enjoying his NXT run and fearful of how quickly he’d be wasted and underutilized on RAW, but a Styles/Almas match sounds like it would start at 5 stars. Given his impressive string of matches, it was a little surprising that Aleister Black didn’t show up. His Blackout finisher seems like it would make for some fun eliminations. I loved that both Adam Cole and Ember Moon sold their injuries from TakeOver. Moon especially is great at selling, which tied into her elimination and protected the NXT women’s champ.
RAW 25 stole some of the Women’s Rumble’s thunder
Easily the highlight of the women’s Rumble was the callbacks from all the trailblazers. In the revised WWE history (McMahon-Helmsley Edition), women’s wrestling started with Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch coming to WWE. It was nice to see the female wrestlers who competed without all the fanfare participating in this historic moment they helped establish.
Only thing was RAW 25 kind of spoiled the reveals as most of the alumni participants resurfaced less than a week ago. That was the crummy coincidental timing of the anniversary show. In some cases, the alumni (Lita, Trish, Molly Holly and Jacqueline) looked fully capable and more believable than the current roster.
WWE makes actual history
No, not for Rounda Rousey. The far greater significance was the winners. Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka were the first Asian competitors to win the Royal Rumble. That’s huge for a company that tends to stick to one demographic for these big moments. I’m still waiting for another black wrestler besides The Rock to be in the final mix with a legit shot at winning. And no, Titus O’Neil doesn’t count.
Despite what Jim Ross might say, I’m not sold on Rousey as a difference maker in the women’s division. She’ll get more eyeballs on the product and at best provide a Mike Tyson spotlight, but the WWE has yet to create that Stone Cold Steve Austin type opponent who will breakout as a personality as well as a wrestler. Asuka has an aura about her though and it was a more than a little annoying that that had to be sacrificed for Rousey’s big debut.
Heel Cena debuted
I was at a WWE house show in Baltimore on Saturday Night and can safely say based on the amount of children wearing WWE attire, Cena, Balor and Reigns aren’t turning heel any time soon. That said, Cena offered some glimpses of a Heel Cena as he rallied the modern legends (Orton and Mysterio) and the top dawgs (with Reigns) against the fans’ preferred choices. Cena is showing that Rock-like experience at this stage in his career and is OK playing the heel in a match if it’s best for the moment. It was Cena who kept riling the fans up and getting them in near riot mode if he or Reigns won. That’s what made Nakamra’s win even sweeter.
Where’s the drama?
Almost immediately after Nakamura celebrated his Royal Rumble win, Rene Young asked which champion he’d like to face at Wrestlemania. Again, this reflected the questionable card layout as Nakamura didn’t even know who the Universal champion would be yet since that match was still coming up. Nakamura briefly took the temperature of the crowd and then announced he wanted AJ Styles. Sure, that’s the most logical and sensible match for Nakamura, but what a wasted opportunity to create some episodic TV.
Imagine Nakamura simply replied to Rene ‘we’ll see’ and walked off prompting some doubt that he actually wants to face AJ. Have him watch Brock’s match later and then show up at RAW to observe Brock again. Maybe even let them have a brawl or brief face-off. The end game is still Styles vs Nakamura, but this builds some interest for a future Nakamura vs Lesnar match. If Nakamura was just going to challenge AJ anyway, what’s the point of letting the winner choose? Just have the Rumble stipulation be the winner faces the world champ of their respective brand.
Best Rumble ever?
Whoa, not so fast there, kiddo. We’ve gone through a drought of good Rumbles so the hype on this one is excessive. I’d easily rate the Flair and Benoit above it and if I rewatched some others from the early 2000s, some of those would probably warrant a ranking ahead of this year’s event. There was a little too much inaction with guys taking long breaks on the outside and nothing happening. The lack of star power hurt as well as there were only 6 (Cena, Orton, Reigns, Balor, Nakamura and the returning Rey Mysterio) who had a realistic chance of headlining Wrestlemania. Once it got down to the final six it was really good though.
That’s my thoughts. What stood out most to you?
Photo Credit: WWE.com