Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA – January 28, 2018
Michael Cole, Booker T, and Corey Graves are on commentary for RAW; Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton, and Graves handle duties for SmackDown; Saxton and Vic Joseph call the action for 205 Live; WWE Hall of Famer Jerry Lawler joins the team for the men’s Royal Rumble; and Stephanie McMahon is added for the women’s Royal Rumble match. Got all that?
WWE Champion AJ Styles defeats Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn at 15:51 in a handicap match to retain the title. Styles has been the Champion since 11.7.17, and this is his second defense. Obviously, Owens and Zayn dominate from the start, as they have the luxury of tagging in and out. This goes on for quite a while, but Styles is determined and won’t stop fighting back. Miraculously, Styles gets Owens alone in the ring, and he reverses a pop-up powerbomb into a cradle to get the pin on Owens and retain his title against all odds. This was a lot of Styles getting beaten up and executing well-timed hope spots, which he excels at. Good match, but it felt like just a placeholder on the way to WrestleMania.
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos (Jimmy Uso & Jey Uso) defeat Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin at 13:51 in a Best Two Out Of Three Falls Match to retain the titles. Jimmy and Jey have been the Champions since 10.8.17, and this is their fourth defense. This basically sticks to the tag team formula, with the Champs controlling early, then getting cut off by nefarious tactics. The challengers isolate Jimmy and work on his leg. After a while, Jey gets the hot tag and he starts flying all over the place. The referee loses control and I lose track of who’s legal. Finally, Gable gets double-superkicked into oblivion and the Usos score the first fall at 12:08. Gable and Benjamin seem poised to take the second fall but Jey traps Benjamin in an inside cradle for the surprising pin. I can’t figure out why they needed the Usos to beat Gable and Benjamin two straight like that. Having said that, this was a well-worked tag match that would’ve been better served as a regular one-fall encounter.
Shinsuke Nakamura defeats Adam Cole, Aiden English, Andrade Almas, Apollo Crews, Baron Corbin, Big E, Bray Wyatt, Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler, Elias, Finn Balor, Goldust, Heath Slater, The Hurricane, Jinder Mahal, John Cena, Kofi Kingston, Matt Hardy, The Miz, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Rhyno, Roman Reigns, Rusev, Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins, Sheamus, Titus O’Neil, and Xavier Woods at 65:30 to win the men’s Royal Rumble match.
Rusev is #1, and Balor is #2. Good choices to start. They battle back and forth and Rhyno is #3. Not much happens, and #4 is Corbin, who quickly eliminates Rhyno and then gets eliminated by Balor. Corbin is pissed and pulls Balor to the floor (under the bottom rope, no elimination) and hurls him into the barricade. He then hits Rusev with the End of Days. Officials herd Corbin to the back and #5 comes out – HEATH SLATER! Corbin attacks him too. Come on man, He’s Got Kids! Elias is #6, and he has his guitar. The countdown clock runs out before the song is over, and #7 is NXT Champion Andrade “Cien” Almas! Bray Wyatt is #8. I should mention that everyone has taken a shot at Slater on their way to the ring, so he hasn’t even entered the ring yet. The New Day’s Big E is #9, and he gives Slater pancakes on his way to the ring. For the second year in a row, Dillinger is #10, but this year he gets beaten up backstage by Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, and Zayn steals his spot in the match! Sheamus comes out at #11 and throws Slater into the ring finally, but Slater turns the tables by hitting Sheamus with a clothesline to take him out! Awesome spot. Wyatt hits Slater with the Sister Abigail and dumps him out. Xavier Woods is #12. Lucky #13 is Apollo Crews, and #14 is Nakamura! The crowd is jazzed to see him. Nakamura quickly eliminates Zayn, and Cesaro follows at #15.
Kofi Kingston brings the New Day to three members strong when he comes out at #16, officially kicking off the second half of entrants. Jinder Mahal makes his Rumble debut at #17. He better not be hindered out there! Mahal dumps Woods to the floor, and then Big E as well. Seth Rollins is #18, and he dumps Cesaro out. Mahal tries to eliminate Kingston, but he lands with one foot on Woods, so he’s not eliminated! Big E gets a plate of pancakes for Kingston to stand no, and then he and Woods catapult Kingston back in the ring so he can eliminate Mahal! Shut up, that ruled. Almas takes advantage of Kingston’s celebrating and eliminates him. Matt Hardy is #19 and he joins forces with Wyatt to eliminate Rusev, before eliminating each other. John Cena is #20. Everyone beats on Cena to a huge pop from the crowd. Cena eliminates Elias in short order. The Hurricane, of all people, is #21. Cena eliminates him quickly too. Aiden English is #22. Next up is a surprise at #23 – Adam Cole, BAY BAY! Balor eliminates English. Former two-time winner Randy Orton is #24. Orton hits Almas with an RKO and throws him out. Titus O’Neil is #25. Next up, in his eleventh Rumble appearance is Intercontinental Champion The Miz. The winningest number in Rumble history is #27, and this year that goes to the returning Rey Mysterio! The “biggest little man” eliminates Cole in short order. Next up at #28 is the Big Dog, Roman Reigns himself. Reigns dumps Titus to the floor, and then joins forces with Rollins to eliminate Miz. Seconds later, Reigns turns on Rollins and tosses him out. That was neat. The penultimate entrant is Goldust at #29. Dolph Ziggler completes the field at #30. He’s making his return from a fake retirement that made no sense and led to nothing.
Ziggler eliminates Goldust, and then shortly afterward gets knocked out by Balor. And they wonder why no one takes Ziggler seriously. We’re down to six men, and they face off with Cena, Orton and Mysterio staring down Reigns, Balor, and Nakamura. That’s awesome, and the crowd realizes what’s happening and reacts accordingly. Reigns eliminates Orton. Mysterio hits Cena and Reigns with a double 619, but then gets dumped out by Balor. Now we’re down to four. When Reigns and Cena face off, the crowd chants “you both suck” and then cheers when they get attacked by Balor and Nakamura. All four men get a chance to shine, and Balor unloads with a final burst of offense before getting eliminated by Cena. Nakamura eliminates Cena, and then hangs on long enough to eliminate Reigns. Nakamura wins the Royal Rumble! I think they dragged out the post-last entrant a little bit too long, but there was still a lot of good stuff throughout this Rumble. They did some cute spots in the early going, and some great moments in the last portion. The surprises were good (Mysterio, Almas, Cole), and the right guy won by eliminating the right two guys.
Cesaro & Sheamus defeat RAW Tag Team Champions Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan at 12:45 to win the titles. Rollins and Jordan have been the Champions since 12.25.17, and this is their first defense. Jordan is the only one of these four that didn’t participate in the Rumble, so that should give his team the distinct advantage. However, Jordan is unable to tag into the ring for multiple reasons, leaving Rollins to face The Bar all by himself. This just goes on forever, with Rollins getting dominated and having no one to tag. Rollins fights valiantly, and Jordan finally gets back on the apron and tags himself in. He still looks out of it so he tags Rollins back in and heads back to the floor. Left all alone once again, Rollins rights straight into a Brogue Kick! The Bar follows with an assisted Air Raid Crash to get the win and become four-time RAW Tag Team Champions. Going after the Rumble is a fate I wouldn’t have wished on anyone, but this just didn’t get going at all.
Universal Champion Brock Lesnar (w/ Paul Heyman) defeats Braun Strowman and Kane at 10:59 in a Triple Threat Match to retain the title. Lesnar has been the Champion since 4.2.17, and this is his fourth defense. This is three beasts just taking it to each other right from the bell. Lesnar tries to introduce a steel chair early on, but Strowman is all like “nah, I’m good fam.” Strowman then uses the steel steps as a weapon, standing tall over both of his opponents. Strowman sets up tables in the ring and powerslams Lesnar through one of them, but Kane breaks up the pin. More furniture gets destroyed as these behemoths continue to do battle. Strowman hits a succession of powerslams on Lesnar, and then Kane takes Strowman out with a steel chair. Lesnar recovers and reverses a Tombstone into the F-5 to get the pin and retain the title. This started off fun enough but got sloppy as they went along. Plus, the result was never really in question so this all came off a little ho-hum.
Asuka defeats Bayley, Becky Lynch, Beth Phoenix, Brie Bella, Carmella, Dana Brooke, Ember Moon, Jacqueline, Kairi Sane, Kelly Kelly, Lana, Lita, Liv Morgan, Mandy Rose, Michelle McCool, Mickie James, Molly Holly, Naomi, Natalya, Nia Jax, Nikki Bella, Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan, Sasha Banks, Sonya Deville, Tamina, Torrie Wilson, Trish Stratus, and Vickie Guerrero at 59:00 to win the women’s Royal Rumble match. Maria Menounos is the guest ring announcer and Stephanie McMahon joins Cole and Graves on commentary. RAW Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss an SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair are stationed at ringside to watch the action.
Sasha Banks is #1 and Becky Lynch is #2. That’s a great place to start. They do some mat wrestling and Sarah Logan comes out at #3. Mandy Rose of Absolution is #4. Next up at #5 is Hall of Famer and four-time Women’s Champion Lita! That’s a big surprise, I thought she was way too injured to ever be in a ring again. Lita eliminates Mandy, and then #6 comes out and it’s Kairi Sane! The winner of the inaugural Mae Young Classic dominates, and then Tamina is the #7 entrant, wearing the most uncomfortable looking ring gear I cold imagine. Lita gets her moments in, hitting a few Twist of Fates and even a Moonsault on both Sasha and Becky, and eliminating Tamina. Becky then dumps Lita to the floor. Dana Brooke is #8 and she eliminates Sane. Torrie Wilson is #9! Another nice surprise. Torrie eliminates Dana, and out comes Sonya Deville at #10. Deville eliminates Torrie and that makes the crowd sad all day. Liv Morgan of the Riott Squad is #11, joining her partner Logan. Molly Holly is #12! That’s awesome. Molly eliminates Logan in short order, and hits Sasha with a perfect Molly-Go-Round. Lucky #13 is Lana. Michelle McCool is #14, and the mutants in the crowd chant for her husband. McCool eliminates Deville, Morgan, Molly, and Lana in rapid succession. We reach the halfway point with Ruby Riott at #15.
Vickie Guerrero is #16 and she gets a nice pop from the crowd. She even comes out with a microphone yelling “Excuse Me!” McCool, Sasha, Becky, and Ruby join forces to eliminate her, and then Ms. Money in the Bank Carmella is #17. Carmella gloats in front of Vickie and gets hit with her own briefcase for her troubles. Natalya is #18. Not much happens until #19 comes out, and it’s Kelly Kelly! Natalya eliminates McCool. Naomi is #20 so let’s all Feel the Glow. Cole reminds us all that Kelly was Naomi’s “pro” way back in the day when NXT was this weird wrestling/reality show hybrid. Riott eliminates Lynch. Hall of Famer Jacqueline is #21. Nia Jax is #22 and she eliminates Jacqueline right away, followed by Kelly. NXT Women’s Champion Ember moon is #23. Naomi goes to great lengths to save herself from elimination, only to get tossed by Nia. Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix is #24. She’s the only woman in this match who once competed in a men’s Royal Rumble. The Beth/Nia faceoff gets a nice pop. Natalya double-crosses Beth to eliminate her, and then Asuka comes out at #25. Asuka eliminates Moon. Mickie James is #26. The returning Nikki Bella is #27! Nikki eliminates Carmella. Brie Bella is #28 and is greeted by Yes chants. Bayley is #29. Hall of Famer Trish Stratus completes the field at #30.
Trish eliminates Mickie in a nice callback. The whole field then joins together to eliminate Nia, and then Sasha eliminates her best friend Bayley! Trish eliminates Natalya. Banks eliminates Trish, and we’re down to the final four – Sasha Banks, Asuka, Nikki Bella, and Brie Bella. Asuka gets triple-teamed, until the Bellas get wise and dumb Banks to the floor. Nikki even turns on her sister and eliminates Brie! We’re down to Asuka and Nikki Bella. After a brief skirmish Asuka eliminates Nikki and wins the Rumble! This outshone the men’s version by a little bit, with some great surprises, good pacing, nice callbacks to earlier feuds, and a finishing sequence that didn’t go on for too long. Awesome first effort here.
After the match, Charlotte Flair and Alexa Bliss get in the ring and raise their titles, and then Ronda Rousey’s music hits! Ronda gets in the ring, points to the WrestleMania sign, and then leaves.
The two Royal Rumble matches were very good, so that’s enough for a thumbs up right there. Toss in a solid Cruiserweight match on the kickoff show, and two good SmackDown title matches and there’s certainly enough here to warrant a look. However, at six hours or so with the Kickoff, it’s just a lot of show. The RAW title matches didn’t do much good for anyone, but the quality of the Rumbles makes them easy to overlook.