It’s finally time! It’s time for the beginning of the Road to Wrestlemania! To make it a whole lot better, it starts out, like always, with my favorite WWE event of the year: the Royal Rumble. I always feel excited for the Royal Rumble because it epitomizes the “anything can happen” slogan of professional wrestling. Legends may make an appearance. New main eventers might be born. Dream matchups might ignite. The Royal Rumble is just magical… if it’s done right.
Let’s face it. The WWE has sometimes botched the event and this night may be no different. The only way to find out if this is will be one to remember or one we’d like to forget. So, let’s go through all the matches of this year’s Royal Rumble and see what’s what, shall we?
The first match of the night, surprisingly, was the 30-Man Royal Rumble. This usually is left for last or just before the match for the WWE Universal or World Heavyweight Championship. This means either a couple of things. One, the winner is going to be a heel and will make the live crowd sad before going home. Two, everyone already knows who’s going to win the Men’s Royal Rumble so why bother keeping it a surprise. I’m betting it’s the latter because we all know it’s going to be Cody Rhodes, right?
There were some flubs and really odd booking choices here. It is sad Kofi Kingson didn’t do the classic save this year again. He already flubbed it last year so maybe the WWE should call it quits with the spot from now on. There were only a couple of WWE Legends and celebrity acts in this year’s Royal Rumble. The only nostalgia act during the Men’s Royal Rumble was, of all people, Booker T. Logan Paul was the only celebrity and I’m counting him despite having an official contract with the WWE. You could say that’s a testament to how deep the roster is now but I still like to pop for some of the wrestlers from my childhood. Johnny Gargano was in the ring for a long time but didn’t really do anything of note in the almost 30 minutes he was in it. That’s a crying shame.
Despite these faux pas, that didn’t mean this year’s Royal Rumble was not entertaining. There were some really fun spots, like Sheamus and GUNTHER beating on the Miz as they tried to clobber each other, Brock Lesnar unleashing the beast after getting eliminated by Bobby Lashley, Rhea Ripley eating a spear from Beth Phoenix (yes, this happened even though this is the Men’s Royal Rumble) as well as Logan Paul and Ricochet springboarding into each other with a hilarious splat. That was unironically funny and brutal at the same time. Really cool.
The final four consisted of GUNTHER, who started from the number 1 spot, Logan Paul, Seth Rollins and the returning Cody Rhodes. Cody performed a sunset flip maneuver to Theory, allowing Seth Rollins to take The Now with a Curb Stomp. The American Nightmare and The Visionary then temporarily set their hatred for each other aside to take out GUNTHER temporarily. Rollins eventually stunned Rhodes with a superkick and went for a Pedigree but Logan Paul, who people forgot was still in the Royal Rumble, tossed Rollins out. Cody then hit Cross Rhodes on Paul before eliminating the social media star. Both the #1 and the #30 entrant then squared off, with GUNTHER taking control with his power. GUNTHER tried a boot but got himself straddled on the ring apron. Cody then went for a Disaster Kick, only to eat a big chop from GUNTHER. The Ring General then superplexed Rhodes before the Son of the Son of a Plumber made a comeback, hitting his Cody Cutter on GUNTHER.
GUNTHER was almost eliminated and Rhodes did a Dragon Screw while the Ring General was getting in the ring, hurting the big man’s leg. In a fantastic homage to his brother, Cody then did the Shattered Dreams kick to GUNTHER. GUNTHER managed to rally and hit a massive powerbomb on Cody. GUNTHER then locked a sleeperhold on Cody as he stood on the ring apron. However, Rhodes tried to drag GUNTHER to the outside, forcing the Ring General to release the hold. GUNTHER then set up Cody to get tossed but The American Nightmare reversed it into Cross Rhodes. This stunned GUNTHER long enough for Cody Rhodes to clothesline him over the top rope. This means Cody Rhodes is the winner of the Royal Rumble and will face the WWE Universal Champion at Wrestlemania!
As Royal Rumbles go, this was good but not great. The final mini-match between Cody Rhodes and GUNTHER was spectacular. GUNTHER is also an unheralded star as he lasted all throughout the Royal Rumble and still pulled off a fantastic closing bout. There were also some fun spots and I was thoroughly entertained while watching. I also agree wholeheartedly with giving the Wrestlemania spot to Cody Rhodes. What’s missing, though, are the things which makes a Royal Rumble memorable. The Kofi Kingston spot was flubbed so no magic save again. There wasn’t exactly a defining moment here, unless you count the Logan Paul and Ricochet splat spot. The action was great but lacks the goofiness which makes a Royal Rumble extra special.
The next match of the night was the Mountain Dew Pitch Black match, pitting Bray Wyatt against LA Knight. Thankfully, the sorta cleared up the rules for the match and it’s actually nothing special. It’s just a No Holds Barred match but under black light. It’s disappointing to a degree. Still, they could’ve made up for all this hype by putting out a stellar match but they simply didn’t. It was basically Bray Wyatt beating on LA Knight for the majority of it all. When LA Knight did get in some offense, Bray Wyatt no sold a lot of it. Even when he used a kendo stick, it didn’t matter. Mercifully, this was a quick match with Bray Wyatt nailing LA Knight with Sister Abigail to get the pinfall victory.
The segment didn’t end there, however. Bray Wyatt stalks LA Knight to the outside, eating kendo stick shots along the way. Wyatt then applies the Mandible Claw and LA Knight succumbs to it and falls unconscious on top of a pile of… something. Uncle Howdy then appears from above in the scaffolding about the downed LA Knight. Uncle Howdy then plunges into the something LA Knight is lying on and pyro explodes as he crashes down.
I can’t say this was a good match nor would I say it was a creative one. The only thing which made it unique was the Pitch Black scam. It tried to be spooky but it inadvertently was hilarious as LA Knight was wearing neon tights and even had a kendo stick that glowed in the dark. I guess it’s supposed to make Bray Wyatt scary again but at the cost of LA Knight looking rather foolish. Not the greatest re-debut for Bray Wyatt.
The next match is kind of a continuation of the entire Bray Wyatt storyline in a sense as it had Bianca Belair defending her RAW Women’s Championship against the apparently turning Alexa Bliss. This did feel like your very straightforward match. There was some good back and forth with both Bianca Belair and Alexa Bliss taking turns dominating the other. It even felt like they were taking it easy on each other because I can’t really recall anything of note happening during the bout.
The finish had Alexa Bliss locking Belair up in what looked like the setup for Sister Abigail but The EST of the WWE powered out of it and reversed it into her KOD finisher. With that, Belair got the pinfall victory to retain her RAW Women’s championship. However, as Alexa Bliss was recovering, the lights went out and the screen started showing her time as the “insane” version of her character. Uncle Howdy then appeared and asked if Bliss felt like if she was still in control of herself to end the segment.
I did appreciate the action here over the previous match as the Pitch Black match felt gimmicky and lacked any real good wrestling. At least the action was generally good, if a little uninspired. This did feel more like they were dropping breadcrumbs on whatever will happen with the Alexa Bliss storyline, though.
The next match was the 30-Women Royal Rumble match. Unlike the Men’s Royal Rumble, there were a few more options regarding who might last until the end. However, the pickings were still relatively slim here as well. Still, I wouldn’t mind if the action was good and, mostly, it was okay. Some surprises here and there, like Michelle McCool entering the Rumble (again) and Doudrop getting a tougher attitude but the biggest shocker was Nia Jax entering at number 30! I’m not sure if she’s signed to a WWE contract or if this is just a one-time thing. Still, it was a whopper of a surprise to see her back, even if it’s just for one night.
There were a few more neat little storytelling elements but they were mostly focused on Bayley’s faction, Damage CTRL. Damage CTRL went on a tear for a good while, even beating down Becky Lynch on the outside. Becky Lynch eventually got back to eliminate Dakota Kai and IYO SKY but Bayley was waiting in the wings to dump The Man over the top rope. However, the leader of Damage CTRL was tossed out while she was gloating, leading to a big brawl between Lynch and Damage CTRL. Even though this was basically the only big story being told here, it was fun while it lasted.
On a totally personal note, Zelina Vega came out dressed up as Juri from Street Fighter 6, even performing a version of the character’s Critical Art. I also learned she’s going to be a guest commentator in the game as well! While she’s done this before, I did find it funny the commentators had to mention it because I have a feeling this is some kind of cross promotion between the WWE and Street Fighter. I didn’t appreciate them making fun of the game but I still am glad it got some time to shine on the main stage.
After Nia Jax got eliminated, things all of a sudden went on fast forward as there was a flurry of eliminations afterwards. When all the dust settled, the final 3 remaining women were Asuka, Rhea Ripley and Liv Morgan. All three women eventually came to be standing on the ring apron. Asuka tried to spray green mist in Rhea Ripley’s face but the Mami of The Judgement Day ducked and the mist went into Liv Morgan’s eyes instead. Rhea took this opportunity to do something like a 619 to knock Asuka off the apron, eliminating the Empress of Tomorrow.
It’s now just Rhea Ripley and Liv Morgan remaining now. Incidentally, these were also #1 and #2, respectively. Anyway, Rhea thought Liv was helpless but Morgan hit Ob-Liv-ion on Rhea, stunning her and causing her to lose her balance. Rhea slipped but grabbed on the top rope to prevent her feet from touching the floor. Morgan tried to loosen Rhea’s grip but Rhea did a headscissors maneuver to send Liv to the floor. This makes Rhea Ripley the winner of the 2023 Women’s Royal Rumble and punching her ticket to Wrestlemania!
Like with the Men’s Royal Rumble earlier, this was a fun one but did feel a little empty when it comes to spectacle. I was totally entertained throughout but it did lack the silliness once again. It was cool to see Michelle McCool and Nia Jax back in the WWE but no other nostalgia acts participated. I did like Damage CTRL really ran roughshod for a while and Rhea Ripley is definitely the best pick at this moment.
The final match of the night had Roman Reigns defending the WWE Unified Universal Championship against Kevin Owens. However, this isn’t really the main story of the match. It’s all about Sami Zayn and if he’ll finally turn on the Bloodline. You can tell this is what’s going to happen since Reigns wasn’t surrounded by the Usos and Sola Sikoa. He only brought Sami Zayn and Paul Heyman to ringside. At the very least, something big was going to happen tonight.
Still, we’re all here for a good match and this was definitely a barnburner! Lots of fantastic back and forth action along with some really good in-ring storytelling. Kevin Owens kept eating multiple spears by Roman Reigns but he just wouldn’t stay down. Kevin Owens did give as good as he got, even taking the Tribal Chief to the limit more than a couple of times. As a matter of fact, at one point, KO should’ve gotten the pinfall victory after a Pop-Up Powerbomb but the referee was knocked unconscious. Of course, this is still all about Sami Zayn’s journey so after Reigns took down Owens with a low blow, the Head of the Table asked the Honorary Uce for a chair but Zayn hesitated for a brief moment, allowing the Prizefighter to get the upper hand with a Stunner.
This was the beginning of the end, however. Owens went for another Pop-Up Powerbomb but Reigns countered with a Superman Punch. Reigns speared Owens but KO managed to kick out. Owens then rolled to the outside and Sami pleaded with his former friend to just stay down. Reigns then speared Owens once again but through the barricade this time. Reigns then did one of the most sickening moves I’ve seen in wrestling by slamming the back of Kevin Owen’s head on the edge of the steel steps a couple of times! The Tribal Chief hit one more spear to finally get the pinfall victory and regain the WWE Unified Universal Championship.
It wasn’t over, though. The Usos and Sola Sikoa came in to celebrate with the Tribal Chief. Reigns then ordered the Bloodline to beat down on Kevin Owens some more. After handcuffing KO to the ring ropes, the Usos unleashed a flurry of superkicks to the helpless Owens. Reigns then took a chair and went to hit KO with it but Sami Zayn stopped the Tribal Chief! The Head of the Table then ordered Sami Zayn to use the chair on his former friend to prove himself.
Then, the moment of catharsis happened. Sami Zayn took that chair and nailed Roman Reigns in the back with it to a huge pop of shock from the crowd!
The joy didn’t last long as Jimmy Uso then blasted Sami with a superkick and Sola joined in. In a nice piece of storytelling, Jey walked away and Reigns starting screaming how Sami Zayn broke up his family. After the beatdown, Sami Zayn was left in the ring in a heap.
This was the way to close out the Royal Rumble with some story development on one of the biggest storylines in the WWE right now. Even so, there’s still a lot to look forward to later on either RAW or Smackdown. Will Sami Zayn try to beg for forgiveness? What will Jey Uso do now? There’s a lot of unanswered questions here. The match itself was really good but the aftermath is what really sold it for me.
This Royal Rumble was really good but not because of the Royal Rumbles themselves. The winners were the right choices but it does make it very predictable. The Pitch Black match and the RAW Women’s Championship were either dull or not memorable in the least. What this Royal Rumble will be remembered for will be the entire Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn storyline. Honestly, that’s a good thing.
Have you seen this year’s Royal Rumble? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!