Remember that massively over-the-top supercard you book on your WWE video games? The Greatest Royal Rumble was that, come to life.
So, there’s a lot that was said about this show going in, with puns such as this being the “Oil Rumble”, or controversy over WWE being in bed with a regime that could be described as problematic. Without wanting to wash my hands of it, the last time I checked this was a site people visit for wrestling news, not politics… but in the interest of being controversial, I will posit this: where was the uproar about the lack of a women’s match on the eight prior shows?
Now, with that perhaps off-the-mark thought, onto the show. We watched this somewhat-live, but not in our usual way… and since watching a five-hour show twice in a day isn’t my cup of tea, we’ll just be looking at quick thoughts for each match. Bear in mind, this show was a glorified house show, so don’t expect everything here to be canon!
Triple H vs. John Cena
Well, if you’re kicking off a show this grandiose, with all due respect, you’re going to start it off with the biggest names you have in a match that doesn’t have anything tied into it. And if that match can include someone whose entrance is kid-friendly and can use so much pyro that it shames WrestleMania in one match… then why not?
As a match, it was perfect for an opener. Look, you’ve got a ten match card, with a crowd that, for the most part, perhaps can be best described as “casual”. So yeah, stick your big names out there first and let them do their thing. The match wasn’t there to steal the show, but to help set the table. Sure, you could argue that in a match between two guys who, at best, are part timers, Triple H didn’t “need” to kick out from multiple finishers and what have you… but when you look at the context of this being a house show in front of a super casual audience, this was perfect. ***
WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Kalisto vs. Cedric Alexander (c)
In storyline, this was meant to have been Buddy Murphy challenging, but he came in overweight, so his shot went up to the winner of a gauntlet match that was held on 205 Live this past week.
The pair went at it early on, but a nasty dropkick to the face from Alexander led to him slowing it down, keeping Kalisto on the match as the crowd kinda fell off. I guess that’s a lesson learned: what works for “smart” fans doesn’t necessarily work for fans who aren’t familiar. Still, they kept it to their style, toning it down to fit the crowd, going back-and-forth, throwing in some flips for good effect until Alexander countered a Salida del Sol into a Lumbar Check for the win.
A true house show match, but you’re probably going to remember Kalisto’s wacky bump for the finish more than anything else. **¾
WWE Raw Tag Team Championship: The Deleter of Worlds (Bray Wyatt & Matt Hardy) vs. The Bar (Cesaro & Sheamus)
The Raw tag titles were vacated after WrestleMania, since the ten year old Nicholas couldn’t defend the belts… because school. Problem is, the Superstar Shake-up meant that the finish of this pretty much telegraphed, since The Bar had been shifted over to SmackDown… and short of a switcheroo, there was no way they were winning the Raw belts.
The one cool thing about Bray Wyatt, in spite of the horrid storylines he’s had, is his entrance. Especially when the “fireflies” are in such volumes as you have in a stadium as full as this. Problem is, you got the feeling that the crowd here weren’t so up to speed on storylines, so this match came off flat in term of crowd reactions. Most of this was the Bar beating down on Hardy, until Bray came in and made a comeback with his creepy crab walk, before helping with an assisted Twist of Fate for the win. House show fodder, but at least they got a title change for their money. **
WWE United States Championship: Jinder Mahal vs. Jeff Hardy (c)
Since moving to Raw a fortnight ago, Jinder has kinda been put in his place… losing the US title to Jeff Hardy on his first night in, then losing to Chad Gable. This was a rematch against Hardy, who’d been moved to SmackDown… so the result of this match kinda telegraphs the other.
I’ll be charitable. This wasn’t good. Critics of Jinder Mahal’s run as WWE champion pointed to the fact that his wrestling wasn’t quite up to the standards of what was expected at that level these days. Unfortunately not much has changed, and although they kept this short, this was a sort of Greatest Hits for Jeff Hardy – featuring the running leap off the guard rail, and the Whisper in the Wind… except Jeff missed, and even worse, Jinder bumped for it. It made for quite the GIF. Thank God, that was not the finish… as Hardy went on to try and escape the Khallas, unsuccessfully, before a Twist of Fate and a Swanton got the win. This felt like it was a little rushed to get to prayer time, but this wasn’t a match that would have improved with more time. *½
WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championships: The Usos (Jimmy Uso & Jey Uso) vs. Bludgeon Brothers (Harper & Rowan) (c)
Playing off of SmackDown storylines, but both these teams are bad guys, so we’ve got something that really shouldn’t ought to be on a house show… let alone one in front of a casual crowd.
The Bludgeon Brothers were all over the Usos early… using a cranium crush as Michael Cole attributed that move to the “late, great Sergeant Slaughter”. Did I miss something? Once Jey’d been worn down for long enough and got the hot tag out, Jimmy Uso threw himself into the Brothers, before a hip attack just annoyed Harper into going for a powerbomb. Jey’s tagged back in, but the Brothers snuff it out, and quickly put Jimmy away with the KES’ Killer Bomb. Pretty much a squash, but enjoyable for an “after intermission” outing… **
Ladder Match for WWE Intercontinental Championship: Seth Rollins (c) vs. Samoa Joe vs. The Miz vs. Finn Balor
Man, Seth Rollins’ entry set-up is an absolute pain to watch on VOD – so much compression! Meanwhile, the Miz is on the list of “folks I didn’t expect to get fireworks”, but the crowd sure loved his entrance, so what do I know?!
When we got going, the quartet didn’t immediately go for the ladders, instead working this like a “typical” four-way, featuring the revolving door of wrestlers, lots of dives, and all that good stuff to get the crowd excited. Samoa Joe was first to get the ladder, and used it to sent Rollins onto with a drop toe hold, before his attempt at a powerbomb on Finn Balor just ended with him getting swept onto it for a double stomp.
Miz gets thrown into a ladder as Rollins cleared the ring and looked to climb for his title… but Balor pulls him down as those two didn’t seem to realise… there’s another side! Just as I type that, Balor gets it, only for Miz and Joe to come back in and shove the ladder down. After blowing off Miz’s offer of a partnership, Joe put the ladder in the corner… but it falls down, so he just slams Balor nastily into the downed ladder.
After some dominance, Joe gets dropkicked into a ladder that falls on him, but he recovers to spark off a Tower of Doom, affecting everyone but Miz, who started to clear house as he enjoyed a spell on top, again using the ladder, only for that to be rudely interrupted courtesy of another stomp from Balor, as his Coup de Grace crushed Miz onto the ladder. Stompy Stompy Balor escapes a Kokina clutch by rolling free, only to run into a uranage as Joe was still in it. The end came not long after though as Balor raced up the ladder, only to get cut-off as Rollins sprung off the top rope and onto the ladder to beat Balor to the punch. I liked that finish very much as it wasn’t a “everyone’s down and out and one man stands alone”, but a finish that kept everyone on an even keel. Perhaps not the best ladder match of all time, but not everything has to be the best or worst of anything! ***¾
Ahead of the next match, we had a “fluff” segment for the fans in the stadium – featuring a quartet of guys who impressed at tryouts earlier in the week. After they were introduced, they were interrupted by the Ariya and Shawn Daivari, who drew heat for proclaiming that Iran was greater than Saudi Arabia. They were sent packing by the local lads, much to the delight of the crowd. Simple, and effective.
Do you snobs realise how much a dumb segment lile that probably means to those thousands of smiling faces in the crowd? Those kids in the “poor seats” with the John Cena gear have legit hope now to one day possibly be in the crowd wearing merch of a guy from the same town as them
— 🐀🤟🏻Dirty Dragan🤟🏻🐀 (@DirtyDragan) April 27, 2018
WWE Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles (c)
After their WrestleMania match left people feeling distinctly underwhelmed, we had a rematch… but with Nakamura firmly a low blow-loving bad guy, we’ve finally got a little juice in this. Nakamura’s got new music, with extra lyrics that are purposely designed to stop you singing along to.
While not anywhere near the standards that folks expected, for a house show match (and remember, this was still a house show, in a bigger venue with a lot more pyro), this was fine. Perhaps not helped by the crowd making their own entertainment, courtesy of a Mexican wave, this was a match that for want of a better term, ran on the spot, since there was no way they were going to advance this storyline so soon.
You got your high spots though, as the match built-up to the low blow of doom… but AJ got a hand to the rope to keep his title alive, before avoiding a Kinshasa and taking Nakamura outside, where the match ended as the pair brawled out there for so long the ref had no choice but to count them out. Not bad by any means, but again… this wasn’t a match meant for the viewers at home to watch along with storylines in mind. ***¼
Casket Match: Rusev vs. Undertaker
Okay, this was straight out of video game fantasy booking. Undertaker versus random button.
Still, it got the fans what they wanted to see: the Undertaker’s entrance. Someone made the comparison that the Undertaker nowadays is like the Sandman was in ECW – and that’s alright! There’s more pyro and lasers for the Dead Man than we got at WrestleMania (that’s the virtually-unlimited budget for you), which meant that it didn’t really matter what the match was like. Predictably, it was slow, drawn out, and delivered everything the crowd wanted. A little bit of Rusev on offence, but in the end, the Old School to Rusev, a tombstone to Aiden English, and the Undertaker won by stacking up Rusev and English in the casket. **
Steel Cage Match for WWE Universal Championship: Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar (c)
The fear going into this match among some was that perhaps WWE still wouldn’t get a pro-Reigns reaction, with the crowd possibly thinking that it was the “in thing” to boo him. Judging by the audio muting, that might well have happened…
Without the crowd dumping all over this match like we had at WrestleMania, this was infinitely more watchable, with Lesnar going all out with German suplexes early on, before showing us that perhaps climbing a cage isn’t his forte. Just as well, really, as Roman Reigns kept throwing him into the cage walls, before a spear took him down… but not for long as Reigns had to throw in some more spears before his attempt to leave the cage led to Paul Heyman slamming the door in his head a la Chyna/Mick Foley back in the day.
In the end though, despite the best efforts of Heyman, Reigns threw in yet another spear, before using the chair Heyman tossed into the ring. A Superman punch leads to yet another spear, but this time Lesnar’s taken into the cage wall… which breaks, as both men crashed to the floor, with Reigns taking a nasty DDT-like bump on the way down. Strictly speaking, Reigns won because his feet hit first, but Lesnar’s back hit first… and so he’s declared the winner. That wasn’t too bad a match, but these disputed/non-finishes are starting to rack up, even for a house show! *¾
Greatest Royal Rumble
No, we’re not going to go through every single entry and exit. 50 entrants at 90 seconds a-piece (theoretically) meant this was going to be long, and with nobody pulling double duty, we had a few surprises.
Mike Kanellis did the Santino – getting clotheslined out as soon as he arrived – while we had surprise entrants: sumo wrestler Hiroki Sumi (or Hishofuji, as he’s known in the sumo world), Hornswoggle, NXT’s Tucker Knight, Dan Matha and Babatunde all made appearances, while Rey Mysterio, Great Khali and Chris Jericho got loud reactions for their entries… but none of these were the big stories.
Daniel Bryan, who’s cursed to start every Royal Rumble at 1 or 2 because of the “yes” entrance, went long, being the last-but-one man eliminated after 76 minutes… shattering the record Mysterio held by almost quarter of an hour. Eventual winner Braun Strowman scored 13 eliminations, one more than the record held by Roman Reigns, as some felt that this show perhaps marked the ushering away of Roman Reigns from the title picture, with Braun slowly sliding into his place. We’ll see about that.
As a match, it was what you’d expect from a Rumble. The ring rarely felt too full, and when it did, we invariably had a monster of a big name out to clear things. Elias had a hot streak in the middle of the match, as did Mark Henry and Mojo Rawley, while Titus O’Neil…
— Austin Creed (@XavierWoodsPhD) April 27, 2018
Some of the NXT appearances were odd, with Babatunde not really adding much but being another big guy to the mix, likewise Dan Matha (who apparently has become a trainer after his teased debut proved to be a storyline piece for Samoa Joe). The end came when Braun played monster, wiping out Shane McMahon through the English announce table, before crotching Big Cass on the top rope… yanking that rope for comedic effect, and then charging him down to the floor. Braun wins, and that, my friends was that.
What does he win though? Well, there’s no title shot, per se, but he did win a massive trophy, a title belt that may very well end up on his office shelf, and a firework display that probably cost more than WWE’s annual budget these days. **½
We’ve been at pains to say it, but this really was a house show. Ignore the cameras, the beyond-extravagant production and pyro, and you mostly had a show that you’ll get most weekends at arenas across America. Without the wacky extra stipulations that came from trying to appease the nation that spent millions on it!
Sure, there were issues with things away from the show – topics I’m not going to touch with a bargepole; and if you’re looking for “great matches”, only the ladder match is one to seek out… but in a vacuum, this show was enjoyable and delivered exactly what WWE’s target is these days.