WrestleWatch- WWE Royal Rumble 2023 (29/01/2023)
By Mick Robson
Okay, we're finally caught up. After a tough weekend which saw the majority of Saturday spent in hospital with my mum for her recurring issues, I managed to catch the Rumble last night, and here I am writing the review on Monday morning. We're at the point where this website may have to take a back seat soon... between looking out for Mum's health, sorting out my own shit, returning to work (today is technically the first day of Term 1, but I'm not feeling great physically- good thing I'm casual this year and can set my own schedule).
At the end of the day, I don't earn any real money from The Arena Media. There's a lot of effort, a lot of time put in, but it's just for the love of pro wrestling. It's a hobby of sorts, would I like to turn it into something viable? Absolutely, would love some involvement in the wrestling business that has some kind of gain, but at this stage I need to turn my attention more towards my family, myself, and things that are going to pay the bills. So, if you see the activity/posts from this page slow down or even stop, that's why.
I do love the Royal Rumble. My favourite time on the WWE calendar, starting that Road To WrestleMania. Part of me might even prefer it to WrestleMania itself, because of the air of mystery surrounding the Rumble. Everything's up in the air, there's the excitement of surprise entrants in the Rumble matches themselves, and we typically come out of the Rumble PPVs with some idea about the top matches at WrestleMania that year.
This year is interesting, because for the Rumble matches themselves, there's limited viable candidates for each Rumble's winner, just in the way it's been built up on weekly TV. The smart money is on a returning Cody Rhodes- the powers that be decided to outwardly advertise the return of the American Nightmare rather than leave it as the worst kept secret ever. Outside of him, the people's choice appears to be Sami Zayn. Zayn has been stealing the show in the Bloodline storyline as the "Honorary Uce", and there's a significant portion of the fans that would love to see the pay-off on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
Besides Rhodes & Zayn, the only other predicted name is... The Rock. It's been heavily rumoured for years that WWE were targeting a Rock vs. Reigns showdown at WrestleMania in Hollywood- certainly makes sense with Roman calling himself the Head of the Table, when Rock is the most successful of their family, and also the biggest crossover from WWE to Hollywood. Adding fuel to the fire was the promotional material for the Rumble, with lots of blue lightning... something often associated with "the most electrifying man in sports entertainment", The Rock. Time will tell...
On the women's side, it's far more clear cut- Rhea Ripley has the most momentum of any woman in WWE. She's been a highlight of Raw and the faction of The Judgment Day. Outside of a big legend return (which hasn't been rumoured anywhere), hard to look past Ripley winning the big one.
Let's do this!
General chatter and predictions for the PPV matches. I normally skip these shows, especially since they stopped putting matches on there for the most part. Truth be told, I put it on to prevent myself passing the time by browsing the Internet and stumbling onto a major Rumble spoiler.
The one interesting thing on the pre-show was a segment with the Bloodline. Reigns is angry that Zayn ignored his orders to stay out of sight until the PPV, turning up on Smackdown to help Solo Sikoa. Jey Uso spoke up and took the blame, telling The Tribal Chief that he asked Sami to come back. This appears to calm Roman, who turns his attention to the plans for his title match with Kevin Owens. He tells "the twins" to stay backstage, and tonight, Sami Zayn will be at ringside for the title match. This presumably separates the whole Bloodline saga from the Rumble match, with the men's version kicking off the main show.
Match 1: Cody Rhodes wins The Men's Royal Rumble (at 1:11:42)
Thoughts: Okay, so this was predictable. But predictable doesn't always mean bad. Cody winning feels like the right call, especially once they separated the Bloodline deal from this Rumble match. Also, having this kick off the show pretty much eliminated the idea that The Rock would enter. Strangely, they kept Cody out until #30. Gunther & Sheamus were the Ironmen of the match, starting at #1 and #2 respectively and being there right at the end, with Gunther being in the final two, testing out Rhodes' surgically repaired pec with some brutal chops. Cody gets the win, the Mania title match and the big redemption story, but the Intercontinental Champion's stock definitely rose big time with that performance as well.
I've seen some criticism about a lack of surprises- and I would have liked some NXT representation myself- but I thought they did well with the limited vacant spots. Edge made his big return- some are saying it's not a surprise, but just because your smart little brain predicted it, doesn't mean he doesn't count as a surprise entrant. They did a nice job continuing the feud with The Judgment Day- also faciltating the return of Beth Phoenix, who Speared Rhea Ripley (side note: Dominick played his weasel role to perfection). Booker T having another Rumble moment was nice, especially being in Texas, and Logan Paul was excellent, having the spot of the match (and maybe the night) with a double springboard cross body against Ricochet. He also eliminated Seth Rollins, which may have set up a Mania match? And it sure seems like Brock Lesnar & Bobby Lashey are set for a Mania collison following their encounter earlier in the Rumble match. Nice use of the current roster to put on a strong Rumble.
Star Rating: ****
Match 2: Mountain Dew Pitch Black Match- Bray Wyatt def. LA Knight (at 5:05)
Thoughts: Something feels wrong about the Bray Wyatt character being involved in corporate sponsorship shilling, especially in his return match. It undercuts the dark nature of his character. That said, the visual was cool- they used black lights rather than actually making the men wrestle in pitch black darkness, so the whole thing was glowing like a Naomi entrance. Wyatt also had face paint that showed up with the black lights. The actual match itself was very quick- Knight gets one spot where he puts Wyatt through the announce table and it explodes with... glowing confetti? LA gets a glowing kendo stick, but to no avail, as Wyatt snatches him with Sister Abigail for the quick win.
In the post-match, Wyatt puts on a scary mask and is even more impervious to pain that he was previously, absorbing Knight's attempts with the Kendo stick and fighting through the crowd, until Wyatt applies the Mandible Claw. We see Uncle Howdy standing 30 or so feet above on a platform.. and he dives off it Shane O Mac style onto Knight as an explosion goes off! Very odd, and a bad replay reveals that Howdy was nowhere near actually making contact with Knight, killing any magic there may have been. Well then. Months of build for that? Starting to feel like the return of Bray Wyatt has been a bit of a disaster. Well, I felt that way before now, but wanted to wait for the Rumble to see what the pay-off would be. As it turns out... not good. Not good at all...
Star Rating: *
Match 3: Raw Women's Championship- Bianca Belair (c) def. Alexa Bliss (at 7:35)
Thoughts: Not a whole lot to say about this one. We didn't see Alexa in regular competition for a long time when she was aligned with the Fiend, doing her spooky crap, and then she made a lame return as regular Alexa (kinda) and just seemed to be making up the numbers, and all of a sudden she was the contender for the Rumble PPV. So hard to buy her as a viable threat.
The match was very plodding, despite not actually running that long. A lot of chinlocks trying to wear the EST down. Alexa hits a DDT for a close near fall, reminding me, "oh yeah, that was a finish of hers". After a very regular match revealing none of the "evil" Alexa that the build alluded to, Bliss goes for Sister Abigail, but Belair reverses into the KOD for the win. The crowd was very quiet here, but the ladies gave them very little to react to.
Star Rating: **
Match 4: Rhea Ripley wins the Women's Royal Rumble (at1:01:03)
Thoughts: In a similar vein to the men's match, easy to pick, but still the right choice. When Rhea came out at #1, I thought, well, that's her gone. Not that no one could go coast to coast, but that's typically a babyface move, and Rhea is a heel. Plus she came in clutching her ribs, selling the Spear from Beth earlier. Liv Morgan came in at #2, and they held down the fort from start to the final, becoming joint Ironwomen, but Rhea makes that extra bit of history, becoming the first woman to win starting from #1.
Like the Men's Rumble, we didn't have an over-reliance on Legends here- although we could have used a Trish or Lita here to give a sense that someone besides Rhea could win. We got the return of Asuka, with a darker, more violent dispostion reminiscent of her days in Japan as Kana- but she didn't seem like she was headed to Mania. Liv Morgan seemed positioned for the gutsy effort in defeat, given how much she's been defined down since an underwhelming run as Smackdown Women's Champion. Seeing Michelle McCool enter the match as an audience member was fun, and I loved seeing Piper Niven get a showcase, dropping the Doudrop name. Good to see NXT get represented with the likes of Roxanne Perez and Indi Hartwell. And then we had #30. Nia Jax. Why? You've got Piper and even Raquel Rodriguez to play her role, and they're actually good. At least she was eliminated quickly- but she's got new merch on WWE Shop, so she's back. Nia hurt my enjoyment of this match dramatically. I don't want to see her lose a wrestling match, I just don't want to see her. She's awful.
At least we have Rhea Ripley. Everyone's favourite Mami.
Star Rating: ***3/4
We get a quick break for a "concert" with country/rock star Hardy. He performs his song "Sold Out". The studio version sounds good, but live? Ehh... bit of a waste. They took down the ring ropes and did all that set-up for that? I've heard better performances at the pub on karaoke!
Main Event: Undisputed WWE Universal Championship- Roman Reigns (c) (w/ Sami Zayn) def. Kevin Owens (at 19:15)
Thoughts: Kevin Owens can always been relied on for a great match. He's so consistently good that he can even have a big botch here, fucking up his springboard moonsault, and it doesn't hurt his aura in the slightest. He puts up a hell of a fight, but ultimately, he was never winning this. Reigns turns up the viciousness- as we get reaction shots of Sami at ringside, watching his former best friend get brutalised. Owens' last act in the match is a defiant slap, leading to Roman hitting yet another Spear, after KO had already kicked out of a couple. Owens goes down valiantly, as Sami looks on conflicted.
And I'm going to include the post-match here. The Bloodline enter the ring, and Jey goes to put a lei on Sami, but Reigns stops it. He gets the Usos to handcuff Owens to the ropes and blast him with superkicks as Sami watches. Reigns then gets a chair to bash Kevin's brains in- but Sami steps between them. He pleads with Roman to stop, he's done enough, he's above doing this... so Reigns hands the chair to Zayn, telling him to land the kill shot. After much conflict, Sami blasts Reigns with the chair to a thunderous ovation! The Bloodline look on in shock. Jimmy blasts Sami with a superkick, and the Bloodline beat the hell out of Sami. All except Jey Uso, who stands in the corner looking disgusted. He ends up leaving the ring, looking as conflicted as Sami did earlier. The show goes off the air with Roman plucking petals of the lei and letting them fall on Sami, as the Alamodome showers him with chants of "Fuck you Roman".
What an angle. One of the best I've ever seen in WWE. Throughout a lot of that segment, I was waiting for The Rock's music to hit and save the day, but in the end, it didn't matter. This was pro wrestling perfection, with everyone playing their roles perfectly, and now I want nothing more than to see Sami Zayn give Roman Reigns the fight of his life. I've been watching for 25 years, and that's very much in the shortlist of best segments I've ever seen. The entire Bloodline saga is incredible. I don't know who's responsible for the majority of it, is it Sami's input, is it Heyman's? Because the whole thing is several levels above everything else on the show. Compare it to the Wyatt/Alexa crap from earlier. Night and day.
Star Rating: **** for the match, *****+ for the post-match angle.
This Rumble PPV was such a mixed bag. The highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. Fans were happy with the winners of the Rumbles, besides some Twitter discontent that we didn't see Okada, Jay White, CM Punk and Zack Ryder... but hey, we got the return of Chelsea Green for a second or two in the Women's Rumble! Both Rumble Matches and the main event were strong, if predictable- but that middle section is among the worst stuff WWE have put on PPV (or a PLE) in a long time. Plus Nia Jax is back.
I think the strength of the close of the show- Reigns vs Owens and the post-match with Sami Zayn- carries it firmly into positive territory. An all-time angle, and I always say when a great angle happens- follow up is key. But in the case of Sami Zayn and the Bloodline saga, I can be optimistic that they will nail it.
Overall Score: 7.5/10
Until next time, take care.