For the first time in nearly ten years, we got an amazing Royal Rumble match. In fact, we had two. The match that should be a hype kickoff to Wrestlemania season has gotten a reputation over the past few (maybe more than a few) years for being a letdown, to put it mildly. Edge in 2010 was the last winner that everyone pretty much universally agreed on as being exciting. Since then, we’ve had Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio (shockers but not really good ones,) Cena for the second time (come on,) Batista (a trainwreck rumble,) Reigns (a six-train pile-up of a rumble,) Triple H (okay, after a pretty great general match,) and Randy Orton (snore.) That’s almost a decade of underwhelming winners, and arguing that the finish shouldn’t affect match quality is like arguing it would’ve been fine if The Godfather ended with a fart joke.
We were overdue for a Royal Rumble that was solid all the way through, and this year went way past solid twice.
The men’s match started off strong with Rusev and Finn Balor facing off, but really picked up with the entrance of Baron Corbin. He got the perfect spot – a quick elimination by Balor after a minute, then a rampage beating on everyone left before heading to the back. It fit his character perfectly: he can’t really get the job done, but he’s angry enough to seem dangerous even when he can’t win.
There were plenty of great character moments just like that: The New Day beating up recent rival Jinder Mahal after his elimination, Kofi being saved by landing on Xavier, Elias taking advantage of an empty ring to have a concert, and especially the face-off between the final 6 – the old guard in Cena, Orton, and Mysterio vs. the new in Reigns, Nakamura, and Balor.
But obviously, all “moments” in the rumble lead only to the winner, which was Shinsuke Nakamura after a nail-bitingly tense final exchange with Roman “Oh God Not Again” Reigns, who unfortunately may never shake the booking sins of 2015 no matter how good he is.
One thing I specifically noticed about the men’s rumble is that there were barely any nostalgia entrants returning to WWE – in fact, not counting Mysterio, the only one was The Hurricane, who was an absolute delight and was the perfect comic relief. The spots that ordinarily would’ve gone to a DDP or a Kevin Nash instead went to NXT in Adam Cole and Andrade Cien Almas. This, along with Nakamura’s victory, made this really feel like a rumble of the future.
Being the first of its kind, the women’s rumble went in a different direction. The returns and nostalgia acts had some of the most impressive showings of the match, especially Michelle McCool getting a surprising four eliminations and Trish Stratus getting one of the pops of the night. However, nobody looked like they’d lost a step (except for Vickie Guerrero, who as a wrestler never really had any steps to begin with) and it really read like a thank you to Trish, Lita, Molly Holly, Jacqueline, and the like, who never got a rumble of their own because of the era they wrestled in.
You genuinely couldn’t have booked a better first women’s rumble, unless you gave Kelly Kelly’s spot to Victoria instead. But it was all at once a thank you, a kickoff, and, above all, a really good match.
Ultimately, the future won out again – not in the form of NXT’s Ember Moon or Kairi Sane – with Asuka eliminating Nikki Bella to be the first ever female Royal Rumble winner. I would’ve preferred that her big moment not be overshadowed by an awkward and personally underwhelming Ronda Rousey appearance, but… well, you can’t win ‘em all.
Written by Bobby Murphy (@RobertJMurph)
Image courtesy WWE.com
[Correction Note: this article originally mentioned AJ Styles instead of Roman Reigns in one instance and used improper terminology for Rey Mysterio and The Hurricane. Edits have been made.]