WWE’s Greatest Royal Rumble had it all, including controversy
The Greatest Royal Rumble show was much like the match itself — it started slow and, though predictable, ended strong.
The WWE Network special Friday in in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, felt part house show, part WrestleMania. There was plenty of pageantry — even lots of pyro — but a lack of substance outside of a few matches.
The jumbo-sized card did not include the WWE’s women, even on the kickoff panel, because of the country’s laws. The company reportedly made more than $100 million for the event and is said to be paying its women performers in a big way even though they did not appear on the show, which featured the first 50-man Royal Rumble match.
While none of the seven titles defended changed hands, the WWE didn’t leave Saudi Arabia without controversy.
Roman Reigns should be the Universal champion whether you like it or not and no matter what the referee’s decision was in his steel cage match against Brock Lesnar.
Reigns, in a physical bout that was better than their subpar clash at WrestleMania, speared Lesnar through the cage onto the floor near the ramp for the finish. By rule, you can win the match by being the first person to leave the cage and have both feet hit the floor.
Though Lesnar’s back was first to hit, his feet didn’t hit before Reigns’. Lesnar’s legs were elevated on the destroyed portion of the cage as Reigns rolled off and touched the floor.
The commentary team tried to explain during the replays why the referee ruled Lesnar would retain his title, until they realized they couldn’t. At that point, whether you believe it was planned or not, they relented that Reigns could have some controversy on his hands.
WWE needs to eventually build off this. It might be the best route to finally putting the strap on Reigns.
The moment — along with Titus O’Neil purposely tripping his way under the ring while entering the rumble match — was one of the highlights of a strong latter portion of the show.
The rumble itself moved quickly even with 50 guys. Daniel Bryan – eliminated second to last by new rival Big Cass — entered first and lasted a record one hour, 16 minutes and five seconds. Cass was eliminated by the victorious Braun Strowman, one of the clear favorites coming in. He was awarded a large trophy and a green belt after a record 13 eliminations.
The match was a mid-card paradise for the most part with enough legends and top guys to make it work. Returning Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho both were given their moment. Even Hornswoggle made an appearance.
Shane McMahon pulled off his coast-to-coast and was eliminated when Strowman threw him from the top rope on the announcer’s table. Kofi surviving elimination while on Xavier Woods’ back was among the usual Rumble spots that made the match enjoyable, despite plenty of unknown NXT call-ups.
While there was a clear winner to the Rumble match, the feud between WWE champion AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura is still searching for one after a double count out.
This match was on a similar level to their WrestleMania one and further raised the heat around their feud by showing us a side of Styles we hadn’t seen before.
After taking another low blow and breaking the pin by grabbing the ropes, something snapped inside Styles. He unleashed a physical fury on Nakamura. Styles dove into him and went crashing into the announcer table, pounded him in the barricade, used a chair and hit one last Phenomenal Forearm. This feud should have your attention in a big way now.
The Intercontinental title ladder match between champion Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor and The Miz was arguably the best match on the card, with as good a finish as WWE has scripted in a while. It jump-started the event’s strong second half. The match was physical, made good use of the ladder and created some suspense for who would win. However, it will be remembered for its ending.
Balor cleared out Miz and Joe and the title appeared within reach. Rollins climbed to the top turnbuckle on the opposite side and leaped onto the ladder. He jetted to the top and raced to rip the championship off the hook before a shocked Balor could even react to Rollins retaining.
It was some brilliant storytelling because it added a new chapter to the feud between Rollins and Balor. It also reestablishes Rollins as the opportunistic champion he thrived as during his WWE title run.
Undertaker’s casket match — while still a compilation of greatest-hits moves — was better than his clash at WrestleMania with John Cena and a lot of that is because of Rusev.
Rusev (who got in more offense than Cena and didn’t have to take a Tombstone) sold extremely well and proved a superb foil to The Deadman. Rusev freaking out when being put on top of the closed casket was brilliant. Having the match end with Taker putting Rusev and Aiden English in the casket was also a nice touch.
Thankfully, matches like this one kept the Greatest Royal Rumble show from being a great big flop because of what preceded them. Like WrestleMania, a stacked event limited the undercard’s potential.
Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt over The Bar to win the Raw Tag Team titles
The team from “Raw” beat the team now on “SmackDown Live” for the Raw tag titles. No surprises here in a generic match made more for Raw than a special event. Hardy and Wyatt’s push continues and could be creative gold.
The Bludgeon Brothers over The Usos to retain the SmackDown tag titles
The match — like many early in the card — was short, but this one was effective enough. There a good balance of the Usos’ speed and Harper and Rowan’s power. The Bludgeon Brothers looked dominant while winning.
Jeff Hardy over Jinder Mahal to retain the United States title
There was plenty of silence from the crowd during this match, which was short, very uninspired and sloppy at times — including an awful botch by Mahal on Hardy’s Whisper in the Wind move from the top rope. He fell without being hit. Hardy, even at this age, is better than this match and Mahal continues to mostly underdeliver in big spots.
John Cena over Triple H
It was a smart match to open the show because the sight of these legends got the crowd into it. The match was slow and dated with all the cliché bells and whistles you’d expect. There was a test of strength, a sleeper hold, a DX chop and a few mocking “You can’t see me” hand gestures before Cena pinned Triple H after a third Attitude Adjustment.
Cedric Alexander over Kalisto to retain the Cruiserweight title
The faster pace and acrobatics juxtaposed well with the methodical Triple H-Cena clash. Alexander going with power moves to counteract Kalisto’s creativity was good in theory, but only a few high spots resonated with the crowd. Alexander won with a slick counter of the Salida Del Sol with a Lumbar Check for the win, but got little crowd reaction.
Biggest winner: AJ Styles
Biggest loser: Jinder Mahal
Best Match: Intercontinental title ladder match
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