Date: January 27, 2019
Location: Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
- Asuka def. Becky Lynch (17:10) [***3/4]
- The Miz & Shane McMahon def. The Bar (13:20) [*1/2]
- Ronda Rousey def. Sasha Banks (13:55) [***3/4]
- Becky Lynch won the Women’s Royal Rumble (71:22) [***1/4]
- Daniel Bryan def. AJ Styles (24:35) [**3/4]
- Brock Lesnar def. Finn Balor (8:40) [***3/4]
- Seth Rollins won the Men’s Royal Rumble (57:35) [***1/2]
We’re in Phoenix, Arizona at a massive open air stadium; Chase Field. It’s a little ballsy doing an open air show in January but this is Arizona.
WWE SmackDown Women’s Title
Asuka (c) vs. Becky Lynch
Becky has definitely been posturing more and I don’t know if that’s deliberate on her part or whether she’s been told to but it does make her seem like a bigger deal. I like her urgency here, often looking for the Disarmer so she can get part the formality of wrestling and get on with being The Man. They tease some pretty big spots until Asuka hits a swinging neckbreaker off the apron, which I don’t really get. Why would you do that to yourself?
While the crowd support is for Becky the flow of the match is nicely even with Asuka generally getting the better of the big spots. The match clearly designed to make a point; Asuka is a star too. It’s a very spirited match that feels rushed to start with but instead shapes up as a great back and forth with Asuka going over clean with the Cattle Mutilation. Having to find something new to catch The Man out.
It says a lot about WWE that they’re quite prepared to job out their hottest female act to get other women over but if the genders were reversed they would never do the same thing (Austin, Cena, HHH etc). Great match though and it elevates Asuka that she won clean.
Final Rating: ***3/4
WWE SmackDown Tag Team Title
The Bar (c) vs. The Miz & Shane McMahon
Miz is going with “Miz and Mac” as a team name but I prefer my compound team name ‘The Shiz’.
I cannot abide Shane McMahon. He can’t fathom what anyone gains in working with Shane, who’s a terrible wrestler and insists on going 50-50 with whoever he faces throwing those goddamn awful punches. At least Vince looked jacked. At least Triple H was a decent wrestler. Shane? Looks like someone’s entitled uncle and wrestles like someone who’s really into MMA but hasn’t actually had a fight. His only skill is falling off stuff and even then he’s taking a spot away from one of the boys who could get over with a massive bump.
Shane looks in horrible shape here. He’s all red in the face after taking one bump. At least the Bar work heat on Miz so Shane spends less time in the ring but it’s a boring match. When Shane is in there it’s a bad match because Shane is bad. The one point of hilarity is the Giant Swing where Shane insists on holding one hand at his waist to ensure his shirt doesn’t come untucked and reveal his pasty midrift. Shane even pins Cesaro with a Shooting Star Press. Go to hell, Shane.
Final Rating: *1/2
WWE Raw Women’s Title
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Sasha Banks
This is a relative dream match and one I thought they’d spend longer building to but Rousey is apparently taking time off after Mania to start a family. The result is a relatively rushed build and giving Rousey her last major challenge before the inevitable showdown with Becky Lynch at WrestleMania.
The news that Rousey is likely to leave WWE has certainly turned her mixed reaction into more heel-ish heat. Which gets significantly greater after Ronda lifts Sasha’s pose. They go right into the money material; after finishes and such with Rousey doing the Three Amigos to mess with Sasha. The weird thing is that Ronda being a jerk actually helps her crowd support because no one likes a white meat babyface. Where Ronda is so good at wrestling is that she throws herself into everything and makes it feel legit, rather than the other issue most rookies suffer from; working too soft.
Tactically the match is really interesting with Sasha goading Ronda into mistakes and then working the arm over. The idea being she’s aiming to upset Ronda by stealing her moves but then set her up for the Banks Statement. While the tactics work for me the execution is a little rough. Sasha has always been a little rough and ready and it’s part of her appeal. Ronda does nail the armbar takedown on the floor. This is the point where Sasha starts to look like an injured animal.
They do make me legitimately bite on possible submissions both ways and Banks plays off her recent wardrobe malfunction by using part of her gear to choke Ronda. Rousey powers out though and hits Piper’s Pit with a bridge for the win. This was great. It was raw and energetic and it played off logic and injuries. A very mature match from Ronda. I’d love to see them go again some time.
I do love Sasha flashing the “Four” at Ronda after the match. If they weren’t trying to get the title off Ronda at Mania I could see Four Horsewomen vs. Four Horsewomen. They have all eight women in the company! Ronda has already beaten Charlotte and Sasha.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Women’s Royal Rumble
#1 is Lacey Evans. You can tell they have every intention of pushing her because she gets a promo. Shame she can’t do a nip up. Or hit her biggest move when anyone is watching. #2 is Natalya. A steady hand to help things stay on track. #3 is Mandy Rose. #4 is Liv Morgan. Jesus, it’s blonde in there. Oh wait, Liv has pink hair now! And gets dumped in a few seconds. “The Riott Squad still has a 66% chance of winning” – Corey Graves breaks down the odds. #5 is Mickie James. She’s another seasoned hand to make sure the match stays on the rails. That said she makes a mess of the stuff with Mandy.
#6 is Ember Moon. She gets the biggest pop so far. #7 is Billie Kay. “I’m not going in” she screeches because she’s waiting for Peyton Royce. It used to be in the rules that you had to enter before the next entrant gets out here but it’s not anymore, I guess. #8 is Nikki Cross. She’s wildly over and a difference maker but she’s so small. #9 is Peyton Royce. #10 is Tamina. She’s the first powerhouse and there’s a lot of wrestlers in the ring. The resultant clear-out does not happen and only Mickie is ejected. Poor choice.
#11 is Xia Li. I’m happy for Xia. She gets to clear a bunch of people out with kicks and it’s pretty clear she’s a better wrestler than half the talent already out here. Albeit on the green side at the moment. #12 is Sarah Logan. The IIconics dump Nikki and that gets a lot of heat. It also shows what WWE really think of Nikki: weird character, not championship material. #13 is Charlotte Flair. The numbers go down a little with her entry with a few extras disappearing (IIconics, Xia, Tamina). #14 is Kairi Sane. Charlotte is definitely the focal point of this match. Like with Ric in 1992 everyone targets Charlotte. Logan eats the Insane Elbow and gets lobbed out.
#15 is Maria Kanellis. I thought she got released? Her screaming “pay attention to me” is telling. Charlotte vs. Lacey seems to be a story WWE want to do due to their similar size and strengths. #16 is Naomi and Mandy is still in there! Not for long! Naomi goes for her Kofi Kingston comeback and jumps to the ring steps so Mandy pulls her off there for the ultimate heel elimination! The officials break that up and therefore miss Lacey Evans getting kicked out by Charlotte (although that’s not the angle as she’s out anyway? Weird).
#17 is Candice LeRae. I’m thrilled for Candice getting to be on PPV. #18 is Alicia Fox. I love Alicia but she’s a complete loon and a very poor wrestler. She does nail some great dropkicks here though. The stupid stuff with Maria where they fight over a hat is uncalled for. #19 is Kacy Catanzaro. #20 is Zelina Vega. She’s another titch. They have a throwback with Zelina vs. Candice from NXT. The reaction shows the bulk of people watch NXT. Or at the very least Takeover.
#21 is Ruby Riott and she’s joined by her Riott Squad sisters. The Riotts eliminate a few but Zelina hides under the ring. #22 is Dana Brooke. Meanwhile Ruby is dominating thanks to her outside help. It’s strategically smart. #23 is Io Shirai. She’s also smart and takes out the Riott Squad first. I appreciate when wrestlers pay attention backstage to the theme of the match. #24 is Rhea Ripley. WWE are very high on her. Kacy pulls a ‘my feet didn’t hit the floor’ hand stand walk back to the ring and then crawls up the ring post! Like Naomi she suffers for it. #25 is Sonya Deville.
Zelina gets freaked out from under the ring because Swoggle is under there and Rhea tosses her out. #26 is Alexa Bliss. She’s back after a four month spell out injured and feels like a big star still. Although her lack of firepower is pretty evident when she’s squaring off with some of these other wrestlers. #27 is Bayley. She gets rid of Ruby, who’d gone cold after the Riott Squad got killed and Rhea, who faded after a strong start. Now the big names are out here. #28 is Lana who I could have sworn was eliminated due to her ankle injury. The fact the crowd are chanting “Becky” is palpable to how wise they are to this story. Or how they think it’s playing out.
#29 is Nia Jax. That isn’t popular as she stops off to stomp Lana. Natalya is still out there, breaking the longevity record. So naturally Nia throws her out. #30 is Carmella, as the winner of the Mixed Match Challenge. Some pretty big players left at the end here, compared to some of the nostalgia stuff from last year. And with Lana still down Becky Lynch turns up and says “I’m going in, who’s going to stop me”. Fit Finlay gives her the OK and the reaction is immense. Which is listening to your crowd as she goes to get revenge on Nia. Compare that to the Daniel Bryan absence back in 2015.
Ember manages 53 minutes before Alexa dumps her. That leaves six and they’re all former women’s champions. You could make arguments for all of them winning. Maybe not strong ones but arguments. Bayley and Carmella team up to pitch Alexa out. Carmella gets booted out by Charlotte.
FINAL FOUR: Charlotte Flair, Bayley, Nia Jax & Becky Lynch. Why do these dummies not team up on Jax? Bayley gets dumped when Charlotte big boots Nia and everyone in the ring now hates each other. Charlotte yelling at Nia to “stay out of it” almost sounds like Flair thinks she can throw Nia out at any time. She’s settled into her Queen job nicely. Becky gets revenge by knocking Nia out. Where’s yer facebreaker now, eh? Oh, she takes out Becky’s leg on her way out.
Becky’s refusal to quit and come after the ref’s for trying to declare Charlotte the winner is unreal fire. “You’ve taken enough from me, you’re not taking this”. Charlotte goes to do the big boot on the ropes, which is how she’s eliminated a bunch of people and Becky ducks and wins. It took a while to get there but this was the right outcome and Lynch is going to the main event of WrestleMania.
It might have meant more if she’s not just come off a title shot loss in the opening match but it’s more than that. She wanted the main event of WrestleMania and now she’s got it. It only would have been improved by her calling her shot at Ronda Rousey right here and now but that can happen tomorrow.
Short version: they did a lot right but crucially the match didn’t flow as well as last year and I think everyone was waiting for how they were going to shoehorn Becky Lynch into the match.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Daniel Bryan (c) vs. AJ Styles
The NEW Daniel Bryan has been a revelation. He’s always been a good promo but the NEW Daniel Bryan is cutting angry, impassioned promos. They are rooted in truth too, which is what makes them really killer. He’s turned his hatred of mankind into a hatred of specific members of mankind and, in all honesty, Styles deserves his anger. So does Vince McMahon.
The trouble this match faces is trying to walk a line between Bryan’s character work and the incredible potential for a straight up match. Bryan is willing to sacrifice match quality for storyline and I respect that. If I was watching this live I probably couldn’t deal with how methodical the match is three hours into a PPV, five hours if you count the pre-show. They do a few sequences that show what they’re really capable of so it makes the rest of the match that much more disappointing.
Comms describe the match as “grinding”. If it were two wrestlers less beloved by the crowd they wouldn’t get away with it. The thing is; should they be conditioning fans to expecting slower paced, meticulous character/story/selling driven matches? Or is that time gone? Especially when Bryan goes for the LeBell Lock and all his body part work led to it. Even AJ’s bloody nose. There’s a touch of masterpiece about it. The kick to the arm to stop the Phenomenal Forearm is art.
Then…Eric Rowan? You ever get a collective “huh” from a crowd? Like what on earth is the connection? He’s one of the worst wrestlers on the entire roster. He’s not in any way deserving of a main event connection. They do a naff ref bump and Rowan lays out AJ for Bryan to get the cheap pin. So, to recap; 1. Sluggish match. 2. Masterful build. 3. Bad finish.
Final Rating: **3/4
WWE Universal Championship
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Finn Balor
The idea here is that Lesnar has beaten everyone so why not give a shot to an underdog like Balor? He can’t do any worse than Braun or Reigns or Cena.
Balor brings a different set of skills to anything any of those guys has. His sudden bursts of offence, which are suitably high impact, keep Brock off guard early doors but all Lesnar needs to do is grab Balor and throw him and it’s a game changer. Brock hitting his groin on the announce table has me chuckling. “Football in the groin, football in the groin!”
They play it as Balor exposing Lesnar’s Achilles heel, the midsection that troubled him with diverticulitis. It’s a good solid storyline with Brock hurting himself throwing Finn around. It takes Lesnar’s A-game away from him and does Lesnar have a Plan B? Anyone hoping to beat Lesnar should be watching and taking notes.
They almost have me with the Coup de Grace but Lesnar counters the pin into the kimura for the submission. There was no way for the smaller Balor to escape. The great thing about this match is they found a way to tell the story without resorting to something unrealistic. Basing the match on Lesnar’s real life issues and Finn’s cold logic almost won him a famous victory. I really enjoyed this.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Men’s Royal Rumble
JBL and Jerry Lawler grace us with their presence here. #1 is Elias, so he can sing a song. I could seriously live without him gassing for ages when the show is already six hours long. #2 is Jeff Jarrett. You what mate?
J-E-DOUBLE F. J-A-DOUBLE R-E-DOUBLE T. Ain’t he great? No. Certainly not now. He’s 51 and basically retired. He can’t even sing! Someone start the timer! Get someone else out here. Hearing Lawler recycling his jokes from 20 years ago is pretty irritating. I didn’t like them in the first place. Jarrett gets El Kabong and is thrown out. This is the greatest royal rumble.
#3 is Shinsuke Nakamura. My word the last year hasn’t been kind to him. He was on the brink 12 months ago and then s*** the bed at Mania with AJ. #4 is Kurt Angle. I do like nostalgia entries even if Kurt has been wrestling now and again over the past year. He nearly kills Elias with an overhead suplex here though and should probably consider not doing that again. #5 is Big E. His first order of business is showing Kurt Angle how to throw a suplex. Nakamura gets rid of Angle as revenge for New Japan for his work in that company.
#6 is Johnny Gargano! Arguably the best wrestler WWE currently have. #7 is Jinder Mahal. Gargano kicks him straight out. #8 is Samoa Joe making his Rumble debut. #9 is Curt Hawkins. 0-256 coming in. He opts for the Zelina Vega/Hornswoggle/Jerry Lawler hide under the ring approach. #10 is Seth Rollins. There are some heavy hitters in there early doors.
#11 is Titus O’Neil. He gets a huge pop for not falling over. Some people have a low bar for success. Hawkins eliminates him. 1-256? Then Joe throws him out. 1-257. Joe, Rollins, Nakamura and Gargano. What a foursome that is. #12 is Kofi Kingston. #13 is Mustafa Ali. He dropkicks Nakamura, last year’s winner, out. “A long fall for the US champion” – Corey Graves. I’ll say. Quite the downer for him.
#14 is Dean Ambrose. Kofi’s magic escape this year involves him walking along the apron upside down to the ring steps. Sad to see Ambrose treat Gargano like trash. #15 is No Way Jose. Joe clotheslines him straight out while the conga line is still going on. #16 is Drew McIntyre. Drew kills the conga line. Claymores all round!
#17 is Xavier Woods. He saves Kofi who hadn’t hit with both feet and Woods walks him back into the ring. Then Drew eliminates them both. Good. #18 is Pete Dunne! Pete in the Rumble. It had to happen sooner or later but seeing him in there is pretty surreal. I once had a chat with him about Acocks Green. I was quite drunk. #19 is Andrade. #20 is Apollo Crews and the crowd goes mild. Lovely guy, incredible athlete, no personality.
The match feels quite sluggish at this point. Nobody is doing anything or focusing on anyone. #21 is Aleister Black. I always said he was best suited to WWE and they’ve done a great job of focusing what makes him good. Black Mass puts Dean out! Holy s***, that was awesome! #22 is Shelton Benjamin. Ali chucks Joe out!!!. That’s a great capper on their storyline that’s been running a few weeks. Until he gets murdered again on Smackdown.
#23 is Baron Corbin. #24 is Jeff Hardy. Black again looks terrific, popping his finger back in after Pete breaks it and Corbin dumps him. Corbin? What? Claymore gets rid of Pete. #25 is Rey Mysterio. #26 is Bobby Lashley. He falls out immediately and Lashley decides to take out his misfortune on Seth Rollins and tables him. #27 is Braun Strowman. The purpose of Seth dying now clear as Strowman can clear everyone out and leave Rollins unaffected. His rampage is limited to Corbin, Shelton and Hardy to my surprise.
#28 is Dolph Ziggler and he dumps McIntyre to get revenge for their break-up. It was a rubbish tag team. #29 is Randy Orton. #30 is R-Truth. Nia Jax lays him out! NIA JAX is #30? Are you kidding me? She’s the fourth ever woman to compete in the men’s royal rumble. The crowd is hot for that Nia vs. Orton feud. Book it for Mania, Vince! Ziggler gets a huge pop for nailing her with a superkick. Oh man, are we saying this is okay now? What a weird turn of events. My only major concern is that Nia is a heel and gets a lot of love for this.
FINAL FOUR: Andrade, Dolph Ziggler, Braun Strowman and Seth Rollins. With Braun and Seth down outside the ring it briefly looks like Andrade vs. Ziggler will be for all the marbles. Imagine getting drunk at this show and thinking that’s the final two? Or being Jerry Lawler. Same thing. Braun gets triple teamed but chucks Andrade out and then both the others pull the miracle escape. Dolph dies. They do the Benoit/Big Show finish but with a twist. Braun recovering only to get Curb Stomped out.
Final Rating: ***1/2
This was a pretty consistently enjoyable show, if way too long at 5 hours (7 hours including pre-show). The length of the show will always hurt the crowd and 5 hours is an insane amount of time to expect people to stay focused and engaged.
The two Rumbles were both decent but better last year. I’d question the need for the Rowan angle but I guess we’ll let that one play out. Obviously the Shane tag match was bad but drop those two matches off and you should have a nice time watching this back.
Takeover was better. I watched Takeover twice and it didn’t feel this long. Props to Becky Lynch here for having MOTN and then winning the Rumble too. A true Ace.
For more reviews from Arnold Furious check out his archive of work over at RearViewReviews