It was Mike Love of the Beach Boys who is famously attributed to the quote "don't f*** with the formula".The Royal Rumble is an event that goes back 30 years and while it has seen some minor changes and has proven to be one of the more popular events on the WWE calendar for generations. This year, however, the WWE... not sure if you heard... made history by having the first ever women's Royal Rumble on the same card -- not only that but it was the closing main event of the show. You don't need to wait until the end of the column to see that I thought this PPV was a complete success in the end. The response to this event was overwhelmingly positive. On the NoDQ.com poll 22% of fans gave this event an A+, 23% gave it an A, 13% gave it an A-. So 58% gave it an 'A' grade pretty much. Another perspective the Solomonster Twitter poll gave it 92% thumbs up. So, yeah I'm not spoiling anything by saying it was a good show in the open, but let's get to the review.
AJ Styles does what he does best:
The main portion of the show began with the WWE Championship match. In WWE many fans wondered how AJ Styles would do on the mic, since to be a top guy in WWE you need to be a promo guy (unless your name rhymes with Crock Cresner) and I think most fans would say AJ's promo work exceeded expectations and has done well in WWE in that regard. Then this past month WWE tried sprinkling the bad comedy dust on him, ya know the same dust they sprinkled on guys like Goldberg and Roman Reigns before the crowd turned on them with this "Kami" bullshit and the lame fat jokes to Kevin Owens. Ugh... come on WWE... Can't help yourselves can you?
Ric Flair on the pre-show said AJ Styles is the HBK of this generation and here, once the bell rang, there's no hokey comedy just pure talent. The match ended in a bit of controversy which will probably just continue to be a filler angle to get through February, but I as all of you should expect AJ Styles to hold on to this belt going into Wrestlemania.
The Men's Royal Rumble Match:
Aaron Rift said on his Royal Rumble live review that this was probably the best Rumble match since the time Chris Benoit won in 2004 and I pretty much agree. As much as the fans love the Rumble, the 2010's has not been great for the match. The 40 man Rumble was a Royal Clusterfukk. A few Rumbles with WWE's tone-deaf booking on full display. Triple H winning in 2016... I mean come on... 2016? The crowd would have gladly accepted a Dean Ambrose vs Roman Reigns Wrestlemania that year but... whatever. Why build the stars of tomorrow when HHH can mark out for himself on another Wrestlemania poster. This year with a buzzing crowd looking at the final three of Roman Reigns, John Cena and Shinsuke Nakamura the WWE did the right thing and gave the win to the superstar who has the most to gain by going over. Roman is going to wrestle Brock anyway. John Cena is John Cena. WWE is smart to give the fans AJ vs Nakamura at Wrestlemania. It's a big (and long) show. In this era you need pure contests like these to get fans excited. Sure, hot angles and characters sell matches, but in 2018 great wrestling is as much a selling point as anything else. Wrestling fans like great wrestling matches... I know, crazy.
The returns were cool, too. They didn't cheap it out by throwing in the same old guys. They didn't have Jerry Lawler run in. They didn't have anyone from commentary run in. They didn't just bring out a guy who works backstage already to get dumped out of the match in 30 seconds. We got "The Hurricane" Shane Helms for the first time in about 8 years and the return of Rey Mysterio. Rey entered the match to make his first WWE appearance since his 2015 departure that ended a 13 year run with the company. Right now, Rey's return has over 2.5 million views on YouTube, which is more than anyone else. Rey was at the time the WWE biggest Hispanic star and they've tried many times, pretty much with 2 Sin Cara's and a Kalisto to replace Rey but all the flips didn't get the fans to give two shits. Rey's charisma couldn't be replaced and you can slap a mask on any Mexican-American dude and it doesn't matter. The fans liked Rey who was always popular with kids as well. He still is. Whenever I'm around kids or at a birthday party and they like wrestling I always ask who their favorites are and Rey always comes up. I did a live stream on Twitter a couple months back where my friend's 10 year old nephew was talking about wrestling and his said his favorites were Hulk Hogan and Rey Mysterio. So, yeah the guy's popular and he also looked to be in great shape. I guess he got off the "WWE diet" because he looked more lean which is much better for his style. I never understood why he bulked up in the first place, maybe to sustain top card favors by WWE, I don't know but he looked quick out there and the Rey I remember from his later WWE run did not look that good.
The Women's Royal Rumble Match:
Call it a success. At the top I mentioned "the formula" well, WWE didn't really f*** with the formula too much. The women's Rumble match was a lot like the men's. There were 30 competitors. There were returning legends and surprises and a comedy spot which... while I'm sure looked good on paper, I could have done without. Vickie Guerrero (not her name anymore but whatever) came out and did her "EXCUSE ME!" shtick. I guess it was harmless and it's okay to have a break like that in a serious match. Good for Vickie I guess who will be turning 50 in a few months.
The returns were memorable... Again Torrie Wilson at 42 looks 22. I know WWE always says someone "never looked better" when they are in their 40's but I'm not sure in the literal sense if that applies to Torrie... she doesn't look "better" she looks THE SAME! The more I go back and look at her I just can't believe it. Don't let that distract you from the fact that Molly Holly's hips looked as good as ever, too though so shout-out to Molly. There was also a fun call-back in the match to the memorable Trish Stratus and Mickie James feud and it appeared Trish also made a call-back to the not so PG days of WWE. Specifically Wrestlemania 22 when during their match Mickie grabbed Trish's crotch to counter out of a hold and then taunted the crowd by V-tongue-ing to the camera. Yeah... You're not seeing that today, fellas.
As predicted in Planet Kayfabe and by many others I'm sure, Asuka was your winner keeping her undefeated streak alive and this really was the right choice. You don't want to end her streak like this and you don't want to cheapen the streak by saying "she only hasn't lost singles matches" or something. So congratulations to Asuka for winning the first ever women's Royal Rumble match.
"Rowdy" Ronda Rousey Comes to WWE:
Ronda Rousey (no silent 'h' in the name so don't tell me it's a typo, you're the wrong one) made her Royal Rumble appearance just when you thought she wasn't going to be there. After the celebration was over "Bad Reputation" by Joan Jett hit the arena (shout out to Pat the NES Punk even though he f***ing blocked me for some stupid bullshit... Still a fan. Someone tweet him this column and bug him to unblock me @PlanetKayfabe If he does I'll build a Church out of NES Guidebooks okay?) Ronda Rousey appeared in "Rowdy" Roddy Piper inspired attire including Roddy's own leather jacket. The return (or debut, whatever you want to call it) happened and while Stephanie McMahon couldn't have sounded less interested (more on that later, I assure you). She came out and awkwardly pointed at the Wrestlemania sign which is funny that WWE can take a special persona like her and make her like everyone else.
QUICK! TO THE WWE HOMOGENIZER!
I could have done without that. The moment could have been better. Actually the only reason this was in "the good" portion is because this will probably be a good business move. This moment wasn't that great. The pointing was awkward. Good business or not it did take away from the finish of the match that IMMEDIATELY went on the back burner. The crowd most reacted just when she stood there staring at the other women. When she pointed at the sign it was like... yeah, no shit you're going to be at Wrestlemania is this how you get booked? To be in the Rumble you have to declare yourself in the match on TV or on Twitter, to get booked at Wrestlemania you have to point at the sign in the arena. Well, there ya go. The show ended with her shaking hands with Stephanie McMahon who appeared to do so reluctantly and Ronda waved to the Philly fans to close the show. I guess we will find out more on Raw. With reports that she's signing a full-time contract it doesn't seem like we will have another Brock Lesnar here, which is good because I think most fans are sick and tired of part timers waltzing in only on big PPV's for big pay days and taking more attention away from the full-time talent who just come off as a bunch of geeks... Speaking of... Let's get to the fun part...
Dolph Ziggler, another return; another fail:
In my preview column I said if Dolph was the one to answer Bobby Roode's UP Open Challenge after he had already dropped the title and (kayfabe) exited the WWE then it would just further geek-ify Dolph Ziggler. Well, tonight the WWE did the next best thing. The #30 spot in the Royal Rumble is always met with the most anticipation and as I thought out came Dolph Ziggler at #30 to a very mild reaction considering he's been off TV for a while. He dropped the US title, cut this big promo, left WWE and made his calculated return at the Royal Rumble... just to be eliminated in about a minute and a half. At #30 he didn't even make it to the final four. What a f***ing geek.
This is Ziggler's WWE career in a nutshell, really and it seems the fans have reached their tipping point. Actually they reached it a while back. It's been a long time since I've seen a "PUSH ZIGGLER" sign in the crowd and here his return barely got a pop and it's pretty much the easiest way to get a pop. So where do they go with Dolph? He dropped a title belt to be eliminated in short order at the Royal Rumble. At Wrestlemania he'll probably just be another pretty little worker bee inside a multi-man ladder match or the Andre 'The Giant' Battle Royal. It's pretty much done for him. This was his last chance to be taken seriously by the fans and the WWE never saw him as that guy and it's clear that they still don't. Dude, I know it's easy for me to sit here and say that you should leave the WWE, but there is life outside of WWE. While you're still somewhat young take your talents elsewhere if you think you deserve better unless you're just happy being just another guy then I don't want to hear another interview about WWE dropping the ball with you. Eventually you have to take matters into your own hands like Cody Rhodes did who may be the exception to the rule. Guys like Jack Swagger and Ryback also left WWE as disgruntled employees and didn't exactly light up the indy scene, but I think there's room for Dolph Ziggler out there and he better move quickly or else this is his legacy in pro-wrestling. Just being a mid-card purgatory GEEK!
Stephanie McMahon on commentary:
You knew this was coming in my review probably a week before the show started, but probably not for the reason you or myself may have figured. I thought with Stephanie at ringside the match would have been an hour long stroke of Stephanie's ego, which there was some of but it was minimal. Michael Cole saying Stephanie won't give herself credit for the "Women's Evolution" had to be a f***ing rib. If so, I take back every bad thing I ever said about Michael Cole.
No, Stephanie didn't stroke her ego. Actually she didn't do much of anything. She put the cans on and pretty much interjected random monotone comments on the match with about as little emotion as possible. On Twitter I asked who was worse on commentary, Shane McMahon in the late 90's or Stephanie McMahon here. Both were bad but for different reasons. Shane couldn't control himself. He only had one setting and that was with the volume on 10 and he would just randomly shout nonsense during matches. Stephanie turned her volume down to about 1, which is funny because when she cuts promos she's usually very loud and over-the-top. I thought she was going to pass out like JR and King this past Monday.
When Ronda Rousey came out, I don't know if she was trying to sell shock with her silence but it didn't come off well on TV. It came off like the commentary booth didn't even give a shit. Stephanie should have been freaking out. Instead she just... watched. If the point of Stephanie being out there was to set up an angle with Ronda she sure did a shit job putting it over.
The body of the show had zero heat:
Like I said in an earlier column, I was worried about having two Rumble matches on one card killing the crowd and it pretty much did. After the men's match, fans rushed to the bathrooms and saved their energy for the main event. The result saw fans not really showing much interest in the Tag Team Championship match or the Universal Championship match. Neither were that great, but still, the matches had no heat at all because this show is all about asking fans to sit through two hour-long matches on one card. If they're indeed keeping this format going forward and not going with a separate women's PPV to have their Rumble match take place at, then they have to be careful with how they book these shows. Perhaps this was about as good as they could have expected but hearing fans show no interest in title matches is not a good look.
Some of the blame goes on the overall presentation. I mean come on for as much as they're paying Brock his stock has fallen a bit this past year. His returns don't gather the same hype that they used to. Jason Jordan, while he can get boos doesn't really get a ton of heat, if you understand the difference. For as talented as he is between the bells there's always a lot of silence during his matches and sometimes 'boring' chants when they run too long. The Bar is what they are. It's an act that is... kinda... but not really that over. In the Universal title match everyone knew Kane was just there to eat a pin and Brock was going to win even though Strowman is the current hot hand. These matches didn't really interest me either, so couple that with following a great hour + long Royal Rumble match it's no surprise these matches weren't over at all.
There's my thoughts on the 2018 Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View. There isn't much bad to say so I give the event an A. It checked a lot of boxed. They got the women's Rumble match over. They had some fun returns in both matches. The matches in-between were fine, but... just fine. The Ronda thing isn't as much as a slam dunk as some people think it is. I think right now it is 2 years past her peak relevance and she should have done more around Wrestlemania 31 to really get the most out of her. Say what you want about her being a big name, but timing is everything and right now WWE is catching the tail end of her popularity. If Sports Center talks about it... so what? Who the f*** watches Sports Center anymore? Otherwise... the WWE Championship was probably a 3 star match but the other non-Rumble matches weren't as good. Everyone who should have went over (except Braun) went over and the fans went home happy.
Thanks for reading this edition of Planet Kayfabe. As always I welcome your thoughts so leave a comment below. Share this. Follow me on Twitter @PlanetKayfabe where I always interact in conversations during the shows. You're welcome to join the fun. This should be it for January, see you in February where we get into the thick of Wrestlemania season.
Until then, I'm Paul Matthews for NoDQ.com See you next time.