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I don't really believe in rating the Royal Rumble match and comparing it to other, traditional matches, so instead I'll provide a bullet point of notes I made during the match:
- Orton winning was something that smart money shifted towards at the end of the week. While an Orton victory is better than some other alternatives, I don't really understand what it really does. Right now it would mean Cena is going to defend the WWE Championship against Orton at WrestleMania, which is a match they really can't do anymore. The rumor mill seems to think Bray Wyatt is going to be involved in the world title picture, which is why Orton won. But Wyatt for now is at least feuding with Luke Harper. With the Elimination Chamber match still standing in the way of the WWE Champion and WrestleMania anything can happen, so it is hard to project what Orton winning really means for WrestleMania.
- Obviously Reigns coming out at #30 was a huge letdown. As a fan I, like many of you, were thinking about hypothetical #30s. Could it be Samoa Joe? Kurt Angle? Finn Balor? No, it was probably the worst person they could have chosen, to the point that it seemed like WWE had to turn Reigns heel because of how the move seemed to intentionally piss off the live crowd. Eliminating The Undertaker is also not going to do him any favors in the babyface department. In my preview of the Royal Rumble match, I thought about a hypothetical heel turn for Reigns and a feud with The Undertaker. That could still happen and they definitely teased it tonight, but as crazy as it seems I still think WWE is keeping Reigns a babyface. He is going to work with Strowman following the results from of the Universal Championship match, and the Royal Rumble match ended with him matched up against two guys from a heel stable. I don't think it is the right move but at this point it seems that WWE takes delight in frustrating their own fanbase.
- Goldberg making short work of Lesnar again was another bold move. On one hand, it wasn't something a lot of people predicted and the pop was enormous. On the other, it made Lesnar look like an idiot for apparently lifting Ronda Rousey's strategy for her fight against Amanda Nunes (dumbly run straight ahead, get rocked by opponent) and makes a match against Goldberg seem almost unnecessary, what else does Goldberg need to prove? Logically that makes sense, but wrestling doesn't always logically make sense. The crowd popped huge for Goldberg and Lesnar and despite the strange booking, I think they will really pop for a match between the two.
- One of the big question marks I have coming from the Royal Rumble is what happened with Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe. Rollins became the first person in wrestling history to have been successfully banned from a building for a night. Rollins waiting for Triple H to show up has caused him to slowly build steam, and although he regained some of that by surprising Triple H at TakeOver, him not showing up at all on the second biggest show of the year is another blow for him to overcome. For Samoa Joe, he had nothing to do at TakeOver, so it seemed obvious he was done with NXT and headed to the main roster, but still did not appear tonight. Even if he shows up tomorrow on RAW, there is no good reason to not have him come out as a surprise entrant tonight.
- I like how WWE had to fill the ring early with guys like MoJo Rawley and Kalisto and Jack Gallagher. WWE had to fill the ring up with guys who had no chance of winning so when Goldberg and Lesnar came out they needed to have ample fodder.
Strowman was the star of the beginning of the match and looked really good for most of his time in the ring. I thought it was a given that Reigns would interfere and cost Strowman the match, but instead they let Baron Corbin of all people get the money spot by knocking him out of the ring. I'd like to hear the thinking behind keeping Reigns out of the Rumble match, because it seemed like such an obvious thing to do.
- They nailed Tye Dillinger coming in at 10, which they really had to because the crowd was going to crap on whoever else they chose. I'm not sure if he is going to be up full-time, but he would be a nice addition to SmackDown if he were to leave NXT.
John Cena vs AJ Styles: ****½
Awesome match, exactly what people have come to expect in big matches between Styles and Cena. The storytelling was really good for most of the match, highlighting what makes each guy successful in WWE; Cena for his strength and determination, Styles for his technique and agility. It is funny because of his experience in other companies, but Styles is really the perfect wrestler for WWE's current in-ring style, focused on conservative pacing and various high-impact moves. Cena has long shed the idea that he is a bad worker in the ring, he's had countless 4+ star matches.
My opinion on the match is going to come down to a wedge issue and that is while it was great, what prevents it from being a five star match or a true MOTY contender is that the finishing sequence to major Cena matches has become too predictable. One guy hits a big move, the other guy kicks out and immediately hits hits a big move, then the a cover and another kick-out, repeat. No matter what type of finisher is hit, it always feels to me like a kick-out is coming which damages the psychology of the match. Of course, it feels like I'm in the minority because the crowd was going crazy for every near-fall so I can't dock the match that much. Plenty of people enjoy that style of match and that is perfect fine.
Cena winning the title for the 16th time makes me think that they are going in the direction that will lead to Cena losing the title somewhere between now and WrestleMania and winning his 17th championship at WrestleMania.
Kevin Owens vs Roman Reigns: ***½
This was a fine match that went a long-time. One of the things about having a four-hour show with only five matches is that each match was going to have a lot of time to tell a story. The entire match basically consisted of a chair shots, table spots and brawling around the ring. This is the formula that WWE has utilized for a lot of Reigns' matches over the last year, probably because it brings out the best of his skillset. Owens was super in the match and unsurprisingly took a majority of the big bumps in the match.
Strowman interfering in the match and costing Reigns was a bit of a curveball. On Friday I wrote that the result of this match didn't really matter, because at the end of the day we all knew that Reigns was going to be the Universal Champion when WrestleMania went off the air. Now, though that might not be the case--it looks like WrestleMania will have Reigns taking on Strowman, which is probably not going to be a world title match. God help the fans who are going to have to watch that match, but it means that Reigns is going to not be in the world title picture at WrestleMania, which of course opened up more possibilities for what was to happen later in the night.
Charlotte vs Bayley: ***
A good match to open the show; Bayley in the ring hasn't looked like her NXT-self since she came up to the main roster, but she got some of her mojo back here and looked good in the ring for the most part. They did some difficult spots, particularly Charlotte's Natural Selection off the turnbuckle and onto the apron, that was an excellent spot that took a lot of skill to pull off. My only real qualm with the match was that the finish painted a very clear picture: Charlotte is better than Bayley and she beat her right in the middle of the ring. What is Bayley's reason for getting another match against Charlotte? Charlotte spent the entire buildup to the match telling everyone Bayley wasn't on her level, and she was right. I think a better way to book the match was to have Bayley overwhelm Charlotte and be right on the verge of victory, only for Charlotte to roll Bayley up for a cheap win. Wouldn't that generate more interest in Bayley and give her a better reason for a rematch?
Neville vs Rich Swann: **½
I liked the direction of the match, with a solid video package to start and both guys displaying their athleticism. One of the ways the Cruiserweight division is going to succeed is for the matches to look different than any other match in the company. There were some good matches on this PPV but there wasn't anything quite like the athleticism showcased here. I didn't care much for the finish though, it was a classic WWE TV match in that the wrestler wins the match seemingly out of nowhere and with little build-up. If they had gotten a little bit more time and given Neville a little bit more time to work on Swann, have him work the shoulder to set up his submission finish, the match would have been a bit better.
NXT Takeover Review:
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Bobby Roode: ****
The match started off a little slow but built well towards the end and the finishing sequence was really well-done. Nakamura did a great job selling the knee injury and Roode's intensity indicated the magnitude of the match. At first I thought they were taking too long with the doctor's evaluation, but when Roode came over and immediately hit the DDT and the crowd went crazy, it was a very effective way to tell the story. Roode will be a strong champion for NXT and probably should be a babyface pretty soon; Nakamura should obviously be a main eventer on the main roster.
The story in the match was the same as the reality: Asuka is so much better than everyone else in the division. The reason for the fatal four way was that it gave WWE a way to take the title off of Asuka without having to pin her, which wouldn't damage her as she heads up to RAW or SmackDown. Instead, Asuka just buzzsawed through everyone and won the match; which really makes it more difficult to envision anyone taking the title off of her ever. Part of the reason for that is because Asuka is clearly such a better worker than everyone else in the division. It isn't really a knock on Storm, Royce, or Kay, but if you just watch them each deliver their offense, it's obvious to even the newest fan that Asuka is the queen of the division. At this point they might as well just have Asuka vacate the title and head up to the main roster - nobody is really benefiting from her being in Orlando.
Team DIY vs Authors of Pain: ***¾
Everyone knows that Ciampa and Gargano are great workers and their matches against The Revival cemented their status as two of the biggest stars in NXT. The Authors of Pain, up until this match at least, were recognized as two big physical guys that have potential but are not ready for a major role in the company. However, while working with Team DIY, The Authors of Pain looked like superstars. Akam and Rezar looked great in this match and have clearly come along way during their short time on NXT TV. Ciampa and Gargano are already good enough to be on the main roster, so hopefully their short title reign is a sign they are headed up soon.
Roderick Strong vs Cien Almas: ***¼
Strong is just an unbelievable worker inside the ring, I don't know of anyone else in wrestling whose offense looks quite as good as Strongs. He isn't charismatic and because of that he will never the kind of respect he deserves, but he is as good as anybody in wrestling and has been for a while now. Almas looked better than he has in the past and for a guy that exhibited such talent in Mexico, it might just be a matter of time before he really finds his stride in WWE.
Tye Dillinger vs Eric Young: ***
Good match to open the show, Young has always done such a good job in the roles that he has been put it, a versatile performer that has thrown himself into a lot of different characters over the years. Dillinger is an interesting talent; unlike almost everyone else that is really over in NXT, he wasn't brought in as a top indie talent that had certain expectations set for him. Instead he had a slow climb, kept improving in the ring and hit on a money gimmick/catchphrase that got super over with the audience and now looks like a future superstar. I don't know how well his popularity will translate onto the main roster, but he has earned the right to take a good shot.