Squeezed in between, one of the few times a WWE main-roster pay-per-view from Philadelphia truly rated at a high level. In fact, in my personal opinion, the only two Philly WWE PPVs that achieved greatness were Money in the Bank 2013, and this, the 2018 Royal Rumble. That this took place in the same building as the 2015 disaster felt like a redemption story of sorts.
There were logistical questions as to whether or not a show could house two hour-long Rumble matches without burning out the crowd. After an excellent men's Rumble (the best since 2010), the women's main event did very well for itself, and was truly a seminal moment for the company, even if people couldn't get over Ronda Rousey's headline-grabbing moment in the final scene. Ahh well, can't please everyone - least of all, wrestling fans.
10. On The Cutting Room Floor
Kickoff matches included, the 2018 Royal Rumble boasted a grand total of nine matches, six of which would air on the PPV telecast, and two of those, as noted, fixing to hover around the hour mark. There were also two other bouts that were planned to take place at the Rumble, before changes would be made.
One was a Cruiserweight title match pitting Enzo Amore against Cedric Alexander. However, less than a week before the event, Amore was fired from the company after it was revealed that he was subject of a sexual assault investigation. The other cancelled match has a less troubling backstory, as the Rumble was originally going to play host for the final round of the US Title tournament. Instead, WWE chose to move the finals up two weeks to a SmackDown episode, where Bobby Roode went over Jinder Mahal to win the belt.
9. Just Pick One
The US Title would be involved with the show, as new champion Bobby Roode would issue an open challenge on the Kickoff portion of the card. Answering said challenge was Mojo Rawley, to the delight of at least one strappingly-handsome Cultaholic admin who shall otherwise remain nameless. Rawley, as it turns out, was not the original choice of patsy for Roode to get a win over.
Originally, NXT top guy Adam Cole was supposed to get the spot. Plans would change when it was decided that it wasn't wise to just have one of NXT's most important talents lose a throwaway title match on a Kickoff show. There were also rumours that Dolph Ziggler (who vacated the belt for reasons) was considered to put into the match with Roode, to try and win back a belt he didn't want, I guess. For what the match ultimately meant, Rawley was a fine choice.
8. Golden Gatecrasher
The PPV kicked off with AJ Styles defending his WWE Championship in a handicap match against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. While nobody will sneeze at the talent on display, it was a bit off-putting see Styles, holder of WWE's most storied belt, working the opener. Throughout his reign (which passed one year), he only worked two PPV main events: Clash of Champions against Jinder Mahal, and Fastlane in a six-way.
More telling, it marked the first time that a WWE Title match opened up a Royal Rumble, or any Big Four PPV. The belt had been contested in Elimination Chamber openers before, but a Royal Rumble? It's just another reason why Styles' one-year reason isn't exactly celebrated as a hallmark run in pro wrestling's annals.
7. NXT Men Up
While recent Royal Rumble matches have been maligned in their choices of winner, or just for general staleness of the dominant big guns, the 2018 men's match would earn high praise. The combination of surprises, clever spots, exciting action, and true drama in the closing stages, made for honestly one of the better Rumble matches in the event's history.
There was also a great sense of newness with the match, as there were six first-timers, four of whom would hold singles gold in NXT. Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor, Andrade "Cien" Almas, and Adam Cole would join a former NXT Tag Team champion (Aiden English) and a ridiculed NXTer-turned-colorful WWE star (Elias) in making up one of the better Rumble debut classes in history. Balor and Nakamura were both also part of the final four, making this the eighth men's Rumble in which two or more first-timers made the final four.
6. Just A Bit Short
The entire lengthy final four sequence was well-crafted, and expertly carried out by the men inside the ring. The Philly crowd maligned reinforced company choices Roman Reigns and John Cena while pulling hard for fresher marvels in Nakamura and Balor. Reigns and Cena even took to a bit of subtle heel mannerisms and tics to get more heat, so that when Nakamura pulled it out, the elation would be explosive.
Reigns was the one who bit the bullet at the end, making him the first person to be the Rumble runner-up on three occasions. Cena, Big Show, Triple H, and Shawn Michaels each had done it twice, with Reigns (who came in second in 2014 and 2017) passing them here. If it's any consolation to Reigns, he became the first man to reach five consecutive final fours with his run here.
5. Teeny Bopper
Nakamura, who entered at number 14, would make a pretty strong run through the field, lasting a shade under 45 minutes en route to victory. He took Sami Zayn out of the fray earlier on, before gaining two more eliminations at the end in Cena and Reigns. And like Cena and Reigns, Nakamura is able to share with them a rare feat.
Nakamura became only the fifth man to win the Rumble match from a number in the teens. He follows Hacksaw Jim Duggan (13 in 1988), Shawn Michaels (18 in 1996), Cena (19 in 2013), and Reigns (19 in 2015). Weird that there have been more winners from numbers one through eight (seven overall) than there have been in the more-promising teen numbers. But let's not ruin wrestling with our sense of logic.
4. Handle With Care
The Tag Team title match that followed the men's Rumble, pitting Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan against Cesaro and Sheamus, couldn't have had a deader crowd. Following such an enthralling spectacle was damn near impossible, and even with some of the best athletes in the company involved, it wasn't ending the permeating coma inside the arena.
The match is notable for being, so far, Jordan's most recent match, and could be his last ever. Jordan was taken out early after hitting his head against the post, which was done because Jordan wasn't able to do much due to a neck injury. The Wrestling Observer noted that Jordan was struggling with his grip as a result of the injury, and he would be quickly written off the program. In his time out of the ring, Jordan underwent successful surgery, and began helping out WWE in a backstage capacity.
3. Getting Your Attention
The Universal title match between Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman, and Kane lacked the energy and pizzazz of prior multi-man hoss battles (namely the Lesnar/Strowman/Reigns/Samoa Joe all-timer from the prior SummerSlam), but it wasn't a complete dud. If nothing else, the match gave us a pretty sobering reminder of how quickly a work can briefly turn into a shoot.
At one juncture in the match, Strowman threw a hard knee at Lesnar's head, which Brock took as to be a wee bit excessive. The very dangerous champion immediately unloaded with a pretty swift retaliatory punch, and can audibly be heard saying "slow the f**k down." Even if you were the size of Braun Strowman, essentially a two-story brownstone with a beard, you're probably better off doing what the former UFC Heavyweight Champion tells you to.
2. Legend Status
The women's Rumble match is pretty hard to give a grade to. On the one hand, it was entertaining with some clever moments, and the guest entries did add to the spectacle. There were some clunky moments (the high number of "clean house" spots where the women rolled outside so they could get instructions from the refs, which felt a bit excessive), but overall it was pretty good for the women's first go at the match.
What's a bit interesting is the disparity in eliminations. Officially, there 20 Raw/SmackDown/NXT entries and 10 female stars of yesteryear, and it seemed like the earlier-era women looked stronger throughout. Six out of the 10 were part of at least one elimination each (Michelle McCool made five), while 10 of the 20 modern-era competitors didn't make any eliminations at all. Nikki Bella was technically a SmackDown rep, though should really have been counted among the free agents, and she made four eliminations. The nine "full-time" SmackDown women combined for seven eliminations, with six of those women not making any. Seemed like a little too much revelry in nostalgia.
1. Air Armbar
Yes, Ronda Rousey's sign-pointing game isn't as sharp as some of her locker room peers. No, I didn't think her debut pulled the rug out from under Asuka's big moment. Given that Rousey was one of the absolute biggest stars under the roof that night in Philadelphia, debuting her in grand fashion as the go-home shot was a must. Loathe her if you must, but she's been an absolute gem inside the ring since.
And Rousey made quite a trip just to appear that evening at the Rumble. "Rowdy Ronda" was in Colombia filming the Mark Wahlberg action movie Mile 22, and made the five-plus-hour flight just to take part in that short debut angle. Shortly after appearing before the cameras, Rousey was chartered back to Colombia to resume filming. When production wrapped weeks later, she was off to Orlando to begin training at the Performance Center, getting ready for her WrestleMania debut that would shatter all expectations.