After a year of reverting back to having two January Premium Live Events, things reverted back to the norm of the Royal Rumble being the first PLE of the year. Day 1 was a fun enough show last year but it ultimately proved to be unnecessary, was hurt by last minute absences, and had some results that really gummed up the works afterwards. One PLE in January is all we need for real.

Men’s Rumble Match

One half of a perfectly bookended show, this was a thousand percent improvement over last year’s Men’s Rumble disaster and one of the best Rumbles ever. From the perfect start with Gunther and Sheamus at 1 and 2 through the end with Gunther and winner Cody Rhodes it was chock full of big fights, big entrances, and spectacular spots. Big Boy Season was back as not just Sheamus and Gunther but Omos, Braun Strowman, Brock Lesnar and many other super heavyweights were here for the match. And the medium sized and smaller guys showed out too as Seth Rollins did well and Logan Paul and Ricochet gave us the spot of the match with their insane midair collision late in the match. It also panted the seeds for new matches (Paul vs Rollins, Gunther vs a lot of guys) and continued some existing programs – Gunther vs Sheamus, Lashley vs Brock, Edge vs Judgement Day. The final two dragged a few minutes longer than needed but otherwise this was everything you could ask for from a Rumble match. Cody winning was the chalk pick, and was a good choice.

Pitch Black Match: Bray Wyatt vs LA Knight

I expected the worst going into this, and to their credit they exceeded that in what I thought was a perfectly fine sprint which was aided by the spooky lighting and all. Had this exact same match happened in a regularly lit arena it would have been pretty dull. This was essentially a no DQ match with a sponsorship tied in, just like the Zombie match from Backlash 2021 which I thought was good fun. As the for the aftermath……well in my book it was doing too much, and I honestly didn’t know what the hell was going on, but if that’s your kind of thing then I’m not gonna argue with you. I’ll file this under ‘could have been so much worse’. This Bray ran, with Uncle Howdy and all, isn’t for me. I’ll let you guys enjoy it but I’m not going to pretend that I think it’s great or anything. LA Knight was the one who made this interesting for me so I’m hoping he survives this thing. If he does then that’s a win in my book.

RAW Women’s Title Match: Bianca Belair (c) vs Alexa Bliss

The questions here were: (a) how spooky was this match gonna get and (b) were we gonna get Maximum Alexa or not when the bell rang. Maximum Alexa has had some very good matches in the past with the Horsewomen and showed a few times during the recent feud vs Damage Control; if we got that then this match had a chance to hit that level. Unfortunately we did not get that here. She wasn’t terrible and I don’t think she mailed it in or anything but thus match wasn’t very good and felt like something you’d put on in the second hour of RAW on a Monday. It ended with a relative whimper after seven minutes and a KOD. And then it was spooky time as Bray beckoned to Bliss to draw her back in to his fold.

Bianca Belair is at a point now where she badly needs another high caliber opponent who has a legit chance of beating her. She’s too good now to be bothered with the Blisses and Sonya Devilles of the world, people she should never be in jeopardy of losing to ever, and in my opinion we are nearing the point where like with Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Asuka, and Ripley it’s becoming less and less interesting to see them in any match that’s not with a top notch opponent where they can use their full range of skills in the ring, and whom the audience believes to be that important. Like several on my twitter timeline said they could have run this match on RAW and it would have been just fine. And that’s the case for the women’s title matches that have been on this show since 2019. The women’s title matches at the Rumble should feel as big as the men’s title matches do, even if the outcome really isn’t in doubt.

This is one area where Sasha Banks and Naomi are missed; in addition to being top level in ring talents they both bring an energy and electricity with them that makes their matches more important just because they’re in them. Now there are only a few women left worth making a new pay per view match with Bianca – Ronda Rousey (yeah, I said it), Flair and Asuka in the now, and Raquel Rodriguez possibly soon – until the next wave of NXT call ups begin to arrive. And of course there’s also the option of running it back with Lynch down the road. She and Bayley are great together but there’s no doubt in the outcome anymore. But back to this match – file it under ‘thank God it’s over, let’s not do it again’.

Women’s Rumble Match

One word: dull. Outside of the finish there was not much to love here. It was minus star power as it was missing from last year’s match Flair, Belair, Banks, Naomi, the Bellas, Lita, Mickie James, and Ronda Rousey. In their place there was just Lynch, Asuka, and Bayley on that front. As a result the crowd wasn’t particularly fired up during a lot of the match save for those three entering, the finish, and the return of Nia Jax who got a bigger reaction than most of the people male or female on the entire show. And unlike the men’s match there weren’t any new angles generated or much progression of any existing one save for Lynch’s feud with Damage Control. Now if your answer to that is ‘well, there weren’t any other existing angles among women in that match right now’….., you are correct. That is a whole other topic for a whole other piece by the way (it’s coming), but it’s time for those of us in the bubble to take off the rose colored glasses and give an honest assessment of what’s good and bad about this division since HHH took over. That Ripley gained far more momentum in a program where she was often the only woman involved than she would have had if she’d been fully immersed in the women’s divsion proper says a lot, and not about her as an individual.

Ripley winning was the only logical choice here given how storylines have progressed but Lynch’s short run (10 minutes) in the match was a head scratcher. There were long stretches where everyone or almost everyone was laying on the mat doing nothing (I guess you could call it selling, and in some cases it was but yikes) and very few impressive individual performances beyond just being the match a long time. There were only one or two spots that were like the spectacular stuff we got in 2020 or 2021, and this match was pretty dull unless you had a personal rooting interest involved or you liked that it was made up of almost entirely current women. The finish between Rhea, Asuka, and Liv Morgan was excellent and was very well executed. But you can really fast forward to that and call it a day. I’ll reiterate that this match would have been much better with Sasha and Naomi, just look at their previous performances, and I’m gonna take every opportunity to remind everyone that the women’s division is worse off without them.

Now to the elephant in the room. The crowd was quiet for most of this match and as I said before this match was missing star power. And I don’t even mean current main event level women. Even though women like the Bellas, James, Kelly Kelly, etc have zero chance at winning this match the crowd would have invested in them the entire time they were out there unlike many of the women in this match who had no chance of winning. Yes, the crowd here would have rather seen Summer Rae come in for five minutes than (no offense meant here) Indi Hartwell or Lacey Evans or Tegan Nox or Dana Brooke. Say what you want about Ronda, and I have plenty, but the building would have woken up for her had she some come out and she is a current roster member to boot.

Why do I care? Well, in previous years (think both 2019 Rumbles and last years Men’s Rumble) much was made about the crowd not being into a lot of the people in the match and being quiet for long stretches. So it’s only being consistent to grade this one accordingly. And as I’ve said twice already, this match and this division is badly missing Sasha and Naomi. No amount ‘new chances for new people, yay!’ is making up for that right now. Sasha is obviously obligated elsewhere for the time being but get both of these women back as soon as you can and give them some meaningful stuff to do. If you want the best product possible to watch you should want both of these women back. Do you watch for the people playing the characters, or to take in what’s onscreen? It’s fine to want good things for the people but I don’t think you should grade what happens onscreen based on whether you like the people underneath the characters. If my favorite singer or player has a so so performance than that’s what they had no matter how much I like them personally.

Undisputed Title Match: Roman Reigns (c) vs Kevin Owens

Reigns and Owens have proven to be great dance partners, and their third Rumble match against each other (fifth altogether on pay per view), did not disappoint. The match was brutal and hard hitting, and managed to provide some real drama even though very few people really suspected going in that Owens had a chance of winning the title. But despite that lack of suspense the two managed to get and hold the crowds attention and get them to react throughout. Reigns won as expected but what we all came for was the aftermath.

Having vanquished Owens again, Reigns brought the entire Bloodline in the ring to inflict more punishment on his fallen opponent, and boy was it brutal. The Usos took turns on him, then Solo Sikoa, and then they handcuffed him to the ropes to really pile on. This lead to Sami Zayn stepping in between them and his onetime friend, only for Reigns to deman that Zayn get in on it too. In a dramatic turn as good as anything you’ll see on television or in movies Zayn refused and instead tried to stop the carnage by striking Roman which led to his own demise and, in a shocking twist, Jey Uso deciding he had enough and walking out on the group instead of continuing with them.

To quote Martin Scorcese, this was cinema. Seven fully defined, fully fleshed out characters all playing their roles to a T in an intense moment that brought 50,000 people to chant ‘F- You Roman!’ at a man they’d been cheering for two years despite being a villain because he was that damn good at his job. This was a masterful performance by all in what in my book is the greatest wrestling story ever told. And it wouldn’t have been possible without Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. Both injected new life into the Bloodline story, which had been great before but was in need of a fresh angle to keep going, and were the only people who could have made this moment what it was.

Zayn made for the perfect man to get people to truly hate Roman – a loveable loser who like many people in the world was just looking for acceptance and something to call family. Zayn was the walking epitome of the guy who wants to be with the cool kids so bad that he’s willing to sell his soul, while Owens was the only one willing to try and force him off the ledge. But as we know Owens own checkered history with Zayn, chock full of fights and betrayals, made him a flawed enough messenger that his warnings were justifiably ignored. Which led us here, to the turning point of all turning points in this story. And man was it great. This is Shakespearean tragedy between three ropes in a ring and it is glorious to watch.

Final Verdict

This is a two match show, the opener and the closer. I get why some people dug the women’s Rumble but in my book if you judge it by the same criteria as previous ones then it fell short. The Men’s Rumble for now belongs on any match of the year list and the main event isn’t out of place there either. Those and the post match scene at the end of the show are must watch. As for the rest, if you want to check it out sure but you’re not missing much outside the end of the women’s rumble. Match for match his show was a step down from last year’s for sure; if you think I’m wrong go look at last year’s card and the stories around the matches, then get back to me. There was no Brock vs Lashley or Edge/Beth vs Miz/Maryse on this show, and Belair/Bliss was a step down from Lynch vs Doudrop. I give this show a B. The things you like you’ll really like but the rest is utterly skippable.


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