The good, the bad, and the ugly of WWE Royal Rumble 2018
The following post contains spoilers for Royal Rumble 2018.
Just in case you did the sensible thing on Sunday night and went to bed at a reasonable hour, you might be avoiding the results and major happenings from WWE's annual January extravaganza, so consider this and the above fair warning.
Right, let's get to it...
If you're unfamiliar with the event that traditionally kicks off the road to WrestleMania; 30
wrestlers superstars face off with the express goal of throwing their respective opponents over the top rope, in a bid to be the last man standing and thus receive a championship match at the biggest show of the year.
Quite straightforward, and boy do they make a big deal of it:
Clip via WWE
This year was a little different, as for the first time ever, the women got their own official Rumble match.
Attempting to adapt to a more progressive climate - and seeing the business sense in doing so - WWE is trying to position female wrestlers away from the previous era of 'Divas' and present their bouts on the same level as the male competitors.
To wit, the inaugural women's Rumble took the main event slot on Sunday's show, though that was largely to do with who was in town to close things out.
We'll get to that.
In perhaps the biggest surprise of all, Royal Rumble 2018 was... really, really good, actually.
They were up against it, following an NXT show the previous evening that boasted one of the best matches of recent years in Johnny Gargano VS Andrade "Cien" Almas.
What looked a potential dud show on paper was elevated by a hot crowd - Philadelphia living up to its hardcore reputation once again - and generally smart booking decisions throughout.
Following the meltdown that greeted Roman Reigns' showing in last year's Rumble, and a collective shrug aimed at eventual winner Randy Orton, WWE played to the 'smart' fans this time out, resulting in a one-two punch triumph for the hardest of the hardcore audience, and for Japan, as Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka won their respective Rumbles.
But they weren't the real story, oh no.
After months of speculation, former MMA titan 'Rowdy' Ronda Rousey finally rocked up to WWE, clad in the late Roddy Piper's leather jacket, having signed a full-time contract with the company.
Clip via ESPN
Her invincible aura is long gone following humbling losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, but Rousey is still young, and still a star. WWE should make good on their investment, and her placement as a post-Rumble surprise made sense.
No point in giving away her first match with no build, after all.
Plus, we got this out of it:
whatever they're paying ronda is worth it for this hilarious photograph pic.twitter.com/MmKuC0NS8k
— bossmoz (@BossMoz) January 29, 2018
The Men's Rumble Match
At over an hour long - especially when the 90-second intervals between wrestlers randomly turn into two-and-a-half minutes - fatigue usually sets in during the Rumble, but they got off to a cracking start.
Kicking off with the hugely charismatic and popular Rusev (c'mon guys, listen to your WWE UNIVERSE and push him to the moon) and Bray native Finn Bálor won the crowd over immediately, setting a blistering pace.
Throw in some nice surprises - The Hurricane! - as well as the usual inventive Kofi Kingston escape, an excellent running gag with the bumbling Heath Slater getting beat up by everyone as he struggled to officially enter the match, and a fantastic finishing sequence that played the crowd like a fiddle, and this really was the best Rumble in years.
Right guy won, too.
Plus, it was nice to see Rey Mysterio again, even if you suspect that his current shredded-like-lettuce form might not meet the terms of the WWE wellness policy.
Clip via WWE
The Women's Rumble Match
This could have gone down like a lead balloon, especially positioned in the show-closing spot, but everyone brought their A-game as the women of WWE made history.
Well, everyone apart from Stephanie McMahon on commentary, who made Jamie Redknapp sound as electrifying as The Rock in comparison.
Again, this was smartly booked by throwing in steady hands like Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch to kick things off, and peppering the rest with star turns from the likes of Kairi Sane, Nia Jax, and the legitimately terrifying Asuka.
Clip via WWE
Cameos from Lita, Molly Holly and Trish Stratus made for a nice tribute to the past, and the brief reunion of the infamous Trish Stratus/Mickie James feud resulted in one of the biggest crowd pops of the night.
Bring the match back next year, they nailed it.
Just leave Steph off commentary this time.
If you've seen Entourage, Fast and Furious 7 or The Expendables 3, you'll know that while Rousey has tremendous presence, acting is not her strong suit.
Called upon at the Royal Rumble to do little more than show up, pop the crowd, intimidate the opposition and tease a WrestleMania appearance, she kind of fluffed her lines.
Clip via WWE
Alternating between a - genuine - beaming smile and the infamous 'Ronda face' scowl usually reserved for her UFC walk to the octagon, Rousey somehow managed to make pointing at a sign look awkward.
In fairness, this was largely so WWE could get all the photos and media coverage they were chasing, but it made for a strange, flat finish to what had been a pretty electric show for the most part.
Not only that, but it completely robbed Asuka of her big moment. It's all in service of WrestleMania, but your first ever Women's Rumble winner feeling like an afterthought is a bad look.
Lads in the crowd aiming Daniel Bryan, John Cena, and Undertaker-related chants at Brie Bella, Nikki Bella, and Michelle McCool during the match
Because they're married to one another, you see! Not big or clever, really.
That Little Mix/Stormzy song they used to hype the event
We're big fans of Stormzy here at JOE. He's great.
Last year's team-up with Little Mix? Not great.
Clip via littlemixVEVO
The three-way Universal Championship Match
Brock Lesnar vs Braun Strowman vs Kane was never going to be a pretty affair, but it was, to quote good 'ol JR himself; bowling shoe ugly. Not even breaking a bunch of tables could save it.
Braun Strowman's decision to knee Brock Lesnar full-force in the head
What the hell was he thinking? Given that Brock immediately gave him a receipt in the form of a near-knockout blow, he won't make that mistake ever again.
Getting fewer than four hours' sleep before work
Your fearless grappling correspondent suffers for his art, dear reader.
Still, it beats last year, when armed Gardaí raided the bar I watched the Rumble in, kicking everyone out with about 10 minutes remaining.
Then again, technically I can say that I've been thrown out of a Royal Rumble. Can you?
Same time next year, and all that...