Raw Tag Team Champions Bobby Roode and Chad Gable def. Scott Dawson and Rezar (Non-title; Kickoff Match)
The Raw tag team division is in such a sad state that WWE is now pairing off members of different teams together. Of course, Dawson and Rezar have never teamed before, have no chemistry, and had no business being partners on this show. Credit to all involved for their effort, but this match was total throwaway. I have no idea who will ultimately take the titles from Roode and Gable and I can't say I care.
Shinsuke Nakamura def. Rusev to Win the United States Championship (Kickoff Match)
This feud has felt completely cold to me. Sure, they work well together, but I didn't much interest in this outing at all. It was fine for what it was, yet not nearly as strong as their last championship clash on Christmas night. I assumed Rusev retaining his title was a slam dunk, so Nakamura regaining the gold seemed strange to me. Nakamura did nothing of note during his last reign as champion, so his second stint with the strap is more memorable. As for Rusev, who the hell knows what's next for him.
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Buddy Murphy def. Hideo Itami, Kalisto and Akira Tozawa in a Fatal 4-Way Match (Kickoff Match)
Per usual, the Cruiserweights churned out a very good multi-man match. It was formulaic albeit fun with everyone playing their roles well and having their time to shine. The chaotic pace made the matchup more exciting, but it was a shame most of the audience sat on their hands throughout. I'm glad the guys from 205 Live are getting more exposure on the WWE pay-per-views than they were before, but they deserve to be positioned on the main card so fans can take them more seriously.
SmackDown Women's Champion Asuka def. Becky Lynch
Asuka has been a bit of an afterthought lately on SmackDown Live with virtually all of the focus being on Lynch and Charlotte Flair, so this was her chance to remind fans just how talented she truly is. Sure enough, she and Lynch went all out and had an excellent outing. It was an incredibly hard-hitting affair with neither competitor holding anything back. I originally questioned why Lynch would tap out to Asuka, but we found out a little later on in the show that Lynch losing in that manner would hardly matter. Better yet, this was a huge victory for Asuka, so fingers crossed she can maintain momentum coming out of this.
The Miz and Shane McMahon def. The Bar to Win the SmackDown Tag Team Championship
It's cool to see how much Miz and Shane apparently enjoy teaming based off their interactions in this match. It was a nice little bout and the crowd was into everything they did. It was pretty predictable that they would win the tag titles here, as there is two more pay-per-views between now and WrestleMania (they have to be facing each other one-on-one at the event, right?). That said, I will never complain about seeing Miz celebrate with his dad George Mizanin.
Raw Women's Champion Ronda Rousey def. Sasha Banks
I realize that Rousey's detractors are far and few between nowadays, but the debate of whether she's capable of contesting great matches needs to be put to rest if it hasn't been already. She continues to kill it on the big stage and this was another stellar showing from her. Banks had a lot to do with that as well, and despite a few awkward spots here and there, this was an outstanding match overall. Rousey retaining was the right call, and the Four Horsewomen vs. Four Horsewomen tease afterward with Banks flashing the Four Horsewomen hand gesture at Rousey was well done. I'd hold off on that until after WrestleMania.
Becky Lynch Won the 30-Woman Royal Rumble Match
Admittedly, I was fearful during the first half of this Rumble that it would fall flat, if only because there weren't many intriguing stories being told and it lacked big names (to be fair, most of the participants had zero shot of winning). The pace eventually picked up and it turned out to be a solid Rumble. Last year's installment was more of a nostalgia trip with familiar faces such as Kelly Kelly, Trish Stratus and Molly Holly being brought back, but I loved that the focus was instead kept on the up-and-comers from NXT and NXT UK. The crowd would have crapped all over this thing if Lynch didn't take Lana's spot and win it, but thankfully, that was exactly what happened. The audience exploded when Finlay gave Lynch the green light to replace Lana, and the final three with her, Charlotte and Nia Jax was masterful. I believed WWE wouldn't actually award Lynch the victory, but I was beyond happy to have been wrong. It was an amazing moment and I'm looking forward to Lynch challenging Rousey for the Raw Women's Championship at WrestleMania (though she could also avenge her loss to Asuka if she chose to...).
WWE Champion Daniel Bryan def. AJ Styles
I praised the match Bryan and Styles had at TLC last month as one of the best bouts on WWE pay-per-view in 2018. Sadly, this was the exact opposite. Yes, it was well-wrestled, but this bored me to tears. Everyone in attendance knew it was getting late and they were ready for the men's Rumble. There was also no way Bryan and Styles were going to top Lynch's big win and the reaction it received. There was no reason for this to last as long as it did, especially considering how dumb the finish was with Erick Rowan returning and aiding Bryan to victory. The idea of Bryan getting a heavy is compelling, but it was weird that Bryan beat Styles clean last month only to need assistance in their latest rematch.
Universal Champion Brock Lesnar def. Finn Balor
It's too bad that the show ran long, because this could have been even better than it was with more time. I was surprised how many people truly thought Balor had a legitimate chance of becoming champion going into the event, but the timing wouldn't have been right, anyway. Nevertheless, this was a blast of a bout with Balor scoring plenty of offense over Lesnar before eating defeat. It wasn't the straightforward squash some people (myself included) feared it would be and Balor proved he could hang with The Beast Incarnate. I took Lesnar attacking Balor post-match as WWE's way of planting the seeds for a rematch (potentially at WrestleMania). Could The Demon get his opportunity at Lesnar next?
Seth Rollins Won the 30-Man Royal Rumble Match
There was a lot to unpack about this Rumble. First and foremost, it was hindered by its brevity. I didn't like how the entrants were rushed, but as noted, that was due to everything else on this show running long, so the company didn't have much of a choice by this point. Secondly, too many spots were wasted. I understand you can say that about a lot of Rumbles, but "stars" such as Jinder Mahal, Curt Hawkins, Titus O'Neil and No Way Jose coming out only to be thrown out immediately was pointless. Hell, I forgot Shelton Benjamin was even employed until he made his entrance! Meanwhile, Kurt Angle's little run at the beginning was disappointing and should have been saved until later on. On the bright side, the appearances from the NXT wrestlers (Johnny Gargano, Aleister Black, and Pete Dunne) were a treat and Andrade and Mustafa Ali had strong showings. I rolled my eyes at Dolph Ziggler returning, and although Nia Jax taking R-Truth's spot was a clever twist, WWE could have delivered someone way bigger (figuratively, not literally) in that spot. It wasn't the worst Rumble I've seen, but I've witnessed better Rumbles in recent years as well. Rollins winning the correct route to take and there is some uncertainty surrounding who he will choose to challenge at WrestleMania.
I had my fair share of criticisms of the men's and women's Rumbles, but on the whole, they were entertaining. More importantly, WWE went with the right winners for the second straight year and were aware of what the fans wanted to see happen. The rest of the card largely delivered. The WWE Championship match was a massive letdown, but everything else was terrific and now we have a better idea of what the road to WrestleMania might be looking like.
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