One of the most highly anticipated WWE events in recent memory began the same way any other huge, state event would be; the national anthems were played (of both Saudi Arabia and the United States). It was at this early point I saw the true size and awe-inspiring and frankly beautiful structure of the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium. The entrance ramp and stage area were of the size and structure of a Wrestlemania, the epic-ness of the video package that was played to begin the show that hyped all the matches made it feel as big as a Wrestlemania. The pictures and commentary quickly focused on the “coveted” Greatest Royal Rumble match trophy and there, already, was plenty of mention of the “Vision 2030” which it appears is the phrase entitiling the movement of Saudi Arabia towards somewhat more ‘modern’ social and political policies. The blatant promotion of the host country and tone this broadcast would take (if it wasn’t obvious before the event began) was clear; everything production wise was maximised, and every opportunity to talk about the ‘evolving’ host country was taken to the absolute maximum. All this before the first match had even begun.
Triple H came out for the first match of the show to a HUGE pop. John Cena followed with a plethora of Saudi kids featuring in his entrance, all with their replica Cena shirts. The fireworks display that went along with it only further confirmed just how huge and over the top this show is going to be in every way. The two veterans then had a match that was pretty much exactly as you’d have expected from these 2 at this stage of their careers, it wasn’t bad but good in fact. The two played up to the crowd at every chance, they used every one of their signature moves; Cena hit an AA and Triple H a Pedigree that both gained nearfalls, The Game went for a 2nd one later in the match but a reversal from Cena was in turn made into a roll up that got Triple H a 2 count. The entertaining contest concluded when Cena used the slingshot move to launch Triple H into the corner of thw rinf, he then turned around straight into a 2nd AA to give Cena the win.
After the match John Cena grabbed a microphone and took the opportunity to say how much an honour it was for him to compete in this event, and that regardless of what was happening in his universe he would not miss this (which I can imagine might have been a bit of a shoot as this might present a needed distraction from his personal life atm). He finished off by thanking the Saudi’s for their hospitality and once again thanked all the fans in attendance. (It was at this point it really set in that this event was a Saudi Arabia WWE event rather than a WWE event in Saudi Arabia… if that makes sense).
Cedric Alexander then successfully defended the Cruserweight Championship against Kalisto. It was a fine match with plenty of the usual stuff, but again on a big stage these 2 put on a match that was way below the best they’ve produced on any regular 205 Live show.
The vacant Raw tag team titles were then on the line, as WOKEN Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt made their way to the ring accompanied by a stunning display of the ‘fireflies’ in the crowd. The Bar then followed and the two teams put on a decent match, without being spectacular. I’ve seen Sheamus and Cesaro have so many matches in the last couple of years or so as a team, and this one was just the same as all the others. They’d get in lots of hard hitting offence, use some heel-ish tactics and either sneak a win, or as in this case, take the L. Bray and Matt on the other hand looked really good together as a team, in terms of character and chemistry in the ring too. Plenty of nearfalls in this one too but it was one wasted chance too many for The Bar. Matt hit a Twist of Fate on Cesaro but was then thrown out the ring by Sheamus, he then set up for his signature Brogue Kick on Bray but he in-turn did his Spider walk which the Saudi crowd absolutely loved, he hit the Sister Abigail on Sheamus before he would tag in Matt, and they did their elevated Twist of Fate double team move to claim the win. WOKEN Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt are the new Raw Tag Team Champions. WONDERFUL!
Next up was Jeff Hardy defending the United States title against Jinder Mahal (the crowd really booed Jinder pretty loud). This too was as expected, Jeff looked good and did all his usual risky moves (commentary made reference repeatedly to his onee which was targeted by Sunil Singh on Smackdown this week)… and Jinder… well he could’ve got away with this match… until… Jeff came off the top rope to hit a standing Mahal with his ‘whisper in the wind’ move, but instead he was out of position and Jeff hit thin air… but Mahal delay-sold it as if he had been hit anyway… it was obvious upon live viewing and the replays and gifs of the move only made it worst. A terrible botch (it would not be the night’s last…). Anyway for the record Jeff won after a twist of fate then a Swanton. It was fine but even if it had been brilliant all people would have spoken about was that botch.
There was then a break in the in-ring action whilst the host country had a Prayer break. So the viewers at home were shown the pre show panel (Byron Saxton, Jerry Lawler, Jim Ross and Booker T) discuss the action so far and what was to come still. There was also a video promoting the country of Saudi Arabia and how they were moving forward etc… (It was a hard sell to the world that the country was trying to change their image). More pleasantly we had a hilarious backstage segment where Mike Rome interviewed Chris Jericho. Y2J was just as good as we all remembered in this role. He called Mike Rome ‘Tom’ (Phillips), he put him on ‘THE LIST’, he put the sound guy and the camera man on there too. It was simple, short but great. Welcome home Chris Jericho. Please don’t leave again… Daniel Bryan the had an interview with Rome of his own in which he too looked ahead to the Greatest Royal Rumble match later on the show. Bryan said it was a privilege to be here (hmm…) …
We returned to action with The Usos getting their rematch against the Bludgeon Brothers for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship. This was another ok match, The Usos demonstrating many of the more high-flying moves from their facepaint days against the much larger opponents. They actually got plenty of offence in and even came close winning following a frog splash from Jey Uso that got a 2 count. Rowan then absolutely flattened Jimmy Uso on the outside before he tagged in Harper and the two did a powerbomb based double team move to get the 1 2 3. Bludgeon Brothers retain, and by all accounts this was the exact same match these two teams had been putting on at all the Live Events recently, so nothing unexpected here.
There was then a hype video shown for the following Ladder Match. Followed by the entrances of the Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins, The Miz, Samoa Joe and finally Finn Balor (no rainbow gear for him this time… funny that…). Anyway the match begun with all 4 men exchanging blows with one another before the ladders came in to play. Then there was pretty much every ladder spot you could think of, all 4 men playing their part. It was absolutely carnage! One particular spot saw Finn set up a Coupe de Grace onto Joe (with a ladder placed on him)… but he couldn’t hit that as Rollins joined Finn on the top and the two brawled, Seth set up a superplex, Miz tried to get involved too before Samoa Joe would help the two in their dissent to the ground by slamming them both to the ring mat. This was a good Ladder match, not a suprise considering the talents involved. Finn hit a Coupe de Grace onto Miz who was laying on a ladder, Finn and Joe brawled with the ladders in the ring, eventually Finn knocked Joe to the ground and OOA, before Balor began his climb towards the IC title belt that was hanging high above the ring.
As Balor appeared to be on the verge of victory Seth Rollins acrobatically jumped from the ring ropes onto the ladder (how he made the jump is still beyond me). And it was Seth who used his speed to just get the belt before Balor and to the delight of the crowd Rollins dropped down from the ladder with his Championship still in his possession. Good match. Right result.
There was then a recap video shown of the WWE try outs that took place in Saudi Arabia earlier in the week. When it went back to the ring we saw Mike Rome alongside 4 of the successful athletes; Nassar, Hussein, Monsoour and Fisal. They were asked various questions by Rome about their experiences so far… until they were interrupted by the Daivari Brothers; Ariya (current 205 Live Cruserweight) and Shawn (famous for a former role managing Mark Henry and later introducing The Great Khali to the WWE universe). The two spoke ill of the 4 tryouts which gained plenty of heat from the crowd (they’re from Iran… tells you all you need to know). The segment then saw the 4 tryouts each hit various moves on the Daivari Brothers to delight the crowd. Needed? Maybe not. Expected? Absolutely. Another plug for how great Saudi Arabia is and these 4 rookies were the ones used as the promotional tool. Meh…
Next up… AJ Styles defending his WWE Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura. Nakamura played to the ring by his awesome new entrance music, AJ getting a big pop from the crowd. This match had a better build up than their Mania match, Nakamura and Styles both had a real purpose and grudge with one another now, so the match should be better right? It was. It was good. Spectacular it wasn’t but better. All the stuff you’d expect from these two… and then they did a double count out finish… FOR FUCK SAKE?!?!?! Styles as the agressor this time but this was the 2nd match between these two… that had the sole purpose of setting up their next match. Styles nonetheless stood tall with his WWE Championship still in hand… sigh…
Then we had Undertaker vs Rusev with Aiden English in a Casket match. Taker’s entrance was cool as always. It went longer than Cena v Taker, a lot longer in fact, but even though Undertaker is my favourite wrestler of all time and Rusev one of my current favourites I had little excitement for this one (beyond seeing Taker obviously) because the result was about as obvious and predictable as any match in WWE for some time. But I said in previous blogs that this was a good spot on this show for Rusev and English regardless of result. Rusev or anyone vs UNDERTAKER is only going to lift the opponents profile off the back of the Deadman’s name alone. I did enjoy the match though I must admit, Taker dominated and suffered little offence from Rusev as you can imagine, and despite Aiden English’s interference it was the Bulgarian Brute ,and his signing companion too, who ended the match in the Casket. After all this time, and despite his ageing years, I still get goosebumps watching him make his entrance, beat up a bad guy, and then do his traditional celebrations. Undertaker is the man; then, now, forever.
Roman Reigns vs the champion Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship (and after speculation Paul Heyman DID accompany his client) in a steel cage match. Like AJ vs Nakamura this world title match was a Wrestlemania rematch, Like AJ vs Nakamura this was also better than the previous encounter. But like AJ vs Nakamura it had a suck finish. And a BOTCHED finish! 4 German Suplexes and 2 F5s couldn’t keep Roman down. Chair shots, Superman punches and 4 spears couldn’t keep Lesnar down. And then… the finish… Roman Reigns hit a 5th spear, and this one sent Lesnar THROUGH the cage wall sending the wall and both men to the ground. There was some confusion over what the result was and who had hit the floor first. And then it was announced LESNAR had won!!! Even though it was blatantly obvious watching that Reigns rolled off the fallen cage wall and his feet CLEARLY hit the floor first, as Brock was still laying on the collapsed cage wall. Subsequent still images of the incident made it even clearer that the finish was a clear Botch. So yeah… Lesnar beat Roman again! Roman STILL isn’t champion. So… now what?! Is Lesnar staying for longer than thought? Is Roman (having now twice failed to win The Universal Championship from Brock Lesnar one on one) still THE guy? Well… in my opinion we did see THE guy on this show… but not in this match…
So… The main event was of course the Greatest Royal Rumble match EVER! 50 (FIFTY) men all competing for the “coveted” (according to the commentary team it’s very prestigious…) trophy and also a championship belt… because in WWE EVERYTHING needs a belt, a trophy is just not sufficient. What do either mean? Really… little. It may go on to mean an awful lot but it’s clear to me that the physical prizes on offer to the winner were secondary to the spotlight and position the winner now has. Because the winner of this match, not Roman Reigns now, is so clearly to me THE GUY. So… I’m now going to try and summarise a match that was about an hour and a half long and had 50 participants… wish me luck…
Entrants (in order):
1 Daniel Bryan
2 Dolph Ziggler
3 Sin Cara
4 Curtis Axel
5 Mark Henry
6 Mike Kanellis
7 Hiroki Sumi
9 Kofi Kingston
10 Tony Nese
11 Dash Wilder
13 Primo Colon
14 Xavier Woods
15 Bo Dallas
16 Kurt Angle
17 Scott Dawson
21 Luke Gallows
23 Drew Gulak
24 Tucker Knight
25 Bobby Roode
27 Chad Gable
28 Rey Mysterio
29 Mojo Rawley
30 Tyler Breeze
32 Karl Anderson
33 Apollo Crews
34 Roderick Strong
35 Randy Orton
36 Heath Slater
38 Baron Corbin
39 Titus O’Neil
40 Dan Matha
41 Braun Strowman
42 Tye Dillinger
43 Curt Hawkins
44 Bobby Lashley
45 The Great Khali
46 Kevin Owens
47 Shane McMahon
48 Shelton Benjamin
49 Big Cass
50 Chris Jericho
Eliminations (in order):
- Sin Cara (by Dolph Ziggler)
- Curtis Axel (by Mark Henry)
- Mike Kanellis (by Mark Henry)
- Hiroki Sumi (by Mark Henry)
- Mark Henry (by Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler)
- Viktor (by Daniel Bryan)
- Dash Wilder (by Daniel Bryan and Hornswoggle)
- Hornswoggle (by Tony Nese)
- Tony Nese (by Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods)
- Bo Dallas (by Kurt Angle)
- Primo Colon (by Kurt Angle)
- Dolph Ziggler (by Kurt Angle)
- Konnor (by Elias)
- Kofi Kingston (by Elias)
- Xavier Woods (by Elias)
- Kurt Angle (by Elias)
- Drew Gulak (by Tucker Knight)
- Goldust (by Bobby Roode)
- Scott Dawson (by Bobby Roode)
- Luke Gallows (by Rey Mysterio)
- Fandango (by Mojo Rawley)
- Tyler Breeze (by Mojo Rawley)
- Tucker Knight (by Big E)
- Chad Gable (by Apollo Crews)
- Rhyno (by Roderick Strong)
- Karl Anderson (by Randy Orton)
- Mojo Rawley (by Randy Orton)
- Apollo Crews (by Randy Orton)
- Bobby Roode (by Baron Corbin)
- Roderick Strong (by Baron Corbin)
- Babatunde Aiyegbusi (by Braun Strowman)
- Dan Matha (by Braun Strowman)
- Big E (by Braun Strowman)
- Heath Slater (by Braun Strowman)
- Titus O’Neil (by Braun Strowman)
- Tye Dillinger (by Braun Strowman)
- Rey Mysterio (by Baron Corbin)
- Baron Corbin (by Randy Orton)
- Randy Orton (by Elias)
- Curt Hawkins (by Braun Strowman)
- Elias (by Bobby Lashley)
- The Great Khali (by Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley)
- Shelton Benjamin (by Chris Jericho)
- Shane McMahon (by Braun Strowman)
- Bobby Lashley (by Braun Strowman)
- Chris Jericho (by Braun Strowman)
- Kevin Owens (by Braun Strowman)
- Daniel Bryan (by Big Cass)
49. Big Cass (by Braun Strowman)
Mike Kanellis may have set the record for shortest time in a Royal Rumble match, around 1 second.
Hiroki Sumi is a Sumo wrestler apparently… nope me neither
Kofi Kingston did his usual creative rumble spot, this time hanging on New Day teammate Xavier Woods’ back to avoid elimination.
Hornswoggle at one point hit a Samoan Drop on Kofi Kingston, which give his… erm… SHORTcomings… is some feat.
Primo Colon ruined his cool entrance music by slipping on the ropes as he attempted a reverse springboard. ANOTHER BOTCH.
Michael Cole on commentary was really putting over Elias big time. He then went on to perform really well in the match, even stopping short his ‘performance’ about the Greatest Royal Rumble to eliminate Kofi, Woods and Konnor simultaneously. He also eliminated both Raw GM Kurt Angle (which will surely be made more of on Monday) and Randy Orton in a really strong showing. A proper main event push perhaps???
Baron Corbin was another who had a notably good showing, Bobby Roode and Rey Mysterio amongst those he eliminated.
Tucker Knight, Dan Matha and Babatunde all from NXT appeared in the rumble. As did Undisputed Era member Roderick Strong.
They played up the Y2J – KO storyline once again. And it was great.
But overall thia match was about 2 men; Daniel Bryan who entered at number 1, lasted ONE HOUR 16 MINUTES (a new Rumble match record) and absolutely destroyed his chest and body in the process, the images after are somethingfrom a horror film.
And of course… the match winner who himself made history in this match; as by eliminating 13 men (including launching Shane O’Mac from the top rope through an announce table) set a new record for most Royal Rumble eliminations in a single match BRAUN STROWMAN etched his name into the record books. And the image at the end of the show of Braun holding aloft the celebratory Championship belt, with his beautiful trophy in the background as Vince McMahon and the Saudi dignitary looked on gleefully… it was confirmed… they’re not even making it subtle now… Braun Strowman is the face of WWE. He’s the man. He’s THE GUY. And I couldn’t be happier for him. The countdown to Summerslam and SURELY Strowman taking the Universal Championship from Brock Lesnar is on… PLEASE WWE DO THE RIGHT THING.
AND THAT was the Greatest Royal Rumble. Yeah it was different for sure, good fun without much majorly notable happening. The final word though MUST go to the MVP of the evening, and the one man who DID etch his name into WWE history forever more, my final note from the Greatest Royal Rumble HAS to go to… Titus O’Neil. Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.