RAW Deal: The best Royal Rumble this decade
PHILADELPHIA, USA – You're not reading the headline wrong. And if you've already seen it, you'll agree, because for the first time in a long time, the WWE gave their fans something they wanted.
Good things came in threes last Monday morning, January 29, Manila time. Up until this year, the Royal Rumble was pretty much a 30-man spectacle that drew fans in for the sake of the spectacle; it was a way for the company to force its own chosen heroes – people the fans didn’t necessarily like, or at least favor to win the whole thing – down the crowd's throats.
Instead, not only did we get another Royal Rumble match that empowered the women, but we also got winners nobody can malign in Japanese stars Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka, and we also got a huge surprise in the debut of former UFC fighter Ronda Rousey. It was a night that never let up in the big moments, as though they truly wanted to reestablish the prestige of the Rumble as an event.
Asuka was pretty much a shoo-in to win thanks to her dominant showing in her entire WWE career thus far, but Nakamura's victory was more surprising given the wide-open field that was the men’s Royal Rumble match. There was little indication that the Rockstar would even be a favorite, given his rather ambivalent direction on SmackDown Live at the moment. Of course, the Rumble is where anything can happen and where careers can be made because it's the soft reset for WrestleMania.
Beyond the choice of winners, however, both Royal Rumble matches have to be commended for how good they were as matches. I mentioned that the Rumble is usually a 30-man spectacle, and half the joy is figuring out who's coming down—you don't normally tune in and expect a 5-star classic, but boy, did this year's match set the bar high for future iterations. Small stories were satisfyingly told with many of the wrestlers, and the eventual result was earned by some good action.
For the women, around half of the Royal Rumble participants were WWE alumnae from the past decade, such as Molly Holly, Jacqueline Moore (who’s also a former WWE Cruiserweight Champion), Kelly Kelly, Torrie Wilson, Lita, Michelle McCool, and the most popular of them all, Trish Stratus. Even though nobody thought they had any chance to win against the current crop of women, their inclusion in this Rumble is an overt gesture of gratitude to them for helping pave the way – and in some instances, an apology of sorts to the women who were truly good wrestlers of their time, a time that saw them more as eye candy than actual competitors.
And speaking of surprises, the men’s Rumble kept them to a limit, but did they deliver. You had two NXT guys in Adam Cole and current NXT Champion Andrade "Cien" Almas, both good choices to represent the brand, and a couple of truly shocking returns in The Hurricane and Rey Mysterio. Yes, Rey Mysterio, who's so far in a one-off appearance for the Rumble, but is in negotiations for more. Here's hoping we see more of him either on SmackDown Live or 205 Live.
Now, the challenger to the WWE Universal Championship will be decided at the Elimination Chamber this month, as I predicted heading into the Rumble. It's most probably going to be Roman Reigns. Meanwhile, Shinsuke Nakamura is set to take on AJ Styles, even when Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens try to be a thorn in the Phenomenal One’s side. I'd actually take a fatal 4-way match between all of them just out of how insane that would be and to reward Zayn and Owens' tremendous work so far, but Nakamura deserves this moment.
In fact, Nakamura needs this as a proving ground for us to see whether he could finally step up and take ownership of the SmackDown brand. It's no secret that Nakamura tends to mail it in when he seems to feel that the program is beneath him, like in his matches with Jinder Mahal last year, so this has to be good enough as an incentive for him to step up. Only time will tell, but if we go by Styles and Nakamura’s epic performance at Wrestle Kingdom 10, then we shouldn't be disappointed.
A new cruiserweight tournament
Since Enzo Amore's firing last week after RAW 25, the WWE Cruiserweight Championship is in a state of limbo, and 205 Live wasted no time hitting two birds with one stone addressing this issue. First, they got themselves a new General Manager in Drake Maverick, formerly known as Rockstar Spud of Impact Wrestling. Then Maverick announced a huge 16-man tournament for the vacant championship, with the finals happening at WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans.
This is pretty much this year's iteration of the Cruiserweight Classic, and going by how the cruiserweights wrestled in the tournament, then it's going to be hot every week. The tournament already began this week with Cedric Alexander and former Cruiserweight Champion TJP advancing to the second round in some pretty solid matches, so if you want some good wrestling, go do yourself a favor and watch this week’s episode.
Do you listen to podcasts? Would you want to listen to a local podcast about pro wrestling? If the answers to those questions – especially that last one – are yes, then you should check out the cleverly-named Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, featuring PWR General Manager Stan Sy, wrestling writer and Wrestling God Romeo Moran, and all-around multimedia person and former voice of PWR Raf Camus! On their latest episode, current PWR champion Ralph Imabayashi is back on the show after two years to discuss many things and tell many stories! Listen to it here!