Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship:
This is a no DQ contest that we're about 15 minutes into. Back and forth contest with chairs and other hellacious implements of destruction involved. Jericho as advertised as hanging 20 feet above the ring, yelling invective at the former Shield member.
Jericho has thrown down some brass knuckles which will be used for nefarious purposes. Owens clocks Reigns with the knucks but Reigns kicks out. Owens sets up a chair in the ring but Reigns drops him on the chair via samoan drop. Table time for Reigns, in one of the corners. Superman punch gets a near 3-count.
The match has slowed, and there's a pyramid of chairs waiting outside for a terrifying final spot. Reigns reverses a suplex from the turnbuckle and punches Owens into the tower of chairs. Owens may be dead.
Reigns is eyeing the announce table, which is not good for anyone involved. Power bomb through the table, Owens in trouble. Spear set up but here's Braun Strowman to interfere! Power slam through a table set in the corner. Owens drags himself over for the three count!
Owens retains, which is a surprise. Lots of scuttlebutt about Reigns winning to set up a possible Strowman vs. Reigns championship match at Wrestlemania. Looks like we'll still get that, just without the gold on the line.
Pretty solid match between two guys who've had multiple matches over the last months. Keeping the belt on Owens through Wrestlemania could set up a 'best friends' battle between the champ and Jericho. The build up would need to start now, what with Jericho reportedly leaving post-Mania to tour with his band. I've listened to Fozzy and trust me when I say Jericho would be better off staying on the show.
A Royal Rumble video package treats viewers to highlights from the last 30 years. I recently watched the '95 Rumble, which took place in that dark time post-Hulkamania and before the Monday Night Wars. The match contained such luminaries as Kwang (aka Savio Vega), the Mantaur and the Blue Brothers, and I ain't talking about Dan Akroyd and John Belushi.
Back to live-ish action, another video package in the run-up to the Cruiserweight championship match between newly heeled Neville and Rich Swann. The division is coming along decently enough after a slow start. They're actually building characters, though the crowd reaction to the matches has been tepid at best. It will take some time to build interest, and new WWE isn't great about letting characters build at a moderate pace that allows fans to, you know, care about them.
Neville vs. Rich Swann for the Cruiserweight Championship:
Neville is rocked up, and if I were a betting man I'd bet he comes out of this the winner. He's been built as a monster heel of the cruiser division and a championship chase with Swann or someone new (I'd pick Jack Gallagher, who's very entertaining) would set things up for WM.
Domination by the challenger thus far, though the crowd is more or less non-reactive. Rest hold rear chinlock on Swann, and a few experimental pin attempts by Neville on Swann. Crowd is quiet. Though just don't feel these CW matches.
Rally by Swann, superkick, standing frankensteiner and twisting 450 splash has stunned Neville. Another spin kick by Swann, complete with a resounding smack. My colleague Kayfabe Kevin is convinced the move is real. Neville superplex transitition into some form of crossface, and Swann taps out to make the heel the literal King of the Cruiserweights, as he's styled himself since his debut in the division.
Kind of odd to end a cruiserweight match with a submission move. Neville is not a traditional cruiserweight, but traditionally these matches are fast-paced and spot heavy. Anything to differentiate itself from the rest of the show, where many of the matches play out the same. Give me Jack Gallagher as the new challenger to Neville. He's unique in presentation and move-set, and funny in his fussy English guy way.
Another video package hyping Cena vs. Styles. With Owens retaining, one of the big belts has to switch, meaning a good chance Cena take the duke. Further meaning that Undertaker wins the Rumble to set up that battle at WM. My colleague Kayfabe Kevin is dubious, as his "sources" claim that Taker vs. Cena is off. No reason give other than Vince McMahon changed his mind. Taker's health could play a part as well, as Mr. Calloway has hip issues that need addressed. We shall see, WWE Universe.
John Cena vs AJ Styles for the WWE World Championship:
Styles and Cena make their entrance, Cena wearing Florida Gators colors and getting his usual mixed reception. Being a loser smark I'd like Styles to walk away the winner, but Vince wants that big ticket for Wrestlemania.
Hot crowd to start with Styles in control. The smart crowd loves him, and it does make me miss the days when fans actually booed the bad guys. Think Piper, think Iron Sheik, think Andy Kaufman. Cena seizing the momentum, setting up a superplex which Styles reverses into an "Argentina backbreaker," not to be confused with Chilean backbreaker.
Attitude Adjustment gets a two, and let me take this moment to say I don't like guys kicking out of finishers. Regardless, Styles is stunned. Cena misses a cloethesline, and the champ hits pele kick in the deltoid. I just report what I see, folks. Two count for Styles on a Phenomenal Forearm, and we're probably heading toward end game here. War of attrition between the two Superstars as they trade punches.
Calf crusher on Cena which the challenger reverses into an STFU! Figure 4 by Cena, an unusual move for Mr. Thuggenomics. Cena then powers out of an armbreaker to drop Style on the small of his back. Cena dives off the top ropes but Styles blocks him. Styles Clash hit, but Cena kicks out to the surprise of exactly nobody. PPVs are finisher kick-out city.
Another near fall, and this War of Nutrition continues. AA off the top rope and by God Styles kicked out. That one fooled both myself and my colleague Kayfabe Kevin. Another Styles Clash but Styles to shaken up to make the pin. Styles springs off the ropes, Cena catches him and delivers yet another AA, then rolls Styles up to deliver a deadly AA coupe de grace. 1, 2, 3 and Cena has tied Ric Flair in championship wins.
Not unexpected, but a pretty neato finish. I'm standing by my Taker Rumble win for the big headline match at Mania. I don't love it, but that's how McMahon thinks.
Royal Rumble is next! Long video package sharing the history of the match. Last Rumble I saw was two years ago when Roman Reigns came out the winner, to the anger and disappointment of fans. Good Rumbles bring surprise and Reigns winning certainly was not that. But that's the past, man.
Here we go, with Cass and Jericho kicking things off. The Fozzy lead singer is taking his sweet time getting out there. Kalisto in at #3, going at it against Cass. #5 is Jack Gallagher, who low blows Jericho with his umbrella. As one does.
No eliminations yet, though that may change with the arrival of Mark Henry at #6. Gallagher, umbrella in hand, is tossed by the World's Strongest Man. Next is Strowman, who promptly dumps three guys with the quickness. Strowman and Henry face off, and Henry is a goner. Sami Zayn comes in to face his nemesis and the two trade blows as Jericho hides out. Big Show, who's in stupendous shape, comes in to face the Mountain Among Men. Show is bigger than Strowman, which makes for an odd visual cuz Strowman's a beast.
Fifth elimination by Braun is Big Show. Perfect 10 Tye Dillinger of NXT is #10, which I'm sure is on purpose. Ellsworth is next and won't come in to face Braun. Dean Ambrose arrives, and the remaining Superstars are doing their best to team up on Strowman. Not working, and Dillinger is tossed like a sack of rocks. But Baron Corbin enters the fray rids the world of Strowman.
The action continues with the Miz, from Parma, who was eliminated in a past Royal Rumble match by a midget named Hornswaggle. Things slowing down here as more Superstars enter. Kayfabe Kevin are waiting on some surprises, though those may be few and far between at this point. Samoa Joe? Angle? One can only hope.
Instead, it's Caesero, giant swinging everyone that moves. #20 is Xavier Woods, putting all 3 members of New Day in at once. No eliminations for some time now as Bray Wyatt enters. But Caesaro and Shaemus get rid of New Day, and Jericho sneaks in to knock out the the former tag champs. Dolph Ziggler and Randy Orton are up next, with Orton RKOing a few guys to hell. #25 is the third member of the Wyatt clan, Luke Harper, who turns on his family members Bray and Orton. I believe this is called interstitial storytelling, but it's late.
Things perk up a bit with Brock Lesnar, who promptly cleans house, eliminating Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler. Kayfabe Kevin is getting impatient for surprises but we're running out of road here with only a few entrants left. Put a pin in that negative Nelly thought cuz here comes Goldberg! Spear, clothesline and goodbye Brock. Upon his elimination a fan holds up a 'Warriors blew a 3-1 lead' sign, so you know that was legit.
Taker #29, appearing as is from nowhere. Goldberg is eliminated, and the surprise entrant is no surprise...it's Reigns. Dammit! Jericho out and it's Reigns vs. the Wyatt family. Wyatt gone, and Reigns and Orton are your final two. Reigns readies a spear and Orton hits an RKO out of nowhere. Clothesline on Regins and Orton is your Royal Rumble winner.
Yeah, not ideal. No surprise entrants and a lackluster finish. Kayfabe Kevin and I are disappointed by this outcome. The Rumble is supposed to be unpredictable, Orton winning is the absolute symbol of a predictable winner, though Reigns woulda been worse.
Let that sink in, wrestling universe. We will meet again.