HOUSTON — In the realm of modern-day WWE, few events have captured the live crowd more than Sunday’s Royal Rumble at Minute Maid Park.
While there have been more buzzworthy moments over the years, WWE perfectly and expertly crafted this year’s men’s Royal Rumble match and had the crowd eating out of the palm of its hand for an entire hour.
The Brock Lesnar show was in full effect inside the stadium, as he set multiple Rumble records (and didn’t have to steal any signs to do it!) while capturing the attention of the announced 42,715 in attendance.
Lesnar’s rampage through the Rumble match was Professional Wrestling 101. By the time John Morrison entered at No. 5 and was summarily catapulted violently over the top rope, there was a sense in the crowd of something special.
As Rey Mysterio and Kofi Kingston entered and were able to last a little while with The Beast, the crowd came unglued when Big E entered and prompted Mysterio and Kingston into a rally on the WWE Champion.
After a Trouble in Paradise, a Big Ending and a 619, the roof was about to blow off the baseball stadium. However, Lesnar fought back and dispatched of all three.
As Lesnar kept flinging people over the top rope, the next subsequent wrestler that came into the ring was the biggest babyface in the business as they tried to take on Lesnar.
By the time NXT North American Champion Keith Lee entered the match, fans were ready for a hoss fight. That only amplified when Braun Strowman followed. However, Lesnar got rid of both of them.
When Ricochet entered at No. 15, people were expecting more of the same. Lesnar, through, toyed with Ricochet allowing Drew McIntyre to enter. When McIntyre eliminated Lesnar following a Ricochet low blow and a Claymore Kick, it received one of the longest, loudest sustained roars this reporter has heard. The crowd then serenaded Lesnar with the goodbye song as he left the ringside area.
From there, the match settled in to a more traditional Rumble match — until No. 21.
That’s when Edge made his triumphant return to the ring after nearly nine years in retirement to a roof-busting ovation. The WWE Hall of Famer handed out spears like candy on Halloween as many thought he could do the impossible and win the match.
In a callback to 13 years ago, Edge reprised his old tag team with Randy Orton as the two did damage in the match. However, Edge pulled a fast one on Orton, eliminating him to go into the final three with McIntyre and Roman Reigns.
Reigns did his popularity no favors by taking Edge out of the match to a chorus of boos, but McIntyre made a name for himself in one night by not only eliminating Lesnar, but ousting Reigns to win the Rumble to a huge roar from the crowd. He’ll presumably challenge Lesnar for the title at WrestleMania.
The women’s Royal Rumble match was well received by the crowd, although it was missing the star power of the men’s match (as it was filled mostly by NXT talent). Beth Phoenix was impressive, working through a nasty gash on the back of her head. The match sorely missed the presence of Sasha Banks, who was missing from the match for unknown reasons.
The Smackdown Women’s Championship match between Bayley and Lacey Evans that followed received zero reaction, as many used the time after the long Rumble match prior to head to the concourse.
WILL CALL WOES
The situation outside the ticket office at Minute Maid Park was nothing short of a disaster. Hundreds of fans piled onto too-small sidewalks in the scorching sun looking to get their ticket to enter the show. Some fans waited upwards of an hour in the plodding line, as security tried to get people from spilling into the street, adding to the problem.
Adding insult to injury was the fact the Houston Astros, who operate the ballpark, had just five of the 20 available windows open for will call, with only a few more for sales.
The entire operation was amateur hour and caused many to miss not one, but two matches on the show even though they arrived to the venue in plenty of time.
On top of that, several restrooms were not operational during the show. Not a great night for the folks at Minute Maid Park.
WWE’s production team continues to want to take away from its own show. For the umpteenth stadium show in a row, fans were left chanting “We can’t see” as bright lights were consistently shined into the crowd. There’s something to be said for lighting the crowd, but not at the expense of the performers in the ring, who don’t get the reaction they strive for because the crowd either can’t see or is too busy chanting about not being able to see.
At the beginning the show, WWE also failed to activate the big screens, leaving many people in the cavernous stadium few options in trying to keep up with the action.
The entrances of the wrestlers were also problematic for the majority in attendance. Without a ramp, the wrestlers couldn’t be seen until they entered the ringside area because of using the screen for TitanTron graphics.
IN THE CROWD
Cosplay was a big hit at the ballpark Sunday. Fans were dressed up as all sorts of wrestlers — from those you would expect (Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan) to those you might not (Sasha Banks, Bayley and Goldust).
Matt Bishop is tired. Real work awaits.