There are some years when the Royal Rumble is worth watching just for the spectacle of their namesake matches, the fun that comes with counting down those last 10 seconds before each entrance and seeing who comes out next. Other years, the Rumble matches elevate performers to new heights and position them for an even bigger spotlight a few months later at WrestleMania.
Every now and then, those two qualities converge, which was the case Sunday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Making up for an overall card that ranged from dull to solid, the men’s Royal Rumble match was masterfully booked from beginning to end, featuring logical stretches of dominance, a variety of fun storytelling hooks, and a crowd-pleasing finish that set a wrestler up for the next level of potential stardom.
WWE Champion Brock Lesnar became the first world titleholder to voluntarily enter the Rumble in the No. 1 spot, determined to show off his dominance in a brand new way. He did exactly that during an opening stretch that began when he left the ring to interrupt a song by No. 2 man Elias and only ended when he clotheslined Keith Lee and Braun Strowman over the top rope to the floor. In all, Lesnar sent the first 13 other entrants packing, a new record for both total and consecutive eliminations.
Lesnar only got his comeuppance when Ricochet, who entered at No. 15, lasted long enough for Drew McIntyre to enter the fray 90 seconds later. After a kick to the groin from Ricochet — in-kind payback for similar recent treatment by the champ – McIntyre sent Lesnar to the floor to a huge pop from the fans.
It wouldn’t be his last. McIntyre held his own through the arrivals of potential contenders like AJ Styles, King Corbin, and Edge, making his return to a WWE ring for the first time since 2011. Seth Rollins, who entered the Rumble last, also threatened to walk away with the prize since he had ample backup in the form of Buddy Murphy and AOP.
But Rollins found himself facing off with four fan favorites and without his henchmen, and after he was eliminated by McIntyre, that left a final four of McIntyre, Edge, Randy Orton and Roman Reigns. Orton and Edge played off their Rated RKO days by teaming up at times, yet after teasing an RKO when Edge had his back turned, the Viper soon found himself out of the running at the hands of his former partner.
Conventional wisdom was that Reigns would be the Rumble victor, setting him up as the man to finally take down “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt — who retained his Universal Championship earlier in the night — and that appeared to be on the verge of coming true when Edge and McIntyre battled it out on the apron, both in danger of elimination. However, only Edge ended up on the floor, and McIntyre threw Reigns out shortly thereafter, taking the next big step in an eventful pro wrestling journey. The guess now is that he’ll choose to take on Lesnar at WrestleMania, which could still give Reigns a shot at Wyatt in Tampa.
The women’s Rumble match teased similar elevation for NXT star Shayna Baszler, who took over where Bianca Belair left off. Both wrestlers now share the record for most eliminations in a women’s Rumble at eight each, and Baszler found herself facing off with Charlotte Flair for all the glory. The WWE chose to take the more tried and true path in this case, though, and Flair’s win means she’ll likely meet up with Becky Lynch again at WrestleMania in the latest chapter of their long-running rivalry.
The next WWE pay-per-view is Super Showdown on Feb. 27.
ROYAL RUMBLE KICKOFF SHOW
Let’s set the stage here for new readers: Nick’s comments throughout the results portion of this report are in plain type, while Dale’s are in italics.
Sheamus vs. Shorty G
Sheamus shrugs off an early takedown by Shorty G. Sheamus is taken over the top rope to the floor, but the Celtic Warrior unleashes chops. He then drives Shorty into the ring post and follows with a shoulder breaker in the ring. Sheamus traps G on the apron, delivery the 10 Beats of the Bowery. Shorty hits a dropkick to the knee and stomps Seamus into the corner, focusing on the knee. G hits a moonsault but is only able to get a two count. Sheamus kicks out after a German suplex. Shorty G ducks the Brogue Kick and is able to lock in the ankle lock. Seamus breaks free and hits a Brogue Kick. He covers Shorty G and gets the win.
Winner: Shorty G
Humberto Carrillo (challenger) vs. Andrade (champion) w/Zelina Vega – United States Championship Match
Andrade locks in a cross-arm breaker in the ropes, holding it for almost the full five count. Humberto executes an arm drag, but Andrade pops up and takes him down with a shoulder block. Andrade catches Humberto springing off the ropes and slams him to the mat. Humberto lands on his feet after a back body drop and connects with a cross body coming off the ropes. Humberto looks for the roll up moonsault, but Andrade gets his knees up. The champ looks for the Three Amigos, but Carrillo counters the last one. Humberto gets slammed into the turnbuckle, allowing Andrade to hit the double knees. Carrillo kicks out of the pin. He goes to the apron and catches Andrade with a back elbow. Carrillo climbs the turnbuckle, only to get kicked. Andrade hauls him up and Carrillo counters with a hurricanrana off the top rope, but he can’t get the three count. Carrillo lands on his feet after a back suplex attempt. He goes for a sunset flip, but Andrade rolls through and is able to pin Carrillo. Humberto is unable to kick out.
Winner … and still United States Champion: Andrade
ROYAL RUMBLE MAIN CARD
Roman Reigns vs. King Corbin – Falls Count Anywhere Match
Reigns goes after the King’s security guards before the bell, catching them unaware after they carry Corbin to the ring. That’s a long entrance ramp, so Corbin might have some extra gas in the tank after getting a ride. The fun is going to be seeing where exactly they take the fight and which foreign objects get brought into play, but Corbin seems a bit optimistic going for a cover behind an announce table after bouncing his opponent off the top of it. That doesn’t win it, nor does Corbin catching a Superman punch in mid-air and slamming Reigns through one of the other tables. Less than 20 minutes into the broadcast and the tables are already in bad shape. Even the international announcers much further from the ring aren’t safe, as Reigns uses two Samoan drops to use Corbin’s body to destroy them. Since no DQs are involved, Robert Roode and Dolph Ziggler arrive to soften Reigns up for the King, but the Usos quickly even the odds. Their brawl comes to an end when an Uso flies off some scaffolding out in the Minute Maid Park outfield. Meanwhile, Reigns and Corbin are doing battle over by some port-a-potties, and yep, Corbin gets stuck inside while the Big Dog tips it over. Eventually they make their way onto the dugout, where Reigns hits a Superman punch and spear to get the pin.
Winner via pinfall: Roman Reigns
Match Rating: 6/10
Kevin Owens wants to keep his winning streak in Houston alive by winning the Royal Rumble. Samoa Joe reminds KO that he will go right through him if necessary.
Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville are asked about the women’s Rumble match, and Rose looks surprised when Sonya says she would eliminate herself if Fire and Desire were the last two contestants left.
Michael Cole sends the WWE’s condolences to the family and friends of Kobe Bryant and the other people who lost their lives in the helicopter crash in California earlier today.
Women’s Royal Rumble Match
Royal Rumble Stats
No. entered (Eliminated by)
1 Alexa Bliss (Bianca Belair)
2 Bianca Belair (Charlotte Flair)
3 Mighty Molly (Bianca Belair)
4 Nikki Cross (Bianca Belair)
5 Lana (Liv Morgan)
6 Mercedes Martinez (Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville)
7 Liv Morgan (Lana)
8 Mandy Rose (Bianca Belair)
9 Candice LeRae (Bianca Belair)
10 Sonya Deville (Bianca Belair)
11 Kairi Sane (Alexa Bliss)
12 Mia Yim (Alexa Bliss)
13 Dana Brooke (Bianca Belair)
14 Tamina (Bianca Belair)
15 Dakota Kai (Chelsea Green)
16 Chelsea Green (Alexa Bliss)
17 Charlotte Flair
18 Naomi (Shayna Baszler)
19 Beth Phoenix (Shayna Baszler)
20 Toni Storm (Shayna Baszler)
21 Kelly Kelly (Charlotte Flair)
22 Sarah Logan (Charlotte Flair)
23 Natalya (Beth Phoenix)
24 Xia Li (Shayna Baszler)
25 Zelina Vega (Shayna Baszler)
26 Shotzi Blackheart (Shayna Baszler)
27 Carmella (Shayna Baszler)
28 Tegan Nox (Shayna Baszler)
29 Santina Marella (Self-eliminated)
30 Shayna Baszler (Charlotte Flair)
Winner of the Women’s Royal Rumble Match: Charlotte Flair
Time of the Rumble: 54 minutes and 14 seconds
Most Eliminations: Bianca Belair and Shayna Bayzler with 8 eliminations
Shortest time in ring: Chelsea Green at 10 seconds
Longest time in ring: Bianca Belair at 33 minutes and 19 seconds
The Ember Moon Award for longest time in the ring without a single elimination goes to Natalya, who spent 24 minutes and 41 seconds without tossing anyone over the top rope to the floor.
Liv, Lana keep fighting after they eliminate each other … Mandy gets thrown out but she lands on Otis to stay alive … Otis tries to catch her after being thrown out by Belair, but Deville follows, all of them fall over and both Fire and Desire are eliminated … a bad cut on the back of Beth Phoenix’s head leaves her hair bright red from blood and other wrestlers sporting her blood as well … Naomi jumps from the steps to the barrier to avoid elimination, and finally returns using the covering on the announce table as a bridge … Phoenix is none too fond of seeing Santina given their in-ring history; Santina pulls out the cobra but eliminates himself … Baszler goes after Flair, who is on the outside … The final four are Beth, Charlotte, Natalya and Shayna.
Corbin accuses Reigns of hiding behind the Usos in their match but says that won’t happen during the Rumble match. It’s stretching even wrestling logic to have Reigns and Corbin in the Rumble after what they went through earlier, but hey.
Lacey Evans (challenger) vs. Bayley (champion) – Smackdown Women’s Championship Match
Lacey tosses Bayley across the ring to start the match. Bayley tries to remove a turnbuckle cover, but gets caught by the ref. Bayley then fakes a knee injury, suckering Evans in. She nails Evans with a right and goes up top. The champ drops an elbow, but Evans kicks out. Bayley shoots off the ropes and drops Bayley with a head scissors. Bayley explodes out of the corner with a clothesline. Evans runs into a back elbow and Bayley taunts her with a salute. Bayley crashes and burns on a cross body, giving Evans an opening. She connects on a swinging drop kick. Bayley rolls to the floor and drives Evans into the barricade. Evans with moonsault and climbs the turnbuckle. Bayley gets her knees up on the moonsault. Bayley quickly rolls her up, and with a grab of the tights, gets the three count.
Winner … and still Smackdown Women’s Champion: Bayley
Match Rating: 6/10
Daniel Bryan (challenger) vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt (champion) – WWE Universal Championship Strap Match
Cole notes that it’s been nearly a decade since the last Strap Match in a WWE ring, and there is something of an old school feel to this stipulation. Bryan may have early regrets for asking for it as he takes a powerbomb and some lashes across the back from the strap. He also gets thrown hard into one of the ring posts on the outside and eats more lashes as the red marks on his back multiply. Bryan’s rally comes when he wriggles away from Sister Abigail to score a two-count with a running knee. After absorbing more damage, Bryan gains the upper hand with a DDT on one of the announce tables, then taking his turn to go to work with the leather strap. Feeling his oats, Bryan positions The Fiend for another running knee only to run smack dab into Sister Abigail. That feels like the end, but Bryan kicks out. He also somehow manages to escape the Mandible Claw twice, reversing it into the LeBell Lock with the strap. That isn’t enough to make the champ submit, and Bryan strikes again with a running knee for another near fall. While Bryan is psyching himself up on the mat, The Fiend simply stands up, then no-sells more shots from the strap. The Mandible Claw is locked back in, this time pinning Bryan’s shoulders to the mat for three to keep the title from changing hands.
Winner … and still WWE Universal Champion: “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt
Match Rating: 7/10
Asuka (challenger) w/Kairi Sane vs. Becky Lynch (champion) – RAW Women’s Championship Match
The two circle each other and trade holds on the mat. Asuka gets caught on a baseball slide. Becky catches Asuka in the ropes with an arm bar and then follows with a dropkick. Asuka scores with a neck breaker through the ropes and follows with a shining wizard. She covers, but Becky kicks out at two. Becky fights her way out of the corner and hits a bulldog. The two fight on the apron. Asuka blocks the Bex-sploder and looks for a German suplex. Becky counters by slamming Asuka to the floor. Lynch follows with a dropkick off the apron. Asuka is slammed into the wall with Bex-sploder. Asuka gets a near fall with a back slide and follows with a knee to the face. Asuka with a hip attack on the apron into the ring post. Becky slams Asuka off the ropes to the mat, but still can’t get the pin. Asuka hits double knees to Becky’s face, catching her coming off the top turnbuckle. She locks in an arm bar and then slaps on the Asuka Lock. Lynch is able to get a foot on the bottom rope to break the hold. Asuka hits a German suplex and unleashes a flurry of kicks. Lynch hits a reverse DDT and both women are down. The ref begins the 10 count. Both women get to their feet. Asuka tries to spit mist in her face, but Becky counters it with a kick. Lynch applies the Dis-Arm-Her and Asuka taps.
Winner … and still RAW Women’s Champion: Becky Lynch
Match Rating: 8/10
You didn’t think the Street Profits were going to go without their PPV bonuses, did you? Angelo Dawkins shows off his beatboxing skills on the entrance themes of some potential Rumble winners while Montez Ford geeks out about 30 men competing for the right to get a championship match at WrestleMania. Out in the arena, Booker T joins Cole and Corey Graves for the call on the main event.
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
Royal Rumble Stats
No. entered (Eliminated By)
1 Brock Lesnar (Drew McIntyre)
2 Elias (Brock Lesnar)
3 Erick Rowan (Brock Lesnar)
4 Robert Roode (Brock Lesnar)
5 John Morrison (Brock Lesnar)
6 Kofi Kingston (Brock Lesnar)
7 Rey Mysterio (Brock Lesnar)
8 Big E (Brock Lesnar)
9 Cesaro (Brock Lesnar)
10 Shelton Benjamin (Brock Lesnar)
11 Shinsuke Nakamura (Brock Lesnar)
12 MVP (Brock Lesnar)
13 Keith Lee (Brock Lesnar)
14 Braun Strowman (Brock Lesnar)
15 Ricochet (Drew McIntyre)
16 Drew McIntyre
17 The Miz (Drew Mcintyre)
18 AJ Styles (Edge)
19 Dolph Ziggler (Roman Reigns)
20 Karl Anderson (Randy Orton)
21 Edge (Roman Reigns)
22 King Corbin (Drew McIntyre)
23 Matt Riddle (King Corbin)
24 Luke Gallows (Edge)
25 Randy Orton (Edge)
26 Roman Reigns (Drew McIntyre)
27 Kevin Owens (Seth Rollins)
28 Aleister Black (Seth Rollins)
29 Samoa Joe (Seth Rollins)
30 Seth Rollins (Drew McIntyre)
Winner of the Royal Rumble Match: Drew McIntyre
Time of the Rumble: 1 hour and 7 seconds
Most Eliminations: Brock Lesnar with 13 eliminations
Shortest time in ring: Erick Rowan at 8 seconds; just barely getting by John Morrison at 9 seconds.
Longest time in ring: Drew McIntyre. He entered at 16 and won the whole thing. He lasted 34 minutes and 11 seconds.
The John Morrison Memorial Award for longest time in the ring without a single elimination goes to Ziggler, who was in the ring for 12 minutes and 20 seconds without an elimination.
Benjamin gets a warm greeting from his former college teammate but it’s only a setup for him to get suplexed and eliminated … KO and Joe go out under the bottom row to brawl with Rollins, AOP and Buddy Murphy … AOP catches Rollins, they and Buddy help their boss, and a brawl breaks out again … four faces team up on Rollins, the final four is McIntyre, Edge, Orton, Reigns.
Total Event Time: 4 hours and 12 minutes
Event Rating: 7.5/10
Dale Plummer and Nick Tylwalk have long advocated for a SLAM Wrestling Royal Rumble to determine who gets to go cover WrestleMania, but as they get older, they realize that’s probably just going to end up with someone getting hurt. Probably them.