Ladies and gentlemen, it humbles me unspeakably that my good friend Stewart Lange has permitted me to usher in the resurrection of FPG News with these words: I’m Sean. You’re not. Welcome back to The Comer Codex for my match-by-match coverage of the 2018 WWE Royal Rumble.
For 30 years, the Royal Rumble has tested the will and might possessed by one field of 20 to 40 men after another. In its 31st year, this traditional opening of the road to WrestleMania will once more blaze a trail into a new era of WWE history when the first-ever gathering of 30 women will battle until 29 have fallen over the top rope to the floor and only one is left standing.
Filling out the undercard, WWE Champion AJ Styles will battle longtime friends Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in an unorthodox handicap title defense. Universal Champion Brock Lesnar will collide with Braun Strowman and three-time former world champion Kane in a monstrous war of attrition with the Beast Incarnate’s title at stake. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable face Smackdown Tag Team Champions Jimmy and Jey Uso in a two-out-of-three-falls championship match after claiming victory over the Blue Brand’s most dominant tag team in non-title competition. Raw Tag Team Champions Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan renew a seemingly endless rivalry with Sheamus and Cesaro as The Bar look to embark on another reign with the flagship Red Brand’s gold on the line. Finally, 30 male representatives of both Smackdown and Raw will ignite this year’s Royal Rumble to punch a single ticket into the main event of WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans.
Once more, this year’s card at a glance…
- WWE CHAMPIONSHIP HANDICAP MATCH
AJ STYLES © vs. KEVIN OWENS AND SAMI ZAYN
- WWE UNIVERSAL CHAMPIONSHIP TRIPLE THREAT MATCH
BROCK LESNAR © w/ PAUL HEYMAN vs. BRAUN STROWMAN vs. KANE
- WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP TWO-OUT-OF-THREE FALLS MATCH
THE USOS © vs. SHELTON BENJAMIN AND CHAD GABLE
- WWE RAW TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
SETH ROLLINS AND JASON JORDAN © vs. SHEAMUS AND CESARO
- INAUGURAL WOMEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH
- MEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH – WINNER ENTERS THE MAIN EVENT OF WRESTLEMANIA 34
Before getting down to business, a few perfunctory matters to clear up for first-time readers:
- I do not provide star-ratings, with good reason. I have an old and abiding respect for professional wrestling as a storytelling art form. That sentiment runs deeply enough to know above all else that I know nothing. I have never contributed as a booker, announcer, or in-performer to a wrestling event. Hence, I will show all and sundry the measure of respect I believe they are due for a level of creative dedication I cannot begin to comprehend. I review matches based on my personal level of enjoyment and a general sense of the factors that built to it.
- I don’t really “do” snark or smug delusions of knowing the first thing about how to lock up, let alone creatively lay out an entire month’s build to a climactic card or even put together a single match. My first duty is to accurately depict the action as it happens with a spoonful of flavor text as I’m told only I can color it. Sometimes, that will mean getting creative with, say, names of maneuvers. I’ve provided blurbs filling in some exposition for those who may have missed a beat or two between specials, but this is meant to be an entertaining portrait more than artistic critique.
- I’m a fan. I will relay the action through a fan’s eyes. That doesn’t mean I will forgive every nonsensical bit of storytelling or booking that drags matches into doldrums. It means I don’t “know” art, but I know what I like and I know how to tell you why I didn’t like what turned me off.
As a consideration for those who can’t keep up with every hour of WWE programming every single week, I’ve pre-written blurbs for each match laying out its backstory in brief detail. They obviously are not crucial to understanding my recaps for those who have seen every Raw and Smackdown Live between specials and can easily be scrolled past.
WWE CHAMPIONSHIP HANDICAP MATCH
AJ STYLES © vs. KEVIN OWENS AND SAMI ZAYN
We kick things off from Philadelphia with Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton and Corey Graves representing Smackdown at the broadcast table to preside over an unusual championship bout.
Ever since Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn did their damnedest to aid his elimination from this year’s traditional Raw-versus-Smackdown Survivor Series match, Smackdown Commissioner Shane McMahon has committed his everything to making the Canadian duo’s lives miserable. At the same time, McMahon’s associate, General Manager Daniel Bryan, has repeatedly taken umbrage with his colleague jeopardizing the course of both men’s WWE opportunities. Every since Bryan acquiesced to WWE Champion AJ Styles’ suggestion that he work out his own growing issues with both men at once in a two-on-one handicap title defense, the retired former champion and international wrestling legend’s actions have raised doubts as to whether he might be a conspirator who has Owens and Zayn’s backs.
Zayn has a recent pinfall victory over Styles. Owens has been as hot and dangerous as he has in ages. At the same time, The Phenomenal One has arguably never looked better than he has since he regained the championship. Who will ride into New Orleans wearing 10 pounds of gold? We won’t waste any more time finding out.
Sami is out first evoking a combination of the Ministry of Silly Walks and Martin Prince. Owens follows in Nelson Muntz’s fashion as I ponder the rumors the apparently gimped ankle suffered during his match with Styles on the go-home edition of “Smackdown Live” was a cover for a legitimately ailing back. This could be a star-making night for the “Yep!” Movement, and it would be a shame to see it hampered by an unfortunately timed injury. Lastly, you cannot watch Styles’ entrance tonight without recalling the detonating pop when he debuted unannounced during the Royal Rumble match two years ago. Between that electric moment, his masterpiece performance against John Cena last year and working alongside Owens and Zayn tonight, this annual gathering is fast becoming synonymous with The Champ Who Runs the Camp committing grand theft pay-per-view..
(As a side note, his music is one of my favorite tracks on my workout playlist and always will be.)
After a train of salutations from the first few international announce teams and the prestigious championship introductions, we’re down to business. Owens and Styles start things off, as the announce team notes that Zayn and Owens will operate under tag team rules. After a near lock-up, Owens backs off and tags in Zayn. Instead of tying up with The Phenomenal One, Zayn continues the head games by tagging in Owens. No slipping away this time, as Styles gets a knuckle-lock in one hand and fires away with punches from the other. Irish whip sends Owens into the ropes, but he puts on the brakes and tags Zayn back into the match. A chain-wrestling sequence of go-behinds gets Styles a two-count off a sneaky rollup, and that inspires Zayn to piss off AJ further by bringing Owens back in. Styles gets the waistlock and Owens reverses into one of his own. Styles slips around, but Owens picks an ankle. AJ comes back with a head-scissor takedown from the mat, gets between Owens and Zayn, but KO rolls down and sprints around the ring to his corner before sneaking back in and tagging Sami.
Zayn works a headlock that brings AJ to his knees. Styles shoots Zayn off the ropes and lands a soaring dropkick that sends Sami scurrying to bring in Owens. After feigning an argument with the official, Styles eats sucker-punches as Owens declares, “And that’s why this is my show!” to the Philly faithful. With Styles stuck in their corner, Owens brings in Sami for a few stomps and a choke while he gets in a few cheap kicks at the downed champion.
Sami and Styles trade chops, and Zayn gets a two-count off a backdrop. After dragging AJ to their corner, he brings Owens back in to get two after slamming Styles into the adjacent turnbuckle. AJ eats ground-and-pound before rolling outside, but KO follows and introduces Styles harshly to the barricade. Back inside, KO gets a two-count, grates his forearm into The Phenomenal One’s kisser and proceeds to his corner with a double-footed stomp on Styles’ sternum before tagging Zayn.
Zayn ambles over for a few punches, posts AJ on his knee and grabs a chinlock. Styles rallies, but accidentally drives Sami into his own corner, where Owens promptly tags in and resumes the pummeling before AJ roars back with solid punches to both men. After eating a few chops that drive him into the corner, Owens reverses an Irish whip across the ring to send Styles into the turnbuckle. AJ forces a foot into Owens’ face as he charges in, but as he mounts the turnbuckle, Owens drops him with an electric-chair sitout facebuster for a two-count.
A chinlock slows the champion down as the crowd fires up. AJ fights to his feet with elbows to the gut, but Owens gets a handful of hair and spikes him back down. Styles retreats to the corner, but that’s a frying-pan-versus-fire choice. Owens revs up for a running cannonball splash, but Styles slips out and Owens eats post and appears to have “re-injured” the ankle Styles gimped earlier this week with the Calf Crusher submission. Zayn tags in and goes for a tornado DDT, but Styles fights out and lands an avalanche hurricanrana before tagging the hobbled KO right back in. AJ greets him with a Pele kick, and both men are laid out.
Styles finds his feet just as Owens tags in Sami and pastes the Underdog from the Underground with a boot to avoid a Helluva Kick. AJ springs off the ropes to moonsault over Zayn and drop him with a reverse DDT. Zayn gets the tag. Owens charges and meets AJ’s elbow. Zayn does the same and also gets knocked back. Owens gets a running monkey-flip to send Styles out of the corner, but AJ spirals Zayn down with a mid-air headscissors! Once more, Owens charges Styles in the corner, but AJ wraps him up into the Calf Crusher. Zayn recovers to break it up after Styles may have had it locked on long enough to take Owens out of the equation for the remainder. Styles rushes Zayn with strikes capped by a jaw-caving clothesline before tossing Sami to the outside, but KO rolls Styles up from behind for two.
Owens is seemingly a slow learner, so he bull-rushes Styles in the corner again. This time, his head and shoulder slam into the solid ring post as AJ sidesteps. Jebus, that was audibly hurty.
Zayn in to go for a Blue Thunder Bomb, but AJ fights away to the ropes – where Owens delivers a sublime superkick that knocks the champion’s third-grade math loose. Loopy and staggering blindly, Styles wanders right into a Blue Thunder Bomb for a long two-count.
A frustrated Zayn badmouths Styles in the corner, chops him and fires in a defiant slap before positioning AJ on the top rope. Sami looks for a superplex, but the champion slips under and sends Zayn falling face-first into the turnbuckle. Styles charges, Sami moves and AJ flips to his feet on the apron. Owens rushes over and gets knocked to the floor with a forearm for his trouble. Another backs off Zayn, and AJ removes the elbow pad in preparation for the Phenomenal Forearm…PAYDIRT! Unfortunately, Owens slides in and breaks up the pin at two.
AJ positions himself between Zayn and his partner as he and Sami exchange some sickening forearms blasts. Zayn gets a running start and tries to vault over Styles to tag Owens, but AJ catches him with fingertips between Sami and KO. AJ gets a running start and flings Sami over the top rope, but turns around right into another scintillating superkick from Owens. KO slings AJ into the ropes for the pop-up powerbomb to bring home another world championship, but AJ rolls him up in midair with a victory roll FOR THE WIN!
WINNER, AND STILL WWE CHAMPION – AJ STYLES
We get a hype-package reminder that WrestleMania 34 is only 70 days away and return to Owens and Zayn whining to a smug Shane-O-Mac that Owens was NOT the legal man when Styles got the pin. Actually…huh. He’s right. As they demand to know if he saw that, he flashes them a shit-eating grin and affirms, “Yep” before walking off and leaving the pair gobsmacked.
WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP TWO-OUT-OF-THREE FALLS MATCH
THE USOS © vs. SHELTON BENJAMIN AND CHAD GABLE
After capturing both the NXT and Smackdown Tag Team Championships alongside Jason Jordan as American Alpha, Chad Gable’s future appeared murky when Jordan joined his newly revealed “father” Kurt Angle as part of the Raw roster. What is a celebrated former Olympian to do when left to his own devices on the main roster? Well, for starters, buddy up to returning former WWE Intercontinental, United States and Tag Team Champion and fellow amateur standout Shelton Benjamin. Together, the two men have managed to snag individual and tag team victories over Jimmy and Jey Uso in recent weeks to cement their status as a potentially spectacular hybrid of Benjamin’s shared World’s Greatest Tag Team legacy alongside Charlie Haas and Gable’s dominant run with Jordan. That being said, the Usos are on the cusp of cementing Hall of Fame-worthy standing of their own. Tonight, one win just won’t do, so the best pair will have to clinch with two.
Welcome to the Uso Penitentiary, lads. I will do my damnedest to keep Jimmy and Jey straight, but I make no promises. On a side note, I have no earthly idea how any pair could win five tag team championships and NOT merit Hall of Fame consideration. The Usos are two of the best in the business today, period.
Benjamin and Jey will start things off in what I believe will be a marathon match. They lock up, and Benjamin breaks out with a hard knee to the chest and forearm in the mush. Shelton floors Jey with a shoulder block and tags Gable to go for a quick Doomsday Device-style finish. However, Jey escapes and scurries away to tag in Jimmy. Opposite, Shelton taunts him with a sweet callback to the “THAT close” taunt from his star-making upset win over Triple H what feels like a lifetime ago.
WINNERS, AND STILL SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS – THE USOS
Whale, oil beef hooked. It is apparently time for the men’s Royal Rumble match. That can only mean that either the Universal Championship or the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble is closing the show.
- MEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH – WINNER ENTERS THE MAIN EVENT OF WRESTLEMANIA 34
In the interest of my sanity and not overreaching my ability to keep up, I’ll be focusing as much as possible on big spots, ongoing stories and eliminations. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Tony Acero, Greg DeMarco and Robert Winfree as the outstanding live recappers who have inspired me to take on tasks such as these. You guys are the bar to which I aspire.
Also, props to whoever’s awesome taste in music inspired Aloe Blacc’s “A King is Born” as tonight’s theme song. Damn.
Let’s rock. Two men start the match. Every 90 seconds, another enters. You are eliminated only by going over the top rope and having BOTH FEET touch the floor. The last man standing wins and cements his place in New Orleans 70 days from now.
Jerry “Dad Jokes” Lawler joins the announce team, complete with his classic ring jacket. I don’t see a shirt underneath. Oh, dear. That may mean one of those classic “announcer is a surprise entrant” spots.
THE FIRST ENTRANT IS…RUSEV! Happy Rusev Day, world. Aiden English sings the Bulgarian super-athlete out as only he can, and the man looks supremely jacked to be here again.
THE SECOND ENTRANT IS…FINN BALOR! No demon tonight, but the first-ever WWE Universal Champion and former NXT Champion has the Balor Club solidly at his back.
Let’s light this candle. after a brief staredown, Balor doffs his swank leather coat and the two first participants circle Rusev picks up Balor and tries to power him over the top. Balor hangs on and makes his way back in with a shoulder block. Rusev finishes a striking exchange with a takedown and elbow drop. Balor. The two trade near eliminations until.
The Man Beast and former ECW Champion receives a warm “hometown” welcome as he squares off with Rusev and drops Balor as the “E-C-DUB!” chants rain down. Rusev interrupts Rhyno’s attempt to eliminate Balor and escapes an attempted elimination of his own.
The Lone Wolf enters and begins cleaning house. Big boot drops Rhyno. Rusev whips him in, but Corbin slips under the ropes.
(Another skip. Dammit.)
When I come back, Elias is attempting to serenade the crowd, but he’s interrupted by…
NXT CHAMPION ANDRADE “CIEN” ALMAS!
Well…damn. Fresh off an utter classic the night before against Johnny Gargano, Almas is in and throwing Elias off with his signature agility. With Elias down, Almas lands his running knees to the corner, but Elias escapes the ensuing attempted hammerlock DDT and drops Cien with a sledgehammer-like clothesline.
It’s the fourth Royal Rumble for Bray, who comes in at #8. Evidently, Balor, Rusev and Heath Slater are all still in the match but subdued outside. Wyatt looks for Sister Abigail on Elias, but Balor breaks it up before being run over by Bray himself. Wyatt beats down Rusev to prevent him from getting back into the Rumble, however…
IT’S A NEW DAY, YES IT IS! BIG E!
(BRIEF SKIP. FUUUUU…)
It should be Tye Dillinger, but he’s a bit occupied having his everything stomped in by Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. Instead, Zayn steals the spot and decides to slip into the fray. After a series of near-eliminations…
The former Royal Rumble winner chucks in Heath Slater, but the Celtic birthday boy is quickly THROWN OUT by the One-Man Band! In turn, Wyatt evicts Slater.
Come on, man. He’s got kids.
The counter winds down, and…
XAVIER WOODS! KEEP IT TIGHT, SON!
The New Day’s PhD is a house afire with a little help from Big E, and the two nearly dispose of Elias, but Rusev lends the Drifter a hand. It’s that time again…
Nearly halfway, it’s the freakish athlete of Titus Worldwide, who drops Bray with an enziguri, attacks Zayn and promptly has to deal with a near-elimination by Rusev. Clock’s tickin’ again…
The King of Strong-Style enters his first-ever Royal Rumble as the City of Brotherly Love sings his entrance theme. It’s kicks, knees and forearms all around as I begin to hope that Corey Graves treates me to a scream of “KINSHASAAAAAAA!” I draped knee in the corner sends Sami Zayn to the showers just before the seconds dribble away…
The other half of The Bar has European uppercuts for everyone before nearly eliminating Balor and then tangling with Cien. As the ring begins to seriously fill up…
IT’S A NEW DAY, YES IT IS! KOFI KINGSTON!
This should be good. Kofi is a perennial highlight, if only to wonder how he will acrobatically avoid elimination from one Rumble to the next. Cesaro eliminates Crews with a huge uppercut as Apollo tries to hold on from the apron, but right on schedule…
The former WWE Champion rolls into his first Royal Rumble by suplexing and kneeing the stuffing out of Xavier Woods. After a bit longer exchange, the Modern-Day Maharaja sends a charging Woods down to the floor and out of contention.
SETH FREAKIN’ ROLLINS!
Rollins has a slingblades to dish out until Cesaro stops him cold and tries to send him flying, but Rollins drops down and kicks Cesaro up and over the top! On the opposite side of the ring, Jinder nearly eliminates Kofi, but Kofi’s foot is first saved by Xavier and then by a plate of pancakes laid down by Big E. Jinder tries to block his path back in, but Xaiver and Big E boost him up to pogo Kingston back inside. Seconds later, Trouble in Paradise sends Jinder tumbling! Sadly, Almas then seizes the moment to blindside Kofi and throw him about and away from his partners. Yep, it’s time…
WOKEN MATT HARDY!
Here come the “DELETE!” chants as Hardy and Bray first square off and then briefly team up to cast out Rusev! And then eliminate each other!
The two-time winner would love to set his sights on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s record-setting trifecta. The human Skittle charges in with a target immediately on his back before the gang-beating breaks up for Elias to zero in…never mind. Cena summarily dumps the Drifter in seconds.
Yep, Shane Helms is home at #21. The Hurricane decides to try for a chokeslam on Cena. It ends about how you would expect: with an eliminated Helms mugging on the floor. Well, where does the time go?
No Bulgarian Brute to help the songster and Guerrero by marriage out, but he isn’t backing down from a fight.
ADAM COLE, BAY-BAY!
With ribs taped fresh off his prison fight of a match with Aleister Black, it’s the only three-time ROH Champion and leader of the Undisputed Era. He goes straight after Cien as Balor dumps English with a thunderous kick and resumes his rivalry with Rollins.
Another two-time winner enters at #24 and opens up on Cole. Cena evades an RKO and sends the Viper into a huge kick from Cien. Andrade attempts a leap from the apron, but RKO OUTTA NOWHERE! Orton scrapes up Cien, and down he goes. Seconds to go…
The former tag team champion is in and tussling with Cena as Balor and Orton square off at the opposite turnbuckle and Rollins and Cole struggle with trying to eliminate Shinsuke. Time’s up…
The eight-time Intercontinental Champion emerges flanked by the Miztourage for his eleventh Royal Rumble, tied with Goldust and the Undertaker. Attitude Adjustment evaded for a Skull-crushing Finale on Cena, but Rollins floors him with a massive superkick. Tick-tock…
BOOYAKA! REY MYSTERIO IS BACK!
The 2006 winner looks in the most phenomenal shape since his WCW days, and that’s about how well he’s moving while unloading Adam Cole to the floor! Miz is draped across the ropes…619! Seriously, I’m with Graves: Rey looks amazing.
The Guy strides to the ring at #28 to the same boos he received after winning the whole thing three years ago. He finds Miz and doesn’t seem to happy to have him once more holding the Big Dog’s Intercontinental Championship. Titus tries to interrupt but gets tossed, and the Miztourage barely saves Miz from the same fate. Rollins elevates Miz onto Reigns shoulders, and the former winner first tosses Miz and then turns on Rollins to dump the co-tag team champion.
Entering second-to-last, it’s GOLDUST! That now ties him with Shawn Michaels and Big Show for second-most entrants in Royal Rumble history. He even celebrates by nearly evicting Orton and then taking on Reigns and Cena.
DOLPH ZIGGLER RETURNS!
The Show-off leaps in, goes for Cena, escapes an AA and wobbles Big Match John with a superkick and dishing out one to Orton for good measure. Goldust over the top and a Ziggler superkick ends his night. Zig-Zag for Shinsuke, almost a superkick and a Nakamura exploder sends Ziggler to the apron, where Balor boots him to the floor and out of the match.
We’re down to Balor, Reigns, Cena, Orton, Nakamura and Mysterio. Four previous winners – two of them, two-time victors. Two men entering the Royal Rumble for the first time. Immediately, it breaks down, and Balor tosses eventually tosses Orton and Mysterio to bring it to the final four.
Reigns. Cena. Balor, who has lasted nearly an hour. Nakamura.
It’s a standoff at first. In a way, NJPW versus WWE. Cena goes at Nakamura. Reigns mauls Balor. With those two incapacitated briefly, it’s a showdown briefly between Cena and Reigns, but Balor and Nakamura rise and return the favor. Balor and Nakamura square off with restaurant-quality strikes, and Nakamura sends Balor to the apron, but Balor see-saw kicks Shinsuke and makes his way back inside. Nakamura lands a knee and a thunderous roundhouse.