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The Smark Henry Pay-Per-Review: Royal Rumble 2018


So when was the last time you were completely overjoyed by the Royal Rumble?

Maybe 2006, if you were a Rey Mysterio fan. 2004 if you were a Chris Benoit fan. But the sad truth is that the Royal Rumble, much like WrestleMania, has been reduced to a force that gets all its yearly attention from its spectacle. The spectacle of the countdown, the 30 men in the ring, the drama of people going over the top rope. Lately it's been a vehicle to try and get the people the institution wants over, as though merely outlasting 29 other men immediately makes one deserving. 

You're guaranteed to come for the surprises and the usual tropes, and as long as one foot's in the door then they can do whatever they want.

Which is why it was such a huge surprise that the WWE actually did go with a real crowd-pleaser. Shinsuke Nakamura may not have been utilized the best way on SmackDown so far, but any time anyone who isn't part of the WWE pantheon of guys they didn't manufacture—because they're not always the guys people want, except in some uncommon cases—wins big, it's a truly rare moment. Something you'd have to blink twice and wipe your eyes for and see if it's actually happening.



Granted, there were a lot of different circumstances that led to this happening—RAW has the Elimination Chamber, so it didn't need a Rumble winner to determine a contender—but they could have gone a lot of different ways, especially considering there are many other people on SmackDown. To invest in someone like Shinsuke Nakamura getting a high-profile spot means that they understand, despite his misuse, how important this guy could be. And how good he could be if they gave him this kind of motivation.

I guess we should've seen it coming, anyway, when they decided to go all in on the investment. This year's big draw, after all, is the first-ever women's Royal Rumble match, which is twice the achievement in itself simply because no shenanigans were pulled. (Until after the match, that is.) It would've been so easy to do something dumb like have Stephanie McMahon or Ronda Rousey win the whole match just to troll everyone.

I'm glad that it was another deserving winner, and I'm glad that many former Divas Superstars were included in the Rumble—even though we all knew no one old was going to win the WrestleMania title shot, it still mattered as a thank-you to everyone who was stuck in an era where women weren't taken too seriously as wrestlers. Some of them weren't good, some of them deserved to be in this modern revolution, but all of them played a part. I could see no better way to thank them than this little bit of spotlight.


What's important to look at here, beyond the historic women's match, beyond the people you want to see win—or, at least, have no problems with winning—is that it looks like WWE's finally learned their lesson on trolling its fanbase. After the disaster that was the first women's Money in the Bank, and a million other Royal Rumble atrocities, they listened and stopped the nonsense. They gave us people we'd make noise for. No one crossdressed to win the women's Rumble. It's like someone finally flipped on the light switch in Vince McMahon's head.

Of course, I wouldn't go on being too optimistic just yet, as so many things can happen between now and WrestleMania, and WrestleMania itself. Whatever happens in New Orleans will be the biggest test of whether the light really is on again in that old head. But I'll be damned if this Royal Rumble isn't one hell of a good start. A
*****

Match of the Night



Going from a purely wrestling standpoint alone, the men's Royal Rumble match stole the whole show. Not just because of the winner, but because pretty much everything about it was so satisfying: the choice of surprises (from NXT guys to legends like Rey Mysterio and the Hurricane), almost no lame-duck entries, sensible storytelling, faithfulness to continuity, and most importantly, keeping younger guys looking strong. It feels like the first Rumble in a good while that's actually used the past the right way to build the future.

Other observations
  • Ronda's appearance was timed correctly, but there's a part of me that keeps wishing it was done better. It feels like they were trapped with how they could've played it without overshadowing the women's Rumble itself, but I think it would've ultimately been better off happening on RAW. The match and Asuka winning were already great moments, and they could've made this Monday's episode more must-see by relegating Ronda to it.
  • After that first women's Rumble match, the company's objective now is to build as many women as organically and consistently as possible. It makes sense that only two women from NXT were used as I'd imagine a lot of the crowd wouldn't know some of them, but obviously we can't keep relying on half of them being alumnae.
  • Still not sure if something went wrong with the two out of three falls match, but here we are. That should've been better. Perhaps it's setting up an Authors of Pain debut on SmackDown? But that would bump down the Bludgeon Brothers, though...
  • Interesting decision to have AJ Styles win shadily against Kami before having Nakamura win the Rumble.
  • Can you believe Brock Lesnar didn't main event a show?
  • Does Tye Dillinger keep drawing the #10 ball, or is it always given to him as a complementary Royal Rumble spot? How does this keep happening?


Photo from WWE
*****

Romeo Moran (@roiswaris the Editor in Chief of Smark Henry and one of the three hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He gets by in this hard knock life through working in publishing. Smark Henry was his and Stan Sy's original vision of a watering hole for local wrestling fans. He roots for the undersized guys who hit hard, but really hates Davey Richards with his entire soul. He likes taking your wrestling questions over on his CuriousCat account.

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