The Royal Rumble, WWE's annual take on the Battle Royale match format, has reached it's thirtieth anniversary. So San Antonio hosts a very significant event, with a potentially great card. The titular match usually holds it's fair share of surprises, shock returns and twists with the severity of hair-pin bends on the Road to Wrestlemania. Four title matches on the under-card means that this DVD should be quality from bell to bell.
With no 'Special Features' to consider, the show-proper started with melange of moments of significance in Rumble history, followed by a more up-to-date reel of of the significant feuds coming into this PPV, particularly Bayley/Charlotte, AJ Styles/John Cena and Brock Lesnar/Goldberg. A good little segment that segued to the first line-up of the continually rotating commentary team, who fervently started to build the importance of the Road to Wrestlemania, the significance of the 30th anniversary and, of course, the Alamo Dome, San Antonio Texas.
WWE RAW Women's Champion Charlotte vs Bayley
Bayley looked the epitome of her ebullient self as she entered, whilst Charlotte took the Flair familial Ring-Robe gimmick into fantasy uber-villain territory with a look of supreme arrogance on her face. It was effective, as smug always winds people up.
Opening the match, and the card, Charlotte demonstrated her physical superiority over her smaller opponent. This only fired Bayley up, which culminated in a diving enziguri from the turnbuckle to Flair at the ring-side, followed up by a massive splash. She couldn't maintain the offence however, and Charlotte resumed her grinding pace and tactics. The champion became increasingly sadistic with frustration and began trash talking, which matched the arrogance of her entrance to a tee. It left room for some typical Bayley cheeky opportunism though, as always explosively high-risk, and led to a Macho-man elbow-drop that gave Charlotte a fat lip.
Despite a good showing by the fan-favourite compulsive hugger Bayley, Charlotte cemented an imperious victory to make it 16-0 on PPV, with a Natural Selection from the top turnbuckle to her recovering adversary, right onto the ring apron. It was merely a simple task to roll her in for a pin.
A strong mix of psychology, exciting high-spots and grinding attritional power to open the show.
Following this excellent opener, we saw the 'Shark Cage' being lowered to the ring before a highlight reel of last month's Roadblock: End of the Line PPV which Kevin Owens retain his title against Reigns thanks to 'Best Friend' Chris Jericho's disqualifying interference. The frequency of similar occurrences is enough for GM Mick Foley to stipulate the old-school cage as a means of insurance for this upcoming match.
WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens vs Roman Reigns (No DQ)
Y2J played the fear of the cage to the hilt, then right at the last second jumped Reigns with Owens in tow. Reigns sent KO to the ring-side and quickly pummelled Jericho in to the cage to get the match started.
We were soon into some quality through-the-arena brawling, and it was no surprise when they hit the foreign announce tables. KO came out on top, so spent some time getting steel chairs in a stack. Avoiding taking that big-hit, Roman worked his power moves to eventually set up a table on the outside, only to take a massive Owens frog splash through it. No three count for the Canadian, so he went back to using the chairs to good effect before Jericho unstashed some brass knuckles and dropped them from his high vantage point. Still no luck for him though, as Reigns kept kicking out. A Samoan drop through a chair gave Roman a chance at a pin, but 'no dice' for him either, so he put a table in the corner of the ring. This gave KO chance to recover, try a stunner (another close pinfall) and climb up top, only for a recovering Roman Reigns to Superman-punch Owens through the pile of chairs that had been a tantalising tease all match. No pin attempt now though, as, playing the long-game, Reigns followed up with a bomb through the announce table.
Just as it looked like Reigns had the victory in sight, Braun Strowman surprised him (me, and probably a fair few others too) with an ambush, slamming the challenger through his own table set up. Owens had just enough wherewithal to roll his near-corpse over the remains of Reigns to retain.
An incredibly well constructed Tables and Chairs brawl, with plenty of TLC-style action and pin attempts. That tall stack of chairs provided excellent anticipation before the shocking finish too.
More Rumble 'moments' followed, building effectively for the main event, and subsequent tombola draw of Rumble entries which featured the RAW and Smackdown management teams with Sami Zayn and Dean Ambrose picking their numbers. It seemed like a bit of a throwaway comedy skit.
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Rich Swann vs Neville
A highlight package covered the background to this match, primarily concerned with the resurgent Neville's unapologetically single-minded quest to become 'King of the Cruiserweights'. It provided a meaty angle to this title match of the rebooted high-flying division.
Swann took to Neville with determination and athleticism to open the match, which demonstrated the fire and skill that landed him the belt, but soon Neville slowed the pace down and began his methodical grinding. Swann used the ropes well to break, given the opportunity, whilst the Geordie lad sadistically made full of every referee count. It wasn't all one-way traffic though, as Rich Swann managed a thunderous superkick as Neville flew in from the top turnbuckle, to mount a valorous comeback. He couldn't make good on it though, submitting when Neville twists his arms in to the brutal Rings of Saturn.
I'm not normally the greatest fan of villains, but this new no-nonsense Neville could be King of the Cruiserweights for some time yet, given this showing against the internationally experienced Swann.
WWE World Champion AJ Styles vs John Cena
Those of you who follow my DVD reviews may already be aware that I firmly believe Cena and Styles put on some of the best WWE matches of 2016, and this promised to be a gigantic reprise with the added 'sauce' of the title. Victory for AJ would mean leaving his First Anniversary show still as champion, but even more significantly for John would be that elusive record-tying Sixteenth world championship reign. In comparison to those epics, it did not disappoint: the stunning spiralling sequences of signature moves, counters, trips to the turn-buckles for some super-augmentation and knife-edge rallies of the previous bouts were all present, but with a different twist. To use the old Spinal Tap idiom, they 'turned it up to eleven'.
John Cena looked to have the match in the bag with a ring-shaking super-AA that slammed AJ to the centre of the ring from many feet in the air, but Styles kicked out of the following pin attempt. He responded by locking in his eponymous 'Clash', but that couldn't keep Cena down either. It took a further two repetitions of an Attitude Adjustment to finally finish off the reign of Styles, and claim the sweetest of spots in the history book right alongside 'The Nature Boy' Ric Flair. This match really did that significance justice.
Main Event: The 30th Annual Royal Rumble match.
The last highlight package of Royal Rumble statistics were run to lead in the match, before the commentary team took us through the rules. Essentially, 30 competitors enter with two minutes between each of them, elimination is by over-the-top-rope with both feet hitting the floor, last man wins.
Big Cass, who had the honour of the number-one draw, came out with partner Enzo Amore and delivered one of their tremendously popular promos, Pre-Rumble. 'Y2J' Chris Jericho was second, Kalisto third (who then had a good big man/little man moment with Cass) and Mojo Rawley fourth. The next music to play led to some serious excitement in my house, as Jack Gallaher entered, which meant the cruiserweights were being included, and he was utilising an umbrella to great effect. It wasn't just us British nutters who seemed to enjoy his surprise entry, the crowd in Texas were going nuts too. It was to be no fairy-tale though, Jack was eliminated first despite a Mary Poppins moment thanks to entrant six, Mark Henry. Braun Strowman was right out to cheer me back up, chucking Rawley, Cass, Kalisto and Henry over the top in short order. Sami Zayn arrived to continue his enmity with Strowman, and took two minutes of pummelling 'til Big Show entered the fray and provided a distraction. Good stare off, too. He slammed Braun, but was immediately forced out in retaliation.
At number ten, it was the perfect point for the 'Perfect Ten' Tye Dillinger to make his main roster [re]début, which popped the crowd (and me), providing another top-notch surprise. He and Zayn stuck it to Strowman as James Ellsworth made his way, tentatively, to the ring. Ellsworth still hadn't made it in when Dean Ambrose appeared, but was easily tricked into diving in and being fodder for the elimination machine Strowman. Baron Corbin came out to make it a four-on-one on Braun who responded by adding Dillinger to his list, before he received a Helluva Kick from Zayn and a lariat from Corbin which sent him over-and-out. Kofi Kingston and The Miz entered next. Kofi continued his Rumble tradition of impressive escapes by almost impaling himself on a ring-post. Sheamus in, followed by Big E then Rusev in a protective mask and Cesaro, which made it quite a melée. Proper battle royale stuff. The commentary noted that Sheamus and Cesaro lost their Tag Titles to Gallows and Anderson on the pre-show, conspicuous by it's absence from this DVD. Xavier Woods entered to complete the New Day too.
The Alamo Dome went dark and the fireflies came out as Bray Wyatt made his usual grand entrance and set to dealing some damage, although his explosiveness was one-upped by the incoming Apollo Crews. The New Day were eliminated en-masse by Cesaro and Sheamus before Jericho opportunistically tipped the squabbling pair over as well. The newest Wyatt family member, Randy Orton, rampaged at 23, Ziggler at 24 going after his recent enemies Miz, Ambrose and Crews. Another Wyatt, Luke Harper, was next, but reneged his family ties to unsuccessfully attack Bray and Orton. Brock Lesnar stormed the ring taking out Ambrose and Ziggler, and left the rest in a devastating wake of suplexes and F5's. Enzo Amore was the hapless subsequent entrant, rag-dolled straight back out by the 'Beast Incarnate'.
Goldberg made his trademark entrance as well at 28 (as if the pace hadn't increased enough), stomped down to the ring and speared Lesnar allowing him to be cast out the ring. Yet again the stadium darkened, this time for the supernatural presence of The Undertaker. Goldberg took out Rusev and Harper, whilst the 'Deadman' pitched Baron Corbin over the top before he made sure Brock's nemesis hit the deck too. Last man out to the ring, Roman Reigns, got a chorus of booing from the Texan crowd as he stared off with Undertaker. Not as much as when Roman tossed him out a few moments later, after he had taken care of Miz and Zayn. Reigns got some revenge for earlier by finally putting Jericho out, and the crowd's ire increased as another unwanted Rumble victory for the despised Samoan Superman loomed. The intense anger seemed to max-out seconds later as he took out the charismatic cult-leader Wyatt, but the pay-off came as Orton snapped off a trademark 'RKO outta nowhere' to stun Reigns enough to claim the win and his Wrestlemania Main Event slot.
This really does live up to my expectations of excellence from the start to finish, the under-card oozing with it's title match prestige, each one exemplary of it's genre, and a Royal Rumble that made up for a slight lack of genuine surprise entries with coherent narrative. On that note, an NXT call up and a solitary unexpected Cruiserweight competitor barely qualified as surprise, but they were timed so well that it kept the early momentum of the epically long match flowing. If moments of wrestling history that actually live up to their significance is what you want from a PPV, then this ticks every box.
Available now from www.WWEDVD.co.uk