WADE KELLER PODCAST - Royal Rumble preview with Sam Roberts
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Show opener & Io Shirai vs. Candace LaRae – HIT: When I saw the band on stage to kick off the show, I was immediately skeptical. Their first song that accompanied the video package of last week’s events, I could have done without. That said, the live music with the charismatic and energetic entrance from Io Shirai really worked well. Between that pumped up entrance and then the determination in LaRae’s eyes during her walk down the ramp, they had me more “Hype” than Mojo Rawley could only dream of.
Early into the match, LaRae was hit in the face giving her a nose bleed. That visual coupled with the sheer intensity from both women made this match feel like a big deal right out of the gate. This was a very competitive match right down to the last minute. Ripley ran out to save LaRae after Io’s victory. I thought this was a nice touch to continue the story from the past few weeks and once and for all cement Ripley as a babyface in the NXT realm. It was a tad confusing since she’s portrayed a heel on NXT UK. We’ve speculated and assumed that Ripley is now a face, but it’s nice to get that solid, concrete confirmation.
Last thought. I may not have been the biggest fan of the live music to start the show. But it’s notable and should be applauded that except for Nigel and Mauro, the first 20ish minutes of this show were dominated by women. Beth, the two competitors, the ref, and the band – all female.
Balor Speaks – HIT: Shade thrown at the main roster and Bray Wyatt! This was one of the best promos that I have seen out of Finn Balor since he joined the company, period. He commanded the ring, he spoke from the heart and with a sincerity that we rarely see out of a WWE promo. Balor seemed to be able to have some leeway with what he said. Looked like he went out there and had a blast getting the crowd energized. Logically, his challenge to Gargano makes sense after the attack last week. That’s a feud to look forward to!
Shane Thorne vs. Bronson Reed – HIT: First time we’ve seen Thorne since his loss to Gargano a few weeks ago. This was a relatively competitive match between the two Aussies, especially with Thorne kicking out of some explosive offense at each end of the match. The bout itself was okay, but the finish elevated Reed in my opinion. Reed has that rare combination of heft and agility that allows him to stand out from the rest. Thorne still regained a bit of credibility losing after a competitive bout, but whatever credibility he has left is dwindling just a bit after these two consecutive losses. Mid match, there was a spot where the two of them traded more chops than Ric Flair threw over the entirety of his career. It was a bit hokey and ill-executed for my liking. That spot in particular was a pretty large miss for me Thankfully the rest of this match, most notably the finish, went over in a big way.
Asuka & Kairi Sane (c) vs. Dakota Kai & Teagan Nox for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships – HIT:The Kabuki Warriors were welcomed back in a big way by the Full Sail arena. So much so, that Nox and Kai were getting very audibly booed during introductions. We’ve seen a heel Asuka before, but she must have had an extra cup of coffee before walking down the ramp tonight. She had this extra pep in her step Both she and Kairi exuded this heelish, yet incredibly cool aura from the moment they walked down the ramp. I was very pleased with how well oiled the Kabuki Warriors were throughout this match. They cut the ring down the middle, kept their opponent on their side of the ring and utilized frequent tags to keep themselves fresh. Perfect heel Tag Team psychology. I almost felt bad for Kai and Nox. They came into the match as the faces and took the bulk of the offense while the crowd fiercely stood behind the Kabuki Warriors. Even when Nox got the hot tag from Kai, the crowd went mild. Can’t take anything away from Kai or Nox, I think just about anyone would have been in that same spot against the returning Full Sail Favorites, Asuka and Kairi. Shayna, Duke and Shafir came down to the ring to attack Kai and Nox, and once again Ripley enters the Arena to save the day. Before we knew it, Belair, Shirai and LaRae entered the fray. During the massive ruckus, Regal appeared on the platform above the announcers to officially make the first ever Women’s Wargames!
Tyler Bate vs. Cameron Grimes – HIT: Last week, we saw this feud begin between these two men and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since. Most may have disagreed with me last week in Grimes vs. Riddle where I thought that Grimes came away a bit damaged. After rewatching the match, I’ll agree with the masses. I think he came off looking very strong in that competitive match to Riddle. As far as this match is concerned, it was another competitive match on a show chalk full of them – and that is NOT a bad thing! Tyler Bate has been around long enough and established himself as enough of a name where Grimes could take some offense from the smaller Bate and still look credible, as long as he could dish out just as much punishment. Dain’s distraction allowed Bate to take the loss without losing too much credibility and allowed Grimes to take cheap win. Just like every other match on the card this far, everything had its purpose and place to advance the storyline to the next week. RAW and Smackdown cannot touch the intricacies of NXT right now.
Keith Lee & Matt Riddle vs. Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly – HIT: My inner child dies a little bit more every time Riddle has someone kick out of the Jackhammer, and tonight Fish kicked out at ONE! As much as I hate seeing part of my childhood die, I absolutely love it. This Riddle/Goldberg thing is so stupid that it’s pure gold. On paper the duo of Lee and Riddle seems like an odd pairing to me, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this pairing! From their physical appearances to their grappling styles Lee and Riddle are nearly polar-opposites and amazing singles competitors in their own rights. That stark contrast, to me at least, worked very well and they seemed to have a natural charisma with one another in the ring. I had expected UE to go over due to interference, so that was no surprise there. But it was great to see UE get their comeuppance after Ciampa joined Lee and Riddle for a UE beatdown. I absolutely loved Ciampa’s closing comment. “Goldie, you’ll have to wait. Daddy’s going to war!” We know how much it means to Ciampa to reclaim his title. For him to put his hunt for the gold on the back burner, it sells the importance of this match to him.