SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2023 HITS AND MISSES
JANUARY 28, 2023
SAN ANTONIO, TX. AT THE ALAMODOME
AIRED ON PEACOCK, 8:00 p.m. EST, 7:00 a.m. CST
BY FRANK PETEANI (@FrankPeteani), PWTORCH.COM CONTRIBUTOR
Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and Pat McAfee
It’s been a while since we’ve last spoken. Let me take this opportunity to say I hope everyone had a great holiday and hope the new year is off to a good start for all. Let’s look at the Royal Rumble for 2023 and discuss what was a hit and what was a miss.
Men’s Royal Rumble Won by Cody Rhodes (#30) eliminating Gunther (#1)- HIT
This is very easily graded a hit. There are times pro wrestling when something is obvious and it’s perfectly fine to book accordingly. Given the hype videos in the run-up to the show and the fact that Cody declared his intention last year to win the WWE Championship, it was a no-brainer to have him win the 2023 edition.
I liked the start of the match with Gunther and Sheamus. WWE frequently “calls back” to previous feuds with the #1 and #2 entrants and they did that here with two men who arguably had the match of the year in 2022 or at the very least one of the best matches. I had a feeling Gunther might get the “iron man” spot and low and behold he did. It shows you the faith they have in him and the fact they have plans for him. Not to plug my recent edition of Pro Wrestling Then and Now, but Stephanie Chase and I talked about doing that with The Rock in 1998 when he was a finalist but came up short to eventual winner “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. If memory serves, he came in at #4 or #5, I can’t remember off the top of my head, but he went a while in that match. Back to this year, having him finish with Cody means not only Cody won, but Gunther won too as did the crowd. We got a good exchange between them like that of Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker in 2007.
Multiple matches were set up as well. Logan Paul vs. Seth Rollins looks like a lock. Say what you want about Logan, but he’s done a nice job in his matches to date, and he looks the part. It’s a match that makes sense for Seth. Another encounter between Bobby Lashley and Brock Lesnar is on the menu and the stare down between Gunther and Brock like that of Hogan and Warrior in 1990 suggests they could be ticketed for SoFi Stadium in April. Eliminating Lesnar was noticeable, but necessary to put juice on a match between he and Lashley. Lesnar didn’t need to be in the match for a long time.
As Brandon LeClair pointed out in his report, Drew McIntyre and Sheamus working in tandem and not teasing phony tension was good. We see too much of that in these matches historically. It’s ok for friends to get along and not fight because it’s every man for themself.
With Rey Mysterio not coming out at #17 and Dominik coming out next with his mask, they furthered that story as well. I know people want to see Rey but I’d rather they accomplish telling a story than a token appearance in a match. It makes their eventual encounter mean more.
On the downside, I didn’t like Montez Ford getting eliminated so quickly. I thought there may be plans for him moving forward. He might have been hurt or they just didn’t want him in long for whatever reason (perhaps they wanted to focus on Gunther’s moment). You can only push so many people. I’m not too worried as Montez will have his day. In addition, they all put indicated Edge and Judgment Day’s feud is not over. They still must do something involving Beth Phoenix and Rhea Ripley, so if that’s the case it’s fine. Once they do that, they need to end the feud. It’s gone on long enough. I also didn’t need Booker T as the legend appearance but, it wasn’t grossly offensive either. It’s his home state. Let him have a moment.
There are plenty of other things to discuss but I think these are the highlights. Starting with this match was the 100% right call, given what was to come in the final segment.
Pitch Black Match: Bray Wyatt defeats L.A. Knight – MISS
This match was dead in the water for me going in. Being fully transparent, if I weren’t doing this report, I’d have paid zero attention to this match.
Here’s the problem. You have Bray Wyatt who is supposed to be an attraction, this intriguing multi-layered character, and a “different kind of cat.” I don’t need him doing a match sponsored by a business partner. I understand doing business like this and if we’re going to watch WWE it comes with the territory. Do that with someone else, not a character like Bray especially in his first match back after returning to the company.
On the positive side the offense wasn’t grossly offensive, and they kept in short. The black light was kind of cool, but the problem is Knight’s ring gear glowing in the dark stuck out like a sore thumb and whatever it was that blew up from the announcers’ desk was a bit hokey.
The post-match is what really killed this. Bray magically changing his mask and seeming impervious to being attacked with the glowing kendo stick was eye roll-inducing. Uncle Howdy diving off a structure onto Knight, and missing him by a few feet I might add, and fire starting was not a good look. We don’t need to be supernaturally burning people on TV in 2023. Leave that in the Attitude Era. The Firefly Funhouse puppets looking on was icing on the cake, but everything was ridiculous at this point so you might as well go all the way!
I understand there are people that enjoy what Bray does and as they say, to each his own. It doesn’t bother me on balance, but when he gets supernatural it’s too much. Tell good pro wrestling stories. Leave what Bray does for the movies or a streaming series.
Raw Women’s Championship: Bianca Belair defeats Alexa Bliss to retain – MISS
The result was a foregone conclusion. There was a 0% chance of Alexa winning this match.
I don’t know how to judge the length. Alexa is an important character so you can’t just have her lose in two minutes. The problem is, they probably should have her lose in two minutes to a woman who has held the title since WrestleMania and holds two victories over Becky Lynch. 7 ½ minutes I suppose is fine. The crowd didn’t feel into this except for Belair’s spots and her KOD finishing move. I do like that the match was straightforward and they kept Belair away from the shenanigans.
They could have done this on the 30th anniversary of Raw instead of doing a match with Bianca and Sonya.
I didn’t think Uncle Howdy would appear after the match given his involvement. For those into this story it does create a hook, so I’ll say that’s a positive.
Women’s Royal Rumble: Rhea Ripley (#1) eliminates Liv Morgan (#2) – RELUCTANT HIT
The match kind of dragged for me. I had this as a miss, but in good faith I can’t do that publicly. I’m giving it a hit. It’s an infield single though. I had some issues.
Rhea should have won this rumble, and that’s the way they went. The problem for me was Rhea coming in at #1. Edge won it from #1 two years ago and eliminated #2 Randy Orton like they did here with Rhea and Liv. Bianca won it from #3 in 2021. They just did an “iron man” spot with Gunther earlier in the evening, even though he didn’t win. I get why they like this spot and no woman has won it from #1 quite yet as might good friend pointed out. It just feels like they’re doing it for the sake of doing it. She eliminated six women. I’d have liked her coming in a little later and start hoisting people out. Why not? Tell a different story of someone dominating (the “Diesel” or “Kane” spot) but winning the match. It would have stood out more than what they did, but that’s just my opinion.
For me, I’d have had Becky Lynch and Liv go #1 and #2, which would have acknowledged their feud from last year. I understand that’s when Becky was a heel, but that doesn’t matter in these matches.
Nia Jax? (Let me not say anything here.). Chelsea Green? I’ll say this. When AEW isn’t interested, you got some problems.
Like the feud between Edge and Judgment Day, it looks like business between Damage CTRL and Becky is not over. I don’t know if that’s a positive but, they did scrap the steel cage match on Raw so, you had to expect business to continue. Perhaps Becky recruits her old rival Asuka, who returned with her more violent character (a positive), to help settle the score. That could be fun to watch.
On the positive side, Liv at #2 going the distance is fine. It gives her something on her resume you could use down the line. Asuka in her more violent character I talked about earlier in the final four works. I thought Becky would be a final four participant, but you have to be careful there. Nikki Cross was fine, and the focus was on Rhea, Liv, and Asuka. You could have bought than any of those women could have won.
The other ULTRA POSITIVE was Doudrop returning as Piper Niven. I’m sorry but I hated the Doudrop name from day one and I hated it even more when she accepted it on TV. Look, you do what you have to do sometimes, and I understand why she did it. Thank God we don’t have to hear that awful name anymore.
Finally, I like that some NXT women (Zoey Stark, Indi Hartwell, Roxanne Perez) got a little shine in the match. It’s interesting Cora Jade wasn’t brought up here but, I suppose you only have so many spots. I like that we didn’t see token legend spots. They’ve done that too often in the early going of having the women’s rumble albeit out of necessity. Let your current roster get some time. Build future stories.
Like I said, I had this as a miss but sometimes you have to sleep on things and look at the entire picture. Not everything is going to be perfect. What they did wasn’t grossly offensive and on balance there were several postives.
Hardy Performance – MISS
These shows are going to go long enough on Peacock because of the partnership. Do we need a concert appearance especially at the Royal Rumble? The crowd is ready for Owens vs. Roman. Do this earlier in the night if you have to do it.
WWE Undisputed Universal Championship: Roman Reigns defeated Kevin Owens to retain with a Post-Match Angle – GRAND SLAM
Wow. Where do I start? The Bloodline story has been the best story in WWE in some time and last night added another stellar layer.
As far as the match is concerned the result was a foregone conclusion as were several things on this show. That’s perfectly fine. Some things serve a purpose. Kevin was there to be a viable opponent and take Roman to the limit. Now, they did do the ref bump, as they often do in Roman matches, and do the very frequently used opponent getting the pin with no ref present spot. I don’t love that but, like anything else you deal with certain things especially when you watch pro wrestling. In this match the key point for me was the delay in Sami getting Roman the chair. We knew he was conflicted heading into the match and at that point, we had an idea of the “final test” as Roman alluded to on Raw.
Let’s get right to the matter at hand. Sami stopping Roman from hitting Kevin with the chair got the train moving. He’s been subservient and submissive to Roman and the Bloodline in general to date. I like, no I love that in character he had the courage to stop the “head of the table” and did not look intimidated in doing as such. That’s key ingredient #1. #2, when Roman told Sami to hit Kevin with the chair, Sami had the balls to hit Roman instead. Given WWE’s recent track record, I was afraid Sami was going to refuse to do it and the Bloodline beat him down. That would be the “dumping the guy/girl which turns him/her babyface” routine like they did with Seth Rollins in late 2016 and with Sasha Banks & Bayley in late 2020. No, this time they got it right. Sami MADE THE DECISION to tell Roman and the Bloodline to go “F off” (as the crowd did). That’s the way you turn someone, and it puts him on a higher level.
If that wasn’t enough, Jey Uso makes the decision to walk away. You not only get one, but two people making the call to walk out on Roman. You have multiple stories to tell in the coming months at a time where it’s challenging when they have to build a bridge from the Royal Rumble to WrestleMania. It’s going to make television must watch. WWE must capitalize on this and advertise what they are doing on Raw and Smackdown to further the story. Make people tune in to watch and go full thrust. Don’t dilly dally.
Do we remember that Cody won the Rumble earlier in the night? On that, the placement was perfect. You allowed enough time for that to sink in and gave the crowd a clear path to be into what they did to close out the show.
When we judge a wrestling PLE or PPV, whatever you want to call it these days, we often look at the matches and say “ahh that sucked” or “they didn’t need to do this.” It’s better to step back and look at the overall picture. What was the goal of the promotion and on what stories did they want you to focus? One thing I’ll say about WWE is that in general, they focus on two to three stories tops and make sure you know their importance. Last night Cody got his moment, Gunther took a big step forward, Rhea was emphasized, and you had everything in the main event and post-match. Not to pick on AEW, but they load their shows with good matches (let’s be fair), but things tend not to stand out as much. I’m not saying I like the WWE formula better, but more of their shows stand out for one or two things. This is not me saying I like the WWE formula more than AEW. I’m just pointing out the differences.
We have a tie on the hits and misses so let’s grade the overall show. There were ups and certainly some downs. Over four hours is unacceptable by the way. I can forgive it for WrestleMania, but not the Royal Rumble or any other show throughout the year. They get a pass because of the show closing angle and on balance the show was a hit.
Therefore, the hits have it and this report is adjourned. See you in three weeks for Elimination Chamber!
Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankPeteani. Thank you for reading!