LECLAIR’S WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2024 REPORT: Alt perspective, detailed coverage of men’s and women’s Rumble matches, Universal title, KO vs. Paul

By Brandon LeClair, PWTorch contributor


JANUARY 27, 2024

Announcers: Michael Cole & Corey Graves & Pat McAfee

-The show opened cold on a drone shot high above the air in St. Petersburg, overlooking Tropicana Field below. Inside, Michael Cole narrated a brief montage of wrestlers arriving at the venue earlier in the day – a strong departure from other premium live event introductions.

-A slow fade gave way to a cold open narrated by Hulk Hogan.

-The camera opened to a close-up shot of the WrestleMania XL sign hanging high above Tropicana Field. Michael Cole welcomed the audience, saying there were over 40,000 in attendance. He talked over more wrestler arrivals – namely Cody Rhodes and CM Punk. He noted that Punk left the company ten years ago after Royal Rumble, and returns tonight for his first televised match since then. Cole introduced his partner, Corey Graves.

-Pat McAfee’s music hit and he jogged to the ring. Cole said he knew about McAfee’s appearance this time. Graves was upset. Pat shoved him back into his chair and gave Cole a hug before putting on a headset and pulling up a chair. Cole tossed to Samantha Irvin, waiting in the ring. She introduced the women’s Royal Rumble match.

-Samantha Irvin went over the rules. She introduced entrant #1, Natalya. She slapped hands with fans on both sides of the aisle on her way to the ring. Cole noted that it’s her seventh appearance and said four people have won from the #1 spot, including Rhea Ripley last year. Graves said it could be a big night for Natalya and the Hart Dynasty.

Naomi was revealed as entrant #2. Her music played for quite a while before Cole acknowledged the surprise. She received a strong reaction from the crowd. He called her a former TNA Knockouts Champion by name.

(1) Women’s Royal Rumble match

Natalya (#1) and Naomi (#2) shook hands and locked up. Natalya briefly got the better of the returning Naomi, but Naomi quickly regained ground and took Nattie down with a ‘rana. Both women collided center ring with double cross-bodies just as Bayley entered at #3. She slid in the ring to a brief, loud “Bayley” chant. Naomi quickly took her to the corner and hit her with a modified Rear-View. She hit Natalya with the same move, then tied her up in the ropes. She and Nattie jockeyed for position. Bayley joined in, working with Natalya to try to take Naomi out. The action quickly spilled back to the center of the ring.

Candice LeRae (#4) was out next. She threw hands with Bayley, then slid over the back of Natalya. Candice caught her with some quick kicks to the head. She stepped over Nattie’s back and into the waiting arms of Bayley, giving her a Codebreaker onto the back of Natalya. LeRae followed up with a headscissor and kick to Naomi. Bayley dropped LeRae and challenged her to fight back. Naomi paired off with Nattie while Bayley worked over Candice in the opposite corner. Jordynne Grace (#5) surprised the crowd. She wore her TNA Knockouts title to the ring. “TNA’s got an absolute weapon!” McAfee exclaimed.

Grace took down LeRae, Bayley, and Nattie with ease. She stood in the center of the ring with rival Naomi. They shared a smile and hug, but Grace quickly attacked. She tossed Naomi through the middle rope. Meanwhile, Bayley dumped Nattie over the top, but she hung on. Jordynne drove her boots into Nattie’s side, trying to take her out, Indi Hartwell entered at #6. The match ticked toward 8:00. Hartwell gave several women clotheslines. She delivered a Spinebuster to Bayley, then helped LeRae splash the Damage CTRL “leader.” Indi and Candace worked Bayley into the corner. Grace tossed LeRae to the apron and tried to eliminate her, but Candice held on. The clock ran down again. Asuka (#7) was next out. She kissed her Women’s Tag Team title and leapt to the top rope, delivering missile dropkicks to Hartwell and Natalya.

Bayley began barking orders at Asuka. The stable-mates worked together to drop Indi. They set her up for a double Suplex, but Hartwell blocked it. Asuka managed to toss her to the apron. She delivered a stiff kick, but Hartwell hung on. Indi tried to pull Asuka out. Bayley made the save. Asuka teetered on the edge, but Bayley pulled her to safety. She kicked Hartwell in the back and Indi dropped to the floor, marking the first elimination well past 10:00. Ivy Nile entered next at #8.

Ivy Nile exploded into the ring with a flurry of offense on Bayley and Asuka. She and Naomi struggled mightily through a tilt-a-whirl back-breaker dead-lift. Jordynne Grace and Candice LeRae continued to trade elimination attempts. Asuka and Naomi paired off in the corner. Bayley talked some trash in the middle, then invited Michael Cole to get in the ring. Katana Chance (#9) entered next. Graves said her balance is other-worldly and that could help her tremendously in this match. Chance dropped Asuka with a basement dropkick. She attempted a Wheelbarrow slide on Grace, but Jordynne gave her a tossing Suplex. Grace and Ivy Nile lifted LeRae and Chance in tandem and delivered stereo stalling Suplexes before turning their attention to each other.

Bianca Belair (#10) headed to the ring to a big reaction. She leapt over the top rope, nearly tripping, then dropped Bayley. She jumped to Grace and took her down. Bayley and Asuka ate a double Blockbuster from the EST. Belair kipped up and knocked the Damage CTRL duo toward the ropes, but they caught themselves. Bianca worked Chance and LeRae into the corner, then took them both down. She added Bayley to the mix and gave a springboard Moonsault to all three. Kairi Sane entered at #11.

Nearly 19:00 into the match, only Indi Hartwell had been eliminated. Bayley, Asuka and Kairi Sane worked together to dump Candice LeRae over the top and eliminate her. Shortly after, Tegan Nox entered at #12. Nox went for Asuka first, then Ivy Nile. She gave Bayley a spinning back elbow, then broke up a stalemate between Naomi and Natalya in the corner. Tegan tossed her body at a downed Bayley in the corner, then delivered a rolling Senton off the top as she stood. Jordynne Grace re-emerged and scooped Nox into the air for a Powerbomb over the top, but Natalya stopped it. Nattie gave Tegan a hug, then tried to toss her out. Tegan spun her around and tossed her instead. Nattie was shocked. Bayley immediately ran up behind Nox and dumped her, too. Nox and Nattie sat in shock at ringside.

Kayden Carter (#13) entered. She dropped Asuka and delivered a running boot to her face. Katana and Chance worked together to try to dump Asuka over the top. Kairi Sane ran in to make the save, but Carter backdropped her over the top rope. Sane held on to the bottom rope and folded her legs just high enough to keep her toes from scraping the floor. She tried to pull herself back in, but wound up tumbling to the floor. Asuka got knocked out by Chance and Carter at the same time. Cole said that only Bayley remained for Damage CTRL. “I thought you had a plan!” Bayley yelled at her cohorts.

The counted down to Chelsea Green at #14. Cole noted that she was eliminated almost immediately last year. Belair immediately tried to toss her. Green held on. Bianca tried a second time, but Chelsea caught herself again. Green got herself back in the ring and caught Belair with a kick. Bianca turned her attention to Jordynne Grace. The two traded shots, then fought out onto the apron. Belair got Grace up in the air and gave her a K.O.D. on the apron. Grace tumbled to the floor, eliminated. Piper Niven entered at #15, marking the half-way point at 25:45.

Just as Niven got to ringside, Green was thrown over the top. Piper caught her in her arms, teased dropping her, then safely deposited her on the steps to re-enter. Niven dropped Chance and Carter, stacked them, and splashed them. Chance screamed out in pain. She quickly rolled under the bottom rope to the outside. Belair, Nile, and Carter worked together to down Niven in the corner. They tried to hoist her over the ropes, but were unsuccessful. Xia Li entered at #16. She slid into the ring and dropped everyone in sight with swift kicks. She gave Carter a capture Suplex. Chelsea Green hooked her up for the Un-Pretty-Her, but Li countered and hoisted Green onto her shoulders for a spinning throw. In the corner, Naomi was joined by a number of wrestlers in trying to eliminate Belair. She slid back inside the ring to safety after a brief struggle.

Zelina Vega entered at #17. She was attacked on the apron, but bought off her foes and climbed to the top rope. She hit Carter with a Meteora, then caught the returning Chance with a knee. Piper missed a forearm to Vega. Zelina leapt off the middle rope onto her, but Niven caught her in Powerslam position. Vega countered it with a tornado DDT. Maxxine Dupri (#18) entered for her first Royal Rumble just before 32:00. She caught Bayley in a headscissor and gave her a spin. Dupri posed for the crowd, then threw some punches at Niven. Piper dropped her and stomped her, but Dupri held onto the leg. Zelina Vega climbed Niven, looking for Code Red. Belair gave Niven a kick, allowing Vega to complete the move.

Belair and Vega worked together to try to toss Piper. Several others joined in, but Chelsea Green broke up the group and pulled Niven to safety. Niven tossed Kayden Carter out. Nia Jax (#19) was out next. Cole called her his favorite to win. The middle of the ring cleared for Jax. The crowd booed her heavily. She tossed Ivy Nile across the ring. Xia Li attacked her first. Jax tossed to the apron and gave her a headbutt, eliminating her with ease. She dumped Ivy Nile over the top next, slamming her head off the ring post. Nile crashed to the floor, eliminated.

Nia Jax crushed Chelsea Green in the corner. Niven tried to give Jax a Suplex, but Nia blocked it and drove Niven’s body into Green. Chelsea was crushed repeatedly against the weight of both Niven and Jax. Belair and Bayley tried to work Jax into the corner. She took both down. She and Niven came charging toward center at the same time. They squashed Chelsea Green between them. Jax tried to give Niven a bodyslam, but dropped her awkwardly on top of Green. The crowd booed. Shotzi (#20) entered the fray.

Naomi gave Jax a dropkick, dropping her to the mat. Shotzi flew in from the top, diving onto Nia. Maxxine delivered a reverse worm  and splash onto Jax. Every other woman in the match teamed up to try to jump Nia. She fought them all ff. Bayley backdropped Maxxine Dupri over the top and to the floor. On the opposite side of the ring, Jax dumped Xia Li, Piper Niven, and Chelsea Green over the top and to the floor. She hoisted Katana Chance high above her head and tossed her onto the crowd waiting on the floor.

With the field dwindling, Becky Lynch entered at #21. She immediately went for Nia Jax, delivering a missile dropkick off the middle rope. Lynch gave Zelina a reverse DDT and Shotzi a DDT. Chelsea Green re-entered, having apparently gone through the middle rope earlier. Becky Lynch tossed her quickly anyway. Alba Fyre (#22) entered the match. She gave Bayley a quick Superkick, then tried to toss her out. Bayley hung onto the bottom rope. Fyre gave Belair a tornado DDT. She hooked both Vega and Shotzi for a move that fell apart during delivery. Fyre and Lynch fought against the ropes. Jax dropped Fyre with a clothesline, then tossed her to the apron. Nia turned her attention back to Becky. They fought in the corner. The clock counted down again.

Shayna Baszler was entrant #23. The submission specialist worked Fyre into a lifting wrist-lock. She dropped her, then gave Shotzi a quick Gutwrench. She followed it up with a spin kick. Baszler kicked Jax. She went to work on Alba Fyre against the ropes. Shotzi caught Lynch with a cross-body off the middle rope. Valhalla (#24) was next. Michael Cole was ecstatic that she was wearing antlers. Halfway to the ring, Valhalla was interrupted by R-Truth’s music. He rushed past Valhalla and entered the ring. “Where are the guys?!” Truth exclaimed. Jax tossed him out immediately. Adam Pearce ran to ringside. He explained to Truth that it’s the women’s Royal Rumble. He told Valhalla to get in the ring. She did, and Jax immediately tossed her out. Cole said she tied Chelsea Green for least amount of time ever in a Royal Rumble match at 5 seconds.

Michin (#25) rushed to the ring. She hooked Bayley and Baszler for a tandem reverse DDT and Uranagi. Michin gave Alba Fyre a springboard tornado DDT off the middle rope. Fyre spilled to the apron. Naomi went to work, attempting to eliminate her. She pulled Fyre’s head between her legs and drove it into the mat in a modified Pedigree. Fyre tumbled to the floor, eliminated. As Bayley argued with Michael Cole again, Zoey Stark entered at #26. She dropped Shotzi with a clothesline and gave Michin a missile dropkick. Vega set Stark up for a Code Red, but Shayna pulled her into the clutch. She tried to dump Zelina over the top, but Vega held on and broke the hold. She pulled Baszler to the apron with her. Vega leapt up for a ‘rana on the apron, but Baszler held onto the ropes. Stark delivered a leaping kick to Vega, sending her crashing into Fyre’s arms on the floor and eliminating her.

Roxanne Perez (#27) joined the match. She and Baszler battled in the corner as the match hit 51:30. Perez dropped Stark with a headscissor takeover. Bayley tried to toss her out, but Perez skinned the cat and took Bayley down. She delivered a dropkick to Jax’s knee. Nia stumbled to the corner, but then caught Perez with a Uranagi. Baszler charged at Jax, but Nia lifted her into a Powerbomb and tossed her out. Michin was next. Nia tossed her with ease. She grabbed Shotzi and Powerbombed her over the top rope onto the already eliminated Baszler and Michin. Cole remarked that Jax was responsible for 8 eliminations.

The camera pulled back and toward the entrance as the clock counted down again. #28 was none other than Jade Cargill. The crowd exploded. Cargill entered the ring and stood face-to-face with Nia Jax. Nia get her a few punches. Cargill shrugged them off, then lifted Jax over one shoulder. She flexed while doing it. Cargill kicked Nia toward the ropes, then dumped her clean over. The reaction was tremendous. Jax looked shocked. Becky Lynch stepped into frame, pointed at Nia and laughed. Bayley tried to dump Cargill from behind. She blocked the attempt with ease, then came to blows with Becky.

Tiffany Stratton (#29) was next. She climbed to the top rope and delivered a Swanton onto a congregation of women waiting for her in the center of the ring. She planted Lynch, then gave Perez an Alabama Slam. Stratton hit a handspring back elbow to Lynch in the corner, then followed up with double knees to the face. Tiffany dumped Becky to the apron. Bayley joined the fray, trying to topple both.

The returning Liv Morgan entered was the final entrant (#30.) She walked to the ring slowly. She hit Codebreakers on Stark and Bayley as soon as she entered the ring, then followed up by taking down Tiffany Stratton. She caught Bayley with Oblivion, then dumped Stark to the apron. Zoey tried to leap back in the ring, but Morgan caught her with a big right hand. Stark launched to the floor, eliminated.

Stratton back-dropped Perez over the top rope. Roxanne held on, but Stratton gave her hand a kick. Perez fell to the floor. They showed quick cut-ins of both Io Sky and Rhea Ripley watching from separate monitors backstage. In the ring, the match ticked past 60:00. Cargill and Belair delivered tandem military press slams, then came face-to-face. The crowd buzzed with anticipation. Stratton and Bayley attacked both women to cut off the face off. Jade went to work on Naomi. She gave her a scoop slam. Lynch tried to give Cargill a Man-Handle Slam, but Cargill blocked it and hoisted Becky onto the top turnbuckle. She gave her a quick punch. Becky spilled to the apron, nearly falling to the floor. Just as she tried to return to her feet, Cargill hoisted Naomi up and spun her legs into Lynch. Lynch fell to the floor. The crowd gasped in shock. Jade tossed Naomi out right behind her.

Bianca Belair and Tiffany Stratton struggled against the ropes, teetering. Bayley slid behind them and dumped them both. The match reset with a final three – Bayley, Jade Cargill, and Liv Morgan. The three engaged in a stare-down as the match approached 64:00. Cargill threw hands first. Bayley tried to toss Morgan, but she held on. Cargill got hung up in the ropes. Morgan tried to deliver Oblivion, but Jade blocked it. Bayley jumped onto the backs of both women, but toppled to the apron. Bayley and Morgan worked together, trying to toss Cargill. The gave her kicks on the apron. Morgan backed up and got a running start. She delivered Oblivion off the middle rope. Cargill tumbled to the floor. Bayley immediately delivered a sliding dropkick to Morgan, sending her to the floor, too.

WINNER: Bayley in 64:58

The final few women in the match sat around at ringside in shock and disappointment. Fireworks exploded from around the WrestleMania sign as Bayley looked on, emotional. Lynch was shown up close at ringside, exhausted and upset. Cargill was seated against the barricade, looking on.

(LeClair’s Analysis: My immediate reaction at the conclusion of the match was to call this the best women’s Rumble to date. A few hours and some great discussion on Wrestling Night in America with Nate Lindberg and a number of callers solidified that opinion for me. In the past, the women’s Rumble has been largely around a few key wrestlers weaving in and around a plethora of legacy talent and under-developed NXT call-ups to fill the thirty-women quota. This match felt decidedly different. Though there were undoubtedly women who didn’t necessarily receive big reactions, nearly everyone in the match felt purposeful. Instead of another year of the Michelle McCool spot, we instead got highlight moments from the likes of TNA Knockouts Champion Jordynne Grace, who had an impressive showing. I thought they told a compelling story with Damage CTRL, despite disappointing early eliminations for Asuka and Kairi Sane. That set up Bayley’s path to her eventual win, even though she wasn’t a focal point for much of the match. It was an obvious precursor to her eventual turn and babyface build for WrestleMania. Bianca Belair, Nia Jax, and Becky Lynch – three favorites going in, each had stories weaved in throughout, and a handful of memorable moments. Then, of course, there was the debut of Jade Cargill. She came off like an absolute instant superstar. Her spots with Jax were a match highlight, and the tension filled stare down between she and Belair was the highlight of the night. Comedy spots from R-Truth and Chelsea Green landed in a big way and didn’t take away from the gravitas of the match at all. This just worked. It was a well worked, well produced, fun opener.)

-L.A. Knight was shown taping up backstage. Michael Cole said the Fatal 4-Way match for the Undisputed Universal title was up next. He tossed to a video package for Premium Plus subscribers.

Randy Orton made his slow, plodding entrance to a big reaction. McAfee couldn’t stop gushing about his physique. A.J. Styles was out second. He switched back to actual wrestling tights and kick pads. L.A. Knight marched to the ring to a strong reaction while McAfee touted a certain meat stick snack. Roman Reigns was last out, flanked by Paul Heyman. Cole talked up his 1,245 reign as champion. “Lot of ones to the sky in gorgeous St. Pete!” Pat said. Michael Cole went through a list of match types Reigns has defended in, concluding with the fact that he’s never put his title on the line in a Fatal 4-Way. Graves said in the discussion of wrestling’s Mt. Rushmore, Roman Reigns is his own Mt. Rushmore. Samantha Irvin delivered championship match introductions.

(2) ROMAN REIGNS (c, w/ Paul Heyman) vs. RANDY ORTON vs. A.J. STYLES vs. L.A. KNIGHT – Fatal 4-Way WWE Undisputed Universal Championship match

Roman Reigns stood alone in the southwest corner of the ring while A.J. Styles, Randy Orton, and L.A. Knight argued amongst themselves briefly. He smiled and watched them trash talk. Suddenly, focus shifted to his corner. The three challengers approached the champion and attacked. The downed him in the corner and hit him with a bunch of stomps. A.J. Styles broke up the truce quickly. He took L.A. Knight to the opposing corner and delivered a series of blows. Randy Orton and Roman Reigns spilled to the outside.

Orton slammed Reigns’ head against the ring steps. Inside, Knight tossed Styles to the floor. He leapt to the floor and slammed A.J.’s head off the announcers desk repeatedly. McAfee let out a loud “yeah!” with the crowd with every hit. Orton and Reigns joined the fray. Randy gave the champion a release back drop onto the table, but it didn’t break. Knight gave the same move to Styles. Orton tried to complete the chain by giving the move to Knight, but he flipped over Randy’s back. Knight drove Orton’s head into the table, crowding chanting “yeah!’ happily. Orton slid free of the last slam and finally delivered the back drop.

The 14-time World Champion turned his attention to the Head of the Table. He tossed him into the ring steps, then back in the ring. Orton stomped on Reigns’ extremities with precision. Reigns rolled to the outside. A.J. Styles returned to the ring. He traded punches with Orton, but quickly got caught by the snap Powerslam. L.A. Knight whipped Orton to the corner and grounded him. He hit a quick running hip check, then knocked Styles to the floor. Reigns snapped back into control with a quick uppercut to Knight. He covered for a two count just before 6:00.

Reigns delivered deliberate strikes to the head of L.A. Knight. The crowd began to boo. He waved a finger at them, then booted a returning Styles back to the floor. Roman cornered Knight and hit him relentlessly with short-arm clotheslines. Knight stumbled out of the corner and ate a leaping lariat from the champion. Knight struggled to his feet. Reigns dropped him with a headbutt. Styles entered the ring and delivered a chop block to the back of Roman’s knee. He kicked him and whipped him toward the ropes. Reigns telegraphed it and dropped Styles with a big back body drop. Reigns looked around at the crowd with disgust. He cocked his fist. L.A. Knight ducked a Superman Punch and began peppering the champion with quick rights. Reigns countered an Irish Whip, but Knight hit a clothesline and DDT.

Randy returned to the ring and ate a Powerslam from L.A. Knight for a cover and two count at 9:30. A.J. climbed to the top turnbuckle, but was thwarted by Knight. L.A. hooked A.J. on the top turnbuckle. Orton came in with a club to the back. He whipped Knight to the opposing corner. Knight exploded out of ith with a Bulldog. He ran back to Styles, hopped onto the top turnbuckle and gave A.J. a Superplex. Knight backed into a groggy champion. He immediately hit Reigns with Blunt Force Trauma. Knight covered, but Styles leapt on top of the cover almost immediately.

Styles and Reigns struggled to their feet. A.J. caught Reigns with a Pale Kick, then set up for a Styles Clash. He hit it. Styles rolled Reigns over for a near fall, broken up just in time by Knight at 12:00. The camera pulled back to a wide drone shot of Tropicana Field as Cole reset the scene. Back in the ring, Orton flung Knight to the apron and delivered his signature draping DDT. Randy adjusted his shoulder and posed for the crowd. He pounded the mat, calling for an RKO but clearly favoring his shoulder. Orton sensed a body behind him. It was Styles, setting up for a Styles Clash. A.J. leapt onto the top rope, but Orton ripped him off with a RKO. He delivered one to L.A. Knight. Roman Reigns exploded onto the screen, looking for a Spear. Orton picked him out of the air with an RKO. Randy hooked the leg, but Solo Sikoa dragged the referee out of the ring at two.

Solo Sikoa leapt onto the apron and gave Randy Orton a Samoan Spike. He pulled L.A. Knight to his feet and gave him the spike, too. Sikoa dragged Knight on top of Orton. Reigns moved into place for a stacked cover. Solo then caught sight of A.J. Styles on the outside. A.J. propped himself against the timekeeper’s barrier. Solo charged, but Styles moved. Solo went crashing through the barricade and into the timekeeper’s area. The referee had crawled back in the ring. Reigns noticed his stacked opponents. Before he could make a cover, he turned around to find a flying A.J. Styles. Styles caught Reigns with a Phenomenal Forearm.Reigns fell onto the stacked pile. Styles covered them all. All three men kicked out at two.

A “this is awesome” chant broke out from the 40,000 strong. Styles headed outside and retrieved a steel chair. The match approached 17:30. Paul Heyman begged Styles for mercy for the champion. Styles drove the chair into Reigns’ stomach. He cracked it over Roman’s back repeatedly. A.J. did the same to Knight. Finally, he turned to Orton. He raised the chair over his head, but Randy poked him in the eye. Orton dumped Styles to the outside. He turned around and ate a Spear from Reigns. Orton wisely rolled to the floor. Knight gave Reigns a huge back drop, then a leaping elbow. He called for Reigns to stand. He set up for another BFT. Reigns pushed him toward the ropes. Knight inadvertently dumped Styles awkwardly. A.J. had been trying to leap in the ring. Reigns hit Knight with a Superman Punch, then immediately caught Styles with a Spear for a cover and three count.

WINNER: Roman Reigns in 19:29 to retain the WWE Undisputed Universal Championship

(LeClair’s Analysis: This is one of the first times in Roman Reigns’ historic Championship run that it felt, to me, that there was some building fatigue among the audience. Perhaps it was the nature of a domed stadium, or the Fatal 4-Way stipulation, or its placement on the card in general, but this just didn’t seem to carry the weight that a Reigns title defense usually does. I get the decision to go this route – Reigns is on TV so little these days that it becomes hard to properly build a title program for him. The burden is lessened dramatically when you have three other guys who can essentially carry the weight of the story and just wait for the champ to show up come match time. All of that led to some void of importance. The crowd popped for the big moves, and the wrestlers themselves, but it didn’t feel like anyone ever felt like Roman’s title was in jeopardy. Watching at home, it certainly never felt that way. There were flashes of fun action – Randy going nuclear with RKOs for the lot, for example, but by and large, it felt very by-the-numbers. Randy came out favoring his shoulder in a way that didn’t necessarily feel like part of the match, too. Hopefully he’s alright. I noticed Michael Cole was more emphatically pro-Reigns than usual, too. He seemed to be pushing back at the criticism that Reigns has become a part-time, absent champion. WWE seems to be aware that the tide may be turning a little bit here, and they’re going to need to make more effort to keep this story fresh.)

-Cody Rhodes was shown exiting his bus. Cole noted that he’s vying to become the third man to win back-to-back Royal Rumbles.

-Kevin Owens was shown marching down a hallway backstage. Cole tossed to a video package for the U.S. title match for Premium Plus subscribers.

An AR wrecking ball broke through an AR brick wall as Kevin Owens’ music rang out in Tropicana Field. Owens marched to the ring with purpose. Graves said that Logan Paul is so far underneath Owens’ skin, that he’ll need tweezers to get him out. Logan Paul headed to the ring, carrying his drink in one hand and the U.S. title in the other. He gave the beverage to a young fan on the ramp. McAfee called Paul the “fastest rising star in history.” Samantha Irvin delivered Championship match introductions. Owens sat stoically on the top turnbuckle, staring down his opponent.

(3) LOGAN PAUL (c) vs. KEVIN OWENS – WWE United States Championship match

Logan Paul stepped to the center of the ring with a smile on his face. He offered a handshake to Kevin Owens. KO punched him the face, hard. Paul crumpled to the mat and Owens threw some stomps in. Paul slid to the outside, covering his eye. He shoved the lens of the camera away as he rounded the ring. Owens was waiting for him. He tossed Paul into the barricade, then back in the ring. Kevin dropped Paul with a clothesline and gave him a standing Senton for a cover and one count. Graves talked about Kevin’s kids being big fans of Paul. McAfee said that Owens had to buy Prime drinks to satisfy them.

Owens delivered an emphatic “suck it” taunt to the U.S. Champion. Paul tossed Owens to the outside. KO shook out his injured hand. Paul mocked him, but turned around and ate a big clothesline. Owens gave Paul a big chop. Paul screamed in agony. He tossed Logan back in the ring. Kevin tried to follow, but Paul shot to his feet and stomped on Owens’ back. Logan slid to the outside and slammed KO’s injured hand against the ring post repeatedly. He bounced it off the ring steps, then tossed Owens in the ring. Paul climbed to the top turnbuckle and delivered a cross body followed by a standing Moonsault for a quick two count.

Paul turned Owens into an Octopus stretch. Owens broke the hold, but Paul took him over with an arm drag. He knelt on top of the arm and continued to beat on the injured hand as the match hit 5:00. Paul tried to bite Owens, so KO hooked Paul’s nostrils. Logan still managed to drop KO and delivered a delayed elbow. Cole said that Owens will make you pay if you show off. Paul draped KO over the middle rope and kicked at the injured hand. He used the referee’s full count as he torqued the wrist and fingers. Paul called for a 619, but Owens ducked it. He dropped the champion with a clothesline. Owens went for a running Senton, but Paul got his knees up.

The U.S. Champion gave Owens a pair of uppercuts. Owens scooped Paul into a Suplex and dropped him across his knee. He slammed Paul again and rushed to the top turnbuckle. KO delivered a big frog splash for a cover and two count just before 8:30. Graves noted that Owens further damaged his hand on the landing. KO looked to deliver the move again, but Paul got his knees up. Logan climbed to the top, looking for a Swanton. Owens rolled out of the way. Paul had a little blood coming from his nose. His chest was beet red. He leapt onto the apron and hit the Buckshot Lariat. Paul climbed to the top turnbuckle and hit Owens with a massive splash for a two count.

Paul pounded at his discolored chest. He hoisted the challenger onto the top turnbuckle. Paul called out to Corey Graves. “You said no man could Suplex Kevin Owens. Well, watch me!” Paul tried, but Owens countered into a modified Super Brainbuster off the middle rope. He covered for a near fall just before 11:00. Owens looked toward the crowd and they rose in support. Logan punted the injured hand of KO. He removed his wrist tape and cocked his right hand. Owens stopped him cold with a Superkick. KO went for a Stunner. The champion shoved him away and delivered a brutal right hand to the back of Kevin’s head. KO crumpled in a heap. Paul covered for a near fall.

One of Paul’s cronies hoped the barricade, looking to help the champion. The referee saw him and tossed him out. WWE officials cornered the man and began walking him out. In the ring, Paul leapt toward Owens. KO caught him with a clothesline. Meanwhile, Austin Theory and Grayson Waller ran to ringside. Waller distracted the officials while Theory slid brass knuckles to Paul. Logan fired, but Owens caught his hand. He ripped the knuckles away. Owens hit Paul in the head with them. He covered. The referee began to count, but caught sight of the brass knuckles on Owens’ hand. He stopped the count and called for the bell.

WINNER: Logan Paul by disqualification in 14:03 to retain the WWE United States Championship

Kevin Owens looked prepared to leave, but quickly thought better of it. He slid back in the ring and attacked Paul. He tossed him to the outside and gave him a Powerbomb through the announcers desk. Owens shook out his injured hand. He stood over the writhing Paul, prepared to attack. Instead, Kevin just took a cough drop from the wreckage of the table and smiled.

(LeClair’s Analysis: This had a fun build, extending beyond WWE TV and into a semi-viral social media stunt that put the cherry on top of an issue that Kevin Owens did a really nice job of making feel legitimately personal. I thought both Corey Graves and Pat McAfee did an admirable job of selling the supposed real-life tension over KO’s children’s fandom of Paul. The match itself was good, but it never kicked into third gear. Paul is settling in to wrestling like, well, an actual wrestler. It’s incredibly impressive, but it’s also a little less showy, which is how he’s earned his reputation thus far. Owens sold the work on his hand incredibly well, and Logan did a nice job honing in on it so incessantly. The finish felt a little cheap, especially given there were only four matches on the entire card, but the post-match beat down from KO served its purpose in bringing the crowd back around and extending the feud for another show. I think this has been a good enough program to warrant going back to well, and by not going all-out here, I think there’s a pretty good chance we see a marked improvement in their next encounter.)

-After a quick break, Cole and Graves talked up Elimination Chamber in Perth, Australia.

-“Gasoline” by The Weeknd was revealed to by the official theme song of WrestleMania XL, marking the 5th year in a row they’ve used The Weeknd.

-Samantha Irvin announced the attendance as 48,044.

-Premium Plus subscribers saw a “by-the-numbers” video package for the Royal Rumble match.

Samantha Irvin announced the rules and introduced the first two competitors. Jey Uso drew unlucky #1. He led the crowd from the top rope as they bounced up and down. Jimmy Uso was revealed to be the 2nd entrant. Jey looked on with concern as Jimmy snarled at his brother from the ramp. Cole noted that it’s the first time the twins have come face-to-face since SummerSlam. Graves called it a surreal moment.

(4) Men’s Royal Rumble match

Jey Uso (#1) and Jimmy Uso (#2) began the match. Jimmy grew wide-eyed as he stepped to his brother in the center of the ring. The twins sized each other up, talking a little trash. Jimmy cocked his fist back first. The two came to blows quickly, trading punches. The crowd yelled “yeet” for Jey punches and “no” for Jimmy’s. Jey almost eliminated Jimmy early, but Jimmy held onto the ropes and stepped back inside. The two traded attempts at Superkicks. Jey hit one first. He climbed to the top rope and went for an Uso Splash. Jimmy got his knees up.

Both brothers writhed on the mat as the clock ticked down. Grayson Waller entered at #3. He wielded a microphone, promising to host an impromptu Grayson Waller Effect. He said that no one cares about the sibling rivalry. He called yeet “cringe.” Waller climbed onto the apron and immediately ate a Superkick. Waller eventually returned to the ring and gave Jey a Flatliner. He helped Jimmy to his feet and threw a finger to the sky. “I acknowledge!” he said. That was enough for Jimmy, who joined in with Waller to attack his brother. The clock ticked down again. A modulated “El Idolo” played over the speakers. The crowd realized who it was. Andrade entered at #4. Cole said it’s been three and a half years since Andrade was in WWE. He quickly sent the Usos to opposing corners, then caught Waller with 2 of the 3 Amigo Suplexes. Waller blocked the last, preventing his elimination.

Carmelo Hayes entered at #5, just before the 6:00 mark of the match. He caught Waller with a springboard clothesline off the middle rope. Jimmy planted a Superkick on the chin of Waller. Hayes delivered the same move to Jimmy. A three-way stand off ensued between Hayes, Jey Uso, and Andrade. Waller came flying back in the ring, tossed earlier through the middle rope. Hayes immediately clotheslined him over the top and to the floor, marking the first elimination just past 7:00.

Shinsuke Nakamura was entrant #6. Tropicana Field sang his theme song long after it had faded out. McAfee danced for them. Nakamura went after Carmelo. Hayes went for a springboard clothesline, but Nakamura dropped him with a side kick to the mid-section. Santos Escobar was next to enter at #7. He went right for Jey Uso, catching him with a step-up kick. He gave one to Nakamura, too. Jimmy tried to lift Santos from behind, but Escobar fought him off and into the corner. He delivered running double knees to both Jimmy and Shinsuke. Escobar tossed Hayes into the air and caught him with a big knee to the mid-section.

Santos met Andrade in the middle of the ring. He pulled him in for a hug. Andrade shrugged him off. Escobar tried to toss him out, but Andrade turned the tables. Both men remained in the match. The camera turned to black and white as the clock rand out again. Karrion Kross (#8) rushed to the ring, trailed by Scarlett. Kross dropped Carmelo Hayes and then exchanged a glance with Jimmy Uso. Kross downed Jey in the corner and stepped aside to let Jimmy hip-check his brother. Jimmy offered his hand to Kross. Karrion ignored him and continued to stomp at Jey. Jimmy broke off to battle Escobar in the corner.

Dominik Mysterio entered at #9. A chorus of boos rang down on him as he sauntered slowly to the ring. Dom circled the ring, in no hurry to enter the match. Graves said he’d strike when the time is right. He finally slid in the ring and immediately ate an overhead belly-to-belly from Kross. Karrion tried to dump Nakamura as the match approached 15:00. Carlito rounded out the first third of the match at #10. Santos Escobar stood alone in the center of the ring, awaiting his arrival. Carlito slid in the ring and Escobar immediately slid through the bottom rope. The veteran, Carlito, dropped Dominik and fished through his tights to find an apple. The crowd loved it. He took a big bite, but Santos tossed him to the apron. Escobar tried to explain to Mysterio how he’d saved him. He turned back to Carlito and got a face full of chewed apple. Carlito tossed Escobar over the top rope and to the floor, eliminating him.

The clock struck zero again, and Bobby Lashley entered at #11. Cole said it’s his sixth appearance in the Rumble. He slammed Kross, then Nakamura. Dominik begged off and ate a Spear for his trouble. Bobby tossed Carlito out of the ring. Kross attacked Bobby from behind, but Lashley fought him off and tossed him out with ease. The Authors of Pain and Paul Ellering marched to the ring. Kross continued to jaw at Lashley. He pulled him to the apron. AOP and Kross ripped Lashley to the floor, eliminating him. The Street Profits ran to ringside to get involved. The six men battled up the ramp and to the back. Meanwhile, Ludwig Kaiser walked past the chaos to enter at #11.

Kaiser mounted Shinsuke Nakamura near the northeast corner and pummeled him. The clock ticked down again, bringing Austin Theory out at #13. Cole mentioned his storied history with Pat McAfee. Theory rolled through the middle rope and delivered a missile dropkick to Kaiser. He gave Hayes the Ataxia. Austin tossed Carmelo over the top, but the NXT breakout star hung on. Hayes moved his attention to Dominik Mysterio. he worked him onto the ropes just as Finn Balor’s music hit. Mysterio’s Judgment Day cohort entered at #14. Balor quickly dumped Carmelo Hayes, bailing out Mysterio. Finn gave Andrade a Sling Blade. Balor gave Andrade some big stomps near the ropes. Theory worked Dominik over in the corner, but Balor made the save. Cole noted that The Usos have been in the match for just over 24:00.

Arena lights dimmed as the clock reached 0:00 again. “Kingdom” rang out and Cody Rhodes (#15) emerged, fans singing along to every word. Fireworks exploded from the rafters as he through his arms back and then rushed to the ring. Cole said that Cody hopes to be the first since Stone Cold Steve Austin to win back-to-back Royal Rumbles. Rhodes immediately gave Austin Theory a Cody Cutter and tossed him out. Dom and Finn cornered Cody and worked him against the turnbuckle. Bronson Reed entered at #16. Judgment Day went to work on Reed, but he worked them both into the corner. He hoisted Dom and Balor onto his back and delivered a massive double Samoan Drop.

Meanwhile, Cody Rhodes escaped peril against the ropes with Jimmy Uso and Ludwig Kaiser. Bronson Reed backdropped Andrade up and out of the ring, eliminating him unceremoniously. Cody came face to face with Shinsuke Nakamura. Shinsuke begged him to “come on!” The two traded punches. Kofi Kingston rushed to the ring as entrant #17. Rhodes worked Nakamura to the apron. He hooked him up and delivered Cross Rhodes through the ropes, sending Nakamura to the floor.

Kofi Kingston was hoisted over the shoulders of Ludwig Kaiser. The two tussled over the top rope, teetering on the apron. Kofi leapt onto the middle turnbuckle and delivered a kick, knocking Kaiser out. Just moments later, Kaiser’s stablemate, the Intercontinental Champion, Gunther, entered at #18. He admonished Kaiser at ringside, then stepped into the ring and dropped Kofi with a chop. Dom tried him. Gunther shrugged him off and chopped him to the mat. Jey Uso ate a chop. Jimmy did a little dance and offered a hand to Gunther. The Intercontinental Champion dropped him with a chop. He gave Reed a body slam.

Cody Rhodes spun Gunther around. He dropped to the mat and delivered a quick uppercut. Kofi flew in, attacking Gunther. He toppled him to the apron. Gunther fired blindly, creating some separation and allowing himself to regain his footing. He grabbed Kofi’s head and ripped him over the top rope and to the floor. No magical save spot this year. Ivar entered next at #19. He dropped Cody Rhodes, then hit a cartwheel clothesline on Jey Uso. Gunther tried to apply a sleeper on Ivar, but the big man backed the champion into the corner. Jimmy offered a handshake to Ivar. Ivar tossed him to the mat.

Ivar and Reed hit opposing ropes and took each other down with simultaneous cross body’s. Bron Breakker entered at #20. Cole said he hits the ropes at 23 miles per hour. “Faster than Tyreek Hill!” he exclaimed. Bron eliminated Jimmy Uso, then tossed Finn Balor out. Bron turned his attention to Gunther. The two men met in the center of the ring. Bron caught Gunther with a Spear. He shook the ropes so hard the ring rattled. Breakker looked toward the entrance for the next participant. It was Omos, entering at #21. M.V.P. walked him down the ramp. Omos dropped Cody Rhodes, Jey Uso, and Gunther with clotheslines. He gave Dominik a chokeslam. Omos gave Bronson Reed a big boot and dumped him haphazardly over the top rope. Ivar tried to leap off the middle rope toward Omos, but Bron Breakker cut him off with a massive Spear. Bron tossed Ivar out.

Breakker turned his attention toward Omos. The clock struck zero again. It was Pat McAfee (#22.) He feigned shock, psyched himself up, and hopped in the ring. McAfee looked horrified as he stared down Omos and Bron Breakker. McAfee deliberately climbed over the top rope and onto the apron. He thought better of it and climbed back in the ring. McAfee took another look at Breakker and Omos, then left the ring again, dropping to the floor this time. “How big is that thing in there?” McAfee exclaimed, referring to Omos. Meanwhile, J.D. McDonagh entered at #23. On his way to the ring, Bron Breakker tossed Omos out. Dominik tossed Breakker right after.

On his way to the ring, McDonagh ate a Spear from a frustrated Bron Breakker. In the ring, Gunther worked Cody over in the corner. R-Truth entered at #24, in the correct match this time. He tossed J.D. McDonagh in the ring on his way. Jey Uso immediately clotheslined J.D. out. Truth climbed onto the apron and began calling to Mysterio to tag him in. The crowd bought in. Dom tagged him. Truth flew wildly at Gunther. He gave him a spin-out Powerbomb and set up for the Five-Knuckle Shuffle. The crowd went wild. Gunther popped to his feet and gave Truth a big boot. The match crossed 42:30 just as The Miz entered at #25.

Michael Cole said The Miz has tied for third all time Royal Rumble appearances at fifteen. Miz dropped Gunther, then came face-to-face with R-Truth. The gave Jey Uso a double hip toss. Miz tried to eliminate Dom, but Truth saved him. Miz tried to talk sense into Truth. Gunther attacked Truth. Miz tried to give Dom a Skull Crushing Finale, but Dom tripped Miz into the ropes and delivered a 619. The buzzer sounded again and Damian Priest entered at #26. Priest stepped in the ring and clocked R-Truth. He picked him up and tossed him out, looking down at him with contempt. Miz and Damian Priest paired off.

Priest tossed Miz to the apron. Jey fired some rights at Priest. Damian dropped him with a Uranagi, then gave Gunther South of Heaven. Rhodes returned to action, giving Priest a Suplex onto the apron. He and Damian tried kicks before settling back into the ring. Static filled the speakers and CM Punk entered at #27. “CM Punk” chants rang out. He sent wrestlers to each corner of the ring and delivered signature clotheslines and bulldogs to everyone. Dominik snuck up from behind Punk and tired to toss him out, but Punk side-stepped him and through him over the top and to the floor.

Damian Priest caught CM Punk with a big rolling elbow just as Ricochet entered at #28. Ricochet flipped into the ring and took down Miz. Gunther immediately tossed Ricochet to the apron, but he ducked a chop, leapt to to the top rope and flew back into the ring, dropping the Intercontinental champion. Miz was positioned on the top turnbuckle. Gunther saw this as he rose and immediately gave Miz a massive chop. Miz slumped off the turnbuckle and to the floor, eliminated.

Drew McIntyre entered at #29. He gave Gunther a big boot, then threw Ricochet across the ring with a massive overhead belly-to-belly. Jey Uso, the first entrant, crossed the 50:00 mark in the match. Damian Priest and Drew McIntyre paired off the center, exchanging blows. Drew took control with a big Spinebuster. Jey gave Gunther a Spear, then a Superkick. Gunther teetered dangerously on the ropes. He tried to force him over, but Gunther pulled Jey over him and dumped him to the floor. The camera focused on Jey’s face as he realized he’d been eliminated.

The clock hit zero for the final time, and Sami Zayn entered at #30. The returning Zayn received a warm welcome, the crowd continued to sing his theme long after it had faded out. He went right for McIntyre, cornering him and throwing wild rights. Priest pulled Sami away and the two tussled against the ropes. Sami broke free and went back to Drew. He clotheslined him over the top, but McIntyre managed to hang on. Priest went for South of Heaven on Ricochet, but Ricochet flipped through it. He kicked Priest in the head. Ricochet tried to kick McIntyre, but Drew caught his ankle and flipped Ricochet right over the top rope to the floor. Ricochet hit with a resounding thud.

Six men remained. Rhodes caught Priest with a Pedigree. Gunther gave Cody a dropkick. Punk gave Gunther a dropkick. McIntyre gave Punk a Future Shock DDT. Sami Zayn delivered an Exploder to McIntyre. He followed up with the Heluva Kick. Zayn spun around and ate a kick from Priest. Priest lifted Zayn for a Razor’s Edge, but Sami slid down his back and clotheslined Priest out of the ring. McIntyre immediately dumped Zayn.

The camera cut to both Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, watching separately from different sky boxes in Tropicana Field. The remaining four men – CM Punk, Cody Rhodes, Gunther, and Drew McIntyre stood in opposing corners. Gunther gave Rhodes a massive clothesline. McIntyre dropped Punk with a big chop. Gunther and Drew entered a chopping war. Gunther punishing Rhodes, McIntyre working on Punk. The two big men stared each other down in between chops. Punk tried to fight out of the corner, but Drew crumpled him.

Punk missed wildly with a spin kick. McIntyre dropped him with a neckbreaker. Drew called for a Claymore. Punk sidestepped it and called for the G.T.S. He hoisted McIntyre, but Drew slid down his back and dropped Punk with a Glasgow Kiss. Meanwhile, Gunther had applied a Sleeper to Cody Rhodes. McIntyre charged at them. Cody ducked. McIntyre hit Gunther with the Claymore. Cody hit the ropes, looking for a cutter. Drew picked him out of the air with a Claymore.

McIntyre counted down, then gave a Claymore to CM Punk. He kipped up and looked toward the WrestleMania sign. “I’m not the same kid I was ten years ago,” Drew barked at Punk. He tried to toss Punk, but Punk held on. He hoisted Drew up and over the top, eliminating him. McIntyre was shocked. The match ticked toward 60:00 as Gunther gave Punk a massive dropkick. He pulled him in and delivered a Powerbomb. Gunther looked for one on Rhodes, too, but Cody countered. Gunther and Cody fell toward the ropes. Rhodes grabbed a headlock. He pulled Gunther over the top to the apron. Gunther fell to the floor, eliminated.

The camera pulled back as the crowd rose to their feet. They cut to the two world champions again, surveying the scene. CM Punk and Cody Rhodes rose slowly and met in the center of the ring, trading right hands. Punk kicked Rhodes in the gut and grabbed a headlock, working Cody toward the ropes. Rhodes broke the hold and the two caught each other with knees. Both men were down in the center of the ring. Cole reset the stage.

Punk and Rhodes rose to their knees, trading forearms. The crowd seemed conflicted. Punk caught Cody with a spin kick, then a trio of quick slaps. Cody stumbled to the corner. Punk charged, but Cody leapt over him. He caught Punk with a snap Powerslam. Cody fired up the crowd. He went for the Cody Cutter, but Punk blocked it. He gave Cody a trio of German Suplexes. Cody retreated to the corner. Punk caught him with a running knee and bulldog. He threw his arms out and called for the G.T.S. Punk went for it, but Cody slid down his back. He set up for Cross Rhodes. Punk fought free.

Cody gave Punk some quick jabs, followed by the Bionic Elbow. Rhodes looked toward the sign, then picked Punk up. He went for Cross Rhodes again. Punk slipped free and kicked Cody in the head. Rhodes stumbled against the ropes. Punk hoisted him up, over,and onto the apron. Rhodes slid back inside with relative ease. Punk stomped at Cody’s back. The match hit 65:00. Punk was receiving a decidedly mixed reaction. He hoisted Rhodes again. Cody slid free once more and delivered Cross Rhodes. He dropped to his knees, exhausted. “You gotta go!” Rhodes told Punk. He hoisted him to his feet. Punk was playing opossum. He sprang to life and hoisted Rhodes up, finally delivering the G.T.S.

Rhodes was down. Punk gasped from air. He hoisted Rhodes again, this time dumping him over the ropes. Cody hung on, forcing Punk to let him go, lest be pulled over. Punk hooked Rhodes and delivered a Pedigree. He called for the G.T.S. again. “I didn’t wait ten years to lose to Dusty’s kid!” Punk yelled to the hard-cam. He picked up Cody again. He tossed him up for another G.T.S. Rhodes caught his leg. Rhodes grabbed Punk’s head and tossed him over the top rope and to the floor.

WINNER: Cody Rhodes in 68:13

Cody Rhodes celebrated corner to corner. Punk was shown at ringside, dejected. Cody climbed the turnbuckle and pointed to the WrestleMania sign as fireworks exploded from all around. Then, without hesitation, he turned to the sky boxes. Cody pointed directly to Roman Reigns. Reigns rose to his feet, holding up the title. Cody continued to celebrate as the show faded into a closing montage video package.

(LeClair’s Analysis: There was a lot to like here, but it was marred at times by a tired crowd waiting for the next big entry or moment. I don’t think this quite lived up to the standard set by women’s match earlier in the show, but I do think it had its fair share of memorable moments. Kicking things off with the Usos facing off for the first time since Jimmy’s betrayal of Jey at SummerSlam was a great way to ensure they got a hot crowd from the start, and let those two have a singular moment to set up their presumed WrestleMania program before things got too chaotic. Throughout the match, though, it felt like Jimmy had been reduced to comedic fodder – the J.D. McDonagh of the Bloodline, more or less. They’ve really got to tweak this character and give him more of an edge if they’re going to run with this program. Right now, he feels several notches below Jey. There were a number of compelling story-driven developments, from the continued New Day/Imperium angle, to Gunther’s disappointment in Kaiser. Bobby Lashley continued his arc with Karrion Kross to rather poor results – their interactions fell flat and I don’t think Kross’ new stable is having the desired effect, at least not yet. Sami Zayn’s return was a nice feel good moment, and giving him a key elimination of Damian Priest was a nice touch. Bron Breakker had some impressive spots as the designated NXT breakout, eliminating both Jimmy Uso and Finn Balor. Two big names to put on his resume.

It was fitting, though, that this really came down to the four men who had any logical shot at winning the thing. McIntyre and Gunther’s chop symphony against Rhodes and Punk was a nice overture that gave way to round-robin Claymores before Drew was finally tossed. I thought it was a nice touch to have Rhodes and Gunther virtually replay their spot from last year’s match, with Cody against besting the Intercontinental Champion. Cody and Punk’s exchange was most interesting, though. The crowd, while seemingly invested in both men, clearly favored Rhodes. There was palpable excitement when he’d hit his signature moves, more so than when Punk was able to connect with his. The finish likely felt obvious to those just watching the product on a week-to-week basis, but anyone on the Internet had likely talked themselves into a variety of scenarios involving the final three men due to conflicting reports and logical pathways for each. I thought Cody turning his attention away from the WrestleMania sign and straight to Roman Reigns was the right footnote. There’s no need to linger on his decision – the choice is clear and obvious.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: WWE talent put their best foot forward in an honest attempt to look past the week that was and deliver on many fan’s favorite show of the year. I thought the women’s Royal Rumble exceeded expectations and I’d wager it’s the best they’ve done on the women’s side. The men’s match had its pacing issues and some spots that didn’t quite land, but I thought it was an enjoyable match overall with an excellent final four and exciting final ten minutes. I thought there was a logical argument for each of the final four men to win, and that led to some tension in the crowd as they tried in real time to piece it altogether. The two matches sandwiched between left a fair amount to be desired, but both were entertaining in their own right for what they were. This is a thumbs up show for me, though not nearly as enthusiastically as I would’ve hoped.

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