Previously on the Best and Worst of Royal Rumble: Charlotte Flair met Golden Age Charlotte Flair in the women’s Royal Rumble, Zelina Vega and Hornswoggle hung out together under the ring, and Seth Rollins burned down a victory en route to defeating Brock Lesnar and then convincing everybody in the world to stop liking him.
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Here’s the Best And Worst Of WWE Royal Rumble, originally aired on January 26, 2020.
About That Pre-Show
The two-hour Royal Rumble Kickoff Show is an ordeal. The matches weren’t especially good or memorable and didn’t matter — Sheamus defeated Shorty G (who wrestles in swim trunks now instead of his full toddler basketball outfit) in about 12 more minutes than was necessary, and Andrade beat Humberto Carrillo again in a match that never really picked up or went anywhere — and that left us with like 90 whole minutes of six actual WWE employees saying “Royal Rumble’s gonna be good,” and Sam Roberts’ Kirkland brand Jon Moxley ass making a face like he’s gotta poop and saying, “no it’s not!”
No real shade to Sam, as hell, I don’t blame him for taking that spot and doing that job, but what’s his purpose on these panels? Does WWE just want someone to hang around acting like their idea of a “smark” so they can look as ignorant as possible and have all the respected people around them roll their eyes? Is it a grand social experiment to educate fans on the “correct” way to absorb and process WWE programming, or did they just shoehorn an unprepared radio personality into a low rent Bobby Heenan heel persona he wasn’t ready or qualified to perform? It’d be like asking Pat McAfee to suddenly play the KISS Demon. Sam’s job should be to ask wrestlers to tell him about whatever wrestling thing’s coming up. He’s not Jesse goddamn Ventura.
Anyway, death to two-hour Kickoff Shows. Y’all need to max this shit out at one hour, tops. If the Rumble is already four-plus hours long, we don’t need an extra two of stalling. If WrestleMania’s going to 1 AM, we don’t need to watch David Otunga and Charly Caruso go through the card match-by-match while the less important characters and cruiserweights get ready to spend a quarter-hour in front of a half empty crowd in the bright-ass sunshine. If your show’s too long, cut stuff from the show. It’s not our fault you try to employ every wrestler in the world and run 3-5 “brands” at once.
Let’s Start The Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View With The Royal [Checks Notes] … Baron Corbin Having A Street Fight With Roman Reigns
We’ve just had a two-hour pre-show and have two hour-long matches with WrestleMania implications to get to, so what do we open with? Why, King Corbin and Roman Reigns having one of those “brawl brawl brawl, walk walk walk, brawl brawl brawl, walk walk walk” falls count anywhere matches that feels more like a stadium tour than a wrestling match. Not that it’s bad, really; it’s too long and too … spaced out, I think is what I’m trying to say? They really spent as much time walking as they did hitting each other, only to stop and do spots like getting tipped over in a port-a-potty without anybody getting dirty. The crowd seemed to dig it, though, so that’s something.
I thought for sure that the show opening with the Roman Reigns match and ending with the men’s Royal Rumble meant that Reigns, who was the odds on favorite to win the Rumble up until the event went on the air, was going to win. I think the most effective use of Corbin/Reigns may have been a red herring to get jerks like me in their heads about how it was going to go down and not necessarily being against a Roman Reigns win, but being happy when someone else dumps him. Either that, or they just had to tightly book that half-and-half men’s Rumble — more on that later, obviously — and needed to give King Corbin a roundabout ass-beating to end the feud, God willing, so Reigns could move on to something more important for Mania, Rumble win or not.
From a storytelling standpoint, I appreciated Cheer Money remembering that falls count anywhere matches are no disqualification, which means they can just jog out whenever they want and help their friend with a 3-on-1 beatdown. That, of course, brought out The Usos, which allowed for some big, showy spots without Roman himself having to like, jump off a balcony and spear a guy off his Litter. The actual finish is El Perro Grande running the length of the Houston Astros dugout to hit a spear, which is a fun visual.
No better place to punish cheaters than in Minute Maid Park, am I right folks?
Best: The Bianca Belair Show, Featuring The Women’s Royal Rumble
A lot happens in the Royal Rumble, so here are ten random notes, observations, and opinions that felt important to me at some point during it.
1. Bianca Belair’s star-making performance was my favorite thing about the women’s Royal Rumble. No contest. If you’re familiar with NXT, you know Belair as an absolutely inhuman specimen who probably deadlift you and your entire family at once, do a backflip, and then javelin y’all into the sun. She wasn’t an announced entrant, but she managed to last the longest (33:20) and break the record for most eliminations with EIGHT (Mighty Molly, Nikki Cross, Candice LeRae, Dana Brooke, Tamina, both Fire AND Desire, and Alexa Bliss). It was an absolutely incredible performance, and she looked like a top shelf star. She IS a top shelf star. Unfortunately Charlotte Flair ends up eliminating her without a lot of fanfare and then Shayna Baszler shows up and immediately ties the record with eight eliminations of her own in only five minutes, but it was still a bad-ass run. Hopefully Belair and Baszler get programmed against each other in NXT based on their sharing of the record.
2. Bianca’s also inadvertently involved in the match’s scariest injury; namely, Beth Phoenix having the back of her head busted open so badly it looked like her brains were gonna fall out. Seriously, the back of her head looked like spaghetti with marinara. The back of her head looked like Ric Flair’s forehead in the 1980s. It happened unexpectedly, too, in the corner of the screen. Bianca has Beth up on the top rope, and Beth’s leaning back with her head a few inches from the post. Bianca forearms her in the chest, which Beth (probably instinctively) sells by snapping her head back. Directly into the point of the ring post. Here it is in GIF form. You can see Beth make a slow, “oh nooooo” face, and Bianca immediately starts taking care of her.
3. And speaking of Shayna, she doesn’t last very long and gets robbed at the end — shout-out to Charlotte for maintaining the status quo — but it was great to see her guest in the Rumble. One of my favorite moments happened while she was in the ring, too: a callback to the NXT number one contender battle royal from a couple of weeks ago. In that match, Baszler used the Kirifuda Clutch to try to eliminate someone, and newcomer Shotzi Blackheart randomly ran up from behind and dumped her to the floor. Shotzi, who apparently didn’t learn her lesson when she was almost choked to death for what she did, finds herself in the same situation in the women’s Royal Rumble and tries to dump Baszler AGAIN. Shayna has that move scouted now, though, and is able to reverse it and throw out Shotzi instead.
NXT stays giving you callbacks that reward you for watching, even on the main roster.
4. Naomi is back, and she looks amazing. She also got this year’s Kofi Kingston Elimination Save, doing the John Morrison Spider-Man wall cling, scooting herself up onto the top of the barricade, and making her way over to the announce table. From there, she uses the monitor cover (or whatever that flimsy piece of material on the announce tables is called) to build a bridge and make it back to the ring. I thought for sure that thing was going to bend under her weight, and had to keep reminding myself they wouldn’t have done it without a practice run or three.
As a dorky side note, I love those elimination save spots, but I want somebody to remember that the rule is both feet have to touch the ground. So if you land on the barricade or the announce table, it’s not rocket science to get back into the ring. Just hop back over on one foot. Or if you find yourself in a position like Naomi did on the barricade, just lower yourself down and scoot back over on your butt. You’re overthinking it for dramatic action!
Oh, speaking of dramatic elimination saves …
5. I don’t think it counts as “chivalry” like the WWE video says, but Otis saving Mandy Rose from elimination by using his body like a waterbed mattress is so damn funny. The crowd lost their mind for it, too, and booed like they just watched the Undertaker lose at WrestleMania when the second attempt at a save didn’t work. Against all odds, the romance between Otis and Mandy Rose continues to be one of the best things on WWE TV. I don’t know how. Somebody took a weird Instagram joke and gave three performers with huge upsides who needed TV time and material something fun to play with.
6. Not everything is good, though. For example, Kelly Kelly is back again. Hooray. She’s still terrified to hit the ropes (or simply doesn’t understand them and their purpose) despite 14 years in the business. She comes in to hit that bad headscissors spot where her opponent has to pick her up and spin in place and then flip themselves over, and follows it up with a stinkface. And then she’s gone. And then a few numbers later, Carmella shows up and does essentially the same two spots, except her headscissors spins for longer, and she’s attacking downed opponents in the corner with the front instead of the back. Maybe the worst part? Kelly Kelly’s spot was supposed to be for Sasha Banks, but Banks wasn’t medically cleared. Downgrading from Sasha Banks to Kelly Kelly is like taking Daniel Bryan out of the Universal Championship match and replacing him with The Boogeyman.
Shit, now I want to see The Fiend vs. The Boogeyman.
Oh, there was also this.
7. Miss WrestleMania returned.
Santina Marella’s return was as funny and as useful as performing a root canal on yourself. Santina was a shitty idea that buried the women 11 years ago, and it hasn’t suddenly become a better idea. Especially not when your build to the Royal Rumble left 23 unannounced spots open, and you decided to give one to Santino in drag instead of, oh, I don’t know, either of The IIconics? Rhea Ripley? She was in Houston. Kay Lee Ray, who was in Houston and said she wanted to be in the Royal Rumble? Anybody who actually works here and is trying to do something in the actual women’s division? Why not kick Bianca Belair out of the Rumble and replace her with Hervina?
8. Kairi Sane’s elimination looked like it had WWE 2K20 physics and hit detection.
9. How do you guys have Dakota Kai and Tegan Nox in the same Royal Rumble match and not have them interact?
10. So, Charlotte Flair is your 2020 women’s Royal Rumble winner.
It’s predictable, but it sets up the most high quality, logical, and historically important showdown for WrestleMania: Becky Lynch defending the Raw Women’s Championship against Flair at WrestleMania. Becky was supposed to have a big one-on-one showdown with Ronda Rousey in the main event of last year’s WrestleMania, but Charlotte wormed her way into it, like she often does. Plus, Becky says that her win over Asuka on this show finally proved she’s The Man, so what better way to follow up Becky’s belief that she’s done it all and truly sits a the top of the mountain than by having her eternal frenemy with a superiority complex and entitlement issues step in to ruin it? Again?
Hey, I wish Shayna had won and we were headed toward Shayna Baszler vs. Becky Lynch at WrestleMania, too, but what, are we gonna stick Charlotte Flair with dead-on-arrival heel Bayley again? C’mon, Bayley’s already got the worse version of Charlotte Flair to deal with.
Worst: The Stuff That Didn’t Work For Me
The Lacey Evans vs. Bayley and Sasha Banks rivalry has been a bummer for weeks now, and the Smackdown Women’s Championship match at Royal Rumble didn’t do it any favors. It’s not especially terrible, but it’s the clear in-ring low point of the evening, and if I had to pinpoint exactly why, I’d say it’s because Evans was maybe too ambitious with some of the stuff she was going for. She went into the match wanting to look like the inspirational super hero she’s claimed to be since her face turn, but you need timing and facial expressions and a connection with the crowd to do that. Those are probably Lacey’s three worst traits in the ring. She’s always visibly working her way through spots independent of what’s happening or why, and she’ll like, do a big pose and yell AAAAAAAAAHHHHH to get the crowd pumped up with no build or reason. It’s just expecting them to react to noise and movement. The Viking Raiders have that same problem. They’re just screaming into a void.
It’s all so by-the-numbers. The fake injury from Bayley that nobody bought, Bayley grabbing a handful of shorts on the pin, etc. Not unwatchable (like some of Lacey’s pay-per-view title matches last year … she really does keep getting those, doesn’t she?) but not either woman’s best effort. I hope Bayley can move into something interesting now for Mania that actually plays to her strengths as a performer and doesn’t make her character look so weak and aimless, and that if Evans wants to stick with the heroic babyface thing, they drop her down the card to let her learn and do good work with people who don’t have title belts. She can be a character on your show without constantly challenging for championships, guys. Drew McIntyre’s story going into WrestleMania is that he’s never gotten a shot at the top championship in his division. Lacey’s gotten four Women’s Championship matches on pay-per-view (Money in the Bank, Stomping Grounds, Extreme Rules, Royal Rumble) in the last nine months.
The Good News: WWE finally got rid of the Red Lights Of Doom for The Fiend, meaning you can actually see what’s happening without getting a splitting headache. I like the theory that Daniel Bryan suggested a strap match because you wouldn’t be able to see strap damage under red lights, so they’d have to turn them off, because he’s a wrestling genius who wants the best for us. Also good is Daniel Bryan, full stop, who could have a good match and mine some emotional in-ring storytelling out of ANYONE. Dude could wrestle Tom Phillips at Fastlane and it’d probably be pretty good.
The Bad News: After about 17 minutes of back and forth wrestling that actually told a story and involved cumulative damage to The Fiend for once, Fiend was just like, “time to win the match,” stood up like he was fine, no-sold a bunch of weapon shots, and hit Daniel Bryan with one move to win. Then he just teleported away, leaving Bryan to sell said one move all the way up the ramp. If you like Hulk Hogan-ass cartoon wrestling where the stakes don’t matter and the finish has nothing to do with the 17 minutes of match you just watched, it was probably awesome and cool. It mostly just made me feel like shit for getting invested in another match where the finish is “lol wrestling’s fake.” There’s such a difference in a character being absurdly powerful and almost impossible to defeat (Brock Lesnar), and a character breaking the internal consistency of your fictional universe by having super powers nobody else gets to have. You can even no-sell for dramatic effect sometimes, but you shouldn’t toss an entire match’s efforts into the garbage to no-sell a finish and make everything you did feel like a waste of time. ESPECIALLY when you’re holding one of the top titles in the company, and performing as the focal point of multiple consecutive pay-per-views. Wyatt getting a magical clown mask has now made Seth Rollins and Daniel Bryan matches worse. Who’s next, AJ Styles? Adam Cole? Who else has good matches all the time and wants to get their shit no-sold by House of Horrors Pee-wee Herman? I hate how much I wanted to like this character, and where it’s taken me. Fuck the Hulk Up forever, and fuck these Fiend matches.
At least that Sister Abigail that looked like End of Days was cool.
Best: Becky Lynch Vs. Asuka Is Still Good A Year Later
Let’s get back to saying nice things, shall we?
Last year, the best singles match of the night was the Smackdown Women’s Championship match between Becky Lynch and Asuka. This year, the best singles match of the night was, surprise! The Raw Women’s Championship match between Becky Lynch and Asuka. Did you guys know that Asuka is extremely good at pro wrestling, and can contribute more to shows than roll-up losses if you ask her to? Crazy, right?
Not only was this a good match from a wrestling perspective, it told an essential story for WrestleMania and one of WrestleMania’s most important performers: if Becky Lynch couldn’t prove to herself that she could beat Asuka in a high stakes match at the start of WrestleMania season with a title on the line, she wouldn’t be able to keep calling herself “The Man” and believing it. To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man, and everybody who has paid attention for most of the past decade and a half knows that when it comes to women’s wrestling, Asuka is the man. You don’t kick Sara Del Rey in the face so hard it destroys your own shin guard and not be recognized as one of the best in the world. Asuka’s done everything from comedy wrestling in low-level Japanese independents to dominating for years on a WWE brand, and Becky was there to see it all.
Becky wins, of course, which was expected, but not the wrong decision. You’ve built her up as one of the faces of your brand for the past year and a half, and she’s given you no reason to change directions. Her best match of last year was against Asuka, so if you need to give her some steam and recoup some of the in-ring cred she lost trying to carry Lacey Evans in three straight pay-per-view matches, this is how you do it. Lynch is in this spot for a reason — several reasons, honestly — and it’s good to be reminded why. Lynch vs. Flair is the Cena vs. Orton of the women’s division, but unlike Cena vs. Orton, it’s gonna rip at WrestleMania.
Best: The Men’s Royal Rumble, Or, “LOL BROCK LESNAR”
1. I know I’m in the minority, especially on the Internet, when it comes to Brock Lesnar. I don’t like that he’s never around, and that he rarely ever wrestles, and that he’s not defending the championship at this pay-per-view, and the way he went over Kofi Kingston when Smackdown went to Fox. He’s problematic on a number of levels. But when he’s in the ring, man, nobody’s more believable to me. He’s a goddamn monster. He always has been. The stuff he does in the ring feels about as tense and “real” as WWE’s going to get. Every match feels like a turning point. For better or worse, good or bad, Brock Lesnar is by far the most important performer in the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. Brock matters. Brock causes reactions and emotions. When people like Sheamus and Baron Corbin talk about getting reactions out of people and how that means they’re doing their jobs well, they’re pretending their polite smattering of groans and boos for being the anchors of consistently terrible television are the same as what Brock Lesnar gets when he turns on and causes moments.
So yeah, from a point of view I’m pretty sure nobody’s going to agree with, Brock Lesnar dominating the entire first half of the Royal Rumble was tremendous. Listening to the crowd and reading the reactions on Twitter were so good. Brock is infuriating to people, but he’s doing a ton of work nobody seems to notice. He’s dominating and throwing dudes out like afterthoughts, yeah, but there’s a big difference between his performance in this Rumble and, say, that Kofi title change. That was seconds-long bullshit to get from point A to point B. This told a story. You might not have liked the story, and that’s your prerogative, but it’s there.
2. The hook is that Drew McIntyre‘s going to be the guy who finally steps in and eliminates Brock, ending the torture en route to winning the whole thing and, assuredly, challenging Brock for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. To really make that work, though, especially with a character like McIntyre who has spent most of his WWE main roster career as a villain who always talks a big game but comes up short, you’ve got to exhaust your other options.
Brock runs through all the early jokers like Elias, Erick Rowan, and Bobby Roode. Brock leaving the ring to chase after a terrified Elias and kill him for singing sassy songs about him is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Every time Elias shows up with the guitar like that and starts being an asshole, somebody should run after him with TERRIFYING SPEED and throw him at the ground. But yeah, all of this builds to Kofi Kingston, who feels like he’s going to be the end of the one-by-one elimination run. When fellow Lesnar rival Rey Mysterio gets in the ring, you’re sure of it. When Big E shows up and organizes a three-on-one assault to kick Brock Lesnar’s ass, you’re cheering. And then they get cute with their offense, trying to do Poetry in Motion spots instead of teaming up to throw him out, and Brock makes them pay. It was our best hope, and their failure is deflating.
3. The next big moments comes when KEITH LEE shows up. Lesnar instantly puts him over by mouthing the words, “ooh, BIG BOY,” and then asking Paul Heyman, “who’s this motherfucker??” Lee, who rules so hard he should be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year, finally proves a match for Brock where other big men (Rowan) failed. When BRAUN STROWMAN shows up, you’re like YES, THESE big strong boys are the end of Lesnar’s streak. And then, due to some combination of babyface idiocy and Strowman being Brock Lesnar’s bitch forever, Lesnar manages to eliminate them both. At the same time. If the New Day and Mysterio eliminations felt deflating, this feels like you’ve fallen off a cliff. It’s a complete and total failure of the WWE and NXT rosters to even make a DENT in the armor that is Brock Lesnar.
And then, comma,
4. Ricochet shows up, and you’re like, all right, whatever, Lesnar’s going through the entire field. Maybe Randy Orton can give him a fight later or whatever, but no, Randy Orton got beaten worse by Lesnar than anyone in WWE history. Maybe John Cena will show up? John Cena could probably do it. Or Roman Reigns will pop in at the very end like Roman Reigns does and win to set up something for WrestleMania, even though we’ve seen multiple Reigns vs. Lesnar main events. But then the next man out is Drew McIntyre, and THIS happens:
Brock is finally gone. After dominating the entire first half of the Rumble against ghosts of his past in what almost felt like a summary of his career up until this point — Kofi Kingston, Rey Mysterio, Braun Strowman, even Ricochet, who stepped to him on Raw last Monday — it’s the NEW next big thing, the former “chosen one” who got his shit together to become THE CHOSEN ONE, who ends it. It divides the Rumble in half. The first half was Brock’s. The second half was Drew’s. Lesnar has the strength and apathy of a champion who can’t lose, because he’s bigger and stronger and better at this than everyone else. McIntyre has passion and momentum, and will be DAMNED if this isn’t his time to shine. It’s the immovable object meeting the irresistible force. A tale as old as time. It’s great, and they executed it brilliantly.
5. Brock Lesnar did the Kickboxer dance.
You’re great, you big weird purple asshole.
6. Speaking of Brock …
… how do you have Matt Riddle enter the Royal Rumble, not interact with Brock at all despite YEARS of shit-talking him, get booed for attacking Edge, and then get tossed by BARON CORBIN in like a minute? Such a missed opportunity. To quote Elle, “‘Corbin eliminates Riddle’ is a cursed phrase.” Apparently Brock and Riddle got into some kind of “altercation” before the show that I have no reason to believe wasn’t completely worked, and hope is 10% as funny as Riddle’s altercation with Goldberg. Regardless, what a missed opportunity.
7. It looks like AJ Styles separated his shoulder during the Rumble, which is bad news anytime, but ESPECIALLY heading into WrestleMania season. Hope he recovers quickly and doesn’t miss the biggest show of the year. These things usually require about six weeks of recovery time, but you never know for wrestlers and combat sports types.
8. Big thank you to Kane for showing up to promote the Royal Rumble, but not actually being in it. Bonus points for making people who bet on a fake sport lose money for believing a fake leak full of spelling errors. I hope “Undarteker” wins next year’s Rumble.
9. The other big story of the 2020 men’s Royal Rumble match is the return of Edge after a retirement that forced him out of the business he loved while he was in the prime of his career, and kept him away for nine years.
The crowd is electric. The pop is deafening. In the moment, I was cheering. Rewatching it this morning, though, I couldn’t take my eyes off his face. When he first pops up out of the dugout, he’s excited. He’s running around doing YEAH COME ON wrestling taunts while steam goes off around him and everybody cheers. But once he steps through the steam, look at his expression:
That’s the face of a man who thought he was never going to get to do this again. The face of a man who got to live the dream of doing what he loved since he was little, rose to the top of the entire business, and had it snatched away from him. That’s nine years of pain, and worry, and wondering, and hoping. That’s a guy who didn’t know if he’d ever be cleared again. Who accepted retirement as the only option, but watched a guy like Daniel Bryan figure out how to come back from and thought, “what if?” It’s the face of a man who just realized an entire baseball stadium full of fans know who he is, and missed him, and still love him. They never forgot.
10. The only negative here is that (1) the announce team keeps talking over it instead of letting us absorb the moment, and that (2) the production team was so busy filming crowd reactions they missed his first spear. The YouTube clip above edits it, but here’s the spear on Ziggler we didn’t get to see. It was Ziggler. It was the BEST ONE, and you MISSED IT. For a Hall of Fame legend who is getting to do this for the first time in NINE YEARS. BRUH. HOW.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Every two minutes when the Royal Rumble buzzer goes off inside Minute Maid Park, Jose Altuve instinctively swings a bat.
*Points to the Wrestlemania sign*
Wait. Someone in Houston has stolen it…
Baron Von Raschke
If Izzy doesn’t go over and attack Lacey’s daughter, what is the point of any of this?
Jushin Thunder Bieber
We’re going to get 4 more months of the unstoppable Fiend until Miz realizes Morrison has some magic Aztec sun god amulet he’s just been using as a coaster in their locker room.
Lose the CGI budget and hire some talented writers.
“All your predictions, legends, and NXT call ups, and where did it bring you?…back to me…”
Lacey decked out in green is a nice bit of self awareness.
The Real Birdman
Really disappointed Otis declared for the match and didn’t show up. I was hoping he and Mandy would recreate their spot from the women’s match just roles reversed
“I wrote a little song called Sacrificial Lamb, it’s about the WWE Universe.” -Elias
Worlds Collide was over for 30 minutes by this point. And that includes all of Garganos kick outs.
That wraps up this year’s Best and Worst of Royal Rumble. As always, thank you tremendously for reading. You keep our lights on. To keep keeping our lights on, if you dug any part of the column, give us a share on social media and drop down into our comments section below to let us know what you thought of the show.
Make sure you’re here on Monday night (and Tuesday morning) for the fallout on Raw. See you next year, when [checks notes] Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal eliminate the Fiend from the Royal Rumble? That can’t be right.