The Eternal Optimist Presents: Ranking The Royal Rumbles (#5)

QUESTION OF THE DAY:  Which Royal Rumble winner do you believe squandered the opportunity he or she earned more than any other?


Hi kids.

Welcome back to another edition in my Royal Rumble column series.

In today’s column, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at 5th place on my countdown. As a reminder, here are the criteria that I used to analyze the matches:

The Participants – The easiest way to create a Royal Rumble is to have a compelling roster that people want to see participate. I’ll take a look at the level star power, the level of “overness” of the other players, and whether or not there were an unnecessary amount of jobbers and/or non-factors in the match.

The Storylines and Flow of the Match – The storylines are without question the most important part of a Royal Rumble match. I’ll look at whether or not the storylines presented enhanced the match. I’ll also look at the surprise entrants and evaluate whether or not they added value. Lastly, I’ll look at whether or not the match had a solid flow or if it dragged at times. This is by far the most important category, and it will be the category in which I spend the majority of each column discussing.

The Final Four – Every Rumble inevitably comes down to a “show down” between the final four competitors. Here, I’ll look at whether the WWE chose a strong group to represent the final four, and whether or not the end game to the Rumble was compelling.

The Winner – I’ll evaluate three things relating to the winner of each Rumble. First, was the winner a surprise? I have a strong appreciation for Rumble winners that weren’t necessarily expected to win. Second, was the winner satisfying? Just because the winner wasn’t someone I expected doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the outcome. On the other hand, just because the winner was a foregone conclusion doesn’t mean that I didn’t love every minute of it. Lastly, how did winning the Royal Rumble impact this wrestler at Wrestlemania and beyond? The overall success of the subsequent push impacts how I view many of the Rumbles and their winner.

A couple additional disclaimers:

First – lengthy Royal Rumble runs rarely move me. Sure, you might love Rick Martel lasting 53 minutes in 1991. I didn’t. He, as well as almost everyone else that goes coast to coast, spent the majority of the match sitting in the corner getting kicked. For me, a single wrestler’s longevity is the most overrated factor in evaluating the strength of a Royal Rumble.

Second – these factors aren’t weighted evenly. They are merely talking points. My overall impression of the Rumble is what ultimately mattered when I made my rankings.

Last, but certainly not least – I’ve added a new wrinkle to this column series. As you already know, my thought process on wrestling seems to wildly differ from the majority of the fans in our community. Many have taken me to task in other forums over where my rankings ultimately landed. I’ve decided to incorporate that into this column series. As such, every entry will end with a guest “rebuttal” telling me exactly why I’m an idiot for ranking that particular Rumble where I did. The guests range from my fellow columnists, both on the main page and the Forums, to real life friends, to buddies I frequently interact with on social media. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I think you’ll enjoy the alternative takes.

This week’s rebuttal comes from LOP Radio’s only talent – Rich Latta!

Here is where the countdown currently stands – links to the previous columns are embedded:

Without further ado, here’s the Royal Rumble that came in at #6 on the countdown:


#06:  The 2018 Royal Rumble:

The Roster:

  1. Rusev
  2. Finn Balor
  3. Rhyno
  4. Baron Corbin
  5. Heath Slater
  6. Elias
  7. Andrade “Cien” Almas
  8. Bray Wyatt
  9. Big E
  10. Sami Zayn
  11. Sheamus
  12. Xavier Woods
  13. Apollo Crews
  14. Shinsuke Nakamura
  15. Cesaro
  16. Kofi Kingston
  17. Jinder Mahal
  18. Seth Rollins
  19. Matt Hardy
  20. John Cena
  21. The Hurricane
  22. Aiden English
  23. Adam Cole
  24. Randy Orton
  25. Titus O’neil
  26. The Miz
  27. Rey Mysterio
  28. Roman Reigns
  29. Goldust
  30. Dolph Ziggler

It can be argued that the WWE has never had a deeper roster of in-ring talent than the group that makes up the current crop.  The star power was definitely there – John Cena, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio had that area well covered.  The in-ring talent and youth that filled up the remaining spots was simply tremendous.  

This was a roster that served both age and youth.  Everyone could wrestle.  The lion’s share of the superstars were very over with the Philadelphia audience.  It definitely rates as one of the stronger collections in Royal Rumble history.

The Storyline & Flow:

I’ll say it right now.  From bell to bell, the 2018 Royal Rumble might have been the most complete and compelling product.  Everything about this match is utterly flawless.  The WWE made every spot count and even upon re-watch when I was examining the match with a fine toothed comb, I couldn’t find a fault at any point.

There was so much good packed into this match that I will likely come off as rambling when I attempt to relay everything that I enjoyed:

It was a great decision to have Rusev and Finn Balor start the match.  Rusev was at the height of the “Rusev Day” gimmick and the chants were thunderous.  Finn Balor has always been a darling to the die hard fan base and Philadelphia was eating him up with a spoon.  I also thought having Rhyno come in at the #3 spot was intelligently placed.  Philly loves their ECW guys and he elicited the chant that the WWE was looking for early on in the match.

As will be the case throughout this entire Rumble – everyone, regardless of how big or small, played their part to perfection.  One such person was Baron Corbin.  He was so hated at the time that his quick and shocking elimination led to an earth shattering pop from the crowd.  On a personal level, I had to eat a tremendous amount of crow for suggesting that Baron Corbin was the favorite going into the match.

I liked how he laid everyone out after his elimination.  The WWE wanted to keep him looking strong while moving him out of the way as they were looking to strike a different tone with this particular Rumble.  It was also smart to have Corbin lay everyone out to leave an empty ring for Elias.  It allowed him to do his musical schtick in the middle of the ring – the type of sidebar that is always effective during a Rumble.

NXT was extremely well represented by Cien Almas and Adam Cole.  Both were choices that played to the Philadelphia crowd.  It was nice to see both have lengthy runs in the match – giving the brand tremendous credibility as a result.

I really liked the twist that the WWE did with the #10 spot.  They teased having Tye Dillinger be that entrant for the 10th year in a row only to have KO and Zayn lay him out.  In a match that was largely devoid of heels, it gave the Philadelphia crowd a reason to boo Sami.

The unsung hero of the first half of this Rumble was Heath Slater.  Slater is a guy who consistently takes trash and turns it into treasure.  His arc of being beaten down on the outside by every wrestler upon their entrance made me laugh and had a tremendous payoff when he eliminated Sheamus immediately upon Sheamus tossing him into the ring.  

The entire first half of the Rumble was light, fun and incredibly entertaining.  The eventual winner showed up at #14 and that’s when the real story began.

I thought Jinder Mahal had a really stellar outing.  The sequence that saw him eliminate both Big E and Xavier Woods only to be thwarted by Kofi Kingston after he used pancakes to do his traditional elimination save was simply fantastic.  This was another example of someone maximizing their minutes within the match.

The in-ring action was spot-on for the entire match, but especially during the middle stages when most Rumbles tend to drag.  There was a great sequence between Seth Rollins and Cesaro that led to the Swiss Superman’s elimination.  

There was also great interaction between Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt.  They were feuding at the time but their teamwork was a sign of what was to come.  Their quick elimination of each other made sense to further their feud.  

I thought having the internet darlings beat down Cena immediately upon his entrance was yet another example of the WWE finally catering to their audience.  The Philly crowd was going to have none of Super Cena and the WWE didn’t try to insult their intelligence.

Furthermore, Hurricane Helms was a fantastic surprise.  He wasn’t on anyone’s radar to be participating and the pop was gigantic.  I thought it was a smart decision to have Cena eliminate him quickly.  It further solidified Cena as a one night only heel – a narrative that added tremendous value to the entire match.

I thought The Miz had a short but impactful stint.  There was a great sequence that saw him rotate between “Yes Kicking” Cena and Rollins that really got the crowd going.

Rey Mysterio was another crazy surprise that no one saw coming.  I loved that he played a major part in the match.  There are surprises that are merely for nostalgia purposes and then there are surprises that mark the return of an impact player.  Mysterio definitely represents the latter and I am glad that he was treated as such.

I thought the spot that saw The B Team prevent The Miz’s elimination was just another example of the overarching theme of this Rumble – every role player did their part to keep the match entertaining.

One of the best moments of the entire match saw Roman Reigns eliminate Seth Rollins out of nowhere.  The WWE hit a home run when they decided to book Reigns and Cena in heel capacities for this match.  I cannot reiterate that point enough.

Dolph Ziggler as a pseudo-surprise entrant at #30 felt like a big deal at the time.  He was treated as an impact player in the match by being able to get significant offense in on Cena and Reigns right from the rip.  Again, this was smart booking that led to another massive pop from the Philly faithful.  To be honest, I was surprised to see Ziggler get eliminated so quickly.  The way he was positioned in the match is usually reserved for people who are going to play a major factor in the end result, but that wasn’t the case here.

The final six was set up in the same manner that the final four normally is, and it was utterly amazing.  Going with a new school v old school theme that saw Shinsuke Nakamura, Roman Reigns and Finn Balor on one side of the ring and Randy Orton, John Cena and Rey Mysterio on the other was brilliant.  It made both Nakamura and Balor look like bigger stars than before by putting them on the same playing field as the four other megastars.  

I thought both Orton and Mysterio’s eliminations were well executed and received.  I especially enjoyed the double 619 by Rey on Cena and Reigns only for Balor to dump him out of nowhere.

The action from opening bell up to the Final Four was nothing short of incredible.

The Final Four:

The final four is nothing short of incredible.  Finn Balor’s entire 2018 performance was amazing, but my favorite part was absolutely his action against Nakamura and Cena.  I have been incredibly critical of him throughout his short tenure in the WWE but this performance and reaction shows that he can definitely be a star.  I liked that he was given ample time prior to his elimination.

I remembered the final three being more of a one-sided beatdown from Reigns and Cena to Nak, but there was surprisingly good action between Roman and Cena. 

Superb action followed between Nak and Cena leading to Cena’s elimination and even better action between Nak and Roman as the final two.  The crowd ate up every minute and the ending was as satisfying to the audience as just about any in the history of the event.

The Winner:

I can’t say that Shinsuke Nakamura winning the Rumble was a complete surprise but I also can’t say that it was the expected result either.  There wasn’t a clear cut favorite or obvious choice to win.  Nakamura was in the group of about a half dozen wrestlers that people were speculating could be the winner, but it was far from a foregone conclusion going into the match.

His win was incredibly satisfying.  Out of all of the potential winners going into the match, he was the one that people wanted to see.  When he dumped Reigns to win the match, the arena went crazy.  When he immediately challenged A.J. Styles in a post-match interview, the place came unglued.

Unfortunately, the aftermath is where it all goes awry for the 2018 Rumble.  Make no bones about it – A.J. Styles v Shinsuke Nakamura bombed worse than any match with that level of hype in recent memory.  The Nakamura train completely derailed and his days as a main event player came to a screeching halt.  Never in my life have I seen a Royal Rumble winner just completely go off the rails in the manner that Shinsuke has.

Unfortunately – it’s the one black mark on an otherwise flawless masterpiece.

Overall:

I really struggled with placing this Rumble.  From bell to bell, it’s arguably the best Royal Rumble of all time.  I don’t think there’s ever been another Rumble that had such perfect booking and action.  However, while I can overlook a winner that merely uses the Wrestlemania platform to maintain their current status, I just can’t get past the fact that Nakamura’s Wrestlemania payoff ruined his career.  Thus, when splitting hairs between the absolute best of the best Royal Rumbles, I felt that the four remaining had comparable bell to bell action with a future impact that wasn’t utterly devastating.

The Rebuttal – By Rich Latta:

The 2018 Royal Rumble is the greatest Royal Rumble of all time. The woes of the this decades worst Rumble’s had beaten fans down to expect 100 percent lunacy every January, as the event served as the yearly reminder that WWE isn’t in touch with what their fans are asking for. In 2018, the match was meticulously booked from every angle, not loaded with nostalgia, produced a fan favorite as a winner and painted WWE as a self aware company for one of two times this entire year. From the Cena/Mysterio/Orton vs Reigns/Nakamura/Balor past vs future showdown, to the chosen ones Cena/Reigns vs the japanese imports in Nakamura/Balor, the moments within moments were allowed to happen with guys that made sense for them to happen with. Now with Dave’s wacky formula he’ll knock it down based on what it led to, but we’ve literally got archives of him agreeing with me that this was the greatest rumble of all time. 
Roman Reigns ended up doing his customary “get thrown out of the Royal Rumble, main event wrestlemania anyway” act, but at the time he was the perfect man for Shinsuke Nakamura to fix the damage that had been done to him via the Jinder Mahal program on, and set up a match against AJ Styles which could be nothing but great, until it was just okay and then booked around dick punching. 
Star power overload, incredible booking, amazing 6 and 4 man final sequence mini matches, and interwoven stories early in the Rumble for bit players earlier in the match. They should rip this Royal Rumble off until the end of time.

 

 

 

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