The Royal Rumble 2023 is here with its 35th edition taking place, for the fourth time in San Antonio, Texas. Along with two Royal Rumble matches, which is something fans look forward to every year, there was the first ever Mountain Dew Lights Out Match, Bianca Belair defending her RAW Women’s Championship and Kevin Owens going one-on-one with the Head of the Table, Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship.
Cody Rhodes Wins the Men’s Royal Rumble
The first surprise of the night was that this Royal Rumble was the opening match, but it certainly wasn’t the last. To start, the eternally over Pat McAfee ignited the crowd with a return to the commentary desk to the delight of everyone, especially Michael Cole.
In the first of hopefully many successful appearances, Intercontinental Champion Gunther was the initial entrant, met by Sheamus at number two. Sheamus, with some help from Johnny Gargano, scored the first elimination of the match, sending The Miz crashing to the floor with a Brogue Kick. Triple H seems to realize that Gunther plus Sheamus equals premium live event gold, and both big men impressed throughout the Rumble.
One of the biggest face-offs in the match was between Gunther and Brock Lesnar, a definite future big-money match. Sheamus and Gunther were both iron men, each lasting over 50 minutes. Gunther went on the break Rey Mysterio’s time record, lasting over an hour and ten minutes.
After a beautiful comedic spot dubbed the “wheelbarrow of butt-slapping” with Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston attempted to save himself from elimination, but sadly failed for the second straight year. Kofi was sent crashing into a rolling chair by Gunther with such force that it was impossible to land. Kofi could mess up his spot ten more times in a row, and everyone would still love him. New Day forever, hope to see you soon Big E.
Brock Lesnar looked to dominate by taking out three competitors in quick succession but was just as quickly eliminated by Bobby Lashley. After winning the Rumble last year, Lesnar shockingly lasted only three minutes this year. Brock and Bobby seems like a probable WrestleMania match, and this was an exciting part of that build.
At entry 17, former Royal Rumble winner Rey Mysterio’s music hit, but Rey did not appear. At 18, Dominik Mysterio appeared, clad in his father’s lucha mask. Taking out a fan favourite before they can enter the Rumble is a classic move. Giant boos ensued, as Mami’s boy has become well accustomed to. The heat on Dom is unreal, and the recently released convict played his slimy role well again here.
The OG Judgement Day story was reignited with the return of Edge. The Rated R superstar quickly took out Finn Bálor and Damian Priest, who returned the favour by saving Dominik and eliminating Edge. After a brawl on the outside, Rhea Ripley and Beth Phoenix both appeared, and the Glamazon stood tall after delivering a spear to Ripley.
The inspirational comeback story for Cody Rhodes began with the American Nightmare positioned at the number 30 spot. Rhodes took out Dominik Mysterio and Braun Strowman to help whittle down the field.
The final four comprised Logan Paul, Gunther, Seth Rollins, and Cody Rhodes. Paul snuck back into the ring to surprisingly eliminate Rollins, which could sensibly lead to a Mania match. After Rhodes took out Paul, to big cheers, the last showdown was set. The number 1 and number 30 entrant faced off and had a terrific one-on-one showdown to finish the Rumble, full of big chops and even bigger hearts.
Gunther’s incredible performance is a signifier for big things, as the Ring General has legend written all over him. As for Cody, the championship dream is one step closer. After withstanding many of Gunther’s best shots, Cody was able to wrangle Gunter over the top rope, giving him a massive win. Rhodes has been brilliant in both of his big return matches to WWE and has once again entered new territory as the 2023 Royal Rumble winner.
Overall, this Royal Rumble will be remembered as having the correct winner in Rhodes. There were not any mind-melting surprise appearances, but the in-ring work was very good and many of the interactions made sense and built storylines. As a build to Mania, it made a lot of sense and had few flaws. Good not great can be fine, especially when it delivers a great overall winner like Cody.
Mountain Dew Lights Out Match | Bray Wyatt vs. LA Knight
In what amounted to a street fight in Pat McAfee’s favourite nightclub, Bray picked up a dominant victory over LA Knight. Wyatt was a bit shaky in his first in-ring action in two years, but the presentation and vibe was the real star of this. Whatever the green material that littered the ringside area was is a mystery, but it looked cool. After winning the match with Sister Abigail, the real fun started. Wyatt adorned a new mask, which seemed to be cloaked with kendo stick invulnerability.
In a spot I found quite fun, Uncle Howdy made an explosive appearance, delivering a huge elbow to Knight that caused a stage explosion. Sure Howdy kinda overshot his mark with the dive, but when you have fire-shooting power does elbow drop accuracy really matter? This was all pretty sports-entertaining to me, and I’m just going to move on without digging too much into it.
On another note: I did taste test the Mountain Dew Pitch Black beverage. The dark purple featured a dark citrus flavour and paired quite well with my Costco brand Kirkland tequila. 3/5 stars.
RAW Women’s Championship Match | Bianca Belair vs. Alexa Bliss
Bianca and Alexa delivered an extremely solid wrestling match in this one. The evil Bliss was countered well by the strength and skill of Belair. One of Alexa’s greatest strengths is her selling ability, and she made Bianca look exceptional in this short sprint. Bliss was also able to deliver her offence, and the match was back and forth. A Bianca KOD was enough for the clean win.
After the match, Uncle Howdy made a second appearance, this time on the Jumbotron. Howdy asked Alexa one simple question as she looked on upset: “are you in control?”
Rhea Ripley Wins the Women’s Royal Rumble
Heading into this Royal Rumble, I felt that Rhea Ripley was the most likely and sensible choice for the winner. Ripley has circled Bianca Belair and her RAW Women’s Championship while not directly challenging the EST, generating great interest in the showdown of the powerhouses. Rhea entered the Rumble at numero uno, which just gave her more opportunities to yeet her competitors out of the ring one by one. After getting busted open at the lip, Ripley scored the first elimination of this Rumble, sending B-Fab out of the match. With seven total eliminations, Rhea was the clubhouse leader for her Rumble.
The other iron woman in this match was Liv Morgan, who entered the Rumble as entrant two, at her own request. Liv and Rhea each lasted over an hour, both breaking the record for the longest time for a woman in a Rumble. Liv and Rhea are breakout stars of the women’s division and solidified their spots at the top of the card with their Rumble performances.
Bayley and her Damage CTRL teammates Dakota Kai and IYO SKY were all among the first ten entrants and sensibly worked together well throughout the whole match. One of their early targets was NXT Champion Roxanne Perez, who had a short yet impressive showing in her first-ever Rumble. The prodigious talent showed her extraordinary promise which could one day result in a Royal Rumble win. Perez was triple-teamed and eliminated by Damage CTRL, and will no doubt have more lengthy Rumbles in the near future.
Living up to their name, Damage CTRL took charge of much of the Rumble, using the numbers to their advantage and collective safety. The group’s momentum was cut off by Becky Lynch, who eliminated Kai and SKY, but at a great cost. Bayley took out Lynch, but the Role Model soon found herself on the floor due to a heads-up move by Liv Morgan. This continuation of the Lynch-Bayley feud will hopefully result in the steel cage match that was promised and not delivered at RAW XXX.
Two of the biggest pops of the night came in the teen entrants of this match. The crowd was super hot for the returning Asuka, fresh with a new look and theme music. The freaky Kana side of The Empress re-emerged, and it was awesome. Doudrop no more, Piper Niven also made a return and big impact in the Rumble with her original ring name. Both Asuka and Niven were among the finalists but came up just short.
At number 20, the Hot Mess Chelsea Green made her long-suspected return to the WWE but was immediately dumped over the top rope by Rhea Ripley.
In the final spot of the Rumble, Nia Jax made her somewhat surprising WWE return and was confronted by fellow powerhouses Raquel Rodriguez and Rhea Ripley. Jax was clearly a target, as the eleven remaining participants combined forces to throw Nia over the top rope quickly.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this match was the in-ring work. There were plenty of exciting spots, the pace was enjoyable to watch, and it felt like every single woman got at least one chance to shine.
The final three for this Rumble came down to the first two entrants in Liv and Rhea, joined by Asuka. While all three women were on the apron, Asuka used her mist to blind Liv, opening the door for Ripley to go coast to coast and win the Royal Rumble. Ripley’s feet nearly hit the ground, but she was able to pull herself back up and use a head scissors to send Liv crashing to the outside.
Now the big question is, who will The Nightmare haunt at Mania?
My pick is Bianca Belair. Rhea and Bianca is a must-see matchup that could go on to define a generation and should blow wide open at WrestleMania. Despite both winners claiming to be Nightmares, Cody Rhodes and Rhea Ripley ascended into the place of dreams tonight. I’m excited to see what happens at WrestleMania, and that’s a good mark for this Rumble.
Universal WWE Championship Match | Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens
The Bloodline drama has been the best thing going on WWE television, so why not put this in the main event? I thought this match was epic, as two true stars battled with everything they had.
Flanked by only Paul Heyman and Sami Zayn, Roman looked to eliminate one of his most pesky and resilient challengers. Reigns was strong early in this match, proclaiming that he would teach Kevin Owens a lesson. Ever the battler KO got back into the match by delivering a pair of frog splashes, as the tension built and built. Both men gained several near falls, and the tension built even higher.
Then the shenanigans and dramatics began. Owens was able to pin for Reigns after a pop-up powerbomb, but a ref bump rendered the move and pin useless. Roman demanded ‘The Honorary Uce’ to hand the champ a chair, which Sami did after a slight hesitation. Zayn begged for his former friend KO to just stay down, something Owens never considered.
Reigns took the fight to the outside, spearing KO through the barricade and bashing Owens’ head into the stairs two times. The brutal moves, plus a spear in the ring, was the end for KO, and Roman Reigns once again successfully smashed his way to a championship-retaining victory. The Trial Chief’s championship reign will now move to over 900 days, as Roman marches towards even more impressive history.
Sami Zayn’s final test was then administered, and what a tribulation it turned out to be. The Usos and Solo Sikoa came to the ring and assaulted an already broken Owens, while Roman watched on with a smile. The Head of the Table then demanded to KO be double handcuffed to the ropes, while the Usos put on a brutal superkick party to a defenceless Owens. Roman went to use the chair to put KO down for good but was stopped by Sami Zayn.
Sami stepping in between Roman and his prey was an insult to the Universal Champion, who then commanded Sami to pull the trigger and chair-shot the still-handcuffed Owens. Sami instead pulled the trigger on Roman, nailing Reigns in the back with a chair. The turn finally came, and what a turn it was. Sami paid for his betrayal at the hands of his former “brothers” in Solo and Jimmy. Always make an Individual, Jey was extremely conflicted, and even went as far as to leave the ring instead of punishing Sami.
This was incredible stuff, a tipping point in what has become an all-time WWE storyline. Between Sami’s shocking choice, which will no doubt lead to a renewed alliance with KO, and Cody Rhodes’s win, the Island of Relevancy has never been in more danger.