Held at a time when, apparently, the only issue with Saudi Arabia was the fact that the women of the WWE couldn’t wrestle there, the Greatest Royal Rumble was the first super-show of the mega money deal the WWE signed with that country to hold events there. It certainly looked a stacked show on paper, but did the action deliver?
It certainly looked like a spectacle. One of the criticisms of the WWE is that a lot of its events look the same; this certainly had an air of something special visually. And whilst it may have seemed odd to kick things off with Triple H and John Cena battling for the first time (one-on-one on TV at least) in ages, the future leader of the WWE isn’t stupid. He virtually guaranteed himself a monster pop for being the first guy out on the main show. In the early going we were firmly in “house show” territory but there wasn’t really the need to do much more given how hot the crowd was. In the closing moments we suddenly up-graded to a “trade finishers” PPV sequence before Cena took the inevitable win. They didn’t do an awful lot, but they didn’t have to.
Kalisto and Cruiserweight Champion Cedric Alexander had no chance of following that in terms of the crowd. They of course had a better match just in terms of the in-ring stuff, but no-one really cared about it. Which is a shame, as the two assembled an entertaining back and forth match which contained the usual 205 Live staples of great counters, dives and high spots. More title action was next as The Bar defended their Raw Tag Team Titles against Matt Hardy & Bray Wyatt in what proved to be a solid, but rather forgettable, bout. Even though the title switch was expected given the Superstar Shakeup, the switching of a title on foreign soil is always a welcome surprise (even on a big show such as this) and as a whole it provided a “WWE Moment”™.
Which is more than can be said for the United States Championship match between Jeff Hardy and Jinder Mahal. If it’s remembered at all it will be for Hardy completely missing a Whisper In The Wind…only for Mahal to sell it anyway. I’m far from a WWE-basher, but that spot highlighted one of the issues with the modern day ethos of everything being micro-managed. When things go wrong, the new breed simply don’t have the experience, or perhaps the nerve, to switch things up to cover. The show must go on, exactly as planned, at all time. The match was awful, but at least it only lasted six minutes.
Disappointingly the Smackdown Tag Team Titles match went for less time than the previous match. There was nothing wrong with it, per se, and the Bludgeon Brothers looked a dominant force but it did kind of cut the challengers The Uso’s off at the knees. But perhaps that is the flip side of my oft-aired criticism that wins and losses don’t matter in the 50-50 world of WWE booking; by the next episode of Smackdown most fans, and definitely the bookers, will have forgotten about their loss here.
Things picked up with the four-man Ladder match for the Intercontinental Title, as champion Seth Rollins defended against The Mix, Samoa Joe and Finn Balor. It was well put together, and if it did smack a little of “house show” in terms of the risks taken I wouldn’t be one to complain about that. There’s a time and place to really put your body on the line in the name of career advancement / entertainment and I doubt this show was that time. Everyone looked strong, no-one came out looking the worse for their involvement and whilst ultimately it won’t be held up there with the greatest examples of Ladder matches in the company’s history it was certainly entertaining.
We’ll ignore the Iranian cheap heat angle (Vince will never change) and get onto the WWE Championship match between AJ Styles and the relatively newly heel Shinsuke Nakamura. Their match at Mania had been seen as a minor disappointment and this would probably be viewed as the same by those people who have never seen their New Japan classics but will take to the airwaves to tell you how great they were. Whilst there is some merit to prolonging top-line feuds with non-finishes, this time a double count-out, it does at times make you wonder why you should invest in a match that is clearly only a stop along the way in a feud. Another problem, watching now, is that you know the feud never really delivered that out and out killer match so this entry into the feud suffers in hindsight.
It seems strange now to think that an appearance by the Undertaker here still had a novelty about it, even hot on the heels of his Mania shot. His casket match with Rusev was the equivalent of going to see that old rockstar belt out his greatest hits but there was no doubting that it went down a storm. At least Rusev got in slightly more offence than I feared he might. This was followed by the latest instalment of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, this time in a steel cage. It was another match stuffed with finishers that didn’t finish the match and worst of all they messed up the ending as Reigns clearly hit the floor first, despite Lesnar being awarded the match. And if that was the intention, to prolong the feud, it didn’t come across as being one they actually meant!
By now all we had left was the 50-Man Greatest Royal Rumble. If it seemed like over-kill in theory it probably worked out that way in practise. To be fair it was generally ok and there was enough going on in amongst the obvious padding to make it a reasonably entertaining affair, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the actual Royal Rumble matches we’d seen in January, never mind any of the other classic Rumble matches from over the years. Daniel Bryan, who maybe doesn’t read the news, had the “iron man” stint here, being the first entrant and being there right until the final moments. In between all that we got an unknown Sumo wrestler from Japan, who was apparently there because the Saudi’s wanted Yokozuna, Hornswoggle, random NXT guys, Giant Khali and most of the rest of the WWE roster that hadn’t been on the main show matches. Chris Jericho rounded things off by being entrant no. 50.
After over 75 minutes or so it came down to Daniel Bryan, Big Cass and Braun Strowman. To advance their feud (remember that?) Big Cass tossed Bryan out before Braun did the inevitable and claimed the win and the Greatest Royal Rumble Green belt. If we’re being kind it was an accolade to add to Braun’s push. But let’s face it, the WWE didn’t really even care about the big green belt in the weeks afterwards and most people’s memory of this Rumble will be the Titus O’Neill stumble. Vince is probably still chuckling about that now.
The WWE did their best to make the Greatest Royal Rumble feel like a “big show”, at least in terms of the spectacle and the booking of the matches. In execution it didn’t quite make the grade; whilst very little was truly awful, there was nothing that really shone out. If you treat it as a non-canon house show, albeit on a grand scale, it was entertaining enough. But as the big undercard matches were either of no relevance to on-going WWE TV (Cena/HHH, Taker/Rusev) or placeholders for feuds to continue elsewhere (Lesnar/Reigns, Styles/Nakamura) and the Rumble itself was rendered fairly pointless when Strowman’s win was largely ignored and led nowhere it’s difficult to recommend this as a “must see”.
The only extras are a 10 man tag team match from Raw and a 6 man tag team match from Smackdown in the weeks leading up to the show. Again, like a lot of Greatest Royal Rumble, they are entertaining enough without really being “must see”.
Format reviewed: DVD
Photos courtesy of Fetch and WWE.
Thank you to our partners, WWEDVD.co.uk and Fetch for providing our review copy of Greatest Royal Rumble which is out on DVD Monday 12 November. You can buy your copy from WWEDVD.co.uk now by clicking here