The Royal Rumble is one of the biggest nights on the WWE calendar as the picture for WrestleMania starts to become clearer. A historic night is poised to take place in Philadelphia with the first women’s Royal Rumble. With the Universal championship, WWE championship and both sets of tag team titles also on the line Sunday night, the appeal stretches well beyond the Rumble matches as well.
Tim Fiorvanti recaps the action as it happens, with match ratings and more from ESPN Stats & Information’s Sean Coyle. This story was updated in real time.
(c) – Indicates defending champion
Men’s Royal Rumble
SmackDown Live tag team championship: The Usos (c) def Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin in a 2-out-of-3 falls match
WWE championship: AJ Styles (c) def. Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens
The concept of a handicap world title match where co-champions could be crowned puts a strain on the likelihood of the challengers walking away successfully. But with three guys like AJ Styles, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, along with the built-in story they’ve been involved in in recent months, it should come as little surprise that the match far eclipsed any silliness that could’ve been involved.
The handicap stipulation allowed for two different stories to develop: Styles’ perseverance and a cohesive plan of attack by Owens and Zayn. The result was a really good overall effort featuring drama, good old heel tactics and fine in-ring work. This was a great way to open the pay-per-view.
In-ring execution: 0.75
Match psychology: 0.75
— Sean Coyle
There was no Daniel Bryan and no Shane McMahon ringside, and while this story carrying forward might frustrate some, there are plenty of ways for a lot of things to be cleared up once Tuesday rolls around.
Kevin Owens started the match, but drew instant heat from the crowd by tagging in Sami Zayn before ever making contact with Styles. Zayn returned the favor and tagged Owens in, with neither man overly anxious to get the ball rolling once they were the legal man.
After half a clothesline, Owens had had enough and immediately tagged Zayn back in. Styles rolled Zayn up, which got him flustered, and Owens got back into the ring, which was when the match finally got going. Styles hit a hurricanrana on Owens and tried to play defense on the corner, but Owens rolled to the outside and worked his way around to get the tag.
Zayn and Styles worked back and forth a bit, but the second Zayn ate a dropkick to the face, he tagged out, too. Zayn and Owens finally started taking advantage of the numbers game by backing Styles into their corner, and Zayn led the offensive charge with a back body drop. Owens ragdolled Styles into the turnbuckle and ring post inside the ring, and did further damage by repeating the effort on the ring barrier — nearly sending Styles entirely into the crowd in the process.
Styles made a brief comeback, only to find himself on Owens’ shoulders and flying towards the mat face-first on a reverse flapjack. Owens defaulted to his headlock and cannonball stand-bys, but Styles rolled out of the way. They continued to tag in and out to keep Styles from gaining control until Styles lined up and hit a Frankensteiner. By the time Owens came back in, Styles had a Pele kick in store for him, and Styles brought back his classic moonsault into reverse DDT spot that doesn’t come out very often these days.
Owens and Zayn finally got into the ring together at the same time, but Owens’ catapult of Styles led right into a headscissors that sent Zayn out of the ring. Styles rolled from the corner into a calf crusher on Owens and locked it in for almost 30 seconds, but just as Owens appeared poised to tap, Zayn came in to once again serve as Owens’ guardian angel.
Styles kept moving at a crazy pace, landing a backfist and lariat combination, and an Owens roll-up attempt led to Owens charging at Styles and going shoulder-first into the post instead. Everyone was reeling, but Zayn, who owned two pinfall wins in recent weeks over the champ, set up for the Blue Thunder Bomb only for Styles to slip out.
Though the first attempt was stifled, it distracted the referee long enough for Owens to land a superkick from the outside so that Zayn could successfully land the Blue Thunder Bomb. It was the second convincing potential ending, but Styles managed to kick out at the very last moment.
Zayn heeled off in a way he hadn’t to this point in the ring, getting aggressive and frustrated with slaps and strikes in the corner, but as he set up for a superplex, Styles escaped again. Styles cleared out both of his opponents, landed a Phenomenal Forearm on Zayn, but Owens rolled in and did his part to return the favor in saving Zayn and their WWE title hopes.
Zayn and Styles slowly rose to their feet and battered each other back and forth in the middle of the ring as Owens could only look on. Zayn made a desperate dive and appeared, at least to the referee, to get a fingertip tag to Owens; as Styles sent Zayn to the outside over the top rope, Owens charged into the ring, hit a superkick and set Styles up for the pop-up powerbomb. Styles was able to slide underneath and got just enough leverage on a pinfall attempt to get the three-count and vanquish his opponents.
Though McMahon and Bryan didn’t directly intervene, which was a surprise, the argument about whether or not the tag happened offers a hook for this story to carry forward for at least one more week, as we saw in their backstage moment with McMahon backstage. Something has to give soon, but it would not come on this night.
The Revival avenged their loss from Raw 25 by picking up a win over Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson in the second match of the Royal Rumble Kickoff.
In the opening match of the Royal Rumble Kickoff show, Kalisto, Gran Metalik and Lince Dorado defeated Drew Gulak, Jack Gallagher and TJP. We are officially underway at the Wells Fargo Center.
Still to come:
Women’s Royal Rumble
Universal championship: Brock Lesnar (c) versus Braun Strowman versus Kane
Raw tag team championship: Jason Jordan and Seth Rollins (c) versus The Bar
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