More Sports:

January 29, 2018

2018 WWE Royal Rumble: Nakamura, Asuka reign as Rumble winners; Ronda Rousey officially debuts

Wrestling WWE
012918_rousey_wwe WWE/Twitter

WrestleMania season has begun.

It had been three years since WWE's Royal Rumble event emanated from the Wells Fargo Center in Philly, and the ending to that one with Roman Reigns standing tall with The Rock trying to get the crowd behind him did not exactly go over as well as WWE had hoped. The recent run of Rumble pay-per-views had left a lot to be desired in terms of the winners and how the crowd would react to them. It's been a while since the crowd really got behind the Rumble winner the way we'd been accustomed to through the years.

RELATED: WWE legend Jim Ross on Royal Rumble, the Eagles, the success of his book, and more

But Sunday night was completely different, in a good way. The Philly crowd would be treated to the first-ever women's Royal Rumble match, a shocking debut, and a few underwhelming title matches.

However, the underwhelming title matches weren't enough to overshadow the absolute brilliance in not just one, but both Rumble matches.

In the four-hour main card, the men's Rumble match began just ahead of the second hour, which was a surprise to many. But there was a reason for that. Stay tuned.

Kalisto/Gran Metalik/Lince Dorado defeated TJP/Jack Gallagher/Drew Gulak in a six-man tag team match on the Kickoff Preshow

Really good, long Cruiserweight match. In the end, it doesn't mean anything, unfortunately. But good first match to get the crowd ready for the night.

The Revival defeated Luke Gallows/Karl Anderson on the Kickoff Preshow

Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson got their revenge from RAW 25! Good match.

Bobby Roode © defeated Mojo Rawley in a U.S. Open Challenge to retain the United States Championship

This was Roode's first title defense on pay-per-view after winning it a couple weeks ago in a tournament after Dolph Ziggler just left it laying in the ring after he'd won it. It was an OK match but certainly didn't steal the Kickoff Preshow.

AJ Styles © defeated Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn in a Handicap Match to retain the WWE Championship

This storyline leading up to this was a little wonky, but I don't think heading into WrestleMania we were going to have a co-champion storyline with Owens and Zayn. That proved to be the case after Styles pinned Owens when he was going for a Pop-Up Powerbomb by rolling him up.

After the match, the replay showed that Zayn likely never tugged Owens' hand to make him the legal man in the match when Styles pinned him. So I don't think this angle is that far from over, but for now, Styles is still the champion and should still be the champion heading into WrestleMania. And he's ready.

The Usos © defeated Chad Gable/Shelton Benjamin in a two-out-of-three falls match to retain the SmackDown Tag Team Championships

This match started off fast, cooled down a little bit, but was still a very good match. Everything the Usos touch lately has been gold, and Gable and Benjamin have vastly improved as a team. The match went on pretty long with close falls, but no official decisions. Then, all of a sudden, two came rather quickly.

Both Usos superkicked Gable separately, then together and Jey Uso pinned him for the champions to take the first fall. So, naturally, Gable and Benjamin would likely take the second fall, right?

Nah, that's not how this one would work.

A few moments later, Gable and Benjamin got the upper hand in the match and were ready to set up Jey for their finisher, but the Uso got Benjamin in a small package before Gable could interrupt the count and pinned him. The Usos had retained the tag titles, 2-0.

Shinsuke Nakamura won the men's Royal Rumble match

Much to the surprise of many, the men's Royal Rumble match was next.

No. of Entry Order of elimination Eliminated by
Rusev Rhyno Baron Corbin
Finn Balor Baron Corbin Finn Balor
Rhyno Sheamus Heath Slater
Baron Corbin Heath Slater Bray Wyatt
Heath Slater Sami Zayn Shinsuke Nakamura
Elias Apollo Crews Cesaro
 Andrade "Cien" Almas   Xavier Woods Jinder Mahal
Bray Wyatt Big E Jinder Mahal
Big E Cesaro Seth Rollins
Sami Zayn    Jinder Mahal Kofi Kingston
Sheamus Kofi Kingston Andrade "Cien" Almas
Xavier Woods Rusev Bray Wyatt/Matt Hardy
Apollo Crews Bray Wyatt Matt Hardy
Shinsuke Nakamura Matt Hardy Bray Wyatt
Cesaro Elias John Cena
Kofi Kingston The Hurricane John Cena
Jinder Mahal Aiden English Finn Balor
Seth Rollins Andrade "Cien" Almas       Randy Orton
Matt Hardy Adam Cole Rey Mysterio
John Cena Titus O'Neil Roman Reigns
The Hurricane The Miz  Roman Reigns/Seth Rollins 
Aiden English Seth Rollins Roman Reigns
Adam Cole Goldust Dolph Ziggler
Randy Orton Dolph Ziggler Finn Balor
Titus O'Neil Randy Orton Roman Reigns
The Miz Rey Mysterio Finn Balor
Rey Mysterio Finn Balor John Cena
Roman Reigns John Cena Shinsuke Nakamura
Goldust Roman Reigns Shinsuke Nakamura
Dolph Ziggler

There were some great moments in this year’s Rumble. One of my favorites was Kofi Kingston doing yet another innovative save from elimination. He, of course, had help from his teammates this time. Jinder Mahal had eliminated both Big E and Xavier Woods before thinking he eliminated Kingston. However, one of Kingston’s feet hit the floor, and the other landed on Woods.

Both Woods and Big E would help launch Kingston back into the ring over Mahal’s head, who was trying to prevent it from happening. Great spot.

The Hurricane made a surprise appearance! The superhero thought he was going to eliminate John Cena. Didn’t happen. Cena then easily eliminated him.

And Rey Mysterio returned!

The final six had a fun moment where it was old school vs. new school, so to speak. We had Cena, Orton and Mysterio on one side, and Bálor, Reigns and Nakamura on the other. Bálor put on one hell of a show, but was eliminated by Cena after spending almost an entire hour in the match. It came down to Nakamura, Cena and Reigns, and there was one clear guy among the three that would elicit a fan reaction the likes of we haven’t seen in years.

And it happened. Nakamura eliminated Cena after hitting him with the Kinshasa on the ring apron, then after a back-and-forth bit with Reigns, hit him with the Kinshasa then threw him over the top rope to one of the loudest fan reactions I’ve ever been a part of live.

After the match, Nakamura picked the champion he wants to face at WrestleMania – AJ Styles.

The Bar (Sheamus/Cesaro) defeated Seth Rollins/Jason Jordan © to win the Raw Tag Team Championships

After the highly-entertaining men’s Rumble, I thought at least the remaining tag team title match would deliver.

It didn’t.

The crowd was completely dead for it, but it’s not like they really had anything to get emotionally invested in, either. With Rollins and Jordan forming this team and Jordan’s subsequent heel turn subtleties, their interactions and matches on Raw had at the very least been entertaining. But there’s not much they could do to make this match worthwhile.

With Rollins going for a tag to Jordan, Cesaro yanked Jordan off the ring apron and shoved him into the steel LED ring post. Jordan stayed on the ground for a while with seemingly a head injury, likely a concussion. Interesting angle to take there. Jordan never really got back in the match, stayed on the floor and then sat on the ring steps as The Bar took it to Rollins. Jordan would tag in eventually but just couldn’t defend himself, so he tagged back out quickly. Cesaro and Sheamus finished off Rollins to win the Raw Tag Team Championships again.

While concussion angles are always controversial to take, especially in today’s society, a pro wrestling heel thing to do would be to fake the injury and eventually turn on your partner. Why? Well, that’s for WWE’s creative team to figure out a good reason why Jordan would do it.

Other than that, I’m not sure where they can go from here. Let’s hope it’s not the Jordan is weak because he had a legit concussion storyline. That just won’t go over well at all.

Brock Lesnar © defeated Kane and Braun Strowman in a Triple Threat Match to retain the WWE Universal Championship

Man, oh man. This was the same stuff we’ve seen from Lesnar. He wasn’t really given much to work with, though. We know his one-on-one match with Braun Strowman wasn’t that great, and for some reason, Kane is back. There were table spots galore here, but that didn’t do much to make the match entertaining. Lesnar pinned Kane after an F5 onto a steel chair.

What’s next for Strowman?

Asuka won the women’s Royal Rumble match

Then came the main event of the evening. And it was a good one.

No. of Entry Order of elimination Eliminated by
Sasha Banks Mandy Rose Lita
Becky Lynch Tamina Lita
Sarah Logan Lita Becky Lynch
Mandy Rose Kairi Sane Dana Brooke
Lita Dana Brooke Torrie Wilson
Kairi Sane Torrie Wilson Sonya Deville
Tamina Sarah Logan Molly Holly
Dana Brooke Sonya Deville Michelle McCool
Torrie Wilson Liv Morgan Michelle McCool
Sonya Deville Molly Holly Michelle McCool
Liv Morgan Lana Michelle McCool
Molly Holly Vickie Guerrero Banks/Lynch/McCool/Riott
Lana Michelle McCool Natalya
Michelle McCool Becky Lynch Ruby Riott
Ruby Riott Jacqueline Nia Jax
Vickie Guerrero Kelly Kelly Nia Jax
Carmella Ruby Riott Nia Jax
Natalya Naomi Nia Jax
Kelly Kelly Beth Phoenix Natalya
Naomi Ember Moon Asuka
Jacqueline Carmella Nikki Bella
Nia Jax Mickie James Trish Stratus
Ember Moon Nia Jax  Asuka/Bayley/Natalya/Bellas/Stratus 
Beth Phoenix Bayley Sasha Banks
Asuka Natalya Trish Stratus
Mickie James Trish Stratus Sasha Banks
Nikki Bella Sasha Banks Nikki Bella/Brie Bella
Brie Bella Brie Bella Nikki Bella
Bayley Nikki Bella Asuka
Trish Stratus  

Lita returned as the fifth entrant into the fray, and certainly made her presence felt. There was a scary moment later in the match where she went for a moonsault off the top rope and was too low to the ground when beginning her flip. She’s lucky she didn’t injure her neck very badly upon landing, but that didn’t stop the Philly crowd from chanting, “You still got it!” I kind of looked around the arena confused because I wondered if the rest of the masses saw something different than I just did. There’s a reason why Lita’s retired. It was a fun surprise, but I’m glad she didn’t seriously injure herself just to make some history.

Kairi Sane’s involvement was great, and seeing her work in the elbow drop in the match was an awesome sight.

After the match, both women’s champions entered the ring. But before Asuka could make her decision on which title she wanted to go after at WrestleMania, Ronda Rousey made her official WWE wrestler debut!

Paying homage to one of her idols, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Rousey’s video and shirt was in the old school Piper design. Rousey entered the ring and pointed at the WrestleMania sign. Will she be in a title match then? Will she get whoever Asuka doesn’t choose?

Lots of questions remain. And a lot of people were upset because they thought it took away this moment from Asuka. And, at least from what only I can offer, I thought this made this moment bigger. Rousey’s a WWE employee now. It’s not some UFC fighter coming in to steal the spotlight. And it was a great way to debut her.

Asuka swatting Rousey’s hand away when she went for a handshake may have even done Asuka some good! The fever pitch for women’s wrestling in WWE has never been higher, and I think this just puts the spotlight more on it. It’s up to WWE to make the most of it.

Follow Nick Piccone on Twitter: @nickpiccone. Subscribe to his podcast, The Straight Shooters, on Wildfire Radio iTunes Stitcher Google Play. Follow The Straight Shooters | Twitter: @ShootersRadio | Facebook: The Straight Shooters