It's an event that comes with expected surprises. Entrants into the Royal Rumble match are always uncertain, the winners of matches are hard to predict, but the results set the tone for the rest of the year. In short, the Royal Rumble is one of the most important events in the WWE and without it, there is no Road to WrestleMania.
More than any other event, there is pressure to get the Rumble right. When WWE misfires on the way the show is booked, the Royal Rumble becomes the event fans blame when things could have developed differently. We know because, in the past few years, the Royal Rumble hasn't been as widely loved as it should have been. The company used the show to push talents fans weren't willing to accept and the results became political, often backfiring on the talents WWE chose to push forward.
Would WWE make the same mistakes again? Here are your winners and losers for the Royal Rumble 2018.
Winner: AJ Styles
He was the underdog in his handicap match against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, but he came out on top and cemented himself as a serious champion going into WrestleMania. This became even more important later in the evening when he was challenged by the winner of the 30-man Royal Rumble match.
Styles is the right champion for SmackDown Live and he should be the champion heading into WrestleMania. It was a good choice for him to get the win and it doesn't really hurt Owens and Zayn to lose even though they had the numbers advantage.
Loser: No Daniel Bryan
It made little to no sense to build a handicap match that was very much about Daniel Bryan and then not include him in any way. In fact, when Bryan was finally on TV again, he made no mention of the match and Styles winning at all. Why involve Bryan so much and foreshadow something if there was never a plan to deliver?
Fans still don't know whose side he was/is on. It would be a mistake for the WWE to try and drag this storyline out for another month.
Winner: Heath Slater
As much as it was silly for the WWE to place Heath Slater in such a prominent spot during the Raw 25 broadcast, WWE did exactly the right thing with his character at the Royal Rumble. The victim of a number of successful attacks which delayed his entry into the match itself, he was one of the more humorous moments of the show. When used right, Slater is a major asset to the WWE. At the Royal Rumble, he proved his value.
Slater eliminating Sheamus in a matter of seconds was simply icing on the cake.
Loser: Dolph Ziggler
Ziggler made his return the WWE and it made no sense the way WWE booked him. Why have him give up the United States Championship just to enter his name into the Rumble? A current champion can be a competitor in the match. Why have him come in as the final entry and then eliminate him so quickly?
Where does the WWE go now? By taking this route, there is very little Ziggler can do to have any of his actions over the past month make sense. The WWE basically guaranteed things were right back to where they started.
Loser: The Female Legends
It was extremely cool to see many of the former WWE Divas return for their respective spots in the Royal Rumble. Trish Stratus looked fantastic and Molly Holly wowed with a top-rope 360, but the rest of the cast, including Kelly Kelly, Torrie Wilson, Lita, and even Beth Phoenix looked overmatched and rusty (or at least didn't get a chance to show their stuff).
Their inclusion was great for what it was (a trip down memory lane), but it shows just how much the women of today's WWE have progressed in terms of in-ring ability. Only Michelle McCool and Stratus were booked like someone who might do more than show up for one night and that was wise on the part of the WWE. It wouldn't have looked good if the women who struggled to go in the ring were being put over at the expense of the ones who could.
Winner: Ronda Rousey
There were rumors Rousey was working on a deal with WWE, but nothing official came out until she showed up to end the Royal Rumble broadcast and pointed at the WrestleMania sign. It was a clear indication she was now part of the WWE and moments after the show ended, reports were she had signed her full-time WWE contract.
Many fans were hoping she'd actually join the Royal Rumble match as entry 30, but this was a much smarter play considering Rousey still doesn't look comfortable in her WWE skin.
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Loser: Raw Tag Team Title Match
The match itself was already going to suffer because three of the four competitors had just been seen in the men's Royal Rumble match. But, few likely expected how anti-climactic the match and the title change became. There was literally no response to Sheamus and Cesaro becoming the tag champs again.
Part of the problem was Jason Jordan's storyline. He played up the concussion idea and left Rollins stranded. This has become one of the most boring storylines in WWE, and the fans showed they simply didn't care.
She was the odds-on favorite to win the Women's Rumble match but she was able to take the victory in a way that was believable and not terribly obvious. Between the Bellas returning, Nia Jax being the focus of multiple competitors trying to eliminate her and a few other turns that gave the impression Asuka could be the victim of an upset, WWE played this just right.
Asuka was the right choice and the fact that we don't know who she'll choose to face at WrestleMania adds another layer of intrigue.
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Loser: Double Duty
When the WWE allows competitors to pull double duty during the pay-per-view, it's never a favorable choice, especially at the Royal Rumble. Seth Rollins, Sheamus, Cesaro, and Sami Zayn were all added to the match after being booked for other parts of the show. It's obvious none of those people were going to win the match and the WWE could have used the opportunity to put others into the match.
As good as all of these wrestlers are, it's a letdown for fans who realize as soon as their music hits, it's one less surprise entrant.
Winner: WWE Returns
Many in the WWE were asking who would show up in this year's Royal Rumble match. There were rumors of Bobby Lashley, EC 3, and even Batista or Goldberg. No one seemed to expect the returns that did arrive and they were great choices by WWE.
Rey Mysterio is a great selection and he looks better than ever. The Hurricane was completely unexpected and added a great flavor of nostalgia and comedy, Andrade Cien Almas was a smart selection from NXT as well.
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura
The WWE made the absolute best choice in the way they booked the final moments of the Royal Rumble match. From keeping the six final guys they did, having the "veterans" team up against the "new breed" made sense. To then have the "new breed" overcome the veterans was even smarter. Then, when Nakamura put the icing on the cake and eliminated Roman Reigns, not only did WWE avoid a riot in Philadelphia, they picked the best possible option to sell a main event fans want to see. Nakamura vs AJ Styles is a dream match WWE owed the fans.
This is finally Nakamura's opportunity. His match against Styles should prove he deserves a top spot in the company.