The 2023 Royal Rumble was far from the perfect show. It did however deliver a perfect ending even if it didn’t include The Rock.
Sami Zayn finally turned on Roman Reigns in a dramatic set of events straight out of an Emmy Award-winner show and leaves The Bloodline potentially shattering from within. It was the highlight of Saturday night’s show in front of 50,00-plus at the Alamodome that saw WWE deliver the expected, but right Royal Rumble winners. But it included some potentially big misses with the stuff involving Bray Wyatt.
Here are five takeaways from the Royal Rumble as we start the road to WrestleMania 39.
Blood’ Boils Over
The Bloodline is officially crumbling from within thanks to Sami Zayn in a masterpiece of a segment to close the show. Roman Reigns said Zayn would have to pass his “final test”, instead the Tribal Chief pushed the Honorary Uce too far – leading to his long-awaited turn on the faction.
Reigns stopped Zayn just short of getting the lay to become a full Uce. He got right in Zayn’s face, slapping him and asking him to deliver the final chair shot to friend Kevin Owens after winning beating him to retain the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. K.O. had just undergone a massive beating from the rest of the Bloodline and was laying limp while handcuffed to the ropes. They teased Zayn hitting Reigns with a chair a few times. Reigns even told him you can go back to doing “Jackass s—t” if you don’t do this. Zayn instead smashed the “Head of the Table” right in the back to a huge pop from the crowd. All of it had finally boiled over with a Shield callback moment.
The rest of The Bloodline then took the boots to the backstabbing Zayn, Reigns delivering multiple chair shots. That excluded just one member. An emotional Jey Uso, who had become Zayn’s biggest advocate refused to do so and rolling out of the ring instead. The crowd started chanting “f–k up Roman” after the Bloodline stood over Zayn and Owens. With the Rock not appearing on the show and likely not on track to be at WrestleMania, fans now potentially get the best of both worlds at the event with both Zayn and Rumble winner Cody Rhodes getting championship matches in Hollywood. Zayn will likely have to win the Elimination Chamber to do so.
Reigns and Owens had a hard-hitting match befitting of a championship main event. Owens had multiple believable opportunities to pin The Tribal Chief, who just kept kicking out. Reigns would push Owens out of a Stunner attempt and into the referee. K.O. delivered a pop-up power bomb and had Reigns down for a five-count with no-one to count the fall. Reigns asked Zayn to get a chair and his hesitation led to him eating a Stunner but kicking out at the last second. Owens kicked out of a second spear and crawled to a distraught Zayn, who told his friend to “just stay down.” Reigns then put his opponent through the barricade with a spear and slammed his head against the ring steps twice – which was tough for Zayn to watch. A third spear finally kept Owens to the mat, sparking the unforgettable closing sequence.
Rhodes to WrestelMania
The men’s Rumble match won’t go down as an all-time great one because it dragged at times and lacked a meaningful surprise. But man was it effective in setting up likely WrestleMania matches. The biggest one being winner Cody Rhodes vs. Roman Reigns at WrestleMania. The returning Rhodes, who entered at No. 30 was booked well. He had three eliminations including Logan Paul – who was heavily booed — in the final four.
Rhodes got to share a moment with nemesis Seth Rollins before teaming up against Gunther. It did however come down to Rhodes and Gunther, who entered at No. 1. The beating he took from the Ring General, included chops to his repaired pec was a great way to create both adversity and sympathy for Rhodes and his win, which got a good reaction from the crowd. Rhodes said “I did it dad” as a nod to Dusty before pointing to the WrestleMania sign. Rhodes vs. Reigns is now very much a reality now.
The Rumble also added to the United States championship storyline between Bobby Lashley and Brock Lesnar as the All Mighty tossed out The Beast to make it a stunningly short day for him. Lesner, who went nuts after did at least get stare down with Gunther before that. We also finally could be heading toward a WrestleMania match between Dominik and Rey Mysterio. Rey’s music hit at No. 17 and he never appeared and Dominik came out next wearing his dad’s mask. Edge was back at No. 24 for the first time since Extreme Rules and quickly eliminated The Judgement Day’s Finn Balor and Damian Priest. They came back to pull Edge out of the ring and his wife Beth Phoenix delivered a spear to Ripley. Rollins and Paul could also be headed for a clash as the YouTube star eliminated The Visionary.
This was still a huge night for Gunther. He had four eliminations and set the longevity record with more than 70 minutes. Kofi Kingston officially said goodbye to his attempts at amazing elimination saves after he botched for a second straight year. Booker T at No. 21 was the biggest surprise entrant. Paul and Ricochet had an insane moment with a double leaping clothesline from opposite sides of the ring.
Glow in the Dark Match
The Mountain Dew-sponsored “Pitch Black” match between Bray Wyatt and L.A. Knight was visually stunning. The rest was another confusing Bray Wyatt disappointment. The two wrestled a rather short match under black light with Knight in glow-in-the dark yellow trunks and Wyatt in creepy makeup and red-eye contacts that only appeared under the black light. The ropes were glow in the dark as was a dust that exploded over the floor when Knight put Wyatt through the announced table for the best spot of the actual match.
Wyatt fought off some kendo sticks shot and hit Knight with Sister Abigail for the 1-2-3 and then the fun began. Wyatt put on a new red mask and made him looked like the Predator. He ate kendo stick shots as he chased Knight through the crowd. He put him out with Mandible Claw and then Uncle Howdy appeared above him. Howdy then did a Coffin Drop-like drive on to Knight and through the platform they were on. Firefly Funhouse characters would appear above them.
Who knows where this leads, but all of this on the surface was just more Wyatt nonsense that leaves his opponent looking less than compared to where they entered. It was more bells and whistles instead of good wrestling and hours and hours of TV storytelling with strange payoff.
WWE toyed with the crowd’s emotions before delivering the expected and deserved Rhea Ripley win they hoped for in a fun Rumble match filled with returns. Ripley, who become just the fourth person in history to win from the No. 1 slot, came very close to being eliminated multiple times in the closing minutes.
Raquel Rodriguez pulled her to the outside, but Ripley was able to kick her off with both on the apron. The final three came down to Ripley, Asuka and Liv Morgan – with all three standing on the apron together. After Asuka – who came back as her twisted Kana persona – misted Morgan, it gave Ripley a chance to kick her off. Morgan, though blinded, got Ripley hanging on to the ropes by two hands and her feet dangling from the ground. The Judgement Day’s enforcer was able to lift herself up and flip Morgan out with her legs for the win.
You’d have to think it’s time we get the much-teased meeting between Ripley vs. Raw women’s champion Bianca Belair for world title. But Ripley does have some unfinished WrestleMania business with SmackDown champion Charlotte Flair dating back to 2020.
This match had a ton of big returns. Nia Jax, who was released by WWE in 2021, came back at No. 30 only to get a Riptide from Ripley after others failed to lift her up. Triple H also did the thing and ended Doudrop. She returned as Piper Nevin and a returning Pat McAfee, Michael Cole and Corey Graves — who were phenomenal all night on commentary — had a ton of fun saying her name and making Doudrop references. Natalya also came back after getting her nose broken by Shayna Baszler back in November.
Chelsea Green made her WWE return and was eliminated in five seconds in a waste of a return — but something that will be used moving forward I’m sure. Michelle McCool has a really cool moment leaving her kids and entering from the crowd. After not delivering the cage match between Bayley and Becky Lynch on Monday, WWE doubled down on building heat. Bayley eliminated Lynch and they and the rest of Damage CTL fought into the crown afterward.
Chapter 1 dud
The match itself between Alexa Bliss and Bianca Belair was a dud, with the Raw women’s champion easily dispatching her opponent. Bliss not once showed any sign of tapping into the supernatural energy we saw on TV for weeks leading up to this match. When it was over, we did get the lights going out and a video of a playground with Uncle Howdy asking Bliss if she was in control. You’d hope that means they are at running this back with a very different Bliss at Elimination Chamber, but this match deserved to be on Raw and not pay-per-view.
What a completely awful performance by country star Hardy, who basically yelled his way through unintelligible lyrics in a live performance before the main event. Never do that again WWE.
Biggest winner: Sami Zayn
Biggest loser: L.A. Knight
Best match: Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens