WWE Royal Rumble 2023 Recap: 6 Thoughts
The first WWE PLE of 2023 has come and gone and what a Royal Rumble it was. I thought it was a pretty good show all things considered. I think the right people won the Rumble matches and we planted the seeds for the next two months of Bloodline material.
It was miles better than last year and hopefully the follow-up is just as good. Pat McAfee returned to commentary so the show was already off to a hot start. Check out John Canton’s WWE Royal Rumble 2023 review here. Let’s get to it.
#6: CODY RHODES WINS THE 2023 MEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE
The Men’s Royal Rumble accomplished several things Saturday night. It added another layer to the Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley rivalry. Lesnar had picked off Lashley on Raw and Smackdown last week and cost him the United States Championship. It was pretty telegraphed that Lashley would be the one to eliminate Lesnar. You would think this would culminate at WrestleMania but with Elimination Chamber in between, they could end it there and free both guys up for new programs. It also teased an eventual GUNTHER/Lesnar confrontation. That was a rumored WrestleMania match some months back and I think that would be a great way to highlight GUNTHER. We saw the returns of Edge and Beth Phoenix to get revenge on The Judgment Day. That seems to be the direction for Elimination Chamber in Montreal. Then we had GUNTHER, who lasted 71 minutes and became a made man. Nobody came out of that Rumble looking better than GUNTHER did that night.
However, the night belonged to “The American Nightmare” Cody Rhodes. Cody came in at #30 to a pretty significant pop Cody moved and looked good for the time he was in there. He’s been gone for 7 months or so now so I can understand why you didn’t have him come out sooner. Being in shape and being in ring shape are two different things. He looked like he was getting blown up out there toward the end. Ease him back into it. No reason to have him out there for 45 minutes. I loved the ending sequence between Cody and GUNTHER. They basically turned the final two into a separate match and I enjoyed it. It was impressive considering one guy was already in the ring for over one hour.
Now it appears as if Cody’s date is set. Will he challenge for both titles? I don’t know. My gut is still telling me Roman wrestles both nights. Regardless, Cody’s date is set. Now they have two months to really drive this home and make WrestleMania an important time for Cody in the event that he finally captures the title that’s eluded him. I’m excited about it.
#5: BRAY WYATT WINS THE FIRST-EVER PITCH-BLACK MATCH
Bray Wyatt had his first match on television in nearly two years and it was unique. Nobody expected a five star classic out of this match. It served its purpose. LA Knight is not too hurt by the loss because he held his own in the feud with Bray. There were several weeks where he was the more entertaining of the two. I think he’ll be fine. It’s obvious the current regime is behind him.
I didn’t like the concept. I just want Wyatt to wrestle regular matches. He’s not The Undertaker. He doesn’t need a gimmick every time he wrestles. Just let him wrestle. He’s proven he can do that if you let him. I’m ready for the Uncle Howdy reveal instead of the creepy stuff every week. We all pretty much know it’s Bo Dallas. Just reveal it and let’s move to the next phase of the story. I’m still glad Bray is back. I just would like them to move this story along a little faster than they have been. A lot faster.
#4: BIANCA BELAIR RETAINS HER RAW WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP
Bianca Belair and Alexa Bliss finally had their match for the Raw Women’s Title. I thought it was a decent match but definitely not one of Bianca’s best. These two just do not seem to have the best chemistry. It happens. Not everybody is going to just click the way you want them to click. They got through it and had a decent match for the time given.
Bianca has now approached over 300 days as Raw Women’s Champion so it’s clear to me now that they plan on going at least a year with Bianca as the champion because I don’t see her losing it now before WrestleMania. Whether she loses it on that night really depends on her opponent, but she has had a tremendous reign so far filled with many good-to-great matches.
#3: RHEA RIPLEY WINS THE 2023 WOMEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE
The Women’s Royal Rumble, like the Men’s, accomplished a few things. We saw the return of Asuka in her “Dark Asuka/Kana” form which got a big pop from the crowd. It will be interesting seeing how different this version of Asuka is from the past version we’ve seen the last few years. We got to see NXT stars like Zoey Stark and Roxanne Perez shine on the big stage. Liv Morgan also proved to be the iron woman by lasting over 60 minutes in the Royal Rumble. That is an incredible feat for anybody, male or female.
However, the night belonged to Rhea Ripley, who came in at #1 and lasted through 29 other women to punch her ticket to WrestleMania. She was the favorite going in. I think, based on her build over the last several months, that Rhea was being primed for this spot. I know Rhea and Finn still have to settle the rivalry with Beth Phoenix and Edge at Elimination Chamber. After that, the push should be on for Rhea at WrestleMania.
I would like Ripley to choose Bianca Belair. It’s a match we didn’t get last year at Money In The Bank and it is a match that we haven’t really seen on a big stage. I know the temptation is to choose Charlotte Flair because of the history and I am sure the match would be good. I would just like to see Ripley and Belair on the grand stage. Regardless of who she chooses, I think Rhea walks out with one of the Women’s Titles. It’s her time.
#2: ROMAN REIGNS RETAINS THE UNDISPUTED WWE UNIVERSAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens main evented for the Undisputed Title and as usual, it was a great match. Sami Zayn and Jey Uso get a lot of credit for this story but Kevin Owens has been just as critical to it over the last several months. Kevin has really thrived since turning babyface again last summer.
The match was as you expected. Owens took some nasty bumps outside the ring that made me cringe a little bit. The looks Sami kept giving and the looks Heyman kept giving Sami were telling throughout the match. Reigns wanted Sami by his side the whole night. I don’t think anybody expected Reigns to lose but they did a good job of making you think Owens could win such as when he pinned Reigns after the referee was knocked down It was important to establish that. Of course, Reigns finally won after a Spear but this was a great match between two veterans who know each other so well. That wasn’t the story, however.
#1: THE BLOODLINE BEATS DOWN SAMI ZAYN
You knew it was coming. After the match, Reigns, The Usos, and Solo Sikoa started beating down Owens as Sami stood by and watched. You could tell Sami was getting uncomfortable. His facial expressions were that he wanted to intervene but didn’t want to piss off The Tribal Chief. Finally, Reigns got two pair of handcuffs and The Usos handcuffed Owens to the ropes. The Usos just started laying in superkick after superkick while Sami watched on. Finally, Reigns grabbed a chair to finish the job. Sami looked like he was struggling internally as Reigns trash talked Owens. Reigns went to smash Owens with the chair until Sami stepped in between them. The crowd erupted as Reigns looked confused. Sami pleaded with Roman that he didn’t have to do this and that it was beneath him. Such great storytelling. Eventually, Reigns agreed and held the chair out for Sami.
This was his final test. He wanted Sami to be the one to take out Kevin Owens. Sami was hesitant and uncomfortable as Roman screamed at him to do it. The crowd wanted Sami to fight back. Roman turned his back to Sami twice and the crowd started cheering both times but Sami did nothing. Finally, Roman turned his back that third time and Sami smacked him In the back with that chair which led to the loudest non-entrance, non-return pop I’ve heard in WWE in years. Just listen to it.
AN HONORARY UCE NO MORE!@SamiZayn has just betrayed @WWERomanReigns and the entire Bloodline at #RoyalRumble! pic.twitter.com/ZtzAF1xGGD
— WWE (@WWE) January 29, 2023
Sami turned to Jey and dropped the chair. He said he was sorry as Jey kept asking him what he was doing. Jimmy then superkicked Sami right in the face which led to Jimmy, Roman, and Solo Sikoa handing Sami a beatdown. The interesting part was Jey not participating as he struggled with his emotions. Jey knew Sami messed up but he also understood why he did it. Jimmy screaming “YOU LOVE HIM LIKE A BROTHER? THIS YOUR BROTHER? NAH, I’M YOUR BROTHER” added so much heat to the situation. Jimmy shouting “THIS AINT YOUR BLOOD. WE ARE” as Jimmy and Roman noticed Jey not helping.
Jey rolling out was perfect. He believed in Sami. He couldn’t stop what was happening but he knew he couldn’t participate in it either. This was one of the best endings to a WWE PPV/PLE I’ve seen in my 32 years as a wrestling fan. It was about as perfect as you can get and one of the greatest stories WWE has ever told.
Jey realized Roman Reigns is the problem and that is why he left. Jey couldn’t stand Sami at first because he felt like Roman let him in easy and gave him a kindness he didn’t get, while avoiding the cruel initiation. That’s why Jey treated Sami like dirt. He couldn’t treat Jimmy and Solo like that because they were family. Sami wasn’t. Sami was the outsider being treated more like family than he was. Saturday night Jey saw that the problem was Roman. Jey started to break when he saw Roman pie facing Sami because he remembered what that felt like. Reigns’ motives for taking in Sami were ambiguous for a while and the reoccurring pattern with his behavior is that he’s a massive gaslighter and manipulator that uses people under the guise of family and love.
Kevin Owens told Sami that Roman uses him to protect his spot while avoiding going to work every week. It’s true, and this pattern of abuse began with Jey in 2020. The entire scene probably hit him like a ton of bricks and was overwhelming to be a part of, so he removed himself from the situation.
Jey told Sami on RAW that Zayn seeing the good in him is what led to Jey growing to love Sami like a brother. That was genuine. All Jey ever wanted was to be treated like family. Roman didn’t treat him like family. Sami did. No matter how many times Roman said he loved Jey, it’s not real love because Roman is the bad person. The Usos are soldiers. They’re not bad people but all they want and yearn for is the approval of the family. Solo never needed that approval. Solo just there to do what is asked. Like a mercenary. Yet even he looked choked up at Jey’s actions. Jey is still his brother. Jey is the angry member of The Bloodline because he was the one that was brutally initiated in. Everyone else simply was slotted in and welcomed by Roman. This led to unresolved resentment and he now knows where it comes from.
The fact that Jimmy Uso was the one who took the first shot at Sami said a lot Look at his face. He is struggling within himself to do what is needed. Jimmy always took up for Sami. Yet, he had to take Sami out. Not only for what he did for Roman, but what he did to Jey. Jimmy felt Sami betrayed Jey after Jey stuck his neck out for Sami. When Sami nailed Roman, Sami turned to Jey and apologized, but not to Heyman, Jimmy or Solo. Sami knew he ultimately only betrayed Jey. Jey was the guy who, no matter how much he tormented Sami, always got looked out for by Sami. Jey got love from Sami that he never got from Roman and on Saturday night, Jey finally knew why. Jey was angry with Sami for what he did but most of all, he was angry that he couldn’t do it himself. Simply masterful.
Was it worth it?#RoyalRumblepic.twitter.com/ymEoFKliXU
— WWE (@WWE) January 29, 2023
There you have it. We now seem to be on a collision course for Roman Reigns and Cody Rhodes at WrestleMania but It looks like we are getting Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn first at Elimination Chamber in Montreal. That should be a loud crowd for hometown guy Sami and Owens with whatever he is doing. I thought the Rumble was a great show thanks to two pretty good Rumbles, an outstanding main event and superb post-match angle. We’ll see how they respond going forward but things look pretty good right now.
Thanks for reading. Check out my TJRWrestling writing archive here. I’m on Twitter @GiftedMoney talking about wrestling among other things, so feel free to message me on there with any thoughts or comments. Until next time.