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WWE Royal Rumble 2022: A night of predictable “surprises”

Brock Lesnar lost to Bobby Lashley earlier in the night, but won the 2022 WWE Royal Rumble hours later.

WWE is now back on track for a Brock Lesnar-Roman Reigns main event at WrestleMania after Saturday’s Royal Rumble.

The show managed to have two Rumble winners who were both unannounced for the match yet utterly predictable. Brock Lesnar won the men’s Rumble after losing his WWE title due to Roman Reigns’ interference. Ronda Rousey won the women’s Rumble.

Neither announced which champion they will be facing at WrestleMania. There’s no doubt who Lesnar will choose. Rousey is expected to pick Charlotte Flair, according to a report from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

The two Rumbles themselves were unimpressive matches. The rest of the card was fine, but more people are likely to make metaphors from the WrestleMania sign catching fire twice than anything else that happened in the ring last night.

Back to the plan: Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania

Lesnar versus Reigns is the biggest match WWE currently has. When Reigns could not work the match at Day 1 against Lesnar, they had to call an audible. They threw Lesnar into the four-way for the WWE title and gave him the belt. This show was all about putting Reigns and Lesnar back on a collision course.

Lesnar worked a solid “big move” match with Bobby Lashley. It’s a type unique to him in WWE, in which Lesnar and his opponent trade high-impact offense in a fast match. The referee was knocked out, allowing Reigns to interfere, hitting a spear on Lesnar. Paul Heyman turned on Lesnar, revealing he’d been in on it all along with Reigns. Heyman handed Reigns the WWE title belt and Reigns clobbered Lesnar with it, leading to a Lashley victory.

One wonders what Reigns’ plan was had the referee not been “accidentally” knocked out, but it’s best not to ask too many questions about booking logic here.

Later in the night, Lesnar appeared as a surprise entrant in the men’s Rumble and won it. The obvious story here is Lesnar is beyond pissed off at Reigns and Heyman and will choose him as his WrestleMania opponent. They still have the Elimination Chamber show to find a challenger for Lashley.

For his part, Reigns lost to Seth Rollins by disqualification. The match itself was good, but badly marred by an uncreative finish. Reigns refused to break a guillotine when Rollins was in the ropes, so the referee called for the DQ. This finish, ignoring the referee’s instructions, was not good to begin with and has been overdone on WWE television lately, so it was even more deflating than usual.

On the women’s side, Lynch is left without a top challenger after a clean win over Doudrop. A WrestleMania sign fire distracted the crowd through most of this match. While Doudrop is talented, the buildup for this match was underwhelming and no one thought Lynch’s title was under serious threat. Rousey could pick either Flair or Lynch and the company will have a solid main event for each night. The Rousey title match will headline one night, while Reigns and Lesnar will main-event the other. They have a couple of months to build a new challenger for whichever champion isn’t selected.

One wonders what Reigns’ plan was had the referee not been “accidentally” knocked out, but it’s best not to ask too many questions about booking logic here.

Laying out the Rumble is really hard, apparently

It is for the WWE, at least. Pat Patterson was credited with laying out most of the early Rumbles. Patterson’s Rumbles had an interesting flow to them. There were people who lasted a long time, a big man who cleared the ring of mid-carders, partners ending up in the ring with one another, forcing them to fight each other, plus other twists and turns. This year we saw very little of that. The women’s Rumble in particular was dull for long stretches. The men’s would have been too if not for some celebrity appearances.

The men’s Rumble was mediocre. Sadly, highlights came from Bad Bunny and to a lesser extent, Johnny Knoxville. If only WWE had put as much care in the overall match as they did putting together spots to feature the celebrities, the Rumble would have been much better. Knoxville took several big moves, while Bunny managed to get in some impressive offense. In fact, he got more shine than most of the WWE regulars, which says more about the state of WWE than the company would ever admit.

Lesnar’s win came in a match that somehow managed to avoid advancing the careers of any WWE regular.

Sadly, Kofi Kingston’s parkour spot failed. It’s a Rumble tradition in which Kingston is thrown from the ring but comes up with a creative way of avoiding elimination, but when he tried to hold on to the ringside barricades, his feet touched the floor, so he was out of the match without fanfare.

Otherwise, the match lacked intrigue. We didn’t see tag teams square off. We didn’t even see the big man spot. Omos had a few eliminations but was dumped quickly, which might have been the best thing for the match overall, but if they wanted to give him a push, this seemed like a good time. Drew McIntyre returned, but once Lesnar’s music hit, the outcome of the match was obvious. US Champion Damian Priest and Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura were each out quickly.

Rousey’s appearance got a big reaction from the crowd. She came out in all black, with her UFC-style death glare. The Roddy Piper outfit and smile was gone, and it worked better for her.

Sasha Banks’ return meant little in the women’s Rumble. She was eliminated fairly early in a way that won’t lead to anything in storyline. Asuka and Bayley did not return from their injuries. The names from the past WWE brought in for the women’s Rumble were barely in the match. Most were eliminated very quickly, often before the next entrant’s music hit. Michelle McCool was an exception. She showed up in excellent shape and held her own while she was in there, but others were in and out before you knew it.

Mickie James, the IMPACT women’s champion, was just another person in the match. Those hoping this was some sort of special moment between promotions were disappointed.

NXT 2.0 is now an afterthought

Despite having empty spots in both Rumbles going in, no NXT 2.0 stars were used in either match. The brand’s two top singles champions, Bron Breakker and Many Rose were not used, nor mentioned. The lack of NXT talent was particularly surprising in the women’s match, which had Ivory, Cameron, Melina, Alicia Fox, Sarah Logan and Summer Rae walk in and walk out within a minute or so. WWE’s booking at the Rumble shows its eyes are turned toward its past far more than its alleged future.

Incredibly, WWE fans heard the IMPACT promotion’s name more than they heard NXT’s. James came to the ring with the IMPACT women’s title belt and was acknowledged as the champion. Rose, Breakker and the brand they represent were all totally ignored.

Big E’s run is over

After spending months as WWE Champion, Big E was put back on the SmackDown brand out of the blue on Jan. 28. He was an afterthought in the Rumble as well. It’s possible they had some spots planned for he and Kingston but those didn’t pan out once Kingston was eliminated early.

Unfortunately, WWE has treated Big E the way it treated Kingston. Both got runs with the title, both lose their titles to Lesnar, and both were back in their old tag team right where they had been once the run was over. Nothing in tonight’s show indicated bigger things are ahead for him.

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