Lesnar retains Universal championship, Strowman wins Greatest Royal Rumble
The Greatest Royal Rumble was positioned as an extension of the WrestleMania card, with rematches between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar for the Universal championship (in a steel cage, no less) and AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE title headlining the show. In the end, neither of the WWE's two biggest titles changed hands, leaving more questions than answers, but the historic show in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia featured a number of memorable moments including new Raw tag team champions Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt, a highly entertaining ladder match for the Intercontinental championship and a breakout Braun Strowman performance in the 50-man Royal Rumble match.
Tim Fiorvanti has the recap, which was originally compiled in real time.
Braun Strowman wins 50-man Royal Rumble match
After the rest of the Greatest Royal Rumble card offered shockingly little in the way of long-term change, save for the crowning of new Raw tag team champions, few knew what to expect from the first 50-man Royal Rumble match.
What we got was a crowning achievement for Braun Strowman, a new Rumble iron man record for Daniel Bryan at 1:16:05, a memorable pratfall from Titus O'Neil and a few scary moments in which Big Cass appeared to be seriously injured.
After Bryan and Dolph Ziggler kicked off the match, Sin Cara got about 75 seconds to show off his offense before eating a superkick from Ziggler and getting himself tossed out. With that, the Rumble felt as if it was officially underway.
Mark Henry, who hasn't had a one-on-one match in over a year, came into the match at No. 5 and immediately deposited Curtis Axel on the outside of the ring. Mike Kanellis did his best to beat Santino Marella's record of the shortest run in a Royal Rumble match at No. 6, as Henry sent him out almost instantaneously.
The only non-WWE entry of the match, sumo Hiroki Sumi, entered at No. 7 and had a battle of giants with Henry that the latter won with ease. That moment offered enough of a distraction that Bryan and Ziggler used the opportunity to toss Henry out as well.
The match kept rolling along with the occasional surprise, be it 205 Live stars like Tony Nese and Drew Gulak, NXT's Roderick Strong, Tucker Knight, Babatunde and Dan Matha and a handful of legends making their returns.
One of the biggest early surprises in the match was Hornswaggle, who helped eliminated Dash Wilder and then hit a Samoan drop on Kofi Kingston. He went up for a tadpole splash, ate a superkick and ate a running knee from Nese to get himself eliminated.
Kingston and Xavier Woods combined for Kingston's annual breath-taking spot, as Kingston landed on Woods' back to avoid being eliminated. They worked together and even got Nese dancing with them, before promptly tossing Nese out.
The Saudi fans were really into the match and chanted as loudly (or louder) than their American counterparts throughout the night. Kurt Angle got "You Suck" chants as he eliminated Primo, Bo Dallas and, in an impressive feat of strength, Ziggler via an overhead belly-to-belly suplex.
Elias got his full acoustic guitar entrance, which the crowd got into, and pulled off a sneaky triple elimination on Kingston, Woods and Konnor, all at once.
Bryan and Angle got a cool moment in the match, as the former hit "Yes" kicks, only for Angle to slide into an Angle lock, which eventually fed into Angle hitting an Angle slam on Bryan. Elias broke up the party, though, as he tossed Angle out as he pulled down the straps of his singlet.
Chad Gable showed impressive strength with an Electric Chair drop on Knight, followed by Rey Mysterio's entrance at No. 28 that got one of the biggest crowd reactions of the evening. Fandango and Tyler Breeze attempted their best New Day impression as Breeze dove into his tag team partner's arms to avoid Mojo Rawley, only for Rawley to quickly eliminate him anyways.
Strong had the standout performance of the NXT contingent by a long stretch, running in like a man on fire. He hit a multi-rotation tilt-a-whirl backbreaker on Rey Mysterio, a gut-buster on Big E and sent Rhyno out of the match.
Randy Orton rolled into the ring and had his moment as well, snatching Crews out of the air for an RKO, and sending both Rawley and Karl Anderson out behind him.
Baron Corbin hit an incredible Deep Six on Rey Mysterio, and then essentially choke-slammed Roode out of the ring. Strong was shortly behind as Corbin tore it up for a brief moment. The seriousness of the match was momentarily broken as O'Neil had a moment that will be replayed for the rest of time in the annals of WWE, as he tripped on the edge of the ringside mat and nearly slid under the ring entirely. They replayed it approximately 15 times on air, including a few slow motion takes for good measure.
Strowman finally got into the ring at No. 41, as the prohibitive favorite tossed out Babatunde, Dan Matha, Big E and, finally, Heath Slater via a toss onto a crowd assembled on the outside.
The ring was pretty well cleared out at that point. There was a 619 from Mysterio and RKO on Strowman, Mysterio dropped the dime on Orton, and a quick string of eliminations saw Corbin send out Mysterio, Orton eliminate Corbin and Elias eliminate Orton.
Strowman and Bobby Lashley went at it for the first of several confrontations in this match, just days after successfully teaming up, but their fight was interrupted by a series of running corner dropkicks on Strowman and Lashley in opposite corners.
The Great Khali spent longer walking to the ring than he was in the ring, as Lashley and Strowman worked together to eliminate the mobility-limited giant.
Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon got the chance to go face-to-face again, as the 46th and 47th entries, respectively, and then Bryan got into the mix as well. They took turns kicking Owens' chest, and got one final measure of revenge on the now-Raw superstar.
As Big Cass came in at No. 49, McMahon lined up a Coast-to-Coast to Strowman's chest, with the giant forced to roll out of the ring. Chris Jericho rounded out the field at No. 50, and immediately gave Owens another rival to joust with in the middle of the ring.
Jericho nailed a codebreaker on Shelton Benjamin to eliminate him, leaving just seven men in the match. Lashley dropped Big Cass as he tried to get Cass up for a suplex and accidentally brainbustered him, in a moment that looked as though it could've seriously injured Cass.
McMahon went up for a second coast-to-coast, this time on Owens, but Strowman caught him and sent him flying from the top turnbuckle through a table at ringside to eliminate him in what was likely the most memorable moment of the match. Strowman went on a rampage, throwing out Elias, Lashley and Owens, leaving just himself, Bryan and Cass in the match.
After Bryan tried to singlehandedly eliminate Strowman, Big Cass hit what looked like a very sloppy kick to Bryan's head -- not the sort of thing you like to see for a guy just getting back into the swing of things after three years on the shelf with head and neck injuries. Cass then hit two clotheslines on Strowman, but Strowman crotched him, lifted the ropes up four or five times, got a running start and drove Cass out of the ring for the victory.
There were no direct rewards for winning this match, outside of the trophy and the ceremonial title belt, but Strowman appears to be the likeliest candidate to be the next one stepping up to challenge for the Universal championship.
Death. Taxes. Brock Lesnar defeats Roman Reigns.
Paul Heyman once again promised it would be a spoiler and not a prediction. Despite all signs of logic pointing to Reigns finally breaking through after more than four years of trying to defeat Brock Lesnar, a controversial ending once again saw Lesnar walking out victorious -- leaving Reigns and the Universal championship in a nebulous, unknown state going forward.
The early stages of this match had a lot in common with the WrestleMania 34 contest. After a moment's pause, it was an instant trip to Suplex City for Reigns. Lesnar hit four German suplexes and an F-5 in a flash, but Reigns slipped out of a second F-5 and landed three Superman punches in succession in response.
Reigns went for a spear, missed, but as Lesnar went up for a another F-5 it allowed Reigns to scale the cage until Lesnar pulled him down and elbowed him as both stood atop the top rope. Lesnar made his own attempt to escape, but Reigns caught him and powerbombed him to the ground.
Reigns sent Lesnar face-first into the cage three times, hit a spear and bounced right back up. He talked to himself to psyche himself up, and nailed with a second spear. He did not immediately go for a cover, and instead bounced off the ropes back and forth twice and nailed a third spear. He finally went for the cover, but only picked up a two-count.
Reigns called for the door and slowly made his way out, only for Heyman to run over and slam the door on Reigns' face. Lesnar hit a F-5, went for the pin and only managed a two-count.
Heyman tossed a steel chair into the ring and Lesnar pulled his gloves off, preparing to lay another savage beating upon Reigns, but as he swung the chair Reigns hit a fourth spear.
Reigns picked up the steel chair and hit him several times, hit a Superman punch and lined Lesnar up for one final spear. With Lesnar up against the side of the steel cage, Reigns speared Lesnar clear through the side of the cage to the floor.
Though the rule has always been that two feet have to hit the floor, and Lesnar never rolled off the section of cage still attached to the rest of the structure as Reigns spilled onto the ground, Lesnar was declared the winner.
It was an incredibly fun spot, but dragging this situation between Lesnar and Reigns out longer and keeping the Universal championship off TV regularly has grown far too stale. There's no telling when Lesnar will appear again on TV, but it's safe to say that if it's opposite Reigns, the reaction will not be a positive one.
This was never going to be a technical match, but Undertaker and Rusev both had a good sense of the crowd and took their time in getting into physical action.
No one anticipated Rusev winning the match by any means considering the circumstances, but he ultimately put up a much greater fight and a strong performance before ultimately laying to rest inside of a giant casket.
The Undertaker was there to hit all of his signature offense and win, and he certainly did that as well. He hit Old School, and countered most of what Rusev had to offer early on, but Rusev kept fighting back as the fight spilled to the outside. There was also a full-blown leg drop on the apron, which nearly led to an early win until Aiden English held the casket open, shouting, "I will not let this happen".
The Undertaker chased him up the ramp, but that distraction allowed Rusev to climb out of the casket.
Rusev grabbed a big edge at several points, including a moment when he locked in his Accolade submission hold to lay The Undertaker out prone. As he turned around, however, he left Undertaker to do his traditional sit-up. Rusev looked up at the monitors in fear, and that was essentially all she wrote.
After one final back and forth, Undertaker hit a chokeslam on Rusev and rolled him into the casket. English tried to sneak up behind The Undertaker, but ate a chokeslam and a tombstone of his own in the middle of the ring. Undertaker slid English into the casket beside Rusev, slammed the lid, and picked up the victory to a massive applause.
We have no idea when we'll see Undertaker again, but this was a far more impressive performance than his sub-three minute match against John Cena at WrestleMania 34.
The possibilities for the WrestleMania 34 rematch between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura at the Greatest Royal Rumble were virtually endless. Either could have left as champion, but it was clear that there was still a long way to go before their tensions were resolved.
With a disappointing double countout finish, and a post-match attack from Styles to Nakamura to exact a certain amount of revenge, another match at Backlash and more beyond that moment is virtually guaranteed.
The match at Greatest Royal Rumble started with a lot of potential. There was an intensity and a physicality in the early stages of this match that simply wasn't there in their WrestleMania 34 match. The taunts had anger and tension. The strikes felt a little bit stiffer. It truly felt worthy of a WWE championship match and the stakes such a match should carry.
They traded signature offensive moves, but Styles landed the first finishing-level maneuver with the calf crusher before Nakamura slithered away. The crowd was doing their own thing for a while, but as the match started to hit another gear, "AJ Styles" and the "boo-yeah" punch exchange proved they were dialed in on this match. Counter-striking spilled to the ground and allowed Nakamura to get in position to hit an armbar, albeit briefly. Styles missed a phenomenal forearm and nearly hit the ref, and in that distraction, Nakamura continued his run as the "king of low blows" (as Michael Cole so eloquently put it) for the fifth time since WrestleMania.
Styles grabbed the bottom rop to avoid the pinfall, and as Nakamura went for his finishing Kinshasa knee strike, Styles hit a running forearm to counter it. Styles and Nakamura welcomed the Saudi broadcasting team to the WWE Universe by crashing over their table, but that led to Styles snapping and a double countout as a result of Styles' anger.
In the aftermath, Styles sent Nakamura over the barricade, hit him with a steel chair and then a flying forearm from in the ring to the outside before hoisting the title over his head in celebration. There are only so many times these two guys can have a disappointing feeling coming out of a match before it's worthy of starting to question which way things are headed, but let's hold off on judgment until we see how Backlash plays out.
The Intercontinental championship match, both by virtue of the participants and the specter of the ladder match format, was poised to be a potential show-stealer from the outset. It was clear from the opening moments of the match that Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe and The Miz that they realized that potential and were willing to go all out.
There was no half-pacing or reducing the level of risk from a typical ladder match, with dives all over the ring and drops onto, off of and through the ladders. Everyone had their moments early, but Samoa Joe separated himself and dictated the pace with a variety of ladder-based moves and a powerbomb/suplex combination that felled Rollins and Balor. He also took one of the most brutal-looking moves of the night when Miz nailed a Skull-crushing Finale that sent Joe face-first into a ladder laying on the ground.
Once the ladder was lined up under the title, Miz, Balor and Rollins battled three ways with The Miz clearing out everyone with more of his signature offense. For the first time on the evening, "this is awesome" chants rang out throughout the stadium while Miz cleared out everyone by using the ladder as a weapon. That turned around in a hurry when Miz found himself laying on a ladder as Balor landed a Coup de Grace and knocked him out of the match.
After fighting off Samoa Joe for several minutes, we got one of the most creative endings to a ladder match in recent memory. As Balor climbed the ladder and reached up for the title, Rollins springboarded off the top rope, charged up the other side and snatched the championship and the victory directly out of Balor's hands. This should also set the stage for more from Rollins vs. Balor moving forward, which should be great for Raw and the IC title going forward.
Though a one-sided effort wouldn't have come as much of a surprise, The Usos weren't simply brushed aside so easily in this match. They chained a series of high-flying offensive maneuvers together, including a pair of out-of-the-ring dives, a double superkick and an Uso splash. But the level of dominance on display of late reared its head with the rapid swing of momentum at the end of the match. With a turnbuckle smash and a double powerbomb, Harper and Rowan successfully retained their SmackDown tag team championships.
Just like the Raw tag team championship match that preceded it, the likelihood of a title change here was low at the outset.
After a fairly solid match in which Jeff Hardy defeated Jinder Mahal to win the United States championship on Raw a few weeks ago, Hardy moved over to SmackDown and took that title back to Tuesday nights. This rematch was nowhere close to as competitive or entertaining, and included a Whisper in the Wind during which Hardy dove off the top rope, missed Mahal by several feet, and Mahal still fell as though he'd been hit.
Twist of Fate, Swanton Bomb, Hardy wins. The end.
The result of this match seemed fairly straightforward from the outset, with Sheamus and Cesaro now on the SmackDown roster, but that didn't mean there wasn't some fun to be had in this match. The Bar put up a fight for quite some time, but the match turned in a hurry. With a twist of fate on Sheamus, and an assisted twist of fate alongside Bray Wyatt for good measure, Hardy and Wyatt walked away with the Raw tag team championships in hand.
Though there were some fun moments and high spots throughout the match, the energy level at the Greatest Royal Rumble certainly dropped down a few ticks during the early stages.
The crowd picked up in a hurry when Kalisto hit a lucha-style super tornado DDT and they popped up again when Kalisto nailed a springboard Spanish Fly while Alexander was perched atop the top turnbuckle.
The match ultimately had its best moment in the close, as Alexander countered Kalisto's Salida del Sol directly into his lumbar check to pick up the victory. This wasn't the best matchup the cruiserweight division could've produced, or one with a lot of backstory, but things seem likely to pick up once they return to 205 Live on Tuesday.
If there was any doubt as to how the crowd was going to react to this show, the entrances of Triple H and John Cena alleviated them in an instant. Both got tremendous reactions, and kept things slow and steady while soaking the moment in. The match had a super old-school feel, with a pause between each move. Even in Saudi Arabia, there were "Let's go Cena, Cena sucks" chants, and though the match itself was a bit sloppy at times, there were a lot of fun moments.
Cena hit an Attitude Adjustment, which Triple H kicked out from, and Triple H hit a pedigree that Cena kicked out of. Cena ultimately hit a deadlift AA, whipped Triple H into the corner, landed a second Attitude Adjustment and picked up the pinfall win.
Cena thanked the crowd and Saudi Arabia for having him, and the show was on its way.