Sheamus winning 30-man Rumble, CM Punk beating Dolph Ziggler for title highlighted an excellent Royal Rumble

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The Royal Rumble has long been recognized as one of the premier American wrestling events of the year, coming in second to only WrestleMania.

This year's event featured a number of surprises, both in the 30-man Rumble match itself and on the rest of the card.

Both the WWE and World Heavyweight champions retained their titles, two unannounced matches were showcased and a number of WWE veterans and superstars returned to the ring.

I had a bird's eye seat for the spectacle, as I sat two rows removed from the floor-seat section of the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The Royal Rumble is a pay-per-view that always thrills on television.

But my friends and I had no clue what to expect from watching the show -- especially the main event battle royale -- in person.

Needless to say, the live experience once again trumped the televised one, as we enjoyed a night of solid wrestling and fun surprises.

Here's a match-by-match look at the show from a live perspective.

Heath Slater vs. Yoshi Tatsu

This was the featured dark match for the live event crowd. These two kept it fairly simple, but the match was worked well enough to be a crowd-pleaser. The St. Louis fans seemed indifferent on Slater, while Tatsu, who won the contest, garnered a surprising amount of support.

World Heavyweight Championship

Steel Cage Match

Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Mark Henry vs. Big Show

I wasn't surprised to see this match open the show, as it allowed for the logistics of the steel cage to be handled early. Henry's role in the match was limited, also to be expected given news of his groin injury at this week's Smackdown taping. All three men used the cage wisely and created some good spots, including both Henry and Bryan being trapped between the ropes and cage at different points. With Bryan and Show both atop the cage, they teased Bryan escaping several times, and ultimately, he did wrestle his way out of Show's clutches. The ending, however appropriate, seemed as if it came at the wrong time, making my friends and I question whether this was indeed the planned ending sequence.

Kelly Kelly, Alicia Fox, Eve and Tamina vs. Divas Champion Beth Phoenix, Natalya, Nikki Bella and Brie Bella

This was the first unannounced match of the night (though we knew about it, as it was listed on the back of the commemorative T-shirt). It's almost cliche for a mutli-woman divas match to be added to a pay-per-view card, but all these women were on their A-games at the Rumble. They worked a solid match, especially compared to what fans usually see on WWE television. Highlights of the match included Kelly Kelly hitting a big splash to the outside onto the other divas from the top turnbuckle and Phoenix delivering a dominant-looking Glam Slam on Kelly. Tension was teased between the Bella Twins, but ultimately, they left together.

John Cena vs. Kane

Seeing this match go so early in the card was one of the night's many surprises. This had been hyped as one of the main attractions heading into the pay-per-view, and it received midcard play. The match itself was pretty good, filled with brawling between the two superstars. Both men teased their signature moves, and the crowd bought into it each time. When the bout went to a double countout, it seemed to deflate the situation a bit, but the angle that continued afterward more than redeemed itself. Kane assaulted an injured Zack Ryder, who was at the show in a wheelchair, and chokeslammed Cena. The intrigue left by this ending makes one wonder how the issues between these men will be wrapped up before Cena's collision with The Rock at WrestleMania.

Brodus Clay vs. Drew McIntyre 

In the night's other surprise match, the humiliation of McIntyre and the push of Clay both took their next steps. McIntyre landed slightly more offense than any of the Funkasaurus' previous opponents, but he ultimately ended up pinned by the dancing machine in a glorified squash match. On a personal note, I could be seen several times during this match displaying my far-less-than-stellar dance moves to a national audience, but sometimes you just get caught up in the funk.

WWE Championship

CM Punk (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler with guest referee John Laurinaitis

There are certain pairs of superstars who seem incapable of producing bad matches together, and Punk and Ziggler are quickly earning a place on that list. Though these two have wrestled week-in and week-out on free television, they managed to produce a strong, pay-per-view worthy match here. The story saw Laurinaitis - who is being threatened with a job review on Raw - bring another referee out to take his place in the ring. Through a series of ref bumps, Punk should have had the match won on a number of occasions but got shafted each time. In the end, he'd hit a second Go To Sleep, and both Laurinaitis and the other official would could the three together. One of the most impressive spots in the match was Ziggler's reversal of the GTS into a Zig Zag. That was pretty cool to see.

30-Man Royal Rumble

There were many stories being told in the Rumble match this year. Before we get into those, however, let's take a look at the ending played out. Chris Jericho and Randy Orton - the two odds-on favorites to win the match - were joined by Sheamus and Big Show as the final four. Having Show enter at No. 30 seemed like a letdown, so it was good to see him eliminated by Orton, who in turn was eliminated by Jericho. When it came down to Jericho and Sheamus, the two worked an extremely well executed finish, as each false finish had the crowd going absolutely insane. It was refreshing to see Sheamus, whose name had come up minimally in predictions, win instead of the overly predictable Jericho.

Other stores told during the Rumble match included:

·     The Miz entered at No. 1, immediately paired off with former protege Alex Riley, whom he eliminated quickly. The next entrant was R-Truth, Miz's current rival. In the end, Miz's more-than-45-minute run would be ended by Big Show, another man with ties to the awesome one.

·     A number of veterans from the past returned to participate in the match. The first-ever Royal Rumble winner "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and New Age Outlaw "Road Dogg" Jesse James were two surprises, while the entire commentary team - Jerry "The King" Lawler, Booker T and Michael Cole - all also made appearances. Cody Rhodes eliminated many of these legends, leading some to believe that his brother Goldust would appear later on. That unfortunately never materialized.

·     Another Rumble surprise came in the form of the return of Kharma, who is now officially the third woman in history to enter the match. Other notable appearances included The Great Khali and Ezekiel Jackson, who has been missing for a while. No signs of Mason Ryan or Skip Sheffield, however.

·     This year's Rumble had its share of comedy, too. A personal highlight was hearing Alberto del Rio's music play, only to have Ricardo Rodriguez drive out in a dated, beat-up vehicle. Rodriguez received a huge babyface pop for his routine, which completely mocked his boss, del Rio. The other major comedy spot featured Mick Foley and Santino Marella squaring off with Mr. Socko and the Cobra, respectively, on their arms. 

Match Rundown https://content.p2p.tribuneinteractive.com/content_items/new?code=story

Yoshi Tatsu d. Heath Slater

Daniel Bryan d. Mark Henry and Big Show

Beth Phoenix, Natalya and the Bella Twins d. Kelly Kelly, Alicia Fox, Eve and Tamina

John Cena vs. Kane went to a double countout

Brodus Clay d. Drew McIntyre

CM Punk d. Dolph Ziggler

Sheamus won the 30-man Royal Rumble

My Take

I have no idea how well the Royal Rumble came across on television, but it was a great show live and an even better atmosphere to be a part of. Most of the personal highlights were covered above, but it's also exciting WWE announced a return date of July 23, which will also be the milestone 1,000th episode of Raw. You can bet I'll be buying tickets for that one.

Due to logistics, there is no "Comment of the Night" for the Royal Rumble, but you can enter those competitions each Monday and Friday on Adam Testa's Facebook page or on Twitter @RingPostsTesta.

Special thanks to Chris Hagstrom and Aaron Heller for help with this recap and for joining in the live experience with me.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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