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Crown Jewel 2023 recap & reactions: The audacity of hope

Judgment Day disappoints, a pirate makes a comeback, and LA Knight gets cheated in this year’s Crown Jewel.

Place to Be

How dare he.

That’s how Roman Reigns felt before and definitely during his match with LA Knight. How dare he challenge Roman? How dare he thinks he owns Roman’s show? And, most importantly, how dare he actually compete in this match and not stay down for three counts?

The longer the match went, the more LA fought. And all that fight only incensed the champion. The match symbolized both characters. Roman, who walked into wrestling royalty, came with Paul Heyman in tow. The rest of the Bloodline, specifically Jimmy Uso, gave him a huge assist. He expected to win because that’s what he does.

LA, on the other hand, scratched and clawed for everything. Anyone who says they predicted an LA Knight vs. Roman Reigns championship match at a big WWE event is either full of it or a Jackpot winner. LA’s sickouts meant more and his gutsiness showed. He didn’t expect this either but once he got here, he made every shot count.

To Roman’s credit, he wrestled a slightly different version of a “Roman Reigns” match. Less methodical, more explosive, and not much “cinema.” They showed Roman still knows the simple stuff and does that with just as much ease with his usual flare. The match worked with LA’s strengths, meaning they brawled, threw big moves at each other, and LA worked from underneath because the crowd loves a good comeback.

But all this feels like preamble because what interested me most before this match and during, is the finish. How would WWE protect their biggest babyface in a way that opened a few doors for him, keeps him near the top of the card, put even more heat on Roman, and made sense?

Not only did they do all that, but they made LA look good in two huge ways. First, he kicked out of a Spear. According to Claire, the last person who did such a thing is Jey Uso at Money in the Bank. Cody Rhodes before him at WrestleMania. So, in almost 1200 days, only three men kicked out of Roman’s finisher. LA Knight is one of those men.

Secondly, Jimmy saved Roman’s title reign. LA knocked Roman out cold with the BFT and if not for Jimmy putting Roman’s lifeless leg on the bottom rope, we have a new champion. And that was as close to a three-count as one gets. Roman laid limp. He had no fight in him and that was the ballgame. Michael Cole and Wade Barrett smartly played that up during whatever time remained and during Crown Jewel’s closing minutes. Wade said it best: “LA Knight was screwed.” WWE went all in on LA coming this close to defeating the supposedly unbeatable. And when/if LA goes after Jimmy, they’ll continue that story.

I’m not sure if LA gets a rematch with Roman, though he clearly has cause for demanding one. But he proved he belongs on the same stage and, through storyline, almost did the impossible again.

No one expected him here and I still don’t know his ceiling. We chatted in the Cageside offices about LA’s future. Some say he’ll do really well but never win the big one. Others said his age might factor into how much rocket fuel WWE puts in his tank. I guess I’m the only one who thinks this guy can and should hold the big belt one of these days, although I understand his age presents some issues. I just don’t know how long anyone remains that over without rewarding the fans’ faith.

After challenging for WWE’s premier championship and almost winning, what better reward is there?



Pitting Sami Zayn against JD McDonagh for the pre show proved a great idea. Both men came in with something to prove and a lot on the lines for their immediate futures. JD wants an official spot in the Judgment Day and defeating Sami looks good on anyone’s resume. Sami, sans his tag partner, wants a solo championship. So, yeah, he needs wins.

I say all that because they didn’t wrestle like two men who disliked each other as much as they wrestled like two men who need each other out of the way. Unfortunately for JD, Judgment Day’s crash test dummy, Sami moved him out the way for the W.

Keep auditioning, kid.

Power Rap

Few things to get to here. Let me start with the most obvious: Drew McIntyre and Seth Rollins killed it. I try to find themes or story elements for every match. This one? Counters. It actually reminded me of a football game between two offenses that can’t stop. It all came down to the last possession and one team making the smallest mistake that means a lot more to the bigger picture.

They took a while to start. which spoke about their respect for each other. Drew and Seth don’t dislike each other; this was business, never personal. Drew controlled it early doing what any person with two working brain cells should: He went after Seth’s back. Seth tried wrestling Drew’s game, meaning matching his power or just going blow for blow with him. That’s a bad look. I mean, come on, son. And eventually the tables turned, as they often do, then Seth took control.

The third act is when it all really connected for me. With all that setup out the way, they really got into that story of counters, along with Seth’s vulnerability. The champ tried his Superplex into the Falcon Arrow but Drew stopped the transition and reversed it into a suplex. That elicited the first truly near fall when Seth barely kicked out of a suplex. That illustrated his back issues better than anything. When’s the last time anyone almost lost to a vertical suplex? After executing a Superplex from the top rope, and all the pressure that puts on the lower back, Seth came this close to making history.

Seth’s back gave out again during a routine move for him, which gave Drew an opening for the Future Shock DDT. The match became less about whether Seth walks away with the title than how he does so. He kicked out of the Claymore but Drew kicked out of the stomp (shoutout to Kirk Franklin). Neither man gave in after getting their opponent’s best shot. Drew attempted a third Claymore—he hit the first but missed the second—and whiffed. Seth took advantage and hit a Pedigree, followed by another stomp. Even then, they milked the tension because Seth didn’t immediately go for the cover. That back slowed him down, if only for a few seconds. But it turns out he did just enough for the win.

While Drew walked away disappointed and Seth looked like a man who barely walked away from a car wreck, Damian Priest showed up with briefcase in hand!

Now, on one hand, I grow tired of these constant teases with Damian and the briefcase. On the other, I appreciate the reasons why they keep delaying. This time makes the most sense so far. Sami, fresh off his win, attacked Damian before the ref made the cash in official. I love this wrinkle because it means Sami’s a man of his word. He said Judgment Day can’t amass anymore power under his watch and as long as he’s breathing, that’s a promise. Sami snatched the briefcase and ran off into the crowd. This puts him squarely in Judgment Day’s crosshairs, specifically the former New York City bouncer.

And what of Drew? That clip above is worth 1000 words so I won’t type them. Even without speaking, she has a point.

Yeah, color me intrigued.

Jack the Ripper

I got into the Fatal 5 Way but I wanted more. It felt abrupt and ended right when it gained momentum. Before that though, Rhea, Zoey Stark, Shayna Baszler, and Raquel Rodriguez really went at it. Notice I omitted Nia Jax from that equation. Nia felt like an afterthought here and rarely found herself in the action. She ducked out the match early and let all the women deal with each other. From a character standpoint, I get it. Let everyone else tear each other apart and pick the survivor’s bones. The match didn’t suffer as a result but it either speaks to Nia’s limited ability or the issues with booking a five person match.

We got a couple one on one matchups here, with Raquel vs. Rhea catching my attention. Besides their NXT history, facing off against Rhea brings out the old Raquel. NXT Raquel didn’t smile or joke; she bullied everyone and played no games. Rhea brings out that fire and I like more for that from her than the smiling babyface thing she does now.

Either way, I’m just here to talk about the ending. Picture this: Shayna lying on her back. Raquel not too far away from her, while Rhea and Zoey battle on the top turnbuckle right above Shayna’s head. Raquel goes for a quick cover on Shayna but Rhea puts Zoey in a Riptide and drops her on top of Raquel and Shayna.


Rhea cleared out everyone and covered Shayna for the W.

Loved that moment. Liked the match didn’t adore it, but that moment worked for me.

Solomon Grundy

If anyone doesn’t get the reference, Solomon Grundy is a DC character often used for someone else’s bidding. He’s a zombie after all, so giving him orders isn't exactly rocket science. Solo Sikoa, at least at this event, played Solomon for Roman Reigns.

To that end, it looks like Solo retired John Cena.

Whoever booked this match clearly loves the 1980s. Solo, the heel, just bruised and battered John, the face. Solo dominated this thing for the most part, with a few flourishes from the Bad Man. Extremely old school that looked like a story about the hero overcoming the odds and conquering.

Yeah, about that. No conquering here. Solo hit John with what felt like 20 Samoan Spikes and covered him for the 1-2-3.

Solo not only beat John like Roman ordered, but he defeated him easier than Roman did a few years ago. I wonder how the Tribal Chief feels about that.

John did the job here for Solo and truly made him. The way Michael Cole spoke on commentary, and the way John played it in and outside the ring, John possibly took his last ride at Crown Jewel. If so, he did the favors in the best way possible for a cat with an extremely bright future.

Slow Flow

Logan Paul defeated Rey Mysterio through nefarious means. More importantly, one might blame Santos Escobar. How? Glad you asked.

First off, the match lost me a bit. Logan Paul’s matches so far worked as fast paced affairs. Rey Mysterio from 2003 gives him that match. Twenty twenty-three Rey? Not so much. And that’s not an indictment on Rey because it’s on WWE to position him correctly. The match didn’t need this much time, especially if it built to the point most anyone suspected: Logan cheating for the W.

Around minute 105, one of his boys came through and slid him some brass knuckles. The brass knuckles flew off Logan’s hand and onto the floor. Santos comes down, chases Logan’s guy away, but not before gently sliding the brass knuckles back into the ring.


He knew Rey would never, which makes his intentions obvious.

Logan sucker punched Rey with the loaded fist and became the new United States champ. The best thing about the match came at the end when Logan approached a convalescing Rey in the corner and obnoxiously congratulated Rey on the match. He called Rey a legend and said he beat him fair and square. Hilarious.

But other than that and the mild intrigue at the end, this one halted the show’s momentum in its tracks.

Abandon Ship

As usual, I’m not about burying ledes so let’s just get to it: Kairi Sane is back and Bayley looks shook.

Before all that though, IYO SKY and Bianca Belair put on a solid affair. I liked the working Bianca’s hurt knee throughout the match. It slowed Bianca down a bit and gave IYO an obvious target. It also gave her the chance at trying some mat-based stuff and submissions. She still took the sky, but she mixed it all together. These two still work well together and while the match didn’t hit me like their previous one-on-one at Backlash. One, because of the hurt knee, which created a slower pace, and B, they didn’t get as much time.

However, the one wrinkle I found interesting came when Bayley showed up. If judging the match on points alone, Bianca came out way ahead early. Once Bayley showed up, everything flipped. It showed that despite her protests, IYO works better when someone watches her back and helps her. No heel believes that but I like WWE drawing attention the fact that it’s true, regardless of what IYO says.

Kari came back after Bianca summarily dismissed Bayley. She essentially made it three vs. one. I suck at math but even I know those odds sucked for Bianca. Kari seemingly let out built up frustration on Bianca and almost got the challenger counted out. Bianca narrowly beat the count but had nothing left. One quick moonsault from IYO later and the champ stays the champ.

But she didn’t celebrate with Bayley. She didn’t prop up Damage CTRL. IYO stood in the ring with her former tag partner, Kari, while Bayley looked puzzled and possibly scared. Look at her!

IYO clearly called Kari for help because she doesn’t trust Bayley or her leadership. And the person who pushed Kari out of WWE many moons ago? Bayley.

Bianca no doubt wants her get back on Kari but she may need to get in line. Or, at the least, wait until Kari gets her own revenge on Bayley. Lots of possibilities there as it relates to the seemingly always sinking Damge CTRL ship.

Survival of the Littest

Fun. That’s the word for Cody Rhodes vs. Damian Priest. Nothing about it particularly felt like it belonged on a big stage, but it moved the story forward. Cody defeated Damian because duh. This came despite the Judgment Day interference and partially because Jey Uso saved the day.

The main thing I got from this? Survivor Series. Judgment Day (Dirty Dom, Finn Balor, Damian, & JD) vs. Cody, Sami, Jey, and an unnamed fourth partner). But who? That’s the mystery.

After writing all of that, I’m out of words. Well, mostly. I enjoyed the show for the most part but it definitely dragged once we hit the Rey vs. Logan match. It picked up after but never quite regained that momentum. Very solid show though that set up a lot of storylines going into Survivor Series.

Grade: B+

What say you, Cagesiders?

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