This year’s Crown Jewel had a big match feel, and was a big match show. Of the seven matches on the card, five of them were for singles titles, in fact all except for the Intercontinental Championship and the NXT titles were on the line.

The Mohammed Abdu Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was sold out. While this is an arena, not a stadium, and certain seating spots were clearly sacrificed for the set. Regardless, it was lit and staged to make it look like WrestleMania.

So did the matches match the presentation? Here are my thoughts:

World Heavyweight Championship: Champion Seth “Freakin” Rollins Versus Challenger Drew McIntyre

Champion Seth “Freakin” Rollins lunges at challenger Drew McIntyre during the World Heavyweight Championship match at WWE Crown Jewel 2023

I knew the World Heavyweight Championship wouldn’t go on last, because Roman is always in the actual Main Event when he shows up, but I was surprised it went on first. Given all the uncertainty surrounding potential Judgement Day involvement, I thought WWE would milk the mystery for at least most of the evening.

Despite its position on the card, it had a real main event feel, and proved to be the best match of the night. I didn’t know who would win. It was hard-hitting, fast-paced, and both Seth “Freakin” Rollins and Drew McIntyre gave it their all to win. Two veterans at the top of their respective games.

The storyline buildup for this one felt real, and the physical storytelling in the match was top-notch. There were ample false finishes, kickouts after Claymores, Pedigrees, and Stomps, and enough back-and-forth to keep you guessing to the very end. Eventually, a dodged Claymore, followed by a second Pedigree, and a second Stomp gave Rollins the 1-2-3.

That was it, a great match between two top babyfaces (well, one leaning heel, or at least into Attitude-Era shades of grey, but I digress). No interference, no Judgement Day. At least not during the match, that is.

While I had no idea who would win between Drew and Seth, I was almost sure Seth Rollins wouldn’t leave Crown Jewel as Champion. If Drew didn’t get him, Damian Priest’s cash-in surely would. I was wrong. Priest’s cash-in attempt was thwarted by Sami Zayn, who stole the briefcase, to the absolute delight of the Saudi crowd. Meanwhile, Rhea Ripley’s backstage smirk at Drew after the match spoke volumes.

Women’s World Championship Fatal 5-Way: Champion Rhea Ripley Versus Challengers Shayna Baszler, Nia Jax, Raquel Rodriguez, and Zoey Stark

Rhea Ripley pins Shayna Baszler to win the Fatal 5-Way for the Women’s World Championship at WWE Crown Jewel 2023

Speaking of Women’s World Champion Rhea Ripley, the next match surprised me. No, not the fact that Mami retained in the Fatal 5-Way, that much was clear. But that it was really entertaining, a fun watch, and had my attention.

I had been hoping that Ripley would face one credible opponent, and have a feud with her, to boot. Like a Becky Lynch, or maybe Shayna Baszler. Instead we got Rhea versus most of the top tier of the RAW women’s roster all at once. This wasn’t going to be Rhea versus Charlotte at WrestleMania, it was something different.

It was wild action from start to finish. It was a showcase for some of the top women on RAW. But ultimately, it was to show Rhea’s dominance. When she gave Zoey Stark the Riptide off the top rope onto the pile of other competitors, and then pushed them away to get to Baszler on the bottom of the pile, who she pined for the win, it was clear who was “on top”.

I will note, that while Rhea’s entrance seemed a bit out of place (maybe wait until WrestleMania for the Bray Wyatt, or Undertaker-esque candle-laden walkdown), her makeup and overall look was really on point.

John Cena Versus Solo Sikoa

John Cena tells Solo Sikoa You Can’t See Me before giving him the Five Knuckle Shuffle during their match at WWE Crown Jewel 2023

Did Solo Sikoa just retire John Cena? Probably not in the long run, but in the short run, it really looked like it. Even Michael Cole and Wade Barrett pretty much said so on commentary after the match.

Sikoa looked strong and dominated for most of the contest, though Cena did get a comeback near the end. He did the You Can’t See Me into the 5 Knuckle Shuffle, and this Saudi crowd really ate it up. Solo would kick out, and shortly after, the Samoan Spikes started, 11 in total.

There were no kickouts mid-spikes, necessitating the continued barrage. At one point, Cole even begged Solo to “Just pin him!”, reinforcing the destruction.

There was no doubt, Cena was rattled, and Solo dominated. John Cena succeeded in putting Solo Sikoa over, and once the Bloodline Enforcer, now probably a main event contender, left, Cena got up and received a standing ovation. Now that’s how a pro and a legend does it.

United States Championship: Champion Rey Mysterio Versus Challenger Logan Paul

Logan Paul holds up the United States Championship belt after defeating Rey Mysterio at WWE Crown Jewel 2023

One title did change hands on this show: Logan Paul is now the United States Champion. Regardless of what you may think of Paul as a person, or a personality, his in-ring work in this match justified his win, and inevitable subsequent new champion push.

When Mysterio attempted a Springboard Moonsault off the second rope, he missed Paul, and his head almost hit the canvas. Paul reacted quickly, caught Rey before he hit the ground, and then turned it into a Powerbomb. That level ring awareness from someone with so little in-ring experience, trained as essentially a celebrity guest performer, is remarkable.

Paul holding his own with a legend like Mysterio for the rest of the match, and delivering an exciting performance that wasn’t as reliant on spots as some of his other outings did, was equally impressive. It doesn’t matter that the US Title is held by a part-timer, if Paul is the part-timer who holds it.

The storytelling made sense, too. At first, when Santos Escobar took the brass knuckles away for Paul’s stooge, and just left them on the ring apron, I thought that was bad telegraphing of an error. But the more I think about it, maybe Rey will accuse him of doing it on purpose, and that will lead to an LWO spit, and heel turn for Escobar.

This was a well thought out, and well executed match. And Paul saved it from going south real quickly.

WWE Women’s Championship: Champion Iyo Sky Versus Challenger Bianca Belair

Bayley distracts the referee as challenger Bianca Belair pins champion Iyo Sky during the WWE Women’s Championship match at WWE Crown Jewel 2023

This was the match I was most excited for, mainly due to Bianca Belair and Iyo Sky’s last one-on-one encounter at Backlash. While this time didn’t live up to the excitement of their first meeting, it was still a solid and fun match to watch.

Backlash was a real eye opener to Sky’s talent for many, myself included. Also, the way the Puerto Rico crowd was able to pop for her, the heel, when the rest of Damage CTRL wasn’t at ringside, was unexpected.

This time, we all knew going in that Iyo was top talent. She is the WWE Women’s Champion, after all. And the Saudi crowd was clearly behind Bianca. Still, both put on a solid show. It was tough, fast-paced and athletic. We got Bianca’s strength, and the new edgier side she has had since her return. We got the expected arial acrobatics from the Empress of the Sky, and the use of Belair’s ponytail as a weapon.

While I figured that it would end with Iyo retaining due to interference, I just assumed it would be Bayley. Kairi Sane showing up was a nice surprise, and one that could lead to interesting faction realignment ahead of Survivor Series WarGames (which was officially announced at this show).

Cody Rhodes Versus Damian Priest

Cody Rhodes dropkicks Damian Priest during their match at WWE Crown Jewel 2023

My biggest fear going into this one was that it would just be a typical recent RAW match without the commercials. I’m happy it wasn’t. Yes, it did include a member of Judgement Day versus one of the top red brand babyfaces, and there were run-ins from all those you might expect (except Sami, but we already saw him, and he was probably trying to sneak that briefcase out of Saudi Arabia at the time). But Jey Uso dealt with Finn Bálor, JD McDonagh, and Dominik Mysterio, meaning this started just as it ended, one-on-one with a big match feel.

Both superstars looked real strong throughout the match, and the crowd was really into it. It started quick, with Priest attacking Rhodes with the lights still down, and his music still playing. Most of the action stayed in the ring, with the odd trip to the announce tables. Cody kicked out of a South of Heaven chokeslam, and it took not one, but three simultaneous Cross Rhodes to put Priest down for the 1-2-3.

There were even “This is awesome!” chants. And the crowd was correct, it was awesome. Damian is still strong, and Cody gets to get back to finishing his story. Not the best match of the night, but definitely way better than what I thought it might be. Both top starts brought it, and lived up to their billing.

Undisputed WWE Universal Championship: Champion Roman Reigns Versus Challenger LA Knight

JImmy Uso puts Roman Reigns’ foot on the ropes as LA Knight pins the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion during their match at WWE Crown Jewel 2023

Yes, for the most part, this was your typical late 2022/2023 Roman Reigns match. There were a few differences, namely that it started a lot quicker Instead of the slow, but still quite over, stare downs and holds, Knight attacked Reigns right away. Also, while it did end with the babyface gets the visual pin, interference, spear, Roman retains formula, there was a tweak to it. There was no ref bump, and the interference involved Jimmy Uso putting Roman’s leg on the rope to stop what everyone could see, except the ref, was an LA Knight victory.

Minor differences aside, I am still okay with the formula. Roman still looks strong, and puts on a helluva match, as he did here. He taunted the crowd and sold like the pro that he is, and nobody sells like Roman.

The formula only works if the babyface is up to it, over with the crowd, and a credible opponent who has a chance of winning, storyline-wise. LA Knight is most definitely main event-ready, and the crowd is massively behind him, especially the Saudi crowd who chanted his name at HHH during the Night of Champions “press conference” in Jeddah a few months ago. This night was no different.

While I think most of us were logically pretty sure Knight wouldn’t end Roman’s reign at Crown Jewel, if he had, it would have been a major upset, but not inconceivable story-wise. That shimmer of doubt, and Knight’s performance, had me believing, during the match, that the upset was possible, until it wasn’t.

A year ago, he was a manager in a lower mid card comedy gimmick, now he’s a viable contender for the Tribal Chief. This match was the furthest thing from a burial imaginable. It was to solidify Knight in the main event scene, and it accomplished its goal. I wouldn’t be surprised to see LA beat, say, Logan Paul for the US Title at WrestleMania.

Plus, it was a fun and dramatic way to cap off Crown Jewel.

Assorted Thoughts

  • The Miz and Saudi actor Ibrahim Al Hajjaj taking out Grayson Waller served as both a reinforcement for Miz’ face turn, and as a nice let-me-up segment after the emotional end to the Cena/Solo match. I also liked how they changed the set mid-segment.
  • Despite only one appearance on the actual PLE, this really was Sami Zayn’s night. He came out to a massive pop for his pre-show match with JD McDonagh, and beat the wannabe Judgement Day member with his favorite move, the Blue Thunderbomb.

While not the best PLE of the year, Crown Jewel is now much more than the glorified house show it used to be. There were some real stakes, and some real great matches, plus a few decent ones. It felt important on its own, and not just a placeholder before Survivor Series.

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