ORLANDO, Fla. -- Under an occasionally overcast sky at Camping World Stadium, the two-hour kick-off show to WrestleMania 33 got Sunday night's action underway. A handful of early matches energized a crowd that was fighting off 85-degree heat and high humidity, and set the stage for a long and exciting night of wrestling ahead.
WWE cruiserweight championship: Neville (c) defeats Austin Aries via pinfall (15:40)
Austin Aries was the very first superstar to make his way to the ring Sunday night, and even though the crowd was still filling out, he received a thunderous applause as made his way down the 800-yard ramp. Neville soon followed, and with the ring of a bell and a lock-up, a night that's likely to stretch deep into the evening was officially underway.
Despite never having locked up in a singles match in WWE, it was clear from the beginning that the pair had a tremendous chemistry. A point-counterpoint sequence early on helped keep the overall energy levels up, with Aries' devil-may-care attitude interlocking with Neville's seriousness as well as it had throughout the build to this match.
Neither man spent much time on the ground until a tope suicida attempt from Aries to the outside was thwarted by a kick to the face. Aries didn't have much of an answer until Neville, caught up with some slight from the crowd, delayed a top-rope attempt long enough to allow Aries to slide out of the way. He hit the first big aerial assault shortly thereafter, sending Neville out with a back body drop to the floor and following it up with a top-rope double-axe handle and a successful tope suicida into the barricade.
Aries pushed further with a missile drop-kick, but Neville took control with a rebound German suplex that saw Aries' head impact the mat twice on the way down. After eating a beating for several minutes, Aries rebounded off the ropes and hit the Discus five-arm, only for Neville to tumble out of the ring. As Aries tried to pull Neville into the ring, he got hit and collapsed near the corner. As his hair blew in the wind, Neville moved too slowly and got caught by a Frankensteiner, giving Aries all the momentum. Aries took one of the big clubs out of his bag with a top rope 450 splash, only for the champion to kick out at the last possible moment.
Aries quickly moved and locked on his Last Chancery submission and Neville played the perfect heel in this moment, raking the eyes twice before sending Aries tumbling to the ground in agony. With Aries' pre-existing orbital injury, it was the perfect go-to, and as he writhed on the mat, Aries was perfectly positioned for a Red Arrow. This time Neville nailed it cleanly, got the three-count and retained his cruiserweight championship.
With the short, but intense build to this match, it makes a lot of sense for Neville to win their first one-on-one contest for the title through nefarious means, thereby extending the hottest rivalry in the cruiserweight division to date in a great, 15-minute opening contest.
Mojo Rawley wins the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, last eliminating Jinder Mahal (14:05)
Rob Gronkowski won't get a Lombardi trophy for his performance in the 20-man, over-the-top Royal Rumble, but he'll walk away with a sweet assist.
With just three men remaining in the Rumble, Gronk, who was sitting in the front row, got into an altercation with Jinder Mahal. The next thing you know, Gronk was in the ring unleashing a massive clothesline to Mahal. The unexpected twist gave Mojo all the momentum he needed.
A few minutes later, Mojo unleashed a running clothesline to Mahal, who was standing outside the top rope. That was it.
The battle royal was utter chaos from the start.
This was Braun Strowman's Royal Rumble to win -- until it wasn't. Just a few minutes after eliminating everyone in his path, including the Big Show, the entire remaining field teamed together to force Strowman out of the ring. Strowman, who has been booked as the biggest, baddest guy in the current WWE landscape, was the odds-on favorite to win. But it was not meant to be.
Once Strowman was gone, the assumption was that Sami Zayn would be the main attraction as the Rumble came to an end. But NXT tough guy Killian Dane threw Zayn over the top rope.
Did we mention this was chaotic?
Rumbles, by nature, with so many participants, are typically a flurry. But with all the favorites gone, including Luke Harper and Dolph Ziggler, it was anyone's to lose. Anyone but Mojo, that is.
He won't get a Super Bowl trophy for his efforts, but the Andre the Giant memory trophy is just as sufficient.
Intercontinental championship: Dean Ambrose (c) def. Baron Corbin by pinfall (10:54)
With the SmackDown women's championship match moved to the main card, the Intercontinental championship match, which had a bit of a rough build to WrestleMania, assumed the third and final spot on the kickoff show.
The action quickly spilled out of the ring and Corbin took control right out of the gate. Ambrose got ragdolled inside and out of the ring -- into ring barriers and turnbuckles and anything else Corbin could use. Every time Ambrose seemingly started to pick up momentum, Corbin cut him off at the pass.
Every time the Dirty Deeds was in reach, Corbin thwarted the champion; Ambrose dove over the top rope and ate a vicious fist to the face for his troubles, but his first serious momentum came when he dodged Corbin as he charged head first toward Ambrose and missed, eating a mouthful of steel steps.
A rebound lariat attempt from Ambrose got him a boot to the face while he was trapped in the ropes, and that led instantly into a Deep Six for a two-count. Another comeback for Ambrose led to a third dirty deeds attempt, but that, too, was met with violence as Corbin hit a modified chokeslam for another two count.
Corbin finally had Ambrose seemingly dead to rights and the Intercontinental title in his sights with an End of Days, but Ambrose did a full flip out of it, and hit the Dirty Deeds on his fourth attempt. With his signature deep pinfall cover, Ambrose got a somewhat surprising, quick three-count and closed out the kickoff show with a big cheer.
With Ambrose getting the win, and Corbin's momentum getting somewhat stifled in the process, it made sense to move this match to a lower-profile position on the card. While it's obviously a bit disappointing for the both of them, each seems likely to have bigger and better things ahead in their future.