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