The 31st Royal Rumble was… Rowdy.
Rumours had been circulating for months, even years, about the possibility of former UFC megastar Ronda Rousey joining WWE. And in the days leading up to the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble, those rumours were once again running rampant. But there was still no deal in place. Or so they said.
In the days leading up the event, Triple H, the WWE’s executive vice president of talent, acknowledged the company had been in contact with Rousey but nothing had been formalized. Rousey, meanwhile, was seen at an airport where she was reportedly heading to Columbia to shoot a movie. But then again, this is a business built on shocking its audience.
And then she appeared.
Sporting a jacket that used to belong to her namesake and WWE Hall of Famer, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, along with a “Hot Rod” inspired t-shirt, Rousey made an immediate impact. She stood in front of Raw women’s champion Alexa Bliss, Smackdown Live women’s champion Charlotte Flair and women’s Royal Rumble winner Asuka, and pointed at the Wrestlemania sign.
Rousey has signed a full-time contract with WWE and now we wait to see what’s next.
Land of the Rising Sun
Rousey’s signing is huge for WWE and her mainstream appeal is already being felt. However, her appearance somewhat overshadowed what was a history-making night for each individual Rumble winner.
Asuka entered the Royal Rumble as the favourite and she held up her end of the bargain by winning it after eliminating a returning Nikki Bella (who was in the final two after eliminating her “retired” sister Brie Bella). Bliss and Charlotte entered the ring and Asuka was ready to make her decision in regards to who she would face at Wrestlemania, and then out came Rousey.
There is still a lot of this story to be told, but Asuka’s win lost some of its lustre as soon as the attention shifted to Rousey. There was a similar feeling when Shinsuke Nakamura won the men’s Royal Rumble, but for different reasons.
The men’s Royal Rumble started at approximately 8 p.m. ET, representing the fourth-to-last match on the card. It’s the lowest the men’s Rumble event has ever appeared at the Royal Rumble PPV.
The match itself was fantastic with several strong surprises (NXT champion Andrade Cien Almas, Adam Cole, Rey Mysterio, The Hurricane) and an excellent final few moments with an amazing final four of Nakamura, Roman Reigns, Finn Balor, and John Cena.
The disaster of 2015, when the Philadelphia crowd booed Reigns and even The Rock(!) out of the building, was forgotten as this time a true superstar, one who fans are fully behind, came out victorious. It sets up a Wrestlemania match that can almost already be considered a match-of-the-year candidate.
A.J. Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura on the biggest stage in sports entertainment. It’s everything pro wrestling fans could ever want and more.
But as the evening went on, the shine wore off with the three matches following the men’s Rumble.
Nakamura and Asuka made history on Sunday, but there was no discussion surrounding what each Japanese wrestler had accomplished. Instead, there was a commercial for KFC followed by a lacklustre tag match after Nakamura’s win.
Some other notes
• Rey Mysterio’s return to a WWE ring was fantastic. Many will remember Mysterio as the 30th entrant in the 2014 Royal Rumble, when fans were expecting Daniel Bryan and proceeded to voice every displeasure they had towards Mysterio. This was a fantastic redemption story in that sense.
• NXT’s two entrants in the men’s Rumble were perfect. Almas is coming off one of the greatest matches in NXT history against Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover, while Adam Cole has one of the brightest futures of anyone to ever come through WWE’s developmental system. If you weren’t sure about Cole before, hearing thousands of fans scream, “Adam Cole BAY-BAY” during Cole’s entrance should help change your mind.
• The WWE Championship match between defending champ A.J. Styles and the team of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn was pretty great storytelling. Styles again demonstrated why he is the best professional wrestler on the planet right now, while Owens and Zayn played their part perfectly. The finish where Owens was pinned despite not actually being tagged in will work great in the long run thanks to Smackdown commissioner Shane McMahon admitting he witnessed the illegal pin, but still plans to do nothing about it. Fantasy bookers are already looking ahead to Wrestlemania to see Owens and Zayn go up against McMahon and…
• No, Daniel Bryan did not make a surprise appearance in the Rumble, and fans are a tad disappointed. However, there is still a bigger stage upon which Bryan can make his return. How about Owens and Zayn vs. McMahon and Bryan at Wrestlemania? You can’t throw Bryan in the deep end after an extended absence. Let him get his feet wet by continuing this already intriguing storyline and let the crowd go nuts when he gets the hot tag.
• Brock Lesnar retained the Universal Championship by pinfall over Kane, and that’s essentially what everyone saw coming. Lesnar and Braun Strowman looked like athletic freaks, and Kane was there to take the pin, so neither of the other two appered weak.
• Eighteen of the 30 participants in the women’s Rumble represented either Raw or Smackdown. Two came from NXT, while the other 10 were returning superstars. Due to the small size of the women’s roster on both Raw and Smackdown, this was a necessity, but it was also a hindrance, as the nostalgic feeling of seeing Lita, Trish Stratus, Torrie Wilson, and others masked some of the other performances. Sasha Banks entered at No.1 and lasted to the final four. She also eliminated Bayley in a fashion that potentially sets up a Wrestlemania match, but it all seemed to be overshadowed by the volume of returning legends.
Overall, the Royal Rumble solid event. WWE has signed one the biggest crossover stars in its history to a full-time contract, and it appears as though Rousey is ready for a full workload. Meanwhile, WWE has also set up a dream match for Wrestlemania, while building upon several other storylines that will take shape as the weeks progress.
The road to Wrestlemania has opened.