It was a great night to be a former UFC champion at a very predictable and mostly disappointing Royal Rumble that felt like the complete opposite of everything the event was meant to be.
Ronda Rousey returned from a nearly three-year hiatus to win the women’s Royal Rumble and Brock Lesnar, who lost the WWE Championship early in the night, entered the men’s match at number 30 and secured his ticket to WrestleMania at The Dome at America’s Center hit in St. Louis on Saturday night.
The Royal Rumble used to be about new stars taking off to get their WrestleMania shot and or older talent completing journeys to the mountaintop for the first time. On Saturday night, WWE had two established main eventers – and possibly part-timers – Royal Rumbles that they really didn’t need to get their respective match at WrestleMania at AT&T Stadium in April. It was all part of a night that seemed to lack its usual charm. In any case, the door is still open for Bianca Belair and Big E to play title matches at Mania.
Here are five takeaways from 2022:
Lesnar is no longer the WWE champion, but he is now a two-time Royal Rumble winner and on a collision course with Universal champion Roman Reigns at Mania.
The moment the former UFC heavyweight champion entered the bout, it felt like a foregone conclusion that he would be the winner. We gave us Lesnar and a returning Drew McIntyre as the last two in a recall to the rumble of 2019 and the Beast hit Bad Bunny with an F5. It was part of a solid conclusion to a largely anti-climatic contest – the biggest surprise entrant was Shane McMahon.
Omos looked incredible, eliminating three people and delivering Ricochet a pork chop that sounded like his chest was going to collapse. It took six men, including a fly Styles – his former tag team partner – to take out the massive 7-footer.
Johnny Knoxville’s performance at the Royal Rumble was less ha-ha than expected. The ridiculously dressed “Jackass Forever” star took down Sami Zayn, got a series of attacks from Style and a Frog Splash from Montez Ford. It was his nemesis Zayn who knocked him out in a fast, fun segment. He wasn’t the only celebrity to enter Bad Bunny at number 27 and eliminate Sheamus and hit a destroyer on Riddle. He continues to look like a viable wrestler when in the ring.
WWE didn’t give us Rey and Dominik Mysterio in the ring together after building a potential father-son drama in the lead up. Perhaps one of the biggest shocks was the Mad Cap moss eliminating No. 1 contestant AJ Styles. They eventually got theirs when McIntyre – who has a legitimate neck injury – eliminated both Moss and Happy Corbin, who knocked him out on Day 1 in the storyline. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Kofi Kingston couldn’t make his annual sojourn — on the Rumble spot when his feet hit the floor as he was pushed off the top rope. I symbolized a match that just seemed to miss the mark. Where was Finn Balor?
The women’s Royal Rumble match felt extremely rushed – but it was still better than the men’s outing as it did tell some stories. It delivered one of the winners people hoped for as Rousey returned to number 28 to eventually eliminate SmackDown women’s champion Charlotte Flair to punch her ticket to a likely match between the two at WrestleMania.
Easy moments never got a chance and others didn’t have time to catch their breath. Sasha Banks came in as No. 1 in full Sail Moon garb but was knocked out very, very, quickly by Queen Zelina just before Bianca Belair started the match at No. 8 – much to the chagrin of the crowd. The two former WrestleMania headliners never got a second in the ring.
Sonya Deville came down at number 11 in her jacket so she couldn’t be attacked, but went to the commentary table and not into the ring until she came in to take out a returning Cameron, Naomi’s former Funkadactyls partner. Naomi, who has been having trouble with Deville since August, was next and quickly knocked her out. Deville came back to pull Naomi off the arpon to take her out of the match, but everything happened so fast.
The public was not involved in this match for long, especially after Banks was eliminated. Outside of a few moments of Belair and Rhea Ripley, it felt like few performers were actually showcased or given storylines to build on.
Impact Knockouts champion Mickie James came through the “forbidden door” with the belt around her waist and her “Hardcore Country” theme to a big bang. Nikki ASH came from the other side of the ring to try and eliminate former tag partner Ripley, who had a few choice words for her. Nikki later attacked Mighty Molly before entering the ring because there can only be one superhero and quickly eliminated her. The Bellas ruined a Riott Squad reunion after Sarah Logan returned from a long hiatus from WWE.
A cool moment was the return of Ivory in her Right to Censor attire, who talked about wanting to clean up in WWE before being swiftly eliminated by Ripley. Brie Bella got an excellent doll. Lita and Charlotte Flair had a strong personal exchange. While it was nice to see some of the legends, it feels awful not having a single artist from NXT.
Despite all that, WWE got the moment it hoped for with Rousey, who came out all in black with “Baddest” on her chest instead of her usual “Rowdy Roddy” Piper-inspired outfit. The former Raw women’s champion looked good, pulled some pretty wild armbar over the top rope with Belair and even got teamed up with buddy Shayna Bazler, who was in the final four with her and Flair.
Like everything else in this match, the interaction between Rousey and Flair before the finish was for The Queen to miss a kick and Rousey to throw her over the top rope to a roar from the crowd. Expect these two to likely meet again at WrestleMania, even with Becky Lynch retaining the Raw women’s title against Doudrop in a very solid match. They told the story of Big Time Becky had to pull out all the stops to beat Doudrop, using a Man Handle Slam from the second rope to secure the 1-2-3.
Seth Rollins vs Roman Reigns had anything but a quality finish
Rollins continued the brain games beautifully, entering the ring to the music of The Shield in full Shield garb and even delivering a Shield bomb to Reigns through the announcement table. He and most of the audience thought he’d defeated Reigns after a Buckle Bomb and then a Stomp, but the Tribal Chief was able to get his arm up just in time. The frenetic strides methodically turned in Reigns’ favor until Rollins countered a pedigree spear leading to another late kick from the head of the table. There was a bit of a Batman-Joker feel to this story, with Rollins laughing at Reigns every time he should have been beaten.
This incredible match was booked with an extremely awkward and anticlimactic finish. Reigns put Rollins in the guillotine choke. The challenger was able to get close to the ropes and appeared to have passed out before fully reaching them. Referee Charles Robinson lifted Rollins’ hand and grabbed the robe as it fell back down. Reigns refused to break the hold and lost the match via disqualification, but retained his title.
The universal champ then snapped, knocking Rollins down with chair shot after chair shot — including a token backward — as he was heavily booed. I understand the story WWE is trying to tell here, Reigns’ “God Mode” isn’t as strong as it once was and Rollins deserved the beating for his arrogance. Reigns blamed Rollins for not letting him stop. Still, WWE’s inability and unwillingness to book a clean or decisive finish in major pay-per-view matches is mind-boggling and the public out there made it heard.
Bobby Lashley 1, Brock Lesnar 0 — thanks to Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman.
Lesnar and Lashley’s long-awaited showdown started with a German suplex match that elicited a great appreciation from The Beast after he first took flight. Lashely, who missed Lesnar when he went through the barricade in a call back to Day 1, struck his opponent with two javelins before Lesnar turned the tide to take him to Suplex City. When Lesnar went for F5 for the first time, Lashley countered with the Hurt Lock, but supported his opponent in the referee. He then hit the official while delivering an F5. Lesnar had Lashley pinned but no one to count to three, so WWE protected him a bit.
Then it happened. Reigns delivered a spear to Lesnar out of nowhere and got Heyman’s WWE Championship. He hit Lesnar on the head with it and left with his special counsel at his side. Lashely crept on Lesnar and pinned him to be reunited with the WWE Championship after losing it to Big E in September. Heyman’s turn was likely the end of the match Reigns and Lesnar would have on Day 1 before the chieftain contracted COVID-19. Lashley is likely on his way to defend his title in the Elimination Chamber or face the winner next. WWE now has some time to figure it out.
Grit beats it
This mixed tag match was almost everything we thought it would be. Maryse runs away from Beth Phoenix and The Miz and does everything she can to protect her. They even had Maryse hit Phoenix with the rock she used on Raw, so there was some continuity of the story here.
What was not expected and refreshing was to have the men and women physically interact with each other as often as they did. Phoenix’s power bombed The Miz and one point and Maryese hit a hurricane from a top rope on Edge. There was even a moment when it looked like the It Couple might win after Miz hit Edge with a Skull Crushing Finale. Instead, it ended with Edge and Phoenix hitting a double javelin at Miz, both delivering Glam Slams and pins for the 1-2-3 at the same time. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen over Phoenix for a while.
Biggest winner: Roman rule
Biggest Loser: Sasha Banks
Best match: Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns