Surprise returns were a key element in this year’s Royal Rumble, with Ronda Rousey making her WWE return to win the women’s Rumble match. And for the first time in two years, Brock Lesnar returned to the men’s Rumble, winning for the first time since 2003.
Earlier in the night, Lesnar lost his WWE championship to Bobby Lashley after outside interference from Roman Reigns and a double-cross from Paul Heyman. Following his Rumble victory, Lesnar now has the chance to end Reigns’s title reign at WrestleMania 38.
Becky Lynch also successfully defended her Raw women’s title against Doudrop. With Lynch and Rousey both back in WWE for the first time since Lynch pinned Rousey in the main event of WrestleMania 35, the potential now exists to rekindle their feud.
“Welcome back, Ronda,” said Lynch, speaking with Sports Illustrated after her victory. “I know how hard it is to come back as a new mother, I think it’s fantastic she’s back. And she has a lot to avenge. I’m still holding on to that championship she gave me three years ago.
“Since that time, I’ve gone off, had a child, came back better than ever, and defended my belt left, right and center. If I were her and I was just dipping my toes back in, I wouldn’t go for the main course. I’d start with an appetizer, like a shrimp cocktail, before I went for the steak and potatoes. But if she would like to test herself against me, then by all means. I welcome her with open arms.”
Lynch’s 13-minute match against Doudrop had the difficulty of following the women’s Rumble, yet it still delivered. It gave ample time to both challenger and champion, and Doudrop was presented as a credible threat. Lynch has done a tremendous job of highlighting Liv Morgan and Doudrop in her past two programs, showing off her resilience to win both of those payoff matches.
“She’s been working for 15 years and this was her first big opportunity,” said Lynch of Doudrop. “I know her love for this, I know how she left home to do this. I thought she did great. She’s extremely powerful and made me pull out all the stops to beat her. I don’t think this is over–I’d like to see this continue after WrestleMania.”
Due to the intense heat of the pyro during match introductions, debris was falling from the WrestleMania sign. It needed to be temporarily taken down during the Lynch-Doudrop match. That caused a distraction, yet it could not take away from the brilliance of Lynch, who is relishing this run after time away from the job while she gave birth to her first child.
“This time last year, I was sitting at home on the eve of my birthday,” said Lynch. “I was at home alone with my baby, my husband had just been called back for the Royal Rumble, and I was seeing everyone else go out and do what I love to do. That night, I was absolutely miserable. This year, I’m back. I’m the champion, I’m defending the belt against hungry up-and-comers, and I’m feeling grateful and happy about that match. It was so hot we set the WrestleMania sign on fire.”
Lynch’s husband Seth Rollins opened the show with an outstanding match against Roman Reigns, but Lynch was unable to watch. She was preparing for her own moment, as well as spending time backstage with her daughter.
“I was with my one-year-old who I was nursing, and I was trying to get ready and concentrate,” said Lynch. “These days are crazy, but I’ll go back later and watch his match. I cannot wait to see it.
“And being a mother and doing what I’m doing, it’s an extra motivational factor. I’m showing my baby girl that you can be as good as you want at whatever you love. That’s what I’m focused on, being better than I have ever been. I love all the accolades, but I love the challenge of being better. And I love the challenge of making sure the women’s division stays elevated.”
Here are the results from the Royal Rumble:
— Seth Rollins defeated Universal champion Roman Reigns by disqualification
— Ronda Rousey won the women’s Royal Rumble match
— Raw women’s champion Becky Lynch defeated Doudrop
— Bobby Lashley defeated Brock Lesnar to win the WWE title
— Edge and Beth Phoenix defeated The Miz and Maryse
— Brock Lesnar won the men’s Royal Rumble match
The show opened with Reigns and Rollins working a phenomenal match. The most compelling sequence featured Rollins, dressed in his old Shield gear, hitting a buckle bomb and a curb stomp–then getting the closest count possible to three before Reigns kicked out. There was also a spear-reversed-into-a-pedigree spot, and the chemistry between the two was incredibly strong. The match ended in a disqualification after Reigns refused to break his guillotine submission despite Rollins grabbing the bottom rope.
Initially, the crowd in St. Louis booed the finish, until Reigns continued his assault after getting DQ’d. Reigns repeatedly hit Rollins with a steel chair, a callback to the way Rollins turned on his Shield brothers in 2014. The sequence was executed with such precision that it effectively turned Rollins into a babyface. Considering the story is that Reigns cannot beat Rollins, this immediately makes Rollins a top candidate to be the one to dethrone Reigns.
The women’s Rumble had its share of surprises and returns, most notably Rousey. Others included Lita, the Bellas, Impact Knockouts champ Mickie James, Ivory, Michelle McCool, Melina, Kelly Kelly, Molly Holly, and Alicia Fox. The star of the match, just like last year, was Bianca Belair, but she was eliminated in the final four by Charlotte Flair. The closing moments were succinct, as Rousey then eliminated Flair to win the match.
The Rumble victory puts Rousey back in a WrestleMania main event for the first time in three years. It appears that she will be presented as a babyface, which may work against Flair–but will undoubtedly backfire if Lynch is involved. If Rousey becomes a heel during this stretch, a fun wrinkle could be partnering her with Shayna Baszler.
The final singles match of the night saw Lashley defeat Lesnar to start his second run with the WWE title. Lesnar’s appearances are sporadic and his matches are rare–in an odd stat, Lesnar has lost his last three singles matches. He lost this one after he was double-crossed by Heyman, who aligned himself again with Reigns. After Reigns knocked out Lesnar while the referee was down, Lashley capitalized to win the title.
The last match on the card before the men’s Rumble saw Edge and Beth Phoenix team up to defeat The Miz and Maryse. Edge is a top candidate to challenge Lashley for the WWE title at WrestleMania 38.
The men’s Rumble opened with AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, who have the rare distinction of wrestling against one another at WrestleMania and New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom. There was a brief comedy bit with Johnny Knoxville, who was eliminated by Sami Zayn, and the surprises included Bad Bunny and Shane McMahon.
The four-hour show ended when Lesnar eliminated Drew McIntyre to win the Rumble. This summoned back memories of two years ago when McIntyre tossed Lesnar out of the Rumble to win the match and kickstart the most significant stretch of his career. But it was a different story on this night in St. Louis.
Lesnar now has his path set to Reigns and Heyman at WrestleMania, and his victory punctuated a very entertaining pay-per-view.
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