For the first time in years the Royal Rumble was not the first WWE pay per view; oops, I mean premium live event, of the year. Day 1 kicked things off in 2021 but as is always the case the Rumble is what starts us on our road to WrestleMania. This year featured the return of a huge slate of legendary alumni for the women’s rumble, Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair taking a page from Brock Lesnar and entering as champion, a Universal Title match between Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, and a World Title match 15 years in the making between champion Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley. But as we approached the day of the show some buzz began to surface that Ronda Rousey may be returning after almost three years away from the WWE. This new wrinkle added some real intrigue to that match, but would it come to fruition? And how would the rest of the show go? Let’s see!
Universal Title Match: Roman Reigns (c) vs Seth Rollins
Match of the night by far, and an extremely tough act to follow. From the promo segments over the month leading up to it to the video packages to Rollins using the Shield entrance for this match these two didn’t just give us a wrestling match they gave us theater. And the match itself delivered as they went all out from jump and tried to kill each other for our entertainment, but not in a schlocky spot monkey kind of way. And the ending was a perfect way to do a DQ finish in a big match like this – Roman not letting go of the guillotine and getting DQed then beating the hell out of Rollins with a chair the way Rollins did to him almost seven years ago. Normally matches that end in a DQ don’t get match of the year nominations but this is one where you can make an exception. Just an outstanding job all around.
Women’s Royal Rumble
The first time I watched it I thought it was not very good. But on a second viewing I found it to be a lot better and actually a good match. The first half was a little sloppy, and from a strictly booking standpoint Sasha Banks being eliminated that quickly after coming in at number one was a real head scratcher. My only explanation as of this writing is that if she wasn’t 100 percent yet coming off her bone bruise then it was best to not have her out there very long. The match picked up in the second half when some of the current stars got involved – Bianca Belair, Rhea Ripley, and Charlotte Flair all had standout performances on the night. Of the returning legends Michelle McCool and Mickie James had really good showings, complete with callbacks to their prior feud, and others like Lita and the Bellas made good use of their time. And the ladies all brought it with their entrances and ring gear – special shout outs to Sasha Banks Sailor Moon cosplay and Charlotte’s awesome ring robe.
And now let’s get to the elephants in the room….
One, there was a lot of hoping and wishful thinking that Asuka, Bayley, and/or Alexa Bliss would be there for the match and they were not. Now they were never so much as hinted at let alone promised so that’s entirely on us for being bummed out over it. Bliss and Bayley have both logged big minutes in previous Rumbles and could have helped here so yes their absences were felt as well as that of several of the women they released last year – Ember Moon, Ruby Riott, Mia Yim, Toni Storm, Mercedes Martinez, and Tegan Nox all provided some quality minutes over the past couple of years that were better than some of what we got this time. But at the end of the day if they were not promised, not advertised, and not even hinted at coming then you shouldn’t take it out on WWE or the other ladies in that wer in the match. And then there’s the next issue….
Ronda Rousey! The rumor train started the week of the show that Ronda was indeed back and would be in the match. And then it happened when she came out at 28. The crowd in the building dug it for sure, as they did with her winning it. But the Internet Wrestling Community was not so enthused. Ronda coming back now suggests that her going one on one with Becky Lynch is a definite possibility but the wrestling gossip rags out there came with the story that Ronda will be tangling Charlotte at WrestleMania instead. Either way, one of last year’s first night main eventers is getting pushed aside – Bianca was on her way to getting revenge against Lynch and Sasha was being hinted at for a confrontation with Flair at the Show of Shows. Now one of them won’t happen. No matter how you slice it that sucks for whoever misses out, and for us.
As for the argument that it’s not fair for Ronda to just get to jump the line coming back….I understand but that’s the way this stuff goes. Ronda Rousey is a much bigger deal than every woman on the active roster and all but Roman and Brock on the men’s side; when she’s ready to go then you move heaven and earth to make it happen. Does it suck for the other women who are getting pushed aside? Yes. Is that the business? Yes. We’ve been dealing with it re: Lesnar since he came back in 2012. But it was like this going even back to days of Bruno Sammartino – when Bruno was ready to come back full time in 1974 they immediately put the belt back on him. I totally get why as a fan of some of the other women you may feel some kinda way about this, but Rousey moves the needle in a way that none of the other women do and this is a business.
RAW Women’s Title Match: Becky Lynch (c) vs Doudrop
This match was put in the death spot on the card following up the Women’s Rumble and was further hindered when the big WrestleMania sign caught on fire and people had to be moved away from it. The result was that the crowd was pretty dead for it. It also didn’t help that there was absolutely zero suspense going in as to who would win, and that there were two heels with no real beef having a nice and proper wrestling match without any reason to emotionally invest. The match itself was good; started slow but picked up well in the closing minutes. Doudrop put on a good showing for a one off challenger and seems to be in a better position moving forward than either of the other temporary title challengers of the past two months (Liv Morgan on RAW and Toni Storm on Smackdown) – unlike those two I’d say she actually has a chance at wearing one of the two belts somewhere down the line.
WWE Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Bobby Lashley
After the opener, this match had the best buildup on the card as it was treated like a heavyweight boxing match the whole way in. And it was a big meaty men slapping meat match, as Big E would call it. These two behemoths rained some heavy shots down on each other but there were a few spots where it dragged a little. All in all I’d say it delivered. And we got the ending that I predicted with Lashley winning the title off of Brock to set up the main event (we’ll get to that). Paul Heyman’s stellar work continued as he played everything perfect throughout – in the moment I couldn’t tell whether or not the whole thing with he and Brock being back together was a ruse or if she simply acted out of fear when Roman came in. Paul has done a masterful job at keeping us guessing as to where his true allegiances lie through this whole story. Meanwhile congratulations to Bobby Lashley on becoming a two time WWE champion and for scoring the match he’s wanted his whole career vs Lesnar.
Edge and Beth Phoenix vs Miz and Maryse
I’ll admit that I was ready to skip past this and get to the Men’s Rumble, but it turned to be a good sports entertainment match and you can tell they had fun during the lead up and on game night. Miz and Maryse can do the husband/wife mixed tag thing in their sleep now – this is the third time they’ve done one on a pay per view. When it picked up it was a lot of fun and Maryse showed she can still do some things in the ring after giving us the false impression in the weeks leading up that she wanted no parts of it. Nice, fun match to break things up a bit.
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
Now this one did not improve on a second watch. Last year’s releases, particularly guys like Bruan Strowman and Keith Lee, hurt the field but so did notable absences like Finn Balor, Cesaro, and King Woods. Montez Ford not getting a long showcase run like a lot of us were calling didn’t help, neither did including guys still getting familiar with the audience like Ridge Holland. There was also a lack of the coordinated set pieces that make these matches special – the yearly Kofi Kingston escape that went awry upon his landing was unfortunate, and robbed us of one but outside of the Johnny Knoxville spot we all expected there weren’t really many there. All that being said it did pick up late and the returns of both Bad Bunny and Shane McMahon livened things up a bit. Bad Bunny is to be commended for picking this stuff up so well so quickly, and Knoxville did great for the brief time he was in. But none of that could make up for the first half. And while Lesnar’s entrance at #30 did liven up the last two minutes it also made the ending very predictable.
That end was what I’d predicted on the Mindless Wrestling podcast – that if Brock lost to Bobby then he’d enter this match and win it. Like with Ronda I know that the IWC does not like it when Lesnar shows up and just tosses people aside figuratively and literally. All I can say is that as long as it’s what’s best for business then this is how it goes. Yes it sucks for the people who are there all year, to get whatever they were doing just moved aside. Now in Lesnar’s case he’s been almost a full timer since December so it’s not been the usual come in, win, and then go home for weeks routine. So keep that in mind before you fire off those takes. Plus, he and Roman have a pretty kick ass storyline going on now and this fits into it perfectly.
But let’s be totally clear; this is not one of the better Men’s Rumbles in recent memory.
Was this a great pay per view? No. The men’s rumble was not good, the RAW women’s title match was disposable due to a total lack of suspense. The mixed tag was entertaining but also felt like it just made the card too long. But that leaves three matches that are both good and important enough to be totally rewatchable going forward. Day 1 was a better show in terms of overall match quality top to bottom but there’s more here to call back to later on this year, and that’s ultimately what matters most. So if you haven’t seen it yet and want to catch up watch the opener, the women’s rumble, and the World title match.