It was a great night to be a former UFC champion at a very predictable and mostly underwhelming Royal Rumble that felt like the 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 earlier in the night, entered the men’s match at No. 30 and punched his ticket to WrestleMania at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis on Saturday night.
The Royal Rumble used to be about new stars ascending to get their WrestleMania chance and or older talent completing journeys to mountain top for the first time. On Saturday night, WWE had two established main eventers — and potentially part-timers — win Royal Rumbles they truly didn’t need to in order to get their respective match at WrestleMania at AT&T Stadium in April. It was all part of a night that just seemed to be lacking its usual charm. At least the door is still open for Bianca Belair and Big E to be in title matches at Mania.
Here are five takeaways from the 2022 Royal Rumble:
Lesnar is no longer the WWE champion, but he’s a now a two-time Royal Rumble winner and on a collision course with Universal champ Roman Reigns at Mania.
The minute the former UFC heavyweight champion entered the match it felt like a forgone conclusion he’d be the winner. WWE did give us Lesnar and a returning Drew McIntyre as the final two in a callback to the 2019 rumble and the Beast hit Bad Bunny with an F5. It was part of a solid finish to a mostly anti-climatic match — the biggest surprise entrant was Shane McMahon.
Omos looked incredible, eliminating three people and delivering a chop to Ricochet that sounded like it would caved his chest. It took six men, including a flying Styles – his former tag team partner – to eliminate the massive 7-footer.
Johnny Knoxville’s appearance in the Royal Rumble was less ha-ha than expected. The ridiculously dressed “Jackass Forever” star took down Sami Zayn, took a flurry of strikes from A.J. Styles and a Frog Splash from Montez Ford. It was his storyline nemesis Zayn who eliminated him in a quick, fun segment. He wasn’t the only celebrity entrant has Bad Bunny entered at No. 27 and eliminated Sheamus and hit a Canadian destroyer on Riddle. He continues to look like a viable wrestler when he’s in the ring.
WWE didn’t give us Rey and Dominik Mysterio in the ring together after building up some potential father-son drama in the leadup. One of the biggest shockers may have been Mad Cap Moss eliminating No. 1 entrant Styles. They eventually got theirs as McIntyre — who has a legit neck injury — eliminated both Moss and Happy Corbin, who took him out in storyline at Day 1. Maybe the biggest surprise of all was Kofi Kingston wasn’t able to nail his annual stay-in the Rumble spot as his feet hit the floor when he was pushed from the top rope. It was symbolic of 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 because it did tell some stories. It did deliver one of the winners people were hoping for when Rousey returned at No. 28 to ultimately eliminate SmackDown women’s champion Charlotte Flair to punch her ticket to a likely match between the two at WrestleMania.
Easy moments were never given a chance and others weren’t given a time to breathe. Sasha Banks entered as No. 1 in full Sailor Moon garb, but was eliminated very, very, quickly by Queen Zelina right before Belair entered the match at No. 8 – much to the chagrin of the crowd. The two former WrestleMania headliners were denied a moment in the ring.
Sonya Deville came down at No. 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 eliminate a returning Cameron, Naomi’s former Funkadactyls mate. Naomi, who has had her issues with Deville since August, was next and quickly eliminated her. Deville did come back to pull Naomi off the arpon to get her out of the match, but everything happened so fast.
The crowd was not invested in this match for long stretches, especially after Banks was eliminated. Outside of a few moments from Belair and Rhea Ripley, it felt like few performers were really showcased or given storylines to build off of.
Impact Knockouts champion Mickie James did come through the “forbidden door” with the belt around her waist and her “Hardcore Country” theme to a big pop. Nikki A.S.H. came from the other side of the ring to try to eliminate former tag partner Ripley, who had a few choice words for her under her breath. Nikki later attacked Mighty Molly before she entered the ring because there can only be one superhero and quickly eliminated her. The Bellas spoiled a Riott Squad reunion after Sarah Logan returned after a long hiatus from WWE.
One cool moment was the return of Ivory in her Right to Censor attire, talking about wanting to clean things up in WWE before being quickly eliminated by Ripley. Lita and Charlotte Flair had a solid face-to-face exchange. While it was fun to see a number of the legends, having not one performer come up from NXT feels egregious.
Even with all that, WWE got the moment it hoped for with Rousey, who came out in all black with “Baddest” across her chest instead of her usual “Rowdy Roddy” Piper inspired gear. The former Raw women’s champion looked good, pulling off a pretty wild arm bar over the top rope with Belair and even got to team up with buddy Shayna Baszler, who was in the final four with her and Flair.
Like everything in this match, Rousey and Flair’s interaction for the finish consisted of The Queen missing a kick and Rousey flipping 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 needed to pull out every stop to beat Doudrop, using a Manhandle Slam from the second rope to secure the 1-2-3.
Seth Rollins versus Roman Reigns had everything but a quality finish
Rollins beautifully continued the mind games, entering the ring to The Shield’s music and dressed in full Shield garb and even delivered a Shield bomb to Reigns through the announce table. He and most of the audience thought he had Reigns beat after a Buckle Bomb and then a Stomp, but the Tribal Chief was just able to get his arm up in time. The frantic paces turned methodical in Reigns’ favor until Rollins countered a spear with a Pedigree leading to another late kickout from the Head of the Table. There was a little bit of a Batman-Joker feeling to this story with Rollins laughing at Reigns each time he should have been beaten down.
This incredible match was booked to an extremely awkward and anti-climactic finish. Reigns put Rollins in the guillotine choke. The challenger was able to get near the ropes and appeared to have passed out before fully reaching them. Referee Charles Robinson lifted Rollins’ hand and it grabbed the robe as it fell back down. Reigns refused to break the hold and lost the match via disqualification, but kept his title.
The Universal champion then snapped, beating Rollins down with chair shot after chair shot – including a symbolic one to the back – 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 and past actions. Reigns blamed Rollins for not letting him take the hold off. Still, WWE’s inability and reluctance to book clean or decisive finishes in big pay-per–view matches is mind boggling and the crowd there let them hear it.
Bobby Lashley 1, Brock Lesnar 0 — thanks to Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman.
Lesnar and Lashley’s long-awaited clash began with a German suplex contest which brought out a great look of appreciation from The Beast after he went flying the first time. Lashley, who missed Lesnar going through the barricade in a call back to Day 1, hit his opponent with two spears before Lesnar turned the tide to take him to Suplex City. When Lesnar went for the F5 the first time, Lashley countered with the Hurt Lock – but backed his opponent into 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 was given the WWE championship by Heyman. He smashed Lesnar over the head with it and left with his Special Counsel back at his side. Lashley crawled onto Lesnar and pinned him to be reunited with the WWE championship after losing it to Big E in September. The Heyman turn was likely the finish to the match Reigns and Lesnar were supposed to have at Day 1 before the Tribal Chief contracted COVID-19. Lashley is likely headed to defending his title inside Elimination Chamber or facing its winner next. WWE has some time now to figure it out.
Grit beats It
This mixed tag match was mostly everything we thought it would be. Maryse running from Beth Phoenix and The Miz doing everything he could to protect her. They even had Maryse hit Phoenix with the brick she used on Raw, so there was some story continuity here.
What wasn’t expected and was refreshed was letting the men and women get physical with each other as often as they did. Phoenix power bombed The Miz and one point and Maryese hit a top-rope hurricanrana on Edge. There was even a point where it looked like the It Couple could win after Miz hit Edge with a Skull Crushing Finale. Instead it ended with Edge and Phoenix hitting a double spear to Miz and then both delivering simultaneous Glam Slams and pins for the 1-2-3. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen over Phoenix for a while.
Biggest Winner: Roman Reigns
Biggest Loser: Sasha Banks
Best Match: Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns