August 5, 2021, 1:51

WWE Royal Rumble: Five things we learned as road to WrestleMania begins

WWE Royal Rumble: Five things we learned as road to WrestleMania begins

The road to WrestleMania began in earnest on Sunday night as title shots were secured for the April extravaganza at the Royal Rumble.

We now know that Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch will go on to huge matches at WWE’s biggest event of the year as the company put a major show of faith in them in 2019’s first pay-per-view.

But what other information and knowledge did we glean from a typically chaotic night on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ turf at Chase Field?

Sky Sports editor Jefferson Lake was at the event in Phoenix, and takes a look at five key issues…

For once, you could trust the form book

Going into the Royal Rumble, the favourites to collect victories were Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar, and Daniel Bryan, with Seth Rollins and Charlotte Flair the top-rated picks for the Rumble matches.

With the exception of Flair’s, all of those pre-match ratings proved accurate as what was expected to happen became what actually happened.

That’s quite rare in WWE where shock value is a highly-valuable commodity but that’s not to say this event did not contain some surprises.

Becky Lynch’s self-powered insertion into the Rumble was perhaps a little predictable but while Nia Jax’s appearance in the men’s event absolutely was not, this was an evening where the results turned out like most people predicted they would.

Intergender matches are as popular as they are controversial

One of the enduring SmackDown images of recent years is of James Ellsworth stealing the Money In The Bank briefcase for Carmella – and another is said male superstar getting his comeuppance at the hands of Becky Lynch a few weeks later.

For good measure, Ellsworth then took ‘borrowed’ finishers from the entire blue brand’s women’s division on the house show loop in the following weeks. Around the world, the fans lapped it up.

On Sunday night, the roles were reversed, with Nia Jax initially dishing out some punishment before taking even more herself – Rey Mysterio and Randy Orton both hit their finishers on Jax as, again, the fans roared their approval.

The debate about whether one form of intergender violence is more acceptable than the other is myriad and probably best saved for another time.

For now, the Jax moment in the Royal Rumble can best be seen as the latest example of a gradual lean in towards a more ‘Attitude Era’ style as part of WWE’s 2019 refresh.

The women’s division needs some depth beyond the top stars

Last year’s women’s Royal Rumble saw the match filled out with participants from history, with legendary names such as Trish Stratus and Lita returning to a WWE card.

This year, the future replaced the past as the 30-name list was supplemented by ones to watch from around WWE’s developmental world, with NXT stars Io Shirai and Kairi Sane rubbing shoulders with lesser-known players Kacy Catanzaro and Xia Li. NXT UK champion Rhea Ripley also got a run-out.

It was notable that the Rumble built to a hot finish. Its final five entrants were Alexa Bliss, Bayley, Becky Lynch, Nia Jax and Carmella; every one of them an established main-roster player and former world champion.

Prior to their arrival the match suffered a little for a lack of star power and that is something which WWE will need to address.

By using these wrestlers more, however, they will create a group of competitors which is stronger than the elite 10 or 12. They are not there yet, but this very deliberate look to the future suggests they are at least aware of such a need.

The path to Rousey-Lynch at WrestleMania is clear

It now seems inevitable that Ronda Rousey will defend her Raw women’s title against Becky Lynch at WrestleMania. That particular plan may even be put into action on tonight’s Raw.

Rousey made a statement last week which did nothing to clear up rumours she could be about to leave WWE but she did sow the seeds of a potential long-term program after WrestleMania with her ‘Four Horsewomen’ promo on Sunday night.

That’s for later, though. A clear direction needs to be found for Asuka and Charlotte Flair building into Mania. Sasha Banks and Bayley – and, in fact, most of the rest of the division – will be focused on the tag titles in the next month.

If WWE are to do Flair-Asuka II at the big one, they need to start building that up as soon as possible or risk it being completely left in the shadow of Rousey-Lynch.

Rumours of Drew McIntyre’s impending superstardom may have been exaggerated

Seth Rollins went from Kingslayer to king in waiting on Sunday night by winning the Royal Rumble to take a step closer to what could be a WrestleMania coronation against Brock Lesnar.

Most fans had it down as either Rollins or McIntyre to be given this push, considering how prominently both men had been used on Raw.

But it didn’t happen for McIntyre. He entered at #16 and managed four eliminations in a 22-minute run in the middle of the match before being fairly unceremoniously dumped out by former tag partner Dolph Ziggler.

It will be interesting to see what WWE does with McIntyre in the coming weeks. The same also goes for Finn Balor, Bobby Lashley and Dean Ambrose. There’s a long time until April…


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