|Event||Royal Rumble 2021|
|Date||Sunday January 31 2021|
|Location||St. Petersburg, Florida, USA|
WWE Royal Rumble 2021
WWE Royal Rumble 2021 begins another year for the company on PPV, albeit still within the Thunderdome. Many were concerned and dismayed beforehand at the prospect of an event which relies heavily on audience participation lacking a crowd. But fortunately WWE would come through. Not only did I barely notice the lack of a crowd, but the show itself was full of action and excitement. Though the circumstances are unique, this card easily sits amongst other Royal Rumble shows in previous years.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PREVIOUS TV SHOWS? READ OUR PRE-PPV REVIEWS OF RAW & SMACKDOWN!
WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship Match
Asuka & Charlotte Flair (C) vs. Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler
It’s rare for a set of tag champs to have separate simultaneous issues. Especially when those issues don’t involve either of their opponents or even one another in the form of dissension. But Charlotte’s scrapes with Lacey Evans and her father Ric Flair, along with Asuka’s recent run-ins with Alexa Bliss, made this match feel inconsequential. It almost felt like they needed to defend the belts to meet a particular stipulation rather than this being necessary. Which is a shame because, with a decent story behind it, this could have been a major part of the evening’s entertainment. Nevertheless, despite the lack of importance behind this bout taking place, it was still a decent pre-show attraction.
Charlotte’s pre-match look of contempt as Asuka was making her entrance likely suggests an upcoming clash between the then-titleholders. Otherwise, this was notable only for one spot prior to the finish, that being Charlotte moonsaulting onto the challengers at ringside. But then Ric Flair’s music hit, with Lacey Evans coming out to distract The Queen. It didn’t work initially, but it would do: with Asuka having been hurled over an announcer’s table, Charlotte paid the price. Ric distracted the referee after handing Lacey a mysterious object, which she placed on her hand. Cue a Woman’s Right to Charlotte to break up a Figure-Eight. A subsequent Nia legdrop crowned her and Baszler as two-time Women’s Tag Team Champions. That was the last we would see of Asuka all night. As for Charlotte, her storyline with Lacey and Ric (assumed lovers, I guess?) rolls on, but her evening was just getting started.
WWE Championship Match
Drew McIntyre (C) vs. Goldberg
Opening the main card proper, we have an intriguing WWE Title match. Aside from a pointless three-week reign for Randy Orton, McIntyre has dominated as WWE Champion since WrestleMania 36. And if anyone deserves a major match in front of fans at WrestleMania 37, it’s him. But Goldberg’s recent history made him a real contender to win his first WWE Championship. Title wins over Kevin Owens and The Fiend made him a more than formidable threat to the Sinister Scotsman. Strangely, Drew (a clear babyface) started by hitting Goldberg with a Glasgow Kiss headbutt and a spear prior to the bell. But at ringside, Goldberg whipped him into the steel stairs before Spearing him through a barricade.
In the ring, Drew insisted that the match begin, at which point he hit a Claymore Kick. Besides Brock Lesnar, the Claymore has put everyone away in recent times, so Goldberg kicking out had Drew worried. Two Spears and a Jackhammer seemed to earn Goldberg the WWE gold, but Drew kicked out. Then, McIntyre hit a second, more devastating Claymore to score the clean pinfall win. McIntyre had survived Goldberg, and the two shook hands afterwards with Goldberg telling Drew he passed “the test”. Erm, what test? Anyway, I expect to see Goldberg again in some form at WrestleMania, but McIntyre’s path to Mania seems clear. His WWE Title reign looks set to give Drew his second straight main event on WWE’s biggest stage. As for the match, it was acceptable and it served a purpose, so I’ll take that.
WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship Match
Sasha Banks (C) vs. Carmella
Next up, we have a rematch from TLC. Carmella losing a previous title match, and Sasha potentially preparing for her first WrestleMania as a defending champion, made the odds of a switch here seem slim. But Carmella could still provide Banks with a worthy match here at Royal Rumble 2021. That’s what we got here, with Sasha performing to her usual high standard and Carmella proving that she could hang with The Boss. Her manager (or “sommelier”) Reginald wasn’t so lucky, though, as the referee caught him trying to interfere. Therefore, he was sent backstage.
At that point, Carmella hit Sasha with an insane tope to the floor. The former Fabulous one almost crushed her face in a moment which triggered flashbacks to a similar stunt involving Lita in 2004. Nevertheless, she was able to continue, and she came close to securing the win on numerous occasions. In particular, the Code Of Silence would place Sasha’s title reign in jeopardy momentarily. But The Boss rebounded and eventually locked Carmella in the Bank Statement to seal the win via submission. For Sasha, the Carmella feud is over, and she now looks ahead to WrestleMania.
We would then have a brief musical concert with Bad Bunny. Booker T was on hand, partly due to Bunny’s song titled – yes! – Booker T. Depending on your knowledge, this was either a major coup for WWE or a complete waste of time. Later on, The Miz and John Morrison would taunt Bad Bunny backstage before being chased away by Booker himself. Bad Bunny is lucky that R-Truth didn’t catch him; Truth had appeared on the Kick-Off Show dressed as Elmer Fudd as he looked for “Bugs Bunny”. Tremendous, and Truth was just getting started.
Women’s Royal Rumble Match
It was now time for the fourth annual women’s Rumble match. The leading contender on SmackDown would seem to be Bianca Belair due to recent wins over Bayley. Meanwhile, on Raw, Charlotte Flair and a Fiend-possessed Alexa Bliss seemed the likely candidates for a win. Of the two, Charlotte would appear to be less tolerable, having won the match last year. But Bliss’ storyline is so bizarre and not believable that I was dreading a win here for Alexa. And that’s due to the booking, not due to Bliss herself. But who would ultimately win? Let’s find out.
Bayley drew #1 and a returning Naomi drew #2; Naomi also made a return from a layoff at Rumble 2020. Bianca was already in at #3, sporting Superman-themed attire in line with the comic book-related hype for the show. Billie Kay as #4 didn’t enter the ring; she instead joined Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton and Jerry Lawler at the announcer’s table with a bunch of publicity photos. For the next few entrants, Billie would try and fail to convince them to partner up with her. These included NXT star Shotzi Blackheart (in her signature tank) at #5, Shayna Baszler at #6 (she eliminated Shotzi) and NXT’s Toni Storm at #7.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PREVIOUS EDITION? READ OUR WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2020 REVIEW!
A totally unexpected return for Jillian Hall made her the eighth entrant, and she agreed to assist Kay. Yes, Jillie and Billie! Ruby Riott at #9 initially stayed away from Billie Kay, before another big surprise at #10 with Victoria. I’d have loved her to use All The Things She Said by Tatu, but having Victoria at all was awesome. And she looked very good as well; in fact, I’d like to see her stick around on either Raw or SmackDown. Peyton Royce joined the fray as #11, and we had a brief IIconics reunion, only for Kay to be nervous at Ruby looking on. In the commotion, Billie ended up eliminating her new pal Jillian.
NXT’s Santana Garrett came in as #12, before Liv Morgan as #13 ensured some domination by The Riott Squad. Indeed, Liv and Ruby would team up to oust Billie, seemingly ending Kay’s Riott Squad association for good. Then, Rhea Ripley came in at #14 and immediately took charge by eliminating her old rival Storm. Victoria would be the next elimination courtesy of Baszler, before Charlotte Flair’s arrival as #15. An immediate Ripley-Charlotte showdown served as a callback to their outstanding match at WM 36, the result of which still upsets some to this day. Meanwhile, Rhea secured her second elimination of the night by throwing off Garrett.
Dana Brooke emerged as #16 and looked strong with two big top-rope dives onto most of the other combatants. Ruby hit the floor courtesy of Bayley, before another return in the form of Torrie Wilson as #17. After Royce eliminated Morgan, we heard Ric Flair’s music for #18! No way, surely? Well, Ric did come out, but only to accompany a robe-wearing Lacey Evans to further antagonise Charlotte. The Queen would pound Evans upon her arrival, with the purple robe losing feathers aplenty. Ripley would then brutally eliminate Brooke by slamming her back-first onto the ring apron (the hardest part of the ring). Mickie James as #19 marked a reappearance for a woman still officially on the main roster. Meanwhile, Charlotte would eliminate Royce, and Shayna would get rid of Torrie.
We would then have a production gaffe. Around the time of Nikki Cross’ entrance as #20, the announcers said we’d see a replay relating to Bayley. More than just a big move, it was actually Bayley being eliminated by Bianca. That’s right, the cameras actually missed one of WWE’s top female stars hitting the floor. Insane. Speaking of mad, after Alicia Fox arrived as #21, R-Truth’s music hit and the 24/7 Champion entered the ring. A perpetually-confused Truth would be told that he was in the wrong Rumble, but the usual under-carders heading towards the ring for Truth’s belt meant that he stayed in the ring.
Big mistake. For Fox would roll up Truth to score the first pinfall in Royal Rumble history to become the 24/7 Champion! Mandy Rose as #22 then eliminated Alicia, which led to Truth amusingly pinning her at ringside to regain the belt before high-tailing it out of the Thunderdome. Fun stuff. Moments like this are what make the Royal Rumble so awesome.
NXT’s Dakota Kai was #23, with Lacey eliminating Mickie to add a notch to her belt. Kai herself would be eliminated fairly quickly by Ripley; Rhea would also throw out Mandy. Then, Carmella came out as #24, though she took her time to enter the ring. Still, she quickly eliminated Nikki Cross before being eliminated just as quickly by the next participant, Tamina. Lana returned as #26, while Alexa Bliss arrived to the Firefly Fun House theme as #27. When those around Alexa began to circle her like wolves, her Fiend transformation began, but Ripley wouldn’t be patient. Instead, she smartly threw out Bliss to cut off any chance of the Fiend possessing the women’s Rumble. Thank goodness for that.
Ember Moon was #28, with Shayna eliminating Lacey (why didn’t Charlotte get rid of Evans to progress their rivalry?). Then, we had a major escape: Naomi fell to the floor, but her feet didn’t actually touch the ringside mats. To remain in the contest, she grabbed Bianca’s long hair, temporarily putting both on the verge of elimination. But they uniquely worked together to bring themselves back into the Rumble, which was the highlight of the whole match. Nia Jax as #29 joined Shayna in dominating the ring; Jax threw out Ember, before the new Women’s Tag Team Champions combined to eliminate Naomi and Tamina. Then, Nia proved that it’s every woman for herself by throwing out Baszler, only for Lana to sneak up on Jax and eliminate her! Fitting revenge for all those table bumps in the autumn.
Still, Jax and Shayna decided that their night wasn’t over by attacking 30th entrant Natalya in the aisleway, as well as pounding those remaining in the ring. A dazed Nattie convinced a gullible Lana to work with her, only to throw out Rusev’s former manager. Bianca eliminated Nattie to get us down to the final three: Bianca, Rhea and Charlotte. A fun three-way mini-match would then take place, with Belair and Ripley eventually combining to get rid of The Queen. Though there was no crowd there, you could feel the relief amongst fans that Charlotte wasn’t going to win. It also guaranteed a somewhat fresh winner between Bianca and Rhea, with both sensing the significance of the moment. A spirited clash between the two saw both women reversing the momentum before Bianca finally eliminated Ripley to win the Rumble!
Indeed, Bianca Belair was the last woman standing, and she achieved it from the #3 spot. One year after an eye-catching #2 performance, Belair had gone all the way and is not heading to WrestleMania. A post-match promo saw her break down in tears, almost to the point of hyperventilating. One can’t help but feel happy for her; Bianca is not only talented, but she also seems genuine and thoroughly likeable. A fireworks display as Bianca pointed to the WrestleMania sign capped off the best women’s Rumble match yet. This was a tremendous spectacle from start to finish, a superb achievement considering the lack of fans in attendance. (Oh, I must mention that Becky Lynch teased fans by tweeting a picture of the Gorilla position curtain during the match. She later said that she simply liked the curtain and wanted people to know. Oh, Becky.)
We would then have a brief pause while the Kick-Off panel would reflect on the evening’s action thus far. In that moment, R-Truth asked the panel for some help, with Peter Rosenberg telling Truth that John Cena (Truth’s “childhood hero”) was present. Cena wasn’t there (unless he actually was, since we can’t see him); it was a ruse for Rosenberg to pin Truth and win the 24/7 belt for himself. Peter then ran off, with Truth looking as befuddled as ever.
WWE Universal Championship Last Man Standing Match
Roman Reigns (C) vs. Kevin Owens
The final non-Rumble match would see Roman and KO presumably conclude their feud. Reigns beat Owens in a TLC match as well as a Steel Cage scrap at SmackDown. The Tribal Chief’s grip on power briefly saw WWE official Adam Pearce as his Royal Rumble 2021 opponent. But Pearce would pull a fast one by having Reigns sign the contract for a LMS match before substituting Owens as the new challenger. Against any other champion, Kevin’s chances of winning the gold here may have been strong. But Reigns has been so awesome as the Head Of The Table that he simply had to retain. Still, that doesn’t mean these two couldn’t have a great match along the way, which is what we got here.
They started fast and furious, with Reigns taking a Pop-Up Powerbomb and Owens tasting a Spear at ringside. They battled through the, erm, crowd and up towards a raised level of Thunderdome screens. After withstanding a Stunner, Reigns tossed Owens off the ledge through two tables. This stunt left Owens sidelined for weeks recently, yet here KO made it to his feet before 10. The brawl headed backstage, where a hilarious spot saw Reigns mow down Owens with a golf cart. It was so random and unexpected that I burst out laughing. Owens fought back again, though, and eventually laid Reigns on another table. At that point, KO climbed up a raised forklift and hit a nutty senton bomb onto Roman and through the table. Somehow, though, the match would continue.
They fought back into the arena and by the aisleway, where Reigns produced handcuffs. But KO outsmarted Roman by cuffing him to the base of the entrance set, seemingly preventing Reigns from standing. In a great heel move, a desperate and trapped Reigns sent the referee flying just as he was about to make the count of 10. Unfortunately, the match then fell apart, as Paul Heyman came out to release Roman from the cuffs. However, he took so damn long that the bout essentially halted, which meant that KO looked a bit silly while waiting for ages.
After finally becoming free of the cuffs, Roman immediately locked Owens in a guillotine choke, which left KO KO’d to earn Reigns the win. Aside from the botched ending, this was a great brawl, and a fitting way to end this awesome feud. Roman is heading to WrestleMania as Universal Champion, and I wouldn’t complain if he leaves Mania with the title either.
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
And so we come to the men’s Rumble, now in its 34th edition. Beforehand, the leading contenders amongst those announced seemed to be Daniel Bryan and Edge, with Randy Orton, AJ Styles and Sheamus being “possibles” and Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro being “maybes”. But because of how unpredictable the Rumble can be, the chance of a surprise entrant winning is always high. I personally felt that Brock Lesnar would return here, likely as #30, to win the whole thing. The other expectation was for The Fiend to somehow make his presence felt at Randy Orton’s expense, following the ludicrous burning of Bray Wyatt’s character at TLC.
Edge and Randy Orton drew #1 and #2 respectively, despite being given the opposite numbers on Backstage 24 hours earlier. The Rated R Superstar had only announced his Rumble participation six days earlier, vowing to regain the World Title that he never lost. (Said belt no longer exists, but I get the point.) He was also returning for the first time since an injury suffered during a loss to Orton at Backlash 2020. Their red-hot feud was never truly blown off, so we had a call-back to their lengthy saga here. Edge attacked Orton on the ramp before the match officially began, with the two men brawling in and around the ring. Sami Zayn as #3 was a mere nuisance to Edge, though he and Mustafa Ali as #4 helped Orton to pound Edge.
Jeff Hardy came out as #5 to break up the three-on-one beatdown, despite them having Edge on the verge of elimination. This allowed the Rated R Superstar to DDT Orton on the announcer’s table and pound him with a steel chair. So much so that, with Dolph Ziggler arriving as #6, Orton would have no choice but to slowly return to the dressing room with the help of the medical team. As Shinsuke Nakamura became #7, Ziggler achieved the first elimination of the match by throwing out Jeff Hardy. Then we had our first real surprise of the contest, as Carlito returned at #8! Every year, he is linked with a Rumble cameo, and this year, it finally happened. That’s cool. Also, Carlito looked like he was in the best shape of his life with an incredibly muscular physique.
Carlito and Nakamura had a staredown, which saw Shinsuke commandeer Carlito’s apple, resulting in a Backstabber. Xavier Woods and Big E were the next two participants to provide a New Day reunion (the second of the night; they and Kofi Kingston met up backstage to insult Sami Zayn while showing off their costumes, attire that paid tribute to the late Luke Harper, which was nice to see). Though they worked well together to throw out Zayn, it didn’t stop Ali getting rid of Woods shortly after John Morrison came in at #11.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PREVIOUS PPV? READ OUR WWE TLC 2020 REVIEW!
Ricochet was #12, despite losing a qualification match to AJ Styles six days ago. Since house shows aren’t a thing, one must wonder how Ricochet was able to earn a Rumble spot. Who knows. Chances are that we shall never know. Elias was #13, and he was given the task of ending Carlito’s impressive comeback run, which is hopefully not a one-off. NXT’s Damien Priest was #14, and he made a sudden impact by throwing out Elias (who lacked Jakson Ryker, by the way). The Miz was #15, but he used his Money In The Bank briefcase to break up Bad Bunny’s musical equipment after the earlier confrontation. This brought out Bunny himself to distract Miz and Morrison long enough for Priest to eliminate Johnny Drip Drip and The M-I-Z. Bunny then leapt off the top rope onto both heels at ringside in the fun celebrity involvement of the night.
Riddle came in at #16, followed by Daniel Bryan, arguably the true favourite, at #17. Then came a surprise with Kane returning at #18 to extend his record number of Rumble appearances. And he made an impact by eliminating Ziggler and Ricochet before hugging Daniel Bryan to temporarily reform Team Hell No. Temporarily as in, for like, seconds as he then Chokeslammed Bryan. After King Corbin marched in as #19, Priest scored another big elimination by throwing out Kane. Corbin himself achieved a heat-seeking elimination by hurling out Nakamura, who some felt would win another Rumble here. Otis as #20 provided some short-lived fun, but Corbin would strike again by lifting his heavy frame up and out.
Dominick Mysterio as #21 secured his first ever elimination by throwing out his recent rival Corbin. But he wouldn’t even last long enough to see his dad Rey, as he went out courtesy of 22nd entrant Bobby Lashley. A Lashley-Big E confrontation set up the return of The Hurricane (described here as “Hurricane Helms” for some reason) as #23. Hurricane revived his 2002 moment with Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H by trying to chokeslam both powerhouses. Of course, it didn’t work, and the superhero was sent flying to the floor. This was amusing, but with Hurricane doing something similar in 2018, it didn’t leave a lasting impression. Unlike the next participant.
In the biggest shock of the night, #24 was Christian! Captain Charisma’s career was seemingly over, with him having not wrestled since 2014 due to concussion problems. Even when Edge returned last year, Christian denied any chance of him making a comeback of his own. And his Raw fight with Randy Orton in June 2020 consisted of two spots that saw him take no bumps. So, Christian resurfacing here was a massive surprise that Peeps would have gone crazy for had they been in attendance.
Christian looked sharp as well, not losing a beat despite not wrestling for almost seven years. Along the way, Edge and Christian had a tearful embrace in one of the most emotional Rumble moments ever. Riddle clapped them before E&C turned on him, which was funny. Incidentally, at this point we had Edge, Christian and Bryan all in the ring together. Who on earth could have foreseen that at, say, Royal Rumble 2017 or even Royal Rumble 2018?
Christian also helped Big E, Bryan and Riddle to eliminate Lashley prior to AJ Styles coming out, with Omos, at #25. Styles had been the gatekeeper to stop several wrestlers entering the match, though that wasn’t acknowledged here. After Rey Mysterio as #26, Sheamus and Cesaro were the next two participants, with a brief reunion of The Bar being a nice touch. Around this time, both Big E and Rey Mysterio were eliminated, but by Omos; AJ’s bodyguard claimed two victims despite not being involved. The rule of a non-entrant causing eliminations should be deleted, but it was used effectively here to give AJ extra odds of winning.
Seth Rollins made his first appearance since Survivor Series as #29, before Braun Strowman (who himself returned from an absence two nights earlier) rounded things off as #30. Strowman eliminated Cesaro and then Sheamus, before outsmarting Styles and Omos. After throwing AJ onto Omos at ringside, Braun grabbed him and tossed him out of another side of the ring. That was funny to see. At this point, Rollins was lurking outside the ring, waiting for his moment to strike. That he did when Bryan was in control, as Seth struck him with a Stomp before eliminating him. This would have drawn huge boos had fans been in the arena. I do wonder, though, if this means that we may get a Bryan vs. Rollins feud for WrestleMania?
Rollins also eliminated Riddle with a Stomp on the apron. At this stage, he tried to form an alliance with Strowman to ward off Edge and Christian. Braun wasn’t interested, though, before E&C tried to work on Braun anyway. With Strowman tangled up in the ropes, E&C managed to hurl him out, but in the process, Rollins eliminated Christian. Within moments, though, Edge had eliminated Rollins to seemingly win the Rumble … or so we thought. Just at that moment, Randy Orton re-emerged and RKO’d The Rated R Superstar! Could Orton stick it to Edge one more time?
No. Orton tried to throw him out but Edge reversed the momentum to eliminate The Viper. Eleven years to the day of his first RR triumph at Royal Rumble 2010, Edge had won his second Royal Rumble match! Cue sign-pointing to end the show, with Edge securing a major title match at WrestleMania 37. It’s intriguing that he could potentially face either Roman Reigns or Drew McIntyre; his choice of opponent isn’t obvious.
This wasn’t quite as good as the women’s match, but it was still a very enjoyable Royal Rumble match. There were plenty of surprise entrants without overusing the tactic to 2012 levels. Of those, I smiled at Carlito coming back, but it’s Christian’s return that will always be remembered here. The action itself was a bit uneventful for the first half before picking up as we headed into the final third.
And the finish was handled rather well, with Orton teasing a heart-wrenching steal before Edge overcame him. That surely spells the end of the Edge-Orton feud, though the lack of a Fiend appearance was unexpected. That Brock Lesnar didn’t return also makes me wonder when we’ll see him again (I do expect him at WrestleMania). Otherwise, like with the women’s Rumble, this was a big success considering how the lack of fans could have dampened the occasion. That the circumstances were barely a factor is a credit to WWE’s production of the match, and of the show.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FIRST EDITION? READ OUR WWF ROYAL RUMBLE 1988 REVIEW!
So, WWE Royal Rumble 2021 was a highly enjoyable PPV event which starts off the Road To WrestleMania 37 in a memorable fashion thanks to the big wins for Edge and Bianca Belair. The Rumble matches themselves were of a high quality, with the women’s bout just slightly beating the men’s. Elsewhere, Roman vs. Owens was great until the blown ending. McIntyre vs. Goldberg exceeded admittedly low expectations. Sasha vs. Carmella went well, while the Women’s Tag Team Title match served a purpose. And Bad Bunny fans were likely overjoyed. Yes, it’s an unusual Royal Rumble show, but it remained a great night of entertainment as we begin to head towards WrestleMania.