By Brad Carroll
When it appeared the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble match would be closing the show Sunday night in Philadelphia, I texted my partner in crime here at GAMEDAY IS HERE, Matt Straub, and said it’s either for the sake of history, or Ronda Rousey would make her long-rumored debut. Once the Rumble match came to a conclusion, with Asuka claiming the historic victory, it looked like WWE had indeed gave the nod to history, as nobody was even thinking of Rousey when Asuka, Charlotte Flair and Alexa Bliss were in the ring following the match.
But then everything in the women’s division changed, and for WWE as a whole, when “Bad Reputation” hit the arena and Ronda Rousey’s name appeared on the Titan Tron, in full on Roddy Piper colors. Rousey was here, shocking everyone.
It put a bow on a historic, albeit clunky, night, as Shinsuke Nakamura joined Asuka as the two Rumble match winners, getting a date for a title shot at WrestleMania.
Before a must-watch Monday Night Raw tonight, let’s take a look back at the event and hand out our biggest winners and losers, which has nothing to do with who got their hands raised in victory in the ring or not, but on a much bigger scale.
Ronda Rousey: I was surprised when she made her way to the ring right when it looked like her debut would be put off until WrestleMania. But Rousey made the best kind of debut - a shocking one. She didn’t say a word, and did look a bit awkward and out of place in the ring, smiling brightly as if she was a fan getting to live out a dream of being in the ring (which is fine, of course, but not so much if you’re supposed to be the women’s version of Brock Lesnar). Still, everyone got what they wanted. Rousey is going to wrestle full-time, which will be interesting to see how WWE builds her up. Will she ever lose? Will she dominate the division and in the process devalue Charlotte, Asuka and more? Will she be the Lesnar of the women’s division? Right now, who knows. But Rousey automatically goes to the top of the contenders and it looks like she might be headed to SmackDown, which would be another shocking development, but makes sense to bring that show out of the rut it’s been in what seems like forever now. Rousey vs. Charlotte at WrestleMania is the money match, so we’ll see how things progress. But for this night, the biggest winner, yes even bigger than Asuka and Nakamura, was Rousey, and in turn, WWE as well for all of the mainstream coverage they are getting this morning.
Asuka: It was a pretty obvious pick from the get-go, and me and Matt both picked her to win the Royal Rumble match in our preview, but Asuka is still a huge winner here. She will forever be remembered as the first winner of the women’s Royal Rumble match and continues her undefeated streak in the most impressive way possible, by beating 29 other women in one night. There won’t be a Rousey-Asuka match anytime soon either, which means Asuka can continue her run of dominance, at least until the following WrestleMania, which could have both in the main event as undefeated superstars. Asuka should challenge Alexa Bliss for the title at WrestleMania and should win. This Rumble win was just another stepping stone for Asuka, as she’s going to be champion in a few months.
Shinsuke Nakamura: He was another popular pick to win the men’s Royal Rumble match, and one made by Matt in our preview, and he did so by eliminating Roman Reigns, saving what would have likely been a riot inside the arena. After the match, Nakamura cemented the match everyone wants to see, him against AJ Styles for the WWE championship at WrestleMania. That match should be the main event, but I’m guessing either Brock’s match or Rousey’s match will get those honors. Nakamura-Styles will steal the show, however. Nakamura needed this win in the worst way, as he’s been mishandled on SmackDown, which could be said for a lot of wrestlers on that show. But he gets the huge momentum push and could be champion in a few months. Plus, he’s a winner automatically for being the one to eliminate Reigns.
Finn Balor: I picked him to win the Rumble match, and when he came out No. 2 I actually felt even better about my selection. He made it nearly to the end, but was unceremoniously dumped by John Cena, who really didn’t need to be near the end of the match. Balor is headed in the right direction, finally, and should continue his climb up the ladder. WWE could still do Balor vs. Lesnar, which would be an awesome sight, but we all know it’s likely Reigns vs. Lesnar for WrestleMania. But Balor had a strong showing and should continue to be pushed up the card.
AJ Styles: He survived against Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens in a handicap match, even though it wasn’t exactly on the level. But now he gets out of the stupid storyline lead by Shane McMahon and can turn his attention to Nakamura and WrestleMania.
Rusev Day: Could Rusev be any more over right now? Him and Aiden English could turn this into a tag team title feud against the Usos next.
Rey Mysterio: I’m not sure if he’s back full-time, headed to 205 Live or what, but the crowd loved his entrance into the Rumble and he certainly brought some much-needed juice to the latter stages of the match. The Hurricane gets an honorable mention for hyping up the crowd as well with his surprise entrance, but was eliminated quickly.
Elias: He’s over from outta nowhere. It’s a great story and Elias is doing everything correctly right now. Him and Rusev are the two biggest breakout stars recently and hopefully the WWE listens to the fans and gives them both something interesting now.
Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable: After briefly winning the SmackDown tag team titles before having the belts taken away almost immediately after another referee came down to say the illegal Uso was pinned instead of the legal man (sound familiar?) a few weeks ago, Benjamin and Gable got a two-out-of-three falls match to prove they were indeed the better team and rightful champions at the Rumble. Then the Usos went out and beat Benjamin and Gable twice in a row, which almost never happens in this type match. So, Benjamin and Gable, who look totally weak now, had a quick end to their title quest, as there’s no legitimate way this feud can continue after this burial.
Seth Rollins: Not only did he get eliminated in the Royal Rumble match by Roman Reigns, and then lose his tag team championship, but now he’s going to be stuck in a feud with Jason Jordan. Rollins has fallen so far he might even lose that feud.
Baron Corbin: He could be the most hated man in the WWE right now, and not in a good way, as evidenced by his entry into the Rumble. Plus, he got eliminated quickly once again, continuing his reputation as being a guy who can’t handle the big moment.
Tye Dillinger and Sami Zayn: First, Dillinger couldn’t even make the Rumble match because he was attacked during his turn by Zayn and Kevin Owens. So, not good there. Second, Zayn took his place in the Rumble and had no impact whatsoever. If he made it to the end, or close to it, building a possible win, I could see this as a good move, but it ended up making no sense. There was no point, unless Zayn is going to feud with Dillinger now, and that’s a huge step back for Owens’ best friend.
Dolph Ziggler: He’s returned to action as the No. 30 entrant in the Rumble match, but did next to nothing when he got in the ring. There was no reason for him returning here, no excitement, and it all just fell flat. If he was going to return this quick why did he give up the US title in the first place? It makes no sense.
Bayley: She was eliminated by Sasha Banks to end another unceremonious night of action for the former champion. Maybe a feud now with Banks will revitalize her career.