The WWE presented its first major event of the year, the Royal Rumble, on January 27, 2019, from Chase Field, in Phoenix, Arizona. The excitement permeated throughout the stadium, as fans anticipated a night full of action. The Smackdown Women’s Championship set the tone for the rest of the evening.

The champion Asuka was challenged by Becky Lynch. Both women displayed toughness, grit, determination and the will to win. One of the big highlights of the match showcased the two wrestlers positioning themselves on the top rope. Becky hit the Bexploder suplex from the top, and both women came crashing down to the mat. As a viewer at home, it was a sight to behold. The fans gave that move a loud ovation. The match concluded when Asuka applied the Asuka Lock submission and flipped herself over. Becky could not handle the extra pain and pressure, and tapped out. What disappointment she felt and displayed. But, her night was far from over.

Sasha Banks challenged Ronda Rousey for the Raw Women’s title. Deep intensity shone from both wrestlers, and the crowd grew more engrossed with each move. Trash talking added to the drama of the match. When Sasha applied the Banks Statement submission on Ronda the champion forced the break, as she reached the ropes. In my opinion, if Ronda had not done that, she may have capitulated and suffered her first singles loss in the WWE. There also would have been a new champion.

The end came after Ronda escaped an armbar submission attempt from the challenger. The champion utilized her gutwrench slam. She then got to her feet, with the challenger on her shoulders, and performed her finisher, Piper’s Pit for the win. In the post-match, the two women showed respect toward each other. A defeated Sasha watched Ronda exit the ring, and embrace her husband, Sasha then walked to up to the champion, shook her hand, and raised four fingers in the air. The four-finger salute is in reference to the WWE version of the Four Horsewomen. Hopefully, that is a tease for a potential match between the Horsewomen factions. It appears that Ronda will walk into Wrestlemania 35 as the Raw Women’s Champion. But, who will she face at that event?

The Women’s Royal Rumble match was full of action and drama. Lacey Evans and Natalya were the first two entrants. I thought the WWE made a great move here. If you are going to have a relatively unknown superstar begin a match like this, why not have her work with a veteran like Natalya, even if it is only for a few minutes. In my opinion, one of the stunning occurrences was that Natalya lasted almost an hour. A few surprise names entered the Rumble at different intervals – all from the NXT brand. Xia Li, Kairi Sane, Candice Lerae, Io Shirai, Rhea Ripley and Kacy Catanzaro performed at a very high level, displaying their endurance and skills when they participated.

The most significant moment occurred at number 28, where Lana was supposed to enter. Because of an injury which occurred in the pre-show, she had no alternative but to step aside. She tried to make her way to the ring a few times, but could not walk. The final two participants made their way into the fray, but number 28 appeared vacant. Fans chanted for Becky Lynch. Becky walked out, and stopped at the entrance ramp where officials were tending to Lana. Lynch tried to convince them to let her enter. After much prying on her part, one of the officials Fit Finlay, approved. Number 28, ended up being Becky Lynch, and the fans erupted in loud cheers.

The Rumble came down to Bayley, Nia Jax, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. Once Bayley was ousted, things became a little interesting. Charlotte and Becky eliminated Nia. That upset Jax who attacked Becky outside the ring, damaging the latter’s knee. Charlotte, thrilled with what transpired, demanded she be declared the winner since it looked like Becky could not compete. That did not happen. After what seemed like an eternity trying to convince the referees she could still fight, she re-entered the battle. Intense action followed and Becky eliminated Charlotte to win the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. She revealed the next night on Raw that she would face Ronda Rousey at Wrestlemania.

The final event of the night featured the 30-man Royal Rumble match. The first surprise surfaced really early, when the second participant, WWE Hall of Famer, Jeff Jarrett entered to huge ovation. Kurt Angle came in at number 4. Those two were eliminated by Elias and Shinsuke Nakamura respectively. The rest of the match focused on the present and the future.

Johnny Gargano, Pete Dunne and Aleister Black entered the Rumble match at separate times and all three performed admirably. Gargano even had a confrontation with Seth Rollins. The fans enjoyed the brief exchange. I am sure that both these wrestlers can put on a classic match, if given the opportunity in the future. Mustafa Ali entered at number 13, and performed very well. He attacked Samoa Joe very early, and then turned his attention to Nakamura. Surprisingly, he ousted Shinsuke. The final entrant should have been R-truth, but Nia Jax attacked him on the entrance ramp. As a result, she became the last participant. She also became the fifth woman in the event’s thirty two year history to compete in the men’s Rumble match. It took a while for the men in the ring to figure out how to attack her. Nia eliminated Mustafa Ali. Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio and Dolph Ziggler worked together to oust Nia. With Jax gone, Orton threw Mysterio out of the match and Andrade provided the same treatment to Randy.

The four remaining competitors were Andrade, Dolph, Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman. Braun eliminated Andrade easily. He attempted to oust both Rollins and Dolph. Seth held on to the rope long enough to re-enter, but Dolph did not. It all came down to Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman. The final elimination occurred when both men were fighting on the ring apron. Seth sent his larger opponent into a ringpost, and delivered a kick, stunning Braun. Seth performed the Curbstomp on the ring apron, causing Strowman to topple to the arena floor.

Seth Rollins won the Rumble and faced the decision of who to battle at Wrestlemania. Like Becky Lynch, he made his choice the night after on Raw by getting into a brawl with the Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar. So, it seems likely that Rollins will face Brock for the Universal title at Wrestlemania.

The 2019 Royal Rumble event proved to be a fun and exciting show. It provided a little bit of direction towards Mania. The major surprise occurred in the second match as Shane McMahon and the Miz defeated Sheamus and Cesaro to become the Smackdown tag team champions. Nobody saw that coming. The Rumble matches were the selling point of the show. What I liked this year was that the company utilized only a couple of names from the past for both Rumbles. The focus proved to be on the present and the future. A good sign indeed! Now sit back and enjoy the road to Wrestlemania.

Azeem Kayum

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