A new star was born and an old one was brought back to prominence at the Royal Rumble.
Bianca Belair, 31, turned in one of the better performances in the event’s history, lasting 56 minutes to win from the No. 3 spot — avoiding numerous feet-dangling eliminations at Tropicana Field on Sunday. She is the first African American to win a Royal Rumble since The Rock in 2000. Edge, 41, was the men’s winner and just the third person to do so starting at No. 1. The victory came 11 years to the day of his last Royal Rumble win.
Getting two babyface Rumble winners WWE fans can get behind going into WrestleMania 37 was the highlight of an entertaining night that did lack a surprise that made headlines or a match that stole the show.
Here are five takeaways from the 2021 Royal Rumble:
The finish to the women’s Royal Rumble with Charlotte Flair, Rhea Ripley and Belair was simply incredible, and was exactly what WWE needed to deliver. Flair eliminated Belair from last year’s Rumble and beat Ripley at WrestleMania 36. The three also shared a ring for a segment in NXT a little more than a year ago.
Belair, who earlier in the match saw a returning Naomi use Belair’s braid to stay in the match, and Ripley combined to knock the Queen out. However, WWE’s ever-flipping cameras did miss showing Belair tossing out SmackDown rival Bayley.
To close the match, Belair engaged in a dramatic dance of near eliminations with Ripley. WWE put a lot of faith in two young performers and they delivered beautifully. Belair then delivered a genuinely emotional “I did it” promo after winning.
The best is yet to come for both, starting with Belair likely challenging SmackDown women’s champion Sasha Banks at WrestleMania. Ripley interrupted Alexa Bliss’ Fiend-like transformation, which could lead to a program on Raw.
The coolest surprise entrant was Victoria, who last appeared in a WWE match in the battle royal at WrestleMania XXV in 2009. The most meaningful return was Lana, back for the first time since mid-December. She got revenge on Nia Jax for injuring her in a storyline by eliminating her from the Rumble. Jax had already eliminated tag partner Shayna Baszler. Lana’s former tag partner Natalya, who was dress in similar ring gear, double-crossed Lana and eliminated her. It will be interesting to see if this goes anywhere as Jax and Baszler need new opponents for their tag team championships.
Billie Kay is an absolute gem and stole the show in the early portion of this match. The returning Jillian Hall finally agreed to be her Royal Rumble “partner.” Kay then annoyed The Riott Squad, who she had been working with on Raw, by going into her IIconics routine with former partner Peyton Royce. Ruby Riott and Liv Morgan eventually threw Kay out. It was also good to see Mickie James back, but she was still referred to as a “legend”
Back on Top
Edge, back from a torn triceps, concluded his unfinished business with Randy Orton and put himself in a position to claim his 12th world championship. Say what you want about WWE putting over a past star in Edge who doesn’t need to win to land a big match at WrestleMania, but it did provide a great moment. It also comes with the potential of facing Drew McIntryre for the WWE title is a big box office match WrestleMania is made for. Sure you could have him pick Roman Reigns, but he might be better suited to face an Elimination Chamber-winning Daniel Bryan.
Edge and Orton started the Rumble match and were the last two standing. The Viper showed up out of nowhere for an RKO after Edge forced him into the trainer’s room in the back thanks to a chair shot to the leg early on. Edge was able to reverse Orton’s attempt to throw him out to win. To make it an even cooler night for Edge, best friend Christian entered at No. 24 for his first “sanctioned” WWE match since 2014. Imagine the pop if there were fans.
The most notable return was Seth Rollins at No. 29, still using “The Messiah” gimmick. He may have made an enemy by eliminating Bryan. As far as surprises, we got Carlito (which was cool) and The Hurricane (which is starting to get old). This match felt lacking in big moments, though seeing Big E get in the face of A.J. Styles’ 7-foot-3 bodyguard Jordan Omogbehin after he pulled him over the top rope certainly got the fantasy booking juices going. There was no sign of “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt.
Hammering it Home
While plenty of people will claim Goldberg had no business being in a WWE championship match with Drew McIntrye, WWE got exactly what it needed out of the Hall of Famer. They doubled the time of the match — five minutes plus from when both men got in the ring — by having them beat each other up on the outside before the bell. That included Goldberg spearing McIntyre through the barricade.
Once things officially got underway, the champion kicked out of two spears and a jackhammer, to Goldberg’s disbelief. It took two Claymores to finally put down the two-time Universal champion. Their night ended with an exhausted Goldberg raising the hand of McIntyre, who gained his respect and the rub of beating a legend. “You passed the test,” Goldberg told him. McIntrye’s night ended there as The Miz never tried to cash in his Money in the Bank contract.
Reigns of Terror
The third time was not the charm for Kevin Owens against Reigns. Owens now finds himself firmly in the upper mid-card, but can be pulled to the top of the card if needed. It may be a while before we see him sit atop the company again. The match itself was as physical as you’d expected and filled with big spots. The finish did end up being a little wonky.
Owens handcuffed Reigns to a piece of the set. And when it looked like Reigns could not get to his feet before 10, he threw the referee into the staging. It took Paul Heyman an awkwardly long amount of time to get the handcuffs off. The sub ref stopped his count at five and signaled as if Reigns got to his feet though he clearly was not. When the camera returned Reigns did get his footing. Once he got free he immediately grabbed a dazed Owens and put him to sleep in the guillotine submission to retain.
Owens, who Reigns ran over with a golf cart Sammy Guevara style, will really jump off of or get thrown off anything. Look out, Raymond James Stadium pirate ship. Reigns tossed him off the second layer of ThunderDome TV staging through a table and Owens delivered a senton from a forklift onto the Tribal Chief through a table. K.O. may not win, but he never fails to entertain.
The Boss and The Queen
We really are seeing the best of Sasha Banks. Her Louis Vuitton-themed ring attire stole the fashion show of the Royal Rumble. It’s that individuality and confidence that helps her ooze star power.
She and Carmella had a solid match for the SmackDown women’s championship. Banks did get to beat up Carmella’s assistant Reginald a little on the outside. In the end, she was able to get out Carmella’s Cone of Silence submission finisher (if you are not over in WWE, your finisher doesn’t work on anyone who is over) and kick out after a superkick. As Carmella dragged her across the ring, Banks was able to slap on the Banks Statement and get the win.
It was also an interesting night for her fellow Four Horsewoman. Flair’s feud with Lacey Evans and father Ric continued. Ric gave Evans brass knuckles to hit Charlotte with and cost her and Asuka the women’s tag team championship against Jax and Baszler on the kickoff show. Evans then showed up again with Ric and wearing his robe to enter the Royal Rumble. While this all seems silly, it could help Charlotte as a babyface long term because you feel bad that this is the creative she is getting right now.
Rapper Bad Bunny, there to perform his song “Booker T,” also jumped off the top rope onto The Miz and John Morrison during the men’s Rumble match.
It’s likely Becky Lynch was backstage at the Royal Rumble with Rollins, her husband, returning. The Man tweeted a picture of the red curtain leading out of Gorilla Position and sent social media into a bit of a frenzy.
The New Day’s ring attire paid tribute to friend Brodie Lee — Luke Harper in WWE — who died of a lung ailment at the age of 41 last month.
Best match: Women’s Royal Rumble
Biggest Winner: Bianca Belair
Biggest Loser: Kevin Owens
Best surprise entrants: Christian and Victoria