Almost a year into the realities forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, WWE has become pretty good at putting on pay-per-view cards without fans in the arena. The problem, of course, is that some events are more reliant on hot crowds as essential ingredients than others, and arguably even more than WrestleMania, the Royal Rumble is right at the top of the list. The energy from the now famous countdown chants as each new participant in a Rumble match enters the fray is unique in professional wrestling, and without it, the 2021 edition from the current location of the WWE ThunderDome, Tropicana Field in Tampa, was missing a little something.
The talent worked as hard as ever, and WWE personnel added some piped in countdowns to the broadcast — fairly quiet when the Women’s Rumble began, then louder for the men’s version that served as the main event on Sunday. But it simply didn’t feel like a Rumble usually does, which was a big reason the show felt fine but not particularly memorable.
It’s a fair question whether live fans would have been upset about certain aspects of the Men’s Rumble Match anyway. Not only were there few surprise entrants (apologies to anyone thinking John Cena, or, and there are still apparently some of you out there, CM Punk), but the sentimental favorite, Daniel Bryan, didn’t figure into the match’s finish. The betting favorite going into the night, Bryan’s comments about how he had few WrestleMania moments left in his career certainly had many fans thinking he would emerge the winner, but instead he was unceremoniously dumped to the floor by a returning Seth Rollins, falling short of even making the final four — or five, as it turned out.
Instead, the spotlight shined brightest on Edge, who entered the match from the No. 1 spot and immediately got sucked into a protracted scrap with old enemy turned friend turned enemy again, Randy Orton. After the Rated R Superstar did a number on his knee outside the ring, Orton was helped to the back, and was shown receiving treatment in one of the more obvious “this wrestler was never eliminated and is definitely coming back at the end” bits of foreshadowing in recent memory.
Edge got a boost from the entrance of his running buddy Christian, and the Canadian duo held out to find themselves facing off with Rollins and Braun Strowman, both fresh as the final two entrants. As Edge and Christian united to work on the giant Strowman, Rollins provided the extra bit of strength they needed, though Christian also ended up tumbling to elimination. Seconds later, Rollins followed, but Edge barely had time to sell the idea he may have won before Orton reemerged with the very definition of an RKO out of nowhere.
Yet Edge persevered and sent Orton over the top as well, winning himself a title match at WrestleMania. As both Roman Reigns and Drew McIntyre retained their titles earlier in the night, those are his options for now, and if nothing else, the idea that Edge may have fewer chances left than Bryan does make him a logical choice this year.
For those seeking new blood instead of last chances for icons, the Women’s Rumble Match should have scratched that itch. Eternal contender Charlotte Flair was one of the final four wrestlers standing, and it was at least a mild surprise that she ended up out on the floor before the last elimination. Rhea Ripley and Bianca Belair fought for the honor instead, with Belair prevailing to cap off an impressive performance that saw her enter third and last just short of an hour in the ring.
Belair’s genuine show of emotion during her post-victory interview was the scene from this particular Royal Rumble likely to have the best shot at sticking in the collective memory of WWE fans, and her win already appears very popular behind the scenes as well if social media is an accurate indication of locker room sentiment. Call it a good night for both veterans and rising stars, even if fans in the stands instead of LED screens would have made it that much better.
The next WWE pay-per-view is Elimination Chamber on Feb. 21.
ROYAL RUMBLE KICKOFF SHOW
You know what tradition is almost as old as the Royal Rumble itself? Nick’s commentary appearing in regular type while Dale’s musings are in italics.
Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler (challengers) vs. Asuka and Charlotte Flair (champions) – WWE Women’s Tag Team Title Championship Match
Asuka and Charlotte are working like a well-oiled machine to start the match. Nia almost traps Asuka in the corner, but the empress of tomorrow is able to power bomb Jax. With some help from Baszler, Jax hits Asuka with a sit out powerbomb and covers. Flair makes the save and then makes the tag. She hits Shayna with a back breaker and then fights off Nia. Charlotte hits both opponents with Natural Selection and the same time, but can’t get the pin. Jax get Flair up and Shayna makes a blind tag. Jax with a Samoan Drop, but Baszler is legal. She connects with a knee strike, but can’t get the pin. On the floor, Asuka takes out Jax, only to have Baszler toss her over the announce table. Flair goes up top, wiping out Baszler and Jax with a moonsault. She rolls Shayna into the ring, only to have her dad walk out on stage. Baszler nearly gets a pin off the distraction. Flair with a big boot, as Lacey Evan leaps to the apron. Flair locks in the Figure Eight, only to have Lacey hit her with the Women’s Right. Nia Jax takes advantage, making the pin.
Winner … and new WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions: Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler by pinfall
ROYAL RUMBLE MAIN CARD
Goldberg (challenger) vs. Drew McIntyre (champion) – WWE Championship Match
If McIntyre leaves his sword in the stage and I go pull it out, do I become the champion? As they stare each other down, one can only notice how much shorter Goldberg is. I’m not telling him that, though. A headbutt and a spear before the bell gets things started for the champ, but Goldberg fires right back with a spear through the barricade on the outside. The match finally begins, which could still mean the official match time will be short. McIntyre hits a Claymore only to see Goldberg kick out, then returns the favor after a pair of spears. He also kicks out of a Jackhammer, so all the finishers have already been unloaded. A second Claymore finishes the job for McIntyre, so Goldberg can leave before the card is even over. There’s a brief question of whether the two men will shake hands or trade blows after the bell, but it turns out to be the former.
Winner … and still WWE Champion … Drew McIntyre by pinfall
Rating: 2 out of 5
Asked if the deck is stacked against her tonight, Sasha Banks says she’s looking forward to drinking the finest champagne made from Carmella’s tears. You don’t need to be a sommelier to know that’s probably not going to taste great.
Carmella (challenger) vs. Sasha Banks (champion) – WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship Match
Banks immediately goes for the Banks Statement. Carmella blocks it and rolls to the floor. A big slap sends Carmella to one knee. Reginald tries to interfere, so Sasha send hm face first into the apron. It’s enough to allow Carmella to gain the upper hand. Banks is smashed into the turnbuckle. Sasha with a meteora off the top turnbuckle. Carmella ties Banks to the ropes by her hair and puts the boots to her. Carmella tosses Sasha out of the ring, with Reginald inadvertently catching her. Sasha makes him pay, as the ref sends him to the back. Carmella hits a suicide dive, but she can’t get the three count back in the ring. Carmella is furious that the ref sent Reginald to the back. Banks hits a suplex and goes up top. Carmella blocks the frog splash with her knees and locks in the Code of Silence. Banks breaks free, hitting a sliding knee. Sasha jumps into a kick, but is able to kick out of the pin. Sasha is able to catch Carmella with the Banks Statement and she taps out.
Winner … and still Smackdown Women’s Champion … : Sasha Banks by submission
Match rating: 3 out of 5
Big E is good at pep talks, psyching up Xavier Woods. Sami Zayn is less enthusiastic, wondering if the New Day buddies would be gifted cushy spots in the Rumble tonight. He boasts of having eyes in the back of his head but still gets surprised by the arrival of Kofi Kingston. He’s not medically cleared to compete but wouldn’t let that stop him from wearing his sick gear or supporting his teammates.
In a rare case of WWE not even having to stretch too far to include a musical guest in one of its pay-per-views, Bad Bunny performs the song “Booker T” with the WWE Hall of Famer standing on stage — possibly wearing his G.I. Bro outfit, as Michael Cole notes.
Women’s Royal Rumble Match
All superstars are listed by their entrance number. All times are approximate.
- Bayley eliminated by Bianca Belair lasting 29 min 33 sec
- Naomi eliminated by Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler lasting 47 min 43 sec
- Bianca Belair; your 2021 Royal Rumble Match WINNER lasting 56 min 50 sec
- Billie Kay eliminated by the Riott Squad lasting 8 min 11 sec
- Shotzi Blackheart eliminated by Shayna Baszler lasting 3 min 43 sec
- Shayna Baszler eliminated by Nia Jax lasting 17 min 44 sec
- Toni Storm eliminated by Rhea Ripley lasting 11 min 22 sec
- Jillian Hall eliminated by Billie Kay lasting 8 min 2 sec
- Ruby Riott eliminated by Bayley lasting 10 min 50 sec
- Victoria eliminated by Shayna Baszler lasting 7 min 16 sec
- Peyton Royce eliminated by Charlotte Flair lasting 13 min 38 sec
- Santana Garrett eliminated by Rhea Ripley lasting 4 min 32 sec
- Liv Morgan eliminated by Peyton Royce lasting 6 min 35 sec
- Rhea Ripley eliminated by Bianca Belair lasting 38 min 57 sec
- Charlotte Flair eliminated by Rhea Ripley and Bianca Belair lasting 33 min 48 sec
- Dana Brooke eliminated by Rhea Ripley lasting 2 min 52 sec
- Torrie Wilson eliminated by Shayna Baszler lasting 3 min 50 sec
- Lacey Evans eliminated by Shayna Baszler lasting 19 min 19 sec
- Mickie James eliminated by Lacey Evans lasting 7 min 10 sec
- Nikki Cross eliminated by Carmella lasting 7 min 38 sec
- Alicia Fox eliminated by Mandy Rose lasting 1 min 35 sec
- Mandy Rose eliminated by Rhea Ripley lasting 3 min 54 sec
- Dakota Kai eliminated by Rhea Ripley lasting 1 min 47 sec
- Carmella eliminated by Rhea Ripley lasting 1 min 2 sec
- Tamina eliminated by Shayna Bazler and Nia Jax lasting 8 min 30 sec
- Lana eliminated by Natalya lasting 10 min 1 sec
- Alexa Bliss eliminated by Rhea Ripley lasting 1 min
- Ember Moon eliminated by Nia Jax lasting 1 min 49 sec
- Nia Jax eliminated by Lana lasting 2 min 43 sec
- Natalya eliminated by Bianca Belair lasting 1 min 59 sec
Most eliminations: Rhea Ripley 7
Longest time in match: Bianca Belair 56 min 50 sec with 4 eliminations
Shortest time in match: Alexa Bliss 1 minute
The “Ember Moon” Award for most time in without an elimination: Naomi at 47 min 43 sec
Match length: 58 min 46 sec
Billie Kay decides to join the announcers instead of getting in the ring right away, perhaps looking for someone to give her autographed photos to since there are no fans in attendance. Ah, got it, she’s looking for a partner before she enters the fray. The first surprise entrant is Jillian Hall at No. 8, and her singing hasn’t gotten any better over time. She is surprisingly up for teaming with Billie, however. … Two-time former champion Victoria makes her return at No. 10. … Billie eventually turns on Jillian, eliminating her, but is quickly eliminated in her own right. … Torrie Wilson enters the Rumble at No. 17. … Dana Brooke suffers perhaps the most painful elimination of the night, getting powerbombed on the apron by Rhea Ripley. … Ric Flair escorts Lacey Evans down the ramp. An enraged Charlotte goes after her on the outside. … After Alicia Fox makes her way in at No. 21, R-Truth climbs into the ring, pursued by challengers for his 24/7 title. Fox pins him and claims the gold. … Alas, after Fox is thrown out by Mandy Rose, Truth rolls her up and pins her to reclaim his belt. … Naomi is thrown over the top rope to the floor but lands on her back and isn’t out as her feet don’t touch the ground. Together, she and Bianca Belair manage to get back into the match without seeing their nights end. … Naomi’s long run from the No. 2 spot ends at just over 47 minutes. … Lana makes an unlikely elimination, dumping Nia Jax out right before Natalya is the final entrant. … An angry Nia and Baszler re-enter the ring, do some damage, then leave. … The final four is Belair, Rhipley, Charlotte and Natalya, but the real showdown comes after Nattie is thrown out and we are down to three. … Belair shows some real emotion when getting interviewed in the ring after her win, tearing up a bit before doing the obligatory point at the WrestleMania sign.
Miz and John Morrison drop by Bad Bunny’s locker room to offer him the chance to “merge brands” with them. When he declines, they start dissing Booker T, who of course shows up behind them and gets them to change their tune a bit.
Peter Rosenberg sees his chance for glory and takes it, hitting Truth with a low blow and pinning him for the 24/7 championship.
Kevin Owens (challenger) vs. Roman Reigns (champion) – WWE Universal Championship Last Man Standing Match
Reigns lands a quick Superman Punch, but that’s not going to be a match-ender with this stipulation, nor is KO’s Popup Powerbomb. The champ uses the steel steps as a weapon as the battle heads toward the screens beyond the barricade, and the LED boards meet Reigns up close and personal. We really get a good look at how the screens are arranged in tiers, with both men battering each other on the way further and further up into the risers. They aren’t quite at the top but fairly close when Reigns hurls Owens off the edge and down through a table. As KO staggers into the back part of the stadium, Reigns hits him with a golf cart, shattering the windshield in the process. Digging down deep for a rally, Owens smashes Reigns down on a table then drives him through it by leaping off a nearby crate. Placing the champ on another table, KO raises a forklift to its highest level and hits a somersault splash. That’s not enough to end the match, so Reigns rallies by spearing Owens through one of the larger LED panels out near the stage. The ref counts but Owens manages to roll off the stage at nine and land on his feet. Reigns grabs a pair of handcuffs, though Owens is able to fend off the champ and avoid whatever he had planned. The cuffs get used on Roman, fastening him to a lighting stanchion, so he has to slam the referee into the lights to stop the count. He also low blows Ownes, and while a second referee arrives, Paul Heyman hustles over with a key to the cuffs. It takes forever for him to unlock the cuffs, leading to an awkward time where the ref just has to stop his count and the announcers try to justify his “lateral movement” as the reason. Sure, OK. In any case, Reigns is eventually freed, using a guillotine to choke out KO and render him unable to answer the second ref’s suddenly timely count. Good fun until the finish.
Winner … and still WWE Universal Champion … Roman Reigns
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
All superstars are listed by their entrance number. All times are approximate.
- Edge; your 2021 Royal Rumble Match WINNER lasting 58 min 27 sec
- Randy Orton eliminated by Edge lasting 58 min 27 sec
- Sami Zayn eliminated by Big E and Xavier Woods lasting 13 min 3 sec
- Mustafa Ali eliminated by Big E last 13 min 18 sec
- Jeff Hard eliminated by Dolph Ziggler lasting 3 min 25 sec
- Dolph Ziggler eliminated by Kane lasting 20 min 30 sec
- Shinsuke Nakamura eliminated by King Corbin lasting 22 min
- Carlito eliminated by Elias lasting 8 min 26 sec
- Xavier Woods eliminated by Mustafa Ali lasting 3 min 43 sec
- Big E eliminated by Omos lasting 30 min 2 sec
- John Morrison eliminated by Damien Priest lasting 8 min 15 sec
- Ricochet eliminated by Kane lasting 11 min 26 sec
- Elias eliminated by Damien Priest lasting 2 min 33 sec
- Damien Priest eliminated by Bobby Lashley lasting 15 min 35 sec
- The Miz eliminated by Damien Priest lasting 1 min 2 sec
- Riddle eliminated by Seth Rollins lasting 31 min 17 sec
- Daniel Bryan eliminated by Seth Rollins lasting 28 min 50 sec
- Kane eliminated by Damien Priest lasting 1 min 52 sec
- King Corbin eliminated by Dominik Mysterio lasting 3 min 34 sec
- Otis eliminated by King Corbin lasting 53 sec
- Dominik Mysterio eliminated by Lashley lasting 2 min 2 sec
- Bobby Lashley eliminated by a group effort lasting 4 min 3 sec
- The Hurricane eliminated by Bobby Lashley and Big E lasting 31 sec
- Christian eliminated by Seth Rollins lasting 18 min 16 sec
- AJ Styles eliminated by Brawn Strowman lasting 10 min 37 sec
- Rey Mysterio eliminated by Omos lasting 3 min 47 sec
- Sheamus eliminated by Brawn Strowman lasting 5 min 55 sec
- Cesaro eliminated by Brawn Strowman lasting 4 min 10 sec
- Seth Rollins eliminated by Edge lasting 8 min 38 sec
- Brawn Strowman eliminated by Edge, Christian and Seth Rollins lasting 7 min 24 sec
Most eliminations: Damien Priest with 4
Longest time in match: Edge 58 min 27 sec (Randy Orton was in the trainer’s room for most of the match or he would be tied)
Shortest time in match: The Hurricane at 31 sec
The “John Morrison” Award for most time in without an elimination: Riddle at 31 min 17 sec
Match length: 58 min 27 sec
Edge wants to get right after Randy Orton, and since they are conveniently the first two men in, they fight on the outside both before and after the opening bell. Edge DDTs Orton on the announce table a few minutes later, but it doesn’t break. … The first surprise entrant is Carlito at No. 8. … After Edge attacks his knee with a steel chair, Orton is escorted to the back and spends some quality time with an ice pack on the trainer’s table. You know, just like everyone always does in the middle of the Rumble match. … Miz attacks the equipment of Bad Bunny’s DJ on his way in. That leads to Bunny taking to the air, going off the top turnbuckle on Miz and Morrison. … Old tag team partners Bryan and Kane embrace, but Kane quickly ends that moment with a chokeslam. … Hurricane Helms enters at No. 23, but the only super moment he gets is flying to the floor thanks to Lashley and Big E. … Edge gets some assistance at No. 24 in the form of Christian. He aids a phalanx of faces in eliminating Lashley. … Seth Rollins makes his return as No 29. … Bryan and Riddle have an extended showdown that includes exchanges of submission holds, though they of course can’t eliminate each other with those. … It appears the final four are Strowman, Rollins, Edge and Christian, but Orton’s potential return is lurking. … Both Christian and Strowman get thrown out in one fell swoop, followed quickly by Rollins. Orton makes his return to hit an RKO on Edge, but the Rated R Superstar survives and wins.
Total Event Time: 3 hours and 50 minutes
Event Rating: 3 out of 5
Since Nick Tylwalk and Dale Plummer aren’t getting any younger, they’re especially grateful that this Royal Rumble managed to end in less than four hours. Marathon shows are tougher as the years pile up.
WWE Royal Rumble 2021 - January 31, 2021
WWE ThunderDome at Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL
Though it will remain a can’t-miss event for as long as WWE exists, the Royal Rumble has a special connection to a live crowd that has become woven into its DNA, and it showed this year with fans absent. Hopefully, this will be the only Rumble to ever happen without them, and if anything, next year’s event should be an exciting return to form.