Naomi Ready to Glow at WWE Royal Rumble, Mixed Match Challenge

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterJanuary 24, 2018


Naomi's ring entrance is a scene of concentrated fun.

Colors pop—pink, blue and neon green. Electronic music pulses. She strides out of the curtains in a glowing, technicolor robe and bounces to the beat.

One of the most athletic performers on WWE's roster looks as if she were pulled from a future Tron sequel.

Naomi's energy carries over from that entrance to between the ropes, where she springs around, making a split-legged moonsault or a diving crossbody look effortless. The former SmackDown Live women's champion is a charming babyface who brings a boisterous vibe to the screen.

Normally, she shines on SmackDown, but she is poised to do so in a new environment: the Royal Rumble match. Sunday's pay-per-view will mark the first time in history WWE will feature an all-women version of its annual Battle Royal.

It didn't take long before that clash had Naomi's imprint on it. She was the first woman to declare herself for the bout.

Fans were thrilled when Raw commissioner Stephanie McMahon announced the match in December, and so was the former Orlando Magic dancer.

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"Oh, man—I was stoked," Naomi told Bleacher Report about hearing the news. "I was going crazy. I was jumping up and down. I was overwhelmed with joy."

She has plenty to be excited about as 2018 gets rolling. She is set to team with her husband, Jimmy Uso, for the Mixed Match Challenge tournament, potentially face an old foe on a grand stage and add more trophies to her mantle.


Ready to Rumble

The last time the women's division made history, Naomi had to stand on the sidelines. She was the SmackDown women's champ when Carmella, Natalya and others collided in the first women's Money in the Bank ladder match.

While the reason she didn't participate was positive, she still feels as though she missed out. That's a part of why competing in the Royal Rumble match is going to be so special for her.

"I get to be a part of history," Naomi said. "I get to be a part of the first, to be in the ring with so many awesome women—women I've admired."

With 30 spots to the fill, WWE is sure to bring in surprise names and familiar faces. Naomi doesn't know what special guests the company will welcome that night, but "that's part of the excitement," she explained.

Naomi has been in Battle Royals before. But this is different. This is no novelty bout wherein she and her opponents will be decked out in costumes, as they were in 2014 for the Santa's Helper Battle Royal.

There is also the fact she will be facing fresh foes. Anyone from Trish Stratus to Michelle McCool may show up.

"I was in there with women I've worked with a million times before, women I know," Naomi said of her previous Battle Royals. This time around, surprises await. 

"You can't prepare for the unexpected or the unknown," she noted about her approach for the Rumble. "I just have to watch my back and be on my A-game."

Looking back at past versions of this match, the 30-year-old named Kofi Kingston as one of her favorite acts to watch. The New Day member has made a name for himself as the Royal Rumble's resident escape artist—in 2012, he memorably staved off elimination with a handstand.

"Kofi always does something amazing to wow the crowd," Naomi said of Kingston's eye-popping stunts. "He's so crafty. I don't know how he does it."

She will soon get her chance to turn heads in the match Kingston has made his personal playground.


Tag Team Partner for Life

WWE's Mixed Match Challenge is set to bring together some strange duos, from Alexa Bliss and Braun Strowman to Asuka and The Miz. Naomi's partner for the tournament, meanwhile, is more of an obvious fit. Her husband, Jimmy Uso, will fight by her side.

Naomi is confident about her and the SmackDown tag champ's chances, saying: "I think we have this competition in the bag. No one has the chemistry John and I [do]. We've been doing this now together for eight years. Side by side, week in and week out. We know what each other is thinking without saying it."

During the fourth week of the competition, she and her husband will face Goldust and Alicia Fox in a first-round tilt.

Naomi and Jimmy have longed workshopped their in-ring performances with each other. The process of honing their craft doesn't stop when the final bell rings. The couple often trade ideas, critiques and support.

Jimmy Uso and Naomi will be one of two husband-and-wife teams at the Mixed Match Challenge.
Jimmy Uso and Naomi will be one of two husband-and-wife teams at the Mixed Match Challenge.Credit:

"We're very in tune with work and with what each of us is doing," she explained.

She studies his matches and tries to soak up as much as she can from the high-flyer. The process has worked. She credits him for helping to elevate her game.

"My presence, my speaking, my speed—I've improved and am where I am now because of him," she said.


Next Up

Should Naomi outlast Asuka, Bliss and the rest of the competition Sunday, she will earn a crack at Charlotte Flair for the SmackDown Women's Championship at WrestleMania. That showdown would allow those two to dive back into a rivalry that never reached its apex.

The Money in the Bank ladder match build and the formation of The Welcoming Committee took their narrative on a detour. Things feel unfinished for the Florida native as a result.

"I never got to face Charlotte how I wanted to," Naomi said. "I feel like I haven't even touched the tip of the iceberg with Charlotte."

If she can't reclaim the title The Queen holds, though, perhaps another prize awaits. There is increasing talk among fans about wanting to see the women's division get its own Tag Team Championship. That possibility excites Naomi.

"I think that would be awesome," she said. "That is something we haven't done yet, something we haven't achieved as women. It's a great way to get us more involved on the show, get more storylines and get more girls on the road and working."

She feels she would be ready to take on that challenge should WWE institute those titles.

"Being married to one of the best tag team champions ever, I think I would have all the help and support I need," Naomi said.

Those potential new titles are just one item on a lengthy career checklist.

Naomi celebrates winning the SmackDown Women's Championship at WrestleMania 33.
Naomi celebrates winning the SmackDown Women's Championship at WrestleMania 33.Credit:

On what she would like to accomplish in the coming years, she said: "Being tag team champion if we get the tag titles, holding the Raw Women's Championship, obviously having a singles match at WrestleMania and, if we ever get the opportunity, being a part of a main event at WrestleMania."

More generally, she's looking to stay healthy and continue to contribute to the women's division. 

She will likely have ample opportunity to do the latter. She's only 30, and her stock is headed in the right direction. Count on WWE programming featuring a good supply of neon moving forward.

"There's still a lot of work around here for me to do before I'm done and hang up my glow boots," Naomi laughed.


Royal Rumble 2018 will air on WWE Network Sunday, starting at 7 p.m. ET. WWE Mixed Match Challenge airs on Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on Facebook Watch.


Ryan Dilbert is a WWE Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. You can find him on Twitter @ryandilbert.