Bianca Belair Wins Best-Ever Women's WWE Royal Rumble Match and More Hot Takes
WWE presented the best women's Royal Rumble yet Sunday, with a collection of engrossing stories and stellar performances culminating with Bianca Belair earning a championship opportunity at WrestleMania 37 in April.
That match headlined an event that left plenty for fans to buzz about in its wake, including Kevin Owens' gutsy performance, his main event prospects moving forward, Goldberg's latest comeback and Edge's victory in the men's Rumble.
Dive deeper into each of those matches and moments with this recap of Sunday's pay-per-view, the first on a winding road to wrestling's most prestigious night.
Drew McIntyre Erases Goldberg's Credibility with Win
With one final Claymore, WWE champion Drew McIntyre fended off Goldberg's threat to his title and confirmed (for now) that he will enter WrestleMania 37 atop the Raw brand.
He also obliterated whatever was left of Goldberg's credibility.
WWE has eaten away at Goldberg's gravitas in recent years.
First was the match against Undertaker that, in hindsight, should not have been booked and, in execution, nearly cost both men their careers. Then there was the wholly meaningless and unnecessary universal title win over "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt that unraveled six months of storytelling and ended with Goldberg eating a powerslam in a squash match loss at last year's WrestleMania.
Sunday's match may have been a heavyweight slugfest consisting of the Hall of Famer's greatest hits, but they are no longer hits when there are only two of them and they have been exhausted.
At this point, Goldberg does two moves, and neither was nearly as seamless as it was even four years ago. He looked every bit his 54 years as he limped away from the ring, an image fans who grew up with his explosive dominance during the Monday Night War do not want to see.
No one wants to equate Goldberg to the aging dad who didn't realize tackle football on Thanksgiving afternoon wasn't the way to go.
They want to remember the badass, the smoke-breathing dragon who tore through WCW and obliterated Hulk Hogan. For fans of this era of WWE, they want to remember the conquering legend who defeated Brock Lesnar in two minutes at the Survivor Series.
The icon who dropped to his knees and struggled out of the ring after his brief battle with McIntyre was not that guy. The aura that captivated audiences and turned him into a household name in the 1990s? That's gone too thanks to too many meaningless losses that did nothing to aid those who dealt them.
WWE must re-evaluate what it is doing with Goldberg. There is still plenty of potential for him to contribute. To do so, he would be best suited to fill a role similar to that of Sting in All Elite Wrestling: the returning icon of a bygone era here to back up the stars of today in their battles.
Not as the slow, aching performer playing one or two out-of-tune hits.
WWE Delivers Bianca Belair Win in Best Women's Royal Rumble Match to Date
A year ago, Charlotte Flair stood in an NXT ring, tasked with elevating both Bianca Belair and Rhea Ripley on the Road to WrestleMania. No one could have known it at that time, but The Queen's work with both women in the weeks that followed would be instrumental in their place in the final three of the 2021 Royal Rumble.
The EST and Nightmare once again joined Flair, this time with a championship opportunity at The Showcase of the Immortals at stake. And they did what they could not just under a year ago: They vanquished wrestling royalty and battled it out for the right to ascend to the top of WWE's women's division.
On this night, Belair bested Ripley, but it was apparent that the future is as bright as it ever has been for women's wrestling. Her win and the exchange that preceded it were just a few of the elements that added up to the best Women's Royal Rumble to date.
There was also Naomi's extraordinary performance, Billie Kay's phenomenal character work, the returns of former women's champions Jillian Hall and Victoria and Lana's redemption over Nia Jax.
Young stars such as Toni Storm, Dakota Kai, Shotzi Blackheart and the underutilized Santana Garrett shone in bursts.
There was the reunion of The IIconics, Kay's loyalty to The Riott Squad and Baszler and Jax again proving their unity extends only to their reign as tag team champions.
The story threads, the fan-favorite spots and the right outcome helped make this year's 30-woman battle the best yet and provides WWE a template for the continued growth and success of that annual contest.
Kevin Owens Earns Sustained Main Event Role with Latest Stellar Performance
Kevin Owens is the type of performer and character who inspires emotional investment. He makes fans care in a way few can. Perhaps that is what has made his latest flirtation with the main event so successful.
Faced with the force that is Roman Reigns, the constant interference of Jey Uso and Paul Heyman and every possible means of cheating, he has continued to fight. He is the tenacious, resilient babyface we deserve.
Sunday should have been a crowning moment for him, but, again, he was undone by Reigns' innate ability to create opportunities and manipulate situations to his advantage. Choked out in a guillotine submission, he went out for the 10-count, allowing The Tribal Chief to retain his title and creating questions about where KO goes from here.
The answer should be simple: nowhere.
Owens has earned a consistent role in the main event scene by way of his superb performances. Whether it was his defiant showing at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs or his heartbreaking loss inside a steel cage on Christmas Day, he has more than proved he can run at the top of the card and convince fans to get behind him.
Now he needs WWE to invest some time and energy in him as a main event attraction and not allow him to lose momentum by shuffling him back into the midcard, where he hosts talk shows when creative has nothing else for him.
He deserves better than that. He has earned better than that.
Edge Win Reflects Lack of Superstar Power on Loaded Roster
Edge winning the Royal Rumble was a great moment for him and another landmark in an improbable return for one of the most beloved stars of this century.
It was also indicative of just how shallow the depth of star power is in WWE.
As the men's edition of the Royal Rumble raged on, rarely did it feel like Edge wasn't going to win. That expectation intensified when Daniel Bryan was sent packing late in the match, leaving The Rated R Superstar with Braun Strowman, Christian and Seth Rollins for a date at WrestleMania.
Even when Randy Orton popped back up for a late RKO, it never felt like Edge was in danger of seeing his storybook ending evaporate.
His return promo on Raw, coupled with the ebbs and flows of Sunday's match, made it apparent that, devoid of another red-hot star to hitch its cart to, WWE would go with the returning Hall of Famer to win the match.
Assuming Edge challenges Drew McIntyre for the WWE title, his win only further illuminates the lack of depth, particularly on the Raw side of things.
That roster is loaded with talented workers, but few of them could be gifted a Rumble win and be taken seriously as a challenger for the top prize in the industry. That is an indictment on WWE Creative that guys like Ricochet, Cedric Alexander, Sheamus, Keith Lee and Riddle are not considered ready for that spot.
Edge's win was fine. It was a great moment and probably the right payoff for his story. It is just a shame that WWE officials again had to turn to a once-retired Superstar to help elevate its WrestleMania card because it could not adequately prepare any number of worthy stars for that position.