The Highs and Lows of Attending the 2022 WWE Royal Rumble in Person

Philip LindseyContributor IIJanuary 31, 2022

Photo credit: WWE.com

Royal Rumble 2022 is officially in the books. As such, this year’s winners, Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar, are on pace to face the champion of their choice at WrestleMania 38. However, the relatively short card didn’t quite live up to expectations on a fairly underwhelming night.

Maybe we gave WWE too much credit this time around. After all, we predicted that this year’s Royal Rumble would be the best in recent memory. That may have seemed like a lofty guess, but the company has historically delivered with its back against the wall. The concise match card also came with so much potential to overachieve.

The Rumble took place in front of a live audience for the first time in two years, which added anticipation to an event that caters to crowd participation. 44,390 fans filed into The Dome at America's Center in St. Louis prepared to be a part of an unforgettable night. Instead, they were treated to a show that started on a high note, stumbled, and never quite found its second wind

WWE’s Tried and True Concept Delivers the Same Old Same Old

Seth Rollins was the MVP of Royal Rumble 2022. The Visionary continued to play mind games and effectively won the crowd over as he entered through section 112 to the Shield’s iconic theme song.

If there was any lingering doubt that the challenger could turn face, his performance against Roman Reigns on Saturday definitively put them to rest. The 35-year-old was clicking on all cylinders in the opening contest. We all know that he is a phenomenal in-ring competitor, but his character work made this match so much more entertaining.

Rollins vs. Reigns was easily the best match of the night. However, it ultimately ended with an anticlimactic DQ finish as The Tribal Chief refused to release the guillotine choke when the challenger made it to the rope.

Yes, two of the top stars of their generation told a great story, and the ending was a serviceable way to keep it going. Regardless, it was an odd decision to start the Royal Rumble in front of a packed crowd with an inconclusive outcome. It’s hard to even get excited for where this will lead because WWE has made it clear that Lesnar is still the Samoan superstar’s intended opponent for WrestleMania.

This high-profile matchup proved its worth, but it suffered for the same reasons many of the universal title feuds did in the second half of 2021. The long-term destination is set in stone so no one other than Reigns and Lesnar feel like a priority. This issue also bogged down the WWE title picture at Day 1, and it became abundantly clear again Saturday night as their storyline dominated the card.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you have been enjoying this long-running feud, but it felt like too much of a retread for anyone hoping for something new. Honestly, this could summarize the entire show as WWE heavily relied on nostalgia, which isn’t a surprise because that’s a part of the appeal of Royal Rumble.

The annual “Big Four” pay-per-view attracts new and old fans making us all reminisce on childhood memories. Still, this overreliance on the past and the same handful of stars hindered this iteration. Nostalgia wasn’t used in a way to accentuate a new crop of wrestlers or give us hope for what 2022 would bring. To that end, this show felt largely unimaginative and predictable.

Mistakes from 2021 Haunt the 1st Major Show of the Year

No one else in professional wrestling can duplicate the spectacle that WWE has become famous for. The company’s high production value is still one of its greatest strengths, but it wasn’t enough to cover for its biggest mistakes from last year.

This couldn’t have been any more obvious during the 2022 women’s Royal Rumble match. The 30-women battle royal created a buzz with a collection of stars from different eras, but it struggled because of a lack of current superstars who could believably win.

The women’s roster is noticeably thin following the round of releases from 2021. WWE attempted to fill the void as best as it could, but it certainly would have used the likes of Asuka, Bayley, or Io Shirai. Many of the aforementioned cuts who are thriving elsewhere or preparing to enter free agency would’ve been helpful as well.

Still, there were some highlights for longtime fans. Sasha Banks entered as the first participant dressed as Sailor Moon. The 30-year-old shined in her second Royal Rumble appearance, so much so that her star power was sorely missed after Queen Zelina surprisingly eliminated her early on.

Many of the returns offered fun moments like Nikki A.S.H ejecting Mighty Molly, Ivory’s Right to Censor tirade or Alicia Fox’s short-lived reunion with The Bella Twins. Mickie James’ triumphant return as Impact Knockouts champion complete with her current theme, "Hardcore Country," was also one of the best stories of the night.

However, most of the returns or surprise entrants didn’t feel rewarding because many of them lasted for less than a minute. This exposed the current women’s roster at times, but it was a bigger indictment of WWE's failure to produce engaging storylines with the wrestlers available.

The women’s Rumble also illustrated just how abysmal most of the recent WWE theme songs are as well. The audience in attendance relies on music to react to each entrant. As such, several wrestlers didn’t get the reception they might have in both Rumble matches because the fans didn’t recognize the first few notes of their themes.

Murphy’s Law Set In

In 2003, rapper and St. Louis native, Murphy Lee, released his debut album, Murphy’s Law. The title was based on the adage that “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Royal Rumble was a perfect example of just how prophetic this statement can be.

In a perfect world, Ronda Rousey’s return to WWE should’ve been enough to salvage the women’s Rumble. Her appearance and eventual win will undoubtedly create headlines and potentially bolster the upcoming WrestleMania card. Nevertheless, the former MMA fighter didn’t look nearly as polished, and her coronation as the fifth women’s Royal Rumble winner led to a dangerous production issue.

The pyro following her celebration caused the WrestleMania sign to catch on fire. Unfortunately, this created a distraction during Doudrop vs. Becky Lynch. That’s a shame because the Scottish wrestler recently revealed that she has been preparing for this matchup with Big Time Becks for 15 years.

The two put on a solid showing, but it never recovered after the sign debacle. Bobby Lashley vs. Brock Lesnar didn’t live up to years of hype either thanks to formulaic pacing and interference from Reigns. The mixed tag match that followed was fun, but the show had completely lost the crowd by this point.

The men’s Royal Rumble match was shockingly uneventful, and the biggest pops came from non-wrestling stars like Bad Bunny and Johnny Knoxville. To go along with the theme of the night, Kofi Kingston didn’t even properly execute his traditional save to remain in the match.

There were so many questionable booking decisions throughout the contest, but the St. Louis crowd came alive for its hometown star, Randy Orton. Still, Lesnar joined the fray as entrant No. 30 secured his second Royal Rumble win. Then, WWE bafflingly decided to set off the same pyros that caused a fire earlier.

It was symbolic. The company made strikingly similar mistakes with Rumble matches and stubbornly hoped for different results. Instead, the show sent most of its crowd home unhappy and confused about the start of this year’s storylines.