Royal Rumble 2021, @WWE ThunderDome, January 31, 2021

Sunday marked the first few tentative steps on the infamous road to WrestleMania, as new challengers emerged, and champions reigned supreme at Royal Rumble 2021. Our King Of The Ring, Andy Spoors gives us the lowdown on an impressive night of action.

There’s just something intangibly electric about the Royal Rumble PPV.

In a weird world, where quite literally anything can happen, the Rumble year after year provides must see moments.

The good, the bad and the ugly.

If it happens during the over-the-top rope spectacular, it will live in infamy.

Royal Rumble 2021 thankfully slots into the ‘good’ category of the three.

In actuality, this year’s Royal Rumble would fit into a ‘great’ category.

Starting the event with the much-maligned Goldberg challenging for the WWE Championship gave the WWE Universe cause to fear the worst.

Bursting straight out of the gates, it looked a very distinct possibility that Drew McIntyre’s reign as champion may come to an abrupt end at the hands of a part time, hall of famer. Those fears were dissuaded within minutes as the giant Scotsman rallied from the typical Goldberg offense of spears and Jackhammer, that have won the WCW legend championship after championship.

McIntyre’s last ongoing feud ended back in November, besting Randy Orton, so the decision to feed a credible one-off opponent to keep the Scot relevant makes logical sense ahead of WrestleMania season.

Quite who will provide the next challenge remains to be seen.

The same can be said for both champions on SmackDown, as Sasha Banks recorded a routine victory over a game Carmella and Roman Reigns toiled to a win against Kevin Owens in dubious circumstances.

This PPV has a history of throwing up fantastic non-Rumble matches over the years (Brock Lesnar vs John Cena vs Seth Rollins from the 2015 event is well worth checking out).

The Last Man Standing match between Roman Reigns and challenger Kevin Owens looked set to be an instant classic, as they battled all over the ThunderDome and its larger home of Tropicana Field.

Crashing through tables next to the WWE Universe virtual screens, being run over by a golf cart and performing a spectacular Swanton Bomb from a fork-lift looked for all of the world to have gained Owens the Universal Championship.

An ingenious idea to handcuff Roman’s hand to a lighting rig in a way that wouldn’t allow the Tribal Chief to get his feet under him before the ten count, unfortunately turned into a low point of the night.

The plan was painfully obvious to allow Paul Heyman to bring in the keys for the cuff to release Roman, but some difficulty in freeing his wrists combined with a replacement referee starting the count too quickly overshadowed a hugely enjoyable match.

As the ref reached six, it became painfully obvious Roman wasn’t going to be able to stand, but rather than keep counting the ref abruptly stopped as all involved seem to flub to an uncomfortable finish.

The match should however be remembered for some incredible high spots that really showcased Owens’ penchant for taking every risk possible, rather than the last minute and a half.

Onto the two main events of the night, the Royal Rumble matches.

The first saw the women’s division set the bar remarkably high, as participants from Raw, SmackDown and NXT, as well as legends from the past, combined for a thoroughly enjoyable match.

Of the four Women’s Rumble matches that have occurred so far, this was by far the most enjoyable as a whole.

Sure, 2019 had the huge moment of Becky Lynch stamping her way into history, but just about every participant this year had their own moment to shine.

A final three of Charlotte, Rhea Ripley and Bianca Belair not only saw a representative from each brand but a huge nod to the promising future of the women’s division.

Ripley and Belair teamed up to remove a smirking Charlotte and, in the process, set up a tantalising finale between two of the brightest burning young stars in the industry.

Rhea Ripley has been tearing up trees on NXT for the past year, while Belair has featured heavily on Smackdown and even received an eye-opening documentary on the WWE Network. It was to be the latter’s night, as the pair traded blows and near misses with the floor before the EST of WWE threw her Aussie foe over the top rope for the win.

In one of the hardest to call Rumble events to date, the men of WWE had a lot to live up to but proved up to the challenge.

Frustratingly the number one and two entrants were revealed the night before on Fox’s Backstage programme to be Edge and Randy Orton. Originally announcing Orton as the first entrant and Edge as number two, the pair instead entered the opposite way round in a rumoured last-minute change.

Although the two numbers would appear to give those Superstars the worst odds of winning, it has been done before. Shawn Michaels going post to post from number one in ’95 living long in the memory.

A stacked field including bookies’ favourites Daniel Bryan and a returning Seth Rollins ensured the task would be as difficult as ever.

The biggest talking points of the night seemed to belong to returning legends, however. A rare appearance by Carlito (in phenomenal physical shape) had Twitter buzzing, but a return from retirement for Edge’s tag team and real-life best friend Christian stole the show.

As Captain Charisma walked down the ramp, the emotion on Edge’s face was evident in a special moment for not just the pair themselves, but the entire WWE Universe too. Neither look to have lost a step even now, as both men find themselves at the tender age of 47.

The levels of emotion raised once more, as Edge threw Randy Orton out of the ring to claim his second Royal Rumble win. Unlike other returning and older Superstars, it is hard to begrudge him of the opportunity at the Championship at WrestleMania.

This is a man that was forced to retire due to an injury, who came back for a few months, only to suffer another injury.

He’s lost out on a decade of his career.

A career he worked hard for. A career in an industry he loved.

One of the stats to emerge from Royal Rumble 2021: only two men under the age of 30 featured in the 30 participants. A lack of faith in the next generation or something else? It’s an easy and somewhat lazy argument to say WWE has an aging roster and finds itself leaning on talent from previous generations to help sell PPVs.

Such is the journey that wrestlers must take to reach the lofty heights of WWE let alone feature on a major PPV, it isn’t until their thirties that Superstars begin to reach their prime.

Conversely, the final two in the women’s PPV have a combined age of 55, just a year older than Goldberg who challenged for one of the company’s major championships on the same PPV!

With WrestleMania due to take place 69 days after this event, we enter the busiest and most exciting time of the year. Superstars step up their game, matches are ready to be made and speculation runs rampant.

The Rumble may be over for another year, but for Superstars of all ages, the road has officially just begun…

Photos used courtesy of WWE.