The 2022 edition of the Royal Rumble was a night in which the WWE spotlighted a pair of former UFC champions, as Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey won their respective Royal Rumble matches Saturday to qualify for title shots at WrestleMania 38.
Rousey returned after almost three years away from WWE, entering the women's Rumble at No. 28, and eliminated SmackDown women's champion Charlotte Flair to win it all. Lesnar, who lost the WWE championship to Bobby Lashley earlier in the evening due to a Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman double-cross, came back at No. 30 in the men's event.
After eliminating multiple opponents, including musical artist Bad Bunny, Randy Orton, Riddle and Shane McMahon, Lesnar was left face to face Drew McIntyre. McIntyre had previously eliminated Lesnar from the 2020 men's Royal Rumble and then defeated Lesnar at WrestleMania 36 for the WWE championship. But Lesnar's revenge would be had, as he F-5'd McIntyre out of the ring, securing his chance at payback versus Reigns.
The question now is: Who will the two winners face at WrestleMania 38 in AT&T Stadium on April 3?
Here are some additional takeaways from the Men's Royal Rumble:
Former WrestleMania 34 WWE championship opponents AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura started off the match. Neither of them reached the latter stages.
Johnny Knoxville entered at No. 9. AJ Styles took him down to the mat, Montez Ford landed a frog splash on him and then Sami Zayn got his revenge, connecting on a Helluva for the elimination. Styles promptly tossed Zayn over the top rope to eliminate him, too.
It took six competitors -- the entire remaining field at the tune -- to eliminate Omos at the midway point in the match. Styles, his former tag-team partner and mentor, provided the exclamation-point splash after Omos tallied three eliminations in short order.
For Dolph Ziggler, the No. 16 entrant, this was his 15th career Rumble appearance. That's second-most all-time, behind Kane (20).
McIntyre returned for the first time since Day 1, entered at No. 21 and promptly eliminated the men who injured him there, Madcap Moss and Happy Corbin.
After a lengthy highlight reel of miraculous elimination saves over the years, Kofi Kingston finally missed one. Shortly after Kingston entered the match at No. 24, Owens knocked him off the top rope, and despite grabbing hold of the ring barricade, both of Kingston's feet hit the floor -- made more apparent by instant replay.
Grammy-winning musician Bad Bunny, who appeared at WrestleMania 37 in a tag-team match, returned to the WWE as the No. 27 entry in this Royal Rumble. He hit several highlight reel-worthy moves, including a Canadian destroyer on Riddle, and even managed to pick up an elimination on Sheamus by pulling down the top rope. He then followed up by helping Rey Mysterio eliminate Ziggler by pulling down the rope again. Eventually, he ran directly into Lesnar, took an F-5 and got himself tossed out by Lesnar.
2022 Men's Royal Rumble order: 1. AJ Styles 2. Shinsuke Nakamura 3. Austin Theory 4. Robert Roode 5. Ridge Holland 6. Montez Ford 7. Damian Priest 8. Sami Zayn 9. Johnny Knoxville 10. Angelo Dawkins 11. Omos 12. Ricochet 13. Chad Gable 14. Dominik Mysterio 15. Happy Corbin 16. Dolph Ziggler 17. Sheamus 18. Rick Boogs 19. Madcap Moss 20. Riddle 21. Drew McIntyre 22. Kevin Owens 23. Rey Mysterio 24. Kofi Kingston 25. Otis 26. Big E 27. Bad Bunny 28. Shane McMahon 29. Randy Orton 30. Brock Lesnar
Edge and Beth Phoenix def. The Miz and Maryse
Two married couples, each with two young daughters, got together on a Saturday night. And no, there was no charcuterie involved -- it was a mixed tag team match at the Royal Rumble.
Hall of Famers Edge and Beth Phoenix emerged victorious over future Hall of Famers The Miz and Maryse, and the match was everything it promised to be.
The Miz and Maryse distracted the referee countless times, allowing their partner to do something underhanded, including Maryse taking a shot at Phoenix with a designer bag loaded with a brick.
Phoenix countered back, hitting The Miz with a powerbomb. Maryse responded with a top-rope headscissors to Edge, followed by a DDT to Phoenix. That fed directly into a skull-crushing finale by The Miz, which only got him a two-count.
The Miz and Maryse set up for a dual skull-crushing finale on Edge, but the ensuing chaos led to a double spear on The Miz instead. Edge and Phoenix lifted The Miz and Maryse up for stereo Glam Slams, and that was the end.
What's next: With this rivalry now seemingly settled, the future seems wide open. Barring a late Royal Rumble entry for either The Miz or Edge, the next step could be in a lot of different directions. Maryse and Phoenix, who have not been active superstars for some time, will likely step back out of the spotlight.
WWE championship: Bobby Lashley def. Brock Lesnar (c) with some help from Roman Reigns
Paul Heyman has ping-ponged back and forth between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar over the last few months, splitting his loyalty to his two most prized clients. But that loyalty is no longer in question after Heyman assisted Reigns in costing Lesnar the WWE championship at the Royal Rumble.
Heyman seemingly threw himself behind Lesnar once Reigns Superman punched him. He was at Lesnar's side, proudly holding the WWE championship that Lesnar won in an impromptu match that he joined following Reigns' last-minute Day 1 cancellation, following a positive COVID-19 test.
But weeks later, as Lesnar defended his title against Bobby Lashley, Reigns emerged the winner on all fronts. After retaining his Universal championship by disqualification earlier in the night, Reigns took advantage of a downed referee to spear Lesnar, hit him with the title that Heyman handed Reigns directly, and then walked away as Lashley became a two-time WWE champion.
The match itself, before it reached its Reigns-centric conclusion, was a brutal back and forth collision of muscle-bound men suplexing each other all over the ring, and the ringside area, too.
Lashley's first German suplex was met by two from Lesnar. Lashley speared Lesnar twice, forcing Lesnar to roll outside the ring, wounded. Lashley missed two subsequent spear attempts and sent his body crashing into stationary objects. Lesnar added five more German suplexes for good measure.
Lesnar hoisted Lashley for an F-5, but Lashley slipped out and fell directly into position for his Hurt Lock submission. Lashley clasped his hands, and Brock's face turned beet red, but Lesnar slammed Lashley into the corner.
Lesnar successfully hit the F-5 after escaping, but Lashley's legs swung into the referee's head, sending the ref to the outside.
Reigns entered the ring, charged toward Lesnar and successfully handed Lashley a WWE championship victory.
What's next: Lesnar vs. Reigns will almost certainly be the WrestleMania 38 main event (or one of them, at least), with Rollins potentially getting into the mix as well. Lashley may have unfinished business with Big E, but his title selection for April will be wide open.
WWE Raw women's championship: Becky Lynch (c) def. Doudrop
Lynch vs. Doudrop had all of the makings of a stay-busy match for Lynch before heading into WrestleMania. And while Doudrop put on a good performance in her first main roster title challenge, Lynch walked out of St. Louis with her Raw women's championship intact.
Doudrop controlled the action early but missed a rolling flip toward Lynch and crashed into the steel steps. Lynch did what she could to take advantage and break Doudrop down, but showed minimal payoff.
Slams and a big splash gave Doudrop the edge, and despite Lynch getting hold of a DisArmHer, and transitioning into an armbar, Doudrop picked Lynch up and powerbombed her.
A Doudrop corner splash connected, but her Vader bomb-esque splash was countered as Lynch got both knees up. On the same night Molly Holly made her return, Lynch connected on a Molly-go-round flip off the top rope, but that only garnered a two-count.
Action carried both women toward the corner, and after some back and forth, Lynch got control for long enough to connect on a top rope version of her manhandle slam, which secured her the pinfall victory.
What's next: There are two divergent paths. Either Lynch and Rousey revisit their rivalry, or Flair draws that match and Lynch finds a different WrestleMania opponent in the weeks to come.
Women's Royal Rumble: Ronda Rousey punches ticket to WrestleMania
Four years ago, Ronda Rousey was rumored to make her WWE return ahead of the 2018 Royal Rumble. But the match ended, and she never entered. However, her music did hit once the match was over, launching a year-and-a-half-long journey that culminated in a triple-threat championship unification match against Charlotte Flair and Bianca Belair in the main event of WrestleMania 35.
On Saturday night, Rousey made her return, entering the Royal Rumble -- at No. 28 -- for the first time. She reached the final two with Flair and eliminated her to win. Now, at WrestleMania 38, her choices are familiar -- Flair or Lynch, the Raw women's champion.
The Rumble began with the recently returned Sasha Banks leading off at No. 1 against five-time women's champion Melina's surprise return at No. 2. Melina barely had enough time to do her signature split before Banks dropped her out of the ring.
Tamina entered No. 3, followed by Kelly Kelly at No. 4. Kelly tried to head scissors Banks out of the ring, which led to her elimination.
Aaliyah was No. 5, followed by Liv Morgan at No. 6 and Queen Zelina at No. 7. Tamina lifted Banks over the top rope, and then Zelina charged across the ring and kicked Banks, sending her crashing to the floor for a shock early elimination.
Defending winner Bianca Belair was No. 8, followed by 24/7 champion Dana Brooke at No. 9 and Michelle McCool at No. 10.
Reggie, who accompanied Brooke to the ring, caught her on the outside to prevent her elimination. But it didn't last long, as Brooke flew off the top rope into a big boot from McCool, and McCool tossed Brooke out.
Sonya Deville was next at No. 11, but she decided to sit in on commentary instead. Natalya was No. 12, and she soon dumped Belair and Tamina over the top rope at the same time. Tamina was eliminated, while Belair hung on.
Cameron, Naomi's former tag-team partner as part of the Funkadactyls, was No. 13. On commentary, Corey Graves told Deville that Cameron was Naomi's former tag-team partner, and then Deville slid in the ring, tossed Cameron over the top to the apron, and smashed Cameron into the ringpost and eliminated her.
Conveniently enough, Naomi was next at No. 14. Naomi eliminated Deville with a step-up enzuigiri. Carmella drew No. 15, and stayed out of the ring, followed by Rhea Ripley at No. 16. After rolling Carmella into the ring, Ripley tossed the women's tag-team champions -- Carmella and Queen Zelina -- over the top rope to the apron. Then Ripley eliminated both at once with a basement dropkick.
Flair came in at No. 17 and ragdolled Aaliyah over the top rope to eliminate her. Flair tried to powerbomb Naomi out, but Naomi did a handstand to prevent it. Deville, who had remained at ringside, pulled Naomi by her arms and eliminated her.
Ivory entered at No. 18 with a microphone in her hand, dressed in her "Right to Censor" gear and sirens blaring. She trash talked the entire field, even as Ripley lifted her over the top rope, patted her on the head and eliminated her. Ivory shouted "How dare you!" as her final act in the match.
Brie Bella was 19, received with loud "Yes!" chants. Mickie James was No. 20, and wore the IMPACT women's championship while entering to her IMPACT entrance theme.
McCool cut James off before she could get back into the ring, but James utilized a headscissors to take McCool out of the match.
Alicia Fox entered at No. 21, followed by Nikki A.S.H. at No. 22. Ripley stared at the ramp waiting for Nikki, her former tag-team partner, to come out. But Nikki A.S.H. attacked from behind, narrowly missing an elimination.
Summer Rae returned at No. 23. Her comeback was short lived, as Natalya and Flair combined to do damage, and Natalya then eliminated her.
Nikki Bella joined her twin Brie at No. 24, and the Bella Twins combined to eliminate Fox. Sarah Logan joined the match at No. 25, but after a brief Riott Squad reunion, Nikki and Brie eliminated both in short order. The Twins teamed up again to take out Logan, and Brie then kicked Morgan off the apron.
Lita entered at No. 26, quickly DDT'd James and tossed her out.
Mighty Molly Holly was No. 27, but Nikki A.S.H. blindsided her fellow superhero Holly on the outside of the ring, and then rolled Holly in.
Rousey joined at No. 28, and the crowd exploded in surprise. Rousey dumped Nikki Bella and Nikki A.S.H over the top rope to the apron, and locked on a double guillotine. That allowed Rousey to kick A.S.H. out, and then Brie ran up to kick her sister and eliminate Nikki from the match.
Shotzi drew the penultimate entry at No. 29. After some exchanges, Rousey tossed Brie over the top rope. Rousey's friend and fellow former UFC fighter Shayna Baszler completed the field with the No. 30 entry.
Rousey eliminated Natalya, and while Natalya tried to backstab her, Rousey tossed her out again. Lita went up to the top turnbuckle, slipped off, and a Flair big boot eliminated her.
A mad scramble on the outside between Flair, Rousey at Ripley led to Flair knocking Ripley off the apron to eliminate her. Belair hoisted Baszler up for a KOD attempt, but Flair dumped both of them out.
Flair attempted the big boot on Rousey, but Rousey dumped her out to win the match.
What's next: Unless there's a title change in the interim, Rousey could choose Flair, whom she just went face-to-face with in the Rumble match. But Lynch, who successfully defended her title against Doudrop after the women's Royal Rumble, feels slightly more likely because of their unfinished business following Lynch's win at WrestleMania 35.
WWE Universal championship: Seth Rollins def. Roman Reigns via disqualification, Reigns retains title
Before Saturday night, the last time Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins went one-on-one was October 2019, in a one-off. Before that, you have to go back to May 2017 for their most recent clash.
But in just a few weeks of reigniting the flames of their rivalry, Reigns and Rollins proved their chemistry was as strong as ever. Add in the work each has done over the past few years separate from one another, and the result was a fantastic opening match to the Royal Rumble event Saturday.
Rollins' mind games in recent weeks led to The Usos being barred from ringside, and allowed Rollins to get the upper hand on several fronts. That applied again before the bell rang Saturday, as Rollins descended from the cheap seats at The Dome to the entrance music of The Shield, further mocking Reigns.
He maintained the upper hand early in the match, doing a solo version of a Shield powerbomb to Reigns through the commentary table. A top-rope frog splash got Rollins the first two-count of the night, but he missed a phoenix splash. Reigns went for the early win, but Rollins cut off a spear with a forearm, nailed a buckle bomb and connected with a stomp. Everyone in the arena and most watching at home bit, thinking it could be the end, but Reigns kicked out in the last fraction of a second before referee Charles Robinson's hand hit the mat for three.
Reigns controlled much of the rest of the match, and earned a couple of two-counts along the way. After connecting on a pear on the outside to Rollins, another spear attempt in the ring got countered directly into a Rollins pedigree, for yet another two-count for Rollins. But a second stomp attempt was countered by Rollins, and despite repeated kicks to Reigns' head, he finally connected on a spear.
Even as he held his ribs, Rollins laughed at Reigns, saying, "I'll always love you" as he held out his fist in yet another callback to The Shield. This was the moment that seemingly broke Reigns.
He locked in the guillotine on Rollins in the middle of the ring. But Rollins lifted Reigns up twice and got within millimeters of the bottom rope. As Robinson lifted Rollins' hand up to check if he was still conscious, Rollins' arm dropped and grabbed that rope.
Reigns refused to release the hold. Robinson counted to five, and still, he refused to break. Robinson reluctantly called for the disqualification. "He won't allow me to let go," Reigns shouted, and for another 20-plus seconds after he was DQ'd he didn't let go. "This is his fault!" Reigns yelled as he finally let go.
"Roman sucks!" chants echoed from the crowd as Rollins regained consciousness.
Reigns wasn't finished. He grabbed a steel chair from ringside, and did a shot-for-shot remake as he recreated the moment Rollins broke up The Shield in 2014, and then added a few more chair shots for good measure.
What's next: Reigns still can't beat Rollins clean, so it seems as though a rematch will be imminent. It could happen in Saudi Arabia, or it could carry out as far as WrestleMania. We'll find out in the weeks to come.