Classic Match: The First Women’s Royal Rumble, Royal Rumble 2018

Kimberly Schueler
source: WWE’s Classic Match series takes a closer look at significant and super cool matches from wrestling history.

With the 2019 Royal Rumble coming up on January 27, it’s the perfect time to look back at last year’s Women’s Royal Rumble match. The first all-women match of this kind included impressive performances by current main roster mainstays, returns of WWE legends, and some exciting NXT guest stars. Oh yeah, and a certain UFC Hall of Famer made her surprise debut at the end. Let’s break down how it all happened.

Commissioner Stephanie McMahon announced the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble match on the December 18, 2017 episode of RAW. As General Manager Kurt Angle clarified on the first RAW of 2018, the match would work exactly like the men’s version on the same pay-per-view: It would feature 30 competitors from both RAW and SmackDown, with two starting the match in the ring and another entering every 90 seconds. Wrestlers could be eliminated from the match only by exiting the ring over the top rope and with both their feet touching the floor. The winner would be able to face the champion of their choice at WrestleMania 34.

It would be no exaggeration to call this one of the highest stakes women’s matches in WWE history.

Women quickly started declaring that they would compete in the battle royal, with these declarations ranging from threatening to inspirational. On the pay-per-view, the pre-match hype video showcased the wrestlers who had publicly stated their entry into the match beforehand. The lineup both gave fans a reason to get excited and showed just how much the WWE women’s division had grown over the past few years. It was a group of women with a variety of characters, diverse backgrounds, and different in-ring strengths and weaknesses. And there was still plenty of room left for surprise stars from WWE’s past and future (aka NXT). Even before the match started, it made the Women’s Evolution look like a huge success.

Before the match, special guest ring announcer Maria Menounos sets the stage for the night’s post-match confrontations by welcoming Stephanie McMahon, RAW Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss, and SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair to the ring. Stephanie would later exaggerate her role in the Women’s Evolution to try and manipulate Ronda Rousey, but for the duration of this match, she plays an understated, respectful role as a guest color commentator. With the announce team completed and the champs in their ringside seats to size up their potential competition, everyone is finally ready to rumble.

The match’s first two entrants are appropriately Sasha Banks (in Wonder Woman gear!) and Becky Lynch, half of the NXT Four Horsewomen who played a huge role in changing the game in women’s wrestling in WWE. They get the match off to a fast-paced start before slowing things down to weaken each other with their signature submissions.

Entrants #3 and #4 are Sarah Logan and Mandy Rose, each representing trios that showed up on the main roster in November (SmackDown’s The Riott Squad and RAW’s Absolution, respectively). Logan stomps Lynch on the ground, and Rose nearly eliminates Banks as commentary mentions that she can squat 300 pounds. Everyone fights hard to be the first to send someone over the top rope, but no one succeeds until the fifth wrestler—the first surprise WWE return of the night—enters the match.

Lita enters the match with—as a legend in the sport and a WWE Hall of Famer—a target on her back. She makes strong statements with her gear, representing the #TimesUp movement on her shirt and sporting the names of dead women wrestlers on her arms, and she soon makes an in-ring statement with the match’s first elimination. She knocks an overconfident Mandy Rose off the apron right before the sixth wrestler in the match, Kairi Sane from NXT, makes her entrance. The winner of the first Mae Young Classic charms the crowd by walking the plank and dropping two InSane Elbows. If either of these wrestlers ended up the last woman standing, it would be a huge statement.

The match gets more eventful as Tamina enters only to be eliminated by Lita. Lynch dumps the former Team XTreme member out of the ring right afterward and the crowd is not happy, but that’s not something a wrestler in a Royal Rumble match can afford to care about. Torrie Wilson (#9) eliminates Dana Brooke (#8) with a basement dropkick off the apron. Sonya Deville (#10) enters, brings Muay Thai knees to everyone, and impressively eliminates Wilson. Another veteran, Molly Holly, enters to quickly eliminate Logan and hit Banks with the Molly-Go-Round. Almost halfway through the match, it’s still impossible to pick a clear winner.

The next two wrestlers are overshadowed—in the eyes of the audience—by their significant others. Lana, mostly a manager at this time, gets big “Rusev Day” chants as she takes on Morgan and Deville. Michelle McCool, described by Michael Cole as “one of the best pure athletes” in women’s division history, prompts chants for her real-life husband, The Undertaker. But McCool quickly makes her own name in the Rumble, eliminating Deville and Morgan in quick succession, then Holly and Lana.

The next series of entrants cause some chaos. A woman who wouldn’t have made a mark in the Divas Era, Ruby Riott (#15) enters to throw hands with McCool and Banks. Former General Manager Vickie Guerrero enters screaming “Excuse me!” so obnoxiously that she inspires a four-woman alliance. After Guerrero is eliminated, she attacks Carmella with her own Money in the Bank briefcase before she can get in the ring. Carmella recovers just in time to stop Natalya (#18) at ringside and deliver superkicks for all. Things get a little retro as Kelly Kelly enters and faces off against Natalya and Michelle McCool, but Nattie makes the defining statement in that confrontation by eliminating her old rival McCool.

Entrants #20-22 are some of the toughest and most athletic women of WWE’s past and present: Naomi, Jacqueline, and Nia Jax. With her size advantage, Jax was a favorite to win. She immediately makes those betting on her happy by eliminating Jacqueline, Kelly, Natalya, and after slightly more of a struggle, Riott. She goes for Naomi too, but Naomi is caught by the women outside the ring when she’s thrown out. She soon proves herself to be the first Kofi Kingston or John Morrison of the women’s division—a creative avoider-of-eliminations—balancing on the barricade and then hijacking an office chair to walk on her hands back to the ring… only to be caught and thrown over the top rope by Jax to be eliminated for real.

Dark horse picks Ember Moon, still injured from her NXT title match with Shayna Baszler the night before, and the returning Beth Phoenix—the only competitor in this match to have also been in a men’s Rumble match—make some progress against “The Irresistible Force.” Phoenix teams with Natalya—her other half in the Divas of Doom—to knock Jax out of the ring over the second rope, her looming threat temporarily solved. Unfortunately, Natalya isn’t all that into friendship at this time and eliminates Phoenix after a hug.

Finally, at #25, the favorite of all favorites to win the match, Asuka, makes her entrance. She immediately wrecks shop and ruthlessly targets her NXT rival Moon’s bad arm to eliminate her. Asuka is followed by three of the most successful Divas of WWE past, Mickie James, Nikki Bella, and Brie Bella as #26-28. Carmella taunts Nikki with a “You can’t see me” hand wave, but the longest reigning Divas Champion reminds everyone she has more going on that a famous ex-boyfriend by dumping “The Princess of Staten Island” over the top rope. The Bella Twins then unite, using that teamwork that helped them dominate the Divas division, to double suplex Jax and target Bayley (#29) and Trish Stratus (#30).

With Stratus in the ring, the match enters its final stretch. Everyone in the ring knows exactly who they’ll have to deal with to punch their ticket to WrestleMania. After Stratus renews her rivalry with James just long enough to eliminate her, everyone intelligently teams up to get rid of Jax.

But things don’t stay so functional for long, because holy crap, Sasha Banks eliminates Bayley. At this stage in the Rumble, there are no friends, not even best friends. Shades of the old “Boss” continue to show as she talks trash to Stratus and eliminates the seven-time champ.

Banks and the Bellas briefly team up to target Asuka, but when she goes for the double knees, the twins eliminate her. The backstabber has been stabbed in the back, and now Asuka is at a two-on-one disadvantage—no, wait, it’s one-on-one because Nikki eliminates her own sister, recalling their feud years earlier!

If the first two Women’s Royal Rumble entrants showed the best of the present of WWE women’s wrestling, and the last two represent its past (Nikki Bella) and future (Asuka, “The Empress of Tomorrow”). Neither is willing to go out without a fight. Asuka catches Nikki in a risky submission in the ropes, and both women end up on the apron. Nikki lands a strike, but a clever low kick from Asuka knocks Bella off the apron and wins her the match. When she points to the WrestleMania sign it feels like the future really has arrived in WWE.

As if Asuka winning the Rumble wasn’t game-changing enough, another seismic change in the women’s division arrives to the tune of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.” While Asuka stands between Flair and Bliss, both champions holding their titles high, Ronda Rousey appears. She enters the ring wearing Roddy Piper’s jacket and points at the WrestleMania sign. At this point in history, she has yet to compete in a WWE ring, but she’s already determined to make it to the top.

Asuka rejects a handshake from Rousey, but Stephanie McMahon accepts one that, this time, isn’t transitioned into an armbar. It’s a mysterious end to a PPV, and the icing on the cake of an already historic, exciting wrestling event.

You can go back and revisit this match (and the entirety of Royal Rumble 2018) on the WWE Network,

cartchevron-leftchevron-rightemail-share-iconfacebook-share-icongoogle-share-iconlinkedin-share-iconlocked megaphone play-signshirtstartvtwitter-share-iconunlocked user-signuserCrossed Legs Ronda Rousey Pointing