Ronda Rousey made her long-awaited return to the WWE after a surprise appearance at Sunday’s Royal Rumble in Philadelphia, and the UFC great hinted that her stay this time around will not be a short one.
The former UFC women’s bantamweight champion first graced the WWE nearly two years ago as she joined The Rock at WrestleMania to confront Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. This time around, the American appeared immediately after Asuka won the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble, with the pair involved in an intense staredown alongside current Smackdown Women’s champion Charlotte and Raw champion Alexa Bliss.
Rousey, who was wearing an outfit inspired by her late wrestling hero Rowdy Roddy Piper and from whom she coined her own nickname, pointed towards the WrestleMania sign hanging above the ring, suggesting that we’ll be seeing her once again come WrestleMania 34 on 8 April, before having her hand slapped away by Asuka.
WWE Royal Rumble – in pictures
But when she left the ring to walk towards WWE executive Stephanie McMahon – the woman she famously attacked at WrestleMania 32 – the pair shook hands and Rousey left without a word being spoken.
She later took to Instagram to confirm the news, posting an image of her at the Royal Rumble with the caption: “My road to #WrestleMania begins now.”
But it appears that this will not be a temporary career move, with Rousey appearing to confirm that her UFC career is over following back-to-back defeats by Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes.
“This is my life now,” she told ESPN. “Yeah, they have first priority on my time for the next several years. This is not a smash and grab, this is not a publicity stunt.”
“This has been a dream of mine since me and all my girlfriends would sit around and watch wrestling together,” Rousey added to WWE.com. “No matter how much I tried to do other things in my life, this kept following me around. It’s time to take a hint from the universe and go for it.”
UFC president Dana White has previously claimed that Rousey will never fight for the company again, although Rousey remained non-committal on whether her MMA career was finished.
“That’s what everybody else seems to say — I mean, I never retired from judo. So that’s what you guys want to think,” she said. “All I know is I really want to devote 100 per cent of my time to wrestling right now and whatever people want to call that they can call it.”
The dramatic twist came after Asuka beat 29 other women to win the first Women’s Royal Rumble, which followed a thrilling men’s event that was eventually won by Shinsuke Nakamura. Irishman Finn Balor had threatened to repeat the feat achieved by Rey Mysterio in 2006 by winning the Rumble from the No 2 entry, having reached the last four.
Ironically, Mysterio was one of the shock returns at this year’s event as he entered the ring at No 27 to a huge reception, with the luchadore gracing the WWE for the first time since 2015, only to be thrown out of the ring by Balor himself. Along with Nakamura, Balor was joined by John Cena and Roman Reigns – who earned revenge for last year’s defeat in the titular Rumble by eliminating the 2017 champion Randy Orton.
Cena would make do for Balor, before Nakamura took centre stage and eliminated both Cena and Reigns, booking himself a title shot at WrestleMania.
The Japanese warrior looks set to go up against AJ Styles after The Phenomenal One defeated both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a handicap match, with Styles managing to pin Owens after injuring his ankle – though there was controversy in that Owens did not tag himself into the match before being pinned.
Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch got the Women’s Royal Rumble underway before Lita returned and hit her trademark moonsault on the pair, with surprise returns also featuring Torrie Wilson, Molly Holly, Michelle McCool, Vickie Guerrero, Kelly Kelly, Jacqueline, Beth Phoenix and The Bella Twins.
However, it was Nia Jax who looked to be the dominant force as she destroyed just about every other woman in the ring, only for them to team up on her and eliminate Jax from the apron. Eventually, Banks was left in the ring with the Bella Twins and Asuka, and despite the three of them teaming up on Asuka, Banks would still find herself eliminated. The numbers remained against Asuka, but Nikki Bella turned on her sister, Brie, and allowed Asuka to then eliminate the former to win the Rumble – only for Rousey to steal the show.
Brock Lesnar retained his Universal Championship after defeating both Braun Strowman and Kane, with all three men going through carnage in a furious triple threat battle. Strowman powerslammed the champion through a table before Lesnar responded with a F-5 into the same object, and it took a second F-5 onto a chair to put the Monster Among Men away for the win.
Sheamus and Cesaro got their hands back on the Raw Tag Team Championship as they took full advantage of an injury-plagued Jason Jordan, which distracted Rollins enough to keep him on the back foot. Rollins had just come out of the Rumble when the match began, and both Sheamus and Cesaro made the most of his energy-sapping night.
Jordan eventually entered the ring, but he was nowhere up to scratch and The Bar soon enough pinned Rollins for the win.
In the other tag team match, The Usos beat Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin comfortably in a two-out-of-three falls bout, with the brothers claiming the spoils 2-0. On the Pre-Show, Bobby Roode pinned Mojo Rawley to retain the United States Championship, while The Revival defeated Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. In the opening match of the night, Gran Metalik, Lince Dorado and Kalisto won a hastily-arranged six-man tag match against Drew Gulak, Jack Gallagher and TJP, although the elephant in the room could not be ignored as the shadow of Enzo Amore’s suspension over sexual assault allegations – which led to the Cruiserweight championship match being cancelled – loomed large over the match.
Gran Metalik, Dorado and Kalisto defeated TJP, Jack Gallagher and Drew Gulak via pinfall.
The Revival defeated Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson via pinfall.
Bobby Roode defeated Mojo Rawley via pinfall.
AJ Styles defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn via pinfall.
The Usos defeated Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin in a two-out-of-three falls match.
Shinsuke Nakamura won the 30-man Royal Rumble.
The Bar defeated Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan via pinfall.
Brock Lesnar defeated Braun Strowman and Kane via pinfall.
Asuka won the 30-woman Royal Rumble.