Seth Rollins wins men’s Royal Rumble match, earns championship match at WrestleMania: After emerging from the rubble of the broken announce table, Rollins clawed his way back into the ring and eventually found himself on the apron with Braun Strowman, the 6-foot-8, 385-pounder nicknamed the “Monster Among Men.”

Rollins hit Strowman with a stomp to the back of the head, sending him out of the ring.

In light of Roman Reigns taking time off to receive treatment for leukemia, Rollins has stepped into the role of WWE’s top good guy in recent months. The Rumble win officially christens him a main eventer and sets up a likely WrestleMania match with WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar.

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Nia Jax becomes fourth woman in history to enter men’s Royal Rumble: After coming in third place in the women’s Royal Rumble, Nia Jax unleashed a surprise attack on R-Truth, the final entrant into tonight’s contest. Jax proceeded to enter the ring and eliminate fan favorite Mustafa Ali.

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Jax is the fourth woman to compete in the men’s Rumble match, following in the foosteps of the late Chyna, Beth Phoenix and Kharma.

Jax then had a staredown with Randy Orton, eventually falling victim to an RKO.

Bobby Lashley slams Seth Rollins through announce table: WWE Intercontinental champion Bobby Lashley was eliminated moments after entering the Royal Rumble, and he took his frustration out on Seth Rollins. Lashley pulled Rollins out of the ring from underneath the ropes and slammed him through an announce table, leaving Rollins knocked out. Expect Rollins to make a heroic comeback late in the match.

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Kofi Kingston narrowly avoids elimination, but the victory is short-lived: Kofi Kingston has been a mainstay in the Royal Rumble for the past decade, each year displaying a new, creative way to avoid elimination. Entering as this year’s 12th participant, Kingston was thrown over the top rope by Dean Ambrose, but refrained from letting both of his feet touch the floor. He pinned his feet to the side apron, twisting his body until he reached the stairs.

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His tenure was short-lived, though, as he was soon eliminated by Drew McIntyre.

Elias duets with WWE Hall of Famer Jeff Jarrett, then eliminates him: Elias was the first entrant in the Royal Rumble and intended to take the opportunity to serenade the crowd with a song — until he was interrupted by the No. 2 entrant, WWE Hall of Famer Jeff Jarrett. The veteran, known for his musical talents in his prime, proposed a duet with Elias. The Chase Field crowd ate it up, until Elias spoiled the fun by punching Jarrett in the face before eliminating him.

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Brock Lesnar overcomes valiant effort from challenger Finn Balor to retain WWE Universal Championship: In a match that was billed as a modern day “David vs. Goliath” the diminutive Finn Balor put up a fight against the 6-foot-3, 286-pound Brock Lesnar. Balor, who held the Universal Title for one day in 2016 but relinquished it because of a real-life injury, hit Lesnar with his Coup de Grace finisher from the top rope. Before the referee could count to three, Lesnar flipped the pin into a kimura and made Balor tap out.

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Daniel Bryan retains WWE Championship over AJ Styles thanks to interference from Rowan: It’s hard to follow a Royal Rumble match, given the energy live crowds expend during it. AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan, two of the most respected wrestlers in the world, did their best, producing a fun bout full of chain wrestling, submissions and high-flying. In the end, Bryan retained after surprise interference from Rowan, who had not been seen on television for months.

Becky Lynch eliminates rival Charlotte Flair to win Royal Rumble, punches ticket to WrestleMania: Fittingly, the final two came down to Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, former best friends turned enemies. The basis of the duo’s feud in late 2018 was that Charlotte had always stuck her nose in Lynch’s business, stealing opportunities from her.

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Lynch, after getting beat up on the outside by Nia Jax, hobbled back into the ring Sunday on one knee and shouted at Flair: “You’re not taking this from me!” Indeed, Lynch sent Flair over the top rope, punching her to the ground and basking in the moment of her Rumble victory.

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With the win, Lynch can choose to challenge Raw Women's Champion Ronda Rousey or Smackdown Women's Champion Asuka at WrestleMania. Lynch vs. Rousey has been the rumored match for months, and the build for the bout should begin on WWE TV this week.

Becky Lynch replaces Lana in Royal Rumble: With Lana unable to compete due to the injury she suffered during her husband Rusev’s match during the pre-show, Becky Lynch stormed the entrance and convinced a WWE official to let her enter the match as the last competitor. Chase Field serenaded her with chants of “Becky! Becky! Becky!”

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With all 30 entrants having entered the match, the contest is down to its final five competitors — Carmella, Nia Jax, Bayley, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch.

Alexa Bliss enters Royal Rumble, makes first in-ring appearance since September: The multi-time champion hadn’t competed since September after suffering a concussion. The injury forced her to miss October’s Evolution, WWE’s first all-women’s pay-per view event. When her music hit Sunday, the Chase Field crowd exploded.

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Mandy Rose spoils rival Naomi’s jaw-dropping feat of athleticism: Naomi eliminated Mandy Rose soon after entering the women’s Royal Rumble match. Rose, who in story line attempted to break up Naomi’s marriage with husband Jimmy Uso, attempted to powerbomb Naomi to the ground from the outside. But Naomi placed her feet on the barricade to remain alive in the Rumble. (Competitors are only eliminated once thrown over the top rope and both of their feet touch the floor.) Naomi toed the barricade, keeping her balance, before leaping onto the steps, avoiding elimination. But then Rose pulled Naomi to the floor to the dismay of the crowd.

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Ronda Rousey outlasts Sasha Banks: In an entertaining match that might’ve been the best of Ronda Rousey’s young career, the RAW Women’s Champion pinned Sasha Banks after hitting her opponent with her Piper’s Pit finisher and retained her title. Banks was one of the women’s division’s biggest stars before Rousey’s arrival but had been written out of the spotlight over the past year. She proved an apt foe for Rousey on Sunday, nearly tapping Rousey out on several occasions. But Rousey, now WWE’s biggest name, is destined to enter WrestleMania with the championship around her waist.

After the match, Banks shook Rousey’s hand, seemingly burying the hatchet, but then threw up the “Four Horsewomen” symbol, a nod to her longtime friendship with Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Bailey. Rousey’s a member of her own “Four Horsewomen” group that includes fellow former MMA fighters turned WWE performers Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir. Rumors of the eight women squaring off have percolated for some time.

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The Miz and Shane McMahon knock off The Bar to capture the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championships: The odd couple team of The Miz and Shane McMahon came together to dethrone The Bar, with Shane hitting a shooting star press on Cesaro for the win. In the story line, The Miz convinced Shane to team with him after bringing up how he never lived up to his father’s expectations. The message resonated with the son of Vince McMahon.

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This seems likely to lead to a breakup and blood feud, given Miz’s reputation for chicanery, but for now, the unlikely pairing got their moment to shine.

Asuka taps out “The Man” Becky Lynch: No one quite resonates with WWE fans like Becky Lynch, who opened Sunday’s event with a Smackdown Women’s Championship match against Asuka. Lynch, in a rare moment of fallibility, came up short, tapping out to a modification of the champion’s eponymously named Asuka Lock, capping what had been an exciting start to the show.

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Fans of Lynch mustn't worry. The loss to Asuka sets her up to enter the women's Royal Rumble match later in the show, and a Rumble win could set up the WrestleMania bout against Raw Women's Champion Ronda Rousey that has been rumored for months.

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WWE takes advantage of NFL’s bad press, announces match for halftime of Super Bowl: WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon’s revived professional football league, the XFL, isn’t set to kick off until 2020, but McMahon is already aiming to pull viewers from the NFL.

During the Royal Rumble pre-show, WWE legend Shawn Michaels announced that stars from NXT, WWE’s development league, would compete in a match during halftime of next Sunday’s Super Bowl. The halftime show has been a point of contention, with several musicians bowing out in support of former San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality. (Maroon 5 ultimately agreed to take the stage.)

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In a shrewd move that speaks to the company’s confidence in their stars of the future, WWE scheduled a six-man tag match pitting Velveteen Dream, Aleister Black and King Ricochet against Tommasso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole to be streamed on the WWE Network.

Buddy Murphy fends off Kalisto, Akira Tozawa and Hideo Itami to retain WWE Cruiserweight Championship: In the pre-show’s final match, Murphy fended off the highflying, aerial offense of his three competitors, capturing the win after knocking Itami with a series of stiff knees and his Murphy’s Law finishing move. Murphy, the real-life fiance of popular WWE performer Alexa Bliss, has now held the title since Oct. 6, when he beat former champion Cedric Alexander in his native Australia.

Shinsuke Nakamura reclaims United States championship from Rusev: Rusev’s championship victory over Nakamura on the Dec. 25 episode of Smackdown Live was a feel good moment for fans of the “Bulgarian Brute.” Rusev has built a dedicated following thanks in part to his humorous social media persona, and his win was seen as a long overdue vote of confidence from WWE. His reign was short-lived, however, with Nakamura gaining the win after Rusev accidentally knocked his wife, Lana, off the apron (the portion of the mat outside of the ropes). Distracted by Lana’s condition, Rusev was kneed in the back of the neck by Nakamura, who won last year’s men’s Royal Rumble match.

Raw Tag Team champions Bobby Roode and Chad Gable claim victory over makeshift team: Curmudgeonly wrestling fans say Roode and Gable are underutilized and underappreciated by WWE’s writing staff, but the team stood tall in the first match of the pre-show. Rood and Gable beat the makeshift team of Rezar (of tag team Authors of Pain) and Scott Dawson (of the Revival). The stipulation was that, if Rezar and Dawson won, each of their teams would earn championship opportunities. It wasn’t to be, as Gable pinned Dawson after executing a moonsault. The Raw tag team division is in desperate need of excitement, but this match did little in the way of moving toward that goal.

Preview

Popular culture normally thumbs its nose at professional wrestling, only paying mind to moments featuring recognizable faces, like former UFC star Ronda Rousey’s in-ring debut at WrestleMania 34, or the goofiest of stunts, like Vince McMahon’s strut.

The cartoonish gait of WWE’s CEO has found a place in today’s meme-obsessed culture, and for good reason: McMahon’s flailing arms, swaggering legs and evil smile suggest a caricature of an ornery, know-it-all tycoon. It’s at once humorous, ironic and familiar.

Nearly six weeks before Sunday’s Royal Rumble at Chase Field in Phoenix, McMahon walked toward the ring on “Monday Night Raw” for the first time in nearly a year, his normally exaggerated mannerisms noticeably toned down. McMahon, 73, is rarely seen on television these days. But Raw had recorded all-time lows in viewership two weeks in a row, and rumors of the first threat to his family’s wrestling monopoly in two decades were starting to gain steam. (In early January, Tony and Shad Khan, co-owners of the Jacksonville Jaguars, announced the formation of the upstart All Elite Wrestling promotion.)

McMahon on that December night was joined in the ring by his son, Shane; his daughter, Stephanie; and her husband, Paul Levesque. In a speech that blurred the lines between story line and reality, the first family of WWE acknowledged that they hadn’t been doing a very good job and promised things were going to change, immediately.

Contrived as it was, the message behind the speech was well-received by hardcore wrestling fans long frustrated by stale writing. And the timing was right, with Royal Rumble around the corner. That event annually serves as the first stop on the road to April’s WrestleMania — WWE’s biggest event of the year.

The weeks since the McMahons’ announcement produced more compelling television, and not just because of the specter of the women’s and men’s Rumble matches, which each pit 30 wrestlers in a battle royal, vying for the opportunity to challenge the champion of their choosing at WrestleMania.

Raw, and its sister program, Smackdown Live, popped with more inspired writing and fresh faces. It didn’t hurt that the McMahons were inserted into story lines: Levesque, also known as Triple H, dared Seth Rollins, his former on-screen protege and a popular men’s Rumble winner pick, to show his more ruthless side. McMahon did the same with AJ Styles, prodding him to unleash his inner “bulldog.”

Styles will challenge Daniel Bryan, the former fan favorite turned righteous villain, for the WWE championship at Sunday’s event. WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, another former UFC star, will defend his title against the diminutive Finn Balor in a bout billed in the vein of David vs. Goliath. But it’s on the women’s side where most of the intrigue lies.

For months, Rousey has been mired in dueling conflicts with Charlotte Flair and the ascendant Becky Lynch, who emerged as the company’s biggest star toward the end of 2018. The three have been rumored to be competing in a triple-threat match at WrestleMania, and the requisite pieces of the puzzle should come into place at Rumble.

Rousey is expected to retain her Raw Women’s Championship over Sasha Banks, while Flair will compete in the women’s Rumble match. Lynch will challenge Asuka, the women’s champion on the Smackdown brand, on Sunday, but she’s likely to find her way over to the Raw brand soon, where she could continue her spats with Rousey and Flair in earnest.

To be sure, WWE’s grip on the professional wrestling world will not loosen anytime soon. McMahon has built a global company whose stock price hovers around $82 per share. The advent of AEW is exciting for wrestling fans, but that the McMahons have dominated the industry for so long is no accident. Not surprisingly, ratings have stabilized since the family’s return to television.

But for the first time since 2001, when McMahon purchased Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling promotion, competition is imminent. WrestleMania season, starting with the Royal Rumble, is WWE’s chance to flex its muscles, to spotlight its most inspiring performers in front of more eyeballs than usual. It’s more important the promotion gets it right this year than it has been in a long, long time.

Royal Rumble basics

When: Sunday, 7 p.m. Eastern.

Location: Chase Field, Phoenix.

Key fights:

  • Women’s Royal Rumble match  
  • Men’s Royal Rumble match  
  • WWE Championship: Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles  
  • Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar vs. Finn Balor  
  • WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship: Asuka vs. Becky Lynch  
  • WWE Raw Women’s Championship: Ronda Rousey vs. Sasha Banks  
  • WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship: The Bar vs. The Miz and Shane McMahon  
  • WWE United States Championship: Rusev vs. Shinsuke Nakamura  
  • WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Buddy Murphy vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Hideo Itami vs. Kalisto