WWE

Asuka won the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble Match; Ronda Rousey arrived

PHILADELPHIA — One woman, two women, 29 women. It’s all the same to Asuka. But while The Empress of Tomorrow made history by winning the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble Match, one woman who didn’t compete in the historic contest — Ronda Rousey — ended up casting the longest shadow over the evening.

With Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss and SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair watching from ringside, Asuka entered at No. 25, joining a field that included insurgent upstarts, Four Horsewomen and, remarkably, a group of veterans and Legends who proved that they did, indeed, still have it.

The first surprise was Lita, who entered at No. 5 and displayed the names of the late Superstars who never got to see this historic moment come to fruition on her arm. She was followed by Torrie Wilson (No. 9), Molly Holly (No. 12), Michelle McCool (No 14), Vickie Guerrero (No. 16), Kelly Kelly (No. 19), Jacqueline (No. 21), Beth Phoenix (No. 24), Nikki Bella (No. 27), Brie Bella (completing her comeback at No. 28) and finally, Trish Stratus at No. 30.

With the young Superstars and veterans of generations past sharing the ring, the historic match was a thrilling collision of past and present. Lita dished out a double Moonsault to Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks; Molly dropped Sasha with a Molly-Go-Round that took out both Superstars; The Divas of Doom reunited briefly to thwart a surging Nia Jax; Vickie Guerrero was eliminated en masse by Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Ruby Riott and McCool. Speaking of which, first-ever Divas Champion McCool had the most eliminations with five (Sonya Deville, Liv Morgan, Molly Holly, Vickie and Lana) and was looking like a dark horse favorite before she was finally expelled by Natalya.

Proving equally impressive were NXT Women’s Champion Ember Moon — who faced off with Asuka in a renewal of their rivlary — and Mae Young Classic winner Kairi Sane, who delivered Insane Elbows to Sasha and Becky before suffering an upset elimination from Dana Brooke.

Asuka, Banks and The Bella Twins survived all the way to the Final Four. The Boss and The Bellas wisely ganged up on Asuka, but Sasha, who was the No. 1 entry in the match, got a little too enthusiastic and shoved the twins aside to get her shots in on The Empress of Tomorrow. Nikki & Brie responded by tossing her over in unison. The Fearless One shocked the WWE Universe when she eliminated Brie moments later, mouthing the unmistakable words to her stunned sister: “I want this.”

Asuka, as it turns out, wanted it just a little bit more. Despite suffering a Rack Attack 2.0, The Empress of Tomorrow lured Nikki into a slugfest on the apron. And it was Asuka, with a quick-thinking swipe of Nikki’s legs, who was the last woman standing.

Alexa and Charlotte made their way into the ring to find out which title The Empress of Tomorrow would select to compete for at WrestleMania, but unlike Men’s winner Shinsuke Nakamura, she never got the chance. Former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey made her entrance to the strains of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” stood in front of the three competitors and pointed at the WrestleMania sign, seemingly implying that she was calling dibs on whichever woman Asuka didn’t select to be her opponent at The Show of Shows. While The Empress of Tomorrow slapped Rousey’s hand away as she went to shake it, guest commentator Stephanie McMahon was much more receptive as Rousey made her exit.

The interaction between Ronda and Stephanie implied some kind of agreement had been struck, but for now, the implications of her appearance remain unresolved. Only two things were certain as the Women’s Royal Rumble Match concluded: That 29 women weren’t ready for Asuka, and there’s only one more standing between The Empress of Tomorrow and a title.