Thursday, November 30, 2023

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NXT stars shine at the 2019 Women’s Royal Rumble

The 2019 Royal Rumble is officially in the book, and the winner, Becky Lynch, is heading to WrestleMania. This year’s match had some big shoes to fill, because the first Women’s Royal Rumble was so good. Whether viewers enjoyed it as much probably relies on their opinion of the surprise entrants.

Last year’s rumble was full of surprise returns, so it had the advantage of playing up the nostalgia factor. It was great to see women from the past match up against new superstars. However, since a lot of them appeared in 2018 as entrants in the Women’s Royal Rumble or guests at Evolution it was bound to be tough to duplicate this year.

There are still plenty of legends they could’ve used, but it was probably the right decision to save them for later and use the opportunity to build up newcomers. After all, the women’s division is bigger than it was last January, and it’s still growing.

It was a shock to see no legends, after predicting at least two would enter last week. Even more, WWE didn’t go with the NXT Women’s Champion, Shayna Baszler, or Toni Storm, the NXT UK Women’s Champion. Former champion, Rhea Ripley made an appearance, but Baszler seemed like a shoo-in given the Four Horsewomen feud. Instead, they picked four lesser-known names from NXT, who could use the exposure – Xia Li, Candice LeRae, Kacy Catanzaro, and Io Shirai.   

Xia Li, the first Chinese woman to wrestle for WWE, debuted as entrant no. 11. Fans may remember her from the Mae Young Classic. She was one of seven Chinese athletes who signed with the company to train at the Performance Center. Li participated in the first annual Mae Young Classic, where she was eliminated by indie legend, Mercedes Martinez, in the first round.

After getting sidelined by a shoulder injury, she returned in 2018. Last summer, she competed in the second Mae Young Classic, advancing to the second round this time, where she lost to Deonna Purrazzo. Xia displayed an impressive array of strikes last night, including a stiff hook kick that leveled Tamina, and stood toe-to-toe with fellow “homegrown” talent Charlotte Flair. He inclusion shows WWE is dedicated to pushing a Chinese superstar in the future.

Royal Rumble

Candice LeRae, a former indie star who built her name working promotions like PWG, DDT and Shimmer, made her main roster debut as entrant no. 17. Candice formally signed with WWE last year after competing in the inaugural Mae Young Classic. Since, she has been involved in feuds with Lacey Evans and Shayna Baszler, as well as storylines with her husband, Johnny Gargano, on NXT. Last night, there was a fun callback to the couple’s feud with Zelina Vega and Andrade. Hopefully, this means there are plans for a title push.

Kacy Catanzaro had a magnificent showing in just under 11 minutes in the match. Coming as entrant no. 19, she pulled off some athletic Hurricanrana variations, and an incredible handstand save. Rhea Ripley countered her tilt-a-whirl stunner, a move that went viral on Twitter in recent weeks, but WWE is clearly high on her. Ripley also eliminated her from the Mae Young Classic last summer.

The former gymnast was the first woman to qualify for the finals on American Ninja Warrior and the first, only, woman to complete a City Finals course. Kacy has loads of potential, and this definitely won’t be the last time we see her in a Women’s Royal Rumble match. It will be interesting to see how they position her on NXT this year.

Last, but certainly not least, Io Shirai made her second appearance on a main roster pay-per-view as entrant no. 23. Last year, Io took on Toni Storm in the Mae Young Classic finals at Evolution.

Shirai is a two-time World of Stardom Champion, with both the most combined days as champion and the most combined title defenses. The former “ace” of Stardom was the first Grand Slam Champion, and she’s only 28 years old. This weekend she received the Future Star of NXT at the 2018 NXT Year-End Awards, becoming the first woman to win the award. It’s a safe bet she will be NXT Women’s Champion in the near future.

Honestly, the women carried Royal Rumble this year. Using lesser-known women allowed WWE to focus on telling a story centered around the stalwarts of the divison from 2018. This year’s match excelled over last year’s by building up Flair and Jax as formidable threats that fit into Lynch’s story from SummerSlam on, and creating stakes believable stakes for her to overcome.

The second Women’s Royal Rumble didn’t have all the bells and whistles, or the advantage of being the first of its kind. But it did tell a more satisfying story and set up four women to keep an eye on 2019.

Check back with Diva Dirt for more news following the second Women’s Royal Rumble.

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