The following is an excerpt from our new feature, Inside The Royal Rumble 2. Please check it out in its entirety, and see our video feature at the top of the page
Women's Royal Rumbles
Also, in 2018, a significant shift in the Royal Rumble was made, as women got their own Rumble match. Before that, the likes of Awesome Kong, Chyna, and Beth Phoenix had entered the men's version of the match, which technically was never gender-specific.
Like the men's Royal Rumble, the women's version has plenty of surprises.
In 2020, a former Tough Enough competitor and IMPACT Knockouts Champion Chelsea Green was among those.
"Nobody told me I was gonna be in the Royal Rumble. I just showed up and they threw me in," Green recalled to Fightful. "I actually had heard the year I got hired my name had been thrown around for that Royal Rumble in 2019 to come out for the Royal Rumble as the Hot Mess. Whether that’s true or not, I heard that and that’s awesome. That was cool. Then when it came to the Royal Rumble, Robert Stone and I did talk about, ‘This is a possibility this year. You’re on TV. You done a couple of Main Events and RAWs and you’re on NXT TV. This could happen.’ But, we never heard anything and we got a notification in our WWE app saying that, ‘There is a dress rehearsal for the Royal Rumble that you’re needed for.’ So, I texted them, ‘Wait, are we in? What’s happening?’"
Green had a stop-and-start WWE run that involved teases of an NXT tag team, an appearance on Raw and Main Event, and then this particular Royal Rumble appearance. She looked back at the process and prepared for a complete uncertainty.
"I believe it was like the day before. I got that and I got all my flight information and it was maybe the next day or something like that. But, luckily we had spoken about it, so I was ready. I’m always ready with gear. Always. I didn’t know if I was going to be in WrestleMania in 2020, but I had WrestleMania gear ready and I had backup WrestleMania gear ready and I had Smackdown and RAW, just in case they wanted me to debut, gear ready. So, I’m good on that front," Green laughed.
Maria Kanellis was on the roster the year prior but hadn't been actively competing. Her appearance in the Rumble was a surprise considering she'd not regularly competed in two years prior. She looked back on being asked.
"I’m sure it was just a text message. I’m sure it was a text message from Mark Carrano. I had new clothes and everything. I was ready to go. It was exciting. Coming back and wrestling, especially because I don’t take it so seriously any more, is so much fun," Maria told Fightful.
As mentioned, Maria hadn't regularly competed for years prior and said that though she was familiar with some of the talent, she was well protected during the eight minutes she was in the match.
"I was in there for a bit. I was taken care of. I was really well taken care of. I had been training. I was taken care of by the other girls. They were so lovely to me. They just took care of me. Some (were people I'd never worked with). But, some I had known from the indies, too. So, it was a little bit of both," Maria said.
As has been the case with so many big women's matches in recent years, TJ Wilson, the former Tyson Kidd, was credited with helping put it together.
"I believe TJ was there to help with it, too. It was a collective effort, for sure. He fights for the girls. Fit always fought for us girls. So, that’s the biggest part about it. Knowing what the girls can do and fighting for it," said Maria, who would go on to help do much of the same for Ring of Honor's women's division in 2021.
One NXT star got to experience two wide ends of the spectrum as far as the Royal Rumble goes. In 2020, Dakota Kai got the call to participate in the stadium show at Minute Maid Park. The following year, she was in another baseball stadium, Tropicana Field. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans weren't present for the event. Instead, the WWE had virtual fans as a part of the Thunderdome.
"It still meant a lot to me to be included in (the 2021 Rumble)," Dakota told Fightful. "Obviously, any of the girls included from NXT, and, given they couldn’t include as many just because of the circumstances with COVID and things like that. They had to keep it pretty low key in terms of the number of girls they could use. But, it still meant a lot to me just because the Royal Rumble is my favorite pay-per-view, too. Growing up watching it, I think it’s just this weird thing when you’re watching it. You’re constantly getting excited. Every few minutes a new entrant comes out. It’s like this amazing match filled with surprise and shock returns."
The contrast was evident for Dakota, who had appeared on some big shows for WWE in the past. Walking out as a surprise entrant on its own was enough for her.
Kai said, "(2020) was crazy and the entrance itself, in that stadium, that was all that I needed. I didn’t care about the rest of what I was doing. I could have been in there for one second and it wouldn’t have mattered because the vibe of the live crowd, especially a big pay-per-view like that, took my breath away. Us NXT girls also got to watch the men’s match, too, later on that night, and none of us knew Edge was coming back. So, we’re just sitting up top and it happens—oh, my God. Like, that moment was insane and we were all little kids again. It was cool."
Kai remembered being given the good news that she'd get to be a part of a match that almost every childhood WWE fan grows up.
Kai said, "In 2020, I’m pretty sure it was the day after World’s Collide. So, we had a little promo—me and Tegan—on that show. We all got told after that. It was very last minute. We were all rushed onto the bus to go get ready for it and that was cool. That was super, super cool. (In 2021) we found out a few weeks prior, which was also cool. It was myself and Shotzi and Rhea and then Toni as well. We were all pulled into Coach Bloom’s office and told. They really like sharing that information with us ‘cause it’s such a cool, exciting time. Us girls were super, super happy. It’s a nice little moment, you know? Like, there were no cameras around. It was nothing over the top, but it was just nice for him to deliver that news to us and it felt special just because of the limitations and restrictions in which NXT is being used with RAW and Smackdown."
For the 2022 Royal Rumble, a much different approach was taken to many of the surprises, as over a half-dozen women that weren't a part of the regular roster were announced three weeks before the match itself. When Fightful inquired about this, we were told that this was to increase ticket sales and buzz for the show and that backups and other surprises would also be prepared. In addition, the people contacted to be surprise entrants didn't know they'd be announced ahead of time!