The following is an excerpt from Fightful's Inside The Royal Rumble feature. For the full story an additional context, please visit the full article at this link, and when posting quotes from this piece, please link to the original article.
In recent years, WWE's third brand has been NXT, but that wasn't WWE's first effort, as ECW once filled that role, and Rumble entrants were divided up into intermittent amounts. However, with the NXT crew landing on cable TV in 2019, this called for an accelerated usage of the show's stacked women's division. With double the Royal Rumbles, there's double the planning.
The two-time Royal Rumble winner Triple H has a huge hand in making those calls. His familiarity with the NXT roster goes a long way, and his input carries plenty of weight. He reveals that those special circumstances of seeing an NXT star in the match is a product of the split itself.
"There's always conversations about that as the Rumble gets closer every year. I'm a big fan of having separation. That doesn't mean that's the sole answer, but I'm a big fan of having separation, where there's some uniqueness. I love the fact that Raw and Smackdown have Survivor Series. I love the fact that (NXT has) WarGames. It's different. It has a different vibe and a different feel. I love the fact that the Rumble is the big thing that leads you to WrestleMania. I think having those differences are great, and as you're building NXT into its own brand more and more, having those differences be stark is great. When you have moments like the Rumble where they can all come together and have those moments is even cooler. As that gets closer, I'm sure we'll have a lot of conversations about who should be in there, and who we should give that opportunity to."
Sometimes those decisions and conversations come down to the wire. Just ask NXT star Shotzi Blackheart, who made her Royal Rumble debut at Minute Maid Park in Houston in 2020, tank and all. About 36 hours before her entrance, she had no idea that it'd be happening.
"I mean, that was like a text message the night before. “Hey, get on a plane. You’re going to Texas.” Then getting there and being like, “Alright, here’s your number,” and I’m like, “What?” In a baseball stadium in front of too many people... I was up in my hotel room being like, “Is this real? What is my life?'" Shotzi told Fightful.
In recent years, technology has helped ease the process of organizing a Royal Rumble. In the 1990s, talent would be provided with itineraries that would mandate them back at the venue or hotel at a certain time. These days, WWE has a talent relations app that streamlines the process. Those we spoke to involved in the 2020 Women's Royal Rumble said that they found out that week via the app they'd be required to come to rehearsal, even though the rehearsal was more of a walkthrough.
Talent that participated in the match told Fightful that setting up the 2020 Women's match included some major influence from the combatants, as well as Adam Pearce and Tyson Kidd. Those that weren't in the match very long talked through their numbers and eliminations, while some of the others went through rehearsals for the pre-written match. The process was split into two rough halves and worked on from there. Numbers were finalized and determined the night before the match.
It all came together so quickly that Blackheart told us she didn't even get nervous.
"No, not at all. I really didn’t even have time to think about it. But, the Royal Rumble has always been my favorite pay-per-view. It has the most surprises. It’s so much fun to watch. I was just ecstatic when girls got introduced finally and to be a part of the beginning of that? Insane. I mean, I got some good forearms from Beth Phoenix. That was enough for me," Blackheart said.
Some names get left out. That particular match was NXT heavy, and some additional performers were brought in. That included Kay Lee Ray of NXT UK, who was at rehearsals but didn't end up getting in the match. It's easy to say "there's always next year," but with travel restrictions in 2021, there probably isn't in that situation.
As mentioned, NXT wasn't the first "third" brand to be integrated. In 2007, and for years that followed, WWE presented the ECW show as a part of the Royal Rumble. This led to names like The Sandman, CM Punk, Sabu, Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamers and others plying their extreme trade on a grand scale. Working alongside multiple creative teams proved frustrating, said Court Bauer.
"Everyone’s trying to build up ECW and help support this brand extension," Bauer told Fightful. "So, whatever was required to make it successful, make it viable, was important. The concern always, within some circles within the creative team, was the selection of talent used in the Rumble and also making sure that they, not only held their own with the other brands but if possible could be showcased. So often, because there’s this internal rivalry about brand superiority that Vince kinda likes to have within the writer’s teams—the Smackdown team, the RAW team, and the ECW team—is to have it be like they’re competing. So, it can undercut the creative process and so that sometimes a challenge in making ECW stand out. You had other people that said, ‘Well, what does it do for my Smackdown guys?’ ‘What does it do for my guys from RAW?’ Instead of it being a collaborative creative experience in the writer’s room in L.A. where those kinds of issues don’t happen because these are all characters in this world that you want to see go in different directions. Wrestling’s a hybrid. It’s a totally different thing."