Welcome to another edition of the ‘Monday Gorilla Position’! A weekly column here at Cageside Seats that dissects the latest shows and reports, and tries to figure out just what is going on in the world of WWE, AEW & more!
Special note: I’ve spent the better part of the past week trying to find the words to express my feelings toward the lawsuit that was filed against Vince McMahon and WWE by former employee Janel Grant. The accusations made against the former Chairman of the Board and other executives of the company are vile, disgusting, and inhumane.
If these accusations are even remotely true, the entire company needs to be washed clean of anyone who was found to be complicit in these actions. Nothing that took place in the past week in WWE should hold more importance than finding out the truth about what happened to Grant and ensuring that nothing like this ever happens again, to any employee. Talent or otherwise.
I applaud my colleagues for asking Paul “Triple H” Levesque the tough questions that needed to be asked during his post Royal Rumble Press Conference. They undoubtably will not be the last questions that need to be addressed —whether WWE’s Chief Content Officer wants to focus on only the ‘positives’ or not.
It was evident the moment her music hit inside of Tropicana Field — Saturday night was destined to be Bayley’s night. The crowd knew it. Bayley knew it. And we were all ready for it.
Just like she’s done her entire career, the Role Model had to earn her moment. Entering the Women’s Royal Rumble from the No. 3 position and lasting a record-breaking 63 minutes and 3 seconds in order to punch her ticket to WrestleMania 40.
The match had it’s fair share of clunky encounters, but overall, it delivered some spectacular high spots. Starting before the bell even rang as Naomi, just as she did in 2020 & 2021, chose the Royal Rumble to return to action in WWE.
As we surely all know by now, the circumstances surrounding her appearance on Saturday are vastly different from her prior two surprise entrances.
This was the first time that the WWE Universe felt the glow since May of 2022 and the St. Petersburg crowd rained down “welcome back” chants upon the former TNA Knockouts Champion. Becoming overwhelmed with the warm reception, she had to fight back tears before psyching herself up to lockup with her old rival Natalya to begin the bout.
Coming off an incredible run in IMPACT/TNA Wrestling, Naomi is yet another top level talent for Triple H to call upon. Already arguably the richest in all of wrestling, the WWE Women’s Division just got richer.
The woman who beat Naomi for the Knockouts title, when she was competing under her legal forename of Trinity, made a stunning appearance Saturday night. Jordynne Grace became the second Knockouts Champion to compete in the Women’s Royal Rumble match, following in the footsteps of Mickie James — who first walked through the “Forbidden Door” in 2022.
Despite not recording a single elimination, Grace more than held her own over the course of nearly 20 minutes. Going toe-to-toe with some of the best in the WWE Women’s Division before being dumped over the top rope by Bianca Belair. A brief encounter that should make wrestling fans yearn for WWE’s working relationship with TNA to continue to blossom.
Liv Morgan made her long awaited return to action, entering the Rumble match from the No. 30 position. A final surprise for the live crowd at the Trop, who were more than happy to see the former SmackDown Women’s Champion for the first time since injuring her shoulder this past Summer.
With a ring full of some heavy-hitters, Morgan approached the battle field with a look of poise and confidence I can’t recall the 29 year-old exuding before — at least to that high of a level.
Long gone is the young woman who was once tossed from the Royal Rumble in a mere 8 seconds. Liv is a main event level talent and she maximized her minutes on Saturday. Connecting with her smooth off the ropes offense in route to her second consecutive 2nd place finish — even eliminating the debuting Jade Cargill.
Speaking of whom. What can you possibly say about the former TBS Champion? Other than she has simply arrived.
“X-Factor, aura, whatever it is, she’s got it. And then some,” Triple H said of Jade Cargill during the post-Royal Rumble Press Conference. “She’s just a different performer. And I’m glad that she has had the time to get her feet on the ground and was able to come in here tonight and make a huge impact. So the future’s incredibly bright for her, and for all of us.”
After months of waiting, “The Storm” finally blew over the Tampa Bay area. Cargill entered the Rumble with the look and presence of a Hollywood prize fighter and immediately put the entire Women’s locker room on notice when she singlehandedly dumped Nia Jax over the top rope for her first of three eliminations.
Much like another AEW crossover, whom we’ll talk about here in a bit, Jade Cargill was built for the biggest stages in the largest arenas.
Call her a box-office draw. Call her a big time attraction. Whatever you like. I’ll simply call her inevitable. Her take over of the Women’s Division has officially begun and her next stop may be a showdown at WrestleMania 40 with a woman who may no longer be the strong-EST, the rough-EST or the tough-EST in all of WWE.
Will it happen this year? Tough to say. But with Becky Lynch still the betting favorite to earn her way back into a title fight in Philadelphia, Bianca Belair is in need of a dance partner if she’s going to be prominently featured on the WrestleMania card for the fourth straight year.
One thing is for sure. The gorilla press stare down between Belair and Jade Cargill is a clip that will forever be shown in Royal Rumble highlight packages. A tease to an epic encounter that is only fitting for the ‘Grandest Stage of Them All.’
Taking nothing away from Naomi, Jordynne, Bianca, Jade, Liv and everyone else in the match, but nothing quite compares to when the final bell rang and Bayley had finally realized her dream that was over a decade in the making.
You could see the magnitude of the moment wash over her face as she climbed the top rope to point at the colossal WrestleMania 40 sign hanging above the record crowd of 48,000 plus fans at Tropicana Field.
“It was cool to just stand up there and take it all in.” Bayley told Cageside Seats in during the Royal Rumble Press Conference. “It’ll probably hit me a little bit later, but I was trying to be professional, you know?”
In the weeks leading up to this year’s event, Bayley told us in an interview that pointing to the sign and having the fireworks go off was something she was excited to experience. Which is why I decided to ask her on Saturday night, if the reality of the moment lived up to her expectations.
“A little bit crazier. I was excited to point to the sign, but from what I remember, I thought only the sign had the fireworks,” Bayley said. “But as it was happening, it like kept going more and more and more all over the whole stadium. And in my head I’m like, do they always do this or is it just for me? Or they like super proud of me? This is a lot more than I was expecting.”
Bayley deserved all the pyro she got and more, to be honest. The long unheralded leader of the women’s locker room is finally getting her flowers. And more importantly, she’s finally punched her ticket to a one-on-one Championship match at WrestleMania.
“I think it’s easy to overlook how good she is, because she’s always the constant in getting something else launched,” Triple H said Saturday night. “She has been sometimes lost in the shuffle of just how great of a performer she is. She’s one of the all-time best.”
Even on her night, Bayley went out of her way to make sure all the other women in the match had an opportunity to shine. The Role Model seemed to take a bump for every single woman who entered the match, whether they were employed by WWE or not. Calling the plays for the less experienced wrestlers in the ring. Giving Maxxine Dupri a second opportunity to land her spinning head-scissors take down. Coaching every step of the way.
“It’s all about just consistency and just seeing the bigger picture. ‘Cause if you get stuck in all the dips and swerves and everything that this business throws at you, I could have never done what I did [Saturday]. I could have given up so long ago,” Bayley said after her big win. “We have such a different crew. There’s no legends coming in because there’s so many women out there that we need to showcase. It’s beautiful.”
Bayley’s solo accolades have been on the back burner for nearly two years now as she’s done everything within her power to help lift others in the division to new heights. Now it’s her time to return to the spotlight. WWE fans showed on Saturday that they are ready for it. This babyface Bayley run we’re about to see unfold has all the makings to be truly special.
the crowd pointing WITH her, y'all.. pic.twitter.com/CkLCaZaW1x— Stephanie Hypes (@StephanieHypes) January 28, 2024
It’s fitting that Bayley’s big moment came in Dusty Rhodes’ territory. St. Petersburg, Florida, just across the bay from the city that Bayley wrestled her very first matches in WWE 11 years ago this very month. A man who had a heavy influence on her career and played a major role in helping craft and mold her into the Superstar that she is today.
Fitting also, that she wins on the very night that The American Nightmare, Dusty’s son, solidified himself as the heir apparent to the Tribal Chief.
“Here’s the news. Here’s the headline. I am the guy,” Cody Rhodes emphatically said at the Royal Rumble Press Conference. “I have been the guy. And I am a three-count, or a submission away from being the quarterback of the greatest, most prosperous era in the history of sports-entertainment.”
In a much more eloquent fashion, Cody Rhodes told everyone on social media Saturday night to take their memes and shove them straight up their candy a—es.
He saw every comment and he kept every receipt. Ever since The Rock showed up on Raw and asked the WWE Universe if he should take a seat at the Head of the Table, everyone (including myself) assumed that Hollywood’s leading man was about to be cast in the starring role of WrestleMania 40, leaving the American Nightmare to be the American Understudy.
DO THE WORK.— WWE (@WWE) January 28, 2024
FINISH THE STORY.@CodyRhodes just won the Men's #RoyalRumble Match for the second year in a row! The American Nightmare has his sights set on @WWERomanReigns as the Road to #WrestleMania is underway! pic.twitter.com/RkHT2oAsLT
Assume no more. The debate is over. Rhodes did something that only three other men have ever done before him. He joined Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin as the only Superstars to win back-to-back Royal Rumble matches. The American Nightmare is going back to the main event of WrestleMania. He will face Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship and he will finally(?) finish the story.
Because he’s right. For a long time now, Cody Rhodes has been WWE’s Champion, both inside the ring and outside of it. Doing community events, charity events, house shows, special media appearances, documentary red carpets, creating special moments for young WWE fans all across the world.
For well over a year, Cody Rhodes has been a Champion without a Championship. It’s time for that to change.
Roman’s reign has been great. It’s been historic. It’s been legendary. He’s smashed and stacked everyone that has been put in front of him for 1246 days and counting. It’s time for a change.
Cody Rhodes is loose in the bullpen and he’s ready to take over the game. Whatever inning it is, be damned. Cody’s victory on Saturday just became Roman Reigns’ nightmare.
We have entered the final chapter. WrestleMania 40 in Philadelphia, should mark the end of one story for Cody Rhodes, and the beginning of new one.
Nia Jax will never forget the night Randy Orton took a bump for her
Cageside Seats had the opportunity to catch up with Nia Jax this weekend at the Royal Rumble Press Junket, and will have more coming up from that event in the coming weeks. Here are a couple highlights from our conversation with the Irresistible Force breaking down some of her favorite Rumble experiences.
Cageside Seats: You were involved in one of my favorite Royal Rumble moments of all time. Full disclosure, I’m a Becky Lynch homer, I apologize. But seeing her come down to the ring in 2019 with the stadium going nuts after her music hit. You’re standing in the ring. You two get face-to-face. You had to feel the electricity, because everybody immediately thinks back to the punch ahead of Survivor Series.
Nia Jax: It was incredible. You felt the energy. That stadium was huge, so I’m shocked that we could feel and hear how loud it got. That means people were really into it. And then getting in the ring with her after that moment, it was just electric. And she’s such a huge star that being in her presence was awesome for me.
CSS: Aside from that moment with Becky, is there another Rumble spot that stands out to you? The Men’s Rumble I’d have to assume.
Nia: The Men’s Rumble has to be the moment. When I was beating R-Truth up, I sitting there going, ‘I don’t know what’s happening. I can’t believe I’m actually gonna walk into the men’s rumble.’ It felt like forever walking towards the men in the ring.
I just saw [Randy Orton] at one of the live events and he was like, ‘Nia, do you remember when I bumped for you?’ And I was like, Yeah, I do trust me. That doesn’t leave my mind. I couldn’t even believe you did it.’ He was like, ‘It just felt right.’
It wasn’t even planned. He just did it. And I remember when it happened. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. That did not just happen. Randy Orton just not just bump for me!’ It was just incredible.
You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and stay tuned for more in depth interviews with WWE and AEW talent here on Cageside Seats.