McIntyre’s long journey home and Flair’s family legacy realized at Royal Rumble


Drew McIntyre‘s career renaissance has hit a new level. A historic one.

Six years after being released by WWE, McIntyre has clawed his way back to not only main-roster relevance, but a spot in a marquee title match at WrestleMania 36.

McIntyre won the 2020 men’s Royal Rumble by eliminating Roman Reigns at the 60-minute mark of the match on Sunday at Minute Maid Park in Houston. It was the possibility of moments like these that motivated him to push through some of the darker times after being cut by WWE in 2014.

“I’d be a liar if I said I hadn’t imagined it,” McIntrye told ESPN on Sunday night, minutes after the show ended. “When I was away, I worked very hard. I was the busiest professional wrestler in the entire world. And I did that intentionally to get as good as I possibly could, to get every experience I possibly could — to come back to WWE one day and fulfill that potential. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have the images in my head. But pulling it off is a whole different story.”

McIntyre didn’t just win the Rumble. He eliminated WWE champion Brock Lesnar, who McIntyre appears likely to meet at WrestleMania 36 on April 5 in Tampa. Lesnar was dominant, starting the match first at No. 1 and eliminating 13 men, tying a Rumble record with Braun Strowman. McIntyre knocked Lesnar out of the ring with his claymore kick finisher at 26:23 of the match. That was an immediate signal that WWE’s creative team has big future plans for McIntyre, who was once nicknamed “The Chosen One” by WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon during his first run with the promotion.

After three years away, McIntyre, whose real name is Andrew Galloway, signed with WWE to work for NXT in 2017. At the time, the Scotland native had let his contract with Impact Wrestling expire, and the idea was for him to head to Japan. Instead, NXT exec William Regal, one of McIntrye’s mentors, told McIntrye that he should speak with Paul “Triple H” Levesque first. That led to his return to the promotion that once spurned him.

“The time was right to come back home and fulfill that destiny,” McIntyre said.

And now the time is right for a massive step forward, McIntyre believes. After a run with the NXT title, McIntyre moved to the main WWE roster in 2018. He admits that he spun his wheels for a bit with a character that was not 100 percent clicking with the fans. That has changed, McIntyre said. WWE has given him more leeway to be himself.

“On Raw, I hadn’t quite found myself the way I had outside the company until the past couple of months,” McIntyre said. “I think I was in a good position. I was the big, nasty heel that a lot of guys could work with. But I was also the big, hairy, gigantic Scotsman that no one could really relate to. But over the past couple of months, I’ve been allowed to get a bit more freedom on that microphone. I was essentially told, just be yourself. I’ve always said, ‘I’m not good or bad. I’m just gonna show Drew Galloway.’ That’s who Drew McIntrye is — the real me.

“Now, I’m showing the real me. The crowd are responding, because I’m letting them in. They’re relating to me a bit more and that’s why I think the time is perfect. They’re reacting, I won the Royal Rumble and it’s frickin’ WrestleMania season.”

McIntyre, 34, has been NXT champion, he’s been TNA world heavyweight champion. He’s won titles in EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA. He’s a legend and Hall of Famer in his home country, with Scotland’s ICW. The Royal Rumble, though, is something set apart from the rest. Only one man and one woman can win it annually. It’s a cornerstone event on the WWE calendar. And it’s a key that unlocks a massive match at WrestleMania.

“It means as much to me as any championship,” McIntyre said. “I’ve had a lot of highlights in my career in the company, and not with the company. This is the biggest moment of my career. The emotion that came over me at the end when I heard 40,000 people react the way they reacted, so many things went through my head.”

One of those things had to do with his wife, Kaitlyn, and his family. All the long road trips that have taken him away from them and how all the hard work was paying off now. McIntyre said he adopted The Rock’s famous quote “All it takes is all you got” while he was on the independent wrestling circuit and in Impact.

“I kind of took that to heart when I was outside the company, to the point where I ran myself into the ground a few times,” he said. “I made myself sick a few times by running so hard. But I just never stopped in the gym, I never stopped on my way to getting as good possible for when the opportunity came. That opportunity finally came and I wasn’t going to let it slip through my fingers.”

Especially now, McIntyre, who lives in Tampa, believes it’s important for people to stay working hard to achieve their dreams, no matter how crazy. It’s something he said he’ll be repeating “until I’m blue in the face.”

“I say, ‘Trust me.’ Drew McIntyre has done it, then got fired,” McIntyre said. “Then he done it again. Then he won the Royal Rumble, and now he’s going to frickin’ WrestleMania in his hometown in America. It can be done. Just give everything you bloody can.”


More history for Charlotte Flair

Charlotte Flair won the 2020 Women’s Royal Rumble by last eliminating Shayna Baszler at 54:17 of the match. Flair came in at No. 17 and was in the match for 27:19. She will now get a title match at WrestleMania 36. The victory also made Flair and her father Ric, the iconic champion and Hall of Famer, the only dual generation duo to win the Rumble. Ric won in 1992.

“I try hard not to [be like], ‘I want to have a match just like that, I want to be just like my Dad,'” Charlotte said. “Except I do want to be just like my Dad. But winning the Rumble and having that accolade beside my Dad — being the only father-daughter duo to have both won the Rumble — it’s like, man, another thing we can add to our legacy. It’s just special.”

This was WWE’s third women’s Royal Rumble match. Asuka won in 2018 and Becky Lynch won in 2019. This was Flair’s second Rumble, and she said it’s much more complex than a singles or tag match. At one point, she was bleeding from her face and said she had no idea where the blood was coming from.

“There’s just a lot of bodies and a lot going on,” Flair said. “You have to almost be aware of every angle. It’s not just one person… It’s having that self -awareness. That’s what makes it so difficult.”



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Dominic Thiem beats Gael Monfils to reach first Aussie quarterfinal


MELBOURNE, Australia — Two-time French Open runner-up Dominic Thiem beat Gael Monfils 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 on Monday to book a quarterfinals spot at the Australian Open for the first time.

It was Thiem’s sixth consecutive victory over the French player and made him the first player from Austria to make it to the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park since Stefan Koubek in 2002.

Thiem will play either top-ranked Rafael Nadal or Nick Kyrgios in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

Thiem has lost the past two French Open finals to Nadal and is 4-13 in their career meetings.

Meanwhile, Bob and Mike Bryan lost their third-round doubles match in their last trip to the Australian Open, falling 6-3, 6-4 to fourth-seeded Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek.

The 41-year-old Bryans, who first played at Melbourne Park in 2000, are planning to retire at the end of this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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Anett Kontaveit rallies from set down to join Simona Halep in quarters


MELBOURNE, Australia — Wimbledon champion Simona Halep reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open with a straight-sets win over Elise Mertens on Monday.

Halep appeared to be cruising after winning the first set and going up a service break in the second, but Mertens broke back to level the second set at 4-4.

Halep responded by converting her fifth break-point chance in the next game and served out at love to clinch the match. Halep will next play Anett Kontaveit, who rallied from a set and a break down to beat 18-year-old Iga Swiatek 6-7 (4), 7-5, 7-5 and reach the quarterfinals of a major for the first time.

“Mentally,” Halep said. “I think I did a great job today.”

Kontaveit twice served for the match in the third set but finally clinched it when she broke Swiatek’s serve.

“It was such a battle today. So happy I toughed it out,” the 28th-seeded Kontaveit said. “I was just trying to stay as tough as I could, fight for every point.”

No. 4-seeded Halep reached the Australian Open final in 2018 and won her first major title at the French Open that year.

Joining them in the quarterfinals will be two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza, who advanced with a 6-3, 6-3 win over ninth-seeded Kiki Bertens.

Muguruza won the 2016 French Open and 2017 Wimbledon. She is unseeded at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since the 2014 French Open, when she was ranked 35th and also made the quarterfinals.

She came into the Australian Open after withdrawing from her quarterfinal match at the Hobart International due to a virus. But Muguruza said she is feeling better each day.

Muguruza will next play the winner of a later fourth-round match between Angelique Kerber and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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In Europe and Asia, fans and politicians remember Kobe Bryant after his sudden death


Basketball fans in Europe and Asia reacted to the sudden death of former Lakers star Kobe Bryant with tributes and praise.

Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among several people killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Bryant was 41. Gianna was 13.

In Europe, where Bryant grew up, the retired NBA star was remembered for his “Italian qualities.”

“All of the NBA players are important, because they’re legends, but he’s particularly important to us because he knew Italy so well, having lived in several cities here,” Italian basketball federation president Giovanni Petrucci told The Associated Press. “He had a lot of Italian qualities.

“He spoke Italian very well. He even knew the local slang,” Petrucci added.

Bryant lived in Italy between the ages of 6 and 13 while his father, Joe Bryant, played for several teams in the country before returning to Pennsylvania for high school. Kobe Bryant spoke fluent Italian and often said it would be a “dream” to play in the country.

The dream almost came true when Bryant nearly joined Virtus Bologna in 2011 during an NBA lockout, only for the deal to fall apart.

“He was a supernatural,” Italian coach Ettore Messina, who worked with Bryant as an assistant for the Lakers, told the AP via text message while traveling with his current club, Olimpia Milano.

“To hear him speak and joke in our language and to remember when his father played here and he was a kid drew a lot of people to the NBA,” Messina said. “He was also always very attentive to help Italian kids arriving in the NBA and to help them enter such a tough and competitive world. He also did that with me when I arrived at the Lakers and I’m still very grateful to him for that. It’s very sad that his family has been devastated like this.”

In Asia, Bryant was a hugely popular figure in Asia, no more so than in China where basketball rivals soccer as the most popular sport.

However, his death Sunday in a helicopter accident came at an awkward time between the country and the league. National broadcaster CCTC pulled all NBA games off the air following a tweet in October from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressing support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.

The Chinese Basketball Association, led by former Rockets MVP Yao Ming, announced it would suspend all cooperation with the Texas-based team. Yao and the association have yet to comment on the crash that killed Bryant, daughter Gianna and seven others.

Bryant’s popularity among Chinese fans was rivaled only by Yao, LeBron James and Michael Jordan. His playing appearances, including the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics won by the U.S., were far exceeded by his promotional appearances in the country, both on behalf of his own brand and basketball generally. At a 2013 Lakers preseason game against Golden State in Beijing, the arena rang out with chants of “Kobe! Kobe!” despite the injured super-star not even having suited up for the game.

Commemorations begin rolling in online, many of the accompanied by photos of Yao and Gianna with the letters R.I.P. Others showed the two dressed in uniform walking away into clouds under a basketball net.

“For our generation, our memories of the NBA begin with Jordan, and move through Kobe and Yao Ming. You were a part of our youth. Already missing the bright sun of Kobe. Go well,” wrote commentator “ZhanHao” on the popular Twitter-like Weibo messaging service.

“Your willpower has inspired a generation. Thank you,” wrote “Teacher Kai Ting.” “I hope there is basketball in heaven. Kobe just went to another world to play basketball with his daughter,” wrote “Cici’s green paper.”

In Taiwan, where the NBA also is an enormous draw, President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted that her “thoughts go out to the Bryant family & the families of all those who lost loved ones today.”

“Kobe inspired a generation of young Taiwanese basketball players, & his legacy will live on through those who loved him,” Tsai wrote.

Philippine presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo noted that Bryant had been a frequent visitor to the Philippines. “He was well-loved by his Filipino fans,” Panelo said in a statement.

In Japan, Tetsunori Tanimoto, an official at the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association, in Kobe, central Japan, expressed his deep condolences for Kobe Bryant’s death.

“He helped make Kobe Beef known throughout the world,” he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press Monday.

Kobe got his name, the legend goes, after his father ate Kobe beef during a visit to Japan and loved the taste.

Tanimoto, who watches NBA games on TV but has never met Bryant, said people know the story about how Bryant got his name.

“We have always felt a closeness to him,” he said. “It is so sad. And we offer our deepest condolences.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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Helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant made climbing turn before rapid dive


The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight other passengers that crashed into a hillside in Southern California on Sunday was in a climbing left turn about 2,400 feet high before it dove to the ground, a person familiar with preliminary investigative information about the fatal crash told ESPN.

According to data from flight-tracking service Flightradar24, the helicopter was flying at about 160 knots (184 mph) and descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute when it crashed.

Further, the source told ESPN, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, the pilot had, only moments before, contacted air traffic controllers to say that he had begun a climb to “go above the layer” of clouds present.

The chopper went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles after departing John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m. PT. The first 911 call reporting the crash was received at 9:47 a.m.

Audio reviewed by ESPN indicates that a few minutes prior to the crash, an air traffic controller told the pilot he was “still too low level for flight following,” meaning the aircraft was below the level at which it could be picked up by radar due to the area’s hilly terrain. That audio came from recordings posted on LiveATC.net, which has partial audio of the communication between the pilot and air traffic controllers.

Additional recordings between the pilot and air traffic controllers posted on the site indicate that the pilot was getting guidance from controllers as he navigated what was reported to be a dense morning fog.

Air traffic controllers noted poor visibility around Burbank, just to the north, and Van Nuys, to the northwest.

After holding up the helicopter for other aircraft, they cleared the Sikorsky S-76 to proceed north along Interstate 5 through Burbank before turning west to follow U.S Route 101, the Ventura Highway.

Authorities said that nine people were aboard the helicopter and presumed dead. Bryant, an all-time basketball great who spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, was among the victims.

Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna also was killed, a source told ESPN.

The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a team of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days that gives a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause of aviation crashes can take a year or more.

Among other things, investigators will look at the pilot’s history, the chopper’s maintenance history, and the records of its owner and operator, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference.

An FAA aircraft registration database showed the helicopter was a 1991 Sikorsky S-76B model owned by a company named Island Express Holding Corp.

“The S-76 is a pretty expensive, sophisticated helicopter. … It’s certainly a quality helicopter,” said Justin Green, an aviation attorney in New York who flew helicopters in the Marine Corps.

Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard what sounded to him like a low-flying airplane or helicopter.

“It was very foggy so we couldn’t see anything,” he said. “But then we heard some sputtering, and then a boom.”

Storm could see smoke rising from the hillside in front of his home.

Firefighters hiked in with medical equipment and hoses, and medical personnel rappelled to the site from a helicopter, but found no survivors, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.

Firefighters worked to douse flames that spread through about a quarter acre of dry brush, Osby said.

Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Josh Rubenstein said that the department’s Air Support division grounded its helicopters Sunday morning due to foggy conditions and didn’t fly until later in the afternoon.

“The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” Rubenstein said.

The fog “was enough that we were not flying.” LAPD’s flight minimums are 2 miles of visibility and an 800-foot cloud ceiling, he said. The department typically flies two helicopters when conditions allow — one in the San Fernando Valley and one in the L.A. basin, he said.

The LAPD Air Support Division is the largest municipal airborne law enforcement organization in the United States, according to the department.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.



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WWE Royal Rumble results – Drew McIntyre, Charlotte Flair win Rumble matches


Drew McIntyre won the 2020 Men’s Royal Rumble match, punching his ticket to WrestleMania 36 and a shot at a world title.

Along the way, he eliminated Brock Lesnar to end a string of 13 consecutive eliminations — potentially setting the stage for Lesnar to be McIntyre’s target in Tampa.

He reached a Final 4 with Roman Reigns, Edge (who returned after nine years of retirement due to a neck injury) and Randy Orton, three former Royal Rumble winners. Once it got down to just McIntyre and Reigns, McIntyre unleased a claymore kick and tossed Reigns over the top rope to clinch the match.

Full recap to come.

Order of elimination: Elias, Rowan, Robert Roode, John Morrison, Rey Mysterio, Big E, Kofi Kingston, Cesaro, Shelton Benjamin, Shinsuke Nakamura, MVP, Keith Lee, Braun Strowman, Brock Lesnar, Ricochet, The Miz, AJ Styles, Matt Riddle, King Corbin, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Dolph Ziggler, Aleister Black, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, Edge, Roman Reigns


Raw women’s championship: Becky Lynch (c) def. Asuka

This was a solid match with a good finish that the crowd got into late. It probably wasn’t as good of a match as the two had last year at the Rumble, but this one told a good story and the booking made complete sense.

In the lead up, Asuka had continuously sprayed her poison green mist in Lynch’s face. Compound that with Lynch’s previous inability to beat Asuka in a singles match and the build was strong. Lynch was able to find the win when she nullified the mist late in the bout.

Asuka pushed Lynch in the corner where she nearly took out the ref. With the official distracted, Asuka readied to spit the green mist into Lynch’s face. Lynch saw it coming and landed a spinning back fist that knocked the wind – or, in this case, the green substance – out of Asuka’s mouth. With Asuka stunned, Lynch pounced and locked in the Dis-Arm-Her submission. After holding out for a few moments, Asuka tapped out.

The crowd was quiet at the start, but got into it around the 10-minute mark. This one was hard hitting with plenty of stiff shots. Asuka landed a pelvis buster out of a fisherman’s suplex on Lynch. Lynch grounded Asuka with a Rock Bottom from the second rope. There was a cool spot when Asuka was blasting Lynch with kicks to the chest, but Lynch continued to egg Asuka on – until Asuka landed a head kick to drop Lynch. That earned a two count and the finish came a few minutes later.

What’s next? Lynch seems destined to hold the Raw women’s title until WrestleMania, where she won it last year. It could be Flair across the ring from her. That’s been done before, but it’s still a marquee matchup for WWE. Names like Ronda Rousey and Baszler have been bandied about as potential title challenges at WrestleMania, but that doesn’t seem likely after what happened at the Rumble. Perhaps WWE puts something together involving all Four Horsewomen since Bayley is still the champion on SmackDown.


Strap match for the Universal championship: Bray Wyatt (c) def. Daniel Bryan

The rivalry between “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan has been ultra-compelling. The story has allowed Wyatt to dig deep in his bag of creepy tricks while successfully transitioning Bryan back into his beloved underdog babyface role. The Fiend and Bryan traded advantages on this week’s WWE programming with Bryan standing tall on Raw and the Fiend doing the same on SmackDown. Who would stand tall in tonight’s strap match – a stipulation Bryan requested – with the Universal championship held high?

The match began on a positive note as it was wrestled under normal lighting as opposed to the red light we had unfortunately become accustomed to during the Fiend’s matches. The Fiend controlled the early portion of the match by way of a spine shattering power bomb and relentless whips with the leather strap. Wyatt demonically laughed under his menacing mask.

Bryan’s back was red with welts and the comeback story everyone expected began when Bryan dodged a Sister Abigail attempt. He connected with a running knee and followed it up with an impressive dive off the top rope to the outside of the ring. However, a vicious clothesline by the Fiend put the comeback on hold.

Bryan’s next attempt to regain control occurred on top of the announcers table where he landed multiple low blows and a DDT. From there, it was Bryan’s turn to utilize the leather strap as he ferociously whipped the champion and combined them with his patented ‘Yes’ kicks. The Fiend begged for more and he got just that.

But a win for Bryan was just not to be. He kicked out of a Sister Abigail, turned a mandible claw into a Labell lock and hit multiple running knees. It wasn’t enough, though, and as a frustrated Bryan whipped an unfazed Fiend across the chest with the strap, the champion locked in another mandible claw and retained the title.

What’s next? Despite the loss, Bryan’s babyface character is adored. He should easily slide right into another entertaining rivalry as the Fiend awaits a new challenger.


SmackDown women’s championship: Bayley (c) def. Lacey Evans

How much can change in just a year. In January 2019, Lacey Evans was the first entrant in the Royal Rumble, her first real in-ring competition on the main roster. Bayley, on the other hand, was a face who finished found herself in the final four of the Rumble, but had no real direction to her character.

One year later, Evans found herself as the top face on the SmackDown women’s roster, and Bayley had shockingly become the division’s heel champion. The two had a real story going into the Royal Rumble, as the title was on the line and Evans’ daughter was being brought in creating an emotional promo two days before the match.

There is no doubting Evans’ athletic gifts. She’s strong and agile, capable of hitting slingshot moves and a very impressive double-jump moonsault. But it was those same risks that led to some sloppy moments during the match, slipping on a springboard attempt.

Bayley worked heel offense during the middle part of the match, but a pair of rear chin locks made the match grind to a halt. It didn’t help that the match followed a Rumble match that got the crowd amped with a number of surprise entrants and NXT favorites.

Near the end, the storyline nearly came full circle, with the two fighting in front of Evans’ daughter on the outside, but it ended up being a blip on the radar and didn’t really play into the finish.

The finish came as Evans ate a pair of knees on her moonsault attempt, and Bayley quickly rolled her up, grabbed the tights, and got a three count to remain champion.

What’s next? Charlotte’s got her choice of title opportunity, but it seems more likely she’ll stay on the Raw brand to have a rematch with Becky Lynch. Bayley’s future will likely come via the Elimination Chamber in March. But, wouldn’t a Shayna Baszler Rumble win have made the next three months interesting?


Charlotte Flair won the Women’s Royal Rumble match

“The Queen” achieved another career milestone and is once again going to WrestleMania for a title shot.

Flair eliminated Shayna Baszler to win the 2020 women’s Royal Rumble. Baszler had control of Flair’s legs as Flair hung onto the top rope, but Flair countered and took Baszler over the top rope with a head scissors. Flair came into the match at No. 17 and spent 27:19 in the ring. She has the option to challenge either the Raw or SmackDown champion at WrestleMania.

The match was a fun one, arguably better than last year. There were some storylines advanced and others started – including Flair vs. Baszler. The ending was a tad anticlimactic, with many in attendance audibly disappointed with Baszler’s elimination. However, a Royal Rumble win makes sense for Flair and WWE.

Outside of Flair, Bianca Belair and Baszler – both of NXT – were featured the most. Each had eight eliminations, a total tied for fifth most in history in any Rumble, men or woman. Belair spent the longest time in the match. She came in at No. 2 (Alexa Bliss was No. 1) and spent 33:21 in the ring. The match was conspicuous by the absence of Sasha Banks. Baszler was No. 30.

Some of the highlights of the match happened outside the ring. At one point, it looked like Mandy Rose would be eliminated, but she was saved by Otis, who was laying down on the outside. Rose landed right on top of him – face to face. Minutes later, Otis caught Rose again when Bianca Belair attempted to eliminate her. But Otis dropped Rose when Belair tossed Rose’s tag partner Sonya Deville at Rose and Otis. That spot eliminated both Rose and Deville and could set up further dissension between them. There was a similar situation between tag partners Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross that could lead to a rift.

There were a few surprises, including the return of Naomi and retired veterans like Beth Phoenix, Kelly Kelly and Mighty Molly. Naomi looked excellent and pulled off an amazing spot to keep herself from being eliminated, jumping from the stairs to the edge of the railing. Eventually, Naomi made her way back into the ring by using a piece of the announce table like a plank to keep her from touching the floor.

Phoenix, who came in at No. 19, was one of the final three despite seemingly getting bloodied in the back of her head. She and longtime friend and teammate Natalya worked together throughout the match. They confronted the returning “Santina” Marella, who was the No. 29 entrant. Marella decided to eliminate himself rather than face off with Phoenix and Natalya.

Phoenix, Natalya, Flair and Baszler were the final four. Phoenix turned on Natalya to eliminate her, then Baszler eliminated Phoenix to set up the final spot with Flair.

What’s next: Flair gets another title shot at WrestleMania after headlining with Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey last year. The winner between Asuka and Lynch later for the Raw women’s title will probably go a long way in deciding who Flair ends up facing in Tampa. Lynch seems to make the most sense, but who knows? A lot can happen between now and April.


Roman Reigns def. King Corbin

Despite the in-ring chemistry that King Corbin and Roman Reigns have developed, theirs has become the rivalry that just won’t end. The story’s gas tank, which was filled with corny jokes and dog food, was running on fumes, but the result was an entertaining brawl to open the Royal Rumble main card, with Reigns picking up a definitive victory in the Falls Count Anywhere match atop a dugout.

Both executed some big power moves early — a side slam by Reigns and a deep six by Corbin — but it didn’t take them long to make their way back to the outside of the ring where Corbin smashed Reigns with the steel ring steps. They wandered through the crowd for a short stretch, but when they returned to ringside, Corbin delivered two chokeslams to Reigns — one onto the top of an announcers table that didn’t break, and another through an announcers table that did break.

Next up — you guessed it — another trip through the Houston crowd. As they made their way further away from the ring and approached the International announcers table section, Reigns delivered two Samoan drops to Corbin through two different tables, but he couldn’t put him away.

Corbin’s cronies, Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode, emerged, but when they did, The Usos were there to make the save for Reigns. At that point multiple brawls broke out, highlighted by Jimmy Uso leaping off an elevated section of seating onto Roode and Ziggler — and just like that, we were back to Reigns vs. Corbin again, one-on-one.

Around center field, Reigns located a row of port-o-lets and, naturally, he tossed Corbin inside of it and tipped it over. Shortly after that, as the match neared its conclusion, they made their way on top of one of the Houston Astros dugouts (still adorned by 2019 World Series logos), where Reigns connected with a superman punch and a spear, ending the match on top of the dugout.

What’s next: Simply put, anything but this rivalry. With a definitive ending to this match, it is time for both Reigns and Corbin to move on to something new heading towards WrestleMania 36.


Kickoff Show

United States championship: Andrade (c) def. Humberto Carrillo

With the crowd still rolling into their seats, Andrade and Humberto Carrillo resumed a months-long rivalry that resumed on Monday when Carrillo returned last week on Raw to save Rey Mysterio, following Andrade’s victory in a United States title ladder match.

The two showed what they could do early on, pulling from their lucha libre backgrounds as they let the pace fly early on and utilized every part of the ring — particularly the ropes.

After a quick start, though, it was unrealistic to keep that pace up, but a mid-match drag was followed by another late flurry, Carrillo’s offense was on full display as he hit a springboard moonsault to the outside and a hurricanrana on Andrade, who was standing on the top rope — but it was only good for a two-count.

The finish was sudden. Carrillo went for another hurricanrana after a pop-up from Andrade, but Andrade rolled through, hooked a leg and got a quick three count.

What’s next: With the sudden finish, and the chemistry these two have shown, another match might well be in the cards, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a rematch tomorrow on Raw. With the WWE champion only occasionally making Raw appearances, Andrade’s U.S. title becomes the top men’s singles title on the brand, and there’s no shortage of challengers,

If things go in a different direction, Aleister Black makes a lot of sense as a fresh challenger.


Sheamus def. Shorty G

After an extended absence, Sheamus returned to action during the Royal Rumble Kickoff Show and earned a victory over Shorty G.

Sheamus flaunted his power advantage early and often throughout the bout and zeroed in on the left arm and wrist of Shorty G to help eliminate Shorty G’s amateur wrestling advantage. Shorty G, who sustained a bloody ear, battled back, as Sheamus leaned hard into some trash talk.

Some of Shorty G’s best opportunities at claiming victory came after landing a beautiful moonsault from the top rope and a roll-through German suplex, but Sheamus kicked out of both ensuing pinfall attempts. As the match neared its conclusion, Shorty G was able to lock in his patented ankle lock on two different occasions but Sheamus broke free both times and eventually connected with a Bbogue kick for the win.

What’s next: Sheamus seems primed for a significant run as part of the SmackDown roster and this was step one. As far as Shorty G, it’s back to the drawing board.





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College Basketball Power Rankings – How the Big Ten could make March difficult


The Big Ten is likely to be the NCAA tournament selection committee’s toughest task come Selection Sunday, not just in terms of how many teams to include — right now, there probably are 12 teams that harbor legitimate hopes of making the dance — but seeding at the top of the bracket too. Because of the unbalanced schedule, conference records in the Big Ten aren’t all created equal, which makes it difficult to truly compare conference performances.

Here’s a perfect example:

Penn State is just 4-4 in the Big Ten and has a nonconference strength of schedule nearing 300, but it has five Quadrant 1 wins and an 8-4 record against Quadrants 1 and 2. The Nittany Lions have wins over Maryland, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Georgetown and Alabama.

Rutgers is 6-3 in the league and has the best metrics of the trio — best NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) ranking, best SOS — but the Scarlet Knights have just one win away from home and two Quadrant 1 wins. They do have the best nonconference win of the group, though, beating Seton Hall. They also beat Penn State.

And then there is Illinois. The Fighting Illini are tied atop the Big Ten at 7-2 and have road wins at Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan — plus home wins over the latter two. They also beat Rutgers. Illinois’ nonconference resume is poor, though, with a nonconference SOS in the mid-200s and losses to Miami and Missouri.

So how to differentiate the three? That is a microcosm of having to sift through the Big Ten pecking order.

Another factor in the Big Ten’s influence on Selection Sunday is the number of Quadrant 1 and quality wins available every night — which is undoubtedly going to help bubble teams and potential seeding of teams from the league. Twelve Big Ten teams sit inside the top 50 of the NET as of Sunday, and 12 Big Ten teams sit inside the top 40 at KenPom and in the BPI. It limits bad losses and increases the chances to boost résumés.

Only two Big Ten teams made it into the top 16 of these rankings this week, but at least four other teams — including Iowa, Penn State, Illinois and Rutgers — would be included if we extended the rankings to 25. Wisconsin isn’t too far behind, either.

There’s a lot to play out over the next seven weeks, but one thing is for certain: The Big Ten won’t be easy for the selection committee.

1. Baylor Bears (17-1)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: at Iowa State (Wednesday), vs. TCU (Saturday)

The ability of the Bears’ supporting cast to consistently have someone step up as a third option behind Jared Butler and MaCio Teague has been impressive all season. Davion Mitchell has done it of late, scoring in double figures in five of his past six games and in seven of his past nine. Freddie Gillespie had a four-game stretch this month in which he tallied double-figure scoring, and he also registered two double-doubles. And against Florida, it was senior sixth man Devonte Bandoo who stepped up; he had 16 points and three 3-pointers, the second time in the past three games he had put 16 points on the board. Bandoo is a very good 3-point shooter who is capable of heating up in a hurry from the perimeter.

2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (21-1)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: at Santa Clara (Thursday), at San Francisco (Saturday)

Five of Gonzaga’s next seven games are on the road, meaning that if the Bulldogs are going to suffer a loss in West Coast Conference play, it is likely to come during that stretch. In fact, between Saturday’s win over Pacific and the Feb. 20 meeting against San Francisco, the Zags will only play one home game. Including in that seven-game run are road trips to Saint Mary’s, BYU and San Francisco — all potential trouble spots for the Bulldogs. One rotation note for Mark Few’s team: Freshman Anton Watson is out for the season after missing the past three games. Instead of replacing Watson in the rotation, Few has essentially just gone with a seven-man group. In blowouts, freshman Martynas Arlauskas has seen minutes, but Few is going to roll with a seven-man rotation moving forward.

3. San Diego State Aztecs (21-0)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at New Mexico (Wednesday), vs. Utah State (Saturday)

We thought Sunday’s game against UNLV might be tougher than it looked on paper, and it lived up to that. San Diego State held off the Runnin’ Rebels to run its record to 21-0 and set up perhaps its toughest remaining week of the regular season. There will be tougher individual games than at New Mexico and home vs. Utah State, but it isn’t an easy two-game stretch. Fortunately for San Diego State, Paul Weir’s Lobos have imploded over the past few weeks. They lost by 33 to Colorado State, 21 to UNLV and 22 to Nevada — with a 27-point win over San Jose State mixed in. And Utah State hasn’t won a true road game since Dec. 4 over San Jose State. Neemias Queta is back and seemingly healthy for the Aggies, though, and they’ve won three of four.

4. Kansas Jayhawks (16-3)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: at Oklahoma State (Monday), vs. Texas Tech (Saturday)

Kansas’ résumé looks fairly bulletproof for the foreseeable future. The Jayhawks have the No. 1 strength of schedule, the No. 1 nonconference strength of schedule, the nation’s most Quadrant 1 wins and the most combined Quadrant 1 and 2 wins in the country. All of it is likely to keep them in the mix for a 1-seed throughout the season, even with another couple of losses. Since a hip injury that kept him out of a win over Oklahoma, Devon Dotson has been on a tear offensively. Over his past three games, Dotson is averaging 20.3 points, 4.3 assists and 2.0 steals. His outside shot has disappeared for most of the past few weeks, but Dotson has been impossible to stop off the bounce and is getting to the free throw line at a high rate.

5. Florida State Seminoles (17-2)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: at Virginia (Tuesday), at Virginia Tech (Saturday)

This is going to be a telling week for Florida State. Even though these upcoming opponents aren’t the two best teams in the league or even two NCAA tournament locks, road trips to Virginia and Virginia Tech are potential slipup spots for the Seminoles in their quest for an ACC regular-season title. They survived against the Cavaliers a couple of weeks back by four points in Tallahassee, but the Seminoles really struggled on the offensive end. They’ll have to be more efficient to get a win in Charlottesville. Florida State enters this week on a 10-game winning streak, but the past three victories have come by a combined nine points. On Saturday against Notre Dame, Wyatt Wilkes came out of nowhere to post 19 points off the bench. Wilkes had totaled eight points in his previous 12 games combined.

6. Louisville Cardinals (17-3)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Boston College (Wednesday), at NC State (Saturday)

Could the emergence of two freshmen be just what Louisville needed over the second half of the season? David Johnson has been terrific over the past four games, averaging 12.0 points and 4.5 assists off the bench, providing playmaking that the Cardinals have been missing for stretches this season. But on Saturday, Chris Mack’s team also got a boost from freshman Samuell Williamson. Williamson was a gifted scorer at the high school level, earning a five-star rating and McDonald’s All American honors, but he has had trouble carving out a role so far this season at Louisville. Against Clemson, Williamson came off the bench to score 14 points — his first game of double-figure scoring since Nov. 13 against Indiana State.

7. Seton Hall Pirates (15-4)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. DePaul (Wednesday), vs. Xavier (Saturday)

We have talked about Romaro Gill in this section before, but his breakout senior campaign has just been astonishing. This is a player who spent two seasons at a junior college before joining the Pirates, but his recent six-game stretch was something nobody could have seen coming. He had six games of double-figure scoring during his two seasons at junior college and one such game in his first 47 contests at Seton Hall. And he has now scored in double figures in six straight games, averaging 14.3 points over that stretch. Gill also is continuing his dominance on the defensive end, blocking 26 shots during those six games — including 14 in his past two outings.

8. Villanova Wildcats (16-3)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at St. John’s (Tuesday), vs. Creighton (Saturday)

Villanova freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl entered college as one of the more immediate-impact guys out of the high school ranks. After going for 24 points and 13 rebounds in his debut, though, Robinson-Earl’s production had been sporadic for the first two months of the season. He has turned it up during the past six games. Robinson-Earl has notched two double-doubles in his past five games, scoring in double figures in all of them. He had 17 points and three rebounds in the win at Providence on Saturday, following up a 12-point, 14-rebound effort in the 15-point home win over Butler. Consistency inside from Robinson-Earl is key going forward.

9. Dayton Flyers (18-2)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: at Duquesne (Wednesday), vs. Fordham (Saturday)

It was supposed to be one of the hardest conference games of the season for Dayton, but Saturday’s win over Richmond was pretty much on cruise control for the second half. The Flyers went on a 16-2 run toward the end of the first half to take the lead heading into the break, then piled on a 12-0 run early in the second half to essentially put the game out of reach. Dayton is just operating at an extremely high rate on the offensive end. The Flyers have scored at least one point per possession in every single game so far this season, with the least efficient outing coming in the two-point road victory at Saint Louis on Jan. 17. The Flyers can score in different ways: They make shots, and they have an elite go-to-guy in Obi Toppin.

10. West Virginia Mountaineers (16-3)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: at Texas Tech (Wednesday), vs. Kansas State (Saturday)

It is hard to find somebody who embodies the West Virginia ethos more than Gabe Osabuohien. After transferring from Arkansas last season and becoming eligible this season, Osabuohien has embraced his role off the bench and excelled. He is among the Big 12 leaders in both offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding percentage as well as assist rate, while also ranking near the top of the charts in steal percentage. Osabuohien is not a big-time scorer, but he is effective if he finds himself with the ball around the basket. He is versatile. He is aggressive defensively and on the offensive glass. And he has a motor. Sounds like the perfect Bob Huggins player.

11. Duke Blue Devils (16-3)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Pittsburgh (Tuesday), at Syracuse (Saturday)

We had heard the offseason talk about Tre Jones becoming a better outside shooter, and it really is coming to the forefront in ACC play. Jones is shooting nearly 38% from 3-point range through eight ACC games, becoming a more complete and dangerous offensive threat. Following a sprained left foot injury that kept him out of two games in late December and two games in which he played 46 total minutes, Jones has returned to being one of the better guards in the country. In the past five games, Jones is averaging 16.8 points, 5.8 assists and 2.4 steals — while turning it over just 12 times during that stretch — and he also is 9-for-20 from 3-point range.

12. Oregon Ducks (17-4)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: at California (Thursday), at Stanford (Saturday)

Not many people across the country had a better week than Chris Duarte. The junior college transfer pumped in 30 points against USC in the Ducks’ double-overtime win on Thursday, while also grabbing 11 rebounds and eight steals and making three 3-pointers. He followed that up with 24 points, six rebounds, five assists and 4-for-7 3-point shooting in a blowout win over UCLA on Sunday. Payton Pritchard‘s exploits — especially late in games — have made him a Wooden Award candidate, but Duarte has been the consistent second option all season. And interestingly enough, Duarte has more 30-point performances (2) than Pritchard (0) this season.

13. Michigan State Spartans (15-5)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Northwestern (Wednesday), at Wisconsin (Saturday)

Coming off two losses in three games, Tom Izzo made two changes to his starting lineup on Sunday. He took out Aaron Henry, who had started all but two games dating back to early January of last season, and Marcus Bingham Jr., who had started the past 14 games. In came freshmen Rocket Watts and Malik Hall. The Spartans responded with an impressive 18-point road win at Minnesota. Watts provided some scoring pop on the perimeter, hitting two 3s and scoring in double figures for the third time in four games. Hall had seven points and grabbed six rebounds. Henry played 25 minutes off the bench and made plays at both ends of the floor. We’ll see if Izzo sticks with the new lineup.

14. Kentucky Wildcats (15-4)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: vs. Vanderbilt (Wednesday), at Auburn (Saturday)

Kentucky didn’t play anything close to a perfect game on Saturday against Texas Tech, but the Wildcats showed toughness to come out of Lubbock with a win — something no nonconference opponent of the Red Raiders has done since 2013. And as it has been more often than not lately, it was the Immanuel Quickley (21 points) and Nick Richards (25 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks) show. The one concerning element from that matchup, however, was Kentucky’s lack of discipline late in the game. All three guards — Quickley, Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey — made questionable decisions down the stretch. It didn’t end up costing the Wildcats a W, but it is something that has popped up before — and did again — against the Red Raiders.

15. Maryland Terrapins (16-4)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: vs. Iowa (Thursday)

Maryland entered last week without a road win on the season, and it now exits the week with two under its belt after victories at Northwestern and Indiana. The key? Making shots. It sounds simple, but the Terrapins were just woeful on the offensive end during their four road losses this season. They scored 0.83 points per possession and shot 27.3% from 3-point range in those defeats. In the triumphs against the Wildcats and Hoosiers, Maryland turned it around: The Terps scored 1.26 points per possession and shot 40.3% from 3. They weren’t very good defensively in either game, but this team has plenty of offensive talent — especially when Jalen Smith comes to play. He averaged 27.0 points and 11.0 rebounds in the two wins.

16. Butler Bulldogs (16-4)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: at Georgetown (Tuesday), vs. Providence (Saturday)

Butler snapped its three-game losing streak with an overtime win against Marquette on Friday — and the Bulldogs needed all of Kamar Baldwin‘s heroics to take down the Golden Eagles. The senior guard scored 19 points in the final 7½ minutes (the last 2½ minutes of regulation and the five minutes of overtime) and also helped guard Markus Howard — who only had eight points in the second half after scoring 18 in the first — during that stretch. Howard and Myles Powell get most of the Big East headlines, and deservedly so, for their ability to light up the scoreboard, but Baldwin isn’t too far behind. And he is capable of carrying Butler a long way.

Dropped out: NONE

In the waiting room

Iowa Hawkeyes: A critical week looms for the Hawkeyes, with three contests in seven days — starting with a home game against Wisconsin, followed by a trip to Maryland on Thursday and then a game at home on Super Bowl Sunday against Illinois. Iowa enters the week on a four-game winning streak; how will its résumé look seven days from now?

Auburn Tigers: Bruce Pearl’s team bounced back from its two losses with a 2-0 week, and Auburn still is within striking distance of the top of the SEC. The Tigers have an upcoming schedule that can make or break their title hopes. After a trip to Ole Miss on Tuesday, they face Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU and Alabama in an 11-day span.

Colorado Buffaloes: The Buffs take Arizona’s spot in the waiting room after the Wildcats lost at Arizona State for their sixth loss in the past nine games. The Big Ten group of Penn State, Illinois and Rutgers is knocking at the door, however, as is SEC leader LSU. But Colorado quietly has a NET of 20, a top-20 ranking at KenPom, six wins away from home and a Quadrant 1 and 2 record of 7-3.



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WWE Royal Rumble 2020 – Charlotte Flair wins women’s Rumble


The road to WrestleMania 36 is a 70-day journey, from late January through early April. The 2020 Royal Rumble kicks off that most important stretch of the WWE calendar, and Sunday’s show from Minute Maid Park in Houston will go a long way in shaping the key WrestleMania matches we’ll see on April 5 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Three of the top four singles titles on Raw and SmackDown will be defended Sunday night. Daniel Bryan gets a second chance at Bray Wyatt’s Universal championship in a rarely utilized stipulation — a strap match. Bayley defends her SmackDown women’s championship against Lacey Evans. And in a bit of deja vu, Becky Lynch and Asuka square off for the Raw women’s championship at the Royal Rumble, one year after Asuka successfully defended her SmackDown women’s title against Lynch at the same event.

Outside of the title matches, all eyes will be on the men’s and women’s Royal Rumble matches, which will crown two WrestleMania world title contenders in two eponymous 30-participant battle royals. Of particular note is that WWE champion Brock Lesnar has entered the Royal Rumble match — just the second time in the event’s history that a reigning WWE champion will take part in the Royal Rumble. He’ll enter the match at No. 1.

Marc Raimondi, Tim Fiorvanti, Matt Willis are breaking down the action as it happens throughout the night. ESPN Stats & Information’s Sean Coyle rates each match on a scale from 0-5 based on a customized formula.


Strap match for the Universal championship: Bray Wyatt (c) def. Daniel Bryan

Recap to come.


SmackDown women’s championship: Bayley (c) def. Lacey Evans

How much can change in just a year. In January 2019, Lacey Evans was the first entrant in the Royal Rumble, her first real in-ring competition on the main roster. Bayley, on the other hand, was a face who finished found herself in the final four of the Rumble, but had no real direction to her character.

One year later, Evans found herself as the top face on the SmackDown women’s roster, and Bayley had shockingly become the division’s heel champion. The two had a real story going into the Royal Rumble, as the title was on the line and Evans’ daughter was being brought in creating an emotional promo two days before the match.

There is no doubting Evans’ athletic gifts. She’s strong and agile, capable of hitting slingshot moves and a very impressive double-jump moonsault. But it was those same risks that led to some sloppy moments during the match, slipping on a springboard attempt.

Bayley worked heel offense during the middle part of the match, but a pair of rear chin locks made the match grind to a halt. It didn’t help that the match followed a Rumble match that got the crowd amped with a number of surprise entrants and NXT favorites.

Near the end, the storyline nearly came full circle, with the two fighting in front of Evans’ daughter on the outside, but it ended up being a blip on the radar and didn’t really play into the finish.

The finish came as Evans ate a pair of knees on her moonsault attempt, and Bayley quickly rolled her up, grabbed the tights, and got a three count to remain champion.

What’s next? Charlotte’s got her choice of title opportunity, but it seems more likely she’ll stay on the Raw brand to have a rematch with Becky Lynch. Bayley’s future will likely come via the Elimination Chamber in March. But, wouldn’t a Shayna Baszler Rumble win have made the next three months interesting?


Charlotte Flair won the Women’s Royal Rumble match

“The Queen” achieved another career milestone and is once again going to WrestleMania for a title shot.

Flair eliminated Shayna Baszler to win the 2020 women’s Royal Rumble. Baszler had control of Flair’s legs as Flair hung onto the top rope, but Flair countered and took Baszler over the top rope with a head scissors. Flair came into the match at No. 17 and spent 27:19 in the ring. She has the option to challenge either the Raw or SmackDown champion at WrestleMania.

The match was a fun one, arguably better than last year. There were some storylines advanced and others started – including Flair vs. Baszler. The ending was a tad anticlimactic, with many in attendance audibly disappointed with Baszler’s elimination. However, a Royal Rumble win makes sense for Flair and WWE.

Outside of Flair, Bianca Belair and Baszler – both of NXT – were featured the most. Each had eight eliminations, a total tied for fifth most in history in any Rumble, men or woman. Belair spent the longest time in the match. She came in at No. 2 (Alexa Bliss was No. 1) and spent 33:21 in the ring. The match was conspicuous by the absence of Sasha Banks. Baszler was No. 30.

Some of the highlights of the match happened outside the ring. At one point, it looked like Mandy Rose would be eliminated, but she was saved by Otis, who was laying down on the outside. Rose landed right on top of him – face to face. Minutes later, Otis caught Rose again when Bianca Belair attempted to eliminate her. But Otis dropped Rose when Belair tossed Rose’s tag partner Sonya Deville at Rose and Otis. That spot eliminated both Rose and Deville and could set up further dissension between them. There was a similar situation between tag partners Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross that could lead to a rift.

There were a few surprises, including the return of Naomi and retired veterans like Beth Phoenix, Kelly Kelly and Mighty Molly. Naomi looked excellent and pulled off an amazing spot to keep herself from being eliminated, jumping from the stairs to the edge of the railing. Eventually, Naomi made her way back into the ring by using a piece of the announce table like a plank to keep her from touching the floor.

Phoenix, who came in at No. 19, was one of the final three despite seemingly getting bloodied in the back of her head. She and longtime friend and teammate Natalya worked together throughout the match. They confronted the returning “Santina” Marella, who was the No. 29 entrant. Marella decided to eliminate himself rather than face off with Phoenix and Natalya.

Phoenix, Natalya, Flair and Baszler were the final four. Phoenix turned on Natalya to eliminate her, then Baszler eliminated Phoenix to set up the final spot with Flair.

What’s next: Flair gets another title shot at WrestleMania after headlining with Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey last year. The winner between Asuka and Lynch later for the Raw women’s title will probably go a long way in deciding who Flair ends up facing in Tampa. Lynch seems to make the most sense, but who knows? A lot can happen between now and April.


Roman Reigns def. King Corbin

Despite the in-ring chemistry that King Corbin and Roman Reigns have developed, theirs has become the rivalry that just won’t end. The story’s gas tank, which was filled with corny jokes and dog food, was running on fumes, but the result was an entertaining brawl to open the Royal Rumble main card, with Reigns picking up a definitive victory in the Falls Count Anywhere match atop a dugout.

Both executed some big power moves early — a side slam by Reigns and a deep six by Corbin — but it didn’t take them long to make their way back to the outside of the ring where Corbin smashed Reigns with the steel ring steps. They wandered through the crowd for a short stretch, but when they returned to ringside, Corbin delivered two chokeslams to Reigns — one onto the top of an announcers table that didn’t break, and another through an announcers table that did break.

Next up — you guessed it — another trip through the Houston crowd. As they made their way further away from the ring and approached the International announcers table section, Reigns delivered two Samoan drops to Corbin through two different tables, but he couldn’t put him away.

Corbin’s cronies, Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode, emerged, but when they did, The Usos were there to make the save for Reigns. At that point multiple brawls broke out, highlighted by Jimmy Uso leaping off an elevated section of seating onto Roode and Ziggler — and just like that, we were back to Reigns vs. Corbin again, one-on-one.

Around center field, Reigns located a row of port-o-lets and, naturally, he tossed Corbin inside of it and tipped it over. Shortly after that, as the match neared its conclusion, they made their way on top of one of the Houston Astros dugouts (still adorned by 2019 World Series logos), where Reigns connected with a superman punch and a spear, ending the match on top of the dugout.

What’s next: Simply put, anything but this rivalry. With a definitive ending to this match, it is time for both Reigns and Corbin to move on to something new heading towards WrestleMania 36.


Kickoff Show

United States championship: Andrade (c) def. Humberto Carrillo

With the crowd still rolling into their seats, Andrade and Humberto Carrillo resumed a months-long rivalry that resumed on Monday when Carrillo returned last week on Raw to save Rey Mysterio, following Andrade’s victory in a United States title ladder match.

The two showed what they could do early on, pulling from their lucha libre backgrounds as they let the pace fly early on and utilized every part of the ring — particularly the ropes.

After a quick start, though, it was unrealistic to keep that pace up, but a mid-match drag was followed by another late flurry, Carrillo’s offense was on full display as he hit a springboard moonsault to the outside and a hurricanrana on Andrade, who was standing on the top rope — but it was only good for a two-count.

The finish was sudden. Carrillo went for another hurricanrana after a pop-up from Andrade, but Andrade rolled through, hooked a leg and got a quick three count.

What’s next: With the sudden finish, and the chemistry these two have shown, another match might well be in the cards, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a rematch tomorrow on Raw. With the WWE champion only occasionally making Raw appearances, Andrade’s U.S. title becomes the top men’s singles title on the brand, and there’s no shortage of challengers,

If things go in a different direction, Aleister Black makes a lot of sense as a fresh challenger.


Sheamus def. Shorty G

After an extended absence, Sheamus returned to action during the Royal Rumble Kickoff Show and earned a victory over Shorty G.

Sheamus flaunted his power advantage early and often throughout the bout and zeroed in on the left arm and wrist of Shorty G to help eliminate Shorty G’s amateur wrestling advantage. Shorty G, who sustained a bloody ear, battled back, as Sheamus leaned hard into some trash talk.

Some of Shorty G’s best opportunities at claiming victory came after landing a beautiful moonsault from the top rope and a roll-through German suplex, but Sheamus kicked out of both ensuing pinfall attempts. As the match neared its conclusion, Shorty G was able to lock in his patented ankle lock on two different occasions but Sheamus broke free both times and eventually connected with a Bbogue kick for the win.

What’s next: Sheamus seems primed for a significant run as part of the SmackDown roster and this was step one. As far as Shorty G, it’s back to the drawing board.


Still to come:

(c) – indicates defending champion | * – Indicates match is on Kickoff Show

Raw women’s championship: Becky Lynch (c) vs. Asuka

30-man Royal Rumble match
Announced entrants: Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar (No. 1), AJ Styles, Erick Rowan, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Ricochet, Drew McIntyre, Elias, King Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, Otis, Tucker, Rusev, Bobby Lashley, Aleister Black, Buddy Murphy, Braun Strowman, Shinsuke Nakamura, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Kofi Kingston, Big E, R-Truth, John Morrison, The Miz





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FA Cup review Liverpool have themselves to blame for replay Man United get it right


Nick Miller looks back on all the weekend’s FA Cup matches (stream live in the U.S. on ESPN+). Here are the top takeaways from this past weekend’s action.

Jump to: Liverpool only have themselves to blame | Man United get it right | Pep should lay off City fans | Hammers in big trouble | Lo Celso a keeper | Norwich renewed? | ‘Mounting’ issue at Chelsea

Hats off to Shrewsbury

We’ll get to Liverpool in a minute, but before that it’s important to give some unqualified praise to Shrewsbury for a superb comeback in their 2-2 draw on Sunday. Most of us watching quite reasonably thought the game was over when Donald Love scored that own-goal seconds after half-time, and the Shrewsbury players would have been forgiven for thinking similar.

In these situations it’s customary to praise the smaller team’s pluck and spirit, of which Shrewsbury showed plenty, but it’s also worth praising the skill of Josh Laurent, the solidity of the veteran Dave Edwards after he replaced captain Oliver Norburn, and the shrewd way manager Sam Ricketts used the man who got both goals, Jason Cummings.

Cummings is a frequently infuriating but undoubtedly dangerous forward, but after injury problems have dogged him this season it would have been folly to try him from the start. Using him for a burst of half-an-hour was the perfect strategy, and worked beautifully. And for that they get a replay at Anfield which, according to Ricketts, “could change this club’s future.”

Stream live matches and replays on ESPN+

Liverpool could have made all their complaints moot

Jurgen Klopp is right about one thing: the scheduling of the FA Cup replays for the middle of the supposed “winter break,” when Premier League clubs have been urged to actually have a break and not use the time to arrange other games, is entirely absurd and you can’t blame him for promising to play the kids in their replay with Shrewsbury.

You could argue it’s disrespectful to the competition or opposition, especially as he won’t be managing the team, but Liverpool have already played 38 games this season (which has included five trips abroad, one of which was to Qatar) and are guaranteed to play at least another 18, probably more. You can’t really blame him for sacking this one off.

But of course he and his team could have made all of this moot by not throwing away a 2-0 lead against the 16th-best team in League One. After the own-goal in the first minute of the second half, Liverpool almost seemed to lose interest in the game, thinking it was in the bag and that there’s no way they could make a mess of this. But make a mess of it they did, allowing Shrewsbury to get back into the game and not actually putting it out of sight.

Sure, this was a second-string team, but it featured five full internationals from the start and another three came off the bench, a defender who played in the last World Cup final and another who scored the clincher in the last Champions League final.

This is perhaps where the Liverpool “aura” can become a problem, that after this astounding season players allow themselves to feel bulletproof and think that victories will take care of themselves. It hasn’t happened much this season, but they must ensure it doesn’t happen again.

They should’ve had more than enough to win, but they didn’t and now here we are. Ultimately, Liverpool have only themselves to blame for having to face another replay.

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Shaka Hislop praises Man United’s players for taking control against Tranmere when the opportunity arose.

Manchester United did something right!

It feels like damning with faint praise, but while other top-flight teams laboured against League One opposition, Manchester United took care of a similar task with the utmost efficiency. Against a Tranmere side that had just beaten Premier League opposition, on an abysmal pitch and with their general propensity for calamity, you could easily see United making a mess of this one, but they didn’t. Small victories by big margins for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in this lopsided 6-0 win.

Guardiola needs to stop criticising his own fans

“Today was not full — I don’t know why,” said Pep Guardiola about the attendance at Manchester City’s 4-0 win over Fulham. “Hopefully our fans can come [to the Carabao Cup semifinal against Manchester United on Wednesday], more people than today. Hopefully they can support us more and make an intelligent game to reach the final.”

It gets quite difficult to defend those in football against accusations that they have no idea how the real world works when one of them says something like this. It’s January, people are still paying for Christmas, City have already played four home games this month and have another in mid-week, they’ll have more FA Cup games to come, probably the Carabao Cup final and the Champions League returns in a few weeks. It should be pretty obvious why plenty of people decided not to pay to attend a game that was on free-to-air TV in England, against second-tier opposition at 1pm on a Sunday.

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Shaka Hislop says Pep Guardiola showed he’s trying to win the FA Cup after thumping Fulham 4-0.

But Guardiola has form for this sort of thing. He complained about the apparently disappointing number of fans City took to last season’s FA Cup semifinal against Brighton, either not caring or entirely unaware that it was one of 14 trips to Wembley that City have made since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover (16 actually, if you throw in the games when the national stadium was Tottenham’s temporary home), and that getting down to London for these occasions is an extremely expensive business.

It’s as if Guardiola thinks that City are entitled to the support of an unquestioning public, that he has constructed this beautiful superteam and the people of Manchester are ungrateful serfs for choosing not to spend their money on watching every single game.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that he A. simply has absolutely no concept of how expensive following football is, and B. that people are under no obligation to spend their money on watching City, particularly when their own manager seems so contemptuous of them.

West Ham have big problems

On paper the team top of the Championship beating the team fourth-bottom of the Premier League barely even qualifies as an upset, but that shouldn’t be used as mitigation by David Moyes or West Ham.

West Brom haven’t actually won a league game since the middle of December, their two best attacking players were absent with Grady Diangana injured (and on loan from West Ham anyway) and Matheus Pereira suspended, manager Slaven Bilic made six other changes from their last league game and they played the last 20 minutes with 10 men.

Despite all that, not only did West Ham contrive to lose the game, but they only had three shots on target and gave away enough chances that the margin of victory should probably have been bigger.

It’s safe to say the new manager bounce has worn off at the London Stadium. In fact, it lasted two games, and their best result in the other four was a 1-1 draw with Everton. It’s been widely noted that, after making two substitutions at half-time against Leicester last time out, Moyes made three at the break in this game. If you’re being generous you could say it shows a decisive manager prepared to admit his mistakes, but more realistically it just shows a manager making mistakes.

It’s Liverpool next for the Hammers, on Wednesday. They’re currently separated from the relegation zone on goal difference, and you wouldn’t be surprised if they achieved the almost impressively incompetent feat of slipping down a place despite nobody else playing.

Lo Celso shows why Spurs are buying him

It’s hardly a surprise that Tottenham are taking up their option on signing Giovani Lo Celso on a permanent deal, particularly with the Christian Eriksen saga dragging itself slowly to a conclusion. His run to set up Son Heung-min’s goal against Southampton was almost worth paying the fee for on its own, and the best bit wasn’t even him beating four men then playing the forward in.

If you watch the run, you’ll see that just before he passes to Son he could have played Erik Lamela in. But the Argentinean had drifted slightly offside — not by much, but enough. Lo Celso could easily have missed that and played the pass anyway, but he spotted it and delayed accordingly. A small moment, but one that suggests Spurs have their Eriksen replacement already in house.

What more could this mean for Norwich?

Survival does look like a long-shot for Norwich, but might their win over Burnley help with that? They have only won one away game in the Premier League this season, but this victory is their third in the last five games. Could this be … momentum of some description?

Is Frank Lampard overplaying Mount?

Mason Mount is only 21 years old. Before this season he had never played a minute for Chelsea’s first-team, but this season the only outfielder to play more than him is Cesar Azpilicueta. He’s appeared in every Premier League game and every Champions League game. For someone so young and who will inevitably need a degree of protection, a cup game like Chelsea’s trip to Hull would seem like the ideal place to give him a breather, but instead he started and played 68 minutes.

On the one hand it’s good that Frank Lampard trusts youngsters like Mount, but on the other it seems like he’s only creating problems for himself and the player by overplaying him.



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Remembering Kobe Bryant – Relentless, curious and infinitely complicated


We were visiting relatives on a brisk Thanksgiving afternoon on Cape Cod in 2007, and I was balancing a piece of piping-hot apple pie in my hand when my phone pinged to let me know I had a text message.

It was from Kobe Bryant.

“Hey Jackie, wishing you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving,” he wrote.

While this was mildly surprising, as Kobe and I weren’t exactly regular social correspondents, we had been emailing on and off for years for various professional reasons. This text felt a bit like an olive branch. Bryant had initially emerged from his bruising sexual assault case both angry and defiant, fully embracing his black hat and the Black Mamba mantel; but as time passed, he began repairing his relationships within the basketball community.

It felt as though his Thanksgiving salutation warranted a response, but there was only one problem: Back in 2007, I was new to texting and not terribly adept at it. My daughter Aly, who was 15 at the time and a passionate basketball fan, gleefully offered to reply for me.

I can’t remember what she texted, but it included just enough of the edgy social slangs — u instead of you, which old fogies like me hadn’t quite caught onto yet — to prompt Kobe to immediately shoot back, “Hey, you didn’t write this!”

“You’re right,” I admitted. “My daughter answered for me.”

“I knew it!” he responded triumphantly.

Naturally, I couldn’t put anything past Kobe Bryant. He was far too insightful and intuitive for that. He was the most intelligent professional athlete I had ever encountered, curious and demanding and savvy and competitive and relentless and infinitely complicated.

Aly and I were atop Breckenridge Mountain on Sunday afternoon enjoying a glorious day of skiing when a stranger recognized me and approached with a look that I know all too well. Horrific news travels at Mach speed, even when you have no cell service.

Kobe. Gone. In a most unspeakable and horrible accident that also claimed the lives of several others, including his beautiful and accomplished young daughter Gianna.

The shock swiftly reverberated throughout the NBA, Hollywood and across the globe. For those of us who knew him well, it was, simply, incomprehensible. Bryant was a man with limitless possibility, a man whose trophy case included MVPs, an Oscar and a best-selling novel.

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Gregg Popovich says Kobe Bryant meant so much to the NBA community and that his death gives everyone a deep sense of loss.

When I heard the news, I thought immediately of Michael Jordan, who Bryant told me on several occasions was the player he aspired to be. Certainly, Bryant came closer than anyone else to matching the talent, the intensity — and the aura — of His Airness. I reached out to Jordan via text, knowing the news would be overwhelming and deeply personal.

“I’m devastated!!!!” Jordan wrote me. “Too emotional to respond. I can’t find the words to make sentences!!!!

“I just started crying,” added a teary-eyed Charles Barkley. “That’s all I’ve been doing, is crying.”

Barkley had gone to an early showing of the movie “The Gentlemen” and had left his phone at home. He emerged from the theater and immediately sensed something was terribly wrong.

“I just feel a tremendous sadness,” Barkley said.

Hall of Famer Jerry West traded for a teenage Bryant in the 1996 draft, shipping well-established and highly regarded center Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for the rights to the young phenom, who declared for the draft right out of high school. It was a bold move that literally altered the landscape of NBA history.

It was West who guided a young Bryant through the pitfalls of an NBA climate that was often unkind to a gifted, yet impetuous young talent. Bryant would later credit West as the first of many mentors who helped him shape his career as an unforgettable NBA icon.

“I haven’t come to grips with this,” said an audibly distraught West. “First you have a feeling of shock, then a feeling of horrible sorrow, and then you start having all these recollections of the times I shared with him. Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

“I feel like I’ve lost a son.”

Bryant maintained a high profile in the game during retirement, breaking down current NBA players for ESPN+ in a segment called Detail and appearing at Lakers games, often with one of his treasured daughters in tow. But, Barkley said, Bryant made a conscious effort to keep his distance.

“I don’t think anyone knew Kobe well — I ain’t gonna lie about that,” Barkley said. “Every time I saw him, he was courteous, he’d come by and say hello, but then he’d keep it moving.”

Perhaps that’s because that is how Bryant decided he wanted it. From the time he was an 8-year-old competing against players three years older than him, Bryant wasn’t satisfied with winning — he was gunning for total domination. He attacked the game with a fierceness that was both admirable and, at times, unsettling to his peers. Like his idol Jordan, who famously reduced teammate Steve Kerr to tears, Bryant once felled teammate Sasha Vujacic with an elbow in practice that left him weeping.

“I could never understand,” Bryant once told me, “why winning wasn’t the most important thing to everyone. Why are you here then?”

While he was playing, Kobe would sometimes sit down with me during the Los Angeles Lakers‘ annual trip to Boston. We would eat lunch in the Four Seasons dining room and dissect his complicated relationships with Shaquille O’Neal, Phil Jackson and Dwight Howard, among others.

In his final NBA season, Kobe agreed to sit down at the Four Seasons with me again, this time to reflect on a career that, he said, was built from advice and counsel from some incredible influences — from Bill Russell to Dr. J to Michael Jordan.

Many of those mentors shared their grief and dismay on Sunday over a meteoric life gone too soon. One of them, Bill Russell, who talked with Kobe after Bryant devoured Russell’s book “Second Wind,” said on twitter: “[My wife] Jeannine and I are absolutely shocked to hear of the loss of one of my favorite people and one of the best basketball minds in the history of the game! Our hearts and prayers to [Bryant’s wife] Vanessa and his girls. @kobebryant who were my biggest fan, but I was yours.”

My final correspondence with the Kobe came just a couple of weeks ago. I was working on a story regarding a legendary play that Jackson had run for him while he was with the Lakers, and I asked if he could share some memories about how it worked.

“Can’t right now,” Kobe texted back. “My girls are keeping me busy. Hit me up in a couple of weeks.”

If only I could.



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