Women’s Royal Rumble: Meet the Five NXT Superstars Who Just Made their Main Roster Debuts

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Women's Royal Rumble
Credit: WWE Rhea Ripley and Io Shirai battled in the semifinals of the Mae Young Classic last summer. Both made their WWE main roster debuts on Sunday in the Women's Royal Rumble.

Now in its second year, the Women’s Royal Rumble seemingly relied on a different approach than it had the year prior. Last year, the rumble included a slew of legends and just two NXT wrestlers, but this year, there were six, including five who were making their WWE main roster debuts.

And while some of the WWE Universe is no doubt familiar with the five women who made their impact on this year’s Women’s Royal Rumble, here’s a quick primer for those who aren’t.

Xia Li

Entrant #11; Time – 04:48

The first NXT entrant in this year’s Royal Rumble, Xia Li made much more impressive history two years ago when she became the first Chinese woman to compete in a WWE ring. Trained in the Chinese martial art of wushu and known for her striking ability and strong kicks, Li began training at the Performance Center in January 2017 and went on to make her debut in the inaugural Mae Young Classic. Relatively new to wrestling, Li returned to take part in the second Mae Young Classic, this time advancing to the second round. Since then, Li has wrestled the NXT live show circuit. She made her televised NXT debut just a few weeks ago in a match against Lacey Evans. With just 30 matches under her belt in her entire wrestling career, Li will only get better. Already, she’s an incredibly exciting prospect as she showed in the Mae Young Classics and Royal Rumble.

Candice LeRae

Entrant #17; Time – 09:35

A wrestler of over 17 years, the 33-year-old Candice LeRae has quite the resume and is certainly someone who should be NXT Women’s Champion sooner rather than later.

In her storied career, LeRae has wrestled for Ring of Honor, CHIKARA, PWG, Empire Wrestling Federation, NWA, IMPACT Wrestling, Combat Zone Wrestling, Championship Wrestling from Hollywood, Beyond Wrestling, SMASH, Women Superstars Uncensored, SHINE, Absolute Intense Wrestling, SHIMMER, World Wrestling Network, International Pro Wrestling: UK, Full Impact Pro, AAW: Professional Wrestling Redefined, Queens of Combat, Southside Wrestling Entertainment, Westside Xtreme Wrestling, WrestleCircus, House of Hardcore, International Wrestling Cartel, Lucha Underground, House of Glory, Bar Wrestling, PROGRESS Wrestling, Fight Club: PRO, Over the Top Wrestling, the list goes on. LeRae has won six titles in her career as well, including in PWG where she is a former tag team champion with Joey Ryan.

Known for her role as one of the recent pioneers of intergender wrestling, LeRae has proven her worth in the ring and has shown her ability to go toe-to-toe with the best regardless of gender. In 2017, LeRae joined her husband Johnny Gargano in NXT in 2017, taking part in the inaugural Mae Young Classic. She joined NXT full time the following year, working both TV and the live show circuit. LeRae has yet to really get her push as she’s mostly been involved in the Tommaso Ciampa/Johnny Gargano storyline but that time will no doubt come as she is one of the best wrestlers on the brand.

Kacy Catanzaro

Entrant #19; Time – 10:45

“Mighty Kacy” might very well be best known for being the first woman to complete the Warped Wall in American Ninja Warrior, but tonight, she added another memorable moment to her career. Showing her best Kofi Kingston impersonation or perhaps, simply using her ANW skills to her advantage, Kacy Catanzaro avoided elimination using a handstand and then a very unique pull-up move on the ring post.

With less than a year of wrestling experience under her belt, the former gymnast and obstacle course runner made her WWE debut in April 2018 after training for about a year at the Performance Center. Primarily working the NXT house show circuit, the 29-year-old Catanzaro has wrestled less than 30 matches in her career, continually improving along the way. She made her televised debut in the second Mae Young Classic and was also involved in this year’s Royal Rumble Axxess show. Extremely athletic, Catanzaro is no doubt a name to watch in the future of the NXT Women’s division.

Io Shirai

Entrant #23; Time – 13:21

One of the top Japanese wrestlers, when former Stardom ace Io Shirai joined WWE in 2018, it was considered one of the biggest free agent signings of that year. But before coming to WWE for the Mae Young Classic, the 28-year-old Shirai was one of the top names in Japanese wrestling regardless of gender.

A veteran of 11 years, Shirai made her debut in 2007, working throughout the Joshi circuit at promotions such as Pro Wrestling WAVE, Sendai Girls’ Pro Wrestling and Ice Ribbon. In 2011, Shirai started with the brand new World Wonder Ring Stardom, which would go on to become the top Joshi promotion. For the next seven years, Shirai found incredible success in Stardom, winning every title the company had including the World of Stardom Championship twice where she is the only woman to do so. She is also a former High Speed Champion, 6x Artist of Stardom Champion, 2x Wonder of Stardom Champion, SWA Undisputed World Women’s Champion and Goddesses of Stardom Champion.

Much like she did in Stardom, Shirai made her impact known immediately in WWE, finishing as the runner-up in the second Mae Young Classic. Since then, Shirai has worked the live event circuit and has been working NXT TV tapings recently as well.

Rhea Ripley

Entrant #24; Time – 07:55

Eliminations: Dana Brooke, Zelina Vega and Kacy Catanzaro

Just 22 years old, Rhea Ripley is someone who WWE chose to be the first ace of NXT UK and so far, she’s lived up to the billing. A wrestler of six years, Ripley got her start with Riot City Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Australia. Ripley continued to work the Australian scene as well as picked up experience in Japan with Sendai Girls, REINA and Pro Wrestling ZERO1. A two-time RCW Women’s Champion, Ripley made her WWE debut in 2017, taking part in the inaugural Mae Young Classic, where she reached the second round. The following year, Ripley reached the semifinals, losing to Io Shirai.

Following the Mae Young Classic, Ripley was announced as one of the first women to be part of the new NXT UK brand and in August, she won the tournament to crown its first ever women’s champion. For 139 days, Ripley successfully defended the belt finally losing it just a few weeks ago at the first-ever NXT UK TakeOver.

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