WWE announces first ever women's Royal Rumble match

McMahon announces first ever women's Royal Rumble match (0:40)

Stephanie McMahon makes history on Monday Night Raw when she announces that on January 28th at the Royal Rumble, there will a first-ever all-women's Royal Rumble match. (0:40)

On Jan. 24, 1988, the first ever Royal Rumble event aired on the USA Network and blazed a path to three decades of memorable moments in the WWE. The 20-man, over-the-top battle royal, which eventually evolved to 30- and 40-entry matches, became the most iconic match created under the WWE umbrella.

Thirty years later, on Jan. 28, 2018, the women of the WWE will get their own opportunity to take another major leap forward in their evolution with the first-ever women's Royal Rumble.

"I think that it's long overdue. There's been an incredible movement that's been happening in our business that started nearly three years ago," Stephanie McMahon, chief brand officer of WWE, told ESPN.com on Monday.

The women's rosters on Raw, SmackDown and NXT have grown in both size and stature over the past four years, hitting milestones along the way. At any point, from the match of the year candidate between Sasha Banks and Bayley at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in 2015, to the landscape-shifting WrestleMania 32 title match between Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, and everything in between and afterward, any misstep could have been devastating in the long term.

Through it all, the women's evolution has continued to pick up momentum with every landmark moment.

"They've been regularly headlining television and pay-per-view events, including their first-ever Hell in a Cell match and first-ever women's Money in the Bank match," McMahon said of the big steps forward. "Now, for the first time ever, we're going to have a women's Royal Rumble match.

"Every time our women have had the chance to perform and headline, they have over-delivered, and I have absolutely every confidence that they will do the same thing at the Royal Rumble on Jan. 28. I think that it will be incredibly memorable, I think that they will over-deliver, and I think that fans will get more than their money's worth."

McMahon was a bit more tight-lipped when it comes to who and what we will see in the women's Royal Rumble. Over the last 30 years, one of the most intriguing elements of the Royal Rumble match are the surprises -- the legends coming back, and new superstars making shocking debuts. But it's safe to assume that the WWE will have a few tricks up its sleeves once the night arrives.

"Anything can happen in the WWE," McMahon said.

Another big question to ask is how we got here. There was the infamous "Give Divas a Chance" hashtag following a 30-second tag team match featuring the Bella Twins, Paige and Emma in February 2015, which trended for three days and made a clear impact on the creative forces behind Raw and SmackDown. But there was already a movement going on in NXT, as Flair, Banks and Bayley went on consecutive runs as NXT women's champion that would ultimately transform the way women's wrestling was viewed within the company.

One of the biggest reasons that WWE is in a position to hold a women's Royal Rumble, and that the women who will be involved will be prepared to compete in it, comes down to the level of training they received at the company's performance center.

"Sara Amato deserves all the credit in the world for the training of our athletes, especially our female athletes," McMahon said of the current assistant head coach at the Performance Center. "She's helped to take the women who have been training at our performance center and brought them to another level. That's one of the reasons that the Divas Revolution really got started.

"Because of the way they were being trained and taught, their level of athletic ability and the storytelling that they could do in their matches was second to none," continued McMahon, "And that's when the audience started to react [in a big way], chanting, "this is wrestling" and "women's wrestling."

The evidence of just how big an impact Amato and everyone on staff at the performance center has had is everywhere. It's in all of the lengthy matches and high-risk stipulation matches on Raw and SmackDown pay-per-views, and evident in the risks taken in NXT like the groundbreaking Iron Man match between Bayley and Banks, or the last woman standing battle between Asuka and Nikki Cross.

It's also clear when you look at the first-ever Mae Young Classic, which took 32 women from all over the world and gave them a platform to show just how far women's wrestling has come.

"Case in point, for the Mae Young Classic, we thought that we were going to have a much smaller tournament, because we just didn't think there were as many women out there as there are -- and boy, were we wrong," McMahon said. "Sara and her team were a huge reason that so many of these women were brought in, and [got their chance to] leave their hearts in the middle of the ring.

"You think about what that takes, to go out there and make all of those sacrifices just for a few minutes to show the world what you can do, and the Mae Young Classic gave all of those women an opportunity to showcase their abilities in a one-of-a-kind tournament," she said.

As much as the efforts put forth over the past five years have changed the landscape of women's wrestling, steps forward like a women's Royal Rumble would have been impossible were it not for women who blazed the trail.

"I give credit to all of the women who have ever stepped foot inside of the squared circle," McMahon said. "It started all the way back to the days of June Byers, and the great Mae Young and the Fabulous Moolah -- it is not something that just began, it's something that started a long, long time ago."

Real progress became possible because the WWE recognized that creating a level playing field for its male and female superstars was a crucial step towards realizing the full potential of its product and audience.

"What really gave [the women's division] its rise is the fact that the women in NXT were being recruited and trained exactly the same way as the men were," McMahon said. "They were being given the same opportunities in the show, the same match times, the same storyline and character development."

WWE has never been in a better position to cater to a broader audience, either. Whenever women's segments appear on their weekly TV shows, McMahon claims the WWE sees a spike in conversations and engagement on social media, as well as solid viewership and ratings numbers on TV.

"We now have more lines of merchandise for women, and nearly 40 percent of our audience watching is women, which does surprise some people," McMahon said, "But we do have a very strong female demographic. And there are families watching, because that's what WWE is -- multi-generational, family-friendly, and we appeal to all different demos."

McMahon also gave credit to male viewers speaking out and joining in with their support, creating something approaching a mandate for bigger and brighter opportunities for the women of WWE.

"That's what's so important -- everyone in our audience has been demanding that this opportunity be given to our women. Everyone wants them to do well, and this opportunity at the Royal Rumble is one of the key milestones in the women's evolution."

With the realization of a women's Royal Rumble match, there's seemingly only one major mountain to climb -- the main event of WrestleMania. It's something that women like Flair, Lynch, Banks, Bayley and others have clamored for since they reached Raw and SmackDown, and seems as close to being realized as it's ever been.

But there's still more work to be done.

"We have a long way to go, but we are certainly getting there, step by step," McMahon said. "I think that once we have a women's match as the main event of WrestleMania, we will know that we've made it. And we're going to keep fighting, piece by piece, bit by bit, until we get there."