There are few nights on the WWE calendar that are more exciting and unpredictable than the Royal Rumble. It’s one of those big wrestling shows where it feels like anything can happen at any given moment, and more times than not, that’s exactly what happens. And on top of having new number-one contenders for the top male and female titles in the company, the Royal Rumble also gives fans a lot to celebrate, especially with some of those surprise entrants. Here are 10 of the best...
John Cena (2008)
Years before John Cena became a viral dance sensation with the Peacemaker opening, he was the biggest thing to happen to professional wrestling since Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. There was a stretch of time when the fans were eating out of the palm of his hand, and that has never been more true than the 2008 Royal Rumble.
Leading into the big event, John Cena had been out of action for a few months after undergoing surgery and it looked he wouldn’t be back in time for the Royal Rumble. Well, the thousands of diehard fans at Madison Square Garden and millions watching at home were in for the surprise of a lifetime when Cena came out in the 30-spot. I mean, just listen to this reaction.
The 2020 Royal Rumble was one of the last major WWE live events before the company shifted to a closed-doors setup due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it certainly was a night to remember thanks to the return of Edge, aka the Rated-R Superstar.
Prior to the event, Edge had not wrestled a match of any kind since shocking the wrestling world with his heartbreaking 2011 retirement announcement, and for a while there it looked like he would never lace up the boots again. That all changed when Edge’s electric entrance music filled Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, with tens of thousands of screaming fans jumping from their seats. And even though he didn’t win the match, Edge got his moment the following year.
AJ Styles (2016)
AJ Styles coming to WWE was one of the worst kept secrets in professional wrestling in early 2016, but it still didn’t make his debut at that year’s Royal Rumble any less shocking. Coming in at the number-three spot, “The Phenomenal One” quickly made his presence known in the WWE by staying in the match for nearly 30 minutes before being eliminated by Roman Reigns.
One of the best parts about AJ Styles’ debut is that brief moment of uncertainty between when his music first hit and the words “I Am Phenomenal” appeared across the Titantron, which was quickly followed by one of the loudest “pops” in Royal Rumble history.
Booker T (2011)
Booker T, one of the most successful former WCW wrestlers who came over to WWE, was away from the company from 2007 to 2010, and a return to his second home wasn’t even on the radar. And then the 21st entrant in the 2011 Royal Rumble was called and then “Can you dig it, sucka!” played over the speakers at Boston’s TD Garden.
The former five-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion only lasted a minute before being eliminated but it was more than enough to announce his return to WWE after a prolonged absence and the fans were more than eager to welcome him home.
Kharma (who wrestled in various other companies as Awesome Kong) is one the biggest what-ifs in modern WWE history, but her first and only match with the company — the 2012 Royal Rumble — is is one to remember.
Shortly after making her debut in 2011, the former TNA Knockouts Champion took a leave of absence after she became pregnant and was out of action for an extended period of time until she made her surprise entrance in the Rumble, becoming the third female wrestler (joining Chyna and Beth Phoenix) to enter the match. She was only in the ring for a minute, but Kharma was credited with two eliminations and proved she was as dominant as ever.
Rey Mysterio (2018)
From 2002 to 2015, Rey Mysterio was one of the most successful WWE superstars, both in terms of in-ring victories and fan support. Following his departure, the masked high-flyer appeared in various promotions around the world, but made his shocking return at the 2018 Royal Rumble.
Not only would Rey Mysterio return to a huge ovation from fans, but he looked absolutely jacked and moved around the ring like it was January 1998, not 2018. The 2006 Rumble winner and former WWE Champion would end up lasting an impressive nine minutes and kicked off the next phase of his career.
The Three Faces Of Foley (1998)
Over the years, Mick Foley has had three legendary characters — Cactus Jack, Mankind, and Dude Love — all three characters appeared in 1998 Royal Rumble. Commonly referred to as “The Three Faces of Foley” the charismatic wrestler made history by being the first and only competitor to show up three times in the same match.
The surprise wasn’t as legendary as those that would follow in the years following the 1998 Royal Rumble, but watching Mick Foley show up as three different wrestlers with different personalities was an absolute treat for everyone watching.
Chris Jericho (2013)
Chris Jericho surprised WWE fans around the world when he entered the 2013 Royal Rumble as the second participant and effectively resuming his feud with Dolph Ziggler that had resulted in Y2J’s contract being “terminated” five months earlier.
One of the most beloved wrestlers of the past 30 years, Chris Jericho’s return was one of the best moments of that year’s Rumble though he would be written off TV later that year so he could focus on touring with his band Fozzy.
Trish Stratus (2018)
The inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble match in 2018 featured a who’s who of former WWE superstars making their return to the ring. And while the likes of Lita, Molly Holly, and the Bella Twins all made splash in the 30-woman event, nothing quite compared to the surprise return of Hall of Famer Trish Stratus.
Coming as the final competitor, Trish Stratus received a prolonged ovation from the crowd who couldn’t get enough of the seeing the former Women’s Champion returning after nearly a seven-year absence.
And there is Diesel, aka Kevin Nash, aka Big Daddy Cool, who was a surprise entrant in the 2011 Royal Rumble. Although Nash had worked with the company nine years earlier with the WWE debut of NWO, the Diesel character hadn’t been on TV in 15 years, making the moment all the more shocking.
Diesel would only last a few minutes and didn’t record any eliminations, but presence of Kevin Nash has always been his biggest selling point. Maybe that’s why his John Wick character is remembered so well after all these years.
These are just some of the great Royal Rumble surprise entrants from over the years. Who knows, maybe this list will grow after the 2022 Royal Rumble airs Saturday, January 29 on WWE Network on Peacock.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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