Like many (majority?) wrestling fans, WWE’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view is always my favorite event to watch. Not only does my website, WrestleChat.net, get some of its biggest traffic, but some of the greatest memories of the sport take place at the annual January event. A typical Royal Rumble card consists of 3 or 4 matches with strong build-up and, of course, the always memorable 30-man over-the-top-rope Royal Rumble match itself.
WrestleMania’s are always great, if not just for the spectacle that it’s become. It’s the Royal Rumble match, however, that has fans on the edge of their seats, shouting at their TV’s, fantasy booking the future based on eliminations, and counting down from 10-to-1 in unison with the friends they’re watching it with. Heck, in recent years, even the popular trend of participating in a Royal Rumble pool has taken off. Fans love the Royal Rumble because of its unpredictable nature and the fact that it can always be counted on for unforgettable memories.
One of the favorite things about the Royal Rumble in recent years has been the inclusion of surprise entrants. For months before a Royal Rumble, fans are speculating and attempting to predict which former stars will return for just a few minutes of nostalgic glory. During the Royal Rumble match, there’s that awkward silence after the countdown strikes one, the buzzer goes off, and you’re just sitting there waiting for an old, familiar theme song begins to blast. After the Rumble is over, fans are still raving over the superstars who came back and wondering if they’re going to stick around. In today’s day and age, surprises in pro wrestling are hard to come across. Luckily, the Royal Rumble is always guaranteed to deliver just a few scenarios that fans weren’t expecting to see. Here are my personal selections as the top 20 greatest WWE Royal Rumble entrants of all time.
Editor’s Note: The author considered people who had not been around for a lengthy period of time as surprising, whether announced or unannounced.
20. Mil Mascaras – Royal Rumble 1997
WWE Hall of Famer Mil Mascaras made his only American pay-per-view appearance as a surprise entrant in the 1997 Royal Rumble in a one-off appearance. He entered to little fan-fare, mainly because many fans weren’t sure who he was since the appearance was nearly 20 years after he last appeared in WWE. Mascaras eliminated Cibernetico with the help of Pierroth Jr. He then eliminated Pierroth Jr. before eliminating himself by diving off of the top rope to an already eliminated Pierroth Jr.
19. Giant Gonzales – Royal Rumble 1993
This one definitely deserves an asterisk since Gonzales was never an official entrant of the match. Gonzales, who Bobby Heenan quipped was “twenty…thirty feet tall”, donned a full body suit with air-brushed muscles and patches of bushy hair everywhere. He made his WWE debut with manager Harvey Wippleman at his side. His target was none other than The Undertaker. He quickly eliminated The Undertaker from the match and continued to assault him on the outside of the ring. This eventually led to a dreadful match between the two at WrestleMania IX.
18. Bob Backlund – Royal Rumble 2000
Three years had passed since Bob Backlund had entered a WWE ring. That didn’t stop him from being a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble in 2000. He didn’t do anything special and was eliminated just two-minutes in by Chris Jericho. Following the Rumble, Backlund hung around briefly to become the manager of Kurt Angle, whom he taught his patented Cross-Face Chicken Wing to.
17. Road Dogg – Royal Rumble 2012
It had been eleven years since the Road Dogg had been in a WWE ring. The popular member of Degeneration-X and one-half of the New Age Outlaws, Road Dogg was released from the WWE in 2001 for drug related issues. He returned in 2011 to induct his father, “Bullet” Bob Armstrong into the WWE Hall of Fame. Ten months later, Road Dogg signed on with the company to be an agent. This paved the way for a special entry into the Royal Rumble. The fans ate it up as he hit all of his signature moves before eventually being sent over the top rope by Wade Barrett.
16. All Three “Faces of Foley” – Royal Rumble 1998
I suppose this one deserves an asterisk as well. Foley was an active competitor in the WWE at this time, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be a surprise entrant as well. Foley surprised everyone by entering the Rumble three different times…as three different characters. He appeared as Cactus Jack at #1 (eliminated second by Chainsaw Charlie), Mankind at #16 (eliminated by Goldust), and Dude Love at #28 (eliminated by Faarooq). It was a great twist on using all three Faces of Foley in a way that fans totally did not expect.
15. Roddy Piper – Royal Rumble 2008
In late 2006, Piper was forced to pull out of a co-captain role at Survivor Series due to an illness that was eventually revealed to be Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This kept Piper off the road for much of 2007, aside for two special RAW appearances in 2007. If you know one thing about “Hot Rod”, it’s that he’s a fighter. Just days after his final treatment for Lymphoma, Piper was a surprise entrant in the 2008 Rumble. The entire match essentially froze as Piper and “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka battled in the middle of the ring before both were eliminated by Kane.
14. Big Show – Royal Rumble 2001
In July of 2000, just over a year after he signed a ten-year contract with the WWE, Big Show was actually demoted to Ohio Valley Wrestling (WWE’s developmental territory at the time) in order to lose weight and focus on his cardio. Show eventually returned to the company six months later as a surprise entrant during the Rumble match. He lasted just over a minute in the match, eliminating Test and K-Kwik, before being eliminated by The Rock. The Rock would regret that just moments later. Fast-forward to 46:10 in the video below to see what happened.
13. Honky Tonk Man – Royal Rumble 2001
Any time a WWE legend shows up, it’s an awesome experience. In 2001, HTM entered the Rumble match at an inopportune time. Kane was in the middle of setting the Royal Rumble record for the most eliminations in history and just so happened to be standing in the ring all by himself waiting on the next entrant. In walks the Honky Tonk Man. He was in no mood to wrestle. Instead, he wanted to lead the crowd in singing his theme song. Kane was having none of that and smashed HTM over the head with his own guitar.
12. Goldust – Royal Rumble 2013
In May of 2012, Goldust, then a backstage agent, was released by the WWE for reportedly allowing a banned move to be used in a match. It was a huge surprise when Goldust returned to the company in the Rumble match. His entrance quickly set up a showdown with his brother, Cody Rhodes, whom with he had teased a match with on social media for years. What we got was something special.
11. Beth Phoenix – Royal Rumble 2010
Beth Phoenix, although an active performer at the time, was a surprise entrant in the 2010 Rumble match. By doing so, she became just the second woman ever to enter the big event. With CM Punk and The Great Khali in the ring, Phoenix made a bee-line to the ring without an ounce of fear in her eyes. After a brief stare-down with Khali, Phoenix eventually eliminated him in a way that only she could do.
10. Mick Foley – Royal Rumble 2004
In 2003, Mick Foley semi-retired from wrestling after he grew tired of the travel and wanted to spend more time with his family and writing. The way that the WWE wrote him out of the storylines was by saying that he was afraid to wrestle Randy Orton. This set up Foley’s surprise Royal Rumble return. Foley replaced Test, who was found knocked out backstage after an apparent attack. RAW Sherriff “Stone Cold” Steve Austin chose Foley to take his spot. Foley charged into the ring after Orton, eventually eliminating both Orton and himself before brawling to the back. Fast-forward to 40:55 to see how it all went down.
9. Booker T – Royal Rumble 2011
In October 2007, Booker T requested, and was granted, his release from WWE after he was suspended for violating the Wellness Policy. After a four-year stint in TNA, Booker returned to the WWE and shocked the world by entering the 2011 Royal Rumble. It was one of the biggest pops in Royal Rumble history. Two days later, Booker debuted as the new color commentator for SmackDown.
8. Rob Van Dam – Royal Rumble 2009
At the time, this was the most unexpected surprise entry in Royal Rumble history. Fans didn’t see this coming and you can tell by the exceptional reaction that the crowd had. Van Dam had left the WWE two years earlier when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Van Dam took most of the time off except for a few one-off indie dates. His surprise entry shocked everyone that left fans begging for more. Unfortunately, Van Dam disappeared from WWE after the Rumble before signing with TNA nearly a year later.
7. Mr. Perfect – Royal Rumble 2002
Mr. Perfect, Curt Hennig, had left the WWE towards the end of 1996 to sign a four-year deal with WCW. For whatever reason, the WWE decided to reveal during the build-up to the 2002 Rumble that Hennig would be returning for the 30-man match. While it took away from the surprise factor a bit, it didn’t lessen how awesome it was to see. The fans loved it and it was one of those Rumble memories that you won’t forget. Hennig ended up in the final three with Kurt Angle and Triple H. Hennig stuck around for a few months, but was released after picking a fight with Brock Lesnar on an airplane.
6. Kharma – Royal Rumble 2012
As far as my personal favorite surprise Rumble entrants, this ranks near the top. Kharma became just the third woman in history to enter the Rumble match and became the first to actually use her finisher during it. Kharma, who had signed with the WWE in 2010, made her debut with the company at Extreme Rules 2011. After a month of terrorizing the other divas, Kharma spoke for the first time and revealed that she was pregnant and taking a leave from the company. Kharma’s entrance into the Rumble ended up being her only official match with the WWE, as she was released just months later after she said that she was unable to return to action in the allotted time that the WWE had granted her.
5. Diesel – Royal Rumble 2011
Days before the 2011 Royal Rumble, social media was abuzz after reports that Kevin Nash, AKA Diesel, was spotted at a Boston (home of the event) airport. Nash, who had just signed a new contract with TNA two weeks earlier, surely couldn’t appear at the Rumble, right? Well, he did. And it was incredible. According to reports, TNA actually granted Nash his release just weeks after signing it so that he could return to the WWE on a five-year Legends deal. It was the first time that Nash played the Diesel character since 1996.
4. Triple H – Royal Rumble 2002
On May 21, 2001, Triple H tore his quad completely from the bone live on an episode of Monday Night RAW. Surgery kept HHH out of action for nearly 8 months. Triple H made his surprising return during the 2002 Rumble. He won the entire thing, went on to WrestleMania X8, and defeated Chris Jericho to become the Undisputed WWE Champion. For a guy who is considered under-rated by many due to his relationship with the McMahon family, you have to respect a guy who tears his quad completely, finishes the match, and somehow returns to the ring just 8 months later.
3. Chris Jericho – Royal Rumble 2013
To many fans, this is the best surprise Rumble entrance of all-time. Jericho had just left the company six months earlier to head out on tour with Fozzy. Many had speculated that Jericho could be at the show since the Fozzy tour had completed, but Jericho was adamant on social media and in interviews that he wasn’t going to be there. Not only was he there, but he also turned in one of the best Royal Rumble performances in history. He entered number 2 (which also treated fans to his incredible entrance) and lasted nearly 47 minutes.
2. Edge – Royal Rumble 2010
In the summer of 2009, Edge suffered a nasty injury at a WWE live event in which he tore his Achilles tendon. When announcing the injury on-air, the WWE announced that Edge would be out for nearly a year. While out, Edge’s tag-team partner at the time, Chris Jericho, spent months mocking him for being out with an injury. This set up an Edge face turn and a feud for when he got back. Surprisingly, nobody expected Edge to return just eight months later to shut Jericho up. Edge entered the ring and immediately hit Jericho with a spear. Edge then went on to win the Rumble by eliminating John Cena. It was an incredible experience for a fan base that expected Edge to be out for much longer than he was.
1. John Cena – Royal Rumble 2008
Anyone who knows me knows how much it pains me to ever give John Cena credit, but credit where credit is due. John Cena’s return was shocking, surprising, and made for one of the Rumble’s greatest moments. Just four months prior, WWE reported that Cena tore his pectoral muscle completely from the bone in a match with Mr. Kennedy on RAW. It couldn’t come at a worse time, as Cena was in the middle of the longest WWE Title reign in 19 years. Cena was reported to be out anywhere from seven months to one whole year. So, of course Cena, with all of his super powers, rehabbed feverously and recovered from the injury in a stunning four months. He entrance as number 30 sent the Madison Square Garden crowd into an absolute frenzy. Fans couldn’t believe what they were watching. I remember being at home with a few friends watching the show and my jaw damn-near hit the floor. I, or anyone else for that matter, could believe that Cena had just recovered from a torn pectoral muscle in just four months. As if recovering from the injury was mind-numbing enough, Cena then went on to win the 2008 Royal Rumble. The moment ended up being the perfect storm – a perfect combination of acknowledging how hard Cena worked to return, knowing the reality of the injury, how rare it is to recover from that in the time that he did, the crowd reaction when he first came out, and him winning the entire thing. That’s exactly why John Cena’s 2008 shocking Rumble appearance makes it the greatest surprise Royal Rumble entry of all-time.
I hope you enjoyed my list. Please feel free to add or discuss some of your favorites in the comments below. Better yet, list your predictions below of surprise entrants who you think we may be talking about at the Royal Rumble in just two weeks! Please feel free to follow all of the 2014 Royal Rumble news and rumors at my website, WrestleChat.net. Thanks for reading.
Brett Clendaniel, Jr. is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of WrestleChat.net and a member of the CamelClutchBlog family since the first month it opened. Follow WrestleChat on Twitter at @WrestleChatNet.
WWE Royal Rumble 2014 DVD
Wrestlemania 30 DVD
Grab discounted WWE DVDs, merchandise, t -shirts, figures, and more from the WWE Shop on Amazon.com