One of the best wrestling PPVs of the year, Royal Rumble is only a few weeks away – building anticipation and excitement from fans all over the wrestling world.
The Royal Rumble remains a popular mainstay in the wrestling calendar due to the unknown competitors and unpredictable outcomes. Fans in attendance count down eagerly to each new entrant into the match. They clamour and crane their necks in order to get the first glimpse of which WWE Superstar will come out next to book their ticket to the WrestleMania main event.
Over the years we have witnessed a multitude of WWE Superstars make their shocking returns and surprise debuts at the event. Here are the 10 best surprise entrants in Royal Rumble history.
10. Booker T & Kevin Nash – 2011
We starts the list with a double whammy when two Hall of Famers made their surprise returns to WWE.
At the time 2011 was WWE’s biggest Royal Rumble in history with 40 Superstars taking part and offered not one but two brilliant surprise entrants during the history-making event.
Former World Heavyweight Champion Booker T made his return to WWE after a four-year stint in TNA to finish up his in-ring career. He entered as the twenty-first participant to a huge ovation and took out members of Nexus, who under the tutelage of CM Punk were dominating the match, with his signature offence and executed is famous Spinaroonie before Mason Ryan eliminated him. It was a short comeback and gave the fans and Booker T himself a great moment.
Speaking to Renee Paquette and Paige of the FS1’s WWE Backstage the two-time Hall of Famer revealed he was blown away by the reaction he received:
“I’ve never won a Royal Rumble. It’s always been about feeling a certain way. So, when I left the company [WWE] and came back in 2011, I was like, ‘Man, are the fans gonna accept me? Are they still gonna give me the pass like they’ve always have?’
When I walked out the curtain, all I remember is thinking that the pop, it was like Road Warrior. I looked behind because I thought The Rock was standing behind me.”
The surprises continued as the count ended and the buzzer popped signalling the entrance of the thirty-second Superstar. The diesel engine revved and the crowd went wild as Big Daddy Cool sauntered out of the curtain after a seven-year hiatus from the company looking like he’d never been away.
He stepped over the ropes and dropped everyone in his path including John Cena. Chants of “Diesel” ran throughout the arena before Wade Barrett. Similar to Booker T it was a short but great nostalgic moment for all involved and exactly why the Royal Rumble is such a great event.
After the show, Nash would take to Twitter to reveal it was the greatest night of his wrestling career:
“Absolutely the best night of my wrestling career. It’s so nice to be back in WWE family. Thanks Boston for making me feel so special.”
9. Beth Phoenix – 2010
In 2010 WWE provided fans with one of the best Royal Rumble matches in company history. CM Punk owned the match from early on eliminating all who entered, even grabbing the mic to spout his egocentric rhetoric.
Punk’s control of the match was severely challenged when Great Khali entered the Rumble at number five. The leader of the Straight Edge Society attempted to talk Khali out of attacking only to be swatted down and locked into the Vice.
Punk was saved by the next entrant Beth Phoenix who became the second woman in history to appear in a Royal Rumble match. The Glamazon sprinted in and confronted Khali who lifted her up with ease before placing her over the ropes and asking her to leave. Phoenix replied by kissing the Punjabi Playboy and pulling him over the top rope.
The crowd cheered her innovative elimination and exploded as she took out Punk with a barrage of offence. Punk recovered and hit her with a GTS before eliminating her from the match. It was a brief but impactful appearance in the Royal Rumble and one that Phoenix believes helped create the women’s version years later:
“The experience of being in the first female Royal Rumble, it was such a feather in my cap, a little personal pat on the back. I felt like me being in the men’s Rumble then contributed to the women being able to have their own Rumble.”
8. Kharma – 2012
In 2012 Awesome Kong/Kharma finally competed in her first and only WWE match. She originally debuted for WWE as Kharma in 2011 attacking Divas Champion Michelle McCool. She would continue to attack the Divas but before she could have her first match she announced her pregnancy and stepped away from the ring.
The following year Kharma returned as a surprise entrant in the 2012 Royal Rumble making her the third woman to enter the men’s rumble match. She made a huge impact in the match entering at number seventeen eliminating Michael Cole and Hunico with ease. She then turned her attention to Dolph Ziggler, who helped by Vickie Guerrero, eliminated her from the match.
The appearance was brief but had a lasting effect as many fans were talking about her after the match with much intrigue surrounding her next move within WWE. But unfortunately, this would be Kharma’s only match in WWE as she requested her release not long after and returned to TNA.
7. Victoria & Christian – 2021
The only Royal Rumble held in front of a virtual crowd offered up several excellent surprises. The women’s Rumble match took place first and featured the return of an unsung hero of the women’s revolution, Victoria.
Victoria was an integral part of the WWE’s women’s division during the Attitude Era. Her manic disposition, in-ring skill and feud with Trish Stratus made her a standout performer. During her time with WWE, she captured the Women’s Championship twice. She left the company in 2009 to ply her trade elsewhere and while wrestlers who did the same were welcomed back and revered for efforts in blazing the trail, for some reason or another, Victoria was yet to receive her flowers.
Luckily, this slight was rectified when she was the surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble at position number ten. Her return caused a huge stir online and in the ring during the match. Speaking on GAW Victoria revealed her opponents wanted to take her finishing manoeuvre:
“It was also cool going through certain moves that the girls were like, can you give me a move, can you give me a move. I want to take a move. I wasn’t used to it. I got in the ring and all the girls were cluttering me. I was going, whoa. I go, am I bumping, or are you guys bumping for me? Then I put Peyton [Royce] in the Widow’s Peak, all the girls you saw line up going can you give me the Widow’s Peak, can you give me the Widow’s Peak? It was freakin awesome!”
The men’s Rumble match completed the jam-packed show and hosted one of the best surprise entrants as Christian made his in-ring comeback having been out-of-action since 2014 due to concussion-related injuries.
Similar to his Edge’s epic return a year earlier, Christian’s return shocked the wrestling world as it was perceived his wrestling days were behind him. Therefore, it was very apt his former partner and real-life best friend was in the ring when it went down. The two shared a touching moment as they embraced in the middle of the ring having come full circle in their wrestling careers.
Captain Charisma would stay in the match for nearly twenty minutes and even teamed up with Edge to eliminate Braun Strowman. It was an incredible return and exactly what makes the Royal Rumble so special to the fans but this specific surprise was just a special for Edge and Christian as he explained on After the Bell with Cory Graves:
“That moment where we locked eyes and that smile. This was all spur of the moment stuff,” he revealed. It was such a busy day for both of us we didn’t really have a chance to talk before we went out there.
I think I had dropped Daniel Bryan and I looked up and he [Edge] was getting up, he had a smile on his face. In a weird way, I think this meant more to him than it did to me. He’s always had my back and always wanted the best for my career. He’s one of the few who knew the grind, the hours, the time I was putting in to get back to this point.
There were very few people who knew, and he was one of them obviously. I think it meant just as much, if not more, in a weird way.”
7. Mick Foley – 2004
The Hardcore Legend made a triumphant surprise return during 2004’s Royal Rumble match, but not for the chance of WrestleMania main event glory, but to exact revenge on the Legend Killer Randy Orton.
Orton was tearing through the WWE Superstars of yesteryear in a disrespectful and devastating fashion. No one was safe Sgt Slaughter, Hulk Hogan and even Vince McMahon fell victim to his heinous actions. Orton turned his venomous ways toward the retired Foley calling him a coward and spitting in his face.
Despite being inactive since WrestleMania 2000, Foley emerged from the curtain as the twenty-first entrant much to the shock of Orton and the delight of the fans. Orton had been in the match for nearly thirty minutes when an enraged Foley headed straight for him delivered a flurry of punches before eliminating himself and Orton with his signature Cactus Clothesline.
The fans went wild as Foley continued to beat Orton on the outside of the ring showing that although he was retired he still possessed the power to take out whoever stands in his way. It was a brilliant return and one that set up a reunion with the Rock to take on Evolution at WrestleMania XX and the brutal No Holds Barred Falls Count Anywhere Intercontinental match against Orton at Backlash.
6. Trish Stratus, Lita, Jaqueline, Molly Holly, The Bella Twins, Beth Pheonix – 2018
2018 produced the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble match in WWE history. It was a grand occasion but at the time there were only 17 active wrestlers on the women’s roster, which made the match rife for surprise entrants and WWE went all out in bringing in many legendary Superstars to great effect.
Coming in at the number five spot Lita was the first of the surprises receiving a massive ovation. It was her first appearance for the company in six years and she certainly made the most of it by getting the first elimination in the historic match tossing Mandy Rose over the top rope.
Molly Holly entered at number twelve to a huge welcome from the Philadelphia crowd. The former Hardcore Champion was away from WWE for nearly a decade but wasted little time in making her presence felt taking everyone in the ring down before eliminating Sarah Logan.
The legends continued to turn up and turn as Hall of Famer and former Cruiserweight Champion, Jacqueline came in at number twenty-one. Beth Phoenix followed at twenty-four before Nikki Bella returned to a massive ovation as it was the longest-reigning Divas Champion’s first in-ring appearance since WrestleMania 33.
Brie Bella was next to burst through the curtain to a parade of “Yes” chants and the final surprise of the match came when Trish Stratus entered in the number thirty spot to an amazing response from the fans. The seven-time women’s champion took out the Bella Twins with a double Stratusfaction before coming face-to-face with long-time rival Mickie James.
It was a special, history-making event that was treated as such and recognised the Superstars who paved the way for the Superstars of today.
5. Rey Mysterio – 2018
Rey Mysterio shocked the wrestling world when his music hit and he was revealed as a surprise entrant in the 2018 Royal Rumble after four years away from the company.
Towards the end of the match, only four entrants remained. The clock counted down for the twenty-seventh entrant and much to the joy, shock, and awe of the audience, Rey Mysterio appeared to a massive pop from the crowd.
To make his appearance even more amazing, he returned in phenomenal shape and flew around the ring just like he always has throughout his amazing career. He would eliminate Adam Cole and hit a double 619 on Roman Reigns and John Cena, before getting eliminated by Finn Balor.
It was a great moment in Rey Mysterio’s illustrious career and kick-started his current run with the company. Speaking backstage after the event Mysterio revelled in the glory of the moment:
“It’s indescribable… It was one of those moments that you had to be there, to really live it. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever felt that type of reaction, in a massive fanbase, like it was in Philly. Man, it was just – unforgettable. It was just one of those feelings that you’re going to cherish and it will be with me for the rest of my life.”
4. AJ Styles – 2016
AJ Styles’ WWE debut at 2016’s Royal Rumble was a huge surprise and amazing moment in wrestling history. At the time Styles was the greatest professional wrestler to never appeared for WWE. Two years earlier he left TNA and went on a tremendous tear in the European independent scene, ROH and NJPW.
After his run as IWGP Champion and leader of the uber-popular Bullet Club heavily speculation surrounded his future but although many wanted to see it a WWE run it was a 50/50 chance of happening.
During the Royal Rumble, Roman Reigns, under the orders of the Authority, entered the match at number one with his WWE Championship on the line. Reigns eliminated the second entrant Rusev after ninety seconds and fans waited with interest to see who would be next.
An unheard theme tune played as a hooded figure entered the arena and the fans erupted as he revealed himself to be the Phenomenal AJ Styles. He lasted nearly thirty minutes in the match eliminating Tyler Breeze and Curtis Axel before Kevin Owens threw him out.
It was a great surprise and one of the best in WWE history due to the arrival of Syles and the complete secrecy surrounding it. Speaking on Untold, Styles talked about how his debut was so secret he didn’t even know about it:
“I knew that I was WWE-bound when I had that last match in Japan, I knew I was on my way. Did I know that I was in the Rumble? Nope. It seemed like until the very last minute that I was even going to be in the Royal Rumble.
“I was told zero things. Nobody kept me in the loop, so I was waiting around thinking, ‘I hope I can get into the Royal Rumble. That’d be cool, but I’d understand if I’m not.
“I didn’t really tell anybody because it was one of things where I didn’t really know. Was I actually going to be in the Rumble, or was I going to be doing something in the Rumble? I didn’t know, so yeah, I didn’t tell a soul, as crazy as that sounds.”
3. Chris Jericho – 2013
Jericho was the master of surprise debuts and returns. His WWE debut in 1999 was a bombshell moment in wrestling history. He would use these skills again throughout his career and Royal Rumble 2013 was one of those amazing times.
Jericho had returned to WWE after a two-year absence. In August of 2012 Jericho would lose a WWE Contract vs. Money In The Bank Contract match against Dolph Ziggler and would have to leave the company.
Jericho was absent from WWE for over six months while he went on tour with his rock band Fozzy and no one was expecting him to return anytime soon. But Jericho and WWE used this assumption and planned a secret return, which they accomplished perfectly.
The man who kicked him out of WWE, Ziggler the first entrant in the Royal Rumble. The “Show Off” and the fans eagerly awaited his first opponent. Break the Walls Down hit and the crows went wild for a goosebump-inducing pop and an epic Y2J moment.
Speaking to WWE about his return Jericho was amazed they were able to keep it a secret in the age of 24-hour news and social media:
“In this day and age, it’s almost impossible to keep a secret. It was just really, really cool to know we can still keep a secret and keep a nice surprise. But there was no rumors at all that Jericho was going to come back at the Rumble. If I go to a movie, I don’t want to know what the end of it is before I go.”
2. John Cena – 2008
In 2008 John Cena’s mega surprise return was met with such a thunderous ovation it nearly brought Madison Square Garden crashing down. Only three months earlier the Leader of the C-Nation had torn is his pectoral muscle and was expected to be on the shelf for six to twelve months meaning there was no way he could return at the Royal Rumble let alone win it, but that’s exactly what he did.
The stacked Rumble match had already featured two surprise returns with legends Rowdy Roddy Piper and Superfly Jimmy Snuka making nostalgic appearances.
Plus the match had the likes of the Undertaker, Batista, Shawn Michaels and Triple H all of whom were favourites to win the match and go onto the champion Randy Orton at WrestleMania XXIV. All twenty-nine participants had made their way into the match leaving only one remaining.
The counter reached one and Cena’s music blasted through the speakers of MSG. The crowd went bonkers amazed and astounded that the multi-time champion was there and ready for action. He instantly threw out three competitors before going toe-to-toe with Triple H.
After eliminating Batista it came down to the final two of Cena and the Game. They traded blows before Cena countered a Pedigree attempt into an Attitude Adjustment sending Triple H over the top rope ending an epic comeback with an amazing victory.
1. Edge – 2020
Shocking, astounding, emotional and awesome is everything a surprise return should be and Edge covered all these and more when he burst through the curtain at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. Edge retired from professional wrestling in 2011 due to multiple neck injuries and a return to the ring out of the question. But here he was making his entrance after nine years out of action and the moment was incredible.
The Rumble match had been dominated by Brock Lesnar, who entered at number one and eliminated all who proceeded to enter. After throwing thirteen Superstars of the top rope, Drew McIntyre entered and eliminated the Beast to a monstrous ovation, but the mega pops weren’t done yet.
As the timer ended to welcome in the twenty-first entrant the entire audience became unglued as soon as “You Think You Know Me” filled the arena as Edge burst through the entranceway like a wildman. The immense emotion etched in his face at the glorious reaction from the crowd is a moment that will live on forever in the minds of wrestling fans.
It was a return never thought possible not only by the fans but by the man himself. Speaking to ESPN Edge told how the powerful emotions made him feel invincible:
“Once the music hit, and that reaction … I mean, I truly feel like I could have beat King Kong’s ass. It was all surreal, kind of like a dream sequence, but everything’s so focused and hyperfocused that I can’t really explain it. But I think when you look at the video of me walking out, I think you see it in my eyes.”