One of the best parts of the Royal Rumble is the surprises. Most years, WWE makes sure to leave a few spots in the Rumble match empty for potential shocking appearances. Over the years, we’ve seen legends of the past, big debuts, unexpected returns from injury, and even Drew Carey. Yes, WWE has rarely disappointed when it comes to Royal Rumble surprises, and here’s our list of the absolute ten best surprise entrants to make an appearance when the clock counts down!
10. 2015 – Diamond Dallas Page
You really can’t find anyone who doesn’t like DDP. He seems like a fun guy, he’s a huge crowd favorite, and he’s pretty much dedicated his post-wrestling career to helping former wrestlers with substance abuse issues get their lives back on track, as well as helping regular people get healthy through his DDP Yoga program. When you combine those great PR benefits with his multiple WCW World titles and the number of friends he seems to have in places of influence in wrestling, it is a consistent surprise that DDP hasn’t been inducted into the Hall of Fame yet (although the two greatest accomplishments of his rehabilitation program, Scott Hall and Jake Roberts, both have, and both pointed to Page as the reason why they were alive to accept them). But, at least we got Page as a surprise entrant in an otherwise terrible Royal Rumble, being in better shape than a man his age should be, and showing Randy Orton the proper way to hit a Diamond Cutter.
9. 2001 – Haku
We’re not saying Haku was a big name or anything, especially at that point in his career, but the circumstances behind his shocking appearance late in the 2001 Rumble need to be recorded and preserved for future generations. You see, until the day of the Rumble, Haku had been wrestling in WCW (under the name Meng), and was in fact the WCW Hardcore Champion. He was also wrestling under a pay-per-appearance deal, in other words, without a contract. WWE simply signed him to a contract, Haku unexpectedly entered the Rumble despite having appeared on WCW television the week before, and suddenly the entire lineage of the WCW Hardcore title and all mentions of its existence was removed from WCW’s website. Haku was actually incredibly lucky in some respects, as WCW itself would go out of business only weeks later, with WWE picking and choosing the contracts they wanted to keep when they bought WCW’s assets, and it’s pretty likely he would not have been among them (or, at least, probably not gotten paid quite as well as he did for jumping ship).
8. 1998 – All 3 Faces of Foley
Mick Foley entered the 1998 Royal Rumble at #1 as Cactus Jack, his old WCW persona and one he tended to bring out when things needed to get a little hardcore. After battling for a while, he was eliminated by his eternal partner in brutality, Terry Funk (using the short-lived Chainsaw Charlie gimmick). However, to the surprise of the crowd, Foley returned to the match only minutes later under the guise of his original WWE gimmick, the deranged Mankind. After eliminating Funk in revenge, Mankind did not survive long, and Foley was once again sent to the showers. But there was still one persona available for Foley, and sure enough, late in the match he re-appeared as Dude Love, surviving until the end of the match, where he was one of the last Superstars eliminated. Sure, the lack of depth in WWE’s roster at the time made it easy for them to assign three spots to Foley, but the creativity of the Hall of Famer in establishing three completely different gimmicks for himself that he could rotate in as needed was what made it possible in the first place.
7. 2015 – Bubba Ray Dudley
After spending the better part of a decade toiling in TNA (here’s a fun fact, The Dudley Boyz have been TNA wrestlers longer than they were WWE wrestlers), splitting with his long-time tag partner and actually coming up with an incredibly marketable main event gimmick for himself, Bubba Ray Dudley found himself on the way out of TNA as part of their latest talent exodus. With the 2015 Rumble in Philadelphia, the home of the old ECW, it only made sense for him to make a surprise return early in the match and run through all the old signature Dudley Boy spots (with R-Truth filling in for an absent D’Von). The crowd reaction was one of the few massively positive ones that ill-fated Rumble match would receive, and after a brief attempt at a TNA return didn’t pan out, Bubba Ray returned to WWE for good in 2015, with D’Von in tow, reuniting The Dudley Boyz and returning to the company where they’d earned many accolades over the years.
6. 2009 – Rob Van Dam
A popular gag going around the Internet wrestling fanbase in the late 2000’s was the idea of Rob Van Dam making a WWE return on a “one shot deal”, as for all intents and purposes, it seemed like RVD was enjoying his retired life and not interested in making a full-time return to wrestling. So it was with a certain amount of glee that Rob Van Dam was a surprise entrant in the 2009 Rumble match, in a move that absolutely nobody had anticipated. RVD even put on a pretty good showing in the match, but the Rumble appearance would indeed be his only match in WWE that year, as he would spend another year in retirement before becoming one of many wrestlers who signed with TNA while they were attempting to compete directly with WWE. Ultimately, RVD’s full-time return to the company would not happen until another four years after he entered the 2009 Rumble.
5. 2011 – Booker T and Diesel
In a desperate attempt to compete more directly with WWE, smaller North Americna promotion TNA would sign many former stars of the much larger company, including the aforementioned Rob Van Dam. But by 2011, TNA was shedding viewers and dollars, and couldn’t afford to retain most of their high-priced talent, especially if WWE showed any interest in bringing them back. So, needing big names to fill out an expanded 40-man Rumble field in 2011, WWE brought back two former stars who had been working regularly in TNA for the past several years. Booker T had been the most vocal about one day returning to WWE, and did to a huge ovation early in the Rumble (though he fell quickly to the assembled Nexus faction in the ring), and followed up his Rumble entry by becoming a full-time color commentator and analyst for the company. Meanwhile, Kevin Nash, who had reportedly signed a new deal with TNA only weeks earlier, had instead negotiated his release days after signing the contract, and made his big return at the Rumble, using the Diesel gimmick for the first time since he’d left WWE in 1996. Nash would disappear after his Rumble return, coming back again in mid-2011 to attack CM Punk at SummerSlam, in an angle that was largely viewed as a bad idea.
4. 2004 – Mick Foley
At this point, Randy Orton was well into his “Legend Killer” phase, and had been taking shots at retired Mick Foley in the weeks leading up to the Rumble, including ambushing his on Raw after Foley was presented with the retired WWE Hardcore title as a reward for his years as the self-proclaimed “Hardcore Legend”. At the Rumble, Orton was in the midst of dominating the match, alongside Chris Benoit, after they had entered the match #1 and #2. But when the buzzer sounded for Test to enter at #21, it was revealed that he had been laid out backstage by a mysterious assailant, who “Sheriff” Steve Austin then ordered to take Test’s place. At which point Foley music hit and the retired Superstar entered the match, his first since retiring after WrestleMania 2000, with his sights set on eliminating one man: Randy Orton. A shocked Orton fell under the assault of Foley while the crowd came unglued, and the Hardcore Legend managed to eliminate his young nemesis, then threw himself over the top rope to continue the beating. Orton would eventually escape Foley’s wrath, setting the stage for future matches, one of which, at Backlash 2004, would establish Orton as a true main event talent.
3. 2013 – Chris Jericho
Perhaps the biggest reason why Chris Jericho’s return in 2013, despite only having been absent from WWE for a few months, is considered such a surprise is the lengths to which Jericho and WWE went to make sure that it stayed a secret. Unlike previous Jericho returns, there was no build-up, no mysterious cryptic video packages, and not a clue that he’d even been contacted to return. In fact, Jericho had made it quite clear for months that he would be touring with his band, Fozzy, for most of early 2013, and couldn’t possibly make any WWE appearances. That’s why it was such a shock when the Superstar who drew #2 was revealed in an explosion of fireworks, the familiar theme music, and an absolutely massive video wall blaring the name “JERICHO”. The energy his return brought into the building helped carry the early part of the Rumble, and Jericho even made a great accounting for himself, lasting nearly 48 minutes before being eliminated by Dolph Ziggler, who had drawn #1 and battled with Jericho throughout the match.
2. 2010 – Edge
In mid-2009, Edge and Chris Jericho looked like they were poised to rule the wrestling world as dominant WWE Tag Team Champions. Unfortunately, shortly into what would be his record-setting 12th and final run as tag champ, Edge suffered a torn Achilles tendon and was expected to be out of action for over a year. It was a truly unfortunate injury, but on the bright side, Jericho chose Big Show as his partner, leading to the short-lived pairing that was JeriShow. At any rate, Edge disappeared from WWE entirely, aside from snide comments made by his former tag team partner Jericho, and was mostly forgotten by the fanbase leading into the 2010 Royal Rumble. To the shock of many, Edge entered at #29, fully healed and ready to go. Despite the late entry number, it was a Murderer’s Row of remaining Superstars, including Jericho, Batista, John Cena, and an insanely driven Shawn Michaels, who needed the win to have any chance at facing The Undertaker at WrestleMania. However, it was Edge who emerged victorious, last eliminating prohibitive favorite John Cena to win his first-ever Royal Rumble match and add one more honor to his highly decorated career.
1. 2008 – John Cena
If you thought Edge’s return was surprising, you need to trust us when we tell you that John Cena entering the 2008 Royal Rumble and winning it all from the #30 spot was even more shocking by several orders of magnitude. In 2008, John Cena was on a fantastic run, holding the WWE Championship for nearly an entire year and having shockingly good Pay Per View matches with wrestlers of incredibly limited ability, including Umaga, Bobby Lashley, and even The Great Khali. Cena’s luck would run out the week before the No Mercy Pay Per View in October, however, as a freak accident in a match on Raw resulted in a torn pectoral muscle. The WWE Title was forfeited (and later won by Orton), and the belief was that Cena would be out for months. So when his music hit as the final entrant in the Rumble match, barely two months after he suffered the injury, inside the beating heart of WWE that is Madison Square Garden in New York, the entire wrestling world sat up in awe. On the way to victory, Cena also managed to set a record for shortest time that a Rumble winner has spent in the match at just over eight minutes, but to be fair, he was the very last man in.