The Royal Rumble is one of my favorite wrestling events of the year, and it is not just for the prestige of the match, or for the history of who has been involved and won the match before. I enjoy it so much because of the unpredictability of the entire event – there is so much good talent in the ring at one time that anyone who is present in the ring could be walking away with a spot in the WrestleMania main event. We have been shocked before at the winner, including when most recent winners Sheamus and Triple H won their matches.
Not only is the winner a constant struggle to determine, but WWE has also done an excellent job of keeping the audience guessing as to the entrants of the match – each Royal Rumble event over the past several years has featured a surprise entrant or two (or three!), which is always good for a surprise. However, when I say that it is a surprise, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is always a good surprise. For every excellent and surprising return during the Royal Rumble, there are others that are groan-inducing.
Since I love the Royal Rumble so much, I will take the good with the bad, and introduce you to 10 Surprise Royal Rumble Entrants That Were Terrible And 5 That Worked:
15 Terrible: Kevin Nash
Kevin Nash has an interesting distinction regarding his Royal Rumble surprise appearances – his first surprise appearance during the 2011 Royal Rumble as Diesel caused a great deal of surprise, and generated some buzz for Nash, which had not been present in his career in quite some time.
Ultimately, Nash overstayed his welcome as a performer in WWE during that time, and fans were no longer interested in his appearances. Further proving that lightning does not strike twice, Nash also competed in the 2014 Royal Rumble, but did not receive anywhere near the same amount of fanfare as he did during his first appearance. Seeing Nash in full out Diesel attire was a cool bit of nostalgia in 2011. Seeing him as plain old Nash? Sorry Big Daddy Cool, but it just wasn’t meant to be!
14 Terrible: Honky Tonk Man
Sometimes even the most decorated wrestlers can flop as a surprise return during the Royal Rumble. As of this writing, The Honky Tonk Man holds the record for the longest Intercontinental Championship reign in WWE history, but that does not necessarily mean that WWE fans are clamoring for him to return to the ring. During the 2001 Royal Rumble, the Honky Tonk Man decided to test this theory, and entered the match wielding his guitar, and hoping to Shake, Rattle and Roll himself to victory.
All he received were boos from the audience, and a guitar to the head from Kane (which actually did get some cheers, although not for what he expected). While nostalgia acts are sometimes welcome in WWE, this one was not the case.
13 Worked: AJ Styles
Given where we currently are in WWE history with AJ Styles leading the locker room as the current WWE Champion and quickly becoming one of the most decorated stars on the roster, we can trace the beginning of his run to the number three spot in the 2016 Royal Rumble. Styles had long since been at the front of the rumor mill for him to make his WWE debut, but the stars had never aligned before due to his affiliations with TNA, ROH and NJPW.
Regardless of how long it took, when he finally made his appearance as a WWE superstar, the WWE Management team must have known that they got something right when they heard the reaction of the live crowd. Styles would go on to last over 30 minutes in the Rumble, and have a great showing in the match, confirming to any nay-sayers that he belonged in WWE, and showcasing his skills to those who had never seen him before.
12 Terrible: Mil Mascaras
Wrestling legends always have a place in WWE, particularly when it comes to the Hall of Fame because it serves to honor them and their accomplishments. Is the Royal Rumble the same as the Hall of Fame? Not exactly, and it would be helpful for some of the members of the Hall of Fame classes to remember this. Let’s see how this relates to Hall of Fame Class of 2012 inductee Mil Mascaras. Mascaras is a Mexican wrestling legend, and one of the founding fathers of Lucha Libre, and deserves all the respect in the world. That being said, he can also go down in history for making one of the most bone-head moves in Royal Rumble history when he eliminated himself from the match in 1997. Sacrificing your body to defeat your opponent by way of jumping off the top rope onto them is common practice for Luchador heroes, but will lead to your elimination from the Royal Rumble. This didn’t stop Mascaras, who received head scratches when he jumped after an opponent he had just eliminated.
11 Terrible: Michael Cole/Jerry Lawler/Booker T
Speaking of one of the greatest surprises that the Royal Rumble has ever had, let’s transition into one of the biggest wastes of time that has ever taken place during an event. When we watch the Royal Rumble as a wrestling fan, we look forward to seeing a hard-hitting, non-stop wrestling contest between my favorites. However, in 2012, fans were “treated” to a segment which had far too much time dedicated to it. It will be no surprise to wrestling fans of this period that this waste of time involved none other than Michael Cole, whose “heel commentator” character was running rampant on WWE programming at the time.
During the Rumble match, all three commentators overseeing the show entered the match, taking up the spots of three other wrestlers who could have been in the match. All three lasted only a combined total of seven minutes in the match, which was six minutes and 59 seconds too long.
10 Worked: Mr. Perfect
As we approach the Royal Rumble in January 2018, there is speculation as to who the surprise entrants will be. At this point, there has been so many surprise entrants every year during the Rumble, that viewers expect there to be several ones each year. How did this trend begin? Well, we can all thank the late, great “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig for his unexpected WWE return in 2002. Prior to this, generally only full-time WWE wrestlers were entered into the Royal Rumble, but Mr.Perfect was able to find his way into the Rumble match, and ultimately earned a full-time contact with WWE after the positive reaction he received.
Did this end well for Hennig? Not necessarily, as he was ultimately released from his contact after a series of incidents, including a fight with Brock Lesnar dubbed as “The Plane Ride from Hell”. Unfortunately, only a little more than a year later after his surprise return, Hennig would die from a drug overdose.
9 Terrible: Ernest Miller
The Royal Rumble is considered one of the “Big Four” wrestling events of the year, and the high stakes Rumble match is something that WWE should hold sacred due to the implications that it has on the WrestleMania main event. However, for every history-making moment that takes place during the Rumble, there is also the case of someone like Ernest “The Cat” Miller making a useless appearance, and taking away from the special nature of the event. What did Miller do to earn such ire from me for his one Rumble appearance? He came to the ring, danced on the stage for approximately forty-five useless minutes, and then was promptly eliminated from the ring. Did he do anything useful with his time in the match? No – he only served to take away the spot of sometime that deserved a spot over him.
8 Terrible: Kharma
This entry is a little more about disappointment for something that did not occur as a result of this person’s appearance in the Royal Rumble. During the aforementioned Michael Cole Royal Rumble entry in 2012, we were treated to the return of former TNA wrestler Awesome Kong, or known here as Kharma, becoming the third female to enter a Rumble match and promptly have her way with Michael Cole before eliminating him. Kharma is without a doubt one of the most physically imposing females to every wrestle for WWE, and I was looking forward to her career after this appearance.
Unfortunately for all of us, this did not transpire, and Kharma did not do any further business with WWE. We were excited to see how Kharma could reshape the suffering women’s division at the time, and her absence allowed the division to flounder for many years after this. If she had been able to stick around, we would have seen a much different women’s division much earlier than we did.
7 Worked: Rob Van Dam
One of the only wrestlers from the “Alliance” who intrigued WWE audiences during the “Invasion” storyline from 2001 was Rob Van Dam. He was one of the few who came over from either WCW or ECW that remained relevant on WWE programming until he was finally crowned WWE Champion in 2006. However, Van Dam’s “recreational habits” caused him to lose his championship and eventually leave the WWE later that year. It took three years for us to see Van Dam in WWE again, and it came when he surprised everyone by returning during the Royal Rumble. While the surprise was wonderful, Van Dam would keep us guessing about his career after this, as he did not return full time with WWE until 2013.
6 Terrible: Rey Mysterio
This is one of the more interesting cases of a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble, because Rey Mysterio was both part of the active WWE roster, and also is usually a beloved wrestler whenever he appears. During a perfect storm during the 2014 Royal Rumble, Mysterio received uproarious negativity from the crowd when he appeared as the unannounced number 30 at the end of the match. Why did he receive such a poor reaction? It was not necessarily due to Mysterio himself, but more due to the fact that he was not Daniel Bryan, who the crowd desperately wanted to see in the match.
Poor Mysterio tried his hardest to curry the crowd’s favor, but they were not interested in him at all. Mysterio would be gone from WWE less than a year later, and it makes you wonder if this situation played into that at all.
5 Terrible: The Godfather
Any wrestling fan growing up during The Attitude Era got to witness very unorthodox characters receive a lot of screen time on Monday Night RAW, if for no other reason for the fact that they were provocative enough to garner ratings. Enter The Godfather, played by Charles Wight, who served no other purpose than to titillate male audience members with the many ladies that accompanied him to the ring. This type of character went over very well during the late 1990s, but when introduced to an audience that is primarily looking for wrestling and less sports-entertainment, it was not as well received, which was evidenced when The Godfather made a Royal Rumble appearance in 2013.
The reaction for his entrance was not as well received as it was in the past, and when he was quickly eliminated in seconds by Dolph Ziggler, most audience members just scratched their heads as to why a Royal Rumble spot was wasted here and not given to a young and hungry wrestler.
4 Worked: Bubba Ray Dudley
Not every Royal Rumble surprise has to lead to a win or a World Championship for the wrestler – sometimes it can just be pleasant to see a wrestler return after such a long absence. Such was the case when familiar music was heard during the 2015 Royal Rumble, and Bubba Ray Dudley made his return to the WWE after ten years. Bubba was fresh off the greatest singles run of his wrestling career, as “Bully Ray” in TNA which included two TNA World Championship runs. While Bubba did not fare very well in the Rumble match, only eliminating two opponents, it would lead to a return for the highly-decorated Dudley Boyz later that year. Considering that there were ill-willed feelings between the Dudleys and the WWE stemming from their initial run, Bubba Ray appearing in the Royal Rumble was the first step in healing those issues, which will pave the way for an inevitable Hall of Fame induction for the Dudley Boyz. Plus, how good was it to hear “Get the tables!” again?
3 Terrible: Haku
Sometimes surprise appearances happen when a new wrestler is ready to debut. Other times it occurs because an old wrestling star is making a triumphant return. And sometimes it occurs because you are feuding with a rival wrestling company, and you want to stick it to them. This is where Haku’s appearance in the 2001 Royal Rumble comes in to play. Haku was actually the reigning WCW Hardcore Champion (a title with such prestige behind it) when he made his return to WWE, but there was no mention of this during his short Royal Rumble appearance, nor was there any fanfare made by the crowd when he appeared, and he quickly fizzled away into obscurity after this appearance.
I will tell you something though, do not mess with Haku if you see him in person – if urban legends are true, he is not sometime to mess around with! In fact, I hope he doesn’t read this entry!
2 Terrible: Road Dogg
By now you should be able to tell my position when it comes to older wrestlers entering the Royal Rumble – if they are going to have a place in this type of match, then it is imperative that there is a reason for it, other than for them to get one last moment in the spotlight. Oh, you didn’t know I love spotlight? Then your ass better call somebody, because “Road Dogg” Jesse James is here to make an appearance in the 2012 Royal Rumble, but will not do anything of substance for the company! It really irritates me that other excellent wrestlers were passed over for spots in Rumble matches to make way for entrances like the Road Dogg, and then there is no follow-through to ensure that their appearance is worth anything.
1 Worked: John Cena
Considered to be the “bench mark” when it comes to Royal Rumble surprises, John Cena’s return at the 2008 Royal Rumble cannot be considered overrated. In an age where social media has caused everyone to become wrestling “experts”, it is very rare for a genuine surprise to occur that shocks audiences. When John Cena’s music hit and he appeared as the 30th entrant in that year’s Rumble match when he was sidelined with a torn pectoral muscle. Cena’s prognosis from his injury, which took place in October 2007, was that he would miss a full year of in-ring action. With this being common knowledge amongst everyone in attendance, nobody anticipated that Cena would return in January 2008, but he did to the surprise of everyone, and went on to win the Royal Rumble. Need a refresher of how epic this return really was? Check it out here!