It’s almost that time of year again! As we reach the end of 2017 and leave the last major pay-per-view of the year (Survivor Series) in our rearview, it’s time to look ahead at what’s to come in the new year and more specifically, the most exciting period of the wrestling season, the Road To WrestleMania. Each January, the road officially kicks off with the Royal Rumble, an event that has become almost as anticipated as WrestleMania itself. Thirty men step into a battle royal in which the only way out is to be eliminated over the top rope. The last man standing earns a chance to face the WWE Champion on the grandest stage of them all.
However, while the match sets the tone for the WrestleMania season, it’s perhaps become even more known for shocking fans with its surprise entrants into the battle royal. Over the years, the WWE has used the event to stage a number of surprise appearances from the shocking returns of fan favorites (Rob Van Dam), to new superstars making their WWE debuts (AJ Styles), and even NXT graduates finally being called up to the main roster (Tye Dillinger). It’s a tactic that adds an air of mystery to the event every year, leaving fans wondering which superstars will unexpectedly pop up during the proceedings, this year’s proposed women’s Royal Rumble leaving even more opportunity for surprises.
The following list examines 15 superstars who could very well be that surprise entrant. From legends ready for one last WWE run, to free agents who could potentially be the company’s next signings to injured superstars we’re dying to see make their triumphant return. Here are 15 possible surprise entrants into the 2018 Royal Rumble.
15 Chris Jericho
When looking at the stars who could make their anticipated return to the WWE after an extended absence, Chris Jericho most definitely tops the list. The “Best In The World,” has spent much of the year on hiatus, pursuing music projects after experiencing what many consider to be the best run of his career last year with Kevin Owens. Jericho was last seen participating in a triple threat match for the United States Championship during a surprise appearance on SmackDown Live in July.
However, with the WrestleMania season approaching, the WWE will likely want to incorporate Y2J in the Showcase Of The Immortals, and given his flair for making an entrance, the Royal Rumble would be the perfect place for him to announce his return. He'll be coming off his match with Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom in New Japan and he'll be fresh in the minds of fans.
In fact, the only thing that could potentially stop this grand entrance is the fact that he’s already done it before, having made his surprise return at the event in 2013. Still, this is one of the more likely options.
14 Ronda Rousey
While the prospect of a women’s Royal Rumble match has been floated around for next year’s event, given the WWE’s history of putting female powerhouses like Chyna, Kharma and Beth Phoenix into the predominantly male Royal Rumble, this next entrant is a possibility whether a women’s match comes to fruition or not. Perhaps no WWE debut is more anticipated right now than that of UFC trailblazer, Ronda Rousey. The MMA mega-star has been long-rumored to be in talks with the wrestling organization and with word that Rousey has begun training at the WWE Performance Center, it appears that, that day is close to becoming a reality.
The current plan is said to be for Rousey’s MMA Four Horsewomen (including Mae Young Classic runner-up Shayna Baszler) to take on the WWE’s Four Horsewomen at WrestleMania 34, so what better way to announce her debut with the company than at the event that officially kicks off the WrestleMania season? While this one’s somewhat of a longshot, it would make one hell of an impact.
13 The Undertaker
You know what they say, legends never die. One of the most talked about moments from WrestleMania 33 was the main event which pitted the The Undertaker against Roman Reigns in what would turn out to be his retirement match. After suffering only his second loss ever at WrestleMania, The Deadman would fold up his signature jacket and hat and leave them in the middle of the ring, many assuming we’d never see the wrestling icon in a WWE ring again. But we know better than to bet against the Phenom.
The Undertaker is already scheduled to make his first post-retirement appearance on WWE programming, expected to appear on Monday Night Raw’s 25th Anniversary show so it doesn’t seem too far off to imagine him throwing his hat into the ring for the Royal Rumble. After all, WrestleMania without Taker just doesn’t feel right. Perhaps we can finally get that The Undertaker vs. John Cena WrestleMania moment we’ve always wanted so The Phenom can really go out on a high note.
For years now, Ricochet has been atop the WWE’s list of most sought after unsigned wrestlers. His appeal becoming even more glaring after putting on his “Match of the Year” caliber contest against Will Ospreay in 2016. However, there’s always been one thing standing in the way of him signing with the world’s biggest wrestling organization, a little show called Lucha Underground.
For the past three years, the high flyer has been contracted to the El Rey Network wrestling series where he serves as Prince Puma, the show’s crown jewel. However, with reports circulating that Lucha will not be renewed for a fourth season, the “Future of Flight” may finally have an opening to graduate to the WWE roster. The fan favorite has expressed a desire to sign with the organization in the past and Ricochet would certainly add a much needed jolt of intrigue into the company’s cruiserweight division so if his number is called at the Royal Rumble, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
11 Jeff Hardy
When The Hardy Boyz made their triumphant return to the WWE at WrestleMania 33 after a seven-year absence, many thought the Team Extreme members were on their way to experiencing one of the most successful runs of their WWE careers, hoping the boys would be bringing their Broken family with them. To say that what fans got was a letdown would be an understatement.
After a series of roadblocks put the kibosh on the Broken Universe ever merging with the WWE Universe, the company seemed at a loss at what to do with them, an aimlessness that was only compounded when Jeff Hardy went under the knife in October to repair a nagging shoulder injury, putting him on the shelf for some time. However, with a new year brings new opportunity and the Royal Rumble could be the perfect way to signify the Hardyz's return to tag team dominance, setting up a big match on the grandest stage of them all, potentially against The Shield?
10 Rob Van Dam
When Goldberg was announced as a pre-order exclusive character for the WWE’s 2K17 video game, many took it as a sign the larger than life superstar would be making his WWE return shortly (a hypothesis that would of course be proven true). So, when Rob Van Dam was announced as one of the final additions to the WWE 2K18 roster, it didn’t take long for the rumor mill to go into overdrive about the impending return of RVD.
It’s a move that would certainly make sense. While Mr. Monday Night is currently enjoying a lucrative run on the independent circuit, given the warm welcome nostalgia acts like The Hardy Boyz have received, we can certainly see Vam Dam returning to the WWE-fold for one last run to close out his career. However, much like Chris Jericho, the only thing that casts doubt on RVD making his surprise return at the Royal Rumble is the fact that he already did that at the 2009 event.
9 Kenny Omega
If you’re looking for the biggest wrestler not currently signed by the WWE, look no further than Kenny Omega. The current Bullet Club leader is experiencing the greatest run of his career having put on a series of modern classic matches against Kazuchika Okada in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. So of course, it’s natural that fans have been speculating ever since when the highly-acclaimed wrestler would be making his debut with the WWE.
Omega was seen as one of the top candidates to make a surprise debut at last year’s Royal Rumble, so much so that he had to go on Wrestling Observer Radio just to set the record straight that he had no plans to attend the event. And while the Canadian grappler has been resistant to the idea of joining the wrestling giant any time soon, a recent Twitter spat with fellow Winnipeg-native Chris Jericho sparked their upcoming match at Wrestle Kingdom and some are speculating it's to set up an eventual WrestleMania showdown between the two wrestling greats. This may be the longest of shots but after all, a chance is a chance.
While female entrants in the Royal Rumble have been a rarity over the years, just three competitors able to earn the distinction in the event’s more than 30-year history, the rumored Women’s Royal Rumble rumored to take place during this year’s event, certainly opens up the landscape for some shocking returns for women’s wrestlers. And if we’re putting money on one woman to make her return, we’re going with Paige.
The celebrated Anti-Diva has been out of action for a year and half after undergoing neck surgery last year, however Paige has resumed training at the Performance Center as of late and has seemingly been cleared to return to action. If the first NXT Women’s Champion is on her way back to the ring, the WWE will likely want to ensure her return makes an impact and what better way to punctuate her arrival than by having her return for the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble? Perhaps she could go after her old rival Charlotte Flair?
7 Rey Mysterio
Another WWE veteran who could be making his way back to the wrestling giant come January is Rey Mysterio. The fan favorite made a name for himself as the most successful luchador in WWE history, winning the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships on three separate occasions during his almost 13-year career with the company. After walking away in 2015, Mysterio joined Lucha Underground where he’s been a fixture ever since. However, with word that the lucha-centric series may be coming to an end, the door is certainly open for Mysterio to return.
A surprise appearance from the high flyer would certainly make sense as the company has been looking for a way to strengthen their cruiserweight division and Mysterio could very well be the babyface champion the brand has sorely been missing, Mysterio possessing the talent, experience and connection with fans necessary to lead the division. However, while the 619-native has taken a “never say never” approach to returning to WWE in the past, recent reports suggest he’s in no rush to sign on the dotted line so we’ll put his odds of a Royal Rumble appearance at 50-50.
6 The Revival
When The Revival made their main roster debut after WrestleMania earlier this year, many thought it was only a matter of time before the duo became the driving force behind Raw’s anemic tag team division. Having won NXT’s 2016 “Match Of The Year” Award for their powerhouse performance against D.I.Y. at TakeOver: Toronto, Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson had already proven themselves the most dominant and respected tag team in NXT.
However, a mixture of timing and bad booking has instead kept the team sidelined for much of 2017, their initial introduction overshadowed by the return of The Hardy Boyz while a string of injuries has kept them on the shelf for the majority of the year. Expect The Revival to be back in a big way in the new year, the Royal Rumble being the perfect place to announce that. Perhaps the team could eliminate Cesaro and Sheamus or The Shield, beginning their quest for tag team dominance?
5 Kurt Angle
The WWE sure has seemed to change their tune on Kurt Angle competing. When he was first brought back to WWE programming, he was introduced as a GM and many were speculating that Angle didn't pass WWE's physical and thus would not be considered for a return to in-ring action. Something must have changed because Angle was inserted into The Shield's reunion match at TLC in an ill Roman Reigns's place, in a TLC match no less. Angle then captained Team RAW at Survivor Series.
Whether WWE inserts Angle into the match as a surprise or if they announce it beforehand remains to be seen but with Angle proving he's capable of still wrestling, we can't rule out an Angle appearance in the Rumble match.
4 Jay Lethal
Perhaps one of the most decorated superstars to have never wrestled in the WWE, Jay Lethal’s WWE arrival has long been one of the most anticipated moments among wrestling fans. Having made a name for himself in Ring of Honor and later TNA, Lethal has developed a passionate following with even Samoa Joe saying that he wants Lethal to be signed by the company.
And while the six-time X-Division Champion has said in the past that he’s happy where he is in Ring of Honor, he’s also admitted that being signed to the WWE was his childhood dream so it stands to reason we could see him pop up in the promotion next year. The former Ring of Honor champ even has a WWE connection, having trained one-time longest reigning Divas Champion AJ Lee. Whether he’s signed to NXT, Raw or SmackDown, it’s safe to say that a Jay Lethal WWE run is exactly what fans want to see in 2018.
3 Marty Scurll
Much like fellow Bullet Club member Kenny Omega, this one is a long shot but certainly possible. There are few characters currently in professional wrestling more compelling and thrilling than Marty Scurll’s The Villain persona. The highly regarded UK talent has made a name for himself by breaking all the rules, creating a character that is uniquely his own, making him a dominant force in Ring Of Honor as well as New Japan Pro-Wrestling. So of course, WWE fans are itching for the former ROH World Television Champion to make his debut on the grandest stage of them all.
It’s a notion that Scurll didn’t completely rule out during a recent interview, admitting that he’d love to pick Vince McMahon’s brain and saying that he was confidant he’d be given the freedom to do his character justice should he make the jump to WWE. With that said, Scurll seems to be having a blast with the Bullet Club and with so much more to conquer in Ring of Honor, seeing him debut at the Royal Rumble would be a major surprise.
2 Matt Riddle
It’s not hard to see why Matt Riddle is on top of the WWE’s “must sign” list. The former UFC fighter has the look, a larger than life personality and was named the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Most Improved and Rookie Of The Year for 2016. Riddle has also been very open about his desire to sign with the wrestling giant, saying the only thing stopping him from signing on the dotted line is waiting for the perfect time so he can have his best chance at success with the company. Well, what better time than 2018?
The WWE has already shown its commitment to signing MMA fighters to its promotion, having already brought on Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler. The organization is also said to be pursuing Conor McGregor for a WrestleMania match but if they can’t get the fighting Irishman, who better than Riddle to fill that void? If signed, a grand Royal Rumble entrance ala AJ Styles would be the perfect way to introduce him to the WWE Universe as their next big thing.
1 John Cena
You may not be able to see John Cena on Raw and SmackDown each week anymore, but come the Royal Rumble, you just might. Over the past few years, the face that runs the place has been transitioning into a more part-time role in WWE programming, popping in every few months while pursuing film projects in his quest to become a major movie star.
The last time fans saw the Cenation leader actually competing in a match, he was bidding farewell to the WWE Universe at No Mercy in a showing eerily similar to The Undertaker’s retirement at WrestleMania, suggesting that the 16-time WWE Champ may not be returning to the squared circle.
Still, it’s hard to imagine a WrestleMania season without Big Match John so don’t be surprised if Cena takes that coveted #30 spot, setting up what could be his big final match. Much like Chris Jericho and Rob Van Dam before him, Cena is no stranger to the surprise Rumble return, having been a surprise entrant in 2008 but that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be making a repeat performance.