Since its inception in 1988, the Royal Rumble has been one of the biggest matches in WWE. The concept remains fantastic as 30 men go at it, one entering every 90 seconds and raises the stakes. WWE has amped it up with how the winner gets a title shot at WrestleMania and in two cases, the title itself has been up for grabs. It’s exciting to fans to see who enters and WWE has added to that as for the last several years, surprise entrants have been a big deal for the Rumble.
Some work out better than others. WWE has managed to pull off true amazing surprises but sometimes, these fall flat. That’s especially true if the guy is past his prime and not ready for this at all. WWE still tries but the very fact fans expect some “surprise entries” with each Rumble makes it harder to pull off a great one. Here are 8 surprise Rumble entrants that blew fans away and 8 that were total letdowns to show how tricky the Rumble can be in pleasing fans.
16 Awful: Drew Carey
Some might argue on this one but in the end, you have to come down on awful. For the 2001 Rumble, Carey was shown hanging around with guys backstage and having a good time. When the TV star seemed to hit on Trish Stratus, Vince McMahon punished him by ordering him into the Rumble match. Coming out at #6, Carey watched as The Hardy Boyz eliminated each other and grinned for the crowd. His joy vanished when the next man was Kane who marched down to the ring. Kane entered and Carey offered to shake hands, then a wad of cash. Kane grabbed him but then Raven entered to attack and Carey smartly threw himself over the top rope. Short but still a bit nutty, even more so by how Carey is in the WWE Hall of Fame for it.
15 Awesome: Mr. Perfect
The 2002 Rumble was the first after WCW had been crushed and WWE was still figuring out how to handle things. It had some moments like Maven kicking out The Undertaker and some good clashes. It was building up with Triple H facing Steve Austin, and the two taking turns tossing guys out so they could fight each other harder. At #25, a familiar music hit and out strode Curt Hennig after a long absence from WWE. He tossed out his towel like old times as he hit the ring and did a great job. Lasting fifteen minutes, he pulled out great moves like dropkicks and slams and looked in great shape. He was eliminated by Triple H but it gave Perfect another push in WWE which sadly ended with his death. But for a few minutes, Hennig reminded fans why the “Perfect” moniker fit him so well.
14 Awful: Hornswoggle
For whatever reason, the WWE really had a thing for Hornswoggle. Originally “The Little Bastard,” the leprechaun oddly caught on with fans and was boosted up, even having a run as Cruiserweight Champion. He was good for laughs in skits but other cases, it was just too much. A clear one is the 2011 Rumble, an already stacked battle with 40 guys going at it. Coming in at #23 was Hornswoggle had fans groaning at the sight. Even worse was that he was pushed as a serious thing, lasting nearly ten minutes to help out John Cena, even doing a “mini AA” on opponents and splashes. He was finally eliminated by Sheamus but still a terrible bit that reminded fans how annoying the character could be.
13 Awesome: Rob Van Dam
After John Cena’s surprise return in 2008, the Rumble matches began to take on more of a “who will return” vibe. That hung over 2009, a rather rough Rumble overall with too many guys in the ring at the same time and Santino Marella scoring the shortest time in Rumble history. So fans were more than happy when #27 rolled around and Rob Van Dam showed up after spending the last few years in TNA. The fans went wild as RVD, always having that great popularity, took it to everyone in the ring with his old moves and firing the crowd up. He lasted a respectable thirteen minutes before being eliminated. He may not have lasted very long, but it was awesome to see Van Dam return to the WWE.
12 Awful: Roddy Piper
This is a bit sad given how amazing a worker and performer "Rowdy" Roddy Piper once was. He’d been in Rumble matches before and done some good jobs in the “every man for himself” fight. But by 2008, Piper was a shadow of himself, a physical wreck by surgeries, and not looking too good otherwise. Nonetheless, he was pushed, coming out to his bagpipes at #19 to a good pop. However, it became obvious Piper was in no condition for a major fight, looking a bit bloated as he went after former rival Jimmy Snuka. The two brawled it out by the ropes before going over the top to eliminate each other. It was a bit sad to see the once great Piper looking so bad and how some legends are better off staying in the past.
11 Awesome: Booker T
The big story going into the 2011 Royal Rumble was how The Nexus and The Corre were fighting it out, with CM Punk and Daniel Bryan being the first two men in the ring while working to eliminate others. Punk was eventually joined by teammates Michael McGuillicutty, David Otunga, and Mason Ryan. The four tossed out everyone else in their way and waited for the next victim. Number 21 hit and out came Booker T, who was rumored to be re-signing with TNA at the time. Instead, he came out to charge the four, hammering them with punches, a Scissors Kick, and a Spinarroni before being dumped out over the top rope. His run was short, but it was still a great surprise entry for the fans, one that gave Booker T new life in the WWE.
10 Awful: Hacksaw Jim Duggan
Duggan is historic as the very first Rumble winner, taking the victory in the original 20-man TV version back in 1988. While his remaining WWE career wasn’t huge, Duggan still had some pushed thanks to that victory. So it may have made some sense to have him make a surprise return at later Rumble matches, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out well. The first was in 2009 as Duggan entered at #29, a wild late entry who only lasted two minutes before dumped by The Big Show. Unfortunately, 2012 wasn’t much better. Coming out at #19, Duggan got into the ring, did his “HOOO!” bit and only lasted forty seconds before being dumped out by Cody Rhodes. It was another case of tossing in too many old guys into the fight and distracting from the Rumble itself despite Duggan’s legacy in the battle.
9 Awesome: Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho has made surprise returns a specialty of his. Just when it seems he’s done with WWE for good, he makes another big entrance and remains at the top of his game. At the 2013 Rumble, Dolph Ziggler drew #1 and was cocky about his chances. At which point, the lights dimmed, the familiar countdown hit, and Jericho showed up in his lit jacket to make the crowd go wild. Ziggler, like many of the fans, was in shock as Y2J was a true surprise with no hints he was going to be arriving. Jericho did a fantastic job, lasting almost 50 minutes in the match before being eliminated by Ziggler. He didn’t win but fans still loved him coming out to a big surprise as he rocked the fandom once again and sparked the Rumble up very nicely.
8 Awful: El Torito
WWE really has a thing for letting little people wrestlers compete in the Rumble. Hornswoggle was one thing as he actually had some fan backing but El Torito was something else. The mini-worker was known for dressing in a bull costume to accompany Los Matadores, but he was never seen as an in-ring competitor. Him coming out at #20 in the 2014 Rumble had fans moaning, especially as it took away from what many hoped would be Daniel Bryan coming in. He only did some goofy jumping, and although he did inspire a priceless line from JBL on how “Mantaur is his uncle,” it was still a bad moment. He was dumped by eventual winner Roman Reigns and his entry highlights what many consider among the poorest Rumble matches ever.
7 Awesome: Mick Foley
Foley has always been good in Rumble matches, especially in 1998 when he came out as all three of his various personas (Mankind, Dude Love, Cactus Jack). By 2004, Foley had settled into just minor appearances and had been getting into a conflict with Randy Orton, who was starting his own rise to stardom. Orton was dominating in the Rumble after coming in first and dumping guys out. Number 21 came up but no one came out. The cameras cut to Test lying on the ground knocked out as RAW GM Steve Austin came to him. Austin yelled at someone down the hall to go out and take his place. That familiar car crash theme began and Foley walked out to target a terrified Orton. He nailed him with punches and then a clothesline to eliminate both of them but Foley didn’t care as long as he took Orton on. A great bit that boosted the stock of Orton while also showcasing that Foley still had something left in the tank.
6 Awful: Bob Backlund
Bob Backlund’s time in the Royal Rumble has been mixed as in 1993 he lasted almost an hour but most of it was him knocked outside the ring. Backlund would remake himself into the “crazy old man” that got him new life but also made him a bit of a joke, including making a run for President in 2000. As such, his appearance at the Rumble was more a “campaign stop” and while still in good shape, he wasn’t exactly a stand-out guy. He was inside for a bit of brawling and punching, was choked by Big Bossman, and helped everyone dump out Rikishi. He only lasted two minutes before being dumped by Chris Jericho. While okay for a fun sight, it wasn’t really something to fire the crowd up.
5 Awesome: Beth Phoenix
The 2010 Rumble was off to a good start as CM Punk ended up on his own in the ring and proceeded to cut a promo boosting his straight-edged lifestyle. It was ended by the Great Khali coming out and pounding him down. Number six was Beth Phoenix, only the second woman ever to compete in the Royal Rumble match. She faced off against Khali, who stood about three feet taller than her, who picked Phoenix up and placed her on the apron. In response, Phoenix grabbed him into a long kiss and then used it to pull Khali over the top rope. It was a priceless moment the fans adored and while Phoenix was eliminated fast by Punk, it was a great highlight of the match.
4 Awful: Mil Mascaras
The 1997 Rumble came when WWE was getting hit hard by WCW and doing anything to get attention. As such, the Rumble had a bunch of guys they thought would appeal to the San Antonio audience coming out. Among them was legendary luchador Mil Mascaras, the “Man of a Thousand Masks.” Sadly, Mascaras is less known today by his amazing skills and more by the stories of him being an incredible prima donna who refused to sell or job, all the while pushing himself as a major star. As such, Mascaras didn’t really do well, as he didn't take many hard shots while also staying out of the fights. He didn’t even allow himself to be tossed, rather eliminating himself by leaping off the top rope on an opponent on the outside. A lame entry that just served to push the tales of Mascaras’ selfish behavior.
3 Awesome: Edge
In late 2009, Edge suffered a torn Achilles tendon, an injury that sidelined him for a number of months. His absence was felt as his team with Chris Jericho was beginning to reach its peak and the duo just captured the Unified Tag Team Championship. As the 2010 Rumble went on, most thought the victor would be either Shawn Michaels, John Cena or Triple H as they were positioned as the top talents in the company. As #29 hit, “you think you know me” echoed and the crowd went insane. Edge stormed out to Spear everyone in the ring and then tossed out Jericho. He kept it up in a great battle, finally dumping out Cena to win the match. The fans were backing him all along with a fantastic return that ranks among the best ever.
2 Awful: The Announce Team
The 2012 Rumble was boasting a bunch of “surprise names” to heighten things up. Sadly, many of these only served as bad distractions. The worst had to be how each member of the announce team took part. First, Jerry Lawler stood up at # 12 to enter but only lasted a minute before being dumped. Then Booker T came up at #17 and did a bit better, lasting about five minutes before being thrown over the top rope. Michael Cole was next, as he got up at #20 and, in a dumb singlet and headgear, entered the ring. He was eventually thrown out by Kharma. It might have been a fun idea but it failed on paper, as it was just too distracting for fans while also taking away some spotlight for some of the up and coming Superstars.
1 Awesome: John Cena
Say what you will about John Cena’s domination of WWE but this truly ranks as one of his greatest moments. In the fall of 2007, Cena tore his pectoral muscle and was immediately put on the shelf. The reports were that he wouldn’t be back until WrestleMania at the earliest and fans were getting used to him being out for a while. Most expected the 2008 Rumble to go to Triple H to set up a bout with Randy Orton at 'Mania; and that's exactly why Madison Square Garden exploded when #30 came up and Cena’s music hit. The fans truly went wild, amazed WWE pulled off this fantastic secret as Cena charged in and battled it out with no signs of ring rust. He ended up winning the Rumble, and even Cena bashers had to give his due for coming back so well. It’s still the most epic surprise in Rumble history, with Cena’s star power making it better.