The Royal Rumble is right around the corner. For three decades, it has been an institution for wrestling fans. Since 1992, the event has had major implications on the WrestleMania world title picture. From a historical perspective, the match also captures a snap shot of the roster in a given year, making it fun in the moment, and match that’s always worth revisiting over years to follow. On top of all of that, it’s a wild, entertaining, unpredictable hour of action.
Some of the unpredictability of the Rumble is built into the DNA of the match, with staggered entries and constant eliminations as the match progresses. These dynamics create unexpected showdowns and odd partnerships. It’s not just the performers fans know are in the match who make this event hard to peg. It’s also the entrants we never saw coming.
Over the years, it has become a staple element of the Rumble to feature entrants who were not previously announced. Sometimes it’s a figure of local interest, like when legend of lucha libre Mil Mascaras got involved in 1997’s Rumble emanating from San Antonio. Other times, it’s a legend like Kevin Nash reprising an old gimmick, like when he entered as Diesel in 2011. Still other times, the Rumble is a platform to introduce NXT talents to the main roster, or debut a fresh talent altogether, like when AJ Styles made a splash in the 2016 Rumble.
Who will the surprise entrants be in 2018? With both a men’s and women’s Rumble this year, there are twice as many opportunities for surprises. This article takes a look at eight male and seven female performers who just might surprise us at the Royal Rumble this year.
15 Male: Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy and his brother Matt know a thing or two about making a surprise appearance. 2017 saw them make one of the greatest returns in WWE history when they crashed the party for the Raw Tag Team Championship match at WrestleMania 33. Their nostalgia based run to follow as a lot of fun, though the brothers were losing momentum by the time Jeff got injured.
After Jeff left, his brother got the go ahead to pursue his off beat “Woken” gimmick. The time table for Jeff’s return isn’t entirely clear right now, but when he gets back, he could slide right into his brother’s world as he had previously in Impact Wrestling. Returning at the Royal Rumble—perhaps in a key moment when his brother squares off with Bray Wyatt and friends-- would make for a great return.
14 Female: Trish Stratus
The first women’s Royal Rumble is a historic event, and as WWE starts to recruit former talents for one off appearances, Trish Stratus has to be at the top of the list. Not only is she one of the most popular and best respected female stars in WWE history, but she’s also a performer who retired in her prime and has proven in other one shot appearances that she’s still more than physically capable of going.
Stratus took to social media to laud WWE’s choice to host the first women’s Rumble this year. Might the endorsement have been a hint that Stratus will throw her hat into the ring? It’s not a sure bet, but if WWE wants to pop the crowd early, Stratus would be a terrific addition to the field.
13 Male: Ricochet
After WWE bought out WCW, the question that lingered for over a decade was if or when Sting would appear on WWE television. When AJ Styles left TNA, similar questions arose about him. As 2017 rolls over into 2018, the closest equivalent is a question about when Ricochet will show up on Raw, SmackDown, or for NXT.
Ricochet has starred across major U.S. promotions like Lucha Underground, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, Chikara and Evolve, and has most recently thrived working for New Japan Pro Wrestling. Rumor has it that his next stop is WWE, and given the way the company has shifted to feature indie darlings, he’d be a perfect fit.
This year’s Rumble goes down in Philadelphia—a market notorious for smart fans, and so a place to find a crowd familiar with, and all too eager to welcome this new arrival.
12 Female: Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey has made no bones about the fact that she grew up a pro wrestling fan, and so as she became a huge star in MMA, speculation began about whether she ever might be lured into the squared circle. Fast forward to WrestleMania 31, and she actually did show up in a WWE ring, backing up The Rock for a non-match confrontation against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon.
Now, as we approach WrestleMania 34 season, Rousey’s MMA career looks like it’s done for good after taking back to back losses in the UFC. She made herself visible at WWE’s Mae Young Classic, supporting real life friend and tournament finalist Shayna Baszler, and even staring down Charlotte Flair and the Four Horsewomen of NXT. Now more than ever, Rousey wrestling for WWE looks like a possibility, particularly for ‘Mania. What better way to introduce her as a WWE competitor—as part time as she may be—than a fierce run in the first women’s Rumble?
11 Male: The Miz
The November 20 episode of Raw saw The Miz drop the Intercontinental Championship to Roman Reigns, and he hasn’t been heard from since. In reality, he’s off filming the sixth film in the Marine and is busy in his personal life as an expectant father alongside his wife Maryse.
The Miz is the kind of Royal Rumble entrant who wouldn’t be out of left field at all—he’s a full time roster member who has been a part of WWE programming for a decade. He is the kind of surprise WWE can contrive rather than have come out of thin air, though, by carefully keeping him off television and avoiding mention of him until he arrives to factor into WrestleMania season. There’s little reason to think The Miz would win (while not impossible, he’s an unlikely fit for either world title picture come ‘Mania), but he could be a difference maker and a fun surprise returnee at some stage in the match.
10 Female: Kharma
Kharma has the potential to make history in 2018 by becoming the first person to have participated in both the men’s and women’s Royal Rumbles. It’s unclear if WWE would want to do business with her again after her first run with the company turned so disastrous. Kharma got pregnant just as her debut push was taking off, and was not prepared to come back to the ring on the time table the company had set for her, and so they went their separate ways.
Kharma has been back in the ring for a number of promotions since, though, in addition to moonlighting on Netflix’s GLOW. A full time return to WWE may not make sense, but she could be fun, impactful figure to make a brief run in in this year’s Rumble. Moreover, her physical style and size lend themselves well to the Rumble spotlight. A face of with someone like Nia Jax, in particular, could offer quite the spectacle.
9 Male: Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega's upcoming Wrestle Kingdom match with Chris Jericho has sparked rumors that a major cross promotion between WWE and NJPW is set to happen with their Wrestle Kingdom match eventually leading to a WrestleMania feud. This would peg Omega to perhaps make a surprise appearance in this year's Royal Rumble and if he really isn't keen on a full-time job in WWE, perhaps the company can simply have him for a one-off at WrestleMania against Y2J. Omega was rumored to debut in last year's Royal Rumble and there have been more rumors popping up this year. These rumors will be denied up to the Rumble, but we'll just have to wait for the event to see what happens. It may be the longest shot on the men's side, but a chance is a chance.
8 Female: Ember Moon
Ember Moon has come a long way in a short period of time to emerge as the top face of the NXT women’s division. She’s a good fit for her current position as the champ in developmental, and WWE shouldn’t necessarily rush her call up to the main roster. For a one off appearance in the Rumble, however, she’d be one of the most recognizable NXT stars to make a one off appearance. On top of that, she’s got a unique look and move set that could each help her stand out in a cameo.
Hitting the ring with a flurry, nailing one Eclipse for a big elimination could make Moon an instant star. Give her until after WrestleMania to finish developing in Florida, and she could surface on Raw or SmackDown Live as a fresh star.
7 Male: Roderick Strong
NXT has seen its share of talented indie veterans show up, thrive, and get the eventual promotion to the main roster. For guys like Bobby Roode and Samoa Joe, the rumor was that they were working NXT only to help bring along younger talents, without meaningful consideration to them getting called up. They’ve since moved on to featured roles—title contenders and even PPV main eventers for Raw and SmackDown Live.
If we are to look at the current NXT ranks, Roderick Strong is on the short list of guys in a similar position. He has more than enough talent to hang with the main roster and his built a solid name for himself, including a spotlight effort in the War Games revival.
Strong may or may not be destined for a permanent call up, but could do quite nicely in at least a one off appearance to test those waters.
6 Female: Alison Brie
Alison Brie may be the most left field pick from this countdown, and the least likely to actually ever step into a WWE ring. The actress from Community and Mad Men starred in Netflix’s wrestling show GLOW, however, and if the two sides are interested in cross promotion, she’d be a natural fit to pull some headlines.
Better yet, Brie actually does have some ring training. As Chavo Guerrero discussed on his visit to Chris Jericho’s podcast, he directed training for all of the actresses on the show—most of whom had no previous wreslting experience, all of whom needed to take bumps and get physical for the show. No, Brie won’t work a starring role in the Rumble, but she could fit nicely into a Drew Carey like comedy spot.
5 Male: Shane McMahon
Recent months have seen the war escalate between Shane McMahon and the alliance of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. What started with Owens accusing McMahon of sabotaging his US title run grew into a one on one feud between the two, culminating in a Hell in a Cell Match. After Zayn turned heel to help KO, the two have formed a compelling heel duo for the blue brand, with McMahon working shades of gray in trying to get rid of them.
At the Royal Rumble, Owens and Zayn are each likely entrants who could be a lot of fun to see work together in the Rumble. Who better to get into the match and spoil their fun than Shane-O-Mac? Whether he’s an official participant, or only makes a run in, McMahon is a very possible surprise antagonist for the duo in this match.
4 Female: Michelle McCool
Nowadays, wrestling fans may know Michelle McCool best as The Undertaker’s wife. She was a star in her own right, however, as a wrestler in the mid 2000s. This included emerging as a top face to be featured in the early days of the Divas Championship, before turning heel for a wicked run alongside Layla El as LayCool.
McCool has been out of action for some time, and most recently made headlines after a skin cancer diagnosis. She did get involved with Charlotte Flair in a back and forth on Twitter about having one more match this past fall. While it’s far from certain that McCool will find her way back into a WWE ring, but at least based on social media, it sounds like she’s game. Factor in her connection to the Phenom, and it’s reasonable enough to think WWE would leave the door open to her.
3 Male: Rockstar Spud
Rockstar Spud gained exposure with American wrestling fans via Impact Wrestling. First, he won the British Bootcamp show to earn a spot on the roster, then he was a mainstay who most memorably engaged with Dixie Carter as an authority figure and Ethan Carter III as a side kick and then undersized rival. The English star parted ways with Impact this year and word around the rumor mill is that he has signed with WWE.
It’s unclear if Spud will go to NXT upon his WWE debut, or he’ll add some extra flair to the 205 Live line up straight away. Regardless, there are few better ways for a new talent to make an immediate impact than by making a splash in the Royal Rumble. Even if he doesn’t hang with the heavyweights for long, letting him do his plucky underdog best for a brief run could be just the ticket to introduce him to WWE fans.
2 Female: Laurel Van Ness
Laurel Van Ness is a recent Impact Wrestling Knockouts Champion. Word broke that she asked the company for her release, and the rumor mill is running hot and heavy that she’s WWE bound. The transition would make sense for the talented grappler and pretty face who actually has worked with WWE briefly before in non-wrestling cameos.
As an added bonus, Van Ness is the real life girlfriend of WWE Superstar Zack Ryder. While it’s doubtful that Ryder has a ton of stroke with management, having an established veteran vouch for you never hurts. Moreover, if WWE really wants to fill all of the roster spots for a women’s Rumble, it could use an experienced hand with magnetic charisma like Van Ness right therein the mix.
1 Male: Kassius Ohno
Kassius Ohno, previously known in independent circles as Chris Hero, is a bit of an enigma on the NXT roster. On the indies, he feuded with guys like CM Punk and had a celebrated tag team with Cesaro.
At the end of his initial WWE development run, Ohno was purportedly cut for not having the cut physique WWE wanted. When WWE brought him back, it was after the successes of Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe, and as other non-home grown talent like AJ Styles and Sami Zayn were thriving. It seemed as though a paradigm shift were underway, and Ohno might get big opportunities this go round, While he has generally been treated like an upper card guy, he’s nonetheless lost just about every big match scenario presented to him.
The Royal Rumble may well prove an ideal spot to plug Ohno into to test his performance and the crowd’s reaction. He’s a big man and a striker, each of which fit the match type well. The Philly market is as likely as anyplace to have fans rooting for the indie standout. It remains unclear if Ohno will ever be a main roster mainstay, but the Rumble could be his greatest opportunity to sink or swim.