The Royal Rumble match is less than a month away, and for the last 30 years it has been the start of the Road to WrestleMania, and one of the most exciting and unpredictable matches in the history of wrestling. With the crowd counting down until the next entrant, the match has become most known for surprises, because it gives everyone such a rush watching the match. This year, with the brand split there can be several surprise returns that fans can expect, and although he shot it down recently, it wouldn’t be unexpected to see Finn Balor on that night.
Regardless of what happens in San Antonio this year, the match has featured some amazing returns, and in this article we will look at the last 15 Royal Rumbles, and examine the most shocking entrant in each match.
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15 2002: The Godfather
We saw Mr. Perfect make his long awaited return in this match, but WWE ruined the surprise by telling fans weeks in advance, which definitely weakened the moment, which was still surreal in itself. Knowing that he was returning, the WWE had some work to do to surprise the audience, and they did this with the return of one of the Attitude Era’s favorite stars, The Godfather. Of course he brought with him some of his favorite hos, but he went to the back twice to bring out another 2 groups of his ladies. In typical Godfather fashion, he didn’t last very long in the match and was used for nothing much than a comedy act, but it was great to see the return of The Godfather, and of course the majority of the crowd loved the company that Charles Wright kept on his way to the ring.
14 2003: The Undertaker
The Undertaker has been synonymous with success for over 2 decades in the WWE, and when he returned after a three month absence from the company, he returned in the Royal Rumble match at number 30, attempting to become the first man to win from that final position. Unfortunately his return was ruined by the next big thing in pro wrestling, Brock Lesnar, as the two came face to face in the final 2 positions of the match, before Lesnar came out victorious. It may not have come clean, as Batista engineered a distraction which allowed Lesnar to come out on top, but it was a great sight to see The Undertaker back and as dominant as he always was.
13 2004: Mick Foley
In 2004, Mick Foley was embroiled in a very personal rivalry with the ‘Legend Killer’ Randy Orton, but the Viper thought he had dispatched of the Hardcore Legend… not to be. That means him, nor the crowd were expecting to see Foley, but when Test went down in the back, a mystery man made his way to the ring. It turned out to be the signature car crash and out came the Hardcore Legend, and it made for an electric moment. The hatred and viciousness between the two was so heated that Foley ended up eliminating himself from the match because his focus was solely on Randy, and this makes the entrant not only a shock, but significant to the furthering of a very entertaining storyline.
12 2005: None - Vince McMahon Restarts The Rumble
The 2005 Royal Rumble match was very entertaining, and featured one of the luckiest botches in wrestling history, as the finish between Batista and John Cena almost looked planned. Batista was attempting a Batista bomb, and the duo fell over the ropes and hit the ground almost simultaneously, and both referees declared their brands competitor the winner. Eventually after a Vince McMahon appearance, where he blew out both his quads sliding into the ring, the match was restarted and saw The Animal win his first of two Rumble matches. Unfortunately it didn’t feature any surprise entries, but it did see a great ‘line in the sand’ moment between the competitors of each brand, and it didn’t suffer from the lack of these returns or debuts.
11 2006: RVD
Heading into the 2006 Royal Rumble, the match was wide open, and was eventually won by Rey Mysterio, who honored the passing of his best friend Eddie Guerrero with a 60-minute performance which sent him onto victory at WrestleMania. The match itself was focused on this amazing performance, and there were only two notable surprises: the additions of both RVD and Tatanka. Similar to last year's battle royal at WrestleMania, Tatanka was relatively unnoticed by the fans, but RVD got the crowd to their feet. This was the time before WWE rebooted ECW, and to see the ECW legend come back and the reaction he got may have influenced this, as RVD was one of the most popular stars in recent memory.
10 2007: None - Legends Bring The Greatest Finish To A Royal Rumble Match
Similar to the 2005 match, this featured no exciting surprise returns or debuts, but it did have what is considered to be the greatest finish in the 30-year history of the match. It came down to the now classic rivalry of Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, with both men eager to main event one last WrestleMania in their amazing careers, and the crowd was on the edge of their seat the entire time. Eventually, The Dead Man avoided a super kick and eliminated the Heart Break Kid, and it was a moment to remember in both men’s careers. Again, there may have been no surprise returns, but the star power and the finish made up for this, and it will be remembered fondly as one of the best matches in the event’s history.
9 2008: John Cena
This may be the greatest Royal Rumble return in history, if not the greatest of any return, because it was just simply so unexpected. Just 3 months earlier John Cena had suffered an injury that was believed to need at least 7 months for recovery, and the major story line in WWE at the time led fans to believe it was Triple H who would outlast the other 29 men. Then the countdown for number 30 ticked down to 0, and what happened next was incredible. Cena’s music hit and the fans at Madison Square Garden erupted, while the wrestlers in the ring couldn’t believe what they were seeing. This rumble also featured returns from both Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper, but the sheer shock from John Cena gives it the win in this match.
8 2009: RVD
Rob Van Dam hadn’t been seen in WWE since his release back in 2006 following his WWE Championship run, and had spent the majority of the time in between wrestling for independent promotions. This return didn’t last, as he went to TNA following the one time appearance, but the familiar music of the ECW legend sent the crowd wild. He entered the match to RVD chants, and went about showing off his educated feet, kicking everyone he could in the match. He was eliminated after about 10 minutes, but showed up in WWE again for more extended runs in later years, but this was a very pleasant surprise for a one-off appearance. With the returns that have been rumored lately, it would be no surprise to see a guy like RVD return to add some more star power in the 2017 Rumble.
7 2010: Edge
Edge is perhaps the most underrated wrestler in wrestling history, as he had a legendary career in which he gained at least 30 Championship titles, but despite all of those accomplishments, this night may have been one of the most memorable in his entire career. Suffering yet another career threatening injury just months earlier, many people were legitimately worried if he would ever wrestle again, but at number #29, he silenced all the doubters. With Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, John Cena and Batista all left in the match, Edge came out to an amazing ovation and started dishing out his patented spear all around. He went on to win the match and capture the World Title at WrestleMania, not long before having to hang up the boots forever in one of the most emotional moments in wrestling history.
6 2011: Booker T
When CM Punk took over leadership of Nexus, he used the group consisting of David Otunga, Husky Harris, Mason Ryan and Skip Sheffield to help him win the Royal Rumble. The plan was working perfectly until John Cena came in and eliminated the entire group (typical SuperCena, right?). Before this happened however, the entire group was alone in the ring, when a very familiar saying hit the titantron. The fans heard “Can you dig it, sucka?” and not only did they go wild, but the commentary team, specifically Matt Striker couldn’t hold their emotions in. Like you’d expect, the legend now turned analyst didn’t last very long in the match, but it was a huge shock, and at least the fans got to see one more Spinaroonie.
5 2012: Kharma
Unfortunately, Michael Cole was going through his heel phase at the time, and he debuted the horrendous wrestling tights, but thankfully his appearance in the Royal Rumble was spoiled by the most unlikeliest of sources. Cole was taunting in the middle of the ring when we saw Kharma make her official in ring debut, and the commentator looked like he had seen a ghost. What he in fact had seen was the most dominant female performer in the WWE since Chyna, and it was a shame she didn’t get more of a run with the company. It turns out that this was her first and last match with the company, but we saw her eliminate Michael Cole and 2 other performers before she was tossed out herself, but for the time, it was the ultimate surprise at a time where fans were slowly become bored of the WWE product.
4 2013: Chris Jericho
When Dolph Ziggler was at the peak of his career, he was an arrogant heel accompanied by Vickie Guerrero, and when it comes to the arrogant heel, there is only one or two men in wrestling that can top him. Thankfully after coming out at number 1, Ziggler was met by one of these men, as Y2J made a shock return at number 2. As usual, Jericho got a huge reaction, as he is one of the greatest in the history of wrestling, and it was great to see him going up against someone so similar to an early Jericho, giving the match an electric feel right off the bat. Goldust also returned, but Jericho was the biggest surprise, and he lasted over 40 minutes before eventually being eliminated by Ziggler.
3 2014: JBL
The 2014 Royal Rumble match will go down as one of the most hated in wrestling history, as the fans wanted Daniel Bryan to win, and they didn’t even get him to appear, and it was met with a chorus of boos and got #cancelWWEnetwork trending worldwide. Batista ended up winning the match, but the story ended with Bryan raising the World Title at WrestleMania, but that doesn’t mean it lacked for surprises. The legendary JBL got his chance to appear in the match from behind the commentary desk, and got a great ovation from the crowd who had to let him know that ‘he’s still got it’. He may not have lasted too long, but to see such a memorable character behind the desk get another chance in the battle royal was a great sight.
2 2015: DDP
DDP was one of the best homegrown stories in the days of WCW, as the commentator trained to become a wrestler at the age of 35. What makes his impressive career all the more incredible was that he was able to return to the WWE at the age of 58 and 59 at WrestleMania a year later, and he looked in incredible shape on both occasions. This might be because of DDP Yoga, which has helped many current WWE performers stay in peak physical shape, and his best performance came in this Rumble match. The familiar “Bang” shocked the crowd who came unglued when they saw the WCW legend in the ring. We also saw the Boogeyman make a brief return in this match, but that didn’t even last 90 seconds due to an encounter with Bray Wyatt, meaning the nod goes to DDP on this one.
1 2016: AJ Styles
Despite a return that was surprising in a way from Triple H, the stand out surprise from the latest edition of the Royal Rumble was WWE’s MVP in 2016, The Phenomenal, AJ Styles. Most people who had read any dirt sheets in the months prior knew it was coming at some stage, but with the WWE Champion in the ring, no one expected it at number 3. Some strange music played, and despite terrible camera work from Kevin Dunn, the moment was epic, with all three commentators putting over his accomplishments, while the crowd down in Florida went crazy. He lasted for around half an hour, and left with the crowd chanting his name upon elimination, setting up the amazing year that he had following this surprise.
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