As the traditional first pay-per-view show of the year, WWE's Royal Rumble show has always kicked off the calendar year with a real bang. There is guaranteed to be plenty of drama throughout the show, not least when it comes to the signature match: the Royal Rumble contest. With bodies hurling over the top rope on a frequent basis, it's one of professional wrestling's greatest match concepts.
The beauty of the Royal Rumble match is that, more often that not, fans just do not have a clue what is coming next. Nobody is really certain who will triumph as the victor each and every year, and nobody can be sure who the next person to walk through the apron and enter the Rumble will be. We've had women enter the match, seen tag alliances break up, and even seen injured stars make amazing comebacks in time for the Rumble.
There are plenty of other shocking entrants in the Royal Rumble too, including guys who've been away from the company making a shocking return at the beginning of WrestleMania season. The WWE has a real track record of providing fans with shock returns at the Royal Rumble, and with the 2015 edition just around the corner, here are the 20 greatest Royal Rumble returns in the history of the event.
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20 Jim Duggan (2009)
The 2009 Royal Rumble might be most fondly remembered for the shortest ever stay in a Rumble, by Santino Marella - lasting just one second before Kane hurled him back over the top rope. However, after Santino's cameo, we had a brilliant return from "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan. He entered at number 29, which actually made a few people wonder if he even had a chance of winning. Rather predictably though, he didn't - lasting just over two minutes before being eliminated by Big Show.
19 John Bradshaw Layfield (2014)
On to the most recent edition of the Royal Rumble now, which was eventually won by Batista in 2014. We saw a couple of surprise entrants in last year's Rumble, including a return for Kevin Nash as part of his Legends contract. But it was when John Bradshaw Layfield's music hit that we saw perhaps the biggest cheer of the Royal Rumble. Layfield emerged from his commentary position, took his jacket off and (briefly) resumed his wrestling career. Unfortunately, 21 seconds later, he'd be eliminated by Roman Reigns.
18 The Godfather (2013)
Now for a flashback to the Attitude Era, and one of the coolest cult wrestlers of the 1990s - The Godfather. It's only two years since he appeared at the Royal Rumble, but like many of the surprise returns that feature low down on this list, he didn't last particularly long. Whilst JBL got somewhere near half a minute inside the Rumble ring, The Godfather was kicked straight back over the top rope after just five seconds, by a then-heel Dolph Ziggler.
17 Road Dogg (2012)
Of all the cameo returns that feature on this list, there isn't perhaps another which comes anywhere close to receiving the reaction Road Dogg's Royal Rumble entrance got back in 2012. Entering at number 23 that year, Road Dogg's reception from the crowd was electrifying - and unlike brief cameos below him on this list, he actually managed to stay in the Rumble for nearly five minutes. Throughout that time we got plenty of what Michael Cole would describe as "vintage Road Dogg", and although he didn't eliminate anyone, it was great to see him back in the ring. Of course, he would return a couple of years later in a more permanent role, going on to win another tag title with Billy Gunn.
16 Honky Tonk Man (2001)
Now for one of those Royal Rumble moments that is more about comedy than wrestling. The 2001 Royal Rumble is famous for being Kane's greatest run in the match, as he went on a then-record elimination spree. He eliminated a whopping 11 stars, as well as forcing Drew Carey to eliminate himself. And one of those eliminations was the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time - The Honky Tonk Man. He got a great reception when he came out, and still had some of his signature moves. Unfortunately, when he began singing his famous song, Kane was having none of it - and wrapped a guitar around The Honky Tonk Man's head, before eliminating him.
15 Bob Backlund (2000)
Given the younger nature of WWE's audiences these days, Bob Backlund's sporadic returns are often met with little reception or ovation. But at the 2000 Royal Rumble, Backlund got a great pop when he stepped out as one of the entrants in the signature match, which was held at Madison Square Garden. He entered at 14, and even played a part in eliminating Rikishi, albeit with five other guys. That return saw him come back into the WWE fold for a brief period, with him managing Kurt Angle for a short while.
14 Mick Foley (2004)
A Mick Foley return always provides the crowd with plenty of excitement, and his return at the 2004 Royal Rumble was exactly that. The WWE had written Foley out of their active storylines by saying he was "afraid" to fight newcomer on the scene, Randy Orton. That set up Foley's surprise return at the Rumble magnificently, and after Test was found knocked out backstage after he was supposed to enter at number 21, Foley stepped in and took his place. He charged down to the ring, and gave Orton a real beating before eliminating 'The Viper' - as well as himself. Did Foley care though? Not one bit.
13 Kharma (2012)
The signing of Kharma to WWE was heralded as a major coup for the women's division, after she had dominated that particular field whilst in TNA working as Awesome Kong. She started out life in the WWE intimidating and frightening several of the women's roster, before breaking down crying and revealing that she was pregnant. That saw her disappear from our screens for a good few months, before she became the surprise 21st entrant in the 2012 Royal Rumble. She became only the third woman (after Chyna and Beth Phoenix) to enter the Rumble, and she even eliminated someone, tossing out Hunico. However, she wouldn't last long, and Dolph Ziggler's elimination of Kharma brought to an end her only match during her time in the WWE.
12 Mr. Perfect (2002)
The 2002 Royal Rumble is famous for a number of moments from the WWE archives. It was the Rumble where The Undertaker was infamously eliminated by Maven from Tough Enough, and it was also where Mr. Perfect's WWE career kicked off again. Entering at number 25 in the 2002 edition, he would last over 15 minutes in a performance that impressed WWE officials so much, they offered him a deal. He was one of the final three competitors in that match, alongside Kurt Angle and eventual winner Triple H. Unfortunately, Perfect's deal with the WWE would only last a matter of months, before he was released from the company later in 2002.
11 Jimmy Snuka (2008)
On to a duo of stars who made surprise entrances at the 2008 Royal Rumble now, starting with Jimmy Snuka. He emerged to a great reception at Madison Square Garden, becoming entrant number 18. His role in the match was far from a cameo one, too - lasting almost three minutes before being tossed out by Kane. Snuka got a great buzz from the crowd that particular evening, who were delighted to see one of the true legends of the wrestling business step out and compete one more time.
10 Roddy Piper (2008)
Just after Jimmy Snuka had made his surprise entrance at number 18 in the 2008 Royal Rumble, the crowd were sent into delirium when "Rowdy" Roddy Piper made his return to in-ring action at the event. As soon as Piper's signature music hit the crowd went nuts, before Piper seemed to feed off it with a pretty excitable reaction as he made his way to the ring. Piper hurled off items of clothing and tossed them over his head, before finally getting into the ring and getting to it. Unfortunately though, he would last just a single minute before being eliminated by Kane.
9 Diesel (2011)
2011 was the year the Royal Rumble was notched up to 40 participants, meaning it was somewhat inevitable that there would be a couple of surprises in the mix. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the return of Kevin Nash, bringing his Diesel character back to a WWE screen for the first time in 15 years. Some of the reactions from the stars in the ring when Nash emerges are fantastic, most notably Kofi Kingston, who looks terrified when Nash straps up his trademark leather glove. He wouldn't eliminate anyone in the match, but it set things up nicely for Nash to come back to WWE later that year, as part of the CM Punk vs. Triple H storyline.
8 Goldust (2013)
During his first run with the WWE as the Goldust character, "The Bizarre One" became one of the most popular and cult characters of the entire decade. His quirky promos and his outrageous dress sense saw him become one of the most memorable stars of the Attitude Era. Goldust has returned several times at the Royal Rumble, but the reaction he received when he returned at the 2013 Royal Rumble was huge. It was a return that set him up for a permanent deal with the WWE again, where he would go on and win tag team gold with brother Cody Rhodes. In that Rumble match though, he set his sights on Cody as a primary target, before being ultimately eliminated by his brother almost ten minutes after entering.
7 Booker T (2011)
Back to 2011 now, and that Royal Rumble match that featured a massive 40 stars. As mentioned with Diesel, it was inevitable we'd see some shocks, and Booker T's entrance music provided one of the biggest pops of the entire night at the 2011 Royal Rumble. CM Punk's New Nexus group had taken control of the ring prior to entrant number 21, but Punk, Mason Ryan and company weren't expecting Booker T to emerge from behind the apron. You could see Booker getting physically pumped from the energy the crowd were giving him, and that transformed into a solid performance in the Rumble match. Although he lasted little over a minute, it was great to see Booker T back performing: what odds him making a shock appearance in the 2015 Royal Rumble?
6 Big Show (2001)
We're getting towards the very best in Royal Rumble returns now, and for number 6, we're going back to 2001. Big Show had caused some pretty impressive damage during his initial time in WWE, after switching over from WCW. However, he was sent away to developmental wrestling for the latter part of 2000 to work on his fitness, leading to a much-improved Show when he returned as a shock entrant in the 2001 Royal Rumble. Bizarrely though, the WWE treated his return with an incredibly short stay in the match: he didn't even last 90 seconds before being eliminated by The Rock.
5 Chris Jericho (2013)
By the time 2012 had rolled around, Chris Jericho was kicking off a run of brief, sporadic stays with the WWE that he still enjoys to the present day. His initial return in 2012 was huge, and was ran with a major promo campaign that caused a lot of mystery. But after Jericho had been away from the company for six months, his shock return as entrant number 2 in the 2013 Royal Rumble was simply incredible. That time of year is famous for huge surprises and twists, but Jericho's return to the company was a real masterstroke from WWE. Amazingly, he would last over 45 minutes in the match, before being eliminated by Dolph Ziggler after a marathon run in the match.
4 Rob Van Dam (2009)
Having guys return that have been away from the company for a couple of months is one thing, but when they return after over two years, it's a pretty big deal. Rob Van Dam had been on the independent circuit since his departure from WWE in 2007, but when his music hit as the 25th entrant of the 2009 Royal Rumble, WWE fans went crazy. After all, Van Dam is one of the most popular wrestlers of his generation, and he certainly managed to impress during the Rumble, lasting well over 15 minutes. Perhaps RVD will be a shock entrant in the 2015 edition?
3 John Cena (2008)
We're getting towards the very best in Rumble entrances now - the kind of which will live in the minds of wrestling fans forever. And the top three sees a return to Madison Square Garden, and the 2008 Royal Rumble that saw the likes of Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper return. However, their cameos were nothing on the level of the guy that emerged as the last participant of that Rumble, as John Cena made an incredibly early comeback from injury. Cena wasn't supposed to be back until way into 2008, but when he emerged as the final entrant in 2008, Madison Square Garden went into bedlam. And even better for Cena, he would see off the rest of the field to go on and win his first ever Royal Rumble match.
2 Triple H (2002)
Although Triple H had returned to address the Raw crowd after his horrific quad injury, it wasn't until the Royal Rumble where he truly made a proper comeback. It was only eight months since "The Game" had completely tore his quad off the bone, but he somehow managed to finish the match before undergoing surgery. The reaction from the crowd was absolutely incredible for his return on RAW, and they were fully behind him during his Royal Rumble match. Even better for Triple H, he would go on to defeat the rest of the participants and win the Royal Rumble in 2002.
1 Edge (2010)
Of all the angles surrounding a Royal Rumble return, the WWE have never pulled off a shock entrant quite like Edge's return in 2010. He had suffered an awful Achilles tendon injury that was supposed to rule him out for a year, with his tag partner Chris Jericho gloating and mocking Edge for getting injured. All that led to an Edge face turn, but nobody expected it to be as soon as the 2010 Royal Rumble. When Edge's music hit the crowd went crazy, and the look on Jericho's face is priceless. He came in and absolutely cleaned out the ring, going on to win the Rumble by eliminating John Cena last. Of all the Rumble returns, there's never been one quite like Edge's.
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