The highlight of the WWE calendar is when the Royal Rumble comes around every January. One of the best parts of the event is seeing which WWE superstars, legends and hall of famer’s will be making their surprise Royal Rumble returns. Fans around the world are hoping that the 2022 Royal Rumble will be no different, and their favourite stars from yesteryear will make one last appearance in front of their baying audience.
Ever since the first edition in 1988, fans have been excited to see which surprise entrants will make their way into the ring. From the edition won by Jim Duggan in 1988 all the way to Edge’s victory in 2021, every rumble has had someone making their surprise return to the WWE. Some editions have even had a surprise return go all the way to win the Royal Rumble, although this is a very rare feat.
Wrestlers have made their long awaited return from injury in the Royal Rumble, whilst others are aging legends looking for one last swansong to say goodbye to the wrestling fans.
Here are ten of the greatest surprise Royal Rumble returns of all time. If you can think of any better surprise entrances, let us know in the comments or on Twitter @Atletifo.
Greatest Surprise Royal Rumble Returns
10. Booker T – 2011
In the late 2000s, TNA began trying to fill the void left by WCW by competing head to head with WWE. They signed huge stars like Kurt Angle, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair to try and become the new top promotion in the United States. Of course it failed, and three name changes later they go by IMPACT Wrestling, and nobody really watches it.
One of those men was former WCW and World Heavyweight Champion Booker T. He signed for TNA in 2007 after a memorable run as King Booker in WWE, he left to try to help TNA reach the top of the mountain in pro wrestling. However, by 2011, TNA had been run into the ground by Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff and co, who had drained their funds by signing all of Hulk Hogan’s old friends and pushing them above all the TNA originals like AJ Styles and Bobby Roode.
Booker T left TNA in 2010, and the next year made his big WWE return in the 2011 Royal Rumble match. The match was being dominated by CM Punk and the New Nexus, and Booker T took all three men out before hitting his classic spinarooni in the middle of the ring. It was a fun return which popped a lot of fans who missed the former WCW Champion.
9. Diamond Dallas Page – 2015
2015 was one of the greatest Royal Rumble’s at the star, and the worst by the end. The first half of the rumble was filled with surprise entrances and the hope that Daniel Bryan would win the match. He was left out of the Rumble the year prior, and the fans had booed the winner. Batista, out of the building. WWE seemed keen to repeat this feat by throwing Bryan out early, but prior to that it was one of the best Rumble’s ever.
There were a number of early surprise entrances. Bubba Ray Dudley made his first appearance in WWE in nearly 10 years when he entered at number three, and was joined by the Boogeyman a few entrants later. However, the best surprise entrant from that year was the long awaited return of former WCW Champion Diamond Dallas Page.
Page had been a star of WCW during the Attitude Era, but had failed to make an impact in WWE after they purchased WCW in 2001. However, he had gained fame due to his DDP Yoga, which had helped transform the lives of thousands of people. This included WWE Hall of Famer’s Scott Hall and Jake Roberts, whom DDP helped get off drops and get into their best shapes in years. Jake Roberts even managed to work with AEW as the manager of Lance Archer.
DDP made his surprise return in the 2015 Royal Rumble and made a huge impact. He entered at number 14, and the crowd were on their feet mimicking his famous “Diamond Cutter” pose. He wasted no time before hitting anyone and everyone in that match with his Diamond Cutter finisher. First, he reversed a body slam by Stardust (Cody Rhodes) and hit him with a Diamond Cutter. Then, he hit one on Fandango from the top rope. Finally, he reversed Bray Wyatt’s Uranage attempted into a third cutter.
Sadly, he was thrown out soon after by Rusev, who would go on to finish second place in the match. DDP made a huge impact, and would even make another appearance in the Wrestlemania 32 Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017, but would not stay with WWE long. He had his final ever match in AEW in 2019, teaming with Dustin Rhodes and QT Marshall against MJF, the Butcher and the Blade.
8. Haku – 2001
Haku’s appearance in the 2001 WWE Royal Rumble doesn’t seem as memorable on the service, but was actually a huge deal. Haku, who was also known as Meng in WCW, wasn’t signed to WWE prior to his appearance. In fact, he was a star in their biggest rival’s promotion. Haku was the reigning and defending WCW Hardcore champion, and a featured part of their television program.
Luckily for Haku and WWE, he had neglected to sign a contract with WCW. He was on a pay-per-appearance deal, meaning that he was only paid when he showed up, but was free to work wherever else he pleased in the meantime. Whilst most wrestlers prefer the financial safety of being a fully contracted performer, Haku played a blinder by working for WCW and WWE mere days apart.
Haku made a surprise appearance in the 2001 Royal Rumble, entering at number 29 to the bemusement of the fans. Just a week prior he had appeared on WCW TV as Meng, the WCW Hardcore Champion. Nobody had appeared on both WWE and WCW so close together since Rick Rude did so in one night.
Haku would only last a few minutes in the Royal Rumble. He didn’t manage to eliminate anyone, but his appearance sent shockwaves across the industry. Sadly, WWE would buy WCW just months later, so the shock value of the appearance has been lost of the decades since.
7. Trish Stratus – 2018
The first Women’s Royal Rumble took place in 2018 and featured a number of returning female WWE legends and Kelly Kelly. It was an historic event, because WWE remembered that women were also people and let them compete in the same matches. Sexism in WWE is not a new thing and they continue to be prejudice against them to this day.
However, in the peak of their sexism and degradation of women in the late 1990s/early 2000s, Trish Status stood out as one of the biggest stars in WWE. The multi-time Women’s Champion, when she wasn’t barking like a dog for Vince McMahon, was wowing crowds by doing things that most women wrestlers could only dream of. She became one of the most decorated women in WWE history and became the biggest star in the division.
After a host of legends like Lita, Michelle McCool and Beth Phoenix made their returns in the 2018 Royal Rumble, Trish Stratus came out at number 30 to pop the crowd hugely. She made a great showing and impressed everyone, showing that she still what it takes for a potential last run in WWE or AEW. With Lita vs Britt Baker planned in AEW, could Trish Stratus to AEW be a reality in the future.
6. Mr Perfect – 2002
In 2002, WCW was dead and absorbed into WWE. Due to this, a lot of WCW talent that hadn’t been snapped up by WWE had nowhere to go.
Luckily, the 2002 Royal Rumble was the perfect time for Mr Perfect to make his first WWE appearance in nearly 10 years. Known as Curt Hennig in WCW, Mr Perfect was a big star in WWE in the 1980s, and was a supreme in-ring worker that many count as the best to never hold a world title in WWE.
He entered the 2002 Royal Rumble as a surprise entrant, and the fans were so happy to see him. He entered late in one of the most star studded rumbles in living memory, and did not look out of place around top WWE superstars like Triple H, Steve Austin, Kurt Angle and Booker T.
5. Edge – 2010
The first of two miraculous Edge returns comes at the 2010 Royal Rumble. Edge had been teaming with Chris Jericho in 2009, with the duo winning tag team gold as one of the most star-studded WWE teams in history. However, despite being WWE and World Tag Team Champions, Edge suffered a major injury which was due to keep him out a number of months.
When the Royal Rumble 2010 came around, fans had no idea who has going to win. Shawn Michaels seemed the obvious choice, as he was pining to face World Heavyweight Champion The Undertaker at Wrestlemania to avenge his loss the year prior. However, when the 27th entrant came out and Edge’s music blared, it was clear there was only one winner.
Edge would go on to face former partner Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania, who then held the World Heavyweight Championship. He would lose at Wrestlemania to Jericho, which was the first of two times he would win the Royal Rumble but fail to win the championship. It was one of Edge’s best matches however, and his next to last Wrestlemania match ever before his untimely retirement.
4. Rey Mysterio – 2018
Whilst most of these entries are returns from injuries or legends back for one last run, Rey Mysterio’s is one of proving everyone wrong. In 2015 he was released by WWE after a series of knee injuries plagued him for years, and some fans thought he could even retire.
However, he healed up and went on a spree, wrestling for companies like WCPW, NJPW and AAA in a fantastic run of great matches. He even wrestled in the main event of the precursor to AEW, the All In event in 2018, where he teamed with Bandido and Rey Fenix to take on the team of Kota Ibushi and The Young Bucks.
Mysterio returned to the WWE for a one night only appearances at the 2018 Royal Rumble. He lasted to the final six, 4 years after he was booed out of the building in 2014 for not being Daniel Bryan. He looked incredible and in as good a shape as WWE had ever seen him in. Mysterio signed for WWE later that year after All In, and has had a great run teaming with his son Dominik ever since.
3. Chris Jericho – 2013
Chris Jericho always has the best surprise returns in WWE. They are always built up over weeks or months, with cryptic clues and spooky videos played nonstop to build the suspense for Y2J to finally return to WWE.
However, his return at the 2013 Royal Rumble was different. There was no great build. No teasing for the return of the Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla. Simply put, Dolph Ziggler came out at number one in the rumble. He said how no-one could beat him, so to just send out the number two entrant. The lights went out, fireworks were set off and the words “Break the Walls Down” bellowed from the speakers as thousands of fans got on their feet to see the return of Chris Jericho to WWE.
Jericho had not been gone for long. It had only been a few months, and fans hadn’t really had time to miss him yet. But the huge surprise for his return caught everyone off guard and they couldn’t help but yell and scream at what they had just seen. Jericho impressed in the match, lasting 48 minutes before being eliminated by Dolph Ziggler. He remains one of the best wrestlers to never win the Royal Rumble.
2. John Cena – 2008
2007 was arguably John Cena’s best run as WWE Champion. He held the belt for nearly a yearly and had incredible title matches against wrestlers like Randy Orton, Umaga and somehow the Great Khali. He pulled out great performance and great performance and looked like he was becoming the next big megastar in wrestling.
However, he suffered an injury at the hands of Mr Kennedy and Randy Orton, just prior to his title defence against Orton at No Mercy 2007. Cena’s pectoral muscle was completely torn of the bone, and was one of the worst possible injuries he could have suffered. Doctor’s estimated a year out of the ring, with no way he would even be close to making it to Wrestlemania.
Fans had accepted that they wouldn’t be seeing John Cena for a while. Which is why the roof blew off Madison Square Garden when his music hit and a fully healed John Cena made his way down the entrance ramp to enter the 2008 Royal Rumble at number 30.
Cena shocked the world by not only returning months early from a horrible injury, but he also won the entire match. Prior to 2007, nobody had ever won the Royal Rumble from the number 30 spot. Then, The Undertaker and John Cena won it from that number two years on the trot.
Sadly, Cena would not be able to win back his WWE Championship at Wrestlemania 24. He lost to Randy Orton, in a match that included Triple H, thus being the first man in years to win the Royal Rumble but not win the World Championship at Wrestlemania.
1. Edge – 2020
The greatest surprise Royal Rumble return has to be the long-awaited return of the Rated-R Superstar, Edge. The hall of famer had one of the best runs in WWE history, but was forced to retire in 2011 after suffering devastating neck injuries. Edge stated that if he took another bump he was liable to be stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
His retirement speech was one of the most emotional in WWE history. It left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, with everyone feeling despondent about the loss of such a great career. There was a feeling of what could have been, and his career felt unfulfilled.
Luckily, years outside the ring had healed his neck up and he was eventually cleared for in-ring action in mid 2019. Edge denied this rumours repeatedly, with fans sure there was no chance the former World Heavyweight Champion would be the next surprise return in the Royal Rumble.
However, the crowd erupted when Edge came out at number 21 to wrestle his first match in nine years in the 2020 Royal Rumble.
It was one of the emotional returns of all time. Edge was visibly emotional as the crowd cheered when his music hit. It was a return 9 years in the making and Edge looked better than ever, if not slightly greying. He managed to finish at third place in the Royal Rumble which was eventually won by one of the world’s best British wrestlers, Scotsman Drew McIntyre.
It wasn’t just the best Royal Rumble return, but the greatest WWE return of all time.