Royal Rumble: The Art of the Surprise Entrant

The WWE Royal Rumble has been without a doubt one of the most, if not the most anticipated Pay Per View or Premium Live Event for yours truly ever since I was a young lad.

What made the show so special to me, was you guessed it, the Royal Rumble Match. The first time I would have seen a Royal Rumble Match would have been 1999.

Every year my friends and I would get together, pick numbers out of a hat, and you never knew who you were going to get – and the winner would win all the money we pooled together (Usually $5 each.) You might walk away with $25 in cold hard cash if you managed to get the winner.

Despite the underage gambling, it was always a show that excited me the most, not only for the suspense of who was going to win, but damn, those surprise entrants were some of the greatest gifts of them all!

What I wanted to talk about today is the art of the surprise entrant, where WWE have gone right over the years, where they have gone wrong, whilst avoiding the ‘hacky’ Pro Wrestling writer habit of making a “list” and acting as if it’s fact rather than a subjective opinion without unnecessarily throwing some performers from the industry under the bus. I have a high horse, and I’m sticking to being up on it.

In 1999, I was only rather new as a Pro Wrestling fan. The surprise entrant they had was former WWF King of the Ring, Mabel.

Mabel was returning to the company to join the Ministry of Darkness as the re-christined Viscera. That wasn’t much of a surprise to me because I actually didn’t know who Mabel was during that time of my fandom.

2000 rolled in, one of the greatest WWF Royal Rumble events in history due to the classic Triple H Vs Cactus Jack WWF Championship Street Fight, but it also featured a very dramatic Royal Rumble match.

The big surprise on this one was former WWWF Champion, Mr Bob Backlund entering the match. Bob would go on to stay on TV for a few months after this.

You see, now they were starting to really get behind the concept of the surprise entrant that they upped the ante in 2001.

In 2001, we got the RETURN to the WWF of Haku, formerly Meng of WCW (Whilst he was WCW Hardcore Champion nonetheless), but we got a GREAT legends cameo from the one and only Honky Tonk Man!

Not only that, notable Television personality Drew Carey had a super fun inclusion in the match, where he had a showdown with Kane and looked to have filled his pants with brown thunder.

2001, despite the fun Rumble match, was obviously a weird year for Professional Wrestling, with WCW and ECW no longer being in business, the Invasion Angle was poorly done and had its course ran in under 180 days, they had the blend of WCW and ECW talent on the roster, and of course, many wrestlers waiting in the wings to return to WWF Television.

2002’s Royal Rumble was a fun one for surprise returns. Goldust made his return after he had left for WCW in 1999, and stayed till the final show in March of 2001, and finally got his way back into the World Wrestling Federation by this Rumble Match.

Not only that, but important WWF Midcarders from the Monday Night Wars that unfortunately missed out on the Invasion Angle, like The Godfather and Val Venis made their triumphant returns in their old gimmicks too.

My favorite however was Mr. Perfect making his return to the WWF after his run in WCW from 1997-2000. Perfect had been working in Puerto Rico, Japan and the XWF, the potential competitor to the WWF which didn’t go anywhere when Vince McMahon hired back Jerry Lawler, Hulk Hogan and of course, Mr. Perfect.

Curt had a great showing in the match, and it was just a shame they didn’t do enough with him once he was back. His strong performance earned him a contract!

2003-2007 didn’t see anything of the sort unfortunately! Perhaps, Vince McMahon got in one of his moods about something to do with surprise returns or legends for a few years, and the rosters were pretty stacked, but still not stacked enough that Jonathan Coachman got to enter a few of them.

2008 was one of my personal favorites! The big showdown taking place as Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper entering the match at #18 and #19 respectively and had a showdown in the middle of the ring that all the fans went ballistic for, being in Madison Square Garden and all. It was electric!

2009 was definitely fun, seeing Hacksaw Jim Duggan – the man that won the first EVER WWF Royal Rumble make a surprise appearance at #29, unfortunately not eliminating anybody but getting the pop he deserved which lead to more appearances in future.

2010’s biggest surprise was the fact Beth Phoenix entered the Rumble! The Glamazon entered the match and managed to eliminate the Great Khali, by making out with him. That was so awesome, and an ‘outside the box’ way to eliminate a Giant in the Royal Rumble.

Trust me, I will start to slow down on this year by year, blow by blow account. It slowly starts to enter that impossible territory that the WWE found itselves in, which would ruin the Royal Rumble for some years.

Alas! 2011 was upon us and that’s when the WWE decided to up the ante and make it a 40 Man Royal Rumble for the first time, and here was where things started to become a bit of an issue for me.

Now, aside from the AWESOME surprise appearance from Kevin Nash in his ‘Big Daddy Cool’ Diesel gimmick, which absolutely brought the house down, my friends and I sat down to watch this Rumble, ever so excited to find out what surprises there were going to be!

This is not a knock on anybody I mention after this, but there were a lot of guys put in this match that let the air out of the room when they came out, because they just hadn’t been established on a level to be put out there in a Royal Rumble, albeit, a 40 Man Royal Rumble and the first of it’s kind.

When you’re hoping for Road Dogg, you’re getting Yoshi Tatsu. When you’re hoping for X-Pac, you’re getting Michael McGillicutty. D’Lo Brown, or Gangrel? Nope, you’re getting David Otunga and Alex Riley.

Again, not a knock on these guys, but when people are entering the match that CLEARLY have no hope of winning, surely, a surprise would be a better option.

2012 made me realize, maybe I was a little hasty, but it was certainly upon us when things got rough. When Rumbles get filled with Tag Team members, it really irritates me.

Anywho, 2012 was fun because of Kharma, aka Awesome Kong getting in there and tangling it up with the Men, and more legends like ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan getting another shot, and of course, who I hoped for the prior year, Road Dogg. I had been waiting years for that one!

2013 saw surprise returns of Chris Jericho and Goldust again, and a very welcome, yet brief appearance from The Godfather!

Just to skim a bit, we got Kevin Nash and JBL in 2014, Bubba Ray Dudley (awkward without D’Von) and Diamond Dallas Page in 2015 (Oh and by the way, the 2015 Royal Rumble is still one of the absolute worst in history despite Bubba and DDP coming out there.) AJ Styles and his WWE Debut in 2016 (which was awesome), and that’s kind of where things went pear shaped for the surprise entrants in Royal Rumble Matches.

Instead what we got was the inclusion of little known NXT talent, as well as a plethora of Tag Team wrestlers.

2017 sucked the life out of the room, especially when ‘Gentleman’ Jack Gallagher came out, who could have been eliminated by a slight gust of wind.

Tye Dillinger, aka Shawn Spears was in this too, and my friends and I were just super disappointed! It didn’t get any better.

Whilst we did get The Hurricane the following year, we also had to deal with Shinsuke Nakamura winning the Rumble, as things were totally headed down a niche road.

We did not care for Adam Cole, we did not care for Andrade, or Aiden English. We wanted our surprises dammit!

2019 was a ball ache, with the only saving grace being Jeff Jarrett. Nobody wanted to see NXT UK and NXT people out there, not with NXT being what it was back then! At least, not in the household I was sitting in.

I think they started to learn their lesson. Whilst I still complain about too many Tag Team wrestlers being included, over the next few years it was really fun seeing legends like MVP, Edge, Carlito, Kane, Christian, Hurricane, Booker T and Johnny Knoxville go out there.

The 2022 Royal Rumble was absolutely atrocious, with 2023 being an improvement.

I can’t forget about the Women’s Royal Rumbles either. The first one they put on was amazing, considering the amount of legends and women celebrated in this one match.

Women like Lita, Torrie Wilson, Molly Holly, Michelle McCool, Vickie Guerrero, Kelly Kelly, Jacqueline, Beth Phoenix, The Bellas, and Trish Stratus at #30! How cool was that?

I have done way too much reminiscing about the Rumbles over the last 25 years. What I am trying to say is the art of the surprise entrant works in several ways. I always find it to be one of the more important aspects of the Royal Rumble.

Here is what I feel the concept should be. 25 confirmed MAIN ROSTER participants.

No Tag Team wrestlers. Tag Teams should get their own Rumble Match on an Episode of RAW or Smackdown prior to the Rumble.

A 10 team Rumble. Is that too much? Maybe. As long as it wasn’t on the Pay Per View itself. Anyway, there should be 4-5 spots saved for things like this.

1 – There always should be a Legend we haven’t seen in a few years go out there for that one last shot at trying to Main Event WrestleMania, even if it’s an impossible hill to climb. This is what I call the ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan spot.

2 – There should always be a familiar face that we all remember, who isn’t on the Main Roster. This is what I call the MVP or Carlito spot.

3 – The Return. Somebody has been out for some time with an injury, or have been off the roster for some time, and they’re coming back because they’re back.

4 – The NXT Call Up. The chance to feature ONE NXT star in the match, give them a shine, and a chance to show an impression! This, I will call the Rusev spot, because when he debuted from NXT, he got over.

5 – The Joke, or Celebrity Spot. One that should SELDOMLY be used. If I see Bad Bunny out there again I will lose it. This I will call the Drew Carey, or Retired JBL spot.

To end this, I am going to list who I want to see in those spots in 2024!

2024 Women’s Royal Rumble

Hacksaw Jim Duggan spot: Jazz – why not? She’s one of the last Women’s Legends they haven’t given that spotlight to. Give her some time to train for it, it would be the right thing to do.

MVP/Carlito Spot: Eve Torres – she’d get a bit of a pop, and she is yet to feature in a Women’s Royal Rumble match! If not, then we know AJ Lee would get a MASSIVE pop.

The Return: If Sasha Banks is ever going to do it, she’d better do it now before all those very talented NXT Women get on the Main Roster!

If she holds off even one more year or two, it will likely be too late as those spots should be going to people who aren’t going to take their ball and go home when they don’t get their way.

The NXT Call Up: I’m going with my homegirl, Tiffany Stratton. Whilst I wouldn’t mind it being a once off, to maybe eliminate Becky Lynch, and continue some sort of thread for her eventual WWE Main Roster call up after what took place between the two of them in NXT last year, I can’t think of anybody who’s entrance would open the eyeballs of fans more, that may not be very familiar with NXT. She is a STAR.

Joke/Celebrity Spot – Well, if you want a Celebrity, I am sure Maria Menounos would be a more than welcome choice. If you want to really raise some eyebrows, is there some kind of famous female athlete that might be able to get a massive pop? Say… Serena Williams? She’s only 42.

2024 Men’s Royal Rumble

Hacksaw Jim Duggan spot: Al Snow. After the success of the WRESTLERS series on Netflix, having Al come out there and belt a few guys around with Head in his old JOB Squad outfit would be terrific, and a nice little bit of nostalgia, especially if he throws a bowling ball into Grayson Wallers nuts.

MVP/Carlito Spot: It’s about time we saw ‘The Masterpiece’ Chris Masters follow his friends Carlito and MVP in this spot. Other candidates include Mr. Kennedy, Matt Cardona, and Maven.

The Return: I think if anybody, Andrade would be a welcome sighting at this point to make his return to WWE during this match. I can’t really think of anybody else who could make an impact with their absense.

The NXT Call Up: Dude, It’s gotta be Bron Breakker. The man has done everything in NXT, wrestled all the guys he’s needed to wrestle, if you put him out there and have him eliminate 4-5 guys before being toppled by somebody like Gunther or Omos, a great showing will be just the introduction he needs, without being an afterthought. No interactions with Brock Lesnar please, save that for 1 or 2 years down the road.

Joke/Celebrity Spot – As far as the Celebrities go…. I mean who even is there? How about David Arquette, or Dennis Rodman?

I wouldn’t mind seeing somebody actually hit Jimmy Fallon, who might bring some eyeballs to the show. Imagine Jimmy Fallon is in the ring and the next person out is Gunther or Solo Sikoa?

The 2024 Royal Rumble is the upcoming 37th annual Royal Rumble Pay Per View or Live Premium Event, and it’s taking place on January 27, 2024, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.

With all the hype up in the air, my hope is that CM Punk will win it, just because it would be funny to see the reaction of AEW fans, if not, then Cody Rhodes of course, with them being the final two. For the ladies, I want somebody fresh. No Beckys, No Biancas, No Rheas, No Charlottes, No Asukas.

If it’s Jade Cargill, that’s interesting. If it’s Liv Morgan, I can live with that I suppose. I just want a new player up top in the Women’s division. If Bayley wins it to challenge IO SKY… I’ll let it slide.

I’m hyped for the Royal Rumble, the result, where it leads – but most importantly, there better be some damn surprises!

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Karlifornia is a Freelance Journalist for RealProWrestling.Com and TheRockpit.Net and Host on the Insiders Edge Podcast through his YouTube channel, the WZWA Network. He has been a die hard Pro Wrestling fan since 1998, and his favorite time period in wrestling is the Attitude Era/Monday Night Wars.

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