To many, the Royal Rumble PPV is the highlight of the WWE calendar. Since the show debuted in 1988, it’s become a must-see over-the-top-rope extravaganza that’s full of twists, turns, surprises and nostalgia. And let’s face it, that’s what we wrestling fans love to see.
In nearly every single Royal Rumble match to date, we’ve seen at least one or two surprise entrants in the match itself, with some of those surprises being shocking returns from superstars not seen for years, some being earlier than expected returns from injury, and some being absolutely jaw-dropping spectacular debuts, such as AJ Styles making his WWE bow at the 2016 Royal Rumble event.
When it comes to the Royal Rumble match, the old cliché often proves to be true: expect the unexpected.
So, with the 2017 Royal Rumble event taking place on January 29th from San Antonio’s Alamodome, what shocking events can we expect to see unravel as the WWE gears up for the classic ‘road to WrestleMania’ time of year? Could nostalgia rear its head once more? Could a huge name not seen for years make a game-changing appearance? Could the Royal Rumble match be used by the WWE as a way to bring in new numbers to add some depth to the Raw and SmackDown ranks?
Take a seat, grab a drink, and have a read through this article to see 15 surprise entrants who very well may just turn up on your TV screen come January 29th.
15 Jake Roberts
Now seemingly well in control of the demons that have tormented him for so many decades, seeing Jake “The Snake” Roberts make a surprise appearance in the Royal Rumble would be a moment that would pull on the heartstrings of many longtime wrestling fans.
Using DDP Yoga to get his life back on track over the past few years, Roberts has made no secret that his aim and goal was to make an appearance in one more Royal Rumble match. In fact, this wish has been made even more public over the past year with the excellent The Resurrection of Jake The Snake finding a home on Netflix – with Jake again talking about a Rumble appearance during this fascinating documentary.
Granted, Roberts’ hopes of a Rumble return in 2014 were dashed and he was instead given a surprise return on a January ’14 “Old School” edition of Raw, but maybe a brief cameo in the 2016 Royal Rumble is something we’ll see, particularly as Roberts has seemingly stuck to a life of sobriety over the last couple of years.
Whether Jake The Snake appears or not, it’s still just great to see Jake with his life back on track. A Rumble appearance would just be the icing on the cake, though.
14 Shinsuke Nakamura
Seeing The King of Strong Style as a surprise entrant in the 2017 Royal Rumble match would undoubtedly blow the roof of San Antonio’s Alamodome. Whether Shinsuke Nakamura actually appears at the PPV, though, that’s more uncertain.
If this particular article was ranked in order of people we’d all like to see as surprises in the Rumble match, there’s no doubt that Nakamura would be right at the top of the list. Unfortunately, this is more a case of ranking the entries of this article in order of which ones are more likely. For that reason, Nakamura has to be considered an extremely outside bet at this point.
The problem with a Nakamura Royal Rumble debut is that he’s currently the focal point of NXT. With Samoa Joe seemingly set for a main roster move, Nakamura is the only established NXT main eventer at this stage of the game, and it looks like he’ll be tasked with carrying that brand forward alongside Bobby Roode over the next few months.
This one is certainly a leftfield choice when it comes to surprise Royal Rumble returns, but that’s kind of the point: a surprise return is, by its very nature and definition, one that we don’t see coming.
Now I’m not saying X-Pac should return and have another run with the company – although, Sean Waltman is still active on the independent scene, and the WWE is looking for name talents to help fill their Raw and SmackDown rosters – but a one-off return in the Royal Rumble seems overdue when looking at X-Pac in comparison to recent appearances from his D-X contemporaries; Triple H returned and won last year’s Rumble match; Road Dogg was a surprise entrant in 2012; and Road Dogg and Billy Gunn even took part in tag team matches on the 2014 and 2015 editions of the PPV.
For X-Pac though, he’s seemingly a little overlooked when it comes to having D-Generation X members used on WWE TV. Sure, he makes the odd non-physical appearance occasionally, but it seems about time that this pioneering and groundbreaking talent is given a little more recognition and some time in the spotlight… such as making a surprise cameo in the 2017 Royal Rumble.
It’s not easy being cool, but that’s something that the uber-charismatic Carlito pulls off with ease. But could he shock us all and make a return in the 2017 Royal Rumble match?
For the last few years, various online reports have claimed that the WWE has had a strong interest in bringing Carlito back to the company, and this interest reportedly reared its head again with the need for more talent after 2016’s roster split. With “name” talents sought to add depth to the Raw and SmackDown rosters, Carlito was amongst performers like MVP, Chris Masters and Jinder Mahal who were being talked up for returns. Obviously Jinder has been signed up to the Raw brand, and Carlito may well follow suit in returning to a company where he won Intercontinental, United States, and Tag Team gold.
Of course, one issue with any return for Carlito is whether he'd pass the WWE wellness test, especially considering his reported use of marijuana. Still, him returning and adding some legitimacy to a stable with brother Primo and cousin Epico could see Carlito bring a lot to the WWE product.
11 Bobby Roode
Many wondered whether the smooth-as-silk Bobby Roode would ever set foot in a WWE ring, but this masterful Canadian has made an instant impression since landing in NXT midway through 2016.
The Glorious One is as over as anyone in NXT already – and yes, that includes Shinsuke Nakamura – and it seems like this former TNA Champion is set for a move to Raw or SmackDown at some point down the line. Could a surprise Royal Rumble debut be in the cards ahead of a main roster move, though?
If we’re being honest with ourselves, despite how, well, “glorious” it would be, it’s likely just a little too soon to see Bobby Roode turn up in the Royal Rumble. After all, with the likes of Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn having left NXT, and with Samoa Joe now out of the NXT title picture and with a main roster move possibly in his future, for now Roode is going to be needed as one of the staples of the NXT main event scene over the next year.
Still, stranger things have happened…
Bang! Given his current working relationship with the WWE, it really wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Diamond Dallas Page make a surprise appearance in this year’s Royal Rumble match.
Page, of course, was a surprise entrant in the 2016 Rumble match, and his bout of Diamond Cutters to all in sight caused a huge ovation amongst the Amway Center crowd in Orlando, Florida. With Page having worked on a host of content for the WWE Network and DVD/Blu-ray releases over the past few years, not to mention his inclusion in WWE 2K17 and other games, it’s clear that he’s certainly in favour with Vince McMahon and Co.
Despite being 60 years of age, Dallas is still in great shape, and a whole host of WWE talent has publicly supported his excellent DDP Yoga plan. In addition to this, a WWE DVD chronicling DDP’s career is set for release shortly, so having Page turn up in the Rumble would be a great way to put him back into the public eye once more.
9 Shawn Michaels
Likely? Maybe not. Possible? Maybe...
It’s been nearly 7 years since Shawn Michaels retired after losing to The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI, and The Heartbreak Kid seems to be one of those few performers who are actually happy to stay retired. Where Michaels is concerned, retirement really does mean retirement.
Still, there’s some rumours out there that Michaels is actually open to an offer from the WWE to do something. Whether that’s a one-off return to action, who knows. One man championing for a Showstopper return, though, is AJ Styles.
HBK is set for an appearance on Raw in the build-up to the Royal Rumble, and this year’s PPV just so happens to take place 20 years since Michaels won the WWF World Championship from Syscho Sid in the exact same arena, which is also in Shawn’s home state. Could the dream really come true, and Shawn Michaels make a surprise return at the Royal Rumble?
Whilst it does look unlikely, it does seem that this is the one time – bar the idea of maybe wrestling Daniel Bryan a few years ago – that we might, just might, see one of the greatest of all-time make a return to the ring.
8 Austin Aries
The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived is currently out of action due to a fractured orbital bone courtesy of a Shinsuke Nakamura kick to the face, hence why he’s been utilized on commentary for the WWE’s 205 brand. But it’s with his addition to the 205 crew that opens up the possibility of a Royal Rumble appearance from Austin Aries.
Now that Aries is at the 205 commentary table and talking about the Cruiserweight Division, it’s only a matter of time until he steps into the ring as part of that very division. With 205 talents also appearing on Raw, that means that Austin Aries may finally get his chance to perform on the WWE’s flagship show. And what better way to make an introduction to the main roster and an explosive return to action than by debuting in the 2017 Royal Rumble and setting his sights on some of the company’s Cruiserweight talents?
Many deemed Austin Aries as too small for the WWE, then too old for them to take a chance on. But here he is, and this phenomenal, charismatic performer should be appearing in in-ring action on Raw and 205 Live imminently.
7 Tye Dillinger
In an ideal world, NXT’s Tye Dillinger would be the surprise entry at #10 in this year’s Royal Rumble. Whether that happens, though, we’ll have to wait and see.
Since adopting the Perfect Ten gimmick in WWE’s developmental territory, the hugely talented Canadian has been able to let his more charismatic side shine through, and the NXT audience has responded with a whole lot of love for Tye.
Like so many NXT talents, many are worried at how Dillinger would be used should he make it to the Raw or SmackDown roster. In fairness, The Perfect Ten would likely get quickly lost in the shuffle on Raw, although SmackDown would make a good home for Dillinger should he get a call-up. Regardless, it will be difficult to transport Tye’s NXT reactions to the much bigger audience and crowds that come with the main roster.
But still, Tye Dillinger entering the Royal Rumble at #10? Why, that’d be absolutely Perfect.
6 The Undertaker
From various reports across the ‘net, right now it appears that The Undertaker will be going up against John Cena at WrestleMania XXXIII. It all depends on how the WWE wants to get to that match, though.
If Cena happens to defeat AJ Styles for the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble, it would make sense to have The Undertaker enter and win the Rumble match, thus earning himself the opportunity to challenge for one of the WWE’s World Championships at ‘Mania.
After showing up in the build-up to the 2016 Survivor Series PPV, ‘Taker promised that there would be consequences for any of the SmackDown roster who caused problems at that particular PPV. With AJ Styles having caused trouble for Team SmackDown by butting heads with Dean Ambrose during that match, one way to get to a Cena vs ‘Taker match would be to have The Deadman attack Styles in his WWE Title defence, thus costing Cena the match by DQ and setting up Cena challenging Undertaker at WrestleMania.
The other route, as mentioned, would be for The Phenom to be a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble match, winning the whole thing and having one last hurrah in his home state of Texas.
5 Shelton Benjamin
Former Intercontinental Champion Shelton Benjamin is an interesting possibility for the fact that his return to the WWE was already confirmed in 2016.
In the aftermath of the roster split, a promo video aired on an episode of SmackDown to hype the impending return of Benjamin to the WWE’s blue brand. Then, unfortunately, Shelton required surgery for some substantial damage to his shoulder. With his WWE return put on hold, the initial word was that The Gold Standard would be out of action for 4 to 6 months. That was back in August, meaning, all being well, Benjamin will be gearing up for a return to action any day now.
With a first quarter 2017 return seemingly on the table, if he’s ready to go, having Shelton return and make a big mark in the Royal Rumble would be a great way to bring this athletically-gifted performer back with a bang and instantly set him up as a strong addition to the SmackDown brand.
4 Kurt Angle
If recent reports are to be believed, Kurt Angle has confirmed to promoters that he’ll be returning to the WWE in the first half of 2017. Of course, the man who won six World Titles in the WWE has guaranteed such a return before only for nothing to come of his claims, but this time, well, this time feels different.
This time The American Hero is no longer tied to TNA in any way, and his career is slowly but surely winding down. Angle seems in a great place on a personal and professional level, with him seemingly on top of his demons and happily picking his own wrestling schedule to compete in intriguing bouts across the globe.
There’s no doubt about it that Kurt Angle is a no-brainer when it comes to the WWE Hall of Fame, and one last run in the WWE would be amazing to see from one of the greatest technical wrestlers we’ve ever seen.
Angle has talked up that his WWE return would happen in the build-up to WrestleMania, and if the Pittsburgh native is to be believed, it would be a huge missed opportunity to not have Angle shock the world by returning at the Royal Rumble.
3 Samoa Joe
Really, what else is there for Samoa Joe to do in NXT?
Having run roughshod over the NXT roster ever since he debuted in May 2015, Joe has butted heads and bested the likes of Kevin Owens, Baron Corbin, Tyler Breeze, Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, and Shinsuke Nakamura, becoming the first person to become a two-time NXT Champion, not to mention being the first person to beat Balor in his Demon persona and the first person to beat Nakamura.
So, it appears that Samoa Joe is primed for a move to the Raw or SmackDown roster, especially as NXT is moving forward with a main event scene based around Bobby Roode as the #1 contender for Nakamura’s NXT Championship.
With the Samoan Submission Machine expected to leave NXT imminently, what better way to debut him than by having him turn up as a surprise entry in the Royal Rumble and dominate a bunch of superstars in a brutal fashion?
2 Triple H
We all know that The Game is returning at some point, but nobody quite knows when right now.
Having cost Seth Rollins the WWE Universal Championship shortly after the 2016 roster split, Triple H has been kept completely off main WWE TV. Sure, he may have only been vaguely mentioned over the following months, but November and December saw Seth start regularly calling out The Cerebral Assassin.
The current plan seems to be to have Rollins finally face off with Hunter at this year’s WrestleMania, and one logical way to get to that point would be to have Triple H turn up at the Royal Rumble to make his intentions known. Costing The Architect a win during the Rumble match itself would be an ideal way to have The King of Kings make his presence felt, although that’s something that could be done either with Triple H as an entrant in the Rumble match or just by having him turn up and interfere.
Either way, Triple H appearing at the Royal Rumble seems a given, it’s just a case of whether he’s a participant in the match or not.
1 Finn Balor
There’s no doubt about it, Finn Balor is a huge deal right now.
Upon finally stepping up from NXT to Raw, some were worried on how Balor would be used. In a pleasant surprise, he beat Roman Reigns clean on his first night on the main roster, and then he’d become the first ever WWE Universal Champion in his first PPV, defeating Seth Rollins at SummerSlam.
Of course, Finn would get injured in that SummerSlam bout, but his return is just around the corner. If all goes to plan, Balor will be back in action in time for WrestleMania, and that means that a return at the Royal Rumble is a very real possibility.
Even if it’s a case of having Balor enter the Rumble late on, partake in minimal physicality, and then keep him out of major in-ring action until ‘Mania, seeing The Demon King turn up at the Alamodome on January 29th would be a great way to bring back a superstar who’s set to be a huge part of the company for the foreseeable future.
Of course, should Finn indeed return at the Royal Rumble, there’s a good argument to be made for him to actually emerge from the match as the victor, heading in to WrestleMania as the #1 contender for the Universal Championship that he never lost.
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