The Royal Rumble is everybody’s second favorite PPV. The yearly event headlined by its one of a kind, thirty-man over-the-top rope battle royale is every wrestling fan’s fresh start to the new year. It’s the sign that WrestleMania is just around the corner and that WWE will start to feel more exciting again... or at least be more tolerable to watch for the next three to four months.
There is no match more engaging for its audience than the Royal Rumble. The structure of the match is genius. In combination with the over-the-top rope eliminations, the simple pacing of the entrances keeps fans on the edge of their seats, wondering who will hit the ring next, who’s left to come out, and who holds the coveted number 30 spot in the match. And with the WWE Title on the line in this year's match, nothing is more high stakes.
For the past several years, WWE has done a successful job establishing the tradition of surprise entrants into this annual match. In 2002, Mr. Perfect made a surprise return to WWE by entering the match at number 25. In 2008, John Cena made a quicker than expected comeback from injury, entering at number 30 to win it. Just last year, Bubba Ray Dudley, Diamond Dallas Page, and The Boogeyman all made surprise entrances in the match, helping further cement the tradition of surprise entrance in the match.
So, what does this year’s Royal Rumble have in store? The following is a dream list of 12 superstars that could, hypothetically, be surprise entrants. Keep in mind, this list is going to be somewhat based in reality. For instance, Hulk Hogan is not on this list because he obviously still has heat from his racist comments and Hogan isn’t going over the top rope with his bad hip… brother! With that in mind, the following are 12 possible surprise entrants that we would like to see make an appearance in the 2016 Royal Rumble.
13 12: New Japan Pro Wrestling Stars
With news breaking this week of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows leaving New Japan Pro Wrestling for WWE, it is possible that WWE may début one or more of these International stars in the Rumble match. Plus, with Dave Meltzer hinting on Wrestling Observer Radio that WWE is saving a BIG surprise for the event, this may be something to keep in mind. This would be considered a very welcome surprise for WWE fans, but bitter-sweet for New Japan fans sad to see their top stars leave for America.
12 Santino Marella
It is very possible that Santino Marella could be a surprise in this year’s Rumble. He just appeared on WWE Raw during the 2015 Slammy Awards in December, so he’s obviously still fresh in the mind of the creative team. Although he retired in 2014 due to injury, he appears to be in good enough shape to wiggle his hips to the ring, do a comedy spot or two, hit a few geeks with the Cobra, then get thrown over the top rope. While this may just be a silly surprise return, there’s always room for one or two of these in the Rumble and Santino’s return would be very welcome.
11 The Sandman
The Sandman making a cameo in the Rumble may be more likely than one might think. On December 7, Bubba Ray Dudley Tweeted lyrics to Enter Sandman, teasing a return for this Singapore cane swinging drunkard. With an ECW presence on WWE as of late, which includes the returns of Tommy Dreamer and Rhino to WWE television, one would welcome a one-time return of the Sandman to the WWE ring. Have Sandman drink a beer in the crowd, hit the ring, hit people with a cane, and get thrown over the top rope. The crowd gets to chant “E-C-Dub!” and everybody wins.
10 Samoa Joe
WWE has kept Samoa Joe with its NXT brand since having him signed, bringing a veteran presence to the NXT roster, and appeasing NXT’s hardcore audience by showcasing a well-established, credible star. Having Joe make a surprise entrance and having him hit someone with a Muscle Buster would pop the crowd, and expose an NXT star to a segment of WWE’s audience that doesn’t necessarily watch NXT. Even if Joe is brought in for just a surprise and is not slated to remain on WWE television, he is a well established enough star that an appearance and elimination in the event would not hurt him one bit.
9 Finn Balor
Without question, Finn Balor is the current main star of NXT and does a great job carrying that brand. Hardcore fans have been jonesing for Balor to make his WWE debut, and the WWE Royal Rumble may be just the place to do it. However, as opposed to Samoa Joe, having Balor eliminated with little fanfare would strongly hurt his development as a WWE superstar. It is clear that he is currently being positioned to be a top star for the company, and top stars need wins. So, unless Balor is going to be figured into some big plans for Wrestlemania, I would hold off on him making a surprise entrant in the Rumble.
Having X-Pac as a surprise entrant in the match would be some fun, Attitude-Era nostalgia for the WWE fans. “We Want X-Pac” is a chant that can be regularly heard on WWE television when fans get bored with an uninteresting segment. So, why not give the fans some X-Pac? Certainly, the PG-era WWE could make an exception for one more Bronco Buster. X-Pac did in fact get involved in the Sting vs. Triple H match at Wrestlemania 31. Thus, there should be no reason why X-Pac should not be in-shape enough to make another appearance in the Rumble.
7 Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn spent greater than the tail end of 2015 out of action with an injury, but just recently made an in-ring return for NXT in London. Zayn wrestled Cena in one of the best U.S. Championship Challenge matches of 2015, showing that he deserves a spot on the main roster. This talent cannot stay in NXT forever, and what better way for him to move up to the main roster than having him have a strong showing in the Rumble? Furthermore, in every wrestling fan’s wet dream, an angle would be shot during the match involving Zayn and Kevin Owens, leading to an Owens vs. Zayn grudge match at Wrestlemania. One can only hope.
6 Triple H
Leader of the Authority, King of Kings, Triple H has been feuding with Roman Reigns on TV for the past few months. Logic would dictate that this would eventually lead to a match between Reigns and Hunter. One possible path in this storyline is for Hunter to enter himself into the Rumble and win the title, leading to a match defending against Reigns at Wrestlemania. Sure, there are other options at this time, but Hunter ALWAYS wrestles at 'Mania and this could very well be the match he weasels his way onto the card with. Don’t be surprised if this event goes off the air with Triple H pointing at the Wrestlemania sign while spitting water at the hard camera.
5 Daniel Bryan
Now months after sustaining a career threatening concussion during his Intercontinental Title reign, it is still unclear whether or not Daniel Bryan will ever return to a WWE ring. If he is in fact well enough to make a return, why not have it be at the Rumble to garner some excitement for the Wrestlemania season? Though, if he returns and does not win the match, WWE fans may leave the arena that night feeling burned and ripped off as they did when he lost in the 2015 and 2014 Royal Rumbles. However, his return in and of itself may bring just enough joy to the audience, even if coupled with understood ‘take it or leave it’ deal for his fans.
3 Scott Hall
Hey yo, please let Scott Hall be a surprise entrant in the Rumble this year! DDP Yoga looks to have really turned the man’s life around, and the Bad Guy looks to be in fantastic shape lately. Along with X-Pac, we also saw Hall involved in the Sting vs. Triple H match at Wrestlemania 31. During that match, Hall took a very successful looking backdrop onto the floor outside the ring. Razor should be in good enough shape to be able to bump over the top rope. Having him strut to the ring with a toothpick in mouth as either Razor Ramon or the nWo Scott Hall character would bring tremendous pleasure to all wrestling fans and would be talked about for many Rumbles to come.
2 Kurt Angle
This one may be a bit of a stretch. Kurt Angle will be wrapping up with TNA at the end of January. It has been rumored for the past few years that Angle would be open to returning to WWE in some capacity, whether it be as a coach for NXT or as an agent for WWE. If it is possible that Kurt could to make one or two more in-ring appearances with WWE, then the Rumble is a possibility. This would be a true surprise, and would be a perfect setup for inducting Kurt into the 2016 WWE Hall of Fame. Angle in the 2016 Royal Rumble? We are only a few weeks away of knowing whether or not it’s true, it’s true.
1 The Rock
This is completely possible but would be a BIG surprise. Keep in mind, Dwayne Johnson made a return to WWE following the end of the 2015 Royal Rumble to raise the hand of his cousin and 2015 winner, Roman Reigns. Could it be that The Rock comes back to in-ring action in this year’s Rumble and wins Roman's WWE Title? If WWE really wants to pack 100,000+ plus people into Cowboys Stadium for 'Mania, WWE needs a big box office draw. There is no bigger draw than The Rock. He could defend the title versus Lesnar or Hunter, but we've never seen The Rock versus Roman. If WWE really wants Roman Reigns to be at the next, next level, having his cousin put him over on wrestling’s grandest stage is certainly one way to go.