Nothing hits quite like the Royal Rumble. Every year, fans and members of the media tune in eagerly to see what surprise entrants will return or debut at WWE’s cornerstone event.
The 2022 Royal Rumble has already made headlines with news that reigning Impact Knockouts world champion Mickie James will make an appearance in the women’s Royal Rumble match. It marks an ultra-rare occurrence in which a world champ from a different promotion will appear in the Rumble. It will surely be a memorable moment in an illustrious lineup of notable Rumble moments.
Ahead of Saturday’s pay-per-view event, CBS Sports has amassed five of the most memorable Royal Rumble surprise entrants of all time, plus a bonus entry.
5. Christian — 2021 Royal Rumble
The parallels between Edge and Christian Cage’s career run deep. Seven-time tag team champions, the two found meaningful success in their exploits as singles wrestlers. Edge captured his first WWE championship in 2006 and Christian won the NWA World Heavyweight championship one year later in TNA. Both reached world champion status in WWE, and both their runs were cut short due to career-ending injuries. That is what made it so special when Christian shocked fans as an entrant in the 2021 Royal Rumble, one year after Edge made a triumphantly impossible return of his own. Edge and Christian embraced in the ring, a touching reminder of their shared experiences. This marked Christian’s first legitimate match in seven years. Christian subsequently made the jump to All Elite Wrestling and accomplished something truly unique. The veteran headlined pay-per-views in WWE (Royal Rumble), AEW (All Out) and Impact Wrestling (Emergence, Victory Road, Bound for Glory) in a single calendar year.
4. Chris Jericho — 2013 Royal Rumble
Jericho knows a thing or three about exciting, unexpected WWE returns. Nobody anticipated Jericho to make an appearance at the 2013 Royal Rumble. “Y2J” had his WWE contract terminated in storyline as a consequence of losing a match to rival Dolph Ziggler in 2012. In reality, Jericho was going on tour with his band Fozzy and had to be written off WWE programming. His return at the Rumble came far sooner than fans expected, one of the rare secrets pro-wrestling kept in the modern era. Jericho entered the contest at No. 2, appropriately opposite Dolph Ziggler. Jericho lasted nearly 48-minutes, the second-longest run of the bout.
3. John Cena — 2008 Royal Rumble
Many consider Cena’s surprise return at the 2008 Royal Rumble as the tenured event’s all-time greatest moment. Fair enough. The return was legitimately unexpected and the crowd pop was deafening. Nobody had a clue who was entering the 30-man contest last. Cena’s comeback followed a six-month absence due to injury, but no one expected the invisible man to heal up so soon. The pageantry of the moment was perfect. Cena stood onstage and soaked everything up. Fans within arms reach were freaking out. Triple H’s face … chef’s kiss. For the purpose of this list, it just lacks a touch of real-world stakes that ever-so-slightly positions it lower than the subsequent two entries.
2. Edge — 2020 Royal Rumble
Edge’s surprise appearance at the 2010 Royal Rumble is rightfully beloved, but his repeat effort a decade later is downright touching. Edge abruptly retired the day after WrestleMania 27 in 2011 because of a life-altering condition, cervical spinal stenosis. Doctors feared that one bad bump could paralyze him. His retirement speech was difficult to swallow and among the most emotional moments in WWE history. Nine years later, the words, “you think you know me” echoed throughout Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. The crowd response was pure jubilation and the emotions on Edge’s face were all too real. The 2020 Royal Rumble just felt good.
1. AJ Styles — 2016 Royal Rumble
Styles’ shocking debut at the 2016 Royal Rumble was so important to the pro-wrestling status quo. Styles, a family man through and through, turned down a developmental deal with WWE in 2002 that would force his family to relocate. He made this decision because it would interfere with his wife’s teaching aspirations. Styles spent the next decade-and-a-half proving himself as one of, if not the best, wrestlers on the planet. He captured world championships in TNA, Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling en route to his WWE debut in 2016. There were reports of a Styles jump from NJPW to WWE leading into the Rumble, but skepticism persisted. Styles in WWE was textbook fantasy matchmaking, and fantasy matchmaking is just that. The estimated 15,000 fans in attendance that evening welcomed “The Phenomenal One” with a raucous ovation. Styles was brought in to be a midcard player, but he quickly shed that label. He captured his first WWE title later that year and notched seven various title reigns over the course of five years.
Honorary Mention: The Three Faces of Mick Foley
Talk about unexpected entrances. Mickey Foley adopted a number of personas over the course of his tenure with WWE. One year before Mrs. Foley’s baby boy captured the WWF championship, the hardcore legend snagged three spots in the 1998 Royal Rumble. Foley treated fans to a smorgasbord of personalities: entering as Cactus Jack (no. 1), Mankind (no. 16) and Dude Love (no. 28). He scored a total of four eliminations and lasted a combined 19:21.