Who doesn't love a good surprise?
In wrestling, nowhere is that more true than WWE's annual Royal Rumble match, an event that (typically) puts 30 superstars in the same ring, arriving and exiting at random intervals throughout a one-hour period.
In recent years, in fact, the Royal Rumble has become expected to produce a surprise or two.... which makes the surprise less surprising in a way, but still fun for fans and critics alike.
The element of surprise comes when competitors enter that aren't scheduled, run-ins happen that aren't expected, eliminations occur that no one saw coming and winners are declared that weren't necessarily the odds-on favorite.
In counting down the Top 50 Royal Rumble Surprises, Wrestling Merchandise and Memories looked at the following criteria:
How shocking was the development?
What implications did it have both for the Royal Rumble itself and the aftermath in the company?
How memorable was the surprise, even several years later?
How much did the surprise contribute to the rich history of the Royal Rumble?
If you'd like to be a part of this conversation, Tweet us at @canadianbulldog using the hashtag #Top50, or leave a comment below.
Ready? Here we go!
Hacksaw Rumbles again
Hooooooo! WWE Hall of Famer Hacksaw Jim Duggan won the first Royal Rumble in 1988, so it made sense that he would return to the event as a surprise entrant in 2012. Although Duggan lasted than a minute before being eliminated by Cody Rhodes, it was a nice, yet unexpected nod to Royal Rumble history.
1999 was a strange Royal Rumble for several reasons. One of them was the appearance of 400-plus pound Mabel, who had eliminated five competitors in just one minute and twenty-six seconds! However, Mabel was then abducted by Faarooq, Bradshaw and Mideon and become one of The Undertaker's disciples.
Entering at number Ten...
In 2017, Tye Dillinger was an NXT prospect who was slowly but surely getting over with his "Perfect Ten" gimmick, which had led to "Ten" chants at WWE live events. Sure enough, Dillinger made his main roster debut at that year's Royal Rumble, showing up as - what else? - the tenth entrant and lasting five minutes.
WWE Hall of Famer Booker T left WWE in 2007 and used the hiatus to compete for several years in TNA and elsewhere. But at the 2011 Royal Rumble, the master of the Spinaroonie returned to WWE, surprising everyone and entering the match at number 21 and quickly being tossed by The Nexus's Mason Ryan.
Road Dogg returns
Oh, you didn't know? WWE Hall of Famer Road Dogg made his first WWE in-ring appearance in more than a decade at the 2012 Royal Rumble after being released by the promotion in 2001. Although the D-O-Double-G lasted only about five minutes, he returned to the promotion and became a WWE producer.
Wrong Rumble, Nia!
At the 2019 Royal Rumble, Nia Jax entered the Womens Rumble at number 29, eventually being eliminated by match winner Becky Lynch. However, Jax also entered the Mens Rumble at number 30, attacking R-Truth to capture the spot. She didn't win this Rumble either, being eliminated by Rey Mysterio.
In 2022, the winner of both the Womens and Mens Royal Rumbles weren't even advertised beforehand to appear! Ronda Rousey, who hadn't been in a Royal Rumble previously, entered at # 28 and went on to win. Brock Lesnar, who had already retained the WWE Championship that night, entered at # 30 and won.
In 1989, WWE Hall of Famer Andre The Giant entered the Royal Rumble third, eliminating Demolition Smash, Rugged Ronnie Garvin and Jake The Snake Roberts in short order. However, Roberts returned to the ring shortly after, exposing Andre's fear of snakes, and causing the giant to eliminate himself.
Arab American heel Muhammad Hassan REALLY wasn't liked when he entered the 2005 Royal Rumble at lucky number 13. Everyone in the ring - both heels and faces - united, with Chris Jericho, Edge, Shelton Benjamin, Chris Benoit, Luther Reigns and Booker T all teaming to send Hassan packing in less than one minute.
It had been 10 years since WWE Hall of Famers The Dudley Boyz had been in a WWE ring, leaving in 2005 to compete in TNA. At the 2015 Royal Rumble, Bubba Ray Dudley entered at number three to the delight of the Philadelphia crowd, lasting five minutes and ousting two men before being tossed out himself.
The kiss of death
In 2010, WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix became only the second female to enter the Royal Rumble. Coming face to face with The Great Khali, Phoenix decided to engage The Punjabi Playboy in a lengthy kiss. While Khali was liplocked, The Glamazon used the distraction to eliminate him!
The Diesel push
In 1994, WWE Hall of Famer Diesel entered the Royal Rumble at number seven. Over the next seventeen minutes, Big Daddy Cool eliminated Kwang, Owen Hart, Bart Gunn, Bob Backlund, Billy Gunn, Virgil and Scott Steiner before five men removed him - creating a Rumble term forever known as "The Diesel Push".
Speaking of 2014 and The Diesel Push.... that year at the Royal Rumble, said push went to The Shield's Roman Reigns. Reigns established himself during this match, entering at number 15, lasting more than 33 minutes and tossing twelve men out of the ring -- an elimination record that stood for several years, until....
Goldberg vs. Lesnar
Though WWE Hall of Famer Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar tangled at the 2017 Royal Rumble, it wasn't technically the first time. In 2004, Goldberg entered at number 30 and appeared to be in a position to win. Lesnar was angry at Goldberg's earlier remarks and interfered, causing Goldberg to be eliminated.
Another Mick Foley story: After several years of being away from WWE and working in TNA, The Hardcore Legend returned at the 2012 Royal Rumble. After engaging in a sock-puppet batte with Santino Marella and eliminating three wrestlers, it ended up as Foley's last night ever as an in-ring competitor.
False finish (part 1)
The 1994 Royal Rumble will go down as one of the most controversial and surprising. Both Lex Luger (who entered at number 23) and WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart (who entered at number 27) eliminated each other at the match's conclusion and were deemed the first (and only) Royal Rumble co-winners.
The Ronda Rumble
In 2018, WWE contested its first Womens Royal Rumble, which was won by the then-undefeated Asuka. Right as Asuka stared down Raw Womens Champion Charlotte Flair and SmackDown Womens Champion Alexa Bliss... Ronda Rousey appeared, with the former UFC star declaring she'd signed with WWE.
The 1993 Royal Rumble was an unpredictable event, featuring at least a dozen future WWE Hall of Famers. Even the final few competitors including wrestlers such as Randy Savage that could have easily won the match and headlined WrestleMania 9. It ended up being Yokozuna, who won his first major match.
Stone Cold Rumbler
1997 and WWF's Attitude Era began with the same person: WWE Hall of Famer Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rattlesnake entered that year's Rumble at # 5 and eliminated ten men over the next forty five minutes. He was eliminated by Bret Hart... but because the referee didn't see it, Austin still won the match.
Hogan vs. Warrior
The 1990 Royal Rumble was significant in part because it featured the very first physical interaction between WWE Hall of Famers Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. While it only lasted about one minute, the confrontation set up their epic match at WrestleMania Six. The Hulkster later won the Rumble.
The 2016 Royal Rumble featured a Phenomenal surprise, as AJ Styles entered unannounced at number three, signaling his debut in WWE after nearly a decade of fans wanting to see it. Styles, previously wrestling's hottest free agent, lasted nearly half an hour in his debut match, being eliminated by Kevin Owens.
In 1995, WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels and The British Bulldog (no relation) entered the Royal Rumble as number one and two. They lasted the entire match and Bulldog appeared to eliminate Michaels, but The Heartbreak Kid avoided touching the ground with both of his feet and ended up winning.
Benoit overcomes the odds
Chris Benoit made history at the 2004 Royal Rumble. Largely seen as a mid-carder, Benoit entered the Rumble at number one and lasted an incredible one hour and one minute, eliminating six competitors including The Big Show to win his first and only Royal Rumble.
No chance in hell
No Chance In Hell was the subtitle of 1999's Royal Rumble, and it was used for very good reason. WWF Chairman Vince McMahon entered the Rumble match second (following his chief rival Stone Cold Steve Austin). After avoiding the ring for the entire match, McMahon returned just in time for The Rock to eliminate Austin on The Boss' behalf.
The Champ is back
John Cena wasn't expected to make the Royal Rumble in 2008, he was injured the year prior and was told he wouldn't even make WrestleMania. Instead, Cena entered the match at number 30, shocking the crowd at Madison Square Garden. After eliminating four men including Triple H, Cena won his first Royal Rumble.
Rob Van Dam was a huge part of WWE's Ruthless Aggression era who had left the promotion in 2007. Two years later, RVD was an unannounced entrant in the 2009 Royal Rumble, entering in the 25th slot and lasting nearly 14 minutes before Chris Jericho eliminated him. Mr. PPV wouldn't return again until 2013.
The announce booth enters
The entire commentary booth was part of the 2012 Royal Rumble. WWE Hall of Famer Jerry Lawler entered, followed by fellow Hall of Famer Booker T. Michael Cole came in at number 20, and both Booker and Lawler conspired to yank the heel commentator out of the match.
"I wasn't ready!"
Santino Marella thought he caught a lucky break by entering the 2009 Royal Rumble at number 28. But literally the moment he entered the ring, Marella was eliminated by Rumble legend Kane, lasting the shortest amount of time of any Rumble competitor. Afterwards, Marella complained "I wasn't ready!" to the ref.
Honky Tonk encore
WWE Hall of Famer The Honky Tonk Man made a surprising return to the WWF during the 2001 Royal Rumble. Instead of taking on opponents, however, The Greatest Intercontinental Champion Of All Time pulled out as guitar and prepared to sing his theme song before being walloped by Kane.
Shane shocks Shawn
When WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels entered the Royal Rumble in 2006 as entrant number 25, there was a chance he'd win it for a third time. However, after eliminating three others and lasting 13 minutes, he was tossed out of the ring by Shane McMahon, who wasn't an entrant in the match.
No Justice for Sid
1992 was the year of Sid Justice's first Royal Rumble appearance, and entering in the second-last spot, it was possible he would win and become the next WWF World Champion. But after eliminating six men including Hulk Hogan, Justice was grabbed by an angry Hulkster, allowing him to be eliminated by Ric Flair.
After a five-year absence from in-ring competition, WWE Hall of Famer Bob Backlund returned to the 2000 Royal Rumble as a surprise entrant. Entering at number 14, Backlund lasted only two minutes before being eliminated by Chris Jericho, but stuck with the WWF long enough to briefly manage Kurt Angle.
In 2011, John Cena entered the first 40-man Royal Rumble at number 21. The Champ eliminated seven men during his 34 minutes in the ring, including CM Punk, David Otunga and Heath Slater. But it was WWE Champion The Miz who snuck in and ousted Cena, setting up their match at WrestleMania XXVII.
The return of Jericho
At the 2013 Royal Rumble, absolutely no one was expecting Chris Jericho to return. He had lost a "Loser Gets Fired" match on Monday Night Raw just five months earlier at the hands of Dolph Ziggler. After Ziggler entered at number one, Jericho made a surprise return at number two, lasting nearly 48 minutes.
Maven & The Dead Man
The Undertaker has been one of WWE's hottest commodities for decades, so it was a shock in the 2002 Royal Rumble that, after spending only seven minutes in the ring and making seven eliminations, he was unexpectedly dropkicked out of the ring by Tough Enough winner Maven. This move shocked The Dead Man.
Kharma is a....
In 2012, Kharma became only the third female to enter the Royal Rumble, surprisingly coming in to the ring at number twenty-one. After scaring Michael Cole from the ring, she also eliminated Hunico. Shortly thereafter, Dolph Ziggler snuck up on Kharma and eliminated her, leaving her ring time at one minute.
The Diesel return
Seventeen years after WWE Hall of Famer Diesel made his Royal Rumble name with The Diesel Push, he returned at the 2011 Royal Rumble in the number 32 spot. Shocking both the fans and those still in the ring, Diesel lasted almost three minutes this time around... although he also returned (as Kevin Nash) in 2014.
The Beast is best
... the 2020 Royal Rumble, in which Brock Lesnar eclipsed Roman's elimination record. The Beast Incarnate (at the time, WWE Champion) entered the match first and eliminated a record 13 competitors. More impressive, Lesnar's eliminations were consecutive, stopped only by eventual match winner Drew McIntyre.
Three faces of Foley
WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley refused to quit during his 1998 entry into the Royal Rumble. Entering the ring at number one under his persona Cactus Jack, he lasted about nine minutes. Foley's alter-ego Mankind entered at number 16, good for about two minutes, followed by Foley's Dude Love as the 28th entrant.
Kofi avoids elimination
Kofi Kingston has become known for his unusual methods for avoiding elimination in the Royal Rumble, such as doing handstands and scaling the barrier. In 2013, when Kofi ended up on the announce table, he took JBL's commentary chair and pogo-jumped on it until he made it safely to the ring.
False finish (part 2)
The 2005 Royal Rumble threatened to have a repeat of the one more than a decade earlier. In the end, both John Cena (who entered at number 25) and Batista (entrant number 28) eliminated each other. Vince McMahon walked to the ring, injured both his legs, and ordered the match to restart. Batista won.
The 1989 Royal Rumble was significant because WWE Hall of Famers Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were teaming as The Megapowers and had been teasing friction for months. Hogan eliminated both Savage and Bad News Brown at the same time, leading to a confrontation between The Megapowers.
Snuka vs. Piper redux
The 2008 Royal Rumble feaured an unexpected twist: Entrants 18 and 19 were WWE Hall of Famers Superfly Jimmy Snuka and Rowdy Roddy Piper, neither of which were expected to enter. The two briefly renewed their iconic rivalry that began in 1984, before both men were unceremoniously eliminated by Kane.
Last Game standing
In 2016, WWE World Champion Roman Reigns was forced to begin the Royal Rumble at number one, and would only retain his title if he won the entire match. Reigns lasted twelve seconds short of an hour before being eliminated by surprise entrant Triple H, who at number thirty won the match and the title.
In 1992, The Undertaker's star was quickly rising as one of the WWF's top babyfaces. The Dead Man entered the Royal Rumble at number 20 and lasted about fourteen minutes before Giant Gonzales made his WWF debut and while not in the match, brutalized The Undertaker and eliminated him.
The Drew Carey Rumble?
In 2001, WWE Hall of Famer Drew Carey was at the Royal Rumble to promote his comedy PPV when Vince McMahon asked him if he wanted to be in the match. Carey entered at number five and didn't do much beyond offering a bribe to Kane and watching The Hardy Boyz wrestle, before leaving the ring.
Rated R for "Return"
WWE Hall of Famer Edge has made two shocking returns to the ring at the Royal Rumble. In 2010, The Rated R Superstar returned from injury earlier than expected and won the match. A decade later, Edge returned at the 2020 Royal Rumble as a huge surprise -- especially when you consider he retired nine years earlier!
Becky Lynch is The Man
Despite not being scheduled in the 2019 Womens Royal Rumble, Becky Lynch made a surprise appearance, showing up in the 28th spot as a substitute. The Man eliminated Nia Jax to win the match, and made the most of her opportunity, capturing both the Raw and SmackDown Womens Titles at WrestleMania XXXV.
Viva La Raza
In 2006, Rey Mysterio vowed to win the Royal Rumble on behalf of his fallen friend, WWE Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero. Mysterio was the second entrant and along with Triple H, lasted the entire match, eliminating six competitors and holding in a record one hour, two minutes and twelve seconds to win the match.
Ric's Royal Rumble
The 1992 Royal Rumble was arguably the most star-studded in history; 17 future WWE Hall of Famers were in the match. That includes Ric Flair, who entered the match third and over the next hour and two seconds, tangled with the likes of Rowdy Roddy Piper, Greg Valentine, The Texas Tornado, Hulk Hogan and other long-time rivals. After eliminating five men including Hogan, Flair won the match and gained the WWF Championship. Woooo!