The Royal Rumble is one of WWE's most exciting yearly events. To many, the highlight of a Royal Rumble match is the many possible surprise entrants. Whether it's a superstar returning to competition, a legend making a special appearance or a long-awaited debut, it is this unpredictability that makes Rumble matches so exciting.
Unfortunately, not every Rumble surprise takes the wrestling world by storm. For every Edge in 2020, there's a Michael Cole in 2012 and that is to be expected. However, there is another interesting category of surprise Rumble entrants.
In this list, we will look into five Royal Rumble returns that were actually good but are not as often brought up as some others. This is possibly because they were overshadowed by something else in the match, a degree of predictability that ruined the surprise or something else the wrestler in question may have done soon after in their own careers.
#5. Booker T: Royal Rumble 2011
A star-studded match with the likes of CM Punk, John Cena and Randy Orton among others, the 2011 Rumble was also memorable for two surprising returns. Booker T and Kevin Nash.
Booker, who was the first of those surprises, made his way to the ring as the number 21 entrant in the match. During this time, the New Nexus had been dominating the match and had systematically disposed of each new entrant who came out.
Booker T's appearance was met with enthusiasm by the crowd and also by Matt Striker, whose excited comment of "I'm marking out bro!" risked overshadowing Booker's return as it was happening. Despite lasting just over a minute in the Royal Rumble match, Booker was able to show off all his signature moves and performed his classic Spinaroonie, much to the joy of the audience.
However, Booker's Rumble return would soon fall by the wayside, thanks in no small part to Booker T himself. On the Smackdown after the 2011 Rumble, Booker would reassert himself as a full-time member of the brand as its new color commentator.
Despite wrestling sporadically for a brief time from that point on, Booker became more well known for his commentary. His genuine enthusiasm and meme-worthy exclamations often made him the highlight of certain portions of the show.
In addition to announcing roles he maintains on and off to this day, Booker would also enjoy a tenure as Smackdown's general manager and become a two-time WWE Hall of Fame inductee. Booker's firm transition into a non-wrestling character is likely the reason why his return in the 2011 Rumble was so quickly forgotten.
That being said, The pop of the crowd upon hearing his theme music, the shocked faces of CM Punk and the Nexus are certainly worth a watch again. Booker also showed that he had not lost a single step in a WWE ring, and it all makes up for the ideal template of a successful Rumble return and should be talked about more when discussing iconic Rumble returns.
#4: Goldust: Royal Rumble 2013
Moving on from Booker T to his old tag partner Goldust, his return in the 2013 Royal Rumble was his first WWE match in over two years. Following an injury in 2010, Goldust began working in a backstage role but was released by the company in 2012. Despite a few appearances on the independent circuit, few expected that a veteran so late in his career would ever return to the forefront of mainstream wrestling.
He entered the 2013 Rumble to confront his brother, Cody Rhodes. Everyone, including Goldust, believed that his appearance in the match was just a one-off meant to pop the crowd.
As soon as his theme music hit, the crowd went wild and many were quick to note how Goldust was in great shape. He put on a respectable showing and was eventually eliminated by Cody Rhodes after lasting around 10 minutes.
For the next few months, his Rumble return was talked about favorably, but it was pretty much forgotten by September.
A storyline between Cody Rhodes and The Authority gave Goldust the chance to make another appearance where he took on then WWE Champion Randy Orton in a valiant effort. This match was so well received that he soon returned as a full-time wrestler in WWE.
Winning the Tag Titles with his brother in the main event of RAW on his first official night back as an active competitor, Goldust seemed to have rolled back the years. Despite being in his mid-40s, he was somehow more athletic than he had been in his prime and could even appear in more technical, fast-paced matches than he had been accustomed to.
This career renaissance eventually culminated years later with an acclaimed match with Cody Rhodes at AEW Double or Nothing in 2019. While fans continue to marvel at Dustin Rhodes' ability to return to top form so late into his career, it should not be forgotten how this all began as a surprise entry in the 2013 Royal Rumble match.
#3. Mick Foley: Royal Rumble 2004
By 2004, Mick Foley was already a certified WWE Legend. Officially retired from in-ring competition since 2000, Foley had continued to appear on WWE TV, usually as a special referee or authority figure. Despite his non-wrestling role, Foley was still occasionally involved in physical altercations from time to time. Few believed Foley would ever step into a WWE ring again.
Following a very brief tenure as the Co-General Manager of RAW, Foley appeared dissatisfied with having to work a full-time schedule for such a limited role. So, an angle was put in place to bring Foley back as a competitor. In December 2003, Foley walked out of a confrontation with Randy Orton, who spat in his face and began berating him on a weekly basis.
At the time, it seemed that this was how WWE was going to write Foley off TV after his clear creative frustrations. Little did the fans know that he would be back in a ring just around a month later.
When Test, the number 21 entry in the 2004 Royal Rumble, was revealed to have been ambushed by an unknown figure backstage just before his turn in the match, authority figure Steve Austin sent the assailant in his place. After a brief pause, the familiar car crash intro of Mick Foley's theme played and the crowd erupted.
Foley made a beeline for Randy Orton and was so bent on getting his revenge, eliminated himself in order to cost Orton the Royal Rumble as well. This soon gave way to a memorable three-on-two handicap match at WrestleMania 20 between Evolution and The Rock n Sock Connection and then to the star making street fight between Foley and Orton at Backlash 2004.
Foley would continue to wrestle on a semi-regular basis from that point on and put on brutal but memorable matches with the likes of Edge and Ric Flair among others. While many remember Foley's second wrestling run in 2004, few seem to recall that the 2004 Royal Rumble match was his first match in over four years and was what opened the door for the far more memorable moments that followed.
#2. Mr. Perfect: Royal Rumble 2002
Unlike the other entries in this list, Mr. Perfect, Curt Hennig's return to WWE at the 2002 Royal Rumble match was announced beforehand. At that point, it had been six years since Hennig last appeared on a WWE program and speculation was rife as to how he would be presented going forward.
The 2002 Royal Rumble was loaded with its fair share of returns, all of which were announced prior to the event itself. While it was clear that the likes of Goldust, The Godfather and Val Venis would return to their mid-card roles and fellow returnee Triple H was the odds-on favorite to win the match, fans were intrigued to see how well Curt Hennig would fare against a newer generation of WWE talent.
Entering the match at number 25, Hennig soon found himself surrounded by the who's who of WWE's. Sharing the ring with the likes of Triple H, Steve Austin, Kane and Kurt Angle, the veteran seemed well in his element.
From the time his music hit to his elimination after making it to the final three, fans were glad to see how strongly he was presented upon his long-awaited return.
While Hennig's return to the 2002 Rumble appeared to be the start of another upper mid-card run, he was soon and rather disappointingly relegated further and further down the card. Just a few months later, Hennig was released by WWE following the infamous Plane Ride From Hell and in May 2003, Curt Hennig passed away.
While Hennig's return was definitely an impactful moment, the failure to capitalize on his performance has caused his 2002 return to fall by the wayside. It is unfortunate what came after but in that very moment, Hennig's Rumble appearance was nothing short of perfect.
#1. MVP: Royal Rumble 2020
Today, Montel Vontavious Porter is one of the main fixtures of Monday Night RAW. Arguably the best manager in WWE today aside from Paul Heyman, MVP was the mastermind of the Hurt Business and is currently the mouthpiece for the Almighty Bobby Lashley. MVP's transition back to WWE was so seamless that fans often overlook how it almost never happened.
Entering the ring at number 12 and lasting just 24 seconds after being decimated by Brock Lesnar, MVP's return took place in the 2020 Royal Rumble. That also happened to be the match where Brock Lesnar's dominated, Drew McIntyre got a starmaking victory, and Edge returned triumphantly.
With all these moments packed together in one match, it's understandable how MVP's brief appearance would soon slip past the memories of most fans.
On top of that, it seemed that MVP's Rumble return and his match the following night on RAW were heartwarmingly arranged to allow him the opportunity to perform for his young son. Even to MVP himself, it appeared that his Royal Rumble appearance would be the close of his chapter in wrestling.
However, he could not have been more wrong. WWE soon offered him a backstage role as a producer and also gave him the chance to appear on-screen from time to time. In a matter of months, it soon became abundantly clear that MVP still had a lot more to give as a full-time on-screen talent.
Thus, the decision was made to position him as the manager and spokesman for Bobby Lashley and the Hurt Business. Under his guidance, The Hurt Business quickly rose to main event status and championship success.
Even after their premature disbandment, MVP has stayed by the side of Bobby Lashley, managing him through his dominant title reign and helping him stay in the main event picture even after losing the title.
None of this would have been possible had it not been for MVP's return to WWE in the 2020 Royal Rumble match. It is ironic how the moment that was meant to mark the end of MVP's career ended up revitalizing it.
It's almost poetic to see how, two years after his return, MVP will lead Bobby Lashley into a WWE Championship match against Brock Lesnar, the man who eliminated him in the 2020 Royal Rumble.
MVP's 2020 return is the most underrated Royal Rumble return of all time for the fact that it brought so much success and revitalized not only his own career but the careers of others all while it was meant to be nothing more than a special one-time appearance for a man to give his son one last look at his craft.