WWE’s annual Royal Rumble remains one of the most consistently anticipated events in the calendar of most professional wrestling fans. It’s a night of surprises that marks the start of the Road to WrestleMania. It’s also the first indication of where things will be leading as we head towards The Grandest Stage of Them All…
The Royal Rumble has significant historical significance stemming from its winners who make up a of legends and icons in the industry, tremendous matches over the decades, and its role in shaping the future. However, for many, it’s the surprises and unpredictability that give fans that anticipation around this time every year.
Since its inception, the Royal Rumble has been home to several incredible surprise entrants. John Cena’s epic comeback in 2008, Edge’s return after a near-decade hiatus in 2020, Christian’s shocking return in 2021, Trish Stratus’ run in 2018, and the iconic debut of AJ Styles in 2016. Moments like these are still discussed to this day and highlight the feeling the Rumble can create.
As the discussion and theories begin to pour out, there’s no better time than now to take a look at some of the possible surprise entrants we could see this year. This list consists of names within and outside the WWE, as the free agent market is booming at the moment.
Andrade El Idolo
AEW’s mishandling of Andrade El Idolo was disappointing. The initial honeymoon period along with solid matches against Buddy Mathews, Bryan Danielson, Eddie Kingston and PAC did start things off on the right foot. However, it never really amounted to much of anything. He is now officially a free man following a loss to Miro at World’s End in December.
Andrade’s return feels like a guarantee at this point. He was a favorite of Triple H during his NXT days where he was pushed to the moon. That was before a frustrating main roster run until 2020 that left us feeling like a return would rarely happen. That return and opportunity, now exists. As does a chance for redemption for the former champion after years of being overlooked.
Mercedes Moné is the most talked about free agent in the wrestling world right now. Her name has been floating between WWE, AEW & NJPW circles for the last number of months, but has yet to pin herself down in any of those directions. Her walkout from WWE in 2022 left a lot of questions and it does feel like we’re close to finally getting some answers.
This past year does feel like the year of the comeback in WWE. CM Punk, The Rock, and Randy Orton have all returned with major matches on the horizon. It’s one that Mon (or Sasha Banks) could easily fit into, especially with Rhea Ripley in need of a fresh face to challenge her.
Few others on this list have undergone the complete character shift that Matt Cardona has since his WWE release in mid-2020. The former Zack Ryder progressively killed any association linked to 15 years of his wrestling career. He opted to become bigger, badder, and better in almost every aspect.
The career turn-around this man has seen is nothing short of extraordinary. He had stints in Impact Wrestling, GCW and DDT. But most famously, NWA displayed how suppressed his talents truly were in the past. Cardona has redefined himself to the core… It seems now more than ever he’s ready for a return to the biggest stage in the industry.
There have been quite a few teases in the last number of months, amounting to very little. But it definitively indicated that Cardona does want to redeem himself on a stage that on many occasions embarrassed him. A Royal Rumble return would be fitting, considering the spotlight the event will have on it this year. It could serve as the perfect welcome back that Cardona is looking for.
I have a hard time being convinced this will ever happen. But it was was a very different time back the, and the thought of Okada moving over to the WWE is one to entertain in 2024. Wrestling has creatively changed and presented more opportunities to those outside the WWE bubble. It also expanded with companies like AEW, so the prospect of this happening is not nearly as far-fetched.
Current rumblings of Okada’s contract concluding with NJPW are up in the air. Some reports state an early 2024 free agent status is happening. But the actual knowledge of where he stands contractually as of right now remains ambiguous. Especially following a timeless classic against Bryan Daniels at WrestleKingdom 18 just a few days ago. One thing is for sure, if he does show up at the Royal Rumble, it will be a surprise for the ages.
It’s unclear whether Jade Cargill is NXT-bound or on her way to the main roster. WWE’s intent with the former AEW star is quite clear… They want to make her one of the pillars of the women’s division. Cargill has the aura and looks of a bonafide superstar.
A match like the Royal Rumble could be a great opportunity to briefly showcase the prospect’s talents, while not giving too much away. In terms of in-ring ability, this historically has been her weakness. But in a match usually as packed as the Royal Rumble, it could present an opportunity to at least showcase what fans will be expecting when her arrival is official.
Trinity’s departure from Impact Wrestling felt like a bad blow to a brand that is on the verge of a major overhaul. Just as things are trending in a more positive direction with the return of its TNA origins, Trinity’s sudden departure does feel disappointing. A name and style such as hers seems like something a company can build around if done correctly. Seems like we’ll never know at this point…
Rumors have been circulating about her inevitable return to the brand she walked away from close to two years ago. Maybe she could yield better results this time around with a new creative team at the helm and different landscape.
This one seems realistic, considering her husband CM Punk just made his return a few short weeks ago. He is also the first official entrant into this year’s Royal Rumble match. So this would be huge for everyone involved.
Despite her time in WWE not being at the same level of recognition it once was, AJ Lee undoubtedly helped usher in a new era of women’s wrestling. Her skills on the microphone combined with her in-ring ability changed the very way women structured their matches and how they were perceived in the public eye. Not as eye candy or filler, but as talents worth of material more meaningful.
She recently posted training footage in preparation for a role in the TV show “Heels”. While this was shot down as a one-off with the former multi-time women’s champion going back into retirement, fan speculation continues. While AJ’s days as a full-time wrestler seem past her, a one-off appearance would be nothing short of spectacular to witness.
Ever since a horrendous neck injury in 2022, very little has been widely reported about Big E’s status in the WWE. Conflicting reports state his time in the ring is officially done due to the seriousness of the damage inflicted on him. Others seem to have a slightly more optimistic outlook. Big E himself pointed to medical updates last April as key signs as to where his future lies. But little has been said since that point.
He has stated that he no longer feels any substantial pain or functional issues internally. Yet, it feels most likely that WWE is playing it safe with him due what comes with any kind of neck injury. Big E was, and still is, one of the most naturally charismatic and entertaining wrestlers we’ve seen in recent memory. He possesses the unique ability to make you cheer no matter what he does. He also has more than enough talent to carry any company on his shoulders. As a long-time fan of his work since his early NXT days, a surprise such as this one would feel special. It just remains to be seen if Big E’s future even be within a squared circle again.
Which potential return are you most excited for? Let us know in the comments.