The road to WrestleMania begins Saturday with the Royal Rumble match.
More eyes will be on the WWE product as fans will get to see which man and woman get elevated to the world title scene by winning the titular match.
The Royal Rumble also is a great time to see the surprise entrants among the 30 superstars competing in the match. Here are 12 people who possibly could appear at the premium live event this Saturday.
The podcast host and SmackDown commentator has been absent since he took a temporary leave to be one of the hosts of ESPN’s “College Gameday.” This college football season has concluded, and the Royal Rumble would be the perfect way to bring McAfee back into the WWE fold. There don’t seem to be any commitments he needs to fulfill, so he seemingly is ready to go back to his dual duties with WWE and the “Pat McAfee Show.” However, McAfee simply said he only would be watching the premium live event on his show Wednesday.
The rapper has not appeared in WWE since last year’s Royal Rumble, which seemed to signal the end of his short run as a pro wrestler. But he was announced as a pre-order bonus for WWE 2K23 on Monday, so it only would make sense for the company to bring him back to promote that. Bad Bunny also will be performing at the Grammys this year so using WWE as a spotlight before his performance would not be a bad decision.
The 27-year-old apparently suffered a sprained meniscus and MCL following his match against Roman Reigns at Crown Jewel in November. If this is true, it’s unlikely Paul would want to aggravate his injury so soon. But if the injury was simply an angle to take him off WWE television, then he could come back at the Royal Rumble, and he could use the appearance to help boost his image.
The WWE Hall of Famer is a commentator for NXT, and this year’s Royal Rumble will be at Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, which is his home state. Booker T hasn’t wrestled in a WWE ring since a SmackDown house show in 2012, but he made an in-ring return last year for his promotion, Reality of Wrestling, so he at least has kept himself in in-ring shape.
Beth Phoenix and Edge
This feels like a combo package. It’s unlikely WWE will get one without the other. Edge has been out since losing to Finn Bálor in an “I Quit” match at Extreme Rules in October. The Judgment Day attacked his real-life wife Phoenix and gave him a con-chair-to that took him out in storyline. Edge is the master of gaining a nostalgia pop, and this Saturday would be a wasted opportunity.
Chelsea Green and Matt Cardona
Let’s take a look at another real-life couple. Green signed with WWE in 2018 before she was cut in 2020. Her real-life husband, Matt Cardona, probably is more well-known by fans as Zach Ryder. Cardona has rebuilt himself since he was cut in 2020 as an all-around talent. He used his history in WWE well as a heel in GameChanger Wrestling, and he became the top guy in the NWA. Green reportedly has signed a deal with WWE and is awaiting a creative direction, and Cardona has been open to a return to the company.
The only issue here would be scheduling. Cena is a full-fledged Hollywood star now, but he still is committed to the company. He made his only appearance in WWE at the end of last year to team with Kevin Owens, and there are hopes the company won’t have to wait as long for him to make another one. He can start a potential WrestleMania 39 build at the Royal Rumble by having a brief interaction with his opponent.
Her former tag team partner Sasha Banks, now Mercedes Mone, debuted at New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 17. It’s unknown if Naomi has any desire to return to WWE, but many fans have fantasy booked her teaming up with her real-life husband Jimmy Uso as part of The Bloodline. Whether she does that or not, it would only benefit WWE to bring back its former champion to add more depth to the women’s division.
Keiji Muto is set to retire this year. Pro Wrestling Noah held a “Great Muta Final ‘Bye-Bye'” event that featured the Japanese pro wrestling legend teaming up with AEW’s Darby Allin and Sting to take on Akira, Hakushi and Naomichi Marufuji. The event was to retire the Great Muta character, and Muto will hold his retirement match at “Keiji Muto Grand Final Pro-Wrestling ‘Last’ Love Hold Out” on Feb. 21, where he will take on NJPW star Tetsuya Naito.
The Great Muta character might be retired in Japan, but WWE could pull some strings to get him to appear at the Royal Rumble. Shinsuke Nakamura appeared at Noah’s New Year’s event to take on Muta, so there might have been a deal in place for the latter to appear at a WWE event in return.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Johnson reportedly has not committed to appearing at WrestleMania 39, and it appears unlikely WWE will have its Reigns vs. The Rock main event. But what if it’s all a work, or what if The Rock is able to come through and actually make this build work? WWE certainly has put a lot of hope into this potential match, so the higher-ups likely are trying to do what they can. It’s unlikely to happen but never say never in pro wrestling.