There's a loose science to building the perfect Royal Rumble. It's part unexpected matchups, part contained chaos, but many consider the most crucial part to be surprise returns. Legends? The injured? Free agents? Celebrities? All have played their part in the Rumble's illustrious 32 year history. But with over 22 men already announced for WWE's annual "All Star Game," who's most likely to take up those last few shocking spots?
Tyson Fury - Apparently WWE, unlike almost everyone else who actually watched last-year's Crown Jewel, has an interest in bringing Tyson Fury back to the squared-circle, this time potentially opposite WWE Champion Brock Lesnar. Yes, Fury is in the middle of preparations for Deontay Wilder, and yes, his one-off match with Strowman was mostly-forgettable. But WrestleMania isn't until April 5th, and another major payday (the pro boxer earned a rumored 15 million for his Saudi appearance) could entice almost anyone to burn the candle at both ends.
Cain Velasquez - This dude is under contract. This dude has unfinished business with Brock Lesnar. Brock Lesnar is currently the WWE Champion in need of a credible WrestleMania opponent. See how the marquee practically writes itself? I think pro wrestling fans are mostly "meh" on the idea of a Velasquez/Lesnar trilogy fight at WrestleMania, but WWE loves matches that have "a history!" and "big names!" and "former champions!" etc. - especially if there's a potential built-in crossover audience. And while Velasquez didn't look great in his WWE debut (clarification: he looked GREAT for a luchadore, but not so much for a beast-slaying heavyweight), he's had plenty of time to get in Vince McMahon-approved shape since then.
Santino Marella - Rumors are flying that the former "Miss WrestleMania" winner might be returning for one more shot at glory… (that is, quickest Rumble elimination). The Beast vs The Cobra? Marella standing opposite his spirit animal Otis? Getting knocked the f*** out by Aleister Black or Drew McEntyre? All possibilities this Sunday.
Velveteen Dream - Dream has been out of action for months due to a back injury, and he still has plenty of unfinished business down in NXT. But reasons like that have never stopped Vince McMahon from nabbing a Full Sail resident for his main-roster playground before. Dream still needs (and I'd argue, deserves) that big top-championship moment, and returning to shake up Wednesday nights during WrestleMania season might just give him that opportunity come TakeOver: Tampa. But wouldn't the rumble be a fun pit stop for this "Macho Man" heir apparent?
CM Punk - There could be no bigger "surprise" return than the man who walked away from professional wrestling almost exactly six years ago to the day. Heck, he's probably the entire reason you checked out this list! (him and Santino Marella, of course). And it seems like, for the first time in many, many years, there's the slightest glimpse of hope this might actually happen. This is partially because WWE is throwing around big-name paydays like it's 1997 and they just discovered Ted Turner's secret WCW checkbook. It's also because Punk has slowly re-entered the wrestling industry via his efficacious Starrcade III interview and WWE Backstage appearances. And if Brock Lesnar - the Champion without a challenger, the Beast without a slayer - ever needed a noteworthy WrestleMania opponent to find relevancy once more, now is that moment, and Punk is that man. Or, you know, Punk vs Rollins. I'm good either way.
Edge - If Punk is our dream "you can be whatever you want when you grow up!" scenario, Edge is our more-realistic "as long as you pay your bills and get health insurance so try to find a nine-to-five that doesn't completely crush your soul" probability. That's not to say he's a let down in any sense (Edge is probably #3 on my all-time favorite list behind only Austin and Rock). But his return has been rumored for so long now that if we DON'T see him on Sunday, it'd pretty much be a let-down. The cool thing about an Edge return is that because career ended so abruptly, a "one more match" surprise return could let him go out on his terms, and give the fans the kind of storybook conclusion they don't often see. It's also why Edge shouldn't win the Rumble on Sunday… instead, let him set up a "Showcase of the Immortals" dream match against Daniel Bryan, and watch wrestling fans flock back to Friday nights between now and April.
Killer Kross - Not that he'd win the whole thing or even be in line for a high-profile feud coming out of the Rumble. But giving Kross that AJ Styles-esque "biggest name on the indies" Rumble spot to generate some r/squaredcircle buzz and steal a little AEW shine might be worth it. There are some people who believe Kross is destined for NXT when he debuts, and there are others (including Wrestling INC's own managing editor Nick Hausman) who think Kross's impact would be best felt on the main roster. A fun, if unspectacular, surprise.
John Cena - If not now, when? John Cena is only one win away from breaking Flair's illustrious record, his Hollywood stock has never been higher, and his unique brand of thuganomics-meets-company man has never felt more M.I.A. It's possible that John Cena is too busy with Suicide Squad and Fast & Furious to even give pro wrestling a second glance… but it's also possible he's been saving up a few vacation days just to main-event WrestleMania, defeat his arch-nemesis Brock Lesnar, reclaim his crown, and retire on top.