14 Most Likely Surprise Entrants at WWE Royal Rumble 2019
One of the most exciting aspects of the Royal Rumble is the anticipation of who is coming out next, knowing it could be practically anybody, even if they aren't an active member of the roster.
Every year, a handful of legends, former stars, new signings and Superstars from other brands such as NXT shock the WWE Universe by entering the fray and trying their best to earn a title shot at WrestleMania by winning the Rumble.
Fans are never given advance notice of who might be popping up, but with some educated guesswork and speculation, we can sometimes predict who may be making an appearance.
With all that in mind, let's take a look at a few of the most likely candidates to be surprise entrants in the 2019 Royal Rumble matches on January 27 at Chase Field in Phoenix.
The Recent NXT Call-Ups: EC3, Lars Sullivan, Lacey Evans and Nikki Cross
It isn't much of a surprise if these men and women are being promoted to the main roster, but they haven't exactly done anything yet, nor are they confirmed for spots in the match.
In fact, Lacey Evans and EC3 only wrestled on Main Event this week rather than Raw, so that already speaks to how they're outsiders and how their inclusion in the Royal Rumble would be surprising.
Noticeably absent from the list above, though, is Heavy Machinery, but that's with good reason.
Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight could well appear in the Royal Rumble, but their focus is going to be on the tag team division, not as singles competitors. It makes sense to keep them out of the loop and give those two spots to two other singles stars.
The same can't be said for the other four former NXT Superstars as they're all going to be featured in plans differently.
Lars Sullivan is undoubtedly going to be a pet project who is given a lot of attention, and the only reason he might skip the Rumble is if WWE wishes to keep him undefeated so he can avoid being eliminated.
However, if Braun Strowman is lucky enough to dethrone Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble, Sullivan could even be a front-runner to win the multi-man match and challenge him for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 35. It's at least food for thought to have The Freak against The Monster Among Men.
EC3 may not get the same giant push as Sullivan, but he should still be put in a decent midcard role. If he was excluded from Royal Rumble, it would pre-emptively stunt his growth.
When it comes to Evans and Nikki Cross, there should be no doubt of their involvement in the Women's Royal Rumble as the numbers are on their side.
Removing the Raw and SmackDown women's champions and their challengers from the equation, that leaves 26 women on the two main brands for the 30 spots, counting Evans and Cross.
That's plenty of room for those final four spots to be made up of some surprising returning legends and former stars while also giving these two newcomers a chance to make a mark.
Trish Stratus and Lita
Trish Stratus and Lita are two of the biggest legends in the history of women's wrestling. It should be a given that they will be in the Royal Rumble.
Both competed in last year's match and have wrestled since then at Evolution in October, so they're clearly game for making sporadic appearances.
If there is a limited amount of spots for stars of the past to return, these two should have priority treatment above all other possible names.
This is not just due to their popularity but also the strong likelihood they will be in contention to crown the new women's tag team champions.
With so many teases of a match between those two against Bayley and Sasha Banks, possibly at WrestleMania 35, seeing them have a confrontation in the Rumble could really spark that feud.
Last year, Andrade "Cien" Almas and Adam Cole were in the Royal Rumble despite the former being NXT champion at the time and the latter not even making it to the main roster in 2018.
It set a precedent that the talent from NXT who make appearances in the Rumble matches don't need to follow the pattern of previous years, when people like Rusev went to Raw or SmackDown shortly after and weren't holding titles at the time.
Of course, the title may not be a factor, as there is a strong chance Johnny Gargano defeats Ricochet and takes it from him at TakeOver: Phoenix the night before the Royal Rumble, freeing The One and Only up entirely.
With this in mind, WWE may even want to specifically showcase Ricochet as someone to wow the audience with his athleticism and bring more attention to NXT as a whole.
He's one of the more prominent members of the roster who would get a big pop if his music hit. He could even steal the show by saving himself from an elimination, similar to what Kofi Kingston has done in past years.
If WWE is looking for someone to come in and make a fast impact, Ricochet could be the best person for the job.
Last year, then-NXT women's champion Ember Moon found her way into the Royal Rumble match. This year, the same thing may happen with the current champ.
Shayna Baszler is sure to make a big splash on the main roster at some point as the second-most dominant member of The Four Horsewomen alongside Ronda Rousey, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir.
Since some fans don't watch NXT and may have even missed Evolution, a spot in the Rumble would be a good way to feature Baszler and get audiences acquainted with her before she's called up. It could even tease the idea she could be champion of Raw or SmackDown in 2019.
Her opponent at TakeOver: Phoenix, Bianca Belair, is undefeated. This sets her up for either continuing her dominance and winning the title from Baszler or having her streak end, save for something like a count-out or disqualification victory.
If Belair takes the belt from Baszler, WWE might want The Queen of Spades to turn her momentum right around and go straight to the main roster in the Royal Rumble to avoid having nothing else of prominence to do in NXT anymore.
A loss is a long shot, as there's more of a chance Baszler retains the title and sticks around in NXT long enough to help Duke and Shafir along, even at the expense of Belair.
Baszler is someone worth keeping an eye on.
Depending on how things play out at TakeOver: Phoenix, Aleister Black could either recapture the NXT Championship, wrestle his last match on the brand before leaving for greener pastures or do nothing of consequence and stay where he's at for a few more months.
The recent call-ups might be enough in WWE's mind to hold off on bringing anybody else to the main roster for a while, which may keep Black from doing anything outside of NXT for the time being.
However, that wouldn't necessarily stop him from giving people a taste of what he has to offer so fans are acquainted with him before he's inevitably called up to the main roster sometime in 2019.
There isn't much of anything left for him to do on the developmental brand, and his feud with Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa seems to be at its end, so the Royal Rumble could be the perfect time for him to move on.
None of us are privy to how Roman Reigns' leukemia treatment is going and how long he'll be out of action, when his return will be and all that surrounds that situation.
Rest assured, though, if there is any way he can make it to the Royal Rumble, he's going to not just be in the match, but he will also win it.
Royal Rumble is a time when plenty of people have made miraculous returns from injury and other medical issues, such as John Cena's 2008 win and Edge's in 2010.
After announcing his diagnosis in October, Reigns finally received the fan admiration WWE has been seeking for years. There is no way it won't want to capitalize on that to make him the hero in the company.
With the Universal Championship back in the hands of Brock Lesnar and The Beast Incarnate missing from the limelight as usual, WWE could be hoping to have Reigns fight him for the third time at WrestleMania (their ninth time on opposite ends of the same match) and repeat the savior story it has told many times already.
It would be the quickest way to annoy fans and undo all that good will, but WWE isn't immune to mistakes like that. It wouldn't be unusual if the company thought just because it is fond of an idea, everybody else will embrace it.
While Reigns may not be the most likely entrant in terms of his health, you can never count out a shock like seeing him appear.
When looking for people who like to make a big entrance in WWE, Velveteen Dream needs to be in the discussion.
Being audacious enough to have "call me up Vince" on his ring gear at TakeOver: Brooklyn IV, Dream more than proved himself this past year as being worthy of a lot of attention with his fantastic performances.
Perhaps, this work ethic and marketing strategy to stay in the spotlight has been a winning formula and he can be one of the special surprises from Royal Rumble.
His fanbase continues to grow every time he performs, and his followers would go wild over his inclusion in the match. Those who don't know him would surely be won over quickly by his skills and lively character.
This is one of the more fun matches of the year when WWE gets to play around with the formula and do things strictly to pop the audience. Velveteen Dream may be the perfect person to bring a shot of entertainment adrenaline to the WWE Universe.
It would be strange if there isn't a single representative of NXT UK in the Royal Rumble, if only as a marketing ploy for the brand.
NXT has nowhere near the viewership of Raw or SmackDown and NXT UK's is even less, as it's newer and the stars aren't yet established.
Pete Dunne, though, has been around long enough for more people to be familiar with him than anybody else from the brand.
He's wrestled his fair share of matches in NXT and even a few on the main roster. And he's built up a reputation for being an amazing performer.
Clearly, WWE sees big things for his future. Putting him in the Royal Rumble would be an endorsement that he's not just a bit player on a spinoff show but someone to keep in our sights.
Rhea Ripley or Toni Storm
By the numbers alone, WWE must bring some women from outside Raw and SmackDown to fill the 30 spots in the Royal Rumble.
If we're looking at potential names to represent NXT UK, the top two in consideration would have to be NXT UK women's champion Rhea Ripley and Toni Storm, winner of the Mae Young Classic.
Others like Jinny and Isla Dawn could pop up, but Ripley and Storm are at the forefront. They are the focal points of that division, so they'd be best suited to show fans what NXT UK has to offer.
Between the two, the slight edge may go to Storm, as she's arguably more popular and the woman whom fans may be more aware of; Storm wrestled at Evolution, whereas Ripley was left off that card.
Either one would convince more people to turn on the WWE Network on Wednesday afternoons.
At Crown Jewel, Shawn Michaels broke his retirement and opened up several return options, particularly as the 53-year-old proved he still has what it takes to get it done in the ring.
According to his post-match interview, that was a one-off and he planned on returning to "normal life" outside of being a performer. But that wouldn't be the last time The Heartbreak Kid said he'd step away, only to return to the squared circle.
Theoretically, Michaels has a match waiting for him with AJ Styles at WrestleMania that fans would love to see, but he could also be a challenger for Daniel Bryan's WWE title if he won the Royal Rumble.
Having helped train him, there's a story to be told by pitting the two against each other: Bryan wanting to prove he's surpassed the Hall of Famer, or Michaels looking to set The Beard back to his old ways.
At face value, we have to assume HBK is telling the truth when he says he's done, but since this is professional wrestling, nobody can be entirely trusted in that regard.
This could have been the plan for months. He could just be great at not spoiling a surprise that would surely cause the arena to erupt once his music hits.
If this happens and Michaels did win, he'd not only tie the record for most Rumble victories at three with Steve Austin, he'd also rack up a few more points on the "overall most eliminations" record he's just a few shy of, too.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.