The Royal Rumble is usually one of the highlights of the WWE calendar, with 30 superstars entering the same match, one at a time, and battling to throw the others over the top rope. The winner gets a guaranteed title shot at the biggest event of the year, Wrestlemania.

As the clock (and the eager live audience) counts down for each new surprise entrant, the excitement builds. You rarely know who is entering and in what order – it could be anyone from a returning legend looking for one last shot at glory, a brand new star, a grappler from a rival wrestling organization or a superstar coming back from a lengthy hiatus due to surgery.

With the 2012 Royal Rumble arriving this Sunday, January 29th, what better way to celebrate the 25th edition of this highly entertaining popular professional wrestling event than with a count down of the best surprise Rumble entrances of all time.

Here are 10 of the best Royal Rumble entrances of all time, complete with the appropriate massive crowd reactions:

10. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper — 2008

Who would have thought that the legendary Roddy Piper, one of the greatest wrestlers of the ’80s, would be a surprise entrant in the 2008 Royal Rumble match? The nostalgic audience went properly nuts as you can see. Unfortunately for ‘Hot Rod,’ ‘The Big Red Monster’ Kane was the next entrant and quickly eliminated the rowdy one.

9. Bob Backland — 2000

Now here is a return that no one saw coming! Old-school, gimmick-free legend Bob Backlund, who ruled the ring way before Hulk Hogan and the more colorful stars of later eras, briefly returned at the turn of the century. Alas, he was eliminated rather quickly by ‘Y2J,’ Chris Jericho. But he did manage to stick around long enough to teach Kurt Angle his dreaded crossface chickenwing submission maneuver.

8. Booker T — 2011

The 2011 Rumble saw a surprise entrant in none other than the king of the ‘Spin-a-rooni,’ Booker T. He’d been away from the WWE since leaving to work for rival promotion TNA in 2007, but ultimately realized there is no place like home. The fans in attendance couldn’t have been happier to see Booker return. Then again, they didn’t know he’d soon go on to become perhaps the most boring ringside announcer in modern history.

7. Rob Van Dam — 2009

Rob Van Dam surprised everyone by being the 25th entrant in the 2009 Rumble match, Unfortunately for the somehow always laid back ‘Mr. Monday Night,’ he would be eliminated by (there’s that name again) Chris Jericho and hasn’t been seen in the WWE since. But still, it was a nice “high” for the fans to be able to chant “R-V-D” one more time.

6. Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig — 2002

At the 2002 Rumble, fans were treated to the return of the always awesome (and now sadly departed) ‘Mr. Perfect’ himself, Curt Hennig. He would show everyone how he earned his name in the late ’80s and early ’90s by becoming one of the final three competitors in the match. Even though he was ultimately eliminated by Triple H, Hennig totally stole the show in our eyes. 

5. Kevin ‘Diesel’ Nash — 2011

Coming in at number five on the list is the incredibly big and tall Kevin ‘Diesel’ Nash, making a shocking return at last year’s Rumble after being away for nearly seven years. Some of that time was spent appearing in movies and working for TNA, and clearly much was spent dying his hair. The look on the faces of the other superstars says everything you need to know about the charisma of ‘Big Daddy Cool’ as he makes his way to the ring. He didn’t win, but would return later for a savage feud with his former friend Triple H.

4. John Cena — 2008

The 2008 Royal Rumble saw the truly surprising return of the popular but polarizing John Cena, who came back much earlier than expected after suffering a legitimate torn pectoral muscle. The fact that the WWE managed to keep this under wraps in this age of internet awareness is truly impressive. Cena won and went on to became world champion at Wrestlemania XXIV, allowing him to issue his familiar “the Champ is here!” speech once again.

3. Triple H — 2002

2002 saw one of the greatest Rumble returns ever, courtesy of ‘The Game’ Triple H. In a similar story to Cena’s 2008 return, HHH had been sidelined for 8 months with a brutal injury. Somehow, the “Cerebral Assassin” rehabbed himself enough for a dramatic return, ultimately eliminating Kurt Angle to win the Rumble and go on to Wrestlemania. Maybe Kurt should have thought better than to lock horns with the ‘King of Kings.’ (Jeez, this guy has a lot of nicknames!)

2. Edge — 2010

In 2010, the Royal Rumble was ‘rated R’ as Edge returned after being sidelined for nearly a year from a torn Achilles tendon. He quickly eliminated his former friend and tag team partner Chris Jericho. Edge would ultimately win the match and go on to Wrestlemania XXVI where he would face Jericho once again for the world heavyweight championship. Sadly, this exciting star has since retired from the ring due to a series of threatening back injuries, but he will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame at this year’s Wrestlemania weekend.

1. Stone Cold Steve Austin — 1998

In 1998 ‘Stone Cold’ returned after seemingly being taken out of action in a fight earlier in the night with UFC star turned wrestler Ken Shamrock. Austin came in through the crowd and cleaned house until the only other man left standing was Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. With Mike Tyson cheering him on, Austin eliminated the ‘Great One’ and won the match. Just goes to show you should never count out the ‘Texas Rattlesnake.’