There's no mistaking the importance of the Royal Rumble. As the first pay-per-view of the new year, the Rumble not only helps lift Superstars to main event status, but is also recognized as the first stop on the often bumpy, tumultuous Road to WrestleMania. It is largely for these reasons, coupled with the uncertainty and surprise of the Rumble match itself, that makes the Royal Rumble one of the biggest shows of the year, and also a favorite to watch for much of the WWE Universe. Whether it's a veteran returning to in-ring action for one night only (who could forget the way the arena exploded when Roddy Piper's music hit at Madison Square Garden in 2008?) or a current Superstar making his first pay-per-view return after an injury (Triple H in 2002) the Rumble has become synonymous with surprise entrants. Here are five Superstars fans should expect to see, and five who, more than likely, won't be stamping their ticket for a WrestleMania championship match in Phoenix.
EXPECT TO SEE...
CHRISTIAN - Captain Charisma has been missing in action since the summertime, with not so much as a Tweet or an interview regarding his injury and absence. His lengthy hiatus has removed him completely from any semblance of a storyline, and the Rumble is the ideal time for Christian to jump right back into the thick of things. Christian knows that he belongs in the world title hunt, and what better way for him to return to the main event landscape than by returning triumphantly at the Rumble?
FANDANGO - Though he's been wrestling at house shows under his new persona, the artist formerly known as Johnny Curtis has yet to sashay his way down the Raw ramp. Though his video promos have been featured on Raw sporadically since November, there was speculation that the character may have been scrapped altogether. With the emergence of The Shield and Big E.Langston, and the hype surrounding The Rock and CM Punk, it's easy to see how Fandango may have been regulated to the backburner. The Royal Rumble could be his time to shine. Though Curtis has plenty of experience with battle royals, he has never participated in one of this caliber. It would be interesting to see how Curtis, as Fandango, would respond to a match with so much at stake. Would he align himself with another wrestler, or choose to operate without allies? One thing is for sure, if Fandango breaks out with some tango moves in the middle of the ring with a rose in his mouth, his female fans will be satisfied.
SHELTON BENJAMIN - Though it feels like a much shorter period of time, in actuality it has been nearly three years since the Gold Standard stepped into a WWE ring. Since then, Benjamin has wrestled for a handful of independent promotions such as Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Recently, however, his name has been mentioned by some insiders as someone who may find himself back in the WWE sooner than later. Benjamin excels at tag team competition, and it's been no secret that Triple H has been looking to bring the tag team division back to its former glory days. The addition of someone like Benjamin to the roster will be another step in the right direction.
JOHN MORRISON - Ever since the Shaman of Sexy released a video stating that he would be interested in returning to wrestling in the future, JoMoSapiens all over the world have been waiting impatiently for that wonderful day. In his absence, Morrison has wrestled sporadically and has expressed interest in dabbling in acting, but for the most part he has remained out of the public eye. Someone as young and talented as Morrison has certainly not reached the peak of his wrestling career, and if he were to return at the Rumble, it would give him ample time to ignite a rivalry that would guarantee him a meaningful WrestleMania match. Not to mention that it has been far too long since the WWE Universe has been graced by Starship Pain.
MVP - Like Shelton Benjamin, MVP has also been name-dropped as someone the WWE may be interested in again. MVP has been coy with fans, first stating that the WWE has not contacted him, then saying that he would be interested in returning, and most recently declaring that the WWE does not want him. If anything, this indecision may be a sign that MVP is due for a return; both Chris Jericho and Tensai stated outright that they were not coming back to the WWE before they actually did. Like Morrison, MVP has the charisma and the potential for his career to blossom far more than it did during his first tenure. After years of wrestling in Japan, one would have to believe that MVP would be more technically sound in the ring if he does redebut.
SORRY, BUT WE WON'T SEE...
THE UNDERTAKER - Although the WWE has not stated outright that The Undertaker will only be competing at WrestleMania, the fact remains that 'Taker does not need the Rumble, nor is he in any physical condition to perform in a battle royal, then defend his streak a mere two months later. With the rumors circulating that 'Taker is to face CM Punk at 'Mania, it wouldn't make much sense for The Undertaker to appear on a pay-per-view where Punk already has his hands full with The Rock.
KEVIN NASH - Two years ago, Nash made a surprise return at the Rumble, even though he had previously been under contract with TNA. Nash's third WWE tenure saw him clash with real-life best friend Triple H, and proved that Nash, who is in his fifties, can no longer perform at the level necessary to deliver a compelling match. More recently, Nash has been seen on NXT, and at this stage in his career, he may be better served as a trainer than as an active competitor.
CHRIS JERICHO - Anyone who follows Y2J on Twitter knows that he gets asked almost daily when or if he will return to the WWE. Jericho always states that this is not in the cards for him in the near future. Not only will Jericho be traveling with his band in the upcoming months, but he is also working on his third book. A one-night appearance may certainly sate the crowd, but it wouldn't make sense for Jericho's career. When Jericho does return, it will mostly likely be to a full-time schedule, and on his terms. Though Jerichoholics will continue to hope against hope that the Ayatollah will step into the ring on January 27th, he won't be.
MATT HARDY - His substance abuse problems of 2011 seemingly behind him, Matt Hardy has been a staple at independent promotions up and down the east coast for the past several months. Though he has expressed a desire to work an abbreviated schedule if he does sign with WWE or TNA again, Hardy has been working diligently to make himself attractive to both of those companies by proving that he is in shape, responsible and reliable. However, there hasn't been any indication on the WWE's part that they are interested in Hardy at this point in time. Perhaps they feel he is still a liability. Perhaps the people he chooses to associate with are weighing him down. Whatever the case may be, Hardy is still marketable and a commodity due to his past accomplishments. While he does deserve a second chance, he won't be at the 2013 Rumble.
BROCK LESNAR - For all intents and purposes, Lesnar's status with WWE appears to be up in the air. There has been talk of Lesnar facing Triple H at WrestleMania, but when The Next Big Thing does return, he will want all the hype to be focused on him. With The Rock being advertised for the Royal Rumble for the past six months, it is doubtful that Lesnar will want to come back on a pay-per-view where he won't be the biggest non-wrestling star on the card. When he returned last year, Lesnar did not mention a desire to win championships, only a thirst for destruction. He doesn't need the Rumble match; he doesn't want a title shot at WrestleMania. And with his mouthpiece Paul Heyman preoccupied with CM Punk, look for Lesnar to return sometime before the Elimination Chamber.
In addition to these predictions, fans should expect to see some names who might just be on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot. Mick Foley, as the first inductee announced, may appear in some capacity on the show, but will most likely not participate in in-ring competition. After sustaining an injury at the TLC pay-per-view, look for R-Truth to reemerge in the Rumble match as well. No matter the outcome, the 2013 Royal Rumble promises to change the landscape of the WWE. Either a new champion will be crowned, or another man will help determine his destiny by holding on to win the biggest battle royal of the year. The Road to WrestleMania will begin in Phoenix, and it is our treat as the members of the WWE Universe that we get to come along for the ride.