Remembering the Rumbles: John Cena returns from injury to win in 2008

The WWE managed to keep John Cena's surprising return to the ring for the Royal Rumble a secret in 2008, setting up one of the best moments in the event's history. Nick Laham for ESPN

The Royal Rumble is known for its surprises. Every year, fans look forward to unexpected entrants and shocking returns. Perhaps the most unpredictable return in the history of the event took place at the 2008 Royal Rumble in Madison Square Garden.

Just over three months earlier, in October 2007, John Cena (WWE champion at the time) suffered a legitimate torn pectoral muscle during a match on Raw. Cena was looking at an extensive recovery period, as the muscle was torn completely off of the bone. Initial estimates forecast a seven-month absence, putting his availability for WrestleMania 24 in serious jeopardy.

It was safe to say that John Cena was not on anyone's mind in January for the Royal Rumble.

As the quality Royal Rumble match neared its ending, big names such as Triple H, Batista and Kane stood out as favorites to win. That was until the 30th entrant made his way to the ring in the form of Cena returning much earlier than expected after major surgery and a vigorous rehabilitation process. The reaction from the New York City fans confirmed that the element of surprise was very much alive as they erupted with excitement.

Everyone did their part as Cena stood at the entrance with a sly smirk on his face. Triple H stood in the middle of the ring staring at Cena in complete bewilderment and Jim Ross' simple "What the hell?" line capped off the successful bombshell.

The return was kept tight-lipped leading up to the pay-per-view. It is difficult to keep shock values intact these days with rumors and the leaking of information circulating on a daily basis, but the WWE found a way this time around.

As surprising and effective as this moment was, the outcome became apparent as soon as Cena appeared. He won the 2008 Royal Rumble by eliminating Triple H last and punched his ticket to a WrestleMania championship match.