The WWE's Royal Rumble is usually the time of the year where wrestling fans are stunned by surprise returns. While Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson might not be appearing, one other long-absent star could. Word on the street is SmackDown commentator Pat McAfee might make his grand return at the upcoming WWE event, and he might even have a role in the Royal Rumble match.
A new report from Fightful Select has mentioned that Pat McAfee could be a surprise entrant in tonight's Royal Rumble match (via Sportskeeda). Should this happen, it would mark the first time McAfee has returned to the WWE since he exited to provide commentary for College Gameday.
The news isn't hard to believe considering the college football season is over, and Pat McAfee is still under contract at the WWE. McAfee mentioned back when he took the job for College Gameday that it came with the blessing of his WWE employers and that they'd work him back into their programming "when the time is right."
Wrestling fans are undoubtedly ready to see Pat McAfee back behind the commentary table. However, his return presents a problem for the WWE. Former wrestler and NXT commentator Wade Barrett was promoted to SmackDown as a commentator when McAfee exited, and former wrestler Booker T was rotated into Barrett's vacant position in NXT. Does McAfee's return mean that Barrett will be out of his position at SmackDown?
It's a possibility, though three-man commentary teams are not a rarity on WWE shows. It's possible that Wade Barrett, Michael Cole, and Pat McAfee could operate as the collaborative voices of SmackDown going forward, which would be interesting. It's also possible that Barrett might just shift back to NXT in his former position, and the WWE will shuffle the cards a bit to find something for Booker T as well.
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I could also possibly see a situation where Pat McAfee doesn't immediately return to commentary and remains in the WWE as an in-ring performer until the conclusion of the WrestleMania season. Those with a Peacock Premium subscription can revisit McAfee's WrestleMania 38 storyline, where he feuded with the WWE's current United States champion, Austin Theory. McAfee is a competent in-ring performer with a lot of mainstream appeal in the sports world, so it seems natural that the WWE might want him in the ring again.
Pat McAfee hasn't given any clear hints he'll return at the WWE Royal Rumble, but that's largely true for any speculated returning superstar. With the exception of Cody Rhodes, the WWE has tried to keep any unknown returns for the big event a secret. It's usually more fun that way, though it's definitely exciting to get a hint that someone as big as McAfee could be involved in one of wrestling's biggest nights.
The Royal Rumble kicks off on Peacock Saturday, January 28, according to the 2023 TV schedule, with the pre-show starting at 7:00 p.m. ET. Tune in for a ton of surprises, and see which wrestlers will punch their ticket and get a chance to main-event WrestleMania 39 in Hollywood.