A good WWE return is a magical thing. That moment when the music hits, the crowd explodes and the action in the ring comes to a screeching halt or turns into a frantic frenzy is precisely why some of us watch every week. Some of the best returns of all time are etched into the fans memories indelibly and can be rewatched endlessly because they still inspire that rush and shiver down the spine like they did that first time. The Rock returning to WWE after seven years ranks among the best moments of all time, let alone returns. Triple H returning on the same night as The Undertaker to challenge him to a match at WrestleMania was immense. The Ultimate Warrior rushing down the ramp at WrestleMania VIII to a thunderous reaction sent people into fits. It doesn't get much better.
Unfortunately, not all returns can be so wanted or so impactful. In the case of this list, the returnees were those wrestlers who had no business sticking their noses into a situation or were just outright horrible to see grace our television screens again. Some others were simply coming back at the wrong place or wrong time, usually both. Some were just confusing or passed their used-by-date, but in every case, most or all of the fans were less than pleased to see these guys taking up space.
Whether these returns lasted for only one night or led to any significant time back on the main rosters is only a side note to the real issue here, which is WWE sometimes foregoes the logic in bringing someone back into the fold. The wrestlers on this list will make you scratch your head and wonder how and in what way Vince thought this idea had any legs at all, and in many cases you'll still be left wondering like we all were the first time we saw each of these.
15 Kane - 2017
Kane coming back this year after we thought we were finally done with him was one of the biggest annoyances of WWE programming in recent months. Kane's character reverting back to his demonic form hasn't been fun to watch for a long time outside of his Team Hell No days, and that were almost four years ago!
On top of Kane just being a stale character and awkward, clunky wrestler, he immediately came back and began sidelining superstars' progress that we were actively excited by. He cleanly defeated Finn Balor who had been largely unstoppable, as well as dumped Braun Strowman in the garbage. Kane for the longest time has been WWE's stop-gap superstar, being utilized to keep wrestlers we actually want to see away from each other until WWE sets them up how they want them. Any feud with modern-day Kane is interminable to watch because you know it's pointless filler, WWE style.
Credit where it's due, Kane's tenure is nothing to scoff at, however, inserting Kane into high-profile feuds and having him cleanly defeat potential superstars of today is the definition of unwanted.
14 Kevin Nash - 2011
Kevin Nash got a huge ovation in the 2011 Royal Rumble when he made a surprise return in his mid-90s Diesel persona, but when he came back to lay out CM Punk after the Summerslam main event later that year you could hear the crowd reject the big man. Nash had been inserted exactly where he wasn't wanted, the rise of CM Punk getting derailed before it could gain too much momentum at his hands.
The followup was just embarrassing for all involved, with Nash seeming to lose that charismatic swagger on the mic in front of the precocious WWE audience of the time, getting 'what'd' when he tried to speak, being thoroughly outclassed by CM Punk face to face, and then the match that was supposed to cap off his big return got cancelled. Nash had failed a WWE physical and so they were left with a story that couldn't conclude and a rising star who they left hanging for the benefit of someone who should never have been involved in the first place.
Ultimately Nash was effectively off tv by the end of the year, his last run in the WWE stalling badly and tarnishing his legacy.
13 The Great Khali - 2017
Khali is the antithesis of what WWE fans want to see, but alongside his 'countryman' Jinder Mahal whose WWE Championship run thankfully came to an end recently, the pair together were an unjustifiable blight on Smackdown's recent Battleground PPV. Khali's lumbering, stiff-kneed walk to the ring only signaling to fans that they could stop caring about this match since it was about to be ruined.
Khali initially made a splash in WWE due to big wins over The Undertaker but it was immediately apparent that other wrestlers needed to work around him in the ring rather than with him. He looked tremendously awkward and likely to fall off balance at any moment, and so matches involving him were predicated on the spectacle of his sheer size and nothing else. After having all the potential main event matches they could draw from him exhausted, WWE relegated Khali down the card to comedy jobber and kiss-cam manager, effectively killing off any reason people could have had to care about the giant.
Years after Khali's last appearance on WWE television he popped up this year to end an abysmally boring Punjabi Prison match between Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton, ending the only interest anyone had in the match, since the wrestling world wanted Orton to win and end Jinder's lackluster title reign. Khali simultaneously ended that hope while being disappointing just by showing up and so his return was massively unwanted. Hopefully, it was the absolute last we see of him.
12 12. Gangrel & Viscera - 2004
Gangrel and Viscera were around before and during the Attitude Era, but when they returned together years later it only confused and annoyed fans who had long since forgotten the pair. Gangrel's vampire gimmick had had a particularly notable entrance with great music and his blood spray, but outside of that, his only real relevance came when paired with Edge and Christian and The Hardy Boyz. Viscera had been around since 1993 with Men On A Mission as Mabel, and again as Viscera in The Undertaker's Ministry, but both had left the company between 2000-01.
Listed together since they both reappeared at the same time, Gangrel and Viscera were one of JBL's shady tactics to keep the WWE Championship while fighting The Undertaker, appearing on a random SmackDown in 2004. The pair helped beat down The Undertaker and then lost to him in a handicap the following week, immediately negating whatever benefit they might have had as a formidable force. Both came and went from WWE in various roles afterward, but their lackluster return wasn't needed and proved as much once the dust settled.
11 Chris Masters - 2009
Chris Masters' first run in WWE was synonymous with WWE's reputation for getting untalented bodybuilder-types and trying to make the crowd care about them. Brought in with an elaborate and overlong entrance, an interminable habit of wasting 20 minutes every Raw for his 'Masterlock Challenge", and adding almost nothing to any situation he was a part of left fans ultimately bored every time he was on television as he slipped down the card after peaking for mere weeks. Then he was released and nobody minded in the least. But something funny happened..
Chris Masters returned and due to his previous WWE stint, there was no fanfare or fan interest. He was dismissed by fans, as correctly as anyone had been, and that should have been the end of the matter. Except Masters gradually improved with every match, got new music and was actually getting over with the few fans who saw him on the WWE C-shows. Just when it appeared that Masters might be able to offer something in WWE as a surprisingly likeable face, they cut him again. A strange tale of nobody caring when WWE wanted them to and getting invested when WWE wasn't.
10 Batista - 2014
It wasn't that nobody wanted Batista to return to WWE at all; it was that nobody wanted Batista to return to WWE and usurp the main event from Daniel Bryan.
Batista was wildly successful in his first WWE run, second only to John Cena in prominence, main eventing SmackDown for years and having solid crowd support even Cena couldn't garner. But when he was announced to return right before the 2014 Royal Rumble fans sniffed out WWE's plan and after Batista's moderately well-received first night back on Raw, by the Royal Rumble they were having none of it.
Booed like few have been booed before, Batista was saddled with the blame for WWE's oversight of Daniel Bryan as that year's breakout superstar. When he won the Royal Rumble amid thunderous rejection, he flipped off the fans and soon turned heel to compensate. Only Daniel Bryan's inclusion in the WrestleMania main event satiated the fans and finally allowed them to soften their stance against Big Dave.
Batista's return run was in hindsight was quite good, especially the 6-man tags Evolution had with The Shield, but Batista felt the brunt of the fans due to WWE simply not listening when it counted.
9 Tatanka - 2005
Tatanka's original run in the early 90s was greatly successful, a two-year long undefeated streak to begin his WWE career a rare feat. Tatanka had an energetic style, some charismatic in-ring tendencies and was regarded well with high profile matches with superstars like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart before departing from WWE in 1996, effectively sitting out the entire attitude era. A full decade passed before Tatanka randomly returned to WWE television and by then whatever need people had to see him had long since been forgotten.
Appearing for a few months on Raw before moving full-time to SmackDown, Tatanka simply looked out of place. His physique made him look exceptionally outclassed by his peers as well as not having the energy or match quality to justify his return.
Tatanka didn't last long nor make any large waves with his return, again exiting WWE in 2007. This marked another instance of WWE clearly having no plan for a returning superstar let alone a reason to rehire them in the first place.
8 Road Warrior Animal - 2005
One half of the legendary Road Warriors, aka The Legion Of Doom, this is one of the examples on this list where we know exactly how and why the returning superstar was seemingly brought back. Animal is the brother of former Head Of Talent Relations, John Laurinaitis, and the WWE had just released a Road Warriors DVD, so perhaps they felt they could squeeze some nostalgia out of Animal.
Animal, like Tatanka, looked badly out of place on SmackDown. Obviously much older and without his late tag team partner, Animal soon reverted to aping his former tag team. Teaming with Heidenreich to create the 2005 version of the Legion of Doom, they won the tag championships and Animal dedicated them to his fallen partner, Hawk. This was the only highlight of an otherwise nonsensical and lackluster run in WWE, with Heidenreich leaving months later and Animal leaving as well before 2007 hit.
7 The Bella Twins - 2013
Brie and Nikki Bella were two of the least important women on WWE television during a time when the division was stacked with models who could barely wrestle and were commonly only used to usher Raw guest hosts to the podium or accompany Hall Of Famer's making special appearances. So when they up and left WWE to attempt acting and modeling careers, they left almost zero impact on the women's division.
Returning in a little over a year due to no opportunities presenting themselves outside WWE, The Bellas were met with abject apathy by all but the most desperate eye-candy searching fan. Having gained no skills in the ring to speak of, The Bellas simply existed around WWE until Total Divas thrust them from obscure 4th tier wrestlers into being the faces of the division despite being objectively worse than women like AJ Lee, Paige and the incoming crop of NXT talent like the Four Horsewomen.
The Bellas stayed around just long enough the second time for Nikki to become passable in the ring and get engaged to John Cena, while Brie quietly retired alongside Daniel Bryan. WWE's revisionist history or Total Divas/Bellas won't tell you how little people cared when these two initially returned.
6 Albert/Lord Tensai - 2012
Albert, or Prince Albert, or A-Train or whichever version of Matt Bloom you were most familiar with stood out visually but not much else during the latter Attitude Era into the 2000s. As a big guy with plenty of piercings and a body that elicited constant "Shave Your Back" chants he couldn't exactly hide. He didn't particularly have any fans either so when he left in 2004 there was no outcry or fan revolt.
Heading to Japan where he had much more success, he competed as one of the most prominent 'Gaijin' superstars, his size making him stand out much more than amongst the similar WWE giants.
His return in 2012 didn't follow his plan of using his newfound international cred for big homeland success, however. Within moments of his return under the Lord Tensai outfit fans chanted "Albert" all over again and no one was buying his heavy, slow, plodding ring-style in the States. Before long Tensai was a spectacularly failed jobber, and soon after that, he reverted to being WWE's head trainer on NXT.
Well, at least he shaved his back.
5 Joey Mercury - 2010
The other half of the MNM tag team featuring Melina and Johnny Nitro/Morrison, Mercury was the capable hand who helped the flashier Morrison get accustomed to the WWE scene. Before the duo split up, having won three tag team championships, Mercury proved a solid if unspectacular presence, however, he failed WWE's Wellness Policy and the trio split so he could serve a suspension. Upon returning and reforming MNM, Mercury again was sidelined, this time by a horrific facial injury during a ladder match that ultimately resulted in the end of his WWE tenure.
With Morrison becoming impressively versatile in the ring and forming an even more successful tag team with The Miz, Mercury was largely forgotten by fans. This didn't help when he made a surprise return in 2010 unmasking as the newest member of CM Punk's Straight Edge Society. The problem was that even fans of his couldn't recognize his reconstructed face and newly shaved head, making the reveal a complete bomb. He was immediately relegated to fodder in the faction and was soon gone from television again, resurfacing as half of J&J security in The Authority years later.
4 Jinder Mahal - 2016
Nobody cared about Jinder Mahal's initial run in WWE, his 'rich foreigner' character having been not only done to death but done much better by more talented wrestlers. Quickly devolving into a jobber before being the distant third-wheel in 3MB, nobody was surprised when Jinder Mahal was released from his contract.
When Jinder randomly returned to WWE in 2016, the most common question was simply 'why?'. WWE had a developmental system that was making great talent weekly and for no clear reason, Jinder Mahal was required? Not only that, he went straight back to the main roster only to quickly begin not mattering all over again? This would have been just a quirky instance of WWE talent coming and going, but it became a real issue when Jinder was catapulted from obscurity into being WWE Champion this year, with no visible improvement in any skills other than getting his physique right.
Jinder will go down as one of the strangest re-hirings in WWE history, not only because of its seeming pointlessness and low value, but due to WWE's decision to hamstring SmackDown for half a year to see what they could wring out of Mahal as a main eventer.
3 Grandmaster Sexay - 2011
You could hear the crickets under the lively music as Grandmaster Sexay, or 'Brian Christopher', made his return during the unfathomably awful Jerry Lawler-Michael Cole feud. Returning as a pawn of Michael Cole trying to insult and embarrass Jerry Lawler, the formerly popular member of Too Cool was unrecognizable in street clothes as well as having gained weight, leaving him looking as far from his former self as possible while WWE expected the fans to know who the hell this guy was.
The fans in attendance were summarily audibly confused, and Jerry Lawler was equally discomforted by the whole ordeal, whether in character or not. Brian Christopher then verbally attacked his father over mistreatment and neglect, but the ship had already sailed on this whole thing because no one wanted, expected or needed to see Grand Master Sexay again.
In short order Sexay was gone again like he'd never been there, the Cole-Lawler ordeal continuing without him. On that count, we can be jealous of him because we were stuck with that dreck for months to come.
2 Alberto Del Rio - 2015
Alberto Del Rio got let go from WWE in 2014 following an altercation with one of WWE's media managers who reportedly used a racial joke directed at Alberto, who slapped him for his troubles. This departure left WWE and Alberto's relationship strained, however, it was soon clear from Alberto's run outside the WWE that he had been clearly not enjoying his work in the company, revitalizing himself outside WWE and across the wrestling world in various promotions.
Therefore it was an unpleasant surprise when Alberto abandoned all that positivity to accept a lucrative return contract with WWE in late 2015. He had an anticlimactic match with John Cena, joined the torturously badly handled League Of Nations faction, and before even a whole year had passed was back out of WWE having been reminded that his departure was better for all involved.
In this case, not only the fans but Del Rio himself could not have wanted his return to happen, as it led to nothing but disappointment on all sides.
1 Stephanie McMahon - Over and over again
Stephanie never truly 'leaves' WWE because even when she's not onscreen she's backstage doing whatever it is she does. However, no one can argue the point that out of the three McMahons who regularly appear on WWE television she is the one who fans collectively groan over whenever her terrible theme hits.
Vince McMahon introduced almost all of us to professional wrestling and has given us some great memories in the ring and especially on the mic, so whenever he returns we give him that respect. Shane McMahon literally puts his body on the line like no one else and has undoubtedly earned the respect and admiration of the WWE Universe, not to mention he seems like a chill guy. Stephanie McMahon, conversely, has been at the center of some of the most grueling and unwatchable stints of WWE television ever, with her personal involvement actively making proceedings worthy of channel-flipping to avoid her reducing some of our favorite male and female superstars into groveling supplicants.
Since she'll never actively leave, we just have to enjoy every few years when she takes a backseat and stays offscreen. However it's only a matter of time until that godawful music hits and she prepares to tank our enjoyment, so we should all keep the remote handy.
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