In recent years the WWE has dipped its hands into the nostalgia bag and brought back stars of yesteryear to grace the squared circle once again with monumental comeback matches. Whether it was a one-off mega match or a lengthier run, fans were delighted to see those stars from the past return to fulfill a dream match scenario or to earn a “You Still Got It” chant. Stars that were written off as possible never to return surprised the world by not only returning but looking good in their reemergence, like The Rock, Brock Lesnar, The Dudley Boyz and Sting. More recently, the likes of Mickie James, Shane McMahon and Goldberg have also impressed.
WWE fans love to see their old favorites return looking just as good as ever, and the company has basically put it in their annual plans to satiate their fans' appetite with surprise returns that are either planned via a Royal Rumble entry, a WrestleMania appearance, an old-school-themed version of RAW or a more recent play in the playbook—putting a popular wrestler in the 2k video game to foreshadow their return. While some returns can be seen as comedic, like old legends beating up on Heath Slater, this list will touch on those stars who have been away from the WWE cameras for a while and could return in a big way under the current landscape and excite fans to a fever pitch.
15 Rob Van Dam
RVD is perhaps one of the most realistic comebacks that can happen on this list since the Whole F’N Show already made a surprise return to the WWE in 2013 after six years away from the company. RVD looked like he hadn’t aged a bit as he still looked to be in great shape and wrestled essentially the same high risk style for which fans love him. RVD is open to a return to the WWE in the right setting, but in interviews he did seem a bit sour on the return run he had as he wasn’t really treated as a big deal as he should have been as a legendary legacy star and very quickly became just another superstar on the roster. There’s definitely a chance he can make a one-off return like a Rumble entry or a lengthier run going after one of the main titles.
14 Matt Hardy
2016 has been a pretty big year for Matt Hardy as he captured the eyes of wrestling fans by making a drastic character change unlike anything he had done before with this “Broken” persona. It was weird but it eventually became a hit and one of the few bright spots for TNA. Fans are salivating at the idea of how the character would be on a bigger stage in the WWE. Matt has entertained the idea of making a return to WWE under the new gimmick and it would certainly be a fresh look at the man long known as one of founding members of Team Extreme. He’d fit right in with the current WWE roster and would make a great heel on either of the brands.
13 Shelton Benjamin
Shelton Benjamin was a popular and underrated part of the WWE in the early 2000’s and someone many thought would have been a top star in the company for years to come with his superstar potential. Shelton has not wrestled for the WWE since 2010 but in the meantime was still tearing it up on the independent circuit, showing off his excellent athleticism even though he’s starting to get up there in age. The WWE surprised fans by signing Shelton to the Smackdown brand and began hyping his impending return with a vignette. However, a torn rotator cuff injury put a halt on things. Much like his theme song, there “ain’t no stopping” Shelton as he is dead set on returning after his recovery. Benjamin would be a welcome addition to either brand, adding athletic depth to an already impressive roster.
Lita is in the WWE Hall of Fame and despite her best years being behind her, she is another star that fans would still love to see in the ring with the current crop of Divas, even if it was for a one off match. Lita formally announced her retirement in 2006 but as we all know and have seen time and again in this industry, you’re never truly retired from competing in the ring. At this point in time Lita is an on-air panelist for the WWE Network and is doing well in her role, but you can’t help but wonder if she can get in the ring one more time against the likes of Charlotte or Sasha Banks. She looks every bit as great as she did in her wrestling days so it’s definitely something that could go down if Lita wanted it bad enough.
11 Jake Roberts
Jake “The Snake” Roberts was one of the greatest heel characters during the golden era of the WWE and more recently he has been a success story after rehabilitating himself with the help of Diamond Dallas Page and his awesome DDP Yoga program. Before, Roberts looked in terrible shape and was battling drugs and alcohol problems which resulted in many embarrassing in-ring moments in the indies. During his rehabilitation period, Roberts aimed to get In shape so he could enter the 2014 Royal Rumble. He wasn’t able to accomplish this goal but did make a surprise return on RAW. Roberts still desires to make a WWE in-ring appearance even if it’s a one off match. It is definitely a possibility that he returns as a Rumble entrant if he stays clean and in shape and on the WWE’s good side.
10 Rey Mysterio
The beloved Rey Mysterio has been a long-time staple of the WWE since he had debuted with much fanfare in 2002. Mysterio parted ways with the company in 2015 to return to his Mexican roots in AAA and recently has signed to become a part of the Lucha Underground promotion and TV show. Mysterio has battled a lot of injuries and mileage on his body but still can go in the ring and his run with the WWE really ended sort of abruptly and without a proper farewell. It would be a delight for the fans to have Mysterio return to have a farewell tour of sorts against the current stars especially with the Cruiserweight Division back in full bloom. Mysterio is still on good terms with the company. Rey is a sure-fire Hall of Famer to be so it’s really not a matter of “if” on a return, but “when”.
Batista became one of the top WWE stars in the past Attitude-era landscape along with Randy Orton and John Cena but after not enjoying the direction of the company and wanting to pursue other ventures, Batista parted ways in 2010. Batista made a return in 2014 after dabbling in MMA and Movies and won the Royal Rumble. The win was not received well and after having a less than memorable Evolution reboot with Randy Orton and Triple H, he’d leave the company once again. Batista likely at peace with his WWE career if he never came back since his Hollywood career is doing well but he has stated in interviews that he’d come back if the situation was appealing enough for him. He recently turned down an offer at WrestleMania 32 as a special ref since he thought it wasn’t meaningful enough of a role. So if WWE finds a big enough role for him to play (like maybe fighting Brock Lesnar or Goldberg?) we may see the Animal once again.
8 Jeff Hardy
The charismatic enigma has had several departures and returns with the WWE over the years and could be another big star from the past who returns to the roster for another run. Hardy has proved that even if he disappears for a while like he did in 2003 the first time he left WWE that he could come back and pick up right where he left off with his popularity. Hardy’s last run was in 2009 and he’s been working for TNA ever since. His main gripes is the WWE’s grueling schedule but with the way WWE is giving part-timers contracts and working less dates, Hardy is a star that could definitely fit the mold of being a big enough marquee name to warrant part-time status. His style would also mesh well with the current crop of talent and make for some big money matches that would benefit him and the company (matches versus Sami Zayn? Kevin Owens? Seth Rollins? Shinsuke Nakamura!?).
7 Trish Stratus
Trish Stratus is one of the most successful WWE Divas ever having first come into the WWE as a model with no wrestling experience and developing into a solid in-ring competitor which earned her a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame. Trish retired in 2006 and settled into a role as a family woman as well as opening her own Yoga Studio. She has returned to WWE as a Tough Enough trainer and even for a one-off match in 2011 at WrestleMania as part of a six person tag match. Stratus still looks ageless, looking to be in great physical condition much like Lita earlier in this list and it would definitely be nice to see her as a returning legend taking on the big women stars of the current generation like Charlotte, Sasha Banks or Becky Lynch. Whether it’d be a one-off contest or a short run, Trish would certainly excite the crowd with a big time comeback.
6 Ken Shamrock
Over the years there’s been a wide plethora of superstars of the past who have made returns to the WWE in different capacities but the World’s Most Dangerous Man hasn’t been one of them. Shamrock was a staple of the Attitude Era and was an intense competitor who won the 1998 King of The Ring and wrestled with some of the greats of the time in HBK, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker. Shamrock has stated in interviews that a beef with Triple H may be preventing a return since he has shown interest in returning to WWE. Whatever the case may be, Shamrock still looks ripped like he was in his wrestling days because of his MMA training as he is still fighting to this day. His MMA record has taken a hit due to his age so it may be better for his legacy if he would come back to wrestling rather than the Octagon.
5 Kurt Angle
Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle is another big name that fans have been clamoring about, wanting him to return to the WWE for one last run before he hangs it up for good. It’s actually quite mind-boggling for Angle to be known mostly for his time in WWE having now been in TNA longer than he ever was in the WWE having wrestled for WWE for 7 years from 1999-2006 and having been in TNA for nearly 10 years from 2006-2015. Angle has shown interest in returning on numerous occasions but the WWE hasn’t shown enough interest, citing health reasons and personal issues angle has had as why they haven’t brought him back. Angle is trying to keep clean though with hopes to at least retire after a farewell run with WWE. Will it happen? Angle is still in great shape wrestling in the indies so time will tell.
4 CM Punk
Everyone who hasn’t been under a rock knows about CM Punk and his controversial departure from the WWE at the beginning of 2014 after being with the company for 8 years. Punk was burnt out with the company’s schedule and the direction it was going and finally enough was enough. Though Punk has been gone for over two years, his name is still chanted at shows. Punk appears to be at peace with his post-WWE life, dabbling in comic book writing as well as pursuing an MMA career. While Punk has been adamant that he wants to never come back to WWE, with how his MMA career is going, it may be in his best interest to be somewhere where he can still make big money. Punk could perhaps return with a similar deal that Lesnar enjoys, wrestling on a very limited schedule. Either way, Punk’s legion of fans would love to see “The Best In The World” back in the WWE.
3 Hulk Hogan
When you say the name “Hulk Hogan” you immediately think wrestling, and the WWE in particular. That’s where Hogan put WWE on the map and became a mainstream superstar. And while Hogan is up there in age, he has been adamant that he has one more big WrestleMania match left in him and has long stated that he’d love to headline one more big show versus John Cena. While right now at the moment the WWE has essentially blackballed Hogan since the release of his sex tape and all the controversy that came with it going public, after he won the case and cleared his name, that opened the doors for a potential return down the road. Would it be in a wrestling capacity? Probably not but don’t tell that to Hogan who still looks in wrestling shape despite the wear and tear of years of taking bumps and will not let go the idea of headlining a Main Event one more time no matter how old he gets.
2 Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels hung up his boots for good in 2010 after losing a retirement match to the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI, closing the book on an amazing career, or did he? Fans have still been holding out hope the Shawn Michaels steps out of retirement for one more match. A couple of years back they were hoping he’d get back in the ring with Daniel Bryan and now they are hoping he comes out of retirement to face AJ Styles. HBK however is at peace with his career and no matter how appealing a return would be, he doesn’t want to go back on his word that the Taker match would be his last. Shawn Michaels is enjoying retirement and is now enjoying a big role as a head trainer for NXT. If he ever did come back in the ring, fans are pretty sure he’d do great no matter his age since he has always maintained in good shape.
1 "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
The return of the rattlesnake is perhaps the biggest in-ring return that has yet to happen. Ever since his retirement match at WrestleMania vs. The Rock in 2003 fans have had hope that he'd return in some form or fashion in the ring for another match. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin has said in interviews that he is at peace with his post-wrestling career. Austin has carved a niche with a decent movie career and TV show and podcast host so he’s not hurting for a large payday. Austin also looks to be in good shape and while he has been enticed to consider a return match, his high standards for himself is keeping him from biting on an opportunity. Has the ship sailed? Probably. Probably not. Regardless, fans would go bonkers to see Austin don his black tights and black boots again, stomp a mudhole in someone and hit a Stunner for old time’s sake.