Much like in the world of soap operas, just because a WWE superstar is gone, doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance they’ll return one day. The WWE is full of unnaturally gifted athletes and performers and while that can be a blessing, it also means that the organization doesn’t always have the room to showcase everyone the way they deserve to be. This often leads to talent looking to greener pastures in other promotions or on the independent circuit. However, if a superstar can connect with fans or prove themselves outside of the corporation, the door is always open for their eventual return when the time is right.
Conversely, the time also comes in every wrestler’s career when they have to hang up their wrestling boots for good. That certainly seemed to be the case with The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33, who capped off an eventful Mania by folding up his iconic hat and coat and leaving them behind in the ring.
As the wrestling year comes to a close, it’s time to look to 2018 and all the possibilities it may bring from which WWE veterans could be the next Hardy Boyz or Kane, shocking fans with a return for one last victory lap in a WWE ring, as well as which superstars will pull an Undertaker and bid farewell to the WWE Universe. The following list examines eight superstars who could very well be back in action soon as well as seven performers whose careers seem to be coming to a close.
15 Return: The Undertaker
When The Undertaker stepped into the ring with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33, few could have predicted they’d be witnessing The Phenom’s “retirement match.” However, after suffering only his second WrestleMania loss ever and seemingly bidding fans farewell one last time before literally disappearing into the stage, Taker certainly made it seem like he was taking his final bow. However, with that said, we all know you can’t keep a Deadman down.
Rumors have already started to circulate that The Undertaker is readying to take one last ride and with the wrestling icon scheduled to appear at Monday Night Raw’s 25th anniversary show just before the kickoff of the WrestleMania season. It’s not hard to imagine him booking a match on the grandest stage of them all. A return would make sense. Taker’s last appearance was never built up as his retirement match, meaning fans were robbed of knowing they were witnessing the end of an era. Seeing as the WWE Universe has long campaigned for the four-time WWE Champion to have his WrestleMania moment with John Cena, it’s hard to think of a more perfect person (aside from Sting of course), for the legend to have his true retirement match with.
14 Retire: John Cena
That’s right, soon enough you really won’t be able to see him. For 15 years, John Cena has been the face that runs the place in the WWE. He’s won the WWE Championship an unprecedented 16 times, participated in more classic matches than most wrestlers could dream of and pretty much conquered everything there is to be conquered in the world of professional wrestling. And with Hollywood beckoning, it should come as no surprise that Cena’s tenure as WWE superstar is coming to an end.
The leader of Cenation has already begun to prepare fans for his eventual leave, having been working on a part-time schedule for the past two years as he pursues more high-profile projects and attempts to transition into a Hollywood leading man much in the way the previous face of the WWE, The Rock has. Don’t be surprised if Cena’s WrestleMania match next year is built up to be his last. Unless of course the Bumblebee movie falls through.
13 Return: Hulk Hogan
What you gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on you? That’s a phrase WWE fans haven’t heard in more than two years. However, that all might change in 2018, even if some fans wish it wouldn’t. The Hulkster was unceremoniously terminated from his contract with the wrestling giant in 2015 after audio tapes leaked of Hogan making racist and offensive comments. And while the organization swiftly erased him from their website and reaffirmed their commitment to “embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds,” Triple H has confirmed that he’d be open to a Hulk Hogan return.
At this point, it seems like the question is when Hogan will grace WWE screens once again rather than if and if 2018’s the year, WrestleMania seems like the perfect stage for his homecoming, a time when many legends and Hall of Famers dust off their boots for a nostalgic appearance. Even if, said return would put many members of the WWE Universe in an uncomfortable position.
12 Retire: Daniel Bryan
Technically speaking, this next performer is already retired. When Daniel Bryan tearfully announced his retirement from competition in 2016, having sustained too many concussions over the course of his career, fans feared they’d never seen him in a wrestling ring again. Thankfully, Bryan has remained an active part of WWE television, serving as the General Manager of SmackDown Live, however the purveyor of the ‘Yes’ chant may be retiring from that role shortly as well.
As Bryan’s WWE contract nears its end, the Total Bellas star has admitted that he’s itching to get back in the ring and if the WWE won’t let him, he’ll just have to go somewhere that will. Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro-Wrestling have both been floated as possible new homes for the three-time WWE champion. However, if he’s unable to find a promotion willing to overlook his troubling medical prognosis, he may just have to hang up his boots for good.
11 Return: Bobby Lashley
Few wrestlers working today have become bigger stars since leaving the WWE than Bobby Lashley. After his 2005 debut, the powerhouse was positioned as the company’s next big thing thanks to his Brock Lesnar-like stature, athletic background and superstar good looks. However, Lashley failed to connect with fans and was released from his contract in 2008. Little did he know, the move would be the best thing to ever happen to him, having since become a veritable star in the Mixed Martial Arts world as well as the independent wrestling scene.
Lashley has been a dominant force in MMA, the Bellator-signed fighter still undefeated, leveraging that credibility into becoming one of Impact Wrestling’s biggest stars. Having proven himself worthy of the hype the WWE heaped on him all those years ago, it goes without saying the company would love to welcome him back into their ranks. The question is, would Lashley rather be a big fish in a small pond or does he want to prove that he can conquer the biggest wrestling company in the world?
10 Retire: Kurt Angle
While it probably seems like we just got Kurt Angle back, having made his triumphant return to the WWE roster earlier this year after more than a decade, the Olympic gold medalist’s WWE stay could be an abbreviated one. Much like Daniel Bryan, the wrestling giant has tried to limit Angle’s time in the ring due to his history of neck injuries.
While he’s currently enjoying a run as the General Manager of Raw, Angle is now competing sporadically in matches, having wrestled at TLC and Survivor Series. It also seems he's set to face Triple H at WrestleMania 34. At 49 years old, Angle is far closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning so he’ll likely want to make the most of the limited time he has left in the competitive scene.
9 Return: Trish Stratus
It’s been four years since the WWE got a dose of Stratusfaction but that could all change very soon. When the Hall of Famer packed up her boots in 2006 and said goodbye to the wrestling world, she did so having become one of the most decorated and celebrated women to ever step foot in a wrestling ring, having won the WWE Women’s Championship a record breaking seven times. So it goes without saying, fans have been eager for her return ever since.
It’s a return the WWE seems very interested in making a reality. In fact, there were rumblings that before Mickie James was offered her match against Asuka at last year’s NXT TakeOver: Toronto, the company had hoped Stratus would return for the match. Rumors also suggested the wrestling giant had reached out to the Diva of the Decade recipient about making an appearance at this year’s WrestleMania, however, Stratus has remained focused on her family in recent years.
Still, the Toronto-native hasn’t ruled out a return to the ring entirely, saying in a 2016 interview that she’d return on the condition she could do something different and play a heel again. The fitness guru has also expressed an interest in working with Ronda Rousey and with the UFC great primed for her WWE debut, Stratus’s return may not be far behind.
8 Retire: Mickie James
When Mickie James made her anticipated main roster return earlier this year, many assumed it meant big things for the beloved women’s grappler, hoping to see her lock up in feuds with Women’s Revolution leaders like Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair and finally get some retribution for that humiliating Piggy James angle she was forced to partake in during her last WWE run. However, nearly 11 months later, to say fans have been disappointed with her return would be a massive understatement.
James has spent the majority of the year largely forgotten, used mostly in meaningless tag matches or six-pack challenges. Her lone title program with Alexa Bliss amounting to her being called “grandma” and being repeatedly reminded that she was older than many of the women in her division. While the Mickie James of six years ago may have taken this mistreatment from the WWE lying down, don’t expect today’s James to. In fact, should her run continue to be as inglorious as it is now, it wouldn’t be surprising if the six-time Women’s Champion asked for her release.
7 Return: Kaitlyn
While the Women’s Revolution is currently out in full force, perhaps one of the most underrated contributors to it is Kaitlyn. The fitness model had a WWE-ready look and great chemistry with many of her foes (including real-life best friend AJ Lee), but found herself overshadowed by more accomplished performers like Lee, Paige and the Bella Twins. After leaving the company in 2014, Kaitlyn returned to the fitness modelling scene and tried to expand her fitness brand.
However, recent rumors indicate that the former Diva’s Champion could be gearing up for a comeback. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported recently that there have been internal discussions about bringing Kaitlyn back for the first time in nearly four years. The Texas-native has only added fuel to the speculation, posting photos of her wrestling training for the first time since stepping away from the organization. Don’t be surprised if 2018 marks the return of Kaitlyn.
6 Retire: Kane
For more than two decades Glenn Jacobs has thrilled WWE fans as Kane, the demonic pyromaniac who’s sometimes tortured anti-hero, sometimes evil incarnated. But there comes a time in every man’s career when he has to put down the lighter and say goodbye to the WWE Universe one last time and this certainly feels like that time. The Big Red Machine has spent much of 2017 away from the ring, having announced his intention to run for Mayor of Knox County, Tennessee and seeing as political press conferences and chokeslams don’t mix, it stands to reason that The Brother of Destruction will be officially retiring from wrestling should he win.
Kane recently made his dramatic return to Monday Night Raw, headlining the chaotic Tables, Ladders and Chairs match against The Shield and Kurt Angle at TLC, however, this feels more like the former WWE Champion’s swan song rather than the next phase in his career. The powerhouse is currently being built-up for a feud with Braun Strowman and really, what better way to say goodbye to Kane than by him passing the torch to the WWE’s newest destructive monster?
5 Return: Batista
If you remember Batista’s last WWE run, then you probably recall that it didn’t go so well. In fact, The Animal has referred to his 2014 return to the company as a “nightmare,” criticizing the creative decisions made by the company and saying it was a daily struggle just to put on the type of matches and stories he wanted to tell. However, as anyone who follows wrestling can tell you, just because someone says they’re never coming back, doesn’t make it so.
On a recent episode of Chris Jericho’s podcast Talk Is Jericho, the former WWE Champion admitted that he misses professional wrestling and even revealed that he’s talked to Vince McMahon about returning to the ring under one condition. Batista says that he’ll only step back into a WWE ring to do one final program with Triple H. While the likelihood of this happening remains to be seen, should the fan favorite need to promote the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie, the company could find it a mutually beneficial opportunity.
4 Retire: Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar captured the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 33 and while he’s only defended the title three times since then, he’s certainly been a dominant force in the company, steamrolling over the biggest beasts in the division like Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns. However, sometime soon (likely WrestleMania 34), Lesnar will have to drop his title to someone else (likely Reigns) and when that day comes, you might not see Lesnar around anymore.
Anyone who knows Lesnar’s pattern knows that the Beast Incarnate doesn’t tend to stick around after losing the championship, not one to involve himself in storylines that aren’t main event caliber. However, over the past year, Lesnar has seemed increasingly bored with his position in the WWE. Despite being champion, he’s made only sporadic appearances on WWE programming and rumors have suggested that the behemoth is ready to put wrestling in his rear-view, wanting instead to return to Mixed Martial Arts. This could very well make WrestleMania 34 his retirement match.
3 Return: Kharma
One of the greatest travesties in modern wrestling is that Kharma was never given a proper run in the WWE. The groundbreaking women’s wrestler (who won audiences over as Awesome Kong in TNA) debuted to much fanfare in 2011, only to have her run cut short just four weeks in after discovering she was pregnant. Kharma would tragically miscarry late into her pregnancy and was later released by the WWE after it was determined she was mentally unready to return. However, fans have always been left to wonder what would have happened were she truly given a chance to shine in the company.
With women’s wrestling finally being given a real showcase on WWE programming, the timing seems perfect for Kharma to make her return should she be able to work a schedule out with her current role on the Netflix wrestling comedy, GLOW. The powerhouse has even recently done work with the wrestling giant, having participated in the Mae Young Classic finale with her GLOW co-stars this summer. Frankly, we can’t think of a better way to promote their second season.
2 Retire: The Big Show
This next entry shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s been watching WWE programming as of late. For nearly 20 years, Big Show has been one of the company’s most reliable powerhouses, used to get over many an up-and-comer. However, as the larger-than-life wrestler has gotten older, his body has shown signs of fatigue. While he seemed to be in some of the best shape of his career before WrestleMania this year, Show was written off television in a September episode of Raw after being thrown through a steel cage by Braun Strowman, reportedly so that the superstar could undergo much needed hip surgery.
With him being given less and less of value to do and his body no longer cooperating the way it once was, the writing is on the wall that Big Show may not be the fixture on WWE TV he once was. And while he’ll likely make a return to television once he’s healed from his surgery, it wouldn’t be surprising if that return was meant to facilitate a retirement angle.
1 Return: Zack Sabre Jr.
One of the biggest standouts of last year’s extremely popular Cruiserweight Classic was fan favorite UK import Zack Sabre Jr. The British-native was apart of several of the tournament’s best matches with many eagerly awaiting seeing Sabre Jr. go toe-to-toe with the series other major standout, Kota Ibushi. It was the narrative that seemed like the natural end of the competition so imagine fans’ surprise when neither performer advanced to the tournament finals.
It was eventually reported of course, that the reason Sabre Jr. vs. Ibushi never materialized was due to the fact that neither agreed to sign WWE contracts that would make them apart of their full-time cruiserweight roster (a move most would now agree was a smart one), however that doesn’t mean that fans still don’t hope they’ll change their minds. Both wrestlers have remained atop WWE fans’ list of dream signees and while neither indie darling is necessarily hurting in their respective careers, with the cruiserweight division in desperate need of a facelift, the WWE would likely be very interested in grooming either performer to serve as the division’s new star. Out of the two, we’re going with Sabre Jr.