High-profile returns to WWE are always sure to cause a buzz, regardless of who is making them. It's now a typical and expected part of any given year, becoming it's own spectacle outside of the show at hand. It's been this way for years; WWE has used it's stars of years past to make an impact on the present. Sometimes it amounts to a career revival, with the wrestler coming back full-time, and other times it leads to nothing more than embarrassment and a short shelf life.
In recent history, we've seen as many comeback attempts as ever in WWE, and they haven't let up as we prepare for the home stretch of 2017. The history of the company is always on display, and it's unlikely that they won't continue to work it into modern day storylines. Whether you consider it a cheap tactic to simply get a reaction, or good booking that sets up a great storyline, former WWE personnel returns are going to be a part of the company's foreseeable future. Let's take a look at some of the best and worst examples of them over the the past few years.
Ranked below are 8 recent WWE returns that worked, and 7 that failed.
15 15. Hardy Boyz (Worked)
Making their return at this year's WrestleMania, the Hardys came back to a bevy of fanfare. One of The Attitude Era's favorite tag teams, this was to be expected, and they were able capture the Raw Tag Team Titles in a four-way ladder match. This alone makes the return a success, just because of the amount of hype it got, and the fact that they could still go as a tag team.
Of course, Jeff and Matt have stayed relevant outside of the WWE for years, with Matt breaking new ground just before the return with the brilliant "Broken" Matt Hardy gimmick. This one was bound to be a hit with just about everyone. The Hardys are one of the most popular teams in WWE history, and they were still active wrestlers when they made the comeback. Pretty much an automatic thumbs up.
14 14. New Age Outlaws (Failed)
Technically, the Outlaws return lasted for three years starting in 2012, but really didn't begin to get any kind of traction until 2014. It was a slapdash effort to reform one of the penultimate tag teams of The Attitude Era, but unlike the Hardys reunion from this year, Billy Gunn and Road Dogg had really fallen off as capable in-ring talents. It was really just an ill-advised move, as the Outlaws had nothing left in the tank.
They were able to capture the WWE Tag Titles, but in a tag division that was devoid of much talent in 2014. This mitigated the overall effect of the title win, and nobody really bought the Outlaws, over a decade after they had wrestled their last match as a tag team. It was something just better left in the past. By 2015, they were once again out of the WWE ranks.
13 13. Shane McMahon (Worked)
Coming back as an on-screen character in 2016, the Shane-O-Mac return has been entertaining to say the least. This one really could have gone either way, Shane has proven that he's a legitimately entertaining character when used correctly, and doesn't overshadow the legitimate wrestling talent on the roster.
Since coming back, he's wrestled several high-profile matches against The Undertaker and A.J. Styles, been involved backstage, and assumed pretty much the same role as he had before. He'll be an important part of WWE moving forward, for obvious reasons of Vince's age, and all things considered, it's good that Shane is back within the realm of WWE. This is really the only company that can further his family legacy, and you can expect him to be around for the foreseeable future.
12 12. Mickie James (Failed)
This was a bad time for James to return to WWE. Since here initial departure in 2010, the Women's Division has ascended to new heights, and it's one of the most popular aspects of the roster right now. Given that she's now in her late-30s, she's no longer a top dog in that class of wrestlers, and she's been relatively quiet since making the comeback in 2016.
Then again, asking her to compete with the likes of Charlotte, Natalya and Naomi just isn't realistic at this point in her career. When James was last in WWE, there was little to no competition in the women's ranks, which obviously isn't the case now. She's facing an uphill battle to reach the top of the division again, and this return was largely forgotten about in short order. James was good in her heyday, but she can't keep up with the new generation of female wrestlers.
11 11. Jim Ross (Worked)
It was difficult not to get nostalgic at this year's WrestleMania when J.R. returned to call what could be The Undertaker's final match in a WWE ring. After the pay-per-view, it was announced that Ross had signed a two-year deal with the company, and that he would be back in some kind of a consistent capacity. He's set to do the commentary for the upcoming Mae Young Classic along with Lita.
Of course, J.R. has kept up his broadcasting in recent years working for AXS TV, broadcasting NJPW shows that air on the network. It was nice to hear him on some kind of wrestling commentary, but Ross' best work has clearly come inside of the WWE confines. It's a success just because of the nostalgia factor, and hopefully Ross gets the opportunity to call a full pay-per-view again.
10 10. Goldberg (Failed)
The just-concluded Goldberg return that began in 2016 was ultimately one of the more pointless ones in recent memory. Look, the Goldberg phenomenon in WCW was great for wrestling in the late-'90s, and it truly was one of the most exciting angles in wrestling history, but it just doesn't have the same clout that it once did. Nothing has been done to advance his character or in-ring ability over the years, and it has simply become stale.
Booking him against Brock Lesnar was one of the most ill-advised decisions of the year in 2016. It was the epitome of a quick-fix draw that had no longevity to it from the beginning. Goldberg still can't work a good match, and any appeal of his return ended up falling off quickly.
9 9. Mick Foley (Worked)
Foley's stint as Raw general manager may have been short, lasting only about a year, but it was still entertaining to see him back on regular programming. Essentially retired from in-ring work, WWE brought him back in a capacity that worked, and he still was able to cut it on the mic like he had in years past. There were no letdowns, as there could have been with a talent like Foley at his age.
Of course, it hardly stands as his best work as compared to his days as Mankind and Cactus Jack, but it was a fitting role for a former superstar who could still contribute to the product in the modern day. You won't find many wrestling fans who will object to have Foley on the screen, and it was go to see him back, even in a brief and limited role.
8 8. Rob Van Dam (Failed)
Unfortunately for fans of ECW and early-'00s WWE, the RVD comeback of 2013 really ended up going nowhere. This was another aimless comeback that did nothing to further either Van Dam, or any of his opponents that could have benefitted from facing him. Honestly, Van Dam has never been great at putting over other wrestlers, and he certainly wasn't going to start in 2013-14 with his career on the downturn.
His primary opponent during that time was Alberto Del Rio, and nothing was really accomplished by this feud. Van Dam was a poor choice of an opponent here, and after a while, it delegitimized the entire comeback effort. Van Dam would move further down the ladder until he left again for good in 2014. This one just didn't have the excitement, or the booking to be anything successful.
7 7. Chris Jericho (Worked)
It's true that Jericho's most recent comeback did begin in 2011, but it should still qualify as a great return because of the consistency he's displayed since making it. Initially one of the best wrestlers of the '90s, and then one of the premier WWE stars of the '00s, Jericho was actually able to come back and add quality work to his resume when most wrestlers would have been past their prime.
Of course, with his band Fozzy, along with other commitments, he isn't able to do a 100% full-time schedule the way that he used to. Even so, Jericho's been involved in plenty of notable feuds and matches since returning, making this WWE run a worthy addition to his track record.
6 6. Dudley Boyz (Failed)
The Dudleys returned in 2015 to much fanfare, as one would expect for one of the best tag teams of all-time. But instead of making another legitimate run, they were mainly used as enhancement talent when it came down to it. They never received another title run during this run with the company. While it was nice to them in a WWE ring again, this simply wasn't their finest hour, considering the amazing work they had done in the past.
Ultimately, they left again in 2016, right after SummerSlam. Devon would go on to work in a backstage role with WWE, while Bubba Ray currently is signed with ROH. They just didn't have much left in the tank after going to WWE for the last time in 2015. Retiring the team was probably for the best.
5 5. Kurt Angle (Worked)
As current general manager of Raw, this is another good move by WWE, to not force in-ring action on a wrestler who is past the prime of his career. Angle is definitely one of the WWE greats of the '00s, but this role is better suited to him right now, coming on the heels of his Hall Of Fame induction this year.
Sure, the whole Jason Jordan angle is questionable, and we don't really know how it will end up shaking out, but for now, Angle being the Raw GM is probably the best case scenario is they wanted him to make some kind of a comeback. We'll see how long it lasts, but for now it remains a solid addition to the WWE landscape of the moment.
4 4. Sting (Failed)
Of course WWE wouldn't be willing to seriously push Sting, who was essentially the face of the late-era NWA and WCW for all of the years they provided prime competition to Vince McMahon. WCW's "Icon" was put in half-hearted feuds, and the whole thing just seemed like it was a chore to get through in 2014 when Sting made his first WWE appearance. It was almost it was they had to do, rather than something they wanted to do.
This really would have been better off never even happening. Sting is one of the all-time greats, but he never fit in WWE, and WWE never fit him. A forced brief run in the twilight of his career wasn't going to change any of that. Maybe it wasn't botched as badly as it could have been, but it was still ill-advised.
3 3. Finn Balor (Worked)
Maybe it doesn't qualify as a true "comeback" since Balor was only away due to a serious injury sustained in 2016, but it's made a big impact on the roster. The injury was notable because Balor was forced to relinquish his recently-won WWE Universal Title, which had just been created with him as the first holder.
A big victory over Bray Wyatt at SummerSlam has Balor's stock nearly where it was at prior to the injury. He's one of the more popular wrestlers on the roster, and has a multifaceted character that could potentially see a ton of longevity. Hopefully, WWE feels that a push is warranted, as he had all the momentum in his favor before he got hurt. The next few months will tell us a lot about where Balor stands as far as being a future main-eventer is concerned.
2 2. Brock Lesnar (Failed)
Lesnar has made a business out of jumping ship to whatever promotion, in whatever sport, is willing to offer him the most money for a few one-off appearances. Between wrestling and MMA, there is no clear specialty for Lesnar, who now interchanges between them seamlessly.
He's made so many different returns to WWE over the years that it's hard to keep track of them. His most recent one however just proved how stale his character has gotten, and how stale it's been for years now. Lesnar's shtick may appeal to peripheral fans of wrestling, as it makes for a decent highlight reel, and an easily identifiable figure. But he doesn't deserve to have a main event status on the roster right now. His matches are formulaic, and despite the constant presence of the brilliant Paul Heyman as his manager, his character is boring and nonexistent.
Hopefully the next time Lesnar leaves WWE, it will be for good.
1 1. The Undertaker (Worked)
Sure, 'Taker returns every year to wrestle a match or two, but the one leading up to this year's WrestleMania was the best one in a while, and perhaps the last one we'll ever see. A WrestleMania match with Roman Reigns gave way to a gesture that suggested he may be done with wrestling for good. The Undertaker laid his trademark gloves, coat and hat in the ring following the loss to Reigns (almost nauseating to say that).
Ultimately, whether he returns to the ring or not, 'Taker is easily one of the greatest WWE superstars in history. This would be a fitting conclusion to his career (minus the losing to Roman Reigns part), and ultimately his 2017 performance was probably the best we're going to get from him at this point. Though he makes a comeback every year, this was one of the better ones we've seen since he's been on a part-time schedule.
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