If there's one thing WWE fans love more than anything, it's the return of a professional wrestler back into the spotlight. Returns often see the biggest cheers of any night - be it on Raw, SmackDown (although admittedly, the WWE rarely bring stars back on SmackDown) or even on pay-per-view. We saw that recently with the debut of Sting - if you give the fans something they haven't seen for a while, they will eat it up like putty in your hands.
This year saw some pretty substantial returns too - with Batista making his return to the company after a significant absence, as well as plenty of guys returning from injury. Roman Reigns was the most recent of those, making his comeback at TLC following a lay-off after hernia surgery. With the calendar year almost over, wrestling fans are starting to look at what 2015 could potentially have in store regarding returning stars - and there are definitely plenty to choose from. You've got guys that have been away from the company for a good few years, as well as the clutch of stars who've been sitting on the injured list, ticking off the days to their eventual return.
Of course, the challenge for the WWE is to bring the returning stars back in the right manner - something they didn't quite nail with guys like Batista in 2014. Others were more successful, though - think to The Rock's surprise return on Raw when he cut a fantastic promo on Rusev. When wrestlers are returning on a full-time basis though, the return has to be executed perfectly if it is to kick off a strong run with the company again. There are lots of contenders to launch a return to the WWE in 2015 - here are the ten that seem more likely to do so than anyone else.
10 Zack Ryder
We start with a guy who many people may have forgotten was even on the WWE roster these days, Zack Ryder. It's only a couple of years since Ryder was massively over amongst WWE fans, after taking the Internet by storm (even declaring himself the Internet Champion in the process). However, he's endured a lean 12 months, and has been forced to undergo surgery to get him fit for 2015. After sporadic, brief appearances in the past 12 months, will Ryder's latest return be any better than his recent runs?
9 Rob Van Dam
It's now as traditional as Easter and Christmas for Rob Van Dam to enjoy a return to WWE, with him often coming back for short periods to entertain wrestling fans all over the world. RVD has still got it even at the age of 43 - but his recent runs with WWE haven't exactly been successful. He had a nice feud going on with Bad News Barrett for the Intercontinental Championship, but it was quickly dropped, leaving Van Dam floating around the card wrestling in random matches. Should the WWE decide to bring the ECW legend back for another spell, let's hope that he gets a worthwhile rivalry to give him some relevance.
This might be a bit of a left-field selection to some, but there is talk linking former Diva Maryse with a return to the WWE in the near future. WWE.com posted an article inviting fans to vote on the best current power couple in the company - and Maryse and her husband The Miz were included in the poll. That prompted The Miz to tweet about it, suggesting that there could be a return for Maryse to the company in the coming months. Given how The Miz is currently involved in a storyline with Naomi and Jimmy Uso, maybe the WWE are building up to bring Maryse in by her husband's side?
The brawling Irishman has been out of action since early November, after being written out of the company's storylines following an attack by Rusev and Mark Henry. In truth though, it feels like Sheamus hasn't really been involved in anything substantial for a good couple of years now, given his fall from grace. When he does return from his legitimate surgery, it will be interesting to see if the WWE brings him back as a heel. Those were arguably his best days, when he quickly elevated to WWE Champion as a guy who took no prisoners. Sheamus as a babyface just isn't working, so when he does return, the WWE needs to book him right.
Of all the returns in 2014, none went quite as badly as Batista's. There was initially huge hype surrounding his return - and given how he'd been away from the company for four years, that was to be expected. However, the WWE made a booking disaster when they pinned the Royal Rumble on Batista instead of Daniel Bryan, leading to him being roundly booed every time he came from behind the curtain. He did eventually turn heel alongside Evolution, but the damage had already been done. Even Batista has said in recent interviews, he felt it was a huge mistake to come back as a babyface. Batista is currently shooting the new James Bond movie - where he will play one of the villains - and when he's done with that, you would imagine a return to WWE will again be on the cards. Batista has also said he'd like one last match at WrestleMania with Triple H.
5 Bad News Barrett
Bad News Barrett made a brief appearance on WWE TV back in November, when he appeared as a face on the pre-show of Survivor Series. Given how well his gimmick took off before that unfortunate injury that ruled him out for five months, that was smart from the WWE. Barrett could be a brilliant face with his gimmick, potentially delivering bad news to some of the company's top heels. Barrett has had some pretty relevant storylines without ever managing to break into the top end of the card in WWE - so could 2015 be his year?
4 Stone Cold Steve Austin
We saw Steve Austin at WrestleMania XXX, when he appeared in that iconic opening segment with The Rock and Hulk Hogan. That unfortunately was all we got of Austin that particular evening, but we could we be about to get more in 2015? It's well known that fans want Austin to lace up his boots one more time, but with Austin just turning 50, that window of opportunity is closing. Austin gave hopes of a return to the WWE when he filmed his podcast with Vince McMahon on the WWE Network earlier this month, too. Whether it's in a wrestling or a non-wrestling role, Steve Austin could become much more prominent on our screens over the next 12 months - here's hoping, anyway.
3 Bubba Ray Dudley
When Bubba Ray Dudley (real name Mark LaMonaco) was taking the WWE tag division by storm at the turn of the century, the thought of him becoming a top solo star was unthinkable. However, Bubba - who then became Bully Ray - went to TNA and impressed, ascending to TNA World Heavyweight Champion along the way. He's now left the company, sparking talk of a return to WWE in 2015. It would be interesting to see what the company did with him should he return, and how much of a push they would give him. Given his success with TNA as a solo star though, it'd be a surprise if the WWE didn't give him a chance at the head of the company - especially with a serious lack of top talent in the main event scene. Perhaps the WWE can bring him in along with D-Von and give the Dudley Boyz one last run in the tag team division.
2 The Undertaker
After his defeat to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XXX, many assumed that was it for The Undertaker. After all, he didn't have a streak to come back and defend, so it seemed like there was little point in him returning to the company again in 2015. Well, the WWE's promotional material for WrestleMania 31 has started to go on show around California - with The Undertaker's face included on them. That has sparked talk of a return for the show this coming March - the next question is then relating to a potential opponent, of course. Sting is still a possibility given how he's not really in a rivalry of any sort yet, as are stars like Bray Wyatt. One thing is for certain though, the prospect of The Undertaker at WrestleMania once again would be music to every wrestling fan's ears.
1 Daniel Bryan
Those who were worried Daniel Bryan's popularity had waned in the WWE were given a pleasant surprise earlier this month, when Bryan's return to Raw as guest GM saw him receive huge pops from the crowd in attendance. With Bryan gradually easing his way back to a condition that will see him lace up his boots again, 2015 looks set to be (hopefully) as big a year as 2014. Bryan will immediately be thrust back into the main event scene upon his return, which will be useful, as it needs a real shot in the arm. Quite who he feuds with though is anyone's guess; perhaps The Authority will return to deny and defy Bryan all over again. Regardless of the foe though, Bryan's return to in-ring action is going to be a moment to remember. Because at one point, there was genuine concern it may have never happened.