Everyone loves a a great return. Wrestling thrills us with its surprises and plot twists, so bringing back a favorite superstar fits their entertainment formula perfectly. That initial pop when we see them for the first time in a long time can be downright chilling. And usually they're coming back to kick some serious ass.
Whether they're from the active roster or a blast from the past, we love it all. WrestleMania 31's Sting/Triple H fantasy match leaned heavily on fan service and nostalgia, pulling out all the stops by the finish. Just seeing Sting at WrestleMania was a surreal wrestling moment, but what came next was Twitter-shattering. DX blew the roof off and the nWOowith Hogan as only a third of that took it to a whole other level. To cap it off with an HBK super kick was nostalgia overload. The WWE knows that can be a wonderful asset and WrestleMania is the perfect place to indulge in it. Just imagine if we could have had this for the Invasion angle in 2001! It could have been the greatest angle of all time. Sting, Nash, Hall, and Hogan invading the WWE closer to their prime wrestling ages would have made serious money and united the wrestling world under one umbrella.
A recent strategy by the WWE has been to use some of its biggest stars sparingly. Brock Lesnar was only coming back on a reduced work schedule, The Rock is busy conquering Hollywood and The Undertaker has long been used sparingly as an attraction piece. For The Undertaker especially, it protects his mystique as he has obviously aged and too much exposure could hurt his drawing power. This can have a negative affect as well. Poor Bray Wyatt had to build their WrestleMania 31 match all on his own, though Wyatt's promos generally lack any wrestler-specifics so he turned out to be pretty good feuding with himself.
Which returns will we see in the future? With WWE looking to crack 100,000 for WrestleMania in Texas they'll need to pull out all the stops. The Texas Rattlesnake himself Steve Austin would be an incredible draw for the card. He has stated numerous times he is 100% done, but the worked finish to his Paul Heyman interview seemed to suggest a potential feud with Heyman's client: Brock Lesnar. Their styles would match up wonderfully, with Austin's stubborn mentality taking a load of punishment and dishing it right back. Austin is a self-made man at this point, but that could be a payday too tempting to pass up.
But that's not until next year. Until then, lets take a look at the 15 most epic returns in wrestling history!
17 Hulk Hogan fights more foreigners
When guys named Muhammad put innocent Americans into a Camel Clutch, well you just know the Hulkster can't be too far away. And after being inducted into the HOF the previous night, Hogan made a nostalgic return to once again smash two 'foreigners' heads together like coconuts.
In light of the recent 'Hogan is a racist' firestorm, it's unsettling to go back and see how many times Hulk was tasked with defeating 'evil' villains of a different race.
16 Shawn Michaels joins the nWo - 2002
This was a weird one and is almost better left forgotten. Michaels wanted to jump ship with Nash and Hall way back in '96 but was contractually obligated to the WWE. He finally got his wish to join his Kliq-mates in their New World Order. After missing action for a year, fans were blown away to hear HBK's pervy song announce his induction into the group.
This is also a very odd period for HBK's hair. He had recently chopped off his long locks and was in the awkward process of growing it back. He tried to toughen up his soccer mom hairdo with 'tough' black beret on backwards but looking back it all seems like a bad dream.
14 The Undertaker - Judgement Day 2000
Wow, the roar from the crowd is incredible. Security must have been worried that the rabid fans were going to storm the ring and help 'Taker whup some ass.
This was the also the debut of his new American Badass character. After eight months off from a legitimate injury, he decided to update his image away from the supernatural powers of the Deadman towards a more humanized version. Kevin Nash has interestingly said that perhaps it was done to show WCW that he could still be a valuable and exciting performer without his WWE-owned Undertaker gimmick. It's an intriguing theory but it was more likely just a sign of the times. Wrestling had become more realistic, street clothes were replacing wrestling tights etc... Undertaker had rocked his superpowers since 1990 and did well to freshen things up.
12 Stone Cold - Backlash 2000
The toughest SOB in the WWE finally decided to have neck surgery two YEARS after the Owen Hart piledriver. This put him out of action for nine months before his return at Backlash.
With Triple H assisted by McMahon and his cronies, The Rock was being beaten mercilessly in the championship match. Vince ordered the ref to count to three after the final chair shot and victory seemed all but assured. But of course, The Texas Rattlesnake would return to give everyone a chairshot of their own The hilarious part is that after he cleaned house, he immediately left. Two minutes of work, zero bumps taken, and every fan in the house popped all to hell. Not a bad night of work.
11 Triple H - RAW, 2002
On the WWE special 'My Most Memorable RAW Moment', Triple H reminisces about his epic return from the quad injury. The grueling rehab and absence took a toll on him and the WWE. It's arguable that the Invasion Angle suffered greatly without him as a top WWE performer.
Perhaps Levesque reads too much of the internet hate directed his way because he admits to being nervous before the comeback. He feared that his music would hit and it would be 'crickets'.
He had nothing to worry about as the fans love returns and they still loved The Game.
An interesting note on that special is that Levesque and Cena both remembered moments that they were involved in directly, while Daniel Bryan unselfishly mentioned the incredible Rockers breakup and thrilling match on the first season of RAW.
10 Ric Flair - RAW, 2001
They really could have used him during the Invasion Angle, but better late then never. Even though Flair wrestled for McMahon briefly in the early 90s he was always Mr. WCW. A white-blonde symbol of southern 'rasslin. So it was a huge shock to hear his music played once again at a WWE event. It was an even bigger shock to hear that he was now the co-owner of his once-rival WWE!
To top it off, this all took place in Flair-country of Charlotte, North Carolina. The segment ended with Flair and Austin (a former WCW TV Champion) standing tall in McMahon's ring. A surreal sight for wrestling fans indeed.
9 The Ultimate Warrior - WrestleMania VIII
This was a great 'Mania featuring some great matches and an interesting mashup of two colliding generations. It would be the last WrestleMania (omitting his 30-second victory over Yokozuna) headlined by Hogan and featuring Gorilla Monsoon on lead commentary. It would be the first 'Mania to feature Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, and his brother Owen as prominent singles competitors. Bret and Roddy Piper had the match of the night in a bout that most represented the transitional period.
Of course The Ultimate Warrior's return had absolutely nothing to do with 'match of the night'. He appeared right at the end, to save Hogan and give the crowd a happy ending. But a Papa Shango botch almost derailed the finish. Shango didn't get down to the ring in time to break up the pin and Sid was forced to kick out of Hogan's finish (bet Hogan loved that). Wippleman interfered to cover for Shango as they confusingly rung the bell to signal a DQ. Shango eventually entered the ring so The Warrior could play his music and save the day.
The odd part is that that the Fink still announced the match a DQ 'due to interference from Papa Shango' although they rang the bell LONG before he even arrived. A total cluster that was saved by quick improvisation.
By WrestleMania X the identity of the company would completely change and would continue to change drastically as the years went on.
8 Matt Hardy - 2005
Hardy went from the exciting and dangerous tag team success to a decently successful singles run on Smackdown. But when he switched over to Raw to be closer to his then-girlfriend Lita, it all went to hell. His injury and Lita's affair got real messy and he was cruelly fired. The WWE thought they could cash-in on the real-life drama and decided to bring him back for the angle.
It was quite satisfying to see Edge and Lita walking so smugly backstage before getting clocked by Hardy. His return had a huge impact, as he called Lita a 'whore' and really turned the crowd against her in the later part of her career.
The whole thing felt like an episode of Cops with Hardy's southern drawl calling out his former friend and lover while being arrested by the WWE 'police'.
7 Mick Foley - Royal Rumble 2004
Will there ever be another Foley? He had the body of an amateur bowler, yet is considered one of the greatest that ever competed. His willingness to sacrifice his body coupled with his outstanding character work will resonate with fans for decades to come. He was a wildman that clicked with crowds as the consummate underdog.
When Test failed to enter to his music and was shown beaten backstage, Austin told a mystery wrestler off-camera to take his spot. Fans didn't know what to expect and were pleasantly surprised with Foley's dynamite entrance. He battered Randy Orton street fight style before showing his usual disregard for himself as he eliminated both Orton and himself.
It was great to see the fans giving Foley some love.
6 Sting - Uncencored '97
Vigilante Sting battling the nWo was one of the best ideas to come out of WCW and the reason they were able to compete with the WWE. After months of the nWo's bullying tactics, the WCW good guys seemed badly outnumbered. Hogan and his cronies were a black and white steam roller, crushing anyone who got in their way.
After disappearing for a lengthy period, Sting finally returned to kick some nWo ass. It was a fantastically cathartic moment to end a sloppy main event. Sting's rappel return was the sort of high stakes drama they needed to truly play with the 'big boys'.
5 Chris Jericho - RAW 2007
Jericho had one of the greatest ever debuts in WWE history. His Y2J countdown leading into his badass 'Break the Walls Down' theme was a blatant symbol of how the WWE blew WCW away in how they recognized and utilized talent. He's also had some of the best returns in company history as well.
His second coming to RAW in 2007 to save us from the boredom of Orton was greeted with as much excitement as confusion over his new look. Only Jericho could get away with that getup. His sparkly vest would be perfect for a magician or gigolo, not too mention his snappy (also sparkly) wallet chain.
Clothes aside, Jericho made it work, and the fans were happy to have him back.
4 Brock Lesnar - RAW 2012
The Raw after WrestleMania is always special. The international crowd that flies in for wrestling's biggest event sticks around to make it a multi-day party. This creates a festival feel and Raw becomes the ultimate after-party. It's not uncommon for the crowd to completely hijack the show with chants and deafening noise.
This post-WrestleMania RAW had the added boost of Lesnar's explosive return. After leaving the WWE years earlier to conquer the UFC, he surprised everyone by returning to the WWE. He would immediately kick off his comeback with a great feud and match with Cena, but his return soon floundered in a plodding angle with Triple H.
Lesnar is still one of the top dogs in the WWE and remains a solid attraction the company will continue to bank on.
3 Vince McMahon - RAW 2000
It's downright weird to hear the crowd cheering for Vince. Ever since the Montreal Screwjob, he has been the epitome of evil. But this time Vince was coming to assure justice in the ring for The Rock and the crowd was loving it. The best part is when HHH and Stephanie see it on the monitor and they jump off the couch like trouble-making teenagers do when their parents come home earlier than expected. To one-punch his son-in-law without breaking stride must have felt pretty good. To smash an incredible chair shot to his son must have felt even better.
2 John Cena - Royal Rumble 2008
The Royal Rumble is a great place for returns and this was one of the best.
Fans had gotten smarter to the business by this point and the WWE used this to swerve them even harder. Since Cena was legitimately injured in real life and wasn't due back until later in the year, his comeback was truly shocking. Also, it's quite rare for the 30th entrant in a Rumble to win the match (although Undertaker became the first to do it the previous year).
Cena also broke Brock's record for shortest Rumble participation time for a winner (not impressive, but worth noting).
1 The Rock - RAW 2011
This one was handled masterfully. First they swerved everyone with the image of high heels exiting the car. Then they milked the announcement as long as they could, gradually knocking out all the lights and using silence and darkness to get the fans pumped. They were so excited before his music hit that it had to be someone big or they would have booed like crazy. Of course it was one of the biggest names in WWE history who had recently conquered Hollywood. He was/is a true crossover megastar and fans were proud of what their former Prince Maivia had accomplished in and outside the WWE.
To return after seven years was a near religious experience.