The comeback story has always been a sentimental favourite. People find themselves attached to those trailing behind. Perhaps in some deep dark corner of their subconscious mind they are reminded of just how far behind they truly are in life.
The story itself usually involves a happy ending; once caught up to those ahead, the comeback is completed with absolute victory. Feel good moments allow people to feel good for a moment before turning back around and coming face-to-face with reality.
It happens in Hollywood all the time and people eat it up like nicotine-laced candy as one does not realize how addicted one has become to TMZ-style gossip. The lives of the rich and famous fascinates beyond comprehension.
It happens often in the world of sports as well. That athlete who was sidelined with devastation, told they would never compete again, only to emerge from the ashes a high-strung-mutant-Phoenix; a reinvention of oneself.
One of the most common places to indulge in these comeback stories is the world of professional wrestling where performers are hurt on the regular and forced to rebuild their bodies in an effort to regain their spot.
In the new year, wrestling fans will await the return of Seth Rollins, wondering all the while if the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion can attain the same level of success achieved prior to injury.
This particular comeback story remains to be told. However, the tales of the torn wrestler and their reestablishment within the industry are abundant. In a business where the word “retirement” means little, the comeback means so much more.
The following piece will examine some unique comeback cases. Those which have caused tears and those which have made one question the human-side of men who appear more machine than living, breathing, being.
These are the top 15 greatest professional wrestling comeback stories:
15. John Cena (Part 1)
At SummerSlam 2013, John Cena would defend the WWE Championship against his chosen opponent of Daniel Bryan in spite of his body saying otherwise, as Cena would compete while physically damaged.
The following night on Raw, John Cena – without making excuses – would show the world a nasty looking elbow and explain his situation before heading off to surgery and an estimated recovery time of four-to-six months.
However, two short months later, John Cena would return at Hell in a Cell and defeat Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship in a golden comeback.
14. The Rock
This is not a conventional professional wrestling comeback story as The Rock’s absence from WWE programming had nothing to do with injury or personal problems. The Rock was chasing bright lights in Hollywood.
On the road to WrestleMania XXVII, the WWE Universe was shocked to learn that The Rock would serve as the event’s host, finally returning to WWE after so many years away from the scene.
This is a unique comeback story as it displays a man who came and wanted more, attained more, and found a way back home.
13. Bob Backlund
The only WWE Championship reign that lasted longer than the reign of Bob Backlund was the historic run of Bruno Sammartino. When Backlund finally lost the strap in 1984, his run with WWE was coming to an end.
The next wave of Superstars had arrived and Bob Backlund was all but forgotten, not seen in WWE again until 1992 as a reinvented version of himself and poised to find a way back into the spotlight.
That same year, Bob Backlund would shock the wrestling world when he defeated Bret Hart for the WWE Championship; completing the comeback.
12. Mick Foley
At WrestleMania 2000, Mick Foley would compete in his one and only ‘Mania main event in a Fatal Four Way match for the WWE Championship which also involved Big Show, The Rock, and Triple H.
While Mick Foley would not entirely disappear from WWE following this match (Foley acted as Commissioner for some time) it would be his last bout for a while as the years of physical abuse had caught up to the Hardcore Legend.
Then in 2004 – much to the delight of fans – a young and arrogant Randy Orton would help re-ignite that Mick Foley fire and spark a comeback to competition.
11. Randy Savage
In the early 1990s, the WWE would embark on a “youth movement” in order to build its next generation of Superstars. Therefore, the older performers were left out of the equation in favour of the up-and-coming talent.
Among those left out was “Macho Man” Randy Savage who was placed at the announce table as a color commentator even though Savage felt he was still a valuable asset to the company. This would eventually lead to Savage and WWE parting ways.
Randy Savage would make his in-ring comeback over in WCW where he would not only wrestle again but become a four-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion.
10. Jake Roberts
To say that Jake “The Snake” Roberts has had problems throughout his professional wrestling career would be a gross understatement. Roberts is the embodiment of wrestler in waste.
However, thanks to Diamond Dallas Page and his clean living program, Roberts has seen a drastic change in lifestyle and has even found work wrestling once again on the independent circuit.
The most memorable point of Jake Roberts’ overall comeback would come with his appearance to conclude an episode Old School Raw.
In early 2003, Edge was beginning to come into his own as a singles competitor in WWE; leaving behind the label of “tag team specialist” and set to begin a career filled with individual glory.
However, this promise would hit a bump when Edge suffered a serious neck injury; sidelining the Superstar for quite some time and leaving a lingering question in the air in regards to his return.
It would take more than a year but Edge would make his WWE comeback and pick up where he left off en route to eleven World Championships.
8. Jim Ross
One must feel sorry for this generation of wrestling fans as they may someday very well consider Michael Cole to be the greatest play-by-play man in the history of the business. And oh, how they would be wrong.
The greatest play-by-play announcer of all time is Jim Ross. Period. In late 1998, J.R. would step away from WWE due to issues with Bell’s Palsy and his absence was felt each and every Monday night.
Months later, Jim Ross would make his comeback as a heel attempting to reclaim his position at the announce table; which of course was inevitable.
7. Bret Hart
Here in Canada, professional wrestling is massive and memories never fade. Thus, Shawn Michaels will never be entirely forgiven for his involvement in the infamous “Montreal Screwjob.”
The incident in 1997 would take Bret Hart away from the company and force “The Hitman” to live out the remainder of his wrestling days in WCW, where Hart was completely out of place.
In 2010 when Bret Hart returned to WWE and made amends with Shawn Michaels, Canada would cry during this comeback moment.
6. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
When you’re the biggest star in the industry, your absence will not go unnoticed. At Survivor Series 1999, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was run over by a car in an angle designed to write “The Rattlesnake” off television.
In realty, Stone Cold required neck surgery and would need a significant amount of healing time. In the wake of this circumstance, new stars would fill the void left by Austin as much as possible.
The following Fall, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin would make a triumphant comeback to WWE and reclaim his top spot.
In a tragic situation, Lita would injury her neck not while participating in a wrestling match but while performing on the set of a television show in which she was set to make a guest star appearance.
Lita was placed on the shelf and the future was uncertain. The road to recovery was long and strenuous but the tough-as-nails Diva would not allow the injury cause the death of her wrestling career.
It would take just about a year-and-a-half but Lita was finally ring-ready and would comeback to WWE in top form.
4. Triple H
The Invasion angle was missing a lot from the WCW side of things as the biggest stars sat at home with guaranteed contracts while a lesser version of the company “invaded” WWE. However, there was something missing from the WWE side as well.
In May of 2001, Triple H would tear his quadriceps muscle during a match causing him to miss months of action and leave the return of “The Game” up in the air as his career was potentially over.
Then, in January 2002 – in one of the loudest ovations ever – Triple H would make his grand comeback at none other than Madison Square Garden.
3. John Cena (Part 2)
In October 2007, John Cena would tear a pectoral muscle and require surgery. Cena was supposed to miss upwards to a year of in-ring action. However, the face of WWE would not leave his mug out of the picture for that long.
John Cena would go to work with intense rehab over the months that followed and heal well before the estimated timeframe. The stage was set for an epic return to WWE and in the most unexpected fashion.
In 2008, John Cena would make a surprise comeback as the final entrant in the Royal Rumble match, eventually winning it all.
2. Shawn Michaels
WrestleMania XIV: the torch was passed as Shawn Michaels would lose the WWE Championship to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin before effectively retiring from in-ring action and making way for the next wave.
Over the years that followed, Shawn Michaels would appear sporadically on WWE television but fans did not want to see HBK in a role of authority, they wanted to see him wrestle once again.
This wish would come true in 2002 when Shawn Michaels made an emotional and unforgettable comeback to action, having never missed a beat.
1. Ric Flair
Nothing can kill Ric Flair, not even a plan crash. In 1975, in the early stages of his career, Flair would suffer such an awful fate as his plane went down and broke his back in three places. Flair was told he would never wrestle again … and they were wrong.
The crash would cause Ric Flair to change his in-ring style and it was then when Flair adopted the “Nature Boy” persona. From there, Flair never looked back as the wrestling industry was his to dominate.
The greatest comeback of all belongs to a man expected never to step foot in the ring again and who went on to have the greatest professional wrestling career of all time.
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