Wrestling is an athletic business and thus a worker can only be as good as their health. It’s also show business, where someone’s career can rise and fall with little warning. So many promising guys never reach the top while others can maintain that top spot for years on end. It can be tricky as so many guys had great careers ahead until injuries ruined it or some bad booking derailed them. A guy can be on top for years but eventually, every star fades and they end up sinking to indie shows.
However, there are cases where, like in regular sports or entertainment, a wrestler you thought was done comes back majorly. They remake themselves, they get back on top and in some cases, they’re actually better than ever. It’s rare but it can happen and it's truly remarkable how someone whose career seemed dead and buried is able to burst back to the big time. Whether it’s from injury, a long absence or various issues, some workers are able to return in amazing ways. Here are 15 wrestlers who managed to rebuild their careers when they seemed done and it shows how you can never truly write someone off.
15 15. Kofi Kingston
No, he didn’t have a massive injury or drug issue. But by 2014, most thought Kofi’s career had ended, as he was in a major rough patch. A former IC, US and tag team champion, a very skilled worker who wowed with his amazing high-flying moves, Kofi was lost in the lower cards of WWE. He seemed stuck in a rut and many assumed he would soon be given his walking papers with nothing more to do. When he was paired with Xavier Woods and Big E, it looked like a last gasp that would lead to nothing major.
14 14. Brock Lesnar
It would be obvious to think Lesnar would never step into a WWE ring again. His exit from the company in 2004 was on really bad terms as he just walked out with WrestleMania coming and the heat on him was intense. WWE would bad-mouth Brock a lot and he would go right back at him as he went to find a new future in UFC, which most thought would be perfect for him. So it was quite the shock when Brock returned in 2012 to lay out John Cena. His first run appeared a bit rough and Lesnar was used mostly to put over Cena and Triple H, perhaps as punishment for his exit years before.
13 13. Randy Savage
After wowing the crowds throughout the ‘80s as IC and WWE champion, The Macho Man settled down in the early ‘90s doing commentary work. While he had bits like a feud with Crush, WWE seemed to decide Savage's in-ring days were over, just having a few bouts here and there. His exit from WWE in late ’94 is controversial as his WCW run seemed for nostalgic purposes as well. However, Savage ended up winning the title and having some good conflicts with Ric Flair and others. He really took off in 1997 with a sensational feud with Diamond Dallas Page. Given how both guys loved to plan things out, no wonder their matches were sensational as they tore into each other and Savage showcased he still had what it took to wow a crowd.
12 12. Lita
At first just a valet, Amy Dumas won fans over quickly with her fantastic appearance of lush red hair, low cut shirts and that great arm tattoo. She got hotter working with the Hardyz and holding the Women’s title and continuing to rise in popularity. But then in 2002, while shooting an episode of “Dark Angel,” Lita suffered a serious neck injury in a stunt gone wrong. She was on the shelf over a year with most thinking her in-ring time was over. She returned in great spirits and then got over as part of the wild Kane-Matt Hardy program.
11 11. Mark Henry
Signed to a huge 10-year deal in 1996, Henry seemed rough in the ring with a lot of poor stuff. Rumor had it that Vince saddled him with bad stuff (Mae Young’s birth, etc.) in attempts to get Henry to quit his contract but he refused. By 2011, it looked like it was all over, Henry’s ring work continuing to be bad and had no real heat about him. But then Henry suddenly started to get a new push as a monster with his “Hall of Pain” and it actually worked. Wrestling better than he’d ever been, Henry was crushing guys like Kane and Randy Orton, really sold as the monster worker he should have been all along. This led to a run as World champion where he had some major matches with The Big Show and others to get over nicely.
10 10. Jeff Hardy
Hardy was well known for his great in-ring style, a sensational daredevil who clicked with his wild antics and high flying and got fans going nicely. He was also known for being wild backstage with partying that got him into trouble a few times. Let go from WWE, he had a good run in TNA in 2005 but no-showed events yet was welcomed back. He returned to WWE, having a good run and ready for the title only to be arrested for possession of drugs. He managed to come back and hold the title a few times before leaving for TNA again.
9 9. Hulk Hogan
Say what you will about Hogan but the man has an uncanny knack for surviving the business. After dominating WWE throughout the 1980s, his act started getting stale in the ‘90s, folks not buying into him as a superhero and he faded away in 1993. After an attempt at Hollywood, Hogan debuted for WCW in 1994 and became champion but turned folks off with his ego and spotlight-hogging. In 1996, he turned heel and once more became the biggest act in wrestling, more over than ever before to lead WCW to ratings glory. It didn’t last with his ego leading to more issues and his walkout on the company in 2000.
In 2002, he returned to WWE where the fans shockingly welcomed him back as a hero and that led to another run as champion as well as matches with The Rock and Shawn Michaels.
8 8. Sting
During the entire Monday Night War, Sting was seen as the key man for WCW. He was the one star who never left for WWE, going through various bad angles but still doing his job majorly. He did push his career up majorly with “The Crow” character to take off nicely and it's not his fault WCW kept bungling things that led to the company’s death. Sting was so tied in to WCW that it's no surprise that when the company went under, he also took time away with his family. Most thought it would be permanent as he turned down multiple offers from WWE.
7 7. The Rock
You could be forgiven for thinking The Rock was done with wrestling. Having left pretty much for good in 2004 after reigning as one of the biggest stars in WWE history, Dwayne Johnson had moved to Hollywood and took off there. He was a bigger movie star than he had been in wrestling, he didn’t need WWE and a return was quite unlikely. But he did it in 2011, coming as the host for WrestleMania and instantly getting the fans roaring like before. More appearances followed to set up the big match with John Cena which The Rock did well in. This would lead to another run as WWE Champion and a rematch with Cena and even though some criticized it as just appeasing The Rock, it couldn’t be denied how he still had what it took to captivate fans.
6 6. Bob Backlund
From 1978 to 1983, Backlund ruled the WWE as champion. While fans today can see his act as stale and too clean-cut, he was a great worker, defending the belt against various challengers and did good business. He dropped it to the Iron Sheik in 1983 as Hulk Hogan came to power and Backlund left the company. For the next several years, he stayed quiet, working a few indie promotions here and there, but was seemingly done for good.
5 5. Terry Funk
Funk’s journey through wrestling has been fascinating to watch. He started off as a clean-cut guy, a great technical worker who reigned as NWA Champion. He turned heel for later runs in WWE as more of a cartoonish figure with a branding iron. After time away in Hollywood, Funk roared back in 1989 by attacking Ric Flair and kicking off an epic feud for the NWA title. He seemed to slump in WCW for a while but in the mid 1990s he remade himself as a hardcore icon to put ECW on the map.
4 4. Ric Flair
Flair has made much of his career bouncing back when folks thought he was done. He started it in 1975 when he was involved in a plane crash that broke his back, an injury doctors thought would finish him. Instead, Flair came back stronger than before to begin his fantastic career as a multiple time NWA champion. In 1990, Flair dropped the title to Sting with various mark magazines leading the charge that it was over. They thought Flair’s time in the spotlight was done and he would never be the same. Instead, Flair kept on being WCW’s main guy winning the belt once more.
He jumped to WWE and dominated there as well with reigns as champion and his feud with Hogan, then Savage.
3 3. Eddie Guerrero
While a terrific worker, Guerrero was slowed by such things as personal addictions to drugs and drinking. It kept up in WCW with him getting into a near fatal car crash. He did come back quickly but had a dependency on pain-killers that added to his woes. In WWE, he had a good run at first but in November of 2001, was arrested for a DUI and released. Hitting rock bottom, Eddie began to climb his way back up. He got into rehab and made up with his family, then paid his dues in some indie promotions.
2 2. Becky Lynch
Breaking out in Europe in 2002, Rebecca Quin soon showed herself as one of the best female workers around. From Shimmer to other groups, she was getting raves for her fantastic matches and many were pushing for her to join WWE. Just as things were going well, however, Lynch suffered a severe head injury in a match in Germany. She was diagnosed with trauma to her cranial nerve and she was on the shelf for over a year. While scheduled to return, she announced she just didn’t feel right for it and thus it seemed her career was over.
1 1. Shawn Michaels
The obvious top pick. At the 1998 Royal Rumble, Michaels suffered a severe back injury in a match with The Undertaker and it was clear his in-ring time was coming to an end. He managed to hang on long enough to drop the belt to Steve Austin at WreslteMania and then went into retirement. He had brief returns as the “Commissioner” of WWE but still did nothing major. Most believed he was done, his in-ring career over and word of his harsh attitude for years had cost him major good will. He sunk into the background and when he did return in 2002, it was assumed he was just a nostalgia act, nothing more.
Instead, Michaels came back far better than he had ever been. He wowed with incredible matches and even held the World title. This time around, Shawn seemed less interested in the spotlight, instead just putting on great battles with Jericho, Angle, Cena and Undertaker. He really cut loose in his matches with amazing work and his personal reputation was far better as he’d turned over a new leaf. He finally hung it up with his standing better than ever with fans and proved how some guys can truly make miracle comebacks.
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