The WWE has seen its share of performers come and go over the years. Some of whom are unforgettable, larger-than-life characters and others, not so much. There are many reasons a WWE superstar can get over with the crowd and many reasons for failure. Those who succeed with the daunting task of crowd appreciation are often quickly thrust into the limelight and become instant household names. With the eyes of the WWE Universe upon these superstars, maintaining the focus of those eyes can prove to be a task all its own.
The fans can lose interest in a superstar very quickly. The same can apply with WWE management. Holding the interest of millions on a weekly basis is certainly no small feat to accomplish and for some, their dreams of WWE success are unfortunately unattainable.
Then of course there are those who come across as natural entertainers. The ones who captivate each and every time they step into a ring. These are the superstars who are living a dream come true and now must fight to remain in their euphoric state.
Time spent away from a WWE camera is never a good thing for a budding superstar. This could come as a result of an injury, suspension, creative disagreements, or a number of other reasons involving backstage politics and whatnot.
Which is why it become crucial for a WWE superstar to leave an impression on the fan base – one that is not so easily disposed from the memory. When Daniel Bryan finally returns from his recent injuries, the fans with erupt into a deafening chorus of “Yes!” chants. The fans remember Daniel Bryan because they made Daniel Bryan. The main reason he won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXX earlier this year was because of the undying support from his fans who basically chanted him to the gold.
In this list we will take a look at a number of WWE superstars who were easy to remember and hard to forget – no matter how many months/years they were away from the company. This is the top 20 most memorable comebacks in WWE history …
20 X-Pac (Monday Night Raw 3/30/98)
Let's begin this list with a comeback that was not necessarily the most important in WWE history but certainly one of the most controversial. The night following WrestleMania XIV would mark the “genesis of D-Generation X.” Shawn Michaels had lost the WWE Championship to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and it appeared as though Michaels' time as the leader of DX had come to an end. The faction would continue on under the wing of a new leader, Triple H. That night, Triple H re-introduced the WWE audience to a familiar face, Sean Waltman, once known in WWE as the 1-2-3 Kid. Waltman was back from a stint in WCW and was now known as X-Pac. His slanderous promo in which he ripped on Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff was what made his comeback so memorable.
19 Jerry Lawler (Monday Night Raw 11/19/01)
In February 2001, Jerry “The King” Lawler quit WWE in protest of the firing of his then wife, Stacy “The Kat” Carter. This left a void at the Raw announce table – who would sit along side Jim Ross? Bring in Paul Heyman and a whole new perspective on color commentary. Heyman was a suitable replacement and served the role greatly as only Paul Heyman could. The year 2001 in WWE is perhaps best known for the company's official victory over WCW and subsequent purchase of the property. The acquisition of which would lead to the infamous “invasion angle,” and formation of The Alliance. Jerry Lawler would be absent for the entire duration of said angle which culminated at Survivor Series in a winner-take-all elimination match. With the WWE emerging victorious, Paul Heyman would be the first member of The Alliance to receive the ax the following night on Raw, when Vince McMahon would “fire” Heyman at the top of the show. His replacement was then announced as none other than Jerry “The King” Lawler. I can still hear JR screaming “there is a God,” as Lawler came out to a standing ovation.
18 Mick Foley (Royal Rumble 2004)
As a result of his achievements and success, Mick Foley was presented with the retired WWE Hardcore Championship belt on the June 23, 2003 edition of Monday Night Raw. In what began as a heartwarming night for Foley would end in heartache when Randy Orton and Ric Flair would administer a beating to the hardcore legend. The end result would be Orton kicking Foley down a flight of stairs. This would keep Mick off of WWE TV until December where he would fill in as co-general manger of Raw in place of Steve Austin. The storyline saw Mick leave the arena and his position out of fear of facing Randy Orton in a match. The following January at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, entrant #21, Test was mysteriously knocked out backstage. His replacement would be the very man who took him out, Mick Foley. The Philadelphia crowd who have always had a soft spot for Mick were elated to see the ECW alumni storm down to the ring with his sights set on Randy Orton. Foley would last a grand total of forty-three second in the rumble match but manged to eliminate his nemesis taking himself and Orton out over the top rope and to the floor.
17 The Ultimate Warrior (WrestleMania XXX Weekend)
Earlier this year, The Ultimate Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, taking his rightful place in history. It had been a long overdue accolade that fans had been longing to witness. Warrior had always been an unique character both inside and outside of the ring. Never one to shy away from his opinion and personal belief which at times had seen him in hot water. However, inducting him into the hall was the right thing to do from a company standpoint. The following night, Warrior would appear at WrestleMania XXX and then on Monday Night Raw the next night. This would be the Warrior's first appearance on Raw since 1996. In character, he would deliver a passionate, motivational, and slightly strange speech to the WWE Universe. Unbeknownst to everybody watching that the Warrior's comeback to WWE would last just a few short days, as he unfortunately passed away less than twenty-four hours later.
16 Matt Hardy (Monday Night Raw 08/01/05)
Weeks prior to Matt Hardy's official “comeback,” he was seen ambushing Edge a number of times on WWE TV and being escorted out of the building by security guards. This lead many fans to wonder as to whether or not the entire thing was a work. There was legitimate bad blood between the former friends caused by the real life affair which took place between Adam Copeland (Edge) and Amy Dumas (Lita) who was involved in a relationship with Matt Hardy. When Vince McMahon formally welcomed Matt Hardy back to WWE, it set would set off a feud between Hardy and Edge/Lita that would provide some entertaining matches as well as fantastic promos.
15 Chris Jericho (Monday Night Raw 11/19/07)
Chris Jericho's WWE debut in 1999 was among one of the best all time. Playing up the Y2K paranoia of the time and introducing the world to the “Y2J Problem.” The whole scene was great and for the next six years Jericho would steadily climb up the ranks in WWE. Jericho would spend the next two year pursuing other interests. However, the wrestling bug is never far from Jericho's skin and he would soon reemerged in the WWE – but how? This time around, a series of vignettes featuring cryptic messages would air for weeks leading up to Jericho's return, similar to the countdown back in '99 but a little more biblical. Then one day, there he was, live and in the flesh. Chris Jericho had returned to save the WWE.
14 Kurt Angle (Thursday Night SmackDown 06/05/03)
The WrestleMania XIX main event saw Kurt Angle defend the WWE Championship against Brock Lesnar in a pure all-around wrestling match on a night where Angle would drop the title to Lesnar before leaving to have neck surgery. When Angle opted to have a less conventional surgery, it lessened his recovery time from one year to three months which meant Angle would be returning to the SmackDown brand sooner rather than later, proving his devotion to his craft and determination to be an in-ring competitor at all costs. On the night he returned, Angle seemed overcome with joy and even lead the fans in a “You Suck,” sing-along.
13 Edge (Royal Rumble 2010)
In July 2009, Edge would suffer a torn Achilles tendon during a match with Jeff Hardy, sidelining him for upwards to a year. However, “The Rated R Superstar” would persevere and push himself to an early comeback. That comeback would take place in Atlanta, Georgia at the 2010 Royal Rumble where Edge would enter the match as the surprise twenty-ninth entrant. The crowd was surprised but overjoyed to see Edge back sooner than expected. He would go on to win the match, his first Royal Rumble victory by eliminating John Cena. Unfortunately for Edge, he was unable to parlay his win into a championship as he would lose his title match at WrestleMania XXVI to Chris Jericho.
12 The Undertaker (Judgement Day 2000)
Since his debut in WWE, The Undertaker had been known as one thing: a “dead man.” There had been altering variations of this persona but the gimmick was always there and evident. In the year 2000, WWE fans would finally get to see a different side of The Undertaker – a more human side as he made his return from injury at Judgment Day to take out DX and the McMahon's during a sixty-minute Iron Man match between Triple H and The Rock. The Undertaker's new gimmick had him now clad in bandanas and sunglasses and riding a motorcycle to the ring. It was definitely a little odd at first and took a few weeks of getting used to but all-in-all it was a fresh new look and path for The Undertaker and his legendary career.
11 Hogan, Hall, and Nash (No Way Out 2002)
The New World Order made their WWE “debut” in 2002 at the No Way Out pay-per-view. While this was technically the factions first day in the WWE, it's three members were no strangers to the company. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash had previously worked for WWE as Razor Ramon and Diesel and Hulk Hogan was, well, Hulk Hogan. The guy who put WWE on the map. The three were brought in as heels but received a face reaction, Hogan especially. Throughout the event, the trio would get involved in backstage altercations with the WWE's two biggest stars, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock. During the main event between Chris Jericho and Steve Austin for the Undisputed Championship, the nWo would interfere and cost Stone Cold the title.
10 "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (No Way Out 2003)
One year after being cost a championship at No Way Out, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin would use the event to make a triumphant comeback himself when he returned to face Eric Bischoff in a match. Austin's return came following his recent frustration with the company and the creative path they had intended on taking his character which lead to Stone Cold “taking his ball and going home.” The match with Bischoff was booked by Vince McMahon when Jim Ross informed him that Austin would be returning at the pay-per-view despite Bischoff's failed attempts at signing Austin to the Raw brand. The match itself was a squash as Bischoff was unable to mount any sort of offense but the crowd in Montreal that night still loved every minute of the Stone Cold comeback.
9 John Cena (Royal Rumble 2008)
On the October 1, 2007 edition of Monday Night Raw, John Cena tore his pectoral muscle which caused a need for surgery. Cena'a rehabilitation time was estimated at seven months to a year. Therefore, at the 2008 Royal Rumble, only four months following this injury, nobody expected to hear John Cena's music hit as the thirtieth entrant into the match. The crowd actually popped for Cena who had shocked everybody in the building. Of course, the overwhelming love didn't last very long as the audience was soon split as they usually are during a John Cena match. In the end, Cena eliminated Triple H and won the match upon his unexpected comeback.
8 Shawn Michaels (SummerSlam 2002)
Shawn Michaels first retired from in-ring competition in 1998 following WrestleMania XIV where he effectively passed the torch to Steve Austin. Michaels had suffered a sever back injury months prior, which forced him to hang up the wrestling boots. Over the next four years, Michales made sporadic appearances as the WWE commissioner and while it was nice to see him on TV, it just wasn't the same without him performing in the ring. In 2002, Michaels would make that in-ring comeback in a “non-sanctioned” fight against Triple H at SummerSlam. The “fight” was fantastic as it marked Michales first time back in action since his loss to Austin. Michales then returned to the ring as a performer once again until his second retirement in 2010.
7 The Undertaker (WrestleMania XX)
The Undertaker was buried alive by his brother Kane at Survivor Series 2003 during his match with Mr. McMahon, which would emphatically put an end to any kind of humanized Undertaker. The result of this burial would see the rise of “The Deadman.” Before a match with Kane at WrestleMania XX, the lights went out and the sound of Paul Bearer's voice echoed throughout Madison Square Garden as he lead the druids and their torches out to the ramp with urn in hand. The gong sounded and The Undertaker appeared as he took that slow, menacing, intimidating walk to the ring. The human Undertaker gimmick was cool while it lasted but that night in New York City, The Undertaker had risen from the dead.
6 Ric Flair (Monday Night Raw 11/19/01)
Ric Flair had not been seen on WWE TV since 1993 but when his music hit in his home of Charlotte, North Carolina the night after Survivor Series, it was a moment to remember as one of the best comebacks in WWE history. The storyline had Flair return as a co-owner of WWE, as he had purchased Shane and Stephanie McMahon's stocks in the company before they went on to obtain WCW and ECW respectively. To have the “Nature Boy” back in the WWE was a marvelous thing, as it brought on tremendous feelings of nostalgia and may have introduced Flair to a whole new generation of fans.
5 Brock Lesnar (Monday Night Raw 04/02/12)
Something many wrestling fans never thought they would see again was the sight of Brock Lesnar in a WWE ring. Lesnar spent eight years away from WWE, taking on many different avenues along the way. Then, one faithful night on Raw, Brock was back and with a vengeance. His first target upon returning was John Cena … naturally. Who else could take on Lesnar in his return bout other than the top face in the company? If Cena is the hero then Lesnar is the anti-hero. Brock Lesnar came back to be Super-Cena's kryptonite.
4 Bret "Hitman" Hart (Monday Night Raw 01/04/10)
If you had asked Bret Hart in 1997 if he ever saw himself returning to WWE one day despite all that had happened, there would be no hesitation in his negative response. But, I guess people change and grow and find ways to forgive those who have done them wrong. Bret Hart coming out on Monday Night Raw only to be followed by Shawn Michales was like a time-warp. The two embraced on live television and finally put the past behind them. It was a great Raw moment. Hart would eventually take on Vince McMahon at WrestleMania XXVI and finally get his revenge on Vince, as he made him tap out on the grandest stage of them all.
3 Triple H (Monday Night Raw 01/07/02)
In May 2001, Triple H tore his quadriceps muscle on Raw during a tag team match. The injury was thought to be career threatening and nobody quite knew what the future held for “The Game.” However, Triple H would make a full recovery and on the first Raw of 2002, make an epic return to the WWE in the historic Madison Square Garden. The crowd went wild and Triple H looked better than ever. There was visible emotion on the face of Triple H as he soaked in the reception from the audience. The connection between wrestler and fan is what makes any comeback special and for Triple H, it doesn't get more special than that.
2 The Rock (Monday Night Raw 02/14/11)
FINALLY! … It had been way too long since The Rock had any association with WWE, leading many to believe that he had forgotten all about the promotion that helped launch him into international super-stardom and was no longer “The Rock” but simply Dwayne Johnson. Well, “The Great One” did make a most memorable comeback when he was announced as the guest host of WrestleMania XXVII. The Rock showed up on Raw in fine form, electrifying the crowd the only way he knows how; with pure charisma.
1 "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (Unforgiven 2000)
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin had been absent from WWE competition for nine long months prior to Unforgiven 2000. While he did not have a match that particular night, the event would be the official full-time return of Stone Cold. Throughout the course of the evening, Austin was seen interrogating and abusing people in search of the man who ran him over at Survivor Series 1999. The crowd in the arena was deafening for Austin's return. As I spoke about wrestler/fan connection earlier on this list, there is no denying the connection that the people have with Stone Cold. It is unlike any other connection in the wrestling business. This night is a shinning example of that but really there are too many examples to list as nobody has ever engaged emotion from a crowd like Steve Austin.