In pro wrestling, fans have come accustomed to surprises. We get them in many forms, from an unexpected turn to a surprise return. Some surprise returns are really well-executed. A great example of that would be The Rock showing up in Brooklyn a few years back to answer Rusev. Some surprises are ruined by an arena billboard ahead of things (like, say, Batista). Other returns were kept as much of a secret as possible but were still strongly rumored (like when Matt and Jeff Hardy returned at WrestleMania). Some returns have been very obvious, especially in this age of social media. When a wrestler goes down with an injury, fans know roughly how long the recovery should take, and with social media, most times we have a glimpse of how things are going, so we can usually make a guess as to which Superstars will return from injury and when. This is not that list, however.
With the McMahon Family promising a New Era for WWE, with new faces and new surprises, it's not unreasonable to expect 2019 to have a few surprise returns for us. So the question then turns to, who could be returning, and when would they come back? With the new year upon us, let's take a look at the full year's schedule and predict ten former WWE Superstars who will be returning to the company, and during which event they should make their return. No one on this list would be returning from injury-so there would be no Triple H, no Kevin Owens, no Sami Zayn. Without any further delay, let's get into the list!
22 return: Batista
The seeds were planted back at SmackDown Live's 1000th episode special. Dave Bautista, big Marvel movie star, and Triple H had a little trash talking in the ring. Anyone watching knew what it looked and sounded like – groundwork for a future match. The Animal has seemed willing to come back and have one last good WWE run, especially considering how his previous return went. Now, the challenge here is simple – Hunter suffered an injury in November and had to get surgery to repair it. Word is if he recovers in time, there's a match slot being held for him...but whether he can recover in time remains to be seen.
21 Event: WrestleMania 35
So, let me elaborate a little bit. I think – assuming Hunter is healthy – that the match happens at WrestleMania. However, I think Batista would show up before that, so it's not a completely straightforward answer. If Hunter was healthy now, I'd say Batista shows up at the Royal Rumble to stir things up. Hunter is not healthy, however. My guess has WWE not announcing this until much closer to WrestleMania, just to ensure Hunter is actually able to compete. If Triple H cannot perform, I expect WWE would try to make another match make sense.
20 Return: Jack Swagger
Here's a name that was at times very popular, and other times very hated. Jack Swagger had himself an interesting WWE career. A world champion. A red hot heel. A patriotic babyface. He had some issues in and out of the ring as well, but there can be no denying his athletic prowess. If they did in fact bring Swagger back, there's no telling if they'd bring back Zeb Colter too. But, based on how things went in Jack Swagger's first tenure, I'd at least like to suggest that he does get himself a mouthpiece of some sort. Sure, Jack can talk...but a manager type would be perfect for him, and there are a few around that make some sense. Could you imagine a scenario where Paul Heyman made Swagger the next "Paul Heyman guy"?
19 Event: Royal Rumble
There is no time like the present, and with the Royal Rumble just weeks away, this one would be a quick turnaround. That said, seeing Jack Swagger's graphic on the screen and hearing his music? It would probably surprise a few folks. If not back in the Rumble-and if WWE wants to revive his All American schtick-then bringing him back at some point between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July makes a great deal of sense. This makes even greater sense if WWE has a strongly anti-American heel they want Swagger to work against.
18 Return: Wade Barrett
Here's a name that gets kicked around every so often. He's been rumored to be showing up in at least the last Rumble or two, so why not suggest he return to WWE yet again? Here's the thing: Wade Barrett got a raw deal, in this man's opinion. Oh, sure, he held the Intercontinental Championship. His Bad News Barrett gimmick was pretty over too. But, when you look at things that could have been, his run as leader of the first wave of NXT debuts could have and should have lasted longer and been bigger. That, honestly, should have culminated with a World Championship reign. Even following that, Barrett was primed for bigger and better things. Maybe he could be the next Drew McIntyre...come back to WWE and have things go better the second time around?
17 Event: A future NXT UK TakeOver
If we are going to say that Wade Barrett could be the next Drew McIntyre, we have to remind ourselves of this: McIntyre came back by coming through NXT. Now, Barrett does not have to do that, of course. But with NXT UK starting to get on track, having their own TakeOver special in early January...why couldn't they lure a top UK name like Barrett? It clearly would not be a permanent residence for Wade. A run with NXT UK gets him back in front of the wrestling fans and helps re-establish himself. The NXT stint did wonders for McIntyre, and so did his time in other promotions.
16 Return: The Rock
It's been a while since The Rock graced us with his presence. There's been rumors going around that he will be in attendance when The Showcase of the Immortals hits the Garden State in April. Now more than ever, you get the sense that Vince McMahon wants to ensure that WrestleMania is a massive show, a spectacle, and most important-a box office success. The Rock knows a thing or two about box office success, so if Vince McMahon is worried and looking to give fans what they want, then bringing in Mr. Johnson is smart.
15 Event: WrestleMania 35
Do you get the sense that WrestleMania is supposed to be a big show? Do you get the sense that the boss is aiming to do anything and everything in his power to ensure WrestleMania is a success? If you don't, you should. By all accounts, including rumors and logic, Vince wants to ensure that this WrestleMania is the biggest and most successful one they've had in years. Booking The Rock in any capacity is a smart move with an eye toward the ratings.
14 Return: Stone Cold Steve Austin
We have not gotten a lot from Steve Austin lately. His podcast used to be promoted on WWE programming, but now we don't see it at all. There had been rumors of a falling out, but those seemed to be unfounded. On one hand, if Vince McMahon is intent on getting a new era underway, WWE may not want to trot out too many of the fan favorites from another era (the Attitude Era, in this case). But, with all that said, how about bringing Austin back for some cheap pops and perhaps to give a current star a nice rub? It would be worthwhile.
13 Event: SmackDown on FOX
Austin is honestly the kind of star they wouldn't really have to bring back, linked to a special event. He's one I would actually not be surprised if WWE brought him out to boost RAW ratings, or perhaps for when SmackDown moves to FOX. Or, both, since surely WWE could do that if they wanted to. Regardless, it has been too long since we've seen Austin on WWE programming. And, with a new era being pushed, if they ever did decide to have another GM type, bringing back Austin would be a popular move. Especially when WWE and FOX come together.
12 Return: Bret Hart
One of my all-time favorite Superstars has been a ghost lately. In fairness, he has not been in great health, so his absence is totally understandable. He does not owe anyone a thing, but it will still be nice to see him back in the ring. If things don't work out relative to a Bret Hart return, then plan B would be Edge (with or without Christian). The reason why is defined by the event, so shall we get right into that part?
11 Event: SummerSlam
Ah, it's in Canada, eh? Indeed it is. Was this why I suggested Bret Hart? No, it was not. I had Bret on my list and then I was looking at things to figure out returns. SummerSlam is in Canada. Bret Hart? Huge Canadian Superstar. Edge and Christian? Ditto. Bringing any (or heck, even all) of them to the ring in their homeland makes sense. Not that any of these former Superstars would compete, but it would be nice to see them at the event in Toronto this August anyway, in some capacity (manager, special guest referee).
10 Return: John Morrison
Morrison has been long rumored to come back to WWE. He seemed poised to do bigger things in WWE, and then he was gone. He's done well outside of the company, working for Impact and Lucha Underground to name a few. He is still in insanely great shape. He's also had an appearance on the reality show Survivor. He makes sense for WWE because he gives them another athletic and talented in-ring performer, which allows guys like AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, and others to work against someone that fans haven't seen, in some cases ever, and in other cases in years. New match-ups are sorely needed, and bringing a guy like Morrison in makes a ton of sense.
9 Event: RAW after SummerSlam
I was torn about when he could show up. In all honesty, he's one that could pop up just about any time. Could he be one of the thirty men in the Royal Rumble? Surely he could be. Could he pop up on the RAW/SmackDown immediately after the Rumble, or following WrestleMania? Again, he could. I have him pegged for the post-SummerSlam shows because of a few reasons. For one, things have been quiet about him, so I assume nothing is imminent. For another, there are a lot of other options in play for the first half of 2019, having him show up toward the end of summer spreads things out. It ensures his return doesn't get lost in the shuffle.
8 Return: MVP
Here is a name who has been rumored to return many times. He technically did return last year during RAW's 25th anniversary show. Beyond that, however, we have not seen Montell Vontavious Porter in a WWE ring in a very long time. So, why not now? After so many rumors, and after that oh so brief anniversary tease, he could make a return. He's not exactly young, but he wouldn't be ancient either. I am certain WWE could manufacture a few programs worthy of his time and return. Plus, he is someone with, I'd say, an outside shot of an eventual Hall of Fame induction. He's no slam dunk, but a return prior to any sort of induction may not be so bad. It's been done before (Sting and Goldberg).
7 Event: Royal Rumble
Could you imagine? The countdown happens. The screen flashes the entrant number. Then, you just hear that ticking clock and we see his old entrance music. While he was not the biggest star ever, he's memorable enough that fans will pop. Would it be a pop like Diesel got a few years back when he returned in Boston? Probably not. But it would be a nice pop, and I bet he still has some good matches in him. The WWE he returns to is, I think, more athletic than it was when he left. I can imagine several programs for him off the top of my head. Or, he could just be a one and done, back for a cup of coffee and the Rumble and then back to whatever he wants to do.
6 Return: An ECW Original
We haven't seen Rob Van Dam in WWE in a few years when he kind of went away in a puff of smoke. That said, he's a great in-ring entertainer, and one of my favorites from his days in ECW. Should he return, it likely would not be for a long run. It's possible he could even be coming back for a bit of a farewell tour and perhaps a WWE Hall of Fame spot as an ECW inductee (though he did plenty as a main roster WWE guy too). If a return would be tied to an induction, there are only two options that make sense for him. Tommy Dreamer is likely a safer option, and he worked in the company more recently. Also, of the two, Dreamer is probably the smarter one to be inducted first (I thought he should go in before the Dudleys, honestly).
5 Event: Royal Rumble
I say probably because, well, I would like to see him in the ring again. A surprise in the Rumble accomplishes that. If he actually has a shot at the Hall of Fame, WWE could then release something about it following the show, or perhaps the day after. Alternatively, especially because there are a lot of active roster guys also wanting in the Rumble, maybe WWE just announces he's an inductee and he returns for the Hall of Fame ceremonies in April. Not that WWE has issues filling the seats there, but adding a guy who did a lot of work in the NY/PA/NJ area with ECW will bring in fans too. Dreamer probably fills more than Van Dam, considering he's from Yonkers and all, but ECW fans were passionate about both.
4 Return: Ryback
Ah, Ryback. Looking at things now, I see some similarities between how he worked out, and how things have gone for Rusev. Meaning, you had a Superstar fans were hot for, and WWE botched things. Either they took too long to work with it, or they tried to shut things down. However you want to look at it, Ryback could have been a lot bigger and even more popular, but for whatever reason, he lacked support from above. Bringing him back now could provide for some interesting matches-pair him up with Braun Strowman for something. Or perhaps he comes in as a bodyguard for someone? Maybe a program with Lashley even? There are options, so bringing him back is worth a look.
3 Event: Random RAW
Here's the thing about returns. Some shows we expect them: in the Royal Rumble, as well as the RAW and SmackDown after the Rumble, WrestleMania, and SummerSlam. But we are allowed to get returns and surprises at any old time of the year. I like the Ryback return for one of those random ones. Everyone expects it during those handfuls of dates, so by giving us someone on a show where it's not expected is smart. Depending on how they want to bring him back, you could have him run in and make a save of someone...or have him come in and attack someone. I could totally see him coming in as the backup muscle for the New Daniel Bryan, honestly.
2 Return: Damien Sandow
Here's a bonus return. Honestly, I always felt as though Sandow got a raw deal when he wound up leaving the company. I mean, he was wasted. He earned the Money In The Bank briefcase, and while he had a good match when he cashed in, he became one of the few with a failed cash-in. He was a unique talent in that he was very good in the ring, he could connect with the fans, and he was good with comedy, his Mizdow persona being a great example. And with that in mind, you could have a perfect opportunity to bring him back: have WWE give up on the Shane/Miz pairing. Set up a big match where The Miz needs a tag partner, and have Sandow come out to be that guy.
1 Event: SmackDown after WrestleMania
This is just a guess (they all are). I can just as easily envision this return being on a minor PPV. If he popped back after 'Mania, it wouldn't be bad-he could just come out. If it were that minor PPV, here's my scenario. The Miz is in a tag match, perhaps against Daniel Bryan (or anyone else, that much honestly does not matter). The Miz may be lined up to partner with Shane McMahon (if we follow through with a current angle), but something keeps Shane out of the match. We head to the PPV with it being The Miz and a mystery partner versus the opponents. Fans will assume that The Miz is going to get one of Bo Dallas or Curtis Axel, only to be surprised by Sandow.