WrestleMania is always the most interesting time of the year in the WWE, as it’s the time when new stars and old make their way back into the WWE Universe. The RAW after WrestleMania, and now Smackdown Live, are some of the biggest shows of the year, with the hottest crowd of the year. So returning superstars are usually greeted with the loudest pop from the sold out crowd. It’s a night when you expect to be surprised, but the question is, who will show up?
There are many big-name wrestlers available to make returns to WWE in 2018, either with a new gimmick, or after taking a small break, or perhaps a legend is looking for one more run before they hang it up for their career. Whatever the case may be, post-WrestleMania is the time when the WWE hits the reset button and starts the storyline cycle all over again, gearing up for the summer and SummerSlam, and the future of the company. They create entirely new storylines and Superstars in the process. You only need to think back to each Monday after WrestleMania and see who returned and rejoined the WWE ranks to know that after WrestleMania is when the biggest returns happen in the year.
So who is in and who is out this year? Here are just eight we think will be making a return after WrestleMania (many of which could offer something to the current product that isn’t there right now) and eight others who won’t be seeing WWE pay cheques coming their way.
16 Won't return: The Rock
The people’s champion didn’t show up at RAW’s 25 year anniversary, and he won’t be returning post-WrestleMania either. The Rock could make an appearance here or there, but the days of him telling anyone to smell what he is cooking are over.
The Rock is now more a Hollywood star than a wrestler, even if he says the WWE will always be his home.
He also has nothing to accomplish in the WWE that would bring him back, and he isn’t going to risk get injured again. Especially when you consider how much the A-list actor is bringing in with his movies. Maybe a short segment or two with The Miz (WWE’s A-lister) would be great for a one-off return, but The Miz doesn’t need a program with The Rock to establish himself.
15 Will Return: Brother Nero (Jeff Hardy)
Jeff Hardy’s shoulder injury meant The Hardy Boyz would be on the shelf for a while, and Matt Hardy would have to go solo. It turned into a blessing, as Matt was ‘woken’ and established his Broken Matt Hardy gimmick which he first used in TNA, and became Woken Matt Hardy in WWE. When brother Jeff is ready to return, it won’t be as the same Jeff Hardy we knew when he first was injured, but rather as the Brother Nero version that fit so well with Broken Matt Hardy in TNA.
While Jeff Hardy has been a WWE champion in the past, his post-WrestleMania run would be better suited for his Brother Nero character.
Considering the story lines the two brothers produced for TNA, there isn’t much use for a regular Jeff Hardy in today’s WWE. That’s not why they brought the Hardys back to begin with.
14 Won't Return: Hulk Hogan
The immortal Hulk Hogan never seems too far away from the WWE, but with the WWE wanting to establish more of their own Superstars through NXT, and coupled with Hogan’s continued legal and social issues, WWE isn’t about to invite the Hulkster back for another run with the company. Any Hall of Famer who steps back into the WWE needs to be willing to put over new talent to better the business, but that is something Hogan has never done, as he has always thought of himself first. It would be unrealistic to think a 64-year-old man could beat the likes of an AJ Styles or Kevin Owens who are in their prime, let alone have anything of value to add to the product long term. Don’t expect him to be in the WWE after WrestleMania, despite Hogan being one of the biggest draws of all time.
13 Will Return: Jack Swagger
The All-American Jack Swagger asked for his release from the WWE in 2017, mostly due to not being used properly in story lines and wanting to start a career in MMA. He will make his Bellator debut this year, but a return to the WWE after WrestleMania could put Swagger back into top contention for a WWE title now that he is a legit fighter.
WWE has added a lot of former MMA talent to the roster recently, and Swagger could be perfect to lead a faction of former MMA fighters in both the men’s and women’s division.
Considering he is a former WWE Champion in his own right, he could be positioned as another legit fighter like Brock Lesnar, although without the same pedigree as the Beast. Still, Swagger would more than likely be around a lot more than Lesnar, who is on a part time schedule, and would lead a faction of former MMA stars who punish the ‘wrestlers’ as part of a new invasion type story line.
12 Won't Return: The Undertaker
The only show of the year The Undertaker shows up for is WrestleMania, and if he truly is finished with wrestling and laid down his gloves and hat for the last time, he isn’t going to make an appearance the night after WrestleMania. Unless of course it’s because he got inducted into the Hall of Fame and it’s a one-off appearance. Even then, after his RAW 25 appearance that was pretty open ended and was more nostalgic than anything, the days of the deadman are over.
He hasn’t been a regular in the WWE for years, and the last time he wrestled outside of a WrestleMania was the 2017 Royal Rumble.
He was only in the ring for a couple of minutes to set up his WrestleMania feud with Roman Reigns. His name value is attached to WrestleMania, not RAW or Smackdown Live. The Undertaker's days are numbered.
11 Will Return: Triple H
The Game hasn’t been seen much throughout the year since losing to Seth Rollins at last year’s WrestleMania. He did make his comeback at Survivor Series as part of Team RAW, but since then, has mostly remained off television. That is, until after this year’s WrestleMania, when Triple H will make his return to the on-air product and assume control as a member of The Authority.
Considering he still can wrestle and has drawing power, it’s only a matter of when The Game will make his return, which should happen after this year’s WrestleMania.
Especially if he faces Kurt Angle and takes control of RAW. Hunter isn’t about to give up the spotlight yet, especially with Vince McMahon being pulled away from the product with his new Alpha Entertainment venture, the WWE will need a new boss to hate. Enter The Game!
10 Won't Return: Batista
Batista hasn’t been in a WWE ring since his WrestleMania 30 match against Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan. The winner of the 2014 Royal Rumble was supposed to headline that year’s WrestleMania with Orton, but fans weren’t having it and made their voices heard that they wanted Bryan in the mix as well, which they got. But for Batista, who has turned into a movie star after starring in Guardians of the Galaxy, his last run turned him off to the WWE.
He has said he would only come back for one final run if the match made sense, and if it were against Triple H.
There was no interest from Triple H in that feud, and Batista has no interest in working with anyone else, so Batista will not be showing up after WrestleMania. He will instead continue being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
9 Will Return: The Big Show
The Big Show has been a main stay in the WWE since he first arrived and tossed Stone Cold Steve Austin through a steel cage at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1999. His career with the WWE has lasted nearly 20 years.
The Big Show has said last year was his last WrestleMania as he would retire in 2017.
But he didn’t seem to be slowing down until an injury sidelined him which isn’t any way for a giant to go off into the sunset. The Big Show will return after WrestleMania this year for his farewell tour, giving the rub to as many new faces as he can in the process. If anyone understands the industry, it’s a man who has spent over two decades in it. We can’t see him winning any Championship, but The Big Show has earned the right to go out on his own terms.
8 Won't Return: Goldberg
Goldberg will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year. Don’t expect him to be running any more story lines or stepping into the squared circle after WrestleMania. Goldberg returned in 2016 for what many believed was a one-off match with Brock Lesnar, before adding three more matches in 2017. These included the Royal Rumble, a victory over Kevin Owens for the Universal Title, and his WrestleMania rematch with Lesnar. It was all for his family, as his wife and son never got to see him wrestle since he retired before his son was born.
Now that they have seen him, and Goldberg got to be that superhero again, there isn’t much reason for him to comeback for another run.
He accomplished exactly what he set out to do in the first place, which was be a hero to his son.
7 Will Return: Tyler Bates
The first ever United Kingdom Champion will be a fixture of the 205 Live brand post WrestleMania as the company tries to move on from Enzo Amore and crown a new champion of the cruiserweight division. 205 Live has had a terrible year, especially when you consider their former champion Neville walked out of the company. Add to that legal issues with Rich Swan and now Enzo Amore, plus the low ratings for the show which is always under threat to be cancelled, the cruiserweights could use a dose of exceptional talent to build their brand around. And considering they gave him the victory at the UK Championship tournament, he would seem like the best option to lead the 205 Live division post-WrestleMania. Now 20-years-old, Bates has had time to mature and finally make the trip across the pond to become the new king of the cruiserweights.
6 Won't Return: Cody (Rhodes)
When Cody Rhodes asked for his release from the WWE in 2016, he was in the midst of a run as Stardust, an over the top gimmick that more resembled his brother Goldust. He asked for six months for his gimmick to be changed before announcing on Twitter that he wanted out of his contract, which WWE granted him. Since then, he has gone to on join Bullet Club, won the Ring of Honor World championship, and wrestled at Wrestle Kingdom in Japan, showing he is more than capable of being a top guy in a wrestling organization. With all his current success, Cody won’t dare give WWE another try, not while he is about to lead the hottest faction in wrestling and face off with Kenny Omega. There might be a day when he’ll return to the WWE, but for now he just doesn't need it.
5 Will Return: Chris Jericho
As the hottest free agent in wrestling, Chris Jericho can basically write his ticket and work when and where he wants. Considering in the last calendar year he has competed at WrestleMania and Wrestle Kingdom, the two biggest shows in professional wrestling, Jericho’s name value is as high as it’s ever going to be.
But while he still has his hands in New Japan and with his wrestling cruise, his home will always be the WWE.
Jericho doesn’t do it for money anymore, he does it for the entertainment. When Jericho returns to the WWE, he’ll do so in a full-time capacity. If he can be lured away to NJPW for an epic match with Kenny Omega, he can be lured back to WWE for another big payoff, as Jericho continues to prove that even in his 40s he’s still one of the best professional wrestlers in the world.
4 Won't Return: Kenny Omega
No one is more sought after in the wrestling world than Kenny Omega, and the WWE is kicking themselves now for letting the Canadian wrestler walk out the door during his developmental days. Rumours have speculated that Omega would join the WWE after an amazing year in Japan, but Omega isn’t about the leave New Japan Pro Wrestling any time soon.
Omega has goals he wants to accomplish in Japan, which includes bringing NJPW to the level of the WWE and being the best non-Japanese wrestler in the company’s history. His recent match with long-time WWE superstar Chris Jericho has fuelled the rumour mill that Alpha vs Omega II could happen at WrestleMania as a way to bring in Omega to the company, but Omega and NJPW are joined at the hip for the foreseeable future.
3 Will Return: Bobby Lashley
Bobby Lashley was once being pushed as the next top babyface in the company 10 years ago. But Lashley was released back in 2008 from the WWE and has since made TNA Impact his home, along with stints in mixed martial arts. After leaving TNA earlier this year, Lashley is ready to return to the WWE and be an immediate contender for any major championship on either brand. In TNA he held their World Championship, so he can carry a brand, and with the physical look and skills that will have McMahon drooling, putting Lashley and his MMA background against Brock Lesnar, another former MMA fighter, would instantly push Lashley to the top of the WWE roster. And considering how bad WWE is need of a new babyface to help carry the brand, Lashley’s return can’t come soon enough, considering Roman Reigns still isn’t accepted by most fans.
2 Won't Return: CM Punk
Ever since CM Punk walked out of the WWE back in 2014, there has been speculation that some day he will return to the ring again. He was one of the best on the mic, as well as in the ring, and held the WWE championship for 381 days, the longest reign in 25 years. But the spotlight was never put on the straightedge superstar, who never main-evented WrestleMania.
His recent try at MMA in the UFC didn’t go very well, as he lasted all of 2:14 against Mickey Gall, which had many thinking he should return to the world of professional wrestling. But Punk has said he doesn’t miss the wrestling business and hated much of the politics that happened back stage. Since he and future boss Triple H don't get along, don't hold your breath waiting for a Punk return.
1 Will Return: Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan is obviously a fixture on Smackdown Live every week. But we’re talking Daniel Bryan the wrestler in this case. With his contract coming up in 2018 and Bryan expressing his desire to get back into the ring and wrestle again, he will make his return to the squared circle after WrestleMania for what we only believe will be a push back to the top and him eventually headlining WrestleMania 35.
Bryan is still one of the most popular personalities in the WWE, even though he hasn’t wrestled in some time due to health concerns. But considering his desire to perform, and WWE’s desire to keep him part of the family and not go wrestle somewhere else, the WWE brass will have to finally give him the chance he wants to get back into the ring, or risk losing him to New Japan or Ring of Honor.