The spectacle of WrestleMania has made the annual extravaganza an event worthy of an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame itself. There’s no arguing the fact that many wrestling icons have made legendary careers outside the boundaries of WrestleMania, but performing at the most glorious wrestling show of the year is certainly what every performer aspires to. That is the way it should be, since fans perceive WrestleMania as the place where a WWE Superstar finally arrives at the point of greatness, and perception is often reality.
But what makes WrestleMania so special? The answer to that question is not a simple one; over the past three decades so many aspects about the show have made it what it is, such as the biggest stars in the entire professional wrestling industry competing over the biggest prizes a sports entertainer can hope to achieve. The mainstream appeal also contributes in no small part to WrestleMania’s success, as the show always has a strong celebrity presence and receives tons of media coverage.
Indeed, the most memorable moments of the year happen at WrestleMania. However, not all of those moments come at the hands of current WWE Superstars. It’s become a bit of an expectation over the years that WWE fans will be treated to a few special appearances from legends of the past and sometimes even younger stars making their return to glory with the biggest wrestling organization on Earth. Here are fifteen such surprise returns that could conceivably happen at WrestleMania 33.
15. Erick Rowan
Though he certainly hasn’t earned the status of a WWE legend yet, Erick Rowan’s young career has plenty left to offer if he’s utilized properly. He may be the least popular swamp monster to ever be a part of the creepy Wyatt Family, but alongside his cohorts Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper, Rowan has been making waves since the family’s debut. As a part of a solid team, Erick Rowan is a quality piece of the puzzle for any WWE show, but he’s been dealing with an ill-timed injury as of late.
That injury is ill-timed largely because of the sort of renaissance of the Wyatt Family on SmackDown Live with the introduction of Randy Orton into the mix. Rowan has been unfortunate enough to miss out on these special storylines but his injury should be all healed in time for a WrestleMania comeback and it could happen in the form of a surprise return in support of his Wyatt Family brethren.
14. Jonathan Coachman
Nobody ever said surprise returns were limited to in-ring performers, although to be fair Jonathan Coachman did compete in wrestling matches during his tenure with WWE as an interviewer, commentator, and on-screen personality. Coachman, who often preferred to be known simply as “The Coach,” gave the WWE Universe plenty of memorable moments, especially during the Eric Bischoff era of Monday Night Raw, and will very possibly see an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame sometime in his future.
Years back, Coach left WWE for a broadcasting career with ESPN and that network has recently been working closely with WWE, featuring pro wrestling frequently in its reporting. It’s very likely that ESPN may have a presence at WrestleMania 33 with Jonathan Coachman at the helm. If Coachman is present at WrestleMania in this capacity, what’s to stop him from reviving his old WWE character for the cameras on the biggest night of the year?
13. Tamina Snuka
In case you may have forgotten, Tamina Snuka is still under contract with WWE. Also, in case you hadn’t also forgotten who Tamina Snuka is, she’s the gorgeous powerhouse daughter of WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka who WWE has notoriously underused for a decade as a member of the Divas division. Tamina’s famous mostly for being the bodyguard of famed former Diva AJ Lee during Lee’s original Divas Championship run as well as for teaming with Naomi in more recent times.
Tamina has been out with an injury for a long time and hasn’t been able to make her presence felt since the retirement of the term “Diva” and rise of the modern women’s division. Snuka certainly has the ability to hang with any of the newer women who now dominate the picture and it might be time for her to make a surprise return at WrestleMania, potentially in support of her old teammate Naomi or perhaps even Nia Jax, since WWE seems to love Tamina in a group and she and Jax have the Anoa’i family connection.
12. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O’Neal is not typically a name associated with professional wrestling. The NBA legend, however, made a highly publicized appearance at WrestleMania 32 in the third annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and had a noted encounter with resident WWE monster the Big Show. It seems as though WWE was banking on this run-in making some waves in the mainstream news world because there are rumblings of taking it further to this day.
Big Show, who has wrestled for over twenty years, has a multitude of World Championship reigns under his belt and his versatility has been his strong point. He has said he plans to retire in 2017 and the rumor mill suggests that his final opponent will be Shaq himself at WrestleMania 33. However, if that doesn’t come to pass, there is still a pretty decent chance that Shaq will make another surprise appearance in a segment with the Big Show.
11. Jim Ross
“Good Ol” Jim Ross might go down as the most popular and beloved wrestling commentator in the history of the business. During the late 1990s, he became the voice of Monday Night Raw’s Attitude era along with fellow WWE Hall of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler, but his experience as an analyst stretches far earlier and later than that. When he began being phased away from the commentary table a few years ago fans were completely heartbroken and have still yet to connect with any of his attempted replacements on anywhere near the same level.
Ross, however, has been known to make an appearance here and there for WWE, at least until sometime recently, and has even called a few matches for WWE since he left the booth permanently. WrestleMania 33 is expected to be a big deal, obviously, and it’s always possible WWE may bring Ross back to call a special match, like perhaps the retirement match for the Undertaker.
10. Finn Balor
Finn Balor has become one of the most wildly popular WWE Superstars to come into the company in years. He brings with him loads of experience from his days with New Japan Pro Wrestling under the ring name Prince Devitt, and has racked up a lengthy reign as the NXT Champion and even became the first ever WWE Universal Champion. Unfortunately for Finn, he was forced to relinquish that title the night after he won it due to an injury he suffered in the match.
Since August of 2016 Finn Balor has been on the shelf with this serious shoulder injury and, while it might be a bit optimistic, he has said in interviews that he is shooting for a return around WrestleMania time. Add this to the fact that fans are dying to see Balor, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows gather for some form of Bullet Club reunion and it’s conceivable that we may see him at WrestleMania 33.
9. Brie Bella
For many years the Bella Twins dominated the Divas division as the face of WWE’s female form of sports entertainment. Nikki and Brie each have reigns as the Divas Champion on their resumes, but for a long while, Brie had been going public with her desire to become a mother. So when it was revealed that she was retiring at WrestleMania 32 everyone knew what that meant: Brie and her husband Daniel Bryan were going to finally try for that baby.
To no one’s surprise, Brie and Daniel soon announced they were expecting their first child. Brie has also, however, stated that she feels a strong urge to get back into the wrestling ring and take part in the modern women’s wrestling division in WWE. It’s cutting it awfully close, but her child is due around March or April and there is a small chance Brie could make an appearance at the show of shows.
8. Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan is inarguably one of the biggest wrestling stars of the twenty-first century. Though WWE rebelled against him due to his being the complete antithesis of everything the company had previously looked for in a main event star, Bryan’s rabid crowd reactions left them with no choice but to finally give in and offer him an opportunity to run with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship following WrestleMania XXX.
It would soon come to an unfortunate halt for Daniel Bryan, though, as injuries forced him out of action and he eventually had to fully retire from the wrestling ring. His recent storylines involving The Miz on SmackDown Live, where Bryan portrays the General Manager, have had fans all riled up and suspecting a potential return to the ring. While this one can be filed in the “highly unlikely” category, fans are wondering if it is possible for Daniel Bryan to make a Shawn Michaels-style return at WrestleMania 33.
7. Shelton Benjamin
At one point in time, the highly athletic Shelton Benjamin was one of WWE’s fastest rising stars and a staple in the mid card scene with several reigns with the United States and Intercontinental Championships. Benjamin was known for his outrageous stunts during ladder matches and his ability to outwrestle most of the men he competed against, and he had a vertical leap many athletes would kill for. He was highly successful both as a solo competitor and as a tag team player when he partnered with Charlie Haas in the World’s Greatest Tag Team.
At the onset of the brand extension in July of 2016, WWE announced Shelton Benjamin would be making his return to the company to join the SmackDown Live brand, but an injury saw his return canceled and it became unclear if he would actually be making that comeback. If he’s going to do it, he may be healed in time for WrestleMania 33 and what a surprise return it would be!
The dramatic story of Paige’s relationship with WWE has been one wrestling fans have been eagerly watching unfold since midway through 2016. It all started when rumors started swirling that WWE was unhappy with Paige’s relationship with fellow WWE Superstar Alberto Del Rio. Things really got interesting when both of them were suspended soon after the brand extension for wellness policy violations. Subsequently, Del Rio left the company and Paige received another suspension immediately following the first.
On top of all this, Paige went around WWE’s doctors to have surgery done on her neck, which WWE didn’t seem to think she needed. She’s been outspokenly unhappy with the company for a while and many think she’s likely on her way out, but Paige herself has said that she will indeed return and while it might be a bit unrealistic to expect to see her wrestling again as soon as WrestleMania 33, there’s not much stopping her from making a special appearance.
5. The Rock
Though Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been considered retired from the wrestling ring for a good long time, he has put his Hollywood film career on hold several times in recent years in order to make some time to reclaim some of his former sports entertainment glory. The Rock recaptured the WWE Championship he had held so many times before in 2013 and went into the main event of WrestleMania 29 defending the title in a losing effort to John Cena. Since then he has continued to make semi-regular appearances for WWE and even had a brief match at WrestleMania 32.
Since his WWE Championship defense in 2013 he hasn’t devoted any sustained amount of time to the company, but fans are always up for a dream match involving the Peoples’ Champion and it’s entirely possible that The Rock will make an appearance at 2017’s edition of the biggest wrestling show in the world.
4. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Ever since his final match at 2003’s WrestleMania XIX against The Rock, fans have eagerly awaited news of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin potentially returning for one final match. Though an absolute classic, Austin’s match with The Rock, who is considered his greatest rival, left the WWE Universe without a sense of closure regarding the Texas Rattlesnake’s career as he didn’t announce ahead of time that he was planning to leave the ring. Logic seems to point to the fact that one more Stone Cold match billed as his retirement would make the company truckloads of cash, so why not book it?
The problem is that Steve Austin has showed little interested in tampering with what he saw as a very fitting final match on that night in 2003. Austin says he doesn’t want to wrestle another match unless he can do it up to his own standards and he doesn’t believe he can. However, that hasn’t stopped Austin from making numerous appearances over the years, his most recent being at WrestleMania 32 in 2016. It’s quite likely we’ll see him raise some more hell at WrestleMania 33.
3. Kurt Angle
In just a brief seven years, Kurt Angle built for himself a career worthy of the WWE Hall of Fame. Following his debut with the company in 1999, he quickly made a beeline for the main event scene and earned himself multiple runs with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Angle became closely aligned with the SmackDown brand during the original brand extension and was a part of many of WrestleMania’s greatest matches in history, including bouts against the likes of Shawn Michaels and Brock Lesnar.
Since departing WWE in 2006 Angle has spent a large amount of his time wrestling for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, though has since left that company and begun talking about being interested in returning to WWE for one final run inside a wrestling ring. There is no better time than the present for this to happen and there’s no better place to make his first WWE appearance in over a decade than at WrestleMania 33.
For years the career of one Dave Bautista, spelled in WWE as Batista, had an apparently very similar career trajectory to that of one John Cena. Both men got similar starts in the business and debuted around the same time. They also rose to World Championship glory simultaneously with Cena running the show on Raw and Batista at the top of the SmackDown kingdom. Batista will likely always be remembered for being the muscle of the group known as Evolution, which consisted of himself, Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Triple H.
Though he’s largely been retired for several years now, Batista has made a couple of returns and hasn’t said anything about an official retirement from pro wrestling. Although he hasn’t spoken very favorably about his last run in the company, the door for Batista to make a big comeback is likely always open and it’s possible WrestleMania 33 could be the time and place to do so.
1. Shawn Michaels
The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels really needs no introduction. Any wrestling fan who knows anything knows that Michaels is considered one of the greatest WrestleMania performers in history, so when he retired after losing to the Undertaker on the grand stage a few years ago fans were devastated at the prospect of never getting to see HBK wrestle another match. He seems to have settled pretty comfortably into retirement, too, having shown no interest in breaking out the wrestling boots for one more run.
However, rumors began swirling in 2016 that HBK might just be in the plans for a big dream match against AJ Styles at the 2017 Royal Rumble, and if that has been in talks then who is anyone to say that WWE hasn’t tried to get Michaels involved in one last WrestleMania match? It’s certainly a long shot to expect him back inside the squared circle at any point, but Shawn Michaels has been known to make triumphant returns in the past.