“Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels was supposed to be retired from the professional wrestling industry following a back injury that forced him from active World Wrestling Federation duties in 1998. Michaels not only returned to have a memorable match with real-life best friend Triple H, but that match kicked off the second run of his Hall-of-Fame career, a stint that included arguably his best overall work as a singles performer. Michaels is widely regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers to ever perform in World Wrestling Entertainment, largely because of his amazing comeback that even diehard fans did not see coming a year before he returned to the ring.
Hulk Hogan had a memorable return of his own when he, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash appeared on WWE television after the death of World Championship Wrestling. What could have been a one-off or limited appearances turned into Hogan being given one final run at the WWE Champion. As impressive as was Hogan’s comeback to the wrestling world, it would be incredible if he were to again show up on live WWE television. Hogan is currently not welcome at WWE events due to comments that he made behind closed doors, regrettable words and phrases that have made the Hulkster an invisible figure on WWE.com.
Ric Flair. Terry Funk. John Cena. Terry Funk again. Bret Hart. Terry Funk again. Yes, Terry Funk again. Each of these wrestlers have, at one time or another, staged amazing comebacks that surprised fans and made headlines in wrestling communities. As great and as memorable as were those comebacks, they all fall beneath the return made by HBK. Wrestling fans are yearning for Michaels to make yet another comeback, if only for one more match. Sorry, everybody, but Michaels is happily enjoying his retirement. You have no other choice than to leave the memories alone.
20. CM Punk
The first wrestling comeback featured in the list is amazing if only because it ruined what could have been a great storyline. CM Punk was, in storyline, out of contract with the company when he defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship at the 2011 Money in the Bank show. The WWE version of the “Summer of Punk” was launched, but the company found it wise to keep Punk off of shows for only two weeks before the champion returned as if nothing had ever happened. Fans did not see it coming, because it was far more logical for the WWE to run with the idea that Punk had actually left for good. Oh, what could have been.
19. Chris Jericho
The “Chris Jericho Comeback” is something that Y2J should consider trademarking. Jericho makes a comeback to the WWE for as long as he wants. He leaves to complete whatever non-wrestling projects that he has decided to pick up. Jericho then makes a comeback to WWE shows. Wash, rinse, repeat. Jericho is, as of October 2015, in the middle of one of his comebacks, although this one may be more of a part-time thing rather than a significant return. To his credit, Jericho never shows signs of ring rust whenever he has a match under the WWE umbrella. He is an all-time great.
18. Jerry Lawler
There are two Jerry Lawler comebacks, in particular, that come to mind for such a list. The first occurred in 2001 when he returned to the WWE to reclaim his role as an on-air announcer. Lawler was involved in a tremendous comeback storyline starting in the fall of 2010 when he feuded with then-champion The Miz. “The King” would then be involved in multiple battles with fellow announcer Michael Cole while Cole was playing a heel role. A heart attack that he suffered while announcing at a Raw show brought along the end of his WWE wrestling career, but Lawler remains with the company as a commentator.
17. Ultimate Warrior
It was several years ago when one would have been wise to bet that the Ultimate Warrior would never return to the WWE for any reason. That all changed leading up to the weekend of WrestleMania XXX, however, when Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. It was an honor that had come years and years after Warrior and the WWE began a real feud that stemmed back to the 1990s, and it was a moment that was bittersweet not too long after it occurred. Warrior’s comeback would last only a few days, as he sadly and tragically died not long after he made a speech during the Raw following WrestleMania XXX.
16. Matt Hardy
Art imitating life can make for great wrestling programming, and that was the case for the WWE in 2005. Matt Hardy and Edge had been friends behind the scenes, but all that changed when Edge became romantically involved with Lita, who had been dating Hardy. That affair was put front and center on WWE shows such as Raw, and Hardy even “attacked” Edge in segments that left fans wondering if what they were watching was meant to be part of the show. It was, of course, and Hardy would ultimately become a member of the active roster after he made his official comeback.
Triple H had, in storyline, taken over as the leader of D-Generation-X the night after Shawn Michaels dropped the WWF Championship to Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV. One of Triple H’s first actions was to present real-life friend Sean Waltman as the newest member of the stable. Waltman had been working for WCW as a member of the New World Order, but he had previously wrestled for the WWF as the 1-2-3 Kid. Waltman began his run as X-Pac in the spring of 1998, and that is the name that is most often associated with him when he is mentioned on WWE shows.
14. Bob Backlund
It was a different time and a different era when Bob Backlund held WWWF and WWF gold in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a figure from the past when he rejoined the active WWF roster in the 1990s, and Backlund was eventually placed into a feud with Bret “Hitman” Hart. The comeback went from uneventful to historic when Backlund, with the help of Owen Hart, defeated Bret to win the WWF Championship. His title run lasted only a few days thanks to a powerbomb from Diesel, and it was the last time that Backlund would win a title as a member of the WWE.
Tatanka first showed up on WWE shows in the 1990s at a time when the company had more of a cartoon nature than what is presented on programs in 2015. He made a comeback to the WWE in 2005 for what theoretically could have been a one-time match. That would turn into more of a full-time gig that would keep Tatanka in the WWE up through the beginning of 2007. Tatanka put on several entertaining and memorable matches during his second stint in the WWE, and it was even teased that he would win a championship. That did not happen, though, and Tatanka left the WWE without a title.
12. New World Order
The wrestling industry went through historic changes from 2000 up through 2002. WCW was swallowed up by the WWE, and thus the WWE was left as the only major national promotion in existence. This created all kinds of possibilities that previously did not exist, such as the New World Order faction being written into a storyline involving WWE Chairman Vince McMahon feuding with Ric Flair. The group did not last long in the WWE for several reasons, but Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash showing up at the 2002 “No Way Out” show remains a memorable comeback tale.
11. Brock Lesnar
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the comeback made by Brock Lesnar in April of 2012 is not that he returned to the company. It is that Lesnar has been even better the second time around. It took some odd and terrible booking before the WWE got things right Lesnar, but the former “Next Big Thing” is now unquestionably the top act in the company and maybe the top act in all of the wrestling industry. Lesnar is featured on ESPN shows such as SportsCenter leading up to WWE pay-per-view events, and that serves as proof of how huge of a star he is inside and outside of the wrestling business.
10. Ric Flair
The “Nature Boy” has been the star of multiple memorable wrestling comebacks. Ric Flair was once brought out by Arn Anderson in the rebirth of the Four Horsemen stable. He appeared on WWE Raw after the end of the painful and lackluster “Invasion” storyline. Flair would then go on to have several great years with the company as a member of the “Evolution” stable and as a singles worker. He eventually retired after losing a WrestleMania encounter to Shawn Michaels, but even that did not stop Flair from making comebacks on tours and later with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.
9. Bret Hart
Bret “Hitman” Hart was, all things considered, merely lucky to be alive following a stroke that will affect him for the rest of his years. It was never thought in 2010 that Hart would make a comeback as anything other than an on-air character. Hart surprised many by working in multiple matches, and the WWE even honored him by putting the United States Championship on him for a brief length of time. Hart may no longer be the “Excellence of Execution,” but the man who is “the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be” remains popular among fans.
8. The Rock
The Rock was an international movie star who no longer needed the WWE to help promote his projects when he decided that he would serve as “host” of WrestleMania XXVII. While it was made obvious on WWE shows that he was going to be involved in a feud with John Cena, it was nevertheless surprising that Rock’s comeback would include “The People’s Champion” feuding with CM Punk and winning the WWE title. Rock is still good for sporadic appearances on shows such as Raw, but it is likely that WWE fans have seen his last major comeback as a wrestler.
7. Terry Funk
Have you ever been in attendance for what was advertised to be the retirement match of Terry Funk? Here are two things you should probably know: You likely weren’t at his first retirement match, and you also probably were not at his last. Funk is technically still not retired despite the fact that he is in his 70s. The wrestling legend and hardcore icon would probably be willing to give it a go in WWE these days if presented with that opportunity. Every company in the business, the WWE included, could use more personalities like Funk, a man who has been one of a kind for decades.
6. Triple H
Triple H is currently tasked with making NXT a success. He, along with his wife Stephanie McMahon, one day take over and run the creative aspects of the WWE. It was back in 2001 when Triple H was a member of the active roster and one of the top heels in the wrestling industry before he suffered a torn quadriceps. That would be the first of two occasions that he would be sidelined by that injury. Triple H twice staged comebacks from those knocks, and he also made a surprising comeback to feud with the Undertaker leading up to XXVII. You can pick your favorite from Triple H’s multiple comebacks.
5. John Cena
Critics can say whatever they will about John Cena. Nobody can deny that the man has been dedicated to his craft and to the wrestling industry throughout his wrestling career. Cena was supposed to be sidelined for a lengthy period after he injured a pectoral muscle in the fall of 2007, but he amazingly recovered enough to be able to participate in the 2008 Royal Rumble. The leader of the CeNation drew a huge response from the in-arena crowd, and he was seemingly the same performer that he had been before the injury. Cena has proven that he will do whatever necessary to put on his best performance possible.
4. Steve Austin
Before “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was the biggest draw in North American pro wrestling and the WWF Champion, he was involved in a feud with Owen Hart. Hart famously botched a sitdown tombstone piledriver during a match with Austin, seriously injuring the neck of “The Rattlesnake” in the process. Austin’s career and even his life could have severely been altered to the point that he could have been relegated to a wheelchair. That did not happen, though, and Austin eventually made a comeback to the ring and became the biggest star in all of the wrestling world for years.
3. Eric Bischoff
The man who nearly took the WWE down while running WCW suffered a massive defeat when his attempts to buy WCW and keep that company afloat died a public death. It logically would have been safe to assume that Eric Bischoff would have become only a memory in the minds of wrestling fans, but he made a shocking comeback when he embraced Vince McMahon on an edition of WWE Raw. Bischoff would go on to become the storyline general manager or Raw, and he continues to be featured on WWE Network shows to this day. Credit to Bischoff for extending his career in the wrestling business for so long.
2. Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan had become a forgotten worker who had disappeared from WCW television before the demise of that company. That changed in 2002, when the Hulkster and his New World Order teammates first appeared on WWE television. What could have been a short and forgettable appearance turned into a significant run for Hogan, one that included the icon of the industry winning the WWE Undisputed Championship. Hogan may not be allowed at WWE shows today because of certain words that he spoke years ago, but his comeback in 2002 nevertheless remains memorable.
1. Shawn Michaels
There has never been an instance in wrestling that more so commanded a “you’ve still got it!” chant from fans than when Shawn Michaels returned to the WWE to face off with Triple H at the 2002 edition of SummerSlam. Little could anybody, at the time, guess what was to come from the man who truly was the showstopper, the headliner, and the main event. As great as Michaels was during the 1990s, he was an even better wrestler following his comeback. Michaels was a once-in-a-generation talent, and his absence on WWE programming is still felt to this day. Thanks for everything, HBK.