WWE superstars come and go all the time. Whether it’s due to injuries or unforeseen circumstances, sometimes fans are forced to endure long stretches without their favorite wrestlers. In the meantime, hopefully they develop an affinity for another wrestler, or the WWE pushes some interesting storylines to pick up the slack.
The world of professional wrestling is just like any other professional sport. Injuries must be rehabbed completely before wrestlers are allowed to return. After all, how can you expect someone with, say, a torn muscle to continue to perform at a high level? This is especially true in the WWE, where the importance in placed in how good you look while wrestling. It’s a high-flying sport full of acrobatics and showmanship; you simply cannot perform unless you’re at one hundred percent.
That said, whenever wrestlers rehab completely and finally make their return it makes for a great pop in fan enthusiasm. Oftentimes these wrestlers will surprise their fans on a grand stage, bursting into the middle of a match to rev up the interest and the applause. Over the years there have been several famous examples of this exact scenario. Luckily for you though you don’t have to scan through the annals of WWE history. We’ve compiled a list for your reading pleasure. Here are ten of the best WWE returns in history.
10. Roddy Piper’s WrestleMania XIX Return
Piper had made a living on being random and unpredictable. Oftentimes, this was accompanied with plenty of smack talk too. He’s even credited as the league’s first true maestro with the mic in his hands. Well, when he finally returned to the WWE after seven long years, his reappearance stuck with his tried and true approach to his character.
During Hulk Hogan’s match with Vince McMahon, Piper emerged from the crowd brandishing a pipe. He immediately attacked his old foe Hogan, knocking him across the face with the pipe. It was a strike that left Hulkamania bleeding everywhere. In all, it was a shocker of a return, and one that was a perfect way to reinsert Piper into mainstream wrestling.
9. Ric Flair’s 2001 Return
By 2001, Ric Flair was already a walking WWE legend. His career is one that spans over 40 years now, and he continues to make various appearance for his viewers. All this combines to make him the longest tenured wrestler in WWE history, and it wouldn’t be possible without his 2001 Raw return.
It’s a video segment for the ages, a sort of perfect storm of fan excitement for a returning superstar. The Raw event just so happened to occur in Charlotte, North Caroline, Flair’s hometown. Towards the end, Vince McMahon was in the middle of the ring with Kurt Angle congratulating him on his victory. That’s when Flair’s entrance music played and the crowd went wild. Flair walked to the center stage and announced he was the new co-owner of the league after he’d purchased half the league’s shares. Thus began his feud with Mr. McMahon himself.
8. Big Show’s 2008 Return
Looking back on Big Show’s career, fans may forget that the hulking wrestler is actually human. His size may suggest otherwise, as do all of his WWE victories, but over the years his body took quite the toll. In fact, back in 2007, Big Show was already 35 years old and in need of a little break.
That little break turned out to be an entire year. Some even speculated as to whether or not he was considering hanging it all up. He finally returned at the No Way Out event, making Rey Mysterio the victim of his return to action. This, of course, was also the infamous match in which Floyd Mayweather Jr. burst into the ring to fight Big Show, ensuring his return would go down in history.
7. Hulk Hogan’s 2002 Return
In 2002, the WWE ran with the storyline of incorporating the nWo into the league. It proved to be a bit of a dull affair actually, but the nostalgia factor was certainly there. Hogan was announced as a member and the audience reacted appropriately. The next night was a different story however.
Hogan made a solo return, and the crowd went wild. It was clear from the get go that he would be billed as a WWE villain from this point forward, but he was still so popular that he had a hard time making the fans dislike him. It all culminated in a clash of two of the most popular wrestlers of all time. The Rock walked out to huge applause and challenged the Hulkster to the next WrestleMania match.
6. Stone Cold Steve Austin’s 2000 Return
This return makes the list because of a few things. Namely, it is a major facet of one of the greatest wrestling matches we’ve ever seen. Secondly, well, it was actually quite a testament to who Austin is as a human being, not just a character.
Austin had a storied history of dealing with neck injuries over his career. In 1999, he was sidelined for quite a while due to yet another neck injury, and many questioned whether or not he’d ever return. He battled back. He returned during a match where The Rock was about to be screwed out of a belt title. McMahon and his cronies were throwing everything in his way, helping his challenger Triple H. Austin’s music was played and the crowd went absolutely insane. He went on a tear, busting a chair over McMahon and the cheating refs, and The Rock retained the title.
5. Undertaker’s 2000 Return
Judgement Day 2000 turned out to be the WWE’s topper to Steve Austin’s return. Undertaker’s story up till that point was actually rather similar to Austin’s. He’d been sidelined for quite a while, and nobody was very sure when their favorite undead wrestler would be making his return.
As it so happened, Judgement Day wouldn’t be Undertaker’s return, but the unveiling of a completely reinvigorated character. Rolling up to the stage in a motorcycle, Undertaker was now the American Badass. The fans proved their loyalty, going crazy with applause and cheers in the process. He immediately showed his wrestling form was restored, and proved that he had quite a talent for acting as well.
4. Triple H’s 2002 Return
Professional wrestling, though obviously fake in certain situations, is nevertheless a contact sport. Year after year, WWE superstars fall by the wayside due to injury, and even the biggest names aren’t immune. Case in point: Triple H.
In 2001, Triple H proved just how gritty he was. He tore his quadriceps in the middle of a match with Chris Jericho and Steve Austin, yet continued on to finish the match. The injury kept him out of commission for eight entire months. For weeks leading up to his return, the league realized what they potential had on their hands. They began running videos to hype up the big moment, and when the moment finally arrived at Madison Square Garden it resulted in a monster pop.
3. Chris Jericho’s 2007 Return
Jericho’s return was especially great for all the hardcore fans out there. While he’s never reached the heights of The Rock, Hulk Hogan, or The Ultimate Warrior, Chris Jericho was a fine wrestler in his own right. He and the league sure proved they knew how to hype up an event as well.
After being absent for a period, Jericho and the WWE began releasing some really cryptic videos that captivated fans. Theories began to form as to what they were hinting at, and some fans even speculated that it was Jericho returning. Turns out, they called it right, and Jericho returned late in September 2007. He may not be as popular as The Rock, but he certainly gets bonus points for creativity.
2. Jerry Lawler’s Return After a Heart Attack
Lawler was the familiar ringside announcer that WWE fans had grown to love. This is what made it all the more terrifying when it was revealed he’d suffered a heart attack just before an episode of Raw. This left his partner Michael Cole to fill everybody in, live on air. It was a highly emotional experience for all involved, and made his return even more cathartic.
Lawler’s status was up in the air at times, and fans weren’t even sure he’d pull through. The league kept everyone updated for the next few weeks. In just over two months, Lawler made his return to the wrestling world. He arrived to much fanfare, and thanked everyone for their support over the incredibly stressful period of his life.
1. The Rock’s 2011 Return
The Rock’s last TV wrestling appearance before his 2011 return was way back in 2004. During the interim he was busy becoming one of the wealthiest and most successful actors on planet Earth. Anyone who’d seen him perform in the ring could tell he had the talent for the new gig.
After seven years had passed, many fans probably assumed they’d seen the very last of the ultra-popular Rock. Boy were they wrong. The league had been building up hype for a little while before the event, announcing that a mysterious guest announcer would appear for WrestleMania XXVII. When it turned out to be The Rock himself, and he went on to take center stage with the microphone, it was the loudest pop on this list.