With the WWE’s post WrestleMania mentality putting a huge emphasis on a New Era, changing the product was absolutely essential. One of the biggest changes that needed to be made was the involvement of SmackDown. Numbers continue to decline, and for various reasons, fans just stopped caring about the show. Daniel Bryan tried to save SmackDown during his final days wanting to compete exclusively on the show. His thinking was right, and the WWE is now recreating a brand extension having wrestlers exclusively on separate brands; not to mention the show will air live.
Aiding SmackDown was essential, but pushing young stars was also a hot topic. With too many cooks in the kitchen, new era stars were getting lost in the shuffle. Having separate brands will finally give them their time to shine. But this raises the question: who will put them over? The WWE acknowledged this issue by reaching out to several former employees. The company wants huge rosters on each brand, both with a mix of new era talent and well established veteran faces.
The following article will take a look at who these established stars are rumored to be. Each will make an impact in their own way, and this article will explain how and in what regard. Enjoy this list of 15 rumored names likely to return during the WWE’s brand extension!
15 Trish Stratus
Her career in women’s wrestling remains unmatched to this day. Her fine resume includes a seven-time Women’s Championship Title holder, the prestigious award for Diva of the Decade and perhaps her most impressive accomplishment of all, a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame, class of 2013. What made all these accomplishments so remarkable is the fact that she was able to do all of this before hitting the age of 40.
To this day, Trish remains very active in watching the product from an outside perspective. She also still attends wrestling conventions from time to time. With the women’s division in desperate need of depth with the brand extension coming along you can bet Trish will be getting a phone call at some point. The Hall of Fame Superstar admitted herself she would be interested in a return, though it has to be something meaningful. What about a feud on Raw with Charlotte? Or a dream match against Sasha Banks? There certainly is enough talent to get Trish out of retirement and into a WWE ring.
14 John Morrison
Creative differences eventually ended the career of John Morrison on a WWE stage. On the heels of signing a new deal with the company, he tried to gain creative control while moving up the card sheet. Despite his obvious in-ring talents and genetic superiority over most of the others, the company just didn’t see Morrison in the same light. The company loved his work but just not as a prominent fixture for the show.
What Morrison did next shocked many fans, as he decided to part ways with the company; certainly an admirable decision to leave the WWE, as it takes a great deal of you know what. Morrison was looking for a chance to shine, an opportunity to be "the guy". Signing with the innovative Lucha Underground promotion, Morrison became exactly what he envisioned: a star competing in the upper-card. At the age of 36, the California native is putting on some excellent matches catching the eyes of WWE execs who desperately need established names to add into the mix during a brand extension, which is focusing on building new stars. Morrison commented on rumors claiming he will return at some point but as of right now, his heart is with Lucha Underground. Good for you, John. Good for you.
13 Daniel Bryan
Much to everyone’s surprise, Daniel Bryan’s name is slowly resurfacing online as a rumored name set to return during a hyped brand extension. His market value is unmatched on a WWE surface; including Bryan in anything involving a brand split would be a major plus. An in-ring role seems extremely unlikely, although rumors have been floating around that he will return to action at some point, just not in a WWE ring.
So that raises the question: what purpose would he serve during the brand extension asides from being a recognizable face? Well, his involvement can take several shapes, with the obvious one being to run Raw as the acting General Manager. I can see Bryan in a similar light to Mick Foley’s commissioner run back in the Attitude Era. Foley was a people person, although he managed to recreate himself under the new acting role. In a similar light, I can see Bryan changing his ways and becoming a strong presence to run Raw. Some have also suggested a role at commentary, but we can all agree a GM position would be better suited for the former WWE Champion.
12 Carlito Cool
His WWE debut was memorable to say the least. Not many wrestlers succeed in making an early impact as Carlito did when he won the United States Championship on his first night. What made the accomplishment even more impressive was the fact that he beat this up and comer guy, John Cena. I wonder how that Cena guy would go on to fair following that loss? Carlito’s victory would start a great rivalry between the two and in doing so, Cool would cement a spot as a prominent mid-card wrestler for the company. With so much potential, the company ultimately lost him in the shuffle relegating him to a Tag Team wrestler. He was later released after turning down a rehabilitation stint for an apparent addiction to pain killers.
I'm surprised it has taken this long for his name to resurface. His contributions were noteworthy and he is most certainly deserving of another shot. With the priority of mixing in veterans with new era wrestlers, Carlito’s involvement becomes that much more important when you think about him putting over a younger talent. Not to mention, he hasn’t stopped working since leaving the WWE, so ring rust isn’t an issue. I’m not sure there is a better name pegged for a return to Raw or SmackDown. His return seems the most likely at this point when you assess the company’s needs.
11 Shelton Benjamin
Speaking of a talented, veteran-like, mid-card presence, Shelton Benjamin is another useful name that can add some serious value to a brand. Benjamin can thrive in both a heel or face gimmick; either way the former Tag Team Champion can excel at putting talent over. Something he was notorious for during his run with the WWE.
Since leaving the company, Benjamin excelled in what he does best: his in-ring work. The former United States Champion took his talents to the indie scene and later across the sea to the New Japan wrestling promotion. In his role with the company he simply thrived, putting on some of the most spectacular matches. He is now 40 and still competing at such a high level. Benjamin admitted in several shoot interviews that he would make a WWE return, it was just a matter of the company expressing interest in the veteran. With a strong need for a massive experienced talent pool on each brand, Shelton’s name seems like one of the most logical fits. Like Carlito, his return seems rather likely.
10 Paul Heyman
We have thus far taken a look at wrestlers outside of the company that are due for a return. Now, we will take a different angle by pointing the figure at an iconic wrestling personality that is still very much a member of the company, but has been limited to an off-screen role in the last couple of months. That man is Paul Heyman. Depth is what the company desperately needs during a brand split, and I'm not sure anyone does this better in terms of promo quality than Paul Heyman. The guy can add a different dimension to any show.
His involvement ranges (like Daniel Bryan). You can have him back in a managerial role which failed time and time again because, well, after you’ve managed Brock it could only go south from there. Which raises the question: what about a role as a General Manager? He’s done it in the past, both creatively and on-screen. If you remember his run, it’s safe to say he thrived managing to make SmackDown a must-watch program for tremendous wrestling matches. With a new era in place, his insights would be valuable. It’ll be interesting to see at what point Paul returns to the mix and if it will be limited to a managerial role alongside Brock.
9 Steven Richards
Some curious names surfaced online when it was revealed which former WWE stars were contacted. Steven Richards was one of them. Not because of his talents, but rather his age, which is closing in on 45. If you follow Richards, you know that age is just a number, as the former WWE veteran is in the best shape of his life. I recently did a "Where Are They Now" piece on Richards, and it’s safe to say he’s still in wrestling condition today. Some actually believe he looks better today than he did back in the 90s.
His veteran presence would be useful on any brand, especially SmackDown which is aiming for something new and exciting with the development of younger stars. Richards would be best served as a veteran presence putting over young talents at this point in his career. His usefulness would serve greatly, adding some depth to any roster (whether it’s Raw, SmackDown or even NXT).
His gimmick and WWE involvement was very present during his WWE run. MVP was a great addition to the SmackDown brand and thrived in a role as a prominent upper/ mid-card wrestler for the show. He managed two stints with the United States Championship, along with an improbable Tag Team Championship run alongside former WWE alumni, Matt Hardy.
Since leaving the WWE, MVP has managed to stay active with his in-ring work, and I’m sure this factor caught the eye of WWE executives who are looking for veteran wrestlers who are still actively working today. MVP perfectly fits this bill, staying in in-ring shape since his departure from the WWE in 2010. The Florida native spent time with various promotions, including New Japan, TNA and recently Lucha Underground. His time with Lucha was unfortunately limited, as he was released by the company in 2016 due to a violation he broke for his podcast. Some see this as a blessing, because with no contractual obligations, his WWE return seems highly likely.
7 Cryme Tyme
With a need for veteran singles talent, also comes the discussion for experienced teams in a Tag Division that looks to have a strong future because of NXT’s proper developmental methods. With so many great teams nearing the cusp of excellence, you need a strong supporting cast around them to properly put the younger teams over. That’s where Shad Gaspard and JTG come in.
The team can not only help to establish other young teams, but they can also add some depth to a program with some comedic relief, a factor they were notorious for during their first stint with the WWE. You can expect the team to make a WWE return quickly, adding a veteran presence to any brand, whether it’s Raw or SmackDown. Other teams have also been called. Veterans like The Hardy Boyz, Too Cool and TNA’s Beer Money featuring Bobby Roode and James Storm, have also been linked to a potential return.
6 Gail Kim
This return seems to be the most farfetched on the list, when you consider Gail said she’d never return to the WWE after the way she was treated during her run. Despite being the best female wrestler, the company failed to push Kim when it mattered, and rumors surfaced that Vince McMahon did not like Gail and ultimately this cost her her position, despite her obvious in-ring abilities.
With a new focus on women as in-ring performers, new era talent needs highly talented veterans to get over, especially when you factor in a brand division which will cut the talent pool in half. Gail’s contributions would be needed, especially when you factor in that she meets every criteria. An established veteran wrestler who still performs incredibly well. She has stayed active with TNA Wrestling since her WWE departure, so ring rust isn’t even a question. Don’t be surprised if the WWE contacted Gail for a possible return.
5 Jeff Hardy
His name value is still immense. Wrestling fans adore Jeff Hardy, who brought in such a unique style during the early 2000s, paving the way for a tremendous Tag Team division which hasn’t been the same since. Hardy’s career was unfortunately plagued by his heart and compete level, being in the wrong place at times. This eventually hurt him and cost him a future with the WWE, a company that is always looking at things in a long term perspective. Now older and wiser, it may be the proper time for Jeff to make his long awaited return. Looking at it from a distance, it just seems to be the right time.
Hardy admitted himself, a WWE return would happen before he rode off into the sunset and called it a career. With the purpose of putting new talent over, Jeff is perfectly suited for the task, knowing how to lead a match while making his opponent look great in the process. His return is very probable and he will add immense value to whichever brand he goes to.
4 Rey Mysterio
Rey’s name was one of the first to be linked to a possible return after it was revealed that the WWE would be going back to separate brands. Rightfully so, Mysterio was one of the best overachieving stars during the last brand split, and his market value with the SmackDown brand reached new heights. He became the unofficial ambassador for the brand.
After achieving high levels of success, creatively things started to go sour for Rey and the WWE, and this eventually led to the former WWE Champion asking for a release from the company. He’s been away for quite some time now, going back to Mexico and working with Lucha Underground. Despite his time away from a WWE ring, we can all assume his heart is still with the WWE product. A run with the SmackDown brand seems inevitable. It’s a matter of "when" and not "if", at this point. His return will appeal to a broad demographic, something that certainly excites the WWE executives.
When the list of possible returnees surfaced online, Goldberg was one of the most talked about names that was featured on the list. With his recent involvement marketing the next WWE 2K17 game, his relationship with the WWE brand once again resurfaced, despite a bitter ending between the two parties. Now older and wiser, Goldberg admits he would be interested in making a part-time appearance for the WWE product in some capacity.
His relationship with the company is rocky to say the least, but as we’ve seen countless times in the past, business is business. If Bischoff can get employed by the WWE, anyone can. Goldberg can help bring in a demographic of fans over 30 that would certainly tune in to see his return. With a new era in place, it is critical the WWE blends this in with some veteran presence that have immense draw value which is already established, similar to the likes of Goldberg. As the years go by, the window gets smaller and smaller. There is no time better than the present to get the WCW legend back in a WWE ring. His return is a strong possibility at this point. Stay tuned.
2 Randy Orton
With all the recent buzz generated from possible returns during the brand split, WWE Superstar Randy Orton, seems to be the forgotten one since his shoulder injury that put him on the sidelines way back in September of 2015. According to recent news, Orton is set to return very soon and will in fact play a pivotal role in the brand extension storyline in some manner. Orton is rumored to join the Raw brand due to his obvious draw value, stemming from years and years in an upper-card role with the company. Though his actual in-ring return may be pushed back until later August, according to recent speculation The Viper is set to return at SummerSlam.
With a need for established stars, Orton will play a crucial role for whichever brand he falls into. As a former eight-time WWE Champion and four-time World Heavyweight Champion, his experience and star value is immense. Heel or face, the master of the RKO will be a huge returning face that the WWE will welcome back with open arms.
1 Kurt Angle
There is no name in the world of pro wrestling that has started more conversations recently than Kurt Angle. When the brand split was made official, his name was the first to appear online as a rumored returnee. Not surprising when you consider Angle put SmackDown on his back helping it to become must-see television during its prime.
Rumors further intensified when it was revealed that Angle and Triple H met while both were attending the same event. After the meeting, Kurt went public saying a WWE return was a matter of “when” and not “if”. This sent shockwaves around the WWE universe. His involvement is assured, leaving us to speculate what he will do. The potential list includes a run as General Manager, teammate with American Alpha, part timer or what we all want, a full time butt kicker. You can expect the rumors to further intensify as the weeks go by and we get closer to the draft day.