It has been well documented that the WWE has been looking thin recently. This is not entirely due to WWE's inability to make superstars. A major reason why is the remarkable number of wrestlers who have contracts with WWE but are inactive due to injury, suspension or are focusing on other work.
In recent weeks, a few of the absent stars have returned, but WWE fans are still eagerly awaiting the return of full-time Superstars Kharma, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Ted DiBiase Jr, R-Truth, Mark Henry, Randy Orton, The Miz, Evan Bourne and Kelly Kelly, while many of the WWE's "special attraction wrestlers" have not been seen in the ring in some time either.
This slideshow will profile the various wrestlers WWE fans can see making in-ring returns in the coming months and when they might make that in-ring return.
UPDATE 19/06/2012: Article updated based on last night's Raw
For those of you who missed the last week or two's WWE television, three recently sidelined wrestlers have made their way back to the ring - Sin Cara, Christian and Alberto Del Rio. With them out of the way, let us move on to previewing other in-ring returns!
Mick Foley has been on WWE TV relatively recently, making him among the few bona fide WWE Legends known to older and younger fans alike. He is also currently signed to a WWE Legends Contract so the stage is set for a return.
Despite recent reports that Triple H is against the use of Mick Foley on television, expect him to return sometime between now and the 1000th episode of Raw, even if it might only be in a brief match like Vader's return last week.
If his in-ring return does not happen in the coming weeks, I would anticipate him appearing at the Royal Rumble on January 29.
It has been recently reported that Kharma is training to prepare for an in-ring return, and it is long overdue. If nothing else, the woman must need the money at this point, having done so little work in the last year.
As soon as she is good to go, I think she will be back on television. And I am sure she will be trained up in time for Money in the Bank, which is increasingly seen as one of WWE's main PPVs. Sometime between now and then, I expect her to return.
Rey is out on a wellness policy violation, meaning we know exactly when he will be back. Given how long Mysterio was out on injury prior to this, WWE is not going to waste any time delaying this further.
With Sin Cara having just returned, both men are ready for the feud fans have been discussing since Sin Cara made his WWE debut.
Money in the Bank has been promoted as a major PPV for the last few years, and SummerSlam remains one of WWE's "Big Four" PPVs. (Plans for Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam suggest the WWE still considers it one of their marquee events.) Either of these events would make the ideal conclusion for a Sin Cara/Rey Mysterio feud.
Expect Mysterio to squash a few mid-card guys to get himself re-established and back into the swing of things first, though.
Like Mysterio, Jericho is serving a suspension, though rather than for wellness policy violation, his suspension is for a recent incident at a WWE event in Brazil.
Despite his WWE return initially being anticipated as a short-term, "special attraction" type return a la The Rock, Jericho has been wrestling on Raw, SmackDown, PPVs and house shows, so expect him to return to action immediately.
Jericho arguably had his biggest impact on his Raw debut (1999) and his two returns from long-term WWE hiatus (2007 and 2011). This suspension might have only been brief, but do not expect Jericho's return to be quiet.
Ted DiBiase is recovering from injury-related surgery at present. His expected return is around the 2nd of July, though, based on this recent report. Being an injury, that is only an approximate date, especially as DiBiase is hardly a main-event star who WWE will be desperate to get back into the ring.
Not really much else to say here. I have not really been that interested in the man in some time now.
Another injured Superstar, R-Truth is expected to be out of action for "several weeks." This makes a concrete prediction hard to make. This should be a big deal, as he is a Tag Team Champion, and while he is out of action, Kofi Kingston is stuck in a bit of a rut. Thankfully, WWE has forgotten that the Tag Team Division actually matters, so that's OK.
The number of injuries on this list is stunning, but this is another one. If Barrett is lucky, he will be back in shape for the 1,000th episode of Raw. Given how star-studded the show is supposed to be, the WWE could probably afford to give him the night off. But if Barrett is ready to perform, you can expect WWE to sneak him in there somewhere.
UPDATE: someone wrote in comments that Wade Barrett is not injured, and is actually shooting a movie. Having done some research, it is apparent that he is indeed shooting a movie, but that the injury is legitimate. Shooting a movie is easier on the body than wrestling, and clearly he is just making use of the free time he has until he is back on the road.
I would guess he is racing to be ready for the July 23 celebrations, but if he is not match-fit by then, he will be by the week after. That would still give him time to set up a feud going into SummerSlam, which is probably why Henry is aiming to be back a little earlier than doctors are advising.
As a marquee name and main-event player, you would expect Randy Orton to be back the instant his wellness policy violation suspension is up on July 30.
There are rumours, however, that WWE is frustrated with Orton and reluctant to bring him back at all. This might explain Orton's slip down into mid-card-level feuds in recent months and WWE's willingness to suspend him. (Typically, main-event Superstars seem to evade wellness policy scrutiny better than other, less important wrestlers.)
With the WWE's roster having been so thin in recent weeks, the firing of arguably the No. 3 full-timer in the company (after John Cena and CM Punk) might seem unthinkable. But once all the superstars in this list are back in action, how vital will Orton be? We saw how low on the WrestleMania 28 card he was.
His future may be up in the air, but at present, Orton is advertised to return July 30, so for now we can assume he will be back.
The Miz is one of the few WWE Superstars who has evaded injury and not foolishly gotten himself suspended. He is busy filming the third film in The Marine franchise for WWE Studios.
WWE will want to promote its new film, so it is possible The Miz will receive a significant push on his return. He had been falling down the card in the last year, so perhaps this will be a career turnaround?
Based on how long filming for The Marine 2 took, I would guess The Miz will be back just before SummerSlam—lucky Miz!
Brock Lesnar will likely return to WWE television the week before SummerSlam to help build up anticipation for his match with Triple H. But I do not expect him to squash a jobber—at this stage in his career, there is no need to. No, he will not compete in the ring again until SummerSlam.
I also doubt there will be any kind of in-ring tussling between Triple H and Brock Lesnar prior to the match because this has happened already and was part of setting up the angle.
Though a regular on WWE TV, Triple H's last match was against The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVIII some time ago. In 2011, Triple H's non-WrestleMania matches saw him somewhat out of shape. But less time has passed this time around, and a main event against Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam is a big enough deal that hopefully Triple H will have taken the time to prepare himself for it.
I recently wrote an article for Bleacher Report suggesting that Triple H should win a PPV fight sometime soon because he now spends so much time putting other wrestlers over that it undermines his credibility. No one expects him to win a match at this point.
However, Brock Lesnar lost his last two UFC matches, lost the debut match of his recent return run and has barely appeared on WWE television since his return, relying on Paul Heyman to sell the feud for him. I think Brock needs the win more than Triple H in this instance.
Injury and wellness violation have kept Bourne off of WWE television for some time now. He has stated he would like to be present for the November Survivor Series Tour when WWE visits international markets, so hopefully he will be back in time for then.
He was working with Kofi Kingston in a tag team when he was last wrestling, a role which R-Truth now fills. It will be interesting if this will be worked into the narrative for his return.
The Rock has stated he expects to be back with the WWE at the start of 2013.
That has to mean either the week before the Royal Rumble—to hype the Rumble, telling "The Millions" that The Rock plans to compete—or as a surprise entrant in the Rumble itself. I know a lot of fans expect the latter, but I find it hard to believe this would not be hyped up because The Rock generates buys.
The Undertaker is expected to appear on the 1,000th Episode of Raw as one of the few men still with the WWE who appeared on the original episode in 1993. (Expect to see Shawn Michaels, who also appeared on the first Monday Night Raw, to turn up as part of a D-Generation X reunion with Triple H.) However, it is unlikely he will compete in a match until the next WrestleMania.
I do not rule out a squash match against a heel, like the recent Vader return, but nothing that would put the Deadman's weak body through anything tough.
Flair is gonna be back in the WWE soon. Everyone knows it. He's on his way out of TNA, and WWE would love to have him back.
I have no doubt that at some point after Flair rejoins, he will have another match or at least get somewhat physical inside the ring (perhaps acting as a manager who strikes the opponent when the referee is distracted?).
Many fans are aware that Flair has competed in TNA and on the Hulkamania Tour since he left WWE, but few seem to remember that Flair was also involved in a Street Fight in WWE against Randy Orton after his retirement match with Shawn Michaels. If WWE was willing to sneak him into the ring then, it will do it again. I can see him turning up in the Royal Rumble or something.
Kelly Kelly has recently been allowed to take some time off by the WWE due to "burn out." It is rumoured that she does not intend to return to the WWE afterwards, but that WWE is keen to have her back and is offering her a lucrative long-term contract. It will be interesting to see where this goes. There is no real information on when she will be back in the WWE beyond the fact that she is still under contract at present.