The 11 Best Returns in WWE History
Professional wrestling is unpredictable.
Unlike a regular job, no one is able to consistently work year after year without significant time off.
The wrestlers get hurt, they have personal problems and creative disagreements with management that keep them out of the limelight for months or years.
But with the right story and surprise, the moment a wrestler returns can remain etched in the minds of fans forever.
Here is a list of 11 wrestlers who were away from us for too long, but eventually made unforgettable returns.
photo via whatistheexcel.com
Left the company: Feb. 10, 1993
Returned to the company: Nov. 2001
Ric Flair spent less than two years in the WWF in the early 90s. While he captured the heavyweight title, his run wasn't as successful as many thought it would be.
Flair, though, was WCW through and through. In 1993, he asked Vince McMahon for his release and returned back home to the company until its demise in 2001.
Months after WCW went out of business, The Nature Boy came back. Unfortunately, Flair missed out on the entire Invasion angle which could have greatly used his leadership and mic skills.
Even stranger was that Flair debuted just one day after the end of WCW, when the WWF had defeated The Alliance in a winner-take-all Survivor Series match.
On Raw, Flair returned in grand style when he was announced as the co-owner of the WWF along with McMahon. Once Flair's familiar "Also Sprach Zarathustra" blared over the loudspeaker, McMahon looked as if he'd seen a ghost.
Things were even worse for the boss when he found out that Flair now owned half his company after his children, Stephanie and Shane, sold their shares to him.
It had been over eight years since the world had seen Ric Flair in the WWE, but it was well worth the wait.
Injured: Nov. 1999
Returned from injury: Apr. 30, 2000
Steve Austin had a history of neck injuries during his run in the WWF. As a triple threat pay-per-view match approached with him wrestling, he suddenly found himself unable to compete.
The company had to quickly write him out of the match and off of TV. An angle was staged where someone ran him over with a car to explain his absence.
For months afterwards, Austin stayed at home rehabbing his neck in order to return. Due to prior injuries, it wouldn't have been out of the question for him to call it a career right then and there. Austin didn't give up though, and made his return at Backlash's main event involving The Rock and Triple H.
As Vince McMahon and his cronies were trying to screw The Rock out of the title, Austin's classic glass-shattering music was heard and he came down to the ring wielding a chair.
Just listen to the pop that Austin got in the video (around the 56-second mark), then look at Vince McMahon's incredible reaction to see why this return was fantastic.
photo via wwe.com
Left the company: Sept. 1996
Returned to the company: Mar. 30, 1998
The last time we saw Sean Waltman in the WWF he was a kid. When he returned, he was a man, and now known as X-Pac.
What made X-Pac's return so great was how it was such a landmark moment in the company's history.
The night before, Shawn Michaels had lost to Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV. It was the end of an era with Michaels out and the beginning of a new one with with Austin now undeniably the No. 1 star.
But with Michaels gone, that left a big question mark over the future of D-Generation X.
Triple H came to the ring and announced that DX was going to move on, but with him in charge now. What he needed though, was another member. He reached out to fellow clique member X-Pac, who had just been let go from WCW weeks before.
X-Pac had the look and attitude to fit in perfectly with the group. He cut a passionate promo and took shots at both Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff. Waltman's firing was a blessing in disguise, as it wasn't long after that WWF started to overtake WCW in the ratings war.
Left the company: After WrestleMania XII
Returned to the company: At WrestleMania XIX
The last time that Roddy Piper was at WrestleMania, Steve Austin was wrestling Savio Vega in the second match of the show.
Times had changed, but Piper still knew how to make an entrance.
In the seven long years that Hot Rod was out of the WWE, he missed out on the Attitude Era completely, as he spent most of that time in WCW.
Piper returned to the WWE and wasted no time diving right back into it with his old nemesis Hulk Hogan.
During Hogan’s match with Vince McMahon, Piper emerged from the crowd brandishing a pipe. He laid Hogan out with it, causing him to bleed profusely. It was an unexpected and random return, but one that was perfectly befitting for the unpredictable Piper.
Injury: Sept. 1999
Returned from Injury: May, 2000
The Undertaker seems to have had a couple dozen returns in his career so far, with probably a couple more left to go.
It’s a character that you don’t want overexposed, so Taker knows when it’s time to take a break. Add that into a long history of injuries and at times it seems that he's gone more often than he’s around.
Arguably Undertaker's greatest return, though, was also his most shocking one. For the first time, we saw The Dead Man look human.
On an episode of SmackDown in 1999, The Undertaker was “fired” by Vince McMahon. In actuality, he just needed a few months off to heal from an injury. Those few months turned into the better part of a year, when he ended up tearing a pectoral muscle as well.
At Judgment Day, the evil finally returned. The Rock and Triple H were engaged in an epic, 60-minute Iron Man Match, but Rocky had the deck stacked against him. The entire McMahon-Helmsley regime was out to screw over The Great One.
What they weren’t counting on though was a returning Undertaker barreling down the entryway on a motorcycle. Gone was the goth outfit, and instead he was dressed in a bandanna and long trench coat.
Undertaker quickly manhandled the entire group and delivered one of the greatest chokeslams of all time on poor X-Pac.
While Undertaker inadvertently cost The Rock the match, the night will still be better remembered for his remarkable return that began a new chapter in his legendary career.
The Big Show
Left the company: Feb. 2007.
Returned to the company: Feb. 2008
Before his 35th birthday, it seemed like The Big Show was ready to hang up the tights (or the big sweaty singlets). After years in the business, his body was hurting bad. He needed a break.
No one was quite sure when, or if, the big man would return to the ring. Eventually, he came back after more than a year's absence at No Way Out.
Unluckily for Rey Mysterio, Show wanted to hurt somebody his first night back, and he went after the much smaller grappler.
Show wasn’t very successful though, as Floyd “Money” Mayweather and his posse emerged from the crowd to defend Mysterio. Things got heated, and Mayweather landed a few quick jabs on the much larger man, breaking his nose in the process.
The group then ran off into the crowd having pulled a fast one on the giant.
While Big Show had been getting stale before his time off, he returned to a hot angle that freshened him up and put him right back in the spotlight.
photo via wwe.com
Injured: May 21, 2001
Returned from injury: Jan 7. 2002
No matter what you may think of Triple H as a person or as a character, you have to admire his toughness.
During a tag match on Raw with Steve Austin against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, Hunter tore his quadriceps, putting him out of action for eight months. Somehow, he finished the match, and even took a Lion Tamer from Jericho.
It was a bad time for Hunter to go down too, as the Invasion angle was only a few weeks away from starting. He ended up missing out on the entire storyline, which had to have been a frustrating experience.
Things got better for him though as the months wore on. The WWF started to run some first-rate videos hyping his return that were accompanied by U2’s “Beautiful Day.”
After so much time on the sideline, The Game finally returned to Madison Square Garden and a monster pop.
photo via wrestlingclique.com
Last live TV appearance: 2004
WWE TV return: February 14, 2011
Finally, The Rock came back to the WWE!
It was like fate bringing The Rock and the WWE Universe back together on Valentine’s Day. It gave the crowd the perfect chance to show how much they’d loved and missed The Great One.
Many thought he’d never appear again, let alone wrestle. He didn’t need to. He made a gigantic sum of money becoming one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. It would be hard to blame him for never associating with wrestling again.
But he did, and it was electrifying.
The WWE had been experimenting with months of guest hosts on Raw. It was getting old, and the announcement that WrestleMania was going to have one was a bit of a scary thought.
Who could it be?
Fortunately, the announcement not only lived up to the hype, but far exceeded it.
WWE initially teased us with who the host was by showing a woman's legs step out of a limo. Then, during the last segment of the show, we found out the big reveal. Rock’s music played, and he emerged to perhaps the biggest pop the company had received in years.
Once in the ring, it was like he hadn’t skipped a beat. He cut a passionate promo that was both funny, promoted WrestleMania XXVII and managed to tear down John Cena, much to the delight of the crowd.
Rock knocked it out of the park that night, and it was good to know that he was back in the family.
If nothing else, it was good to have The Rock back, so our final memory of him wouldn’t be of him hosting a Divas Search pie-eating contest.
Left the company: Aug. 25, 2005
Returned to the company: Sept. 24, 2007
Chris Jericho has never been a huge star on the level of a Steve Austin or Rock, but he still manages to come up with the most interesting ways to return.
What made Jericho's 2007 return so good was how well done the short videos hyping it were. The videos were cryptic. They contained a series of random text and computer codes that appeared nonsensical. The only words that could be visibly made out were SAVE_US.222.
But what exactly did that mean?
A series of theories popped up online that brought forth compelling evidence attempting to explain it. Most fans searching for clues came to believe it was Jericho.
WWE's most awesome but random clue contained a website hidden in the video that could be accessed which had the image of a 14th-century Icelandic manuscript that detailed the walls of Jericho crumbling.
The vast majority of fans were left in the dark about the true meaning of these images, but it was a great way to get hardcore fans even more excited for the impending return of Y2J.
Suffered heart attack: Sept. 10, 2012
Returned: Nov. 12, 2012
Jerry Lawler had the shortest absence from WWE by anyone on this list, but his return was the most emotional.
On the Sept. 10 episode of Raw, Lawler suffered a heart attack on the air. It was a strange moment for everyone, as the commentary suddenly went silent. Over the course of the night, a visibly distraught Michael Cole filled us in to what had happened.
As the show progressed, we weren't even sure if Lawler was going to live. Thankfully, by the time the show ended, we found out that he had pulled through and was going to be okay.
For weeks after, WWE updated us to his condition and announced that he would be returning to commentary.
In shortly after two months following his heart attack, Lawler returned to WWE's flagship show to much fanfare. An emotional Lawler thanked the fans for all their thoughts and prayers. It was a perfect ending to the story, until WWE actually went into story mode and brought out CM Punk to cut a promo on him.
While the added angle was unnecessary, it still couldn't take away from how great it was to see The King back on his throne.
Left the Company: 1981
Returned to the Company: 1983
Most fans probably don’t recognize the significance of Hulk Hogan vs. Bill Dixon, but it was the first match of Hogan’s second and insanely successful run in the WWF.
Hogan was an up-and-coming heel star in the company in the late-70s. Along with Freddie Blassie by his side, he seemed destined for big things before leaving.
Over the next couple of years, he spent time in Japan, became a mega babyface in the AWA and had a memorable role in Rocky III.
But it was Hogan's return to the WWF in late 1983 that began to set the wrestling world on fire. The match itself was short and pretty unremarkable. While the fans in the small St. Louis arena didn’t seem to go crazy for the returning Hogan, they got to witness something special that would change the wrestling landscape forever.