Goldberg, Batista, Kurt Angle and CM Punk are all destined to reappear under the WWE spotlight, pulled in by passion and paychecks.
WWE's former stars, whether they have been away from the ring for months or years, are persistently confronted with questions about if and when they will return to the company. Goldberg, Batista, Angle and Punk are a part of that group, the subject of fans' longing and fantasy booking.
Recent interviews point to each man's current state of mind regarding a WWE return. Combine that with their age, relationship with the company and the moneymaking potential of a comeback, and one gets an idea of what to expect from them.
Some of the WWE alums audiences want back in action will likely be seen in tuxedos, not wrestling trunks. Others are good bets to add star power to a future WWE event or two.
- Age: 47
- Last year with WWE: 2004
By the time WWE and Goldberg come to terms on the powerhouse's return, it will be too late for it to include a wrestling element. Already nearing 50, Goldberg hasn't shown himself to be in a hurry to slip on spandex.
Before last year's WrestleMania, he admitted on The Roman Show that WWE officials had spoken with him. Those talks didn't lead to a match.
While he remains open to coming back, it appears that his relationship with the company will keep that possibility at bay. On whether he'd get in a WWE ring again, Goldberg told Benjamin Leatherman of The Phoenix New Times, "Once they learn how to do business, then I'd consider it."
This has felt like his mantra, so often has he said it.
Why would things suddenly change? WWE isn't in a position where it needs to beg Goldberg to come back, and he's apparently not in a position where he needs to get on his knees either.
In an interview on the Ring Rust Radio podcast, he said of returning, "It's not something that I wake up every morning and pray to God to and hope that I could lace up my boots one more time because I have to end on a nostalgic note."
That statement points to him having a "take it or leave it" attitude toward extending his WWE career. That's not likely to lead to anything developing in the near future, especially as he gets further and further away from his prime.
Fans are going to have to wait until Goldberg enters the Hall of Fame to see him appear for WWE again. Being honored in that way has to have some appeal and won't require Goldberg to sign off on any proposed storylines or feuds.
- Age: 45
- Last year with WWE: 2014
It was just two months ago that Batista quit on Evolution and waved goodbye to the WWE fans. Another short-term run awaits him before long.
He showed himself to be in good shape last time around, knocking off ring rust after a few matches and becoming a valuable asset to the company. After headlining WrestleMania and Payback, he went off to promote Guardians of the Galaxy.
Although it was far from his first film role, the success of that film and the rave reviews he's been getting for his performance are going to get him more attention from filmmakers.
Forbes' Mark Hughes wrote, "One stand-out element making the team work is Bautista's excellent comedic timing coupled with a terrific moment of humility and self-realization." Grantland's Wesley Morris wrote, "Bautista's soulful, humorous humorlessness might be the happiest surprise of all."
This kind of buzz didn't emerge for his other roles.
With that in mind, one has to imagine he'll be busier in the near future. His love for the business will have him make time to step into the ring again, though.
In an interview with Steve Persall of the Tampa Bay Times, the former world champ said, "I'd love to go back. I'm a professional wrestler at heart, and I miss it. But I want to be there and be happy with what I'm doing."
He's not likely going to want to end his career with the awkwardness and fan backlash that stained his last WWE run. Being the babyface fans booed after winning the Royal Rumble or the man fans ridiculed because of his blue tights is not exactly riding off into the sunset.
Expect him to fit another WrestleMania season into his schedule, likely culminating in a swan song against Triple H.
Batista told Rob Leigh of the Mirror, "Triple H right now is the guy I really want to work with. I want to go back and that's hopefully that'll be my retirement program."
It would be a fitting way to go out. Triple H helped Batista reach headliner status as an ally in Evolution and as an enemy at WrestleMania 21. The last we saw of Batista in a WWE setting, he was angry and frustrated with The Game for never coming through on his promise to give him another title shot.
There's an easy story to continue.
- Age: 45
- Last year with WWE: 2006
Angle's final chapter will transport him back to where he began. Count on the Olympian finishing out his career in WWE, composing a handful of memorable matches on big stages.
He says he's healthy, sober and ready for the opportunity.
Speaking with Jim Ross on The Ross Report, Angle noted that his TNA contract expires on Sept. 21 and that he's hesitant to re-sign. That's because he has one more run in him with the company that launched his pro wrestling career. He told Ross that he's been clean for a year and is healthy enough to pass a physical.
Pare down his schedule to a handful of bouts, and Angle could thrive. Fans who follow his work in TNA know that he can still bring it.
Count on him going on a farewell tour of sorts, competing at one last SummerSlam and WrestleMania and putting on a show against a few of the younger guys. Afterward, a behind-the-scenes role is a strong possibility.
As he told Ross, Angle has a great admiration for both amateur and pro wrestling. He said, "I love them both so much. I have a passion for them. I have a lot to teach the younger guys."
Angle's not young enough to go for much longer, but he can have a powerful impact on NXT by sharing his knowledge of the mat game.
- Age: 35
- Last year with WWE: 2014
Punk will cool down eventually. He'll hunger to perform again.
Desire died in him at some point in his WWE career. The grind of the schedule, the drain of backstage politics and the accumulation of injuries seemed to make him lose his love for wrestling.
Paul Heyman talked in detail about that to Chris Jericho on the Talk Is Jericho podcast, painting a picture of a man who had no passion left and thought about quitting for a long time.
Heyman has since said that Punk believes he's done for good. The manager told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour, "I think in his heart of hearts, CM Punk absolutely has it in his mindset, in his heart and his soul, and passionately feels, 'I will never put on a pair of boots again.'"
That followed Punk telling Chris Van Vliet of Cleveland's CBS affiliate that fans would "never, ever" see him in a ring again (NSFW note: Punk uses some brief profanity here):
It's been only six months since Punk quit, though. Let the time he spends at home recuperating add up, and things are likely to change.
Does one just stop loving something he's great at? Can one spend the majority of one's adult life perfecting a craft only to just abruptly stop doing it?
As time goes by, Punk will miss the roaring crowds and the thrill of pulling off a near-perfect match.
He's like a painter who has given up on his art form. Eventually, the brush comes calling. Eventually, walking by enough museums will compel him to cover a canvas once more.
Look for Punk to come in for a short run in a few years, leading up to WrestleMania 33 or 34. The moneymaking power of his triumphant return has to cancel out all the ill will the company has against him. Burying the proverbial hatchet is what's best for business.
For Punk, not having to grind out a full WWE schedule will have a great appeal, as will being on WrestleMania's marquee.