wrestling / Columns

Top 7 Shocking WWE Returns

December 1, 2023 | Posted by Steve Cook
Ultimate Warrior WWE Image Credit: WWE

So…what do you guys want to talk about?

Many things going on here in the world of wrestling, but it seems like the main topic of discussion is CM Punk. In case you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, the Punker made his way back to WWE this past weekend at the Survivor Series. I forget where the show was being held, but perhaps the video will give me some kind of clue.

Thanks guy at 1:40 for telling me it was Chicago! Who would have guessed? In any event, CM Punk is back in WWE and everybody is reacting in a calm and rational manner. There was a time where we didn’t think Punk would ever return to that company. I seem to recall a podcast where Punk talked about how miserable he was there. Times change. People change. Well, I haven’t changed much, but a lot of people I know have!

Since we just saw a shocking WWE return, this seems like a fine time to rank shocking WWE returns. These are people that we never thought would return to WWE that eventually did in some form. Not necessarily in the ring, as sometimes the folks that come back to get inducted in the Hall of Fame are quite surprising. Besides, I already did a pro wrestling comebacks column in 2019 and everybody knows that 7 years is the statute of limitations for repeating your own gimmicks. 

7. Jeff Jarrett

Good ol’ Double J found himself in a tough spot in 2001 when the McMahon family bought WCW. Vince was still a little testy about the circumstances surrounding Jarrett’s departure in 1999, so on the last WCW Monday Nitro show Vince made sure to let Jeff know that he was Double G, Double O, Double N, Double E GGOONNEE. Jarrett’s response to this was to create TNA Wrestling with some help from his friends & family, which served as WWE’s top competitor for a number of years before people forgot what they were doing and things became a bit of a quagmire.

Jarrett himself had a number of ups and downs through the years, both in & out of the ring. I won’t pass judgment on the out of the ring stuff, as everybody has their personal issues and judgment on those are best left to a higher authority than some douchebag that writes about wrestling on the Internet. As much as Jarrett’s booking annoyed me in the early days of TNA, he still founded the company and it’s still alive somehow, so I can’t really knock him for that. I must say that there was a point in time where it felt like WWE would never bring him back, and eventually they did! He even got a cushy front office job for awhile, proving that anything can happen in the World Wrestling Entertainment.

Jeff could be ranked higher, but one of the things I’ve learned in the last couple of decades is never to dismiss the idea of Jeff Jarrett being employed by anybody in wrestling. If he ends up leaving AEW sometime soon, he’ll be somewhere else the next day.

6. Shane McMahon

There was a time when everybody assumed that Shane would be the next in line when his father either retired or died in office. That ended when Stephanie got the bigger jobs in the company and married one of the top stars. There wasn’t really a spot for Shane anymore, so he left WWE behind & did his own thing. He was gone for long enough that fans were able to miss him.

While Shane’s return was quite the surprise, it doesn’t rate as highly as some might argue it does simply because he was still part of the family. Unless Shane did something completely unforgivable that involved jail time or something, he was always going to be welcomed back with open arms.

5. Brock Lesnar

The Next Big Thing had a pretty amazing first run with WWE, becoming one of the most dominant wrestlers immediately upon his arrival. He main evented WrestleMania XIX & won multiple WWE Championships, the first coming via a decisive victory over The Rock at SummerSlam 2002. Lesnar was always in the main event scene and used exceptionally well, but the travel & assorted nonsense quickly wore on him. The WWE way of life wasn’t for Brock, and he left the company after WrestleMania XX.

Since Brock was an insanely talented athlete, he had other options. Even though he hadn’t played American football since high school, he still tried out for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and nearly made it on the team just due to his athleticism. He did some wrestling in Japan, and eventually made his way to the world of mixed martial-arts. Brock was the second man to become a champion in both WWE & UFC, and as much as I love Ken Shamrock I must admit that Brock transitioning from WWE to UFC was more impressive than Ken going from the UFC to the WWF.

There were some hard feelings after Brock’s departure. There was a lawsuit filed between WWE & New Japan Pro Wrestling when they started booking Brock, and Brock’s F-5 finisher name was briefly changed to “The Verdict”. As I’ll probably say a few times in this column, time heals all wounds. Brock suffered some physical ailments and pro wrestling seemed like a better choice than MMA. He came back to WWE, and got a schedule more convenient for his way of life.

4. The Rock

You’ll notice that most of the people on this list made it due to hard feelings. Either the wrestler or WWE or both had reason not to want to work together. Not so in the case of Dwayne Johnson. He didn’t leave WWE because he was mad at Vince or anybody else. Some within WWE might have taken issue with Dwayne, but never to the point where business couldn’t have been done.

Simply put, the reason we thought The Rock would never return to WWE was he became too big of a star. He’d gone off to Hollywood and had the career Hogan wanted to have. Return to WWE? What would be the point?

Well, if you grew up in pro wrestling you never really escape it. Rock made millions and millions of dollars in Hollywood, but still had the desire to entertain the millions and millions of wrestling fans. Once he became a big enough star to call his own shots and do whatever he wanted, wrestling became part of his life again. I’m sure some were still mad, but most of us were glad to see it.

3. Bret Hart

Bret had arguably the most controversial exit in company history, with all of the bad feelings and fallout captured on camera for the world to see. Looking back, the whole thing could and should have been handled better by everyone involved. At least it ended up with Bret knocking Vince out, so that was nice.

If Montreal wasn’t going to be enough to keep the Hitman away forever, a lot of us thought that Owen Hart’s death on a PPV probably would be. Bret was on Martha Hart’s side in her lawsuit while the rest of the family was looking for employment from the company. As the years unfolded, Bret was seen as bitter by many wrestling fans. Considering the way things went down, I never blamed Bret for being bitter.

Does time heal all wounds? Enough for Bret to accept a HOF induction in 2006 & come back to regular television in 2010. It might not have been the artistic success some people really expected for some reason, but it was nice to see Bret featured on the level he deserved.

2. The Ultimate Warrior

Bret ‘s departure was the most controversial, but I’m pretty sure nobody left with more ill will than Warrior. Warrior had multiple chances with the WWF, as Vince McMahon was convinced that his star power was worth the headaches involved backstage. The first run ended with Warrior holding Vince up for more money. The second ended with a failed drug test. The third and final strike came when Warrior no-showed several events.

Things were so bad that years after Warrior’s departure, WWE released a DVD chronicling Warrior’s self-destruction. While it was one of the funnier things the company ever produced, it was certainly mean-spirited and further evidence that fans shouldn’t expect to see Warrior back in WWE.

As happened fairly recently, hell froze over. Warrior finally made amends with WWE and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014…just days before he passed away. We can only wonder what would have happened if Warrior had more time to associate with WWE in the mid-2010s. I feel it would have been interesting.

1. Bruno Sammartino

Of all the people listed here, Bruno stayed away the longest. While he was probably disappointed with his son’s usage in the mid 80s, Bruno had more philosophical gripes with the WWF than personal ones. Sammartino didn’t approve of the direction Vince Jr. took pro wrestling, as he wasn’t a sports entertainment kind of guy. First it was too much of a cartoon, then once the Attitude Era came along it was far too trashy. He also took issue with the prevalent use of steroids by the company’s talent, and felt it was encouraged by management.

Bruno didn’t see what Vince produced for decades as pro wrestling, and wanted nothing to do with it. Eventually, Triple H took the initiative and reached out to Bruno. Once Bruno became familiar with the WWE product of the early 2010s and got to know Triple H & received the proper respect, he was ok with everything.

Most of us never expected it to happen purely because Bruno had stayed away for so long. At least it wasn’t too late for him to get his flowers.

Thanks for reading! Hit me up at [email protected] or on the social media with thoughts, comments or suggestions. Until next time, true believers!