One thing in wrestling that’s nearly guaranteed to pop a crowd is to have a wrestler who’s been away for a while make a big comeback. Whether it’s through a slow buildup or a surprise return, fans always love to see someone they recognize back in the ring after an extended absence. However, to have a successful comeback, you need to keep the energy going after that initial moment of electricity, and occasionally, whether due to failures of the writing team or the wrestlers themselves, what should have been massive comebacks end up flaming out, sometimes incredibly quickly. Here are some WWE comebacks that either should have been a lot better than they ended up, or in some cases, probably should never have happened at all.
11. Batista (2014)
Although he did manage to win the Royal Rumble and main-event WrestleMania as part of his surprising return, Batista’s second run in WWE was massively overshadowed by a massive fan revolt over WWE’s treatment of Daniel Bryan, resulting in Bryan being inserted in the main event and winning the WWE World Heavyweight Title. Afterwards, Batista re-united with Orton and Triple H as Evolution in a war against The Shield, but seemed content to fade into the background, before abruptly quitting the group and leaving WWE again during the summer. The most ridiculous part is, the reason why he left was to do promotional work for Guardians of the Galaxy, which ended up as the top-grossing movie of the year and a breakout performance for Batista. However, due to (justifiable) dissatisfaction with how he was handled during his return, and Batista later alleging that Triple H and Stephanie didn’t have any interest in promoting his role in the movie, WWE missed out on a chance to attach themselves to one of the biggest movies of the summer, and angered one of their biggest stars in the process.
10. Vader (2005)
Vader’s return to WWE in 2005 was over so fast that almost everyone has forgotten that it happened, but it was notable for several reasons. Vader, along with Goldust, returned as part of an angle building up to a Taboo Tuesday match between “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and “The Coach”, Jonathon Coachman. No, that’s not a joke, although it quickly turned into one. Allegedly, when Austin learned that he was going to lose that match to the Coach (albeit due to interference), he exercised his right to say “I’m retired and rich and don’t need to do this” and went home. Scrambling for a replacement, WWE brought in Batista, who was the World Heavyweight Champion on Smackdown, to fill the spot, and even had Batista win easily by fighting off Vader and Goldust’s interference and hitting Coach with a Batista Bomb. Vader, who had come in clearly overweight and not in the best shape, disappeared immediately afterwards and went back to wrestling occasionally on the independent circuit.
9. JBL (2007)
After retiring in 2006, John Bradshaw Layfield moved into the Smackdown commentary booth (replacing Tazz, who had moved to the new ECW brand), and quickly established himself as a knowledgeable presence with excellent chemistry with Michael Cole (we know that’s hard to believe these days, so just trust us), and a breath of fresh air on Smackdown. But after over a year of handling commentary duties, JBL apparently decided he wanted to step back into the ring, attacking Chris Jericho in the main event of the Armageddon PPV in December of 2007, and declaring himself un-retired. While JBL still had the cachet of being a former WWE Champion, his skills had clearly eroded, and he was never that good of a wrestler in the first place. In addition, his departure from the commentary booth hurt that aspect of WWE programming as well. Somehow, he hung around the main event of Raw for the next year, even defeating CM Punk to win the Intercontinental Title just before WrestleMania, becoming a Grand Slam champion in the process. Fortunately, after losing the title to Rey Mysterio in mere seconds at WrestleMania, JBL loudly announced to the live audience that he was quitting, and slipped back into retirement, eventually returning to the WWE announce table.
8. Tatanka (2005)
We’re going to bet a lot of you didn’t even know that Tatanka had an extended comeback with WWE in late 2005, nearly a decade after his initial run with the company which included a year-long undefeated streak, but it’s true. He even had a non-title match against the Tag Team Champions at No Way Out 2006, teaming with Matt Hardy against MNM, which his team won. After failing to win the titles and going on something of a losing streak, Tatanka turned heel, which was about as successful for his career as when he did the same in 1994 to join the Million Dollar Corporation (that is to say, not very). Tatanka bounced around Smackdown for most of the year, even feuding with then-rookie Bobby Lashley, before requesting and receiving his release in early 2007. Since then, Tatanka has made a few special appearances in WWE over the years, including taking part in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32.
7. D’Lo Brown (2008)
There were many people who felt like D’Lo Brown never got a fair shake in WWE, as he earned something of a reputation after an in-ring accident led to the accidental paralysis of Darren Drozdov. After that, Brown never really advanced in WWE, despite showing a considerable amount of skill and garnering something of a fan following. Rock bottom was almost certainly a tag team with Chaz, managed by Tiger Ali Singh, where they dressed in Arabic-style costumes in a gimmick of questionable racial sensitivity. After being released in 2003, Brown went to the indies, as well as Japan, and earned his way back into a new WWE contract in 2008, where he actually had a featured debut on an episode of Raw. Unfortunately, it seemed like there were no specific plans for D’Lo, who appeared rarely after his debut, and was released again in a cost-cutting move in early 2009, barely six months after his return.
6. Rob Van Dam (2013)
At one point, Rob Van Dam was one of the most dynamic personalities in wrestling, and arguably the only wrestler who actually benefited from the WCW Invasion angle to become a bigger star. However, that was no longer the case when WWE made him a surprise entrant in a Money in the Bank ladder match in 2013. An obviously past-his-prime RVD moving at a fraction of the speed of his younger days was not what fans particularly wanted to see, but WWE still pushed him as if he were the big star he used to be. After a run with US Champion Dean Ambrose saw him come up short, RVD was moved into a World title feud with Alberto Del Rio, even breaking Del Rio away from his popular announcer/sidekick Ricardo Rodriguez and having him pair up with Van Dam in the process. The matches that resulted were not particularly good, and RVD ended up in midcard limbo, floating in and out of the Intercontinental title scene, before disappearing again in mid-2014.
5. Roddy Piper (2003)
After making a surprise appearance in an attempt to cost Hulk Hogan his match with Vince McMahon at WrestleMania XIX, Roddy Piper actually stuck around for a couple months afterwards, because apparently both he and WWE believed he could still contribute as an active wrestler. Piper was paired with Sean O’Haire, who had recently re-debuted in a “Devil’s Advocate”-style gimmick, against Hogan and one-legged wrestler Zach Gowan, and as an example of how screwed-up WWE’s priorities were at this point in time, rather than put the two young wrestlers in matches against each other, with the two legends acting as managers and mentors, it was Hogan (as Mr America) and Piper who ended up squaring off in an actual Pay Per View match. It should go without saying that the match was terrible, and the pairing with Piper almost singlehandedly derailed O’Haire’s character completely, which he would never recover from. As for Piper, he did an interview on HBO where he talked about having a massive drug problem and hating his life as a pro wrestler, and was shown the door immediately after it aired.
4. Ultimate Warrior (1996)
No, not the one where he mended fences with WWE for an emotional Hall of Fame induction, inspiring post-Mania speech, and sudden, tragic death. We’re talking about 1996, when WWE was in the midst of getting their butts kicked by WCW and desperate for any possible main event stars to give them a boost. As a result, they signed Warrior to a lucrative contract, ran videos in an attempt to convince the fanbase that everyone was demanding the return of the Warrior, and had him squash a young Hunter Hearst-Helmsley in mere seconds at WrestleMania XII (we didn’t have to mention that part, but we weren’t going to pass up the opportunity). Then he did very little of note for a few months, including an infamous non-match at In Your House 7 against Goldust (who was injured and incapable of wrestling), before getting fired for missing shows and replaced with Sid. And when Sid is your more reliable option, you have seriously messed up somewhere. Warrior would become persona non grata for nearly twenty years due to the controversy over his departure (and several other things he would do and say in public over the years), before finally reconciling with the company in 2014.
3. The nWo (2002)
We’re pretty sure you remember this return, but not in the way WWE wishes you did. With ratings falling, the WCW Invasion angle having already cratered and been discarded, and searching for that one big angle which could turn things back around, WWE in their infinite wisdom decided to bring back the New World Order, re-signing Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall to contracts and putting them back on TV starting at the No Way Out PPV. The problems were immediately obvious to everyone except, clearly, the people in charge: all three men were well past their prime, Nash was at the point where he was actually too fragile to get into the ring, and Hall had a well-documented problem with alcoholism that he was not having much success with fighting. But Vince McMahon would not be denied, and the result was the WWE-approved version of the nWo, which had all of the names but none of the anarchy that had made them the ratings juggernaut of the late 90’s. WWE tried to prop up the group by adding more members, including X-Pac, The Big Show, and for some reason, Booker T and a retired Shawn Michaels. But things kept getting worse, as Hogan got a hero’s welcome at WrestleMania X-8 and immediately turned face, Nash tore his quad walking across the ring during a match, and Hall got fired for repeated incidents involving alcohol. After only a few months of existence, the entire group was disbanded by order of Vince McMahon.
2. Alberto Del Rio (2015)
After Alberto Del Rio was fired for striking a member of WWE’s social media team who allegedly made a racist joke about him, many figured it was only a matter of time before he returned after a “cooling-off period” of sorts. To his credit, Del Rio began doing some of the best work of his career after getting released, and when WWE needed someone to end John Cena’s run as US Champion, he managed to negotiate a pretty lucrative deal, making his big return at the Hell in a Cell PPV and beating Cena cleanly to win the title. And then he started hanging out with Zeb Colter for some reason and proclaiming himself the leader of MexAmerica, a confusing direction to say the least. Del Rio moved into a feud with Jack Swagger, and you could literally watch his motivation disappear on a weekly basis. Eventually, he was moved into the League of Nations stable with Sheamus, Rusev, and Wade Barrett, which will likely go down in history as one of the least competent factions in WWE history. By the time the group split up after WrestleMania, all the shine was gone from Del Rio. The final straw came just before SummerSlam, when he (and his girlfriend Paige, a relationship which had created much controversy due to their age differences and Del Rio still technically being married) was suspended for violating the WWE Wellness Policy. Del Rio then revealed that he had also negotiated an “out” clause into his contract, and he and WWE mutually agreed to part ways in September of 2016, not even a year after his big return.
1. Kevin Nash (2011)
Nash actually makes it onto a list a second time, and this one not only sucked for the usual reasons, but also because his return sidetracked one of the hottest angles WWE had stumbled on in its existence. In the aftermath of CM Punk’s “Pipe Bomb” and subsequent WWE Championship win, departure, and return, it was clear that there were forces in WWE working against the controversial champion. This came to a head at SummerSlam, where after defeating John Cena cleanly for a second straight PPV (something that almost nobody can say, which should give you an idea how big of a star Punk was set to be), Punk was brutally ambused by…Kevin Nash, fresh of getting hired thanks to garnering a huge pop at the Royal Rumble. Punk lost his title to a Money in the Bank cash-in moments later, and the entire wrestling world groaned in unison, realizing that the prospect of a massive Punk run had just turned into a feud with the mostly-retired, almost entirely immobile Nash. To make things even worse, it turned out that Nash couldn’t get medically cleared to wrestle, so Punk ended up not getting any revenge against the geriatric who had cost him the title. WWE ended up throwing the entire thing out and giving the title back to Punk at Survivor Series (who had lost a significant amount of momentum in the meantime), but still decided to have Nash face Triple H in a TLC match at their December PPV for some reason. Having managed to singlehandedly derailed the entire direction of WWE, Nash then disappeared back into retirement.