Nobody is ever finished in wrestling, and everybody will eventually return to the WWE at the end of their career. Whether it be one last return to the ring in the Royal Rumble match, a final run in the company or a WWE Hall of Fame induction, very few wrestlers have refused to return to the WWE eventually.
Sometimes, WWE returns just fall flat and fail to inspire the crowd. Sometimes, the company just struggles to book them correctly, and doesn’t understand what the audience like about the WWE superstar. This article will look at the worst WWE returns of all time, exploring why they failed and how the company fumbled their legendary superstars.
10. Kevin Nash (2011)
For his hand ruining the best angle the WWE has had in years, Kevin Nash’s comeback in 2011 has to make it on this list. His role in texting himself from Triple H’s phone, telling himself to attack CM Punk to allow Alberto Del Rio to win the WWE Championship, was as nonsensicle as it was stupid.
CM Punk was the hottest wrestler in the world in the summer of 2011, following his iconic “Pipebomb” promo. He won the WWE Championship from John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011 (earning him his first five-star match in WWE), before losing it at Summerslam 2011 after being attacking by a returning Kevin Nash.
Punk absolutely dominated Kevin Nash on the microphone, but the match between the two never came to be. Kevin Nash couldn’t get medically cleared to face Punk, and was replaced by Triple H (who came out of retirement to beat Punk, before going back into retirement afterward).
Somehow, Nash was cleared to wrestle later that year, facing Santino Marella and Triple H in matches before leaving the company. His run wasn’t just boring and confusing, but it actively helped kill “The Summer of Punk”, which is why it is one of the worst comebacks ever.
Learn more about why CM Punk vs Kevin Nash never happened.
9. Shawn Michaels (2018)
Crown Jewel 2018 was home to one of the worst wrestling matches of all time. Shawn Michaels ruined his storybook ending to his career at WrestleMania 25 to come out of retirement for a multi-million dollar payday in Saudi Arabia, in a dream match 20-yeaes too late.
After nearly a decade outside the ring, the Heart Break Kid teamed up with Triple H (as “D-Generation X”) to do battle with two of the WWE’s biggest monsters – Kane and The Undertaker (The “Brothers of Destruction”). With a combined age of about 200 (and that may be underplaying it), the bout was doomed to fail, with all four men well past their prime.
It got even worse, however. Triple H and The Undertaker suffered injuries during the match. With Kane not a full-time wrestler anymore, it fell to a long-retired Shawn Michaels to direct the match, which turned into an utter, utter disaster. It was one of the worst matches ever, and encouraged Shawn Michaels to stay retired, and focus on booking NXT instead.
8. Batista (2014)
Batista returned to the WWE at the 2014 Royal Rumble, immediately becoming the most hated man in wrestling. Not only did that match mark the end of CM Punk’s WWE career, but it saw the fans totally turn on the entire Royal Rumble field, booing even Rey Mysterio after learning that Daniel Bryan wasn’t included in the match.
Batista went on to win the Royal Rumble, booking a spot in the main event of WrestleMania 30. While Daniel Bryan was eventually added to the main event, Batista was still incredibly hated, and seen as a symptom of the WWE’s horrendous booking during this time.
While Batista’s return saw some good matches (the WrestleMania main event, plus the two “Evolution vs Shield” matches), duds against the likes of Alberto Del Rio and Dolph Ziggler helped cement this run as disappointing. Seen as he was brought back to become the WWE Champion at WrestleMania, Batista’s comeback can only be seen as an abject failure.
7. Kurt Angle (2017)
After he left TNA in 2016, WWE fans welcomed Kurt Angle back with opens arms. He was inducted into te WWE Hall of Fame on the night before WrestleMania 33, and just two days later, WWE named Kurt Angle as the new General Manager of Raw. It seemed just a matter of time he would step back into the ring again, putting on more classic matches.
However, WWE waited too long for his return. After Roman Reigns suffered an injury before TLC 2017, Kurt Angle replaced him in the long-awaited The Shield reunion match, dressing head-to-toe in classic Shield gear. It was clear to anybody watching that he could not move like he used to, with the 18-months outside the ring causing his joints to stiffen up. He looked a shell of his former self.
Angle continued to wrestle until 2019, when he faced Baron Corbin in a retirement match at WrestleMania 35. It was clear to everybody (and Angle even admits it) that the match was not good, and that John Cena should have been the man to end his career. Angle went out with a whimper, WWE fumbling his return by not letting his wrestler before it was too late.
6. Bray Wyatt (2022)
After being fired by the WWE during the pandemic, fans were incredibly excited for Bray Wyatt’s return to the WWE in 2022. WWE had heavily hinted at his comeback, with various easter eggs and teasers appearing on their program, with QR codes linking to clues online for fans to follow.
After two-years away from wrestling, Bray Wyatt returned to the WWE at Extreme Rules 2022. He addressed the live crowd as Bray Wyatt, but with more of a touch of his own personality inside. However, his character soon devolved into unexplained messes, with the inclusion of Uncle Howdy adding even more confusion.
Bray Wyatt only wrestled once in his return – against LA Knight at the Royal Rumble, in the terrible “Mountain Dew Pitch Black Match”, that ended in Uncle Howdy completely missing a Swanton Bomb through a table on LA Knight. He was planned to wrestle Bobby Lashley at WrestleMania, but illness took him off that show.
Bray Wyatt’s second run in the WWE ended up just being rambling promos about Uncle Howdy, that did nothing but confuse the crowd. Uncle Howdy was originally another side of Bray Wyatt, then he began attacking the former WWE Champion, before helping him in his endeavors – including trying to recruit Alexa Bliss into his fun house.
Sadly, Bray Wyatt passed away on August 24, 2023 due to the same illness that caused him to miss WrestleMania, at the age of just 36.
5. Tatanka (2006)
Tatanka was a very shocking return to the WWE in 2006. Apart from a one-night-only return to face Kurt Angle, Tatanka hadn’t been seen in the WWE for a decade when he came back in the 2006 Royal Rumble. His performance seemed to impress Vince McMahon, who hired the Native American superstar and placed him in a tag team with Matt Hardy shortly after.
However, the pair failed to win the WWE Tag Team Championships in this run, and Tatanka turned heel on Haryd not long after their team began. WWE soon lost interest in the legend, and stopped booking him in storylines and mainly relegated him to matches on Velocity. WWE released Tatanka less than a year after he returned to the company, having achieved nothing and only tarnished his legacy in the eyes of the fans.
Learn more about Tatanka’s WWE return in 2006.
4. British Bulldog (1999)
Despite being one of the most popular British wrestlers of all time, the British Bulldog’s career was full of incredible highs and disastrous lows. For every Summerslam 1992, there was also being off his head on drugs (also Summerslam 1992), topped off by multiple firings from his role in the WWE.
His last run in the company was definitely his worst, which was sad. He was hugely popular with the fans, and the comeback could have been his chance to finally achieve his dream of becoming the first British WWE Champion in history. For some reason, he abandoned his Union Jack-tights for a pair of denim jeans when wrestling, which was not a great look for the Englishman.
In the British Bulldog’s 1999 return, he did have some big moments – winning the Hardcore Championship, and appearing in big matches against The Rock and in a WWE Championship six-pack challenge. However, these were book ended by bad behavior, backstage drama and drug issues that ultimate led to WWE firing British Bulldog later that year.
Learn more about British Bulldog’s last match in WWE.
3. Brian Christopher (Raw, 2011)
Perhaps the most awkward return in WWE history was the (very) brief comeback for Brian Christopher in 2011. He appeared on one segment on one episode of Raw in January 2011, during the terrible feud between Michael Cole and his father, Jerry “The King” Lawler.
Michael Cole brought Brian Christopher back to annoy Jerry Lawler. Christopher came back to tell Jerry Lawler that he felt like he never had a dad, and other insults that didn’t really seem to affect him that much. If this was to start a full-on feud between the father-son duo then it’d be fine, but this encounter was never referenced again.
The reason this is one of the worst returns ever was simply due to how the crowd reacted to Brian Christopher’s return. The former Grand Master Sexay danced his way down to the ring, looking less like a wrestler and more like an uncool, middle-aged dad, as the crowd sat on their hands in confused silence.
Learn more about Brian Christopher’s return
2. Lord Tensai (2012)
After spending years as one of the top gaijin’s in Japan as “Giant Bernard”, former WWE Superstar A-Train (Prince Albert) made a shock return to the company in 2012 with a much different look. Covered in Japanese characters tattooed on his face, and adorned in Japanese-inspired garb, he cut a very different figure than the ones fan remembered.
His return started off well. He was portrayed as a monster heel, even picking up a victory against John Cena on roar at the start of his run. However, it soon became clear that fans weren’t buying it, chanting “Albert!” during his matches, killing his mystique (it was also clear that he wasn’t actually Japanese).
The WWE soon stopped his push, putting Tensai in a tag team with Brodus Clay as “Tons of Funk” – a happy-go-lucky dancing duo who had zero credibility and thankfully did not last very long. He quietly retired soon after, moving down to NXT – first as a commentator, and then as the head coach at the performance centre.
1. Ultimate Warrior (1996)
You have to admire the sheer gall of the Ultimate Warrior. He held up the WWE for money the year before he was fired for failing a drugs test, but still managed to get rehired by the company on a million-dollar deal in 1996, in order to bury one of the most promising talents in the company.
The former WWE Champion returned to the WWE at WrestleMania XII, beating Triple H in an absolutely terrible match. He completely no-sold the previously-protected Pedigree finishing moving, leaping right up to his feet before beating Triple H with ease. Triple H vs Ultimate Warrior was a horrible match that annoyed everybody, and almost ruined Triple H’s career in the WWE.
Warrior went on to wrestle some bad matches against wrestlers like Jerry Lawler, but no-showed several house shows without warning (while collecting huge money for doing so). He was fired just months into his second run, capping off one of the worst WWE returns, and greatest robberies, of all time.
Learn more about Ultimate Warrior’s worst match.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.