10 Most Shocking WWE Raw Returns

Many a Superstar has made their WWE return on Monday Night Raw - in explosive fashion...

WWE may adhere to the same model we're used to - weekly TV shows building to monthly pay per views - but that doesn't mean Raw is simply filler. As Vince McMahon's flagship show for the past quarter of a century, it is the very essence of his product. We don't just tune in to see wrestling; we watch for the developments. It has, at various points over the course of its history, been the manifestation of the old 'anything can happen in WWE' soundbite.

As such, we've seen countless unforgettable Monday night moments - and some of the most exciting have taken the form of the shock return.

A big surprise comeback is one of wrestling's simplest pleasures. The crowd comes unglued, an old face strides out (perhaps with a slightly different look), and everything feels tremendously exciting - for a while anyway.

Whether the subsequent storyline is a success or not, there's no taking away from the fact that a huge return can give an incredible surge of energy to an otherwise standard edition of Raw.

With Raw's 25th-anniversary special rapidly approaching, it's time to take a look at the best shock returns in the history of the show. Strap yourselves in.

10. Kurt Angle - 2017


This one's only 10th on the list because it had been widely reported beforehand. Angle was inducted into the Hall of Fame to a huge reception, and his return as Raw General Manager was wrestling's biggest open secret.

That didn't dampen the excitement, however, when Vince McMahon introduced the Olympian as the red brand's new authority figure.

The surreal thing here was actually how normal it all felt. Kurt hadn't been seen in a WWE ring since leaving for TNA in 2006, yet his return seemed the most natural thing in the world. That's a testament to just how beloved and skilled a performer he was in his heyday.

9. X-Pac - 1998


An X-Pac return may not seem top 10-worthy on paper, given the fact that Waltman never rose too far above midcard status in WWE. The important thing here, though, is context.

This return came in the midst of the Monday Night Wars, and saw Triple H bring X-Pac out after an explicit reference to the Kliq.

The defector then cut a promo on WCW, who had fired him days earlier, shooting on Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff. He also claimed that were Scott Hall and Kevin Nash not contracted to WCW, they'd be right in the middle of the Raw ring with him. It was a clear shot aimed at the other side, and one of the moments that best encapsulates the feeling of competition (and, indeed, animosity) that characterised the time period.

8. Shane McMahon - 2016


Shane McMahon's return is certainly one of the most seismic on this list as it altered the course of WrestleMania 32, and eventually provided SmackDown with a new commissioner. However, it also might be the strangest we'll take a look at.

On the surface, the moment was simple and effective. Shane bounced out to cut off Vince and Stephanie during a self-congratulatory promo. He did the dance; he was wearing sneakers. It was everything we loved.

But during the early stages of his return, it didn't take long for things to get a little weird. Shane was put into a WrestleMania match with The Undertaker and would be allowed to reveal the contents of a mysterious McMahon family lockbox if he won. But he didn't. And we just never mentioned the lockbox again.

I still don't understand, but at least it was an eventful time. That's all that matters, right?

7. Chris Jericho - 2007


Chris Jericho has turned the shocking wrestling appearance into an art form. His electrifying 1999 debut was the original example, but his 2007 return was when things got a little more cryptic.

For weeks leading up to the return, WWE aired vignettes with a strange Matrix-style code, often involving the message 'Save Us'. Interest was piqued, and when Y2J was eventually revealed as the saviour in question, the pop was immense.

He strode out onto the stage to disrupt Randy Orton's 'passing of the torch' ceremony - where the champ had hired a long-distance runner to literally run to the venue and pass him a torch. Although he ultimately failed to take the belt from Orton, this return made it clear that Jericho was back - and hadn't lost any of his characteristic showmanship while away.

Since then, we've seen Y2J's strange postmodern take on the shock return, coming back in 2012 without saying a word - one of the most intriguing heel turns ever, for my money. Similarly, his recent return to New Japan showed that Jericho's shock appearances often simply feel bigger than anyone else's. He's a true master of the return angle.

6. Matt Hardy - 2005


Real life bled into kayfabe in 2005, when the ugly love triangle between Matt Hardy, Lita, and Edge became major wrestling news. Matt was subsequently released, prompting a huge online backlash from fans who felt that he had been treated unfairly.

Matt's return was certainly a little different to most. He hadn't spent a lot of time away, nor were there any fireworks or theme music accompanying his comeback.

Instead, the whole thing was played off as a 'worked shoot', with Hardy crashing the venue and attacking Edge, only to be led away by security.

Ultimately, the whole thing will be remembered as a blown opportunity. The feud could have been dynamite, but WWE seemed insistent on putting Edge over at the expense of Hardy's momentum. Still, for a while, it was the hottest thing in wrestling.

5. Ric Flair - 2001


In terms of in-ring competition, Ric Flair will largely be remembered as an NWA and WCW icon - and that's totally justified. But, on the flipside, his early-90s run in WWF was cut sadly short, especially after such a promising heel run (including that legendary Royal Rumble win in 1992).

For that reason, his WWE return after almost a decade must have felt surreal. In the aftermath of the Invasion angle, wrestling was in a state of flux. The biggest storyline in the business had been completed (and, in the opinion of many, botched). Where did WWE go from here?

The answer was the brand split, which was foreshadowed by Flair's explosive return. Although not as physically seismic as some of the others on this list, the sight of the Nature Boy strutting out to announce his co-ownership of WWE was still completely landscape-shifting.

4. Triple H - 2002


Not all of the returns on this list have to be particularly complicated. This was a very simple one. In 2001, Triple H suffered a potentially career-ending injury (during that legendary tag team match alongside Stone Cold, facing Jericho and Benoit).

Every cloud has a silver lining, and The Game's was that is injury caused him to miss the entirety of the Invasion angle - meaning that his stock didn't suffer one iota.

Indeed, when the game made his return in early 2002, he was met with a rapturous response - quite a shift for a man who had been the company's top heel for the past couple of years.

Triple H proceeded to win the Royal Rumble, and take the Undisputed Championship from Jericho in the main event of WrestleMania - but this sequence of events was all kickstarted by that explosive Raw return. So much denim; so much leather.

3. Bret Hart - 2010


Although Bret Hart returned in the mid-2000s to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, he very deliberately didn't appear on any of WWE's regular programming. It seemed as though the events of the Montreal Screwjob had left a lasting bitterness in the minds of many parties.

It was therefore monumental when WWE announced that the Hitman was returning to Monday Night Raw. The unthinkable was happening.

Not only did Bret return, he even buried the hatchet with Shawn Michaels - his former bitter rival, and the man who he faced on that fateful night in Montreal.

This historic episode of Raw also coincided with TNA's first attempt at starting the second Monday Night Wars - but they didn't do too well up against this legendary return. Quite understandable, really.

2. The Rock - 2011


The Rock's 2011 return saw his first Raw appearance for seven years, after leaving the wrestling business for the bright lights of Hollywood. Ostensibly, he came back to announce his position as 'the host' of WrestleMania 27 - but this kickstarted a chain of events that would change the business forever.

Rock's stint as host led, of course, to his interference in the main event - starting a feud with John Cena that would span the next two WrestleManias. It also aggrieved CM Punk, who felt that part-timers such as Rocky were being favoured over hard-working newer stars like himself.

Punk's resultant pipebomb changed wrestling, was a major factor in the emergence of Daniel Bryan, and led to WWE's current infatuation with the independent scene's top workers.

That all started on Raw - and even if we look at the moment in isolation, it is perhaps the most heartily-received of this list. That live crowd go wild.

1. Brock Lesnar - 2012


Brock Lesnar certainly took an unorthodox approach to achieving future Hall-of-Famer status. Starting out as a monstrous youngster with monstrous potential, he fully lived up to his Next Big Thing moniker.

Then he left to try to break into the NFL. Then he went to New Japan for a little while. Then he became an MMA fighter and actually won the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Then he returned.

It's an odd story, but one which made his return all the more spectacular. Brock's UFC stint had raised his profile considerably, meaning that his return - on the Raw after WrestleMania 28 - felt humungous.

It was also very fitting that he attacked John Cena, the man who had perhaps benefitted most from Lesnar's strange career path. With The Beast out of the picture, it was Cena who became the biggest star of a generation - and now Brock was back to extract his revenge.

Perfect storytelling, and a perfect moment. We'll even forgive Lesnar losing the eventual match with Cena, because he got his revenge in such a big way two years later, winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the process.

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Jack G. King

Written by Jack G. King

Head of News at Cultaholic.com | [email protected]