In part because the wrestling community is so open to embracing the shared roots of the performers' pasts and the fans' memories, the door has been open for stars of yesteryear to return to the business in some capacity. Even as older fans embrace the likes of AJ Styles, Kenny Omega, Seth Rollins, and more as today's ruling class, they still have a demonstrated soft spot for unexpected resurgences.
This list will look at 10 individuals who, over the past year or two, made a comeback to the wrestling business that managed to turn heads for one reason or another. Many of them were either out of the business altogether or working a schedule that put them far away from the spotlight. But the same thing can be said about everyone on this list - it's pretty cool having them around, no matter what role they have today.
10. Atsushi Onita
The very name Onita became synonymous with explosions, barbed wire, and the most ungodly anarchy that could take place in and around a wrestling ring. The "Padre del Deathmatch" remained active in his native Japan for many years (rescinding retirements with Terry Funk-like frequency), long after brief appearances a generation ago in ECW and XPW that turned out to be teases. To fans stateside, the quintessential Onita performance on American soil seemed to be elusive, especially as Onita approached his sixties.
The Onita mythology was awakened in 2017, when modern-day deathmatch practitioner "Bulldozer" Matt Tremont began aggressively calling out Onita, wanting to notch his belt with a truly impressive stab. Onita answered Tremont's demands, agreeing to appear in a barbed wire deathmatch with Tremont at a CZW show in August 2017. More than 1000 fans jam-packed the arena in Voorhees, NJ for a sight that nobody believed possible: Atsushi Onita, in a bloody deathmatch, in the United States. It was only a small taste of the Onita experience, but it was enough.
9. Sean Mooney
Mooney was a reliable, earnest presence on WWE broadcasts in the late-eighties/early-nineties, bringing a peaceable gravitas to the over-the-top happenings on Coliseum Video and weekend WWE fare. He left the company in 1993, and would continue his journalism career as TV news anchor in places like Boston, Secaucus, NJ, and Tucson, AZ. Like many other broadcasters that didn't enter WWE with a deep wrestling background, it didn't seem likely that Mooney would ever return to the biz.
He did make some brief appearances over the years (most notably interviewing Daniel Bryan on Raw 1000 in 2012), but few would have guessed that he'd become a recurring presence to an even greater extent. Mooney has hosted a few WWE DVD releases over the past year, and has even gotten into podcasting, through his show Prime Time with Sean Mooney.
8. Dan Severn
"The Beast" has what I call Jim Brown Syndrome, in that no matter how old the man gets, you couldn't pay me any amount of money to mess with him. Severn recently turned 60 years old, but aside from a few gray hairs, he still looks like the same understated bad ass that ruled the Octagon in the early days of the UFC.
Severn was still working independent shows close to home in the Michigan/Ohio area, but an appearance at Joey Janela's Spring Break the weekend of WrestleMania 33 turned some heads. Severn worked against modern indy star and former UFC fighter Matt Riddle for what turned out to be a tremendously-fluid mat wrestling battle for its nine-minute duration. Since then, Severn's performed at other shows outside of his home region, including Janela's second Spring Break event, and the Riddle-promoted Bloodsport card the day before. He even showed up at the annual WrestleCade event last fall, with Jim Cornette managing him once more.
Speaking of Joey Janela Spring Break alumni, this brings us to perhaps one of the most unlikely resurrections in the modern industry. The former Quebecer Pierre-turned-Jean Pierre Lafitte was a highly-skilled heavyweight who could bump like a man half his size, but he never seemed to get the credit that his talents and efforts deserved. Earlier this decade, the real life Carl Ouellet seemed to be finished as an active competitor.
Ouellet returned to the ring in 2016, but it was his 2018 match with Austrian mauler WALTER at Janela's second Spring Break that astonished fans. The 50-year-old Ouelett looked like a goddamn Sherman tank, with a movie monster's glare, and muscles in places where you and I don't even have places. Now known as PCO, Ouelett has been reborn as an absolute wrecking machine, and through his remarkable in-ring performances, is winning over fans that may not be all that familiar with his earlier career (while stunning those who *do* remember him). What Ouelett has achieved is nothing short of amazing, as well as inspirational.
6. Tony Schiavone
The longtime voice of World Championship Wrestling, Schiavone mostly faded away after WWE bought the company's assets in 2001. Other than a handful of appearances with TNA and the short-lived XWF over the next couple of years, Schiavone stayed away from the business, instead working as a radio personality in college baseball and football, as well as for the Atlanta Braves' minor league affiliate in Gwinnett County, GA.
After 14 years away from wrestling, Schiavone resurfaced in early 2017 as co-host of the now-popular podcast What Happened When? alongside Conrad Thompson. Schiavone's clear recall of oftentimes hilarious and offbeat tales made many fans realize just how much they missed the "Silver Tongue", as Dusty Rhodes would call his former colleague. Schiavone returned to the booth for Major League Wrestling later that year, and today helms their weekly TV broadcasts, still as sharp as ever.
5. Colonel Robert Parker
Parker may not have exchanged holds with Matt Riddle, nor beaten the tar out of WALTER, but his comeback in 2018 is certainly worth noting. The territorial wrestler-turned-manager has always had a unique gift of gab, particularly in his portrayal of a sweet-talking, but clearly underhanded, gentleman-of-privilege straight out of a Mark Twain novel. Parker disappeared from mainstream wrestling in the late-nineties (including a brief stint in WWE as Tennessee Lee), and didn't seem to pop up all that often.
This year, after a few eons, Parker (now 68) re-emerged in MLW, once more wearing the white suit and matching ten-gallon hat. He reactivated his old standby, The Stud Stable, with a new class of roughhouses, including the happily-unkempt Dirty Blondes, the menacingly-stout Mike Parrow, and his centerpiece, the decorated and accomplished Jake Hager (aka Jack Swagger).
4. Don Callis
Callis had long been an underappreciated talent, possessing eloquent speech, a gift for antagonism, and a deep understanding of how fundamental professional wrestling works. As a commentator in ECW, Callis (as Cyrus) enhanced pay-per-view broadcasts with his delivery and skillful repartee with Joey Styles, combining the natural flair of Jesse Ventura with the acerbic smart-assery of Robert Downey Jr. After a brief run in TNA after ECW's demise, Callis left the wrestling business after obtaining his MBA, Callis pursued a career in international trade, quietly leaving wrestling behind.
In 2016, Callis resurfaced as co-host of the Killing the Town podcast with Lance Storm. Months later, Callis signed on to become English color commentator for New Japan broadcasts, and would later continue his return with Impact Wrestling, both as Executive Vice President and broadcaster. Because wrestling fans were all in dire need of some overdue "intellectual intercourse."
3. Paul Ellering
The legendary manager of The Road Warriors seemed to finish up with professional wrestling by the late nineties, exiting the sport after a forgettable 1998 run as the manager of Ron and Don Harris in WWE. Ellering took his stoic demeanor and Shakespearean voice with him to Alaska, where he began competing in dogsled races, including the famed Iditarod race.
About a year after daughter Rachael entered the wrestling ring herself, "Precious Paul" resurfaced in NXT of all places, managing a new team of heavies in Akam and Rezar, The Authors of Pain. NXT's adherence to some classic wrestling traditions has included War Games matches, long-term feuds that build anticipation, classic tag team wrestling and, thankfully, the wrestling manager. Having Ellering on hand as a steely-eyed mentor to two brawny brutes was a welcome sight in 2017. I'm sure Winter Park, FL was much warmer in March than Anchorage, too.
2. Daniel Bryan
Even the most ardent fan of D-Bry had to feel a wee bit pessimistic about ever seeing him in the ring once. Yes, his WWE contract did have an expiration date, and he'd long made waves about donning the tights and boots once more. But even then, it just seemed unlikely that we would ever see Bryan throwing chest kicks and twisting foes into complex submission holds.
That's why the announcement of his medical clearance in March hit so hard. There was jubilation, sure, but also shock. "Daniel Bryan's actually going to wrestle again?" we all thought, because the sentence took a beat to actually compute. Seeing him working at WrestleMania without having missed a beat is a reminder that you just never say never, that all things are possible.
1. Chris Jericho
This final entry will discuss a resurgence of a different sort. It's not like Jericho has been away from the business for long stretches over the past few years, because he always pops up again for spells. But what makes Jericho unique enough to qualify for this list is that he constantly re-invents himself. Every comeback sees him tweak his persona with some new quirk, be it the "Best in the World/light-up jacket" phase of 2012, or the scarf-wearing/list-making run in 2016-17.
But despite Jericho's penchant for thinking outside the box, few would've ever believed that he'd take his wares to New Japan for one of the greatest matches in recent memory, pitting him against Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 12. Jericho's "Alpha" phase was wholly welcome in a time when nostalgia acts wring a little extra mileage out of their old gimmicks. For Jericho to summon these levels of creativity and physical performances almost 30 years into his career merits consideration for a list honoring resurgences. And it deserves the top spot.