What’s old is new again was the theme of 2017.
Goldberg won the world title, Jeff Jarrett (briefly) returned to power in TNA and Vince McMahon was allegedly considering another pro football league. That all seems out of place in the modern era, yet several names from yesteryear (including a promotion) adapted to the current landscape of pro wrestling.
By overcoming adversity such as political turmoil, failing health or the undefeated Father Time, these 10 comebacks were truly awe-inspiring this year.
10. Mickie James
In January, Mickie James revealed herself to be La Luchadora, the mysterious woman who helped Alexa Bliss retain the Women’s Championship against Becky Lynch. It was the six-time WWE Women’s Champion’s return to WWE TV, spawned by her battle against Asuka at NXT TakeOver: Toronto in November of 2016. The women’s roster needed a veteran, and James adeptly served that role. Jumping from Smackdown to Raw, tiptoeing between heel and face, James played a supporting role until her fun feud with Alexa Bliss heading into TLC.
9. Don Callis
From podcast to commentary to management, Don Callis’ career trajectory has been swift and eventful this year. Launching the “Killing the Town” podcast with Lance Storm at the end of 2016 brought the former Cyrus back to the wrestling industry, but it wasn’t until January of 2017 that Callis agreed to work alongside Kevin Kelly as the English color commentator for New Japan Pro Wrestling. In December, it was announced that Callis and longtime friend Scott D’Amore were the new executive vice presidents of Impact Wrestling.
After nearly a decade, those familiar gun shots were heard inside the Impact Zone as the Latin American Xchange returned in March. Original members Konnan and Homicide were joined by fresh blood Ortiz, Santana and Diamante, immediately making an impact by winning the vacant World Tag Team Championship. It was as if nothing had ever changed: Konnan (honorable mention for talker of the year) spat hot fire on the mic and at the card table. They ran roughshod over the company for six months until Ohio Versus Everything upset them for the gold. However, LAX won back the belts last week.
7. Onita Returns to U.S.
Atsushi Onita, deathmatch pioneer and Japanese wrestling icon, announced his seventh retirement last year, going on his “final” tour throughout this past summer and into the fall. As part of the tour, he wrestled in the United States for the first time since the early 1980s, answering “Bulldozer” Matt Tremont’s challenge for a deathmatch. Billed as “Once in a Lifetime,” the hardcore brawlers met in a six-man tag at a highly anticipated, highly profitable CZW event in August, in which Onita’s team emerged victorious.
Nobody predicted that the National Wrestling Alliance would ever be relevant again – nobody except for Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. On May 1, it was reported that Corgan had agreed to purchase the NWA, including its name, rights, trademarks and championship belts. It seemed like a typical “money mark” case at the time, as the NWA had been a dead entity for decades. Starting in October, that perception began to change as Corgan’s right-hand man, former WWE and TNA writer Dave Lagana, launched a short video series introducing the wrestling world to the relatively unknown NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion Tim Storm. Online buzz swelled as the champion popped up all over the country, including at Championship Wrestling from Hollywood, House of Hardcore and most recently (and most surprisingly), CZW. Storm lost the title to Nick Aldis at Cage of Death 19, with Memphis legend Austin Idol accompanying Aldis.
5. The Hardy Boyz
An all-time great WrestleMania moment happened in Orlando this year, as the Hardy Boyz showed up to a thunderous ovation. Ditching the Broken Matt and Brother Nero personas, the legendary duo returned to WWE after seven years away, instantly winning the Tag Team Titles in four-way ladder match. In a year where many tag teams broke up, the Hardyz brought stability to the Raw division before Jeff was sidelined with an injury.
4. Tony Schiavone
Similar to Don Callis, the voice of WCW Monday Nitro returned to the wrestling industry through his very popular “What Happened When” podcast with Conrad Thompson on MLW Radio. It sparked a renewed interest in Tony Schiavone, as his wrestling knowledge and hilarious raunchiness captivated old fans and won over new ones, leading to people actually paying Schiavone to come to their home for old Nitro viewing parties. In October, he returned to commentary for the first time since the Nitro finale in 2001, calling the action for MLW’s One Shot. He’s called the resurrected promotion’s subsequent events since then, to the delight of fans sick of WWE’s over-produced, monotonous broadcasting.
3. Jericho Returns to NJPW
Y2J shocked the wrestling world in November by appearing on New Japan TV, challenging Kenny Omega to a dream match at Wrestle Kingdom 12. It would be Chris Jericho’s first match outside WWE since 1999, and his first appearance in NJPW in more than 20 years. However, the surprises weren’t over – Jericho upped the ante by actually appearing in NJPW a couple weeks ago, attacking Omega from behind and leaving the star a bloody mess.
2. Kurt Angle
Our Olympic Hero came back home for the WWE Hall of Fame, delivering a highly entertaining speech reflecting on his greatest and most hilarious moments. A few nights later, he was announced as the new Raw General Manager, soaking in the “You Suck” chants from an ecstatic Orlando crowd. While his segments have been nothing to talk about (aside from the Jason Jordan revelation), his mere presence gave hope that the Olympic gold medalist would have one more match in WWE. Well, we got that and then some: Angle returned to the ring with only 48 hours’ notice, replacing Roman Reigns at TLC, and then captaining Team Raw at Survivor Series.
1. Ric Flair
Of all the comebacks this year, none compare to Ric Flair’s.
After all, The Nature Boy returned from certain death.
In August, Flair was taken to the hospital due to an upset stomach. Three days later, he was on life support and went into a medically induced coma. After decades of heavy boozing, he experienced kidney and congestive heart failure. The entire world – not just wrestling – united in prayers and support for the 16-time world champion, hoping he could pull out one last time.
Miraculously, he survived and was back home by mid-September, about a month and half before ESPN’s 30 for 30 premiered, honoring Naitch as the greatest pro wrestler of all time.