Few things get a wrestling crowd going like a big return, and the thrill of an old face turning up completely out of the blue can't be matched. It provokes the kind of hysteric, adrenaline-fuelled response that makes the sport worth watching in the first place, drawing even the most jaded fans into the moment.
From Triple H's return to Monday Night Raw in 2002 to The Undertaker's Judgement Day 2000 re-emergence, wrestling comebacks have provided some of the loudest, most memorable pops in the sport's history. Even The Great Khali, one of the most maligned World Heavyweight Champions ever, got an excellent crowd reaction at Battleground 2017, which pretty much says it all.
Nothing is foolproof, however, and surprise returns are no different. Khali's example proves that they can draw a reaction for even the lowliest wrestlers, but if the circumstances aren't right, the crowd will kill the moment with dreaded silence. Some of the names included within are genuine wrestling legends, making their lack of audience acknowledgement saddening, while others were never particularly popular in the first place.
Whatever the case, none of their returns produced the response that the company or performer had hoped for, leaving both red-faced...
Nikki Bella had been WWE Divas Champion for just six days prior to Extreme Rules 2012. She'd scored an opportunistic pinfall over previous champ Beth Phoenix in a Lumberjill match on Raw that week, with a rematch slated for the PPV. Phoenix wasn't given medical clearance to compete after suffering a kayfabe sprained ankle, leaving Nikki without opposition.
WWE switched to a "mystery opponent" angle, and the Bella Twins cut a basic, cocky promo beforehand, calling Nikki's foe to the ring. What should have been a familiar theme song hit, and out came Layla, who'd just missed a full year of action after suffering a double ligament tear in spring 2011. Unfortunately, the Detroit crowd barely mustered a murmur for her, and the return fell flat.
Layla's reaction was a far cry from the one Nikki would later receive at SummerSlam 2016, when she returned from her own lengthy injury absence. Michael Cole tried to muster some enthusiasm on commentary, but there was no masking the dire reaction.
Layla defeated Nikki that night and held the Divas Title for 140 days, fortunately recovering some of her lost popularity along the way.