Despite how much punishment they constantly put their bodies through, professional wrestlers tend to love what they do to such a degree they don’t ever want to call it quits. Wrestlers don’t retire until they physically have to, and a downside to modern medicine might be that certain wrestlers apparently will never have to retire. In fairness, there’s nothing particularly wrong with someone not wanting to let go the one career they love. Unfortunately, though, if a wrestler starts losing their skills and becomes an embarrassment in the ring, it can in turn be embarrassing for their fans, so much so that it starts to hurt the memories of when they were actually good.
2016 is coming to a close and dozens of careers that should have ended decades ago continue to rage on with woefully diminishing returns. Whether you want to call it a Christmas gift, Hanukah gift, New Year’s Resolution, or a Kwanzaa coup, wrestling fans would probably take hearing certain WWE, TNA, and even independent wrestlers hanging up their tights as a better present than anyone could ever give. We’re not trying to destroy anyone’s livelihoods here, but in many cases stepping out of the ring could even wind up being in these men’s best interests. Keep reading to discover 15 wrestlers we hope will finally retire in 2017.
15 Big Show
Paul Wight made his pro wrestling debut in 1995, getting signed by WCW without any experience in the business and winning the World Championship from Hulk Hogan in his first official match. Since then, he’s developed into, at times, one of the most uniquely entertainment attractions in wrestling, for WCW and even more so after joining WWE in 1999. Big Show has had countless ups and downs throughout his career, switching between face and heel more frequently than just about anyone else and yet he always managed to stay relevant due to his incomparable look making him an instant top star regardless of the location or timeframe. Depending on how much of a wrestling purist you are, some fans argue he was never that great in the ring to begin with and now that he’s had 21 years of wear of tear dragging him down on top of his already weak skill set, Big Show probably should’ve retired several years ago already.
14 Jerry "The King" Lawler
The King of Professional Wrestling staked his claim to the crown when he debuted in 1970, though he wasn’t ordained as such until four years later when he defeated Jackie Fargo for the Southern Heavyweight Championship. Lawler controlled his hometown of Memphis and other Southern territories throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, making his WWE debut in 1992 and soon cementing himself as one of the longest tenured on-screen performers in company history. Lawler performed color commentary onmore WWE Pay-Per-View broadcasts than any other announcer, and continues wrestling on the independent scene on an almost constant basis even after suffering a heart attack during a live episode of Raw. He recently turned 67 years old and, more so than perhaps anyone else on our list, Lawler should consider leaving wrestling behind once and for all for his own health.
13 Michael Cole
After a sterling career in legitimate news with CBS, Michael Cole made the leap to pro wrestling when Todd Pettengill introduced him to WWE executives in 1997. Cole started as a backstage interviewer, soon replacing Jim Ross on Raw when JR was sidelined with Bell’s Palsy and later becoming the longstanding voice of SmackDown. Cole jumped to Raw when WWE started icing Ross out due to his age and now that Cole approaches his 50s and exponentially turns into a caricature of himself, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the company to start doing the same thing to him. With just under 20 years calling WWE under his belt, Cole has been performing the role longer than anyone else in the company aside from Lawler, a shocking statistic when considering how harshly maligned he’s been practically since day one. Vince McMahon apparently still likes Cole enough that we admit this is a huge long shot, but if it takes Cole retiring to finally get him off our TVs, that’s the means we’ll cross our fingers and hope for.
12 Triple H
Terror rose in 1992 when Paul Levesque debuted for his trainer Killer Kowalski’s International Wrestling Federation. Two years later, he made his mainstream debut in WCW as Terra Ryzing and then the French aristocrat Jean-Paul Lévesque, predating his more famous run in WWE as Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Triple H has gone from a blueblood to a degenerate to the heir-apparent of World Wrestling Entertainment, although in contrast to his rise as an executive, his presence as a performer has been unwanted and unwarranted for at least the past five years. Ever since he and his wife Stephanie McMahon started abusing their power as The Authority, the WWE Universe has been begging Triple H especially to step out of the ring and stop stealing the spotlight from new and upcoming superstars. The more executive power Triple H presumes, the more he absolutely needs to retire from the ring, lest he suffer even greater claims that he’s been abusing his position than he’s already been accused of from the day he first asked Stephanie out.
11 The Undertaker
“Mean” Mark Calaway gave up a potential career in basketball to make his pro wrestling debut for World Class Championship Wrestling in 1984, calling himself Texas Red. He would also go by generic names like The Master Of Pain, The Punisher, and Dice Morgan until he struck gold in WWE as The Undertaker. More than 26 years later, his name strikes fear into the souls of every WWE superstar, although fans in the WWE Universe are starting to feel differently. The Undertaker only wrestled one match in 2016, the Hell In A Cell against Shane McMahon at WrestleMania 32, a match controversial in fan reception based on how willing you are to drink the WWE Kool-Aid. He’s already made a late period return this year promising he’ll be back soon, but a good half of the fan base likely hopes he’s only coming back to tell us he’s going away for good.
From hell fire and brimstone, also known as Torrejón de Ardoz, Spain, The Devil’s Favorite Demon made a comically understated debut as Angus King in 1992. Next up was a bizarre turn as The Christmas Creature, followed by name changes to Doomsday, Bruiser Mastino, Unabomb, and then even more ridiculous characters like the Fake Diesel and Isaac Yankem, D.D.S. Glenn Jacobs found something that worked in 1997 when he transformed into The Undertaker’s disturbed brother Kane, at times undergoing character turns somehow more bizarre still than when he was a giant wrestling tree. Notwithstanding that his character has gone through so many twists and turns even the performer almost definitely would get lost trying to explain it, Kane has at this point also completely worn out his welcome in the ring. His move set was always limited and, based on his evil monstrosity, which at this point is too weird to be entertaining.
9 Tommy Dreamer
Though arguably the smallest scale star on our list, Tommy Dreamer is the epitome of heart and soul to many wrestling fans who long for the days of ECW. He debuted in 1989, slightly before ECW was created, not standing out until the extreme company that changed the world started filming Hardcore TV in 1993. Dreamer was cast off as a pretty boy for his first few appearances, very quickly winning over fans by proving he could take extreme amounts of punishment and dish it out in return, soon coming to represent the very spirit of ECW, also essentially co-running the promotion during its dying days. Whether or not Dreamer works for WWE at this point is unclear, but he has worked a handful of matches for them throughout 2016, in addition to dozens of independent companies including his own House of Hardcore. Despite his relative youth, Dreamer makes his way onto this list for his own good, considering his hardcore style has already made him admit to memory problems and constantly feeling in pain.
8 Ric Flair
Forever the greatest wrestler of all time in the eyes of many fans, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair made his debut in 1972 after being trained by Verne Gagne and Billy Robinson alongside The Iron Sheik and Ken Patera, amongst several others. Flair made little noise until a 1975 plane crash that nearly took his life, somehow recovering and turning into a limousine riding, leer jet flying, wheelin’ and dealin’ kiss, stealin’ son of a gun who just so happened to win more World Championships than any other superstar in history. He “retired” from WWE in 2008 and retired from in-ring competition in 2012, but for as great as Flair’s unmatched career has been, we’re calling him from absolutely retiring from the sport altogether, essentially promising to never appear in WWE again. Flair’s run as his daughter’s manager increasingly earned him derision as an offensive Drunk Uncle and switching sides to Sasha Banks only served to confuse in addition to disappointing. Flair once again has fans begging him to leave the memories alone, and the sooner he steps away from wrestling entirely, the easier it will be for us to go back to calling him the greatest.
7 John Cena
Although he might be the most iconic and successful of them all, John Cena is also the youngest and least experienced wrestler on our list, having made his debut as recently as 1999, when he trained at Ultimate Pro Wrestling to become The Prototype. He signed with WWE in 2000, making his official debut on SmackDown two years later, nearly defeating Kurt Angle with his ruthless aggression. By tapping into his love of hip hop, Cena soon became one of the most popular wrestlers in history, gradually shedding his street cred in favor of the credo that sold a million t-shirts, Hustle. Loyalty. Respect. Truth be told, Cena still has it in him to keep wrestling for some time, but with his own interests in mind, 2017 might be time for him to officially follow in The Rock’s footsteps and temporarily retire from the ring to focus on Hollywood. Cena’s non-wrestling profile is higher than ever after Trainwreck and Saturday Night Live, and he needs to strike while the iron’s hot or else turn into a joke like Hulk Hogan’s film career if he holds on too long.
6 Mark Henry
Literally powering his way into sports entertainment, Mark Henry caught the eye of Vince McMahon during the 1996 Summer Olympics, in which he competed as a weightlifter. Though Henry placed disappointingly low due to a back injury, McMahon’s interest led to a highly lucrative wrestling contract he signed later that year. It took Mark nearly 15 full years of goofy gimmicks and false starts to finally break out with the Hall of Pain and win the World Heavyweight Championship in 2011, at which point he was 40 years old. Five more years later, it’s fair to question if Henry truly has gas left in the tank like he claims. His career in recent years has admittedly been hard to read, occasionally standing out with a strong promo, but without enough consistency that he shouldn’t consider stepping away from the ring some time in the near future.
5 Mick Foley
A walking contradiction wishing us to have a nice day while delivering and receiving more punishment than any other wrestler the industry has ever endured, Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy made his pro debut in 1986 for a promotion owned by his trainer, Dominic DeNucci. Foley gradually made his way into history by performing stunts no other wrestler would dare, also exhibiting an incredible mastery of psychology in his matches while becoming one of the most popular superstars of the ‘90s. He officially retired from the ring in 2000, and has only wrestled a handful of times since, most recently in the 2012 Royal Rumble. While he’ll probably stay out of the ring from now on, like with Ric Flair, we’re calling for Foley to leave the industry completely, including his role as Raw General Manager. He was once the greatest talker in the business, but his passion is gone and his role has long been unclear, so if Foley doesn’t retire now, he runs the risk of blinking out of existence through sheer irrelevance.
4 Kurt Angle
Instantly the most acclaimed amateur wrestler to go pro thanks to his Olympic Gold Medal earned in 1996, Kurt Angle made his first sports entertainment appearances in ECW that same year, soon followed by his in-ring debut in 1998. Kurt’s amateur credentials were nothing to scoff at, with his Olympic pride predicting an outrageously impressive body of work created in an unthinkably short time after his training to become a superstar. Angle has been gradually lowering his profile in wrestling for several months now, saying goodbye to Total Nonstop Action after nearly 10 years with the company in March of 2016. He continues competing on the independent scene, wrestling so-called “dream matches” against rivals like Rey Mysterio, close contemporaries like Cody Rhodes, and new Angle admirers like Zack Sabre Jr and Joe Coffey. The Wrestling Machine has also floated his hopes of a WWE return, but we’d prefer he go the exact opposite route, and wrap up his career rather than keep pushing himself too hard and face dire consequences.
3 Jeff Jarrett
Following in the footsteps of his grandfather Eddie Marlin and father Jerry, Jeff Jarrett debuted as a referee in March of 1986, stepping into the ring as a pro wrestler the very next month. Jarrett dominated his father’s promotions as expected, moving on to a successful career in both WWE and WCW as one of the few superstars to be a true standout in each of the warring companies. Having burned his bridge with Vince McMahon and with nowhere left to go after WCW went out of business, Jeff Jarrett and his father co-founded Total Nonstop Action in 2002, becoming one of the true legends of that company as a six-time NWA World Champion. As of 2016, Jarrett has left TNA to run a new promotion, Global Force Wrestling. His latest venture hasn’t been anywhere near as successful as his already financially risky last effort, but Jarrett keeps trying as both a wrestler and promoter with harshly diminishing returns. For the sake of his wallet, Jarrett should retire as a promoter for sure, and he probably doesn’t have much time left in the ring, either.
2 The Hardy Boyz
Long before they were enigmas needing to be fixed, Jeff and Matt Hardy started wrestling one another in their backyard when they were children, soon creating the Trampoline Wrestling Federation with friends circa 1992. TWF evolved into the more professional OMEGA, getting the brothers noticed by WWE and leading to their reemergence as legitimate threats in 1998. Matt and Jeff both went on to well acclaimed and genuinely innovative careers as the high flying team extreme, and Jeff in particular stood out as an extremely popular solo star, winning the WWE and TNA World Championships three times each. Recently, however, Matt has been proudly breaking his mind and Jeff is painting himself even more childishly than he was a walking billboard for drug use. We understand this entry could be controversial, since The Hardyz antics are apparently entertaining to some, but allow us to make a bold suggestion and saying Matt might be able to fix his problem by retiring and taking young Brother Nero with him.
1 Vince McMahon
The most important figure in modern day professional wrestling, Vincent Kennedy McMahon met his father Vincent J. McMahon when he was 12 years old and instantly decided the World Wide Wrestling Federation, now known as WWE and then owned by Vince, Sr., was therefore his birthright. Vince debuted as the ring announcer for All-Star Wrestling in 1969, getting promoted to the play-by-play announcer and an occasional promoter himself in 1971. He purchased the company outright in 1982, and finally stepped in the ring as a wrestler in 1998. There’s no question Vince has done more for pro wrestling than any other individual ever could, and without him it wouldn’t be anything like the spectacle it is today. All that said, at 71 years old, to call Vince out of touch with modern times would be an understatement. Wrestling needs to stay current in order to compete with other media, and the older Vince gets, the more necessary it becomes he step down and hands things over to one of his children before he runs it into the ground.