Wrestling is supposed to be a young man’s game. You’d think that, only younger guys can handle the fuss and the mess and all that. Yet it’s amazing how sometimes, a “rookie” can be older than you think. Diamond Dallas Page and Batista are two examples of guys who started wrestling in their 30s but became huge stars. Ric Flair was still going at it pushing 60, albeit not as great as he once was. WWE still has their “legends” popping up now and then but it’s not just them. There are slews of stars who have stepped into the ring, not just for a one-off but regularly wrestling and even winning titles when they should be long retired.
It’s truly remarkable to see them, as so many just can’t let it go. Wrestling is in their blood and they want to keep it up no matter what it takes. Some have since left us but still left a legacy of wrestling way past not just their prime but finding amazing success. Indeed, a few actually found a “second act” with their later runs and wowing fans by keeping up their work. Here are 15 folks who stepped into the ring for a match when they should have been collecting Social Security and how some folks truly make wrestling their life’s work.
15 Dominic DeNucci
Born Dominic Nucciarone, this Italian-American got his start in Montreal as the “brother” of Dino Bravo. In 1971, he began a stint in WWE, winning their International tag titles with Bruno Sammartino and later the World tag belts with Bravo. He was also the first major challenger for Pat Patterson’s newly created Intercontinental title. A tough and strong man known for harsh brawling, DeNucci bounced between the U.S. and Canada and was a hit with Montreal fans as well as a huge star in Detroit. He was also known as a trainer, his most famous student being Mick Foley who learned how to take huge bumps from DeNucci.
In 2012, Denucci finally hung it up at the age of 80, teaming with protégé Shane Douglas. A fitting end to a career more famous for the guys he got into the business than just himself.
14 Greg Valentine
Gorilla Monsoon liked to say that “It takes half an hour for the Hammer to warm up.” That slow method got Valentine over pretty well, the son of Johnny Valentine but better in the ring than his dad was. He rose up in Mid-Atlantic with amazing feuds with Ric Flair and his bloody dog collar match against Roddy Piper at Starrcade ’83 is still legendary. Already a U.S. champion, Valentine found great success in WWE as Intercontinental and tag team champion and several great feuds. Given his amazing condition, it should be no surprise Valentine kept on for several decades past his prime.
He had runs with WCW and another WWE stint in the '90s and has been a standout on the indie circuit. To this day, Valentine can still drop his namesake elbow and his figure four leglock to fire folks up. He may be slower but still methodical and age has done nothing to tarnish the Hammer’s style.
13 Dory Funk Jr.
In his prime, Dory Funk Jr. was one of the single best workers out there. A brilliant technician who could get dirty if he had to, Funk was always great to see going at it in the ring. He held the NWA World title for four years, a stunning achievement as he faced the absolute best in the business at the time. Not as wild in the ring as brother Terry, Dory was skilled and a great heel to get crowds going. He kept it up for years, including a run with Terry in WWE in 1986 as the Funk Brothers feuding with the British Bulldogs and others. He had a bit of time in WCW and even a spot in the 1996 Royal Rumble. He moved on to training the Hardyz, Lita, Kurt Angle and many more.
But, like his brother, Funk couldn’t keep away from the ring. In 2014, at 74, he teamed with Terry for matches in Japan and kept up with a few more battles, proving himself as amazing in the ring as ever and why age is only a number to the Funks.
12 Bob Armstrong
He’s best known to many for his offspring. Brad had success in WCW as Light Heavyweight Champion and various gimmicks while Brian is better known as Road Dogg, multiple WWE tag team champion. However, “Bullet Bob” was far better in the ring and a top-notch worker. Debuting in 1960, Armstrong was a hit across the South as a great in-ring presence who could also do top promos as well. His name of “The Bullet” came when he had to wear a mask to cover up a face crushed by a weightlifting accident. His feud with the Studd Stable put Continental Wrestling on the map and numerous titles in Georgia.
He mostly retired in 1990 but kept appearing in various places for matches, often with his sons. He worked with son Brian and Kip James for TNA and fought old rival Bob Orton in 2010. He wrestled his final match in June of 2016 and showed how long this Bullet flew in wrestling.
11 Dave Kidney
He’s not really well known, even in his home nation of England. He has been the unopposed British Featherweight champion, winning the belt nearly 50 years ago and still holding it. That’s a record that puts the Fabulous Moolah to shame. He was the focus of a documentary in 2008 that got some bad reviews for making wrestling in Scotland look like a total sideshow. The fact he basically owns his promotion is another reason some dislike him as it only pulls in a few hundred fans per show. He’s known for his appearance of very skinny and one eye looking askew and more than a few folks can note how obvious these younger guys are selling for him. However, you have to give props to the fact the man is 81 years old and still active, an astounding achievement.
10 Adrian Street
Long before Goldust came along, Adrian Street was doing an act that stunned onlookers. Born to a coal miner father in England, Street started off as the typical clean-cut worker. But he soon changed it to an effeminate character in makeup and wild outfits that hinted at being gay. It was a sensation that made him an international star. The “Exotic One” would kiss downed opponents and enjoyed firing up crowds with his behavior. He and his wife (Miss Linda) would soon be a hot act, especially in Continental Wrestling. Street would influence others like Adrian Adonis and of course Goldust but the original still kept going.
He took part in a battle royal in 2005 and was still wrestling in 2010 just before announcing his retirement at 69. He also fought through cancer, proving that under that makeup was one truly tough guy.
9 Gypsy Joe
He’s not as famous as others on this list as he spent the majority of his career abroad but he made the most of it. Gilberto Menendez began his career in 1951 as wrestling was still finding its footing with the TV age. He was a great tag wrestler, working with Tojo Yamamato as the No Pain Train and Frank Martinez as the masked Blue Devils, winning tag titles around. Jones did a good stint in Tennessee before heading for a long time in Japan. His wild style fit in with the fanbase there as he engaged in amazingly brutal fights that left his body scarred.
In 2003, Jones fought New Jack at the age of 69 in a wild brawl that became a viral sensation. Finally, in 2011, Joe hung it up at the age of 79 after one last match and showcased a 60 year career of amazing highs.
8 The Sheik
Throughout the 1970s, it was hard to look at a wrestling magazine cover and not see The Sheik’s face. Nine times out of ten, that face was covered in blood. Born in Detroit, Ed Farhat expertly played a Middle Eastern madman who was doing wild brawls long before the term “hardcore wrestling” was coined. He and Bobo Brazil sold out Detroit numerous times for their bloody battles and the U.S. title. The Sheik also had great feuds with Bruno Sammartino and a stint in Japan. In 1992, he astounded everyone by coming back as nuts as ever, proven by a match where the ring ropes were set on fire.
He was 73 when he wrestled his final match and helped push his nephew, Sabu, to prominence as a good caretaker for his legacy. Passing on in 2003, The Sheik is well remembered as the man who put hardcore on the map and kept it up for decades.
7 Jimmy Snuka
Sadly, his involvement in a 1983 murder of his girlfriend will forever haunt the Superfly’s life and legacy. Which is too bad as Snuka was one of the most dynamic performers ever. With his tough build and great style, Snuka took off as a heel, known for his toughness and wrestling barefoot. He became a legend with his feud with Bob Backlund culminating in Snuka taking a leap off the roof of a cage that would have won him the WWE title if Backlund didn’t move out of the way. Snuka kept up with a feud with Roddy Piper and among the bigger names of WWE. He remained with them in the 1990s and a return in the 2000s that included facing Chris Jericho.
He took part in a battle royal in 2011 and kept right on wrestling up until his indictment for that death in 2015. He was still mired in a legal battle when he passed away in early 2017 and while that death shadows him, Snuka proved he could still fly in his 70s.
6 Mil Mascaras
Few have sparked lucha libre to prominence like “The Man of a Thousand Masks.” With his high-flying style and great selection of face masks, Mascaras was a star in Mexico. It wasn’t just in the ring but in various media as well as a superhero figure. He worked all over the world such as with the World Wrestling Council and a stint with WWE. Sadly, Mascaras has gained a reputation as an incredible diva. In his book, Mick Foley talks of a match in WCW where Mascaras refused to sell any of his offense, not even doing a backbreaker right and more agree the man hates to put anyone over.
Still, he continues to keep working, even doing a tag match in Japan in 2013. So as much as he can be criticized for his ring work, Mascaras proves he can still keep it up in the ring at his advanced age.
5 Mae Young
Few wrestlers have had such a great “second act” as this. Mae Young was a glamorous worker in the 1950s, a long-time friend of the Fabulous Moolah and so she got a good push as a rival to Moolah and as a partner. She won numerous titles through the territories but never a huge star. But in 1999, Young joined Moolah in WWE at the age of 79 for angles involving getting attacked by Jeff Jarrett. Young astounded people by taking a power bomb from Bubba Ray Dudley off a stage through a table.
She also took off with nutty stuff as a randy old gal including the now-infamous “pregnancy” storyline with Mark Henry. She made more appearances, always getting a good reaction and clearly having a great time. Her final appearance was a special 90th birthday celebration in 2013 where she was given her own special title belt. Passing on in 2014, Young proved there are second acts in life and wrestling, more popular as a senior citizen than any time before.
4 The Fabulous Moolah
Mary Lillian Ellison was a good worker when she started out. But her true power came in promotion as she helped create one of the best stables of female workers ever. There are complaints over how Moolah “pimped” her ladies out to promoters but she still got respect for her longevity and a fantastic character in the ring. Officially, she held the Women’s title for 28 years (although a few quickie drops of the belt that were later ignored) and kept herself in great shape through it all. She finally dropped the belt to Wendi Richter in 1984 at the start of the “Rock N Wrestling Connection.” Moolah later won the belt back in a controversial screwjob of Richter.
In 1999, Moolah returned to WWE with old pal Mae Young for a wild run with the new Divas. Moolah showed these gals how it was done, becoming the oldest champion in wrestling history by winning the belt back at the age of 76. She kept it up with appearances before her passing and when it comes to icons of women wrestlers, Moolah remains fabulous.
3 Buddy Rogers
In so many ways, the original “Nature Boy” has influenced nearly every heel that’s followed him. The flash, the swagger, the taunting of opponents, the great promos (“to a nicer guy it couldn’t happen!”), Rogers just had it all and used it wonderfully. He was a natural in the ring.
Rogers reigned as a multiple NWA world champion and one of the first stars of the TV age. He was the very first WWWF champion before losing it to Bruno Sammartino and did his best to keep himself up. He took a break in the early 1970s but returned in 1978 to Florida for another run. Rogers also passed the torch to Ric Flair in a “Battle of the Nature Boys” and even had some time in WWE with an interview segment and managing Jimmy Snuka.
Rogers was making noise of returning to the ring in 1992 at the age of 71 in Tri-State Wrestling (the precursor to ECW) but died before it could take place. Still, it’s no wonder the Nature Boy managed to keep going so amazingly well.
2 Lou Thesz
He is the only man to be a professional wrestler in seven different decades. To many, he is the gold standard, often at the top of lists of the greatest wrestlers of all time. To this day, the term “Thesz Press” is used and many talk with awe of his fantastic skill and presentation. As multiple NWA champion, Thesz pulled the organization along and faced the best workers of his time. While not flashy, he had what it took to impress and kept on going while also training slews of workers. Thesz really helped make wrestling what it was and kept up with the business for years. Thesz officially retired in 1979 but kept up with a rare bout now and then and it meant big business when he showed up. He wrestled his final match in 1990 at 74, thus cementing his legacy among the greats. Passing on in 2002, Thesz helped make wrestling a success and no surprise that he stuck in the ring for so long.
1 Terry Funk
He keeps hinting at retirement but most are convinced Terry Funk will be in the grave before he quits wrestling. The wild Texan was once a rather clean-cut technical worker as he held the NWA world title for a good run. He morphed into a tougher fighter for a 1989 feud with Ric Flair which most thought was his swan song to wrestling. That’s laughable to imagine now as Funk has been going strong for years. Paul Heyman gives Funk massive credit for helping put ECW on the map, engaging in wild bloody brawls that shocked fans with their brutality. He’s held various titles in the USWA and ECW and even a run in WWE as Chainsaw Charlie with old buddy Mick Foley.
He still hints retirement now and then but always seems to pop up for a run in Japan and he's still in amazing shape. Funk will keep on going until he literally can’t and still be among the most dangerous out there to win folks over.