For most people, retirement is the final stage in life, a time to relax and celebrate existence in all it’s glory without the hustle and bustle of a day job able to slow you down anymore. In the professional wrestling industry, however, retirement is more a vague concept that vaguely resembles the real world version of it—much like everything else in sports entertainment. Because of this, fans rarely actually believe it when a wrestler “retires.” This is hardly anything new, and if anything, the idea was even more prevalent in the territorial days, when a wrestler could be forced into quitting wrestling for good, only to pop up in some other promotion a few weeks later, where fans were none the wiser.
With retiring as common in pro wrestling as headlocks, it’s virtually become meaningless for a wrestler to announce their hanging up the old boots once and for all. That said, obviously some wrestlers do indeed stop wrestling at one point or another, either due to physical necessity or in are cases because they simply felt they accomplished all they had to inside the squared circle. This isn’t to say constant comebacks necessarily sully a wrestler’s reputation, but they rarely help, and a preponderance of them has made the idea of retirement in pro wrestling outright laughable. Keep reading for 8 sports entertainment retirements that were total jokes and 7 that actually took.
15 JOKE: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
In the defense of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, maybe the issue isn’t that he turned retirement into a punch line. It’s just as possible the Hot Rod simply desired to change the questions every other living wrestler is forced to ask themselves at the last minute, as he was often wont to do. Regardless of the logic, the idea Piper was going to retire from wrestling to become a full-time actor in 1987, immediately following a marquee match against Adrian Adonis at WrestleMania III, was a highly flawed plan from the start. This was before Hulk Hogan had even tried a full-fledged film career, and Hollywood simply wasn’t ready to accept a wrestler transitioning into a movie star. Piper did produce one great film in this period with They Live, but it was hardly enough to justify leaving wrestling behind, and he was back in the ring on a regular basis less than two years after his “farewell appearance.”
14 REAL: The Undertaker
One can never say never in wrestling, so it’s entirely possible this half of the list will end up making us look pretty silly in retrospect. Kicking things off with The Undertaker might look like a bold proclamation in that regard, yet all signs point to the Dead Man indeed making his final exit from the WWE Universe after his loss to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33. Following five Spears, the Big Dog pinned the Phenom for his second loss at the Grandest Stage of Them All, at which point Undertaker removed his robe and hot, placing them in the middle of the ring. This article is getting written a mere five months after that momentous event, and for the time being, it looks as though The Undertaker isn’t looking back on this moment with any second thoughts, ready to leave the business behind for good.
13 JOKE: Jim Ross
There’s more than one way for a retirement to be a joke, and leave it to Good Ol' JR to give fans a first hand lesson in this fact. Having been fired from WWE more times than we have time to count, the company decided to take Ross’s fate into their own hands during the latest such incident in 2013. Immediately after JR was dismissed for failing to control a drunk and grieving Ric Flair at a live event (grieving, as his son Reid had recently died), WWE took to Twitter and claimed that he had retired. JR briefly went along with the story at his former employer’s behest, only to later admit his hands were tied and he had absolutely no choice in the matter. In fact, it was a mere two years before Ross was back commentating wrestling for New Japan Pro Wrestling, and if it were up to him, he probably would have found work a whole lot sooner than that.
12 REAL: Santino Marella
How much success a wrestler achieves in their career is unrelated to the outpouring of love fans can give during their retirement. Santino Marella was never WWE Champion, yet he was always a highly beloved member of the wrestling community for his comedic antics and true underdog persona. It’s not like his career was free of gold in general, either, as he twice held the Intercontinental Championship, plus one run each with the United States and Tag Team belts, the latter with Vladimir Kozlov. What makes Marella’s retirement an emotional event regardless of all this is that he was forced into it rather young, only 40 years old when forced out of the ring forever. The master of the Cobra had suffered three major neck injuries leading up to his decision, and worried any more would threaten his life, officially wrestling his last match in 2014.
11 JOKE: Curt Hennig
Despite being known for his unmatched abilities in all things wrestling, one area Curt Hennig found himself demonstrably imperfect at throughout his career was sticking with a retirement. Hennig claimed he was walking away with wrestling for good at least twice in his lifetime, although in all fairness, the second issue was more WCW’s fault than his own. The first time around, Perfect worried his repeat back injuries may force him to walk away from the ring for good in late 1991, but he was back in the ring semi-regularly in less than a year. When Hennig retired for a second time in WCW, it barely lasted a full week, as the mysterious Powers That Be stable forced him into ending his career. Given the era, this angle naturally ended with the swerve that Hennig was working with the Powers that Be rather than against them, thus getting reinstated. All it took was confusing the hell out of his fans.
10 REAL: Steve Austin
Nothing has the power to make a retirement stick quite like a career ending injury. Granted, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin resisted walking away from wrestling for a solid five years after the in-ring accident took in question place, no doubt making things worse for his neck each and every night he chose to do so. Austin was nearly paralyzed in a match against Owen Hart at SummerSlam 1997, yet his star power was so massive stepping away from the spotlight at that point in time would have been disastrous to his career and WWE in general. Austin waited two years before fixing things properly, and it was barely another two years after that the mounting pain started getting to him, forcing Austin to retire for good after one last match against The Rock at WrestleMania XIX. More than a full decade after the fact, unless an actual bionic spine gets invented and placed in Stone Cold’s back, he’ll forever remain unable to make an in-ring return.
9 JOKE: Randy Savage
Were it up to the “Macho Man” Randy Savage, his time sitting behind the WWE commentary booth probably never would have happened. Well, that may be going a step too far, but it’s an absolute fact he’d rather have been wrestling at the time, as well. The only reason Savage became an announcer is that WWE forced him to—it’s not like his Retirement Match against The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII couldn’t have been just as good without a bombastic stipulation. When Savage finally did run back into the ring, fans were so rabid for his return he became WWE Champion within a manner of months. Quite frankly, Vince McMahon’s decision to force Savage out of the ring for so long at this point in his career makes absolutely no sense in retrospect, and can only be chalked up to one of the WWE CEO’s bizarrely eccentric whims.
8 REAL: Bret Hart
Included in Bret Hart’s list of reasons he’s the best there is, best there was, and best there ever will be was his proud and steadfast integrity as a performer. Like him or not, Hart honestly did whatever it took to put on the best show possible for his fans, and that’s why he made the decision to walk away from wrestling for good the moment he realized doing so had become a physical impossibility. This time came for Bret at the relatively young age of 43, when he suffered a serious concussion, a bicycle accident, and a stroke, all in the span of two years. Technically, Bret had made the decision to retire after only having suffered the concussion, and the two later injuries cemented his retirement as something that couldn’t ever change. Hart did attempt a few more matches years later, though they were more angles than actual competitions.
7 JOKE: Mick Foley
One might expect that a man who constantly told others to “have a nice day” might take retirement seriously in order to take his own advice, yet Mick Foley is one of the first names most wrestling fans think of in terms of people who take the concept as a joke. Foley’s first major retirement came in early 2000, when he Triple H defeated him in a Hell in a Cell match. Less than one month later, however, Foley came out of retirement at WrestleMania 2000. In his defense, the comebacks were mostly few and far between, although for a while there Foley was wrestling at least a handful of matches every year, which is the exact opposite of what retirement means to a wrestler. Granted, Foley wrestled some of the best matches of his life in this time, including classics against Edge and Randy Orton, so it’s not like we’re complaining. On the other hand, the less said about his time in TNA, the better.
6 REAL: Edge
Once again, the horrible hand of fate plays a huge role in this half of the list, as Edge represents yet another wrestler whose retirement has stuck out of sheer necessity. For Edge, there’s a very real possible a single bad bump wouldn’t just injure him further, but it could even kill him, so the idea of ever wrestling another match is a risk no sane athlete would ever take. The Rated R Superstar learned this information shortly before WrestleMania XXVII, when he still reigned as World Heavyweight Champion. Naturally, with his continued existence at stake, Edge gave up the belt at the young age of 37 and stepped out of the ring once and for all. Six years later, Edge has obviously stood by his decision, and the fact he’s moved on to a happy family life with his wife Beth Phoenix and their two children is all the more reason he wouldn’t want to put everything at risk just for another Spear.
5 JOKE: Hulk Hogan
Summoning the powers of Hulkamania to go big or go home in the most bombastic way imaginable, if nothing else, Hulk Hogan has the wildest reason for a fake retirement out of any wrestler to feature on this list. Hogan wasn’t injured, attempting a second career in Hollywood, or simply looking for some time to relax, although he would experience all those issues at one point or another later on. During his short-lived 1998 fake retirement, though, Hogan took things to an executive level by announcing on The Tonight Show he was leaving wrestling to run for the office of President of the United States. Ultimately, Hogan’s entire campaign lasted barely over a month, at which point he returned to WCW and won the World Championship in his return match. According to the Hulkster himself, some of WCW’s research suggested he could actually become President if he seriously ran, but perhaps he realized pro wrestling isn’t exactly the best start way to kick of a political career.
4 REAL: Shawn Michaels
Defying all logic, Shawn Michaels managed to take the concept of retirement extremely seriously twice. The first time around, his return to the ring was considered a borderline miracle, as he fully believed the back injury keeping him away from WWE for four years had ended his career outright. As it turned out, Michaels had another eight years in him before losing a Streak vs. Career Match against The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI. Typically, wrestlers don’t retire until the tank is pretty much empty, making it that much more impressive Michaels’s last match was amongst the best of his career. Because HBK went out on such a high note, plus the fact four-year hiatuses aren’t new to him, fans are constantly speculating that an in-ring return is inevitable. Seven years after his retirement, that likelihood drops every day…and that’s if it even exists at all anymore.
3 JOKE: Ric Flair
Riding limousines, flying in Learjet, wheeling, dealing, and kiss stealing can only get a man so far. In fact, that sort of behavior is likely to hinder success more so than encourage it, a lesson Ric Flair has learned first hand again and again in his life. It’s mostly for this reason he can’t leave the memories behind, regularly stepping into wrestling rings way past his prime all for want of the pittance promoters would pay him to do so. All that said, in the lead to WrestleMania XXIV, Flair managed to make his retirement look like a noble and historic affair. His alleged final match, against Shawn Michaels, could have justified the past decade or so all at once, letting the Nature Boy go out with a bang as deserved. And then he decided to start wrestling again, first for the Hulkamania Tour and then TNA, producing matches so bad in both organizations that fans were begging the man who at one time was greatest wrestler in the world to get the hell out of the ring already.
2 REAL: Daniel Bryan
Truth be told, there’s no way for us to know for sure if Daniel Bryan is going to permanently stay retired or not. The man is a mere 36 years old as of this writing, and was already forced out of the ring two years ago due to mounting neck and brain issues. Should Bryan have any interest in putting his health first, there would be no way he ever could make a full-time return to the ring. With that said, Bryan himself has been hinting online and during some interviews that he might go back on his decision. Quite frankly, this could end up being disastrous for him, both personally and professional. Bryan might be able to adapt to a new ring style, but he also may suffer the same diminishing returns all men on the joke half of this list fell into. In that sense, putting him on this half of the list will hopefully go some small way in making him stick to his decision to stay away from the ring, for his own sake.
1 JOKE: Terry Funk
The patron saint of turning retirement into a meaningless phrase, Terry Funk first used the r-word in relation to his career way back in 1983. Today, in 2017, he’s currently preparing for his latest comeback, a series of six-man tag team matches with the Rock n Roll Express as his partners, battling his old rival Jerry Lawler, Brian Christopher, and Doug Gilbert. This is only a few short months after Funk gave a deeply emotional speech about how his doctors no longer support his decision to keep wrestling. At this point, it’s clearly not healthy for Terry Funk, 73, to keep wrestling, and each retirement is announced of legitimate concern for his own health. However, Funk always gets bored, or tired, or maybe just forgets what it feels like to have a chair crashed against his back, feeling an itch that can only be scratched by one last dance in the squared circle. If and when Funk actually does retire, no one will even believe him, waiting for his next big comeback in front of an even smaller crowd.
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