Wrestling careers will always have a shelf life. Superstars can't always have careers that are as lengthy as Ric Flair's, which means that at some point everyone is forced to hang up their wrestling boots. Some of these retirements are ones that the WWE Universe see coming, while others are not because of age, but because the superstar has been forced to step out of the squared circle on their doctor's orders.
So many careers have been cut short because of injury and over the past decade alone there have been a number of World Champions who were forced to relinquish their Championships and step aside after causing irreparable damage to their bodies. It is perhaps the worst way for a wrestler to have to give up their biggest passion and has led to some of the most emotional moments on WWE TV.
Retirements are things that have to happen in sport, which is why there are also a number of stars who are still contracted to WWE right now that could be thinking that it is almost time to walk away for good as well. This could be for a variety of reasons, from injury to personal dissatisfaction with the WWE.
The following list looks at eight WWE retirement that no one saw coming, as well as seven that could be on the radar in the coming year.
15 Didn't See Coming: Stone Cold Steve Austin
Steve Austin was at the top of his game for a number of years throughout The Attitude Era, but a neck injury at the hands of Owen Hart back at Survivor Series 1997 and the additional problems with his knees forced him onto the sidelines before he announced his official retirement back in 2003.
Steve Austin was someone that the WWE Universe thought would be around the company forever. Even though he is still a part of the show as a guest referee and was brought in to host a podcast on the WWE Network, it is well-known that Steve Austin will never wrestle again. The saddest part of this is that Austin never even got a retirement speech, he just walked away and was later added to WWE's Hall of Fame class.
14 Next: Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler is a former World Champion as well as being a Money in the Bank winner in 2012. Ziggler is widely considered to be one of the best pure wrestlers that WWE has had for a long time but after more than a decade with the company, it seems that Dolph could finally be thinking about life outside of the spotlight.
Ziggler's contract was rumoured to be ending this year, but it seems very likely now that The Showoff will not be signing a new one after next year, which would make 2018 his final year as part of the promotion he debuted in as a member of The Spirit Squad. While Dolph will have left behind some memorable moments, it seems the right time for him to walk away since he isn't being booked the same way that he once was.
13 Didn't See Coming: Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan was an independent wrestling sensation before he made his way to WWE and while WWE had very little control over his rise in popularity that led to him winning the World Championship at WrestleMania 30. While this was problematic for them at the time, it seemed to help the company recover from CM Punk's departure.
The only issue was that Bryan had been injured so badly that the medical staff behind the scenes in WWE refused to clear him for active competition even though his own doctor did. Bryan was forced to relinquish both the World Championship and the Intercontinental Championship through injury before WWE decided it was time for Bryan to address his fans and reveal that he was struggling with the same condition that forced Edge to retire a few years earlier. Bryan has since been able to remain a member of the WWE roster, though in a non-physical capacity.
12 Next: R- Truth
R-Truth has been part of WWE off and on now for almost two decades. Truth hasn't changed up his entrance or gimmick for a number of years, which has left him still shouting "What's up" in 2017.
Truth hasn't been part of a meaningful storyline on WWE TV for years. He last partnered with Goldust when it seemed as though the duo could have pushed towards the Tag Team Championships but were never given the chance. The break-up between them wasn't one of the best either and has left both men with nothing to do on WWE TV moving forward. It is thought that after more than 20 years in the business, R-Truth could be thinking about taking a smaller role in WWE over the next few months or even transitioning into a backstage role with WWE.
11 Didn't See Coming: CM Punk
CM Punk walked away from WWE following the 2014 Royal Rumble and shocked the WWE Universe in the process. It wasn't well-known back then that Punk was unhappy with his position in the company and that he had an issue with the fact that he was being forced to face Triple H at WrestleMania.
Punk hasn't returned to the company in almost four years and has instead made the switch over to UFC. He was one of the most talented wrestlers of the current generation, but following his departure, WWE went on to fire him from the company on his wedding day and Punk has now all but confirmed that he has retired from the wrestling business. Punk could have continued to wrestle on the Indy circuit, but it seems that he has had his taste of wrestling now and isn't hoping to return anytime soon.
10 Next: The Undertaker
The Undertaker has been part of WWE now for almost three decades. He is still the holder of the longest undefeated streak in WrestleMania history, something that will definitely never be replicated. Over the past few years, The Deadman has been appearing on WWE TV less and less and it seems that 2018 could see his final outing in a wrestling ring.
Undertaker recently underwent hip surgery and even though his exit back at WrestleMania 33 left many fans questioning whether or not he had retired from the company, a return could still be in the cards. Many fans believe that Kane and The Undertaker will both retire from WWE next year the way they always should have. The Undertaker deserves a decent exit and this seems as though it could be the most satisfying exit for The Deadman.
9 Didn't See Coming: Michelle McCool
Michelle McCool was once seen as one of the best female wrestlers on the SmackDown roster and was the first woman to hold both the Women's and Divas Championships, but she made the decision to walk away from WWE back in 2011.
Michelle married The Undertaker back in 2010 and it is thought that the couple were thinking about starting a family at this point since Michelle gave birth to their daughter back in 2012. This didn't mean that it came as any less of a shock when Michelle lost a "loser leaves WWE" match to Layla at Extreme Rules and was forced to walk away from the company for good. Michelle has stayed away from the company for the past six years, but there are now reports that she could be returning for one last match in the near future.
8 Next: Goldust
Goldust is a legend in wrestling circles. He was one of the biggest attractions of the Attitude Era and he is now the only member of the famous Rhodes family who is left in WWE. Goldust has an entire legacy that he will be leaving behind when he does decide to walk away from WWE, but it seems that that could be in the not too distant future.
Goldust was last seen performing under his real name in a match against Finn Balor after Bray Wyatt wiped off his face paint to show that he was just a real person underneath. That seemed as though it could have marked the end of Goldust's career after almost three decades. The former Hardcore Champion deserves a chance to say goodbye to the WWE Universe after a career of his length. Hopefully WWE will afford him that kind of opportunity.
7 Didn't See Coming: Shawn Michaels
One of the best wrestlers to ever set foot in a WWE ring, Shawn Michaels decided to call it a day back in 2010. Michaels lost a retirement match to The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI, but ahead of the match, none of the WWE Universe actually expected Michaels to retire from the company following the match.
Michaels stated that he decided to retire the year before when he realised that he was missing his son growing up, so he pitched the idea of leaving following a match with The Undertaker. Michaels is one of the only wrestlers who has retired and actually refused to return to the company for "one last match." Michaels wants his retirement to actually mean something and he seems to be protecting the legacy he left behind by not returning and bowing the peer pressure.
6 Next: The Big Show
It wasn't all that long ago that the WWE Universe was chanting "please retire" at The Big Show and his response was for them to find someone worthy of retiring him. The Giant hasn't been seen since he was thrown into a cage by Braun Strowman and it was reported that he had successfully undergone hip surgery and could be on his way back to the ring.
There is nothing for The Big Show to accomplish in WWE now. He put Braun over so well in their steel cage match a few months ago that The WWE Universe actually believed that Show would be walking away after that match. He does deserve a decent send-off from the company he has inhabited for the past two decades so it will be interesting to see how WWE says goodbye to The World's Largest Athlete.
5 Didn't See Coming: Edge
Edge was one of the best wrestlers and performers in WWE at one point, The Rated R Superstar is an 11-time World Champion and even managed to retain his World Championship at WrestleMania XXVII in his final match.
Edge was later forced to deliver an emotional speech to the WWE Universe and announce that he had to retire from wrestling because of cervical spinal stenosis. The injury meant that Edge could have been paralyzed if he took a bump wrong in a WWE ring, so he had no other option. He was forced to relinquish the World Championship the following night on Raw and was then inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011. Edge has since been able to move into a career as an actor and had a main role in the Sci-Fi show "Haven".
4 Next: Kane
The Big Red Monster has had the WWE roster on lockdown for more than twenty years, along with his "brother" The Undertaker, their path of destruction was definitely a well-worn one but it seems that the two iconic stars could both be set to leave the company together.
While Undertaker and Kane didn't arrive in WWE together, Undertaker was the main reason that Kane debuted and also one of the reasons he went on to become the star that he was in the years that followed. Kane recently returned to Monday Night Raw and has since continued to pave that path of destruction through the roster, which can only be leading towards a Brothers of Destruction reunion and one final farewell from the most famous wrestling brothers of all time.
3 Didn't See Coming: Trish Stratus
Trish Stratus will always be remembered as a record-setting seven-time Women's Champion and one of the best female wrestlers to ever grace a WWE ring. Back in 2006, Trish dropped the Women's Championship to Mickie James at WrestleMania 22, before a shoulder injury forced her out of action the following month.
Trish was on top of her game. She had carried the women's division for a number of years and now seemed to have gained some decent competition. This is why it came as such a shock when she announced that she would be retiring from WWE at Unforgiven in her home state of Toronto later that year. After just over six years in the business and minutes after she captured her seventh Women's Championship, Trish bowed out of the company in an emotional night for the Women's Division.
2 Next: John Cena
The face of WWE hasn't been spending a lot of time in a WWE ring over the past few months since his commitments outside of the company have taken over his schedule recently.
The 16-time World Champion has accomplished quite a lot over the past 15 years, which has allowed him to follow in the footsteps of The Rock and become a star on the big screen as well. Cena is now a well-known reality TV star, host, rapper and actor outside of WWE, which means that it won't be long before he decides to walk away from the business that gave him fame. There were rumours that Cena was thinking of walking away if Nikki Bella did, so perhaps the couple will be looking at retirement together in the near future.
1 Didn't See Coming: AJ Lee
AJ Lee was once the longest reigning Divas Champion in WWE history and even partnered with Paige at WrestleMania 31 where she defeated Nikki and Brie Bella in her final pay-per-view match. Two days later, AJ Lee was gone. She announced on Social Media that she had retired from the company and that she had done it her way.
The company had no idea this was coming either. It was later revealed that she would never have been booked to win at WrestleMania if the company knew she was leaving, so it seems that she waited until the last minute to reveal her intentions. AJ stated that her reasons were because she was married to CM Punk and a lot of the problems that the company had with her husband were deflected on her, as well as the fact that she felt she had achieved everything that she needed to in the five years she was in WWE, so it was time to set new goals on a new career path.