Wrestlers tend to reach their career peak in their early 30s, with some lucky enough to reach it in their 20s. Stars like The Rock, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton and John Cena all reached plenty of success well before they hit the big 3-0. However, a performer will really perfect their craft by the time they reach their mid 30s. Then, the eventual decline comes, with very few wrestlers able to maintain a certain standard of work into their 40s. Yes, some will keep it up, a la Shawn Michaels, but many will quickly lose the same physical gifts that made them special at their peak.
When you look at the WWE’s current roster, there are several stars that have been with the company for a long time, while others perfected their craft elsewhere before becoming stars with the WWE. While the WWE has said they have embarked on a “New Era” there are still plenty of performers under contract that are in, or approaching their 40s, which is around the time a wrestler’s career should be winding down. However, while some have arguably gotten even better as they’ve aged, it’s clear for some that it’s time to hang em up, or at least head elsewhere to keep their names fresh.
Here are eight WWE Superstars aging like a fine wine, while some are seemingly spoiled, like sour milk.
15. Fine Wine – Chris Jericho
Several times Jericho has seemed to be winding down his WWE career, either to focus on his band, Fozzy, his podcast, to write another autobiography, or to pursue other projects in television and movies. Each time he leaves, you could consider it a career well done, a certain Hall Of Fame resume, and several accolades and memorable moments to fill hours of content on the WWE network. And yet, Jericho keeps returning and his latest run, primarily with Kevin Owens, may be the best entertainment he’s ever given.
Converting his snooty, smarmy persona into a fawning best friend to Kevin Owens, along with an ability to make a clipboard, a list, and a scarf some of the most hilarious things on WWE television, has a whole new generation of fans appreciating Jericho. His ability between the ropes may not be quite what it once was, but his adoption of DDP Yoga has kept him able to engage with most of the best superstars of the current rosters.
Jericho even recently completed one more set of accolades when he captured the United States Championship to complete the Grand Slam collection of titles, leaving the man with nothing to prove. We can almost guarantee though that he will return to give us more brilliant moments when we least suspect….”it!”.
14. Curdling – Dolph Ziggler
Is anyone still on board with Dolph Ziggler? For someone who has shown glimpses of being exceptionally good in the ring he has an opposite record of absolutely failing to capitalize on any momentum, leaving him as one of the biggest ‘what if’ superstars of all time, and now it feels like he’s circling the drain.
The Post-WrestleMania XXIX Raw where he cashed in Money In The Bank to become World Heavyweight Champion is probably the greatest cash-in alongside Seth’s WrestleMania 31 effort. The Survivor Series where he single-handedly ousted The Authority (albeit temporarily) was one of the best sole-survivor stories ever. But he’s never had a significant singles match at WrestleMania, nor defended successfully during either of his two world title reigns. He’s been reduced to someone complaining about how he’s not revered for his work, and yet his work remains missing some integral element that would otherwise see him regain his lost support from the WWE fans. Whether through abysmal timing or simply not having all the pieces at the same time, Dolph is now inevitably sliding away from the top tier.
Altogether it seems like we’ve already seen the best of what Ziggler has to offer and unless that changes, Ziggler has severely underperformed. For someone as good as he was he will be remembered for fizzling out rather than leaving on a high note at this rate.
13. Fine Wine – Randy Orton
Randy seems perpetually able to break out great matches and deliver a classic at the most surprising of times. His recent match with Shinsuke Nakamura is another example that Randy can seemingly have a smooth, exciting match with any opponent if he’s in the mood to.
The Viper still holds the record for winning the World Championship at the youngest age of 24, and more than a decade later he’s only improved his arsenal, seemingly gets injured far less often, and can be involved in some of the best television each week. His run within the Wyatt Family last year and into this year may have ended with some lackluster matches, but the bulk of the journey was filled with intriguing twists and turns, and some truly inspired and subtle storytelling that Randy specializes in. Couple that with Randy’s perpetual ability to make his RKO variations unique and captivating and it feels like he could go another decade without missing much of a step.
Randy Orton enjoys better crowd support now than he ever has before, his natural ability lending him that aura of confidence which endears him to fans almost regardless of who he is up against. Randy Orton continues to be a vital presence on SmackDown and at any moment is a viable World Championship caliber wrestler, even 15 years after his debut, and seemingly becomes better with each passing year.
12. Curdling – Triple H
Discounting Triple H’s excellent work with his NXT roster, he is gradually becoming a burden every time he is inserted into a main roster feud, either around the Road To WrestleMania or between SummerSlam and Survivor Series. You can see it etched on his face as well, his crinkled forehead no doubt the result of the stresses of being the corporate entity he has become.
The other perpetual problem is that it seems designed more to allow him to have a showcase match rather than to logically progress anyone else. He got cheered over Roman, defeated Sting when it made zero sense to the fans, and rumors of him taking on Kevin Owens at WrestleMania, hopefully end up closer to his match with Seth than the others.
However, with Kevin clearly going to be the heel in their dynamic, there is a chance WWE will have Triple H again short-circuit someone’s momentum Ever since CM Punk walked out, partially over not wanting to face Triple H at WrestleMania, he has seemed determined to bolster his big match legacy, and it’s largely done the opposite.
At this point, NXT Hunter is revered while Raw Hunter is seen as a hindrance to entertaining segments, more so if Stephanie is alongside him. If this trend continues, Triple H will be damaging his in-ring legacy beyond repair when he should be focusing on his obvious skill for guiding new talents to take his place.
11. Fine Wine – Mickie James
Mickie James’ recent return to WWE was a pleasant surprise, but in the last couple of weeks on Raw, she has finally gotten to remind the WWE fans that even the most experienced woman in the WWE still has all the tools.
Mickie James is another of those wrestlers who took some time away from WWE to work elsewhere but never lost a step as she became a multiple time champion in Impact Wrestling as well. When she popped back into WWE she was immediately circling Alexa Bliss’ Smackdown Women’s Championship, and now is doing the same on Raw after a great match against Nia Jax reminded everyone why she is so revered. WWE may be giving us a story where Alexa Bliss tries to convince us Mickie is ‘too old’, but it smacks of falseness like that old storyline where they called her ‘Piggy James’ and tried to say she was too fat. One look at Mickie and there’s all the evidence you need to know that she’s neither of those things, and in fact seems to be getting better in every way each passing year.
10. Curdling – Kane
People have a soft spot for The Big Red Machine because his fiery demon persona was exceptionally cool back in the day, but the truth is that in his later years, particularly as Corporate Kane, he was insufferable. Kane by the end was nothing more than the obligatory road bump for WWE’s chosen few to trample over on their off weeks, taking a detour from entertaining segments to pretend that Kane in a suit was any sort of threat.
Kane has a track record of being that guy who WWE throws at you when you are in need of something to do but they also don’t want you to do anything particularly productive either. A lot of first-time world champions seemed unable to avoid a confrontation with Kane, where he dabbled in the spooky theatrics and then had a middling match that helped nobody. Kane lasted for such a long time that by the end there was no fanfare, he simply faded away and hasn’t been seen since.
Thankfully, Kane has seemingly gone on to his next career in politics and he has little reason to return to WWE. He may have some excellent social ideas to improve his jurisdiction, but the less we see of Kane unless he’s showing up for his Hall Of Fame induction the better.
9. Fine Wine – Kofi Kingston
From a hokey fake Jamaican to life as a perpetual mid-level superstar, to suddenly exploding within WWE’s most popular tag team entertainers, Kofi Kingston has proven that he is immune to aging or even aided by it.
Kofi Kingston in the ring today is indistinguishable from the Ja-fake-an who debuted on WWE’s version of ECW all those years ago. He moves as smoothly as back then, he still has offense that is entirely innovative and unique from all others, and he has not had to limit his high-flying because of injury or age. The fact he is still finding interesting ways to hit his Trouble In Paradise finisher while adding new aerial offense like his ‘Trust Fall’ dive from the turnbuckle to the outside is amazing for a man a decade into his run. Now with The New Day finally allowing his speaking to catch up to his wrestling, he has added catchphrases and crowd-involvement to his micwork that leaves us wondering, who is a better candidate as an example of improving with age.
8. Curdling – Konnor
Admittedly he didn’t have far to fall, but outside of being comedy fodder for The Fashion Police, Konnor has managed to not only accomplish near nothing despite almost three years on the main roster but also lose any semblance of imposing mass or stature. Konnor was in the original version of The Ascension half a decade ago in NXT, and they got to run roughshod there before graduating to Raw, however, they were almost immediately labeled a joke and have never recovered.
Besides having no real impact in the tag team division, Konnor also racked up a wellness policy violation or two over the years that not only left his tag partner floundering alone, but also led to him losing whatever definition he used to have in his physique.
7. Fine Wine – Goldust
Perhaps no one on this list has had such ups and downs and still ended up not only in WWE for what seems like the 13th time but as a timeless character that maintains an ability to entertain in and out of the ring.
Goldust has the advantage of being almost completely covered from head to toe in either his wrestling attire or face and body paint, and this allows the man underneath, Dustin Runnels, to continue to portray ‘The Bizarre One’ with the same confronting qualities he did back in 1996. Like Chris Jericho and Mick Foley, Goldust has taken up DPP Yoga to essentially halt and reverse the effects of a lifetime in the squared circle, moves like his snap powerslam still only rivaled by Randy Orton and Samoa Joe for excellence. After maintaining his persona through a comedy run for the longest time, Goldust has shown that with the golden lights on bright he can still captivate our attention with his breathy, raspy proclamations from the director’s chair, even realizing some of that sinister, macabre vibe from his earliest work.
Goldust may never get the World Title run that his body of work suggests he is worthy of, but he has been doing this on and off in WWE for near 20 years and is better now than maybe ever before. Here’s hoping that he is allowed one last great performance before the curtain comes down on his career.
6. Curdling – Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt is still young compared to many members of the WWE roster so there’s still time to eventually turn this around, but despite a blip on the radar where he captured the WWE Championship this year it’s been a constant downhill slide into pointlessness and marginalized feuds designed to help anyone but him. It’s not close to being his fault entirely, but the result is much the same with fans tuning out when he begins rambling in or out of the ring.
It’s a waste of what could be, considering the depth of the character and Wyatt’s relentlessness in throwing everything into it.
Now without any followers and his ability to intimidate at an all-time low, Bray Wyatt is in danger of becoming one of the biggest missed opportunities in WWE history, which is a far cry from the ‘Next Undertaker’ predictions he was getting early on. For many fans, the recent hints at finally seeing Sister Abigail are the last chance for ‘The Eater Of Worlds’.
5. Fine Wine – Drew McIntyre
Another superstar who almost fell by the wayside when WWE released him, Drew McIntyre instead became the best version of himself to date, having great matches around the globe, carrying several World Championships, and taping into the missing ingredients he needed to excel.
Drew McIntyre was destined for greatness according to Vince McMahon’s introduction of him on Smackdown all those years ago, and he initially gained some successes, capturing the Intercontinental and Tag Team Championships. It quickly led nowhere though, his spiral down the card ending with him in the ill-fated 3MB, losing to everyone and eventually getting released without much fanfare. Where others might have let that be the end of their story, Drew rallied and upped his game in every area. WWE saw his massive turnaround and had little choice but to bring Drew McIntyre back from the trash heap, his re-introduction on NXT showing off Drew’s revolutionized presentation. He now had a gruff, commanding promo, his matches were hard hitting with exciting style variations, and his battle-hardened look makes it so Drew could stand opposite any opponent as a viable superstar. Now as NXT Champion, Drew can be anything from this point on in WWE.
Even with this lengthy journey already under his belt, is only 32. Given that he has shown such massive improvement over most of a decade and is only now entering his prime, Drew McIntyre is poised to burst back onto the WWE main roster and take it by storm.
4. Curdling – Michael Cole
Michael Cole as a WWE Superstar may be a bit of a stretch, but since WWE insists on now calling him ‘The Voice Of WWE’ he has to be accountable for the death spiral he’s been in since his peak way back in the day.
Michael Cole has some fans who excuse his efforts on commentary, insisting he is being micromanaged into making our ears bleed but when other announcers like Mauro Ranallo, Jim Ross, Corey Graves, and Tom Phillips can easily sound competent and engaged behind the desk the excuses for Michael Cole quickly run thin. His stock phrases, inability to name wrestling moves, calling of actions that aren’t happening on camera that he insists are, and his apparent telepathic ability to tell us what a wrestler is thinking all lessen the thing fans actually tune in to see. He may currently not be as insipid as his ‘Heel Cole’ phase, but that’s like insisting that drowning is better than starving to death.
On a recent episode of Raw, Cole wasn’t in attendance for the first time in a long time and the show improved simply by his subtraction. Hopefully, he’s in the process of choosing or handing over to whoever succeeds him on Raw so that WWE fans can again tune in without his voice being the one we’re forced to listen to three hours a week.
3. Fine Wine – The Miz
The Miz may have had the furthest to go in becoming someone the WWE fans look forward to seeing, but through persistent improvement, reinvention, and refinement he is now integral to whichever show he appears on each week.
It can’t be considered a coincidence that The Miz was on SmackDown last year when it was the far superior show and when he and some others jumped to Raw the quality jumped with them. The Miz has several accomplishments on his resume, including a WWE Championship run and main eventing WrestleMania, but it’s almost inarguable that he is better now than he was then. His latest masterpiece came as they mostly do, on the microphone, when on Talking Smack he went berserk on GM Daniel Bryan with a scything rant that grabbed everyone’s attention.
His adoption of many of Bryan’s moves and taunts only further improved his overall skillset. From there he has returned to Raw, and whoever he gets matched with, his mouth makes everything he does relevant and riveting, from verbal sparring with Cena to Enzo to Roman.
The Miz is one of the unlikeliest success stories in WWE, his background in reality TV and initial, well-documented troubles backstage threatened to end his run before it really took off. Now, it feels like he is vital to WWE’s ecosystem and surely a Hall Of Famer when it’s all said and done, which seems far enough away that he could rack up a whole other collection of titles before he hangs up the boots.
2. Curdled – The Undertaker
If this list had come out before WrestleMania XXX The Undertaker would have been on the other side of things. The Streak was a fully operational ‘great match’ factory and The Deadman was as intimidating and special as he ever had been in his entire career. In the last 4 years though, we found out what happens when you push your luck and try to stretch out a good thing just too far past its breaking point. Our last memories of The Undertaker are now tarnished by him looking decidedly pained every time he was in a match.
The less said about the final nail in the dead man’s coffin at the hands of Roman Reigns the better. Suffice to say, The Undertaker went out with a whimper rather than his trademark ‘bong’, and by the end it was the latter everyone would’ve needed to enjoy his last few years.
1. Fine Wine – The Hardy Boyz
Few can argue that The Hardy Boyz right now seem to be not only rejuvenated in their WWE return but possibly better now than they’ve been collectively since a decade ago.
Between 2010 and 2014 The Hardyz had varying levels of success and turmoil, both brothers experiencing times that they would likely want to forget, such as Jeff’s 2011 Victory Road fiasco and Matt’s vlogging phase around the same time. The brothers used those low points as inspiration and when Matt Hardy hit gold with his ‘Broken’ gimmick in TNA and around the world, WWE had little qualms in bringing the Hardyz back into the WWE fold.
Jeff may have recently gone down with a shoulder injury, but both men are looking to be in the best shape of their careers mentally and physically. Matt especially seems poised to unleash a ‘Woke’ version of his gimmick onto the WWE Universe anytime now, and it’s possible that the older Hardy still has a shot at gaining the one prize in wrestling that has eluded him, the WWE (or Universal) Championship. That is only possible because he and Jeff are somehow better now than they may have ever been.
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