Wrestling is a very tough business, and it takes a physical toll on the body, so to even make it to your 40s with your body in tact is an impressive feat, but sometimes, a wrestler is so special that they can continue to excel into their later years. Obviously that isn’t the case with every wrestler, as the bumps and accidents that can happen in the ring are different for each individual performer, but sometimes, those wrestlers that continue on past this stage just need to know when to call it a day. Whether wrestling a hectic WWE schedule, a reduced one or wrestling on the independents, anything can happen in an instant in a ring, so fans need to have the utmost respect for what these performers put their body through. But sometimes it just gets sad to see wrestlers as they age, so let’s look at 8 wrestlers who have succeeded into their 40s, and 7 that should have called it quits much earlier.
15 Succeeded – Jeff Hardy
This will be a theme throughout this article, but although Jeff Hardy has only just hit the 40 mark this year, he is still succeeding in the industry, and despite the wear and tear on his body from years of death-defying leaps, he still has quite a bit of time to give as a top star in the WWE. He is currently teamed with his brother Matt, but with the "Broken" gimmick possibly coming soon, their future is still as singles stars, and with the reduced schedule he should be able to continue at a high level for years. While he possibly might not return to the top of the mountain in WWE, that’s not the only way to qualify as successful, as he already has a Tag Team title run under his belt into his 40s. If the singles split does indeed happen, expect him to hold several more title belts before his career is done.
14 Should Have Retired – Sting
Sting will go down as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, holding 15 titles over a 3-decade career, and while it was great that he finally got to appear for the WWE after so long as the face of WCW and TNA, he should have known when to call it quits, and instead of having one retirement match at WrestleMania (which, to be fair, he should have won against Triple H, or even faced the Undertaker), he had to go out after suffering a horrific neck injury. Newer fans to wrestling and the WWE probably wouldn’t know much about The Icon, and it’s sad that their memories will be of a performer well past his prime who went out injured, rather than on top. Some will argue that he should never have wrestled in the WWE, as he began to struggle towards the end of his TNA run, but he was still entertaining at that time, but like so many wrestlers, Sting didn’t know when to call it quits.
13 Succeeded – Bobby Roode
The Glorious Bobby Roode looks in fantastic shape, so it might come as a surprise to some fans that he is indeed 40 years old, but with a great NXT title run under his belt and big promise heading to SmackDown Live, Roode could be getting better into his 40s. His style is a very safe, throwback heel style, and in an age where most guys are doing flips and way too much in the ring, Roode is a safe bet, and he will have a great match with anybody. With his arrogant persona and amazing theme song behind him, we could be looking at a future WWE Champion (or at the very least, U.S. Champ). It might be cheating a little to include guys who have just turned 40 onto this list, but technically he is still succeeding, and barring a serious, career-ending injury, Roode is still on an upward trajectory in the WWE.
12 Should Have Retired – The Big Show
The Big Show has been hearing "please retire" chants for year, and despite the fact that he is one of the most respected and impressive performers in WWE history, he should have just listened, and walked away under his own power, as he may now have to retire due to recent hip problems that have been bothering him for quite some time. The Big Show had some major success early in his career, because men of his size don’t come around too often in wrestling, but following that, he never seemed to have the success that someone of his talent deserved. And when he hit his 40s, it would have just been better for him to retire. If we don’t ever see Show again, his final match against Braun Strowman in a cage will be a very memorable one, and although he didn’t succeed much in his later years, we really should celebrate what an amazing career he had.
11 Succeeded – AJ Styles
If it weren’t for Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega, AJ Styles would be by far and away the best wrestler in the world, at 40 years old, and that’s just a testament to how fantastic he is as an in ring performer, and despite just hitting the 40 mark, he still has a long way to go. After being at such an elite level since around 2005, there is no signs that AJ has any intention of slowing down. Someone with such a high risk, explosive move-set will be unlikely to wrestle into their 50s, especially with AJ having back problems over the last few years. But he has at least 5 years left at the elite level, and with many more accomplishments in the WWE to pursue, it’s likely he will go till at least 45. When it’s all said and done, we will likely be looking at The Phenomenal One as a top 5 all around wrestler of all time, because he has succeeded in TNA, New Japan and even the WWE, so let’s all sit back and watch the greatness of Styles while it lasts.
10 Should Have Retired – Kane
Kane is an icon in the WWE, and was one of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era, and at that time, fans loved him, but as his career went on and the WWE continued to misuse him, he should have called it quits instead of tarnishing the great legacy he built. He didn’t do anything too bad from 2009 until his hiatus from the company in 2016, but he was just a shell of the monster he was once, and his run as "Corporate Kane" for The Authority is just better off forgotten. The real life Glenn Jacobs has just hit his 50s, and with his political career taking up most of his time, it’s unlikely that we will ever see an extended run from Kane in the WWE again. However, maybe that should have been the case a lot sooner.
9 Succeeded – Brock Lesnar
Here's another wrestler who has just turned 40, but is currently holding the WWE Universal Championship. While The Beast Incarnate may be moving on from the WWE in 2018, he has certainly had his success while with the company, as he holds their top belt at the time he hit the magical 4-0. Over his life, Lesnar has dominated amateur wrestling, WWE and even the UFC, and the most impressive part of that is he had an illness for a majority of that time, and although we don’t see too much of him these days, it’s impossible to say that Lesnar isn’t a success. Sure, his matches may get a little boring to some these days, but he is a big-time attraction, and at the age of 40, he deserves the reduced schedule. While we might not see too much of him later in his 40s, he is still doing well today.
8 Should Have Retired – Hulk Hogan
Even to this day, Hulk Hogan remains the biggest name in the history of professional wrestling, and that comes on the back of the major success he had as a member of the breakout WWF back in the '80s, and he was a fantastic face of the company during his prime, but as he aged and went beyond his 40s, there’s no doubt he should have retired. His matches in the mid 2000s with Randy Orton and Shawn Michaels were quite memorable, but they passed as he played his role in them well. And as time went on, Hogan became active in the ring again in TNA, but it was just a step too far. He was into his 50s at this point, and he wasn’t a great wrestler in his day, so the matches were just horrible. He should have never risked his legendary reputation with this part of his career.
7 Succeeded – John Cena
After being at the top of the WWE for so long, the fans tend to forget that he is actually human, because he looks and performs as well today as he did 12 years ago. However, Super Cena has actually just recently hit the 40 mark, and despite taking several breaks a year for his ventures into Hollywood, still proves time and time again that he is the benchmark in WWE. His time in WWE, similar to the Rock as he aged, may be very limited from this point out, but there are still so many dream matches on the roster for him to partake in, so expect to see Cena, although in a reduced capacity, still succeeding for many years to come.
6 Should Have Retired – Vader
Somehow, Vader is still active in the wrestling business, even though his health continues to deteriorate, and he has noted that he wouldn’t be opposed to dying in the ring, so just from that crazy sentiment alone, it’s clear that he should have hung up the boots quite some time ago. The WCW and WWE legend has been wrestling for quite some time, and it’s just getting very sad at this point, as he is ruining his legacy as he ages while he continues to put in below-average performances. Whether retiring earlier would have helped his health problems or not, we will never know, because the 30+ years in the wrestling industry would have no doubt taken their toll on him regardless. While it is quite admirable he wants to go out in the wrestling ring that he loves, Vader should have chosen his health, and retired much earlier.
5 Succeeded – Goldberg
Goldberg’s first WWE run came to an end in 2004, and at the age of 37, most people didn’t expect to see him back, because he was never a great worker in the first place, but in 2016, verging on 50 years old, the WCW legend returned, and while the fans may have begun to sour on him towards the end of his run, you can’t deny that it was a massive success. Every time he appeared, the WWE Universe exploded with applause, and there was a genuine aura around a star for the first time in quite some time, and in early 2017, he managed to win the Universal Title, 14 years after he last held gold in the WWE. There’s something wrong with a 50 year old holding a Championship in 2017, but that aside, Goldberg’s run was a big success, as the WWE finally figured out how to hide someone’s weaknesses, while showing off their strengths, a key in wrestling.
4 Should Have Retired – Terry Funk
It’s crazy to think that Terry Funk has been wrestling since 1965, because he is still active in some independent promotions today. While it’s understandable because his work rate doesn’t slow as much as other performers (considering it’s all based around weapons based death matches), and he’s also not working in front of millions of people, Funk probably should have called it quits by now. At 73 years of age, Funk is seriously putting his health in danger at the moment, and although he isn’t working a packed schedule like the younger guys, wrestling is still a very physical business, and the chances of something bad happening only increase with that age. After all those retirements, he should call it quits for his own sake now.
3 Succeeded – Ric Flair
Ric Flair is regarded by some people as the greatest Champion in wrestling history, and while a lot of those World Titles came before he turned 40, he still found major success in the WWE after that time, even competing into his 60s, and it cemented his place as one of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the entire business. His final WWE run in the early 2000s began when he was 52 years old, and somehow he was still competing just like anyone else, bleeding several times and taking an excruciating suplex from the top of a ladder in his late 50s, and although that would have hurt most legacies, it certainly helped him. His final match came just before he hit 60, and it was one of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history, and in the long, illustrious career of The Nature Boy.
2 Should Have (Stayed) Retired – Ric Flair
Yes, we realize we just had Ric Flair on the other side of this list, but his run in the WWE following his 40th birthday was fantastic, but Flair couldn’t leave it at that, and instead of respecting his retirement following WrestleMania 24, he went on to appear for, and even wrestle in TNA. Now at the time, TNA wasn’t in dire trouble like it was today, as they were standing alone as the second-best wrestling company in the USA, but still, it wasn’t worth risking his body, and he stepped foot in the ring several times to oppose Hulk Hogan and even Jay Lethal (granted, that was entertaining, but still). It’s not like Flair was a full-time wrestler or anything, but he still should have stayed retired, because any longer in a TNA ring and his entire reputation could have been destroyed.
1 Succeeded – Shawn Michaels
It’s generally agreed that the Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels is the greatest all around performer to ever step foot in a WWE ring, and despite suffering what many thought were career-ending back injuries, Michaels managed to wrestle into his 40s, and although he didn’t win any World Title matches at this point, his three best WrestleMania matches came during his 40s. His bouts against Ric Flair and his two against The Undertaker at WrestleMania will go down in history as three of the greatest matches in the events history, and it’s just a testament to what a great all-around performer he was. Michaels has hinted since retirement that he could have continued wrestling, but he wanted to go out on top, and he's stayed true to his intent to remain retired.