One of the sadder realities of being a fan of professional wrestling is that far too often we see our heroes pass on at shockingly young ages. Even people who don’t watch sports entertainment are aware of the industry’s trend towards superstars meeting an early demise, and the senseless deaths haven’t stopped merely by publicizing the problem. On the plus side, things do seem to be slowing down a bit in that few truly major superstars have died at their peak in a solid decade or so, yet the mere fact that sort of thing happens regularly at all is a tragedy WWE and other wrestling companies can’t ignore. Unfortunately, no matter how much attention we give to these dead wrestlers, nothing will ever bring them back.
Each time a wrestler under the age of 50 suffers an untimely end, the wrestling community at large mourns the incredible loss felt by friends, family, and loved ones, while also lamenting how many fantastic matches and angles the superstar could have been involved with had they lived just a little longer. Truth be told, the most notable wrestlers to pass on at a young age would probably all be retired or at least considering the idea by now, but there’s still plenty fans missed out on due to their tragic exit from this world. Keep reading for 15 predictions on what wrestlers who died young might have accomplished if they were still alive today.
15. Mr. Perfect – NXT Coach
In a rare moment of irresponsible imperfection, Curt Hennig passed away in 2003 due to a cocaine overdose at the age of 44. Up until that point, Hennig was known as one of the most consummate professionals in the wrestling business, rarely participating in a bad match during his prime. Though his demons started getting out of control later in life, had Hennig cleaned himself up, he easily could have found plenty left to offer inside the ring. With his last great performance barely a year behind him via the 2002 Royal Rumble, Hennig definitely had more to give WWE than he did in his last run, and the company probably would have given him another chance, either inside the ring or in a backstage capacity. Considering that all went well, it’s easy to picture a man of Hennig’s talents transitioning to a job in NXT helping out newcomers, giving perfect advice to the next batch of WWE superstars.
14. Randy Savage – WWE Ambassador
Forever making the world a little less colorful, “Macho Man” Randy Savage died due to a heart attack in 2011, aged 58. To put it bluntly, Savage’s days in the ring were far behind him at that point, yet this hardly means the man had nothing left to offer the WWE Universe. The mere fact his Hall of Fame induction didn’t come for another four years is a testament to that fact, as there were countless opportunities for the Macho Man and Vince McMahon to patch things up and make billions of dollars together once again. Especially after Hulk Hogan’s racist remarks left him temporarily blackballed, Savage could have swooped in as the next most respected and beloved star of WWE in the 1980s. Dozens of retired superstars from that era currently work as WWE Ambassadors, spreading the company’s global brand, and none possess half of Savage’s star power, so the idea would have been mutually beneficial to everyone involved.
13. Big Boss Man – Performance Center Trainer
If pro wrestling has seemed a little more chaotic over this past decade, that’s because law and order has been absent from the industry since 2004, when the Big Boss Man passed away from a heart attack at 41. Just a bit younger than either Savage or Perfect at the time, Boss Man was still actively wrestling for independents shortly before his passing, and had been under WWE’s employ not two years earlier. That said, he was similar to the other legends in that his day as a major player were mostly over, and also in the fact he could have helped WWE in other capacities. Immediately prior to leaving WWE, Boss Man had a job training at the company’s developmental company Ohio Valley Wrestling, and envisioning him in a similar capacity at NXT or the WWE Performance Center almost feels obvious.
12. Test – Occasional GFW Appearances
Despite all the academic excellence his name implied, Test failed the ultimate drug test in 2009, dying of an OxyContin overdose at the age of 33. Not to speak ill of the dead, but it’s fair to call Test a slightly lower caliber performance than some of the others on this list. Of course, this doesn’t mean he wasn’t a reasonably big star in his own right as well, and one that still could have shined in the wrestling world if given the opportunity. Test’s time in WWE was filled with diminishing returns, so a comeback was unlikely and wouldn’t have served him much good in the first place. However, had Test stuck around in TNA all the way until it called itself GFW, he may have finally found a promotion willing to push him to the top. At the very least, Test’s status as a former WWE star might allow him a run with the TNA Television Championship or some other minor belt.
11. Reid Flair – In WWE Working With His Family
Never getting a chance to show the world whether or not he could surpass his legendary father, the allegedly prodigious son of The Nature Boy, Reid Flair, succumbed to an overdose of heroin at the age of 25 in early-2013. More than a full decade prior to his death, Reid had made a few appearances on WCW Monday Nitro mimicking his father and showing natural aptitude for performance. Later in life, he started training with the old man and his rival Harley Race, then went on to receive additional education at All Japan Pro Wrestling’s school. It was shortly after joining AJPW that Reid used the drugs that took his life, at a time the sky truly seemed like the limit for the young Flair. It might be a stretch to say he could have matched Ric’s level, but Reid definitely could have outshined his older brother David, and would probably make for some great television in some sort of angle with his sister Charlotte.
10. Rick Rude – One More Run On Top, Then A Manager
Wrestling fan or not, women everywhere suffered a huge loss in April of 1999, when Rick Rude died of a massive heart attack at the age of 40. It can be somewhat emotional discussing what Rude might have accomplished if he lived a little longer, since many sources close to him argued it was his severe overuse of PEDs when training for a comeback that kicked his heart into overdrive and ultimately killed him. Rumor has it Rude specifically wanted to make a WWE return and feud with Steve Austin, which definitely could have made for a spectacular show if he were up to it. From there, Rude might go back to managing like he did in ECW or WCW, albeit hopefully in a capacity that actually uses his talents better than what that second promotion was able to come up with.
9. Davey Boy Smith – WWE Global Ambassador
In may of 2002, the Bulldog lost his bite, or in other words, 39-year-old Davey Boy Smith passed away due to a heart attack caused by his addiction to painkillers. Mere days before he died, Smith was still getting in the ring and wrestling with his then rookie son David Hart Smith, who now competes in Japan as Davey Boy Smith Jr. Not that long ago, DH Smith was competing in WWE as one half of the Hart Dynasty, and there’s almost no question that the elder Davey Boy would have been involved with that group in some capacity were he alive to see it. The question from there is how the Bulldog reacts to how WWE treats his son, or if he influences things before they get out of hand. Its possible Davey Sr. is the bond that makes everything right and the whole family gets a huge push for sticking around, but it’s just as likely he’d feel disrespected along with Jr. and follow him to Japan in solidarity.
8. Brian Pillman – Unhinged Color Commentator
Living fast often leads to dying young, and that was unfortunately the case for “Loose Cannon” Brian Pillman, who died in 1997 due to a heart attack, aged 35. Plenty of wrestlers on this list were still active when they passed on, yet Pillman still holds the morbid distinction of being the first major WWE superstar to die while contracted to the company. In fact, Pillman was supposed to wrestle Goldust the very night he passed. Unfortunately, Pillman’s last angle was pretty offensive, his goal being to kidnap Marlena and torment her indefinitely, so we hope that would all get wrapped up pretty quick. The reality is that Pillman didn’t have much left to give in the ring, too beaten down from injuries. What he did have was his incredible vocal charisma, which he could have used to transition into a role as an amazing color commentator. Pillman had already filled the role a few times on Shotgun Saturday Night to great acclaim, and his insanity on the mic would have been a perfect fit throughout the Attitude Era.
7. Chris Candido –WWE Performance Center Trainer
No gimmicks were needed to make fake tears as wrestling fans mourned Chris Candido, who passed away at the young age of 33 in April of 2005. Despite his youth, Candido was already incredible accomplished within the wrestling world, a former WWE Tag Team Champion, WCW Cruiserweight Champion, and even NWA World Champion, albeit at a time that belt was starting to lose it’s prestige. Right before he passed, Candido was working for NWA: TNA as a manager due to an injury, but it hardly seemed career-ending at the time. Most people expected Candido to heal up and get right back to wowing early TNA fans, maybe adding an X Division title or two to his repertoire. In due time, however, we believe WWE would have recognized his talents and wanted Candido back, especially if he would agree to do so as a trainer, considering that’s what they actually wanted him to do from the very beginning.
6. Eddie Gilbert – Indie Promoter
The flame of Hot Stuff Incorporated grew dim in 1995, when leader Eddie Gilbert passed away due to a heart condition at the age of 33. Though arguably one of the more obscure names on this list, Gilbert was nonetheless extremely influential, as an early proponent and booker of ECW. Gilbert’s style heavily influenced that of Paul Heyman, and it’s easy to picture him stopping by Philly now and again as that promotion got more extreme, offering his unique touch on the proceedings as time went by. That said, chances are that Gilbert’s wayfaring attitude wouldn’t change much, so he may not ever stick around much to make a big difference. The same is true of any further runs in WCW or WWE, although they may have happened and made for an interesting few months of TV. All we can really picture Hot Stuff doing is starting his own promotion in the style of Jerry Lawler, earning a great reputation locally but little fame throughout the world.
5. Owen Hart – Fully Retired WWE Hall of Famer
Every death is tragic in it’s own way, yet no one wrestler’s demise is as evocative for wrestling fans as that of Owen Hart, who fell to his death at Over the Edge 1999, mere weeks after his 34th birthday. That night, Hart was supposed to defeat The Godfather for the Intercontinental Championship, and most sources claim from there he would have had a major gimmick re-haul, earning “The Game” nickname that later went to Triple H. While these career accomplishments would have been nice, it probably wouldn’t have been long before Hart retired. Owen was open about the fact his passion for wrestling was dying down some, so even if he won the WWE Championship or had a serious run in the main event, he wanted to be with his family more than his fans as his career neared the end. On the plus side, there would be little or no enmity between the Harts and WWE over the ordeal, and Owen would almost certainly be a WWE Hall of Famer.
4. Umaga – Working With The Usos & Roman Reigns
The Samoan Bulldozer hit a concrete wall in 2009, when the 36-year-old wrestler best known as Umaga died due to a drug related heart attack. Though Umaga’s greatest accomplishment was merely the WWE Intercontinental Championship, he was nonetheless a pretty huge star in his day, wrestling main event matches against the likes of John Cena, Triple H, and Jeff Hardy. That said, Umaga’s time in the sun was markedly short, and it more or less ended of his own volition. Given the choice between going rehab and losing his job, Umaga kept on doing drugs and ultimately died from it mere months later. Had he decided to get cleaned up instead, we imagine he could have easily found himself back in main events, and might even end up winning the elusive WWE Championship after a trademark Vince McMahon change of heart. If nothing else, he’ll almost definitely get to work with his nephews, the Usos, as well as The Big Dog, Roman Reigns.
3. Yokozuna – WWE Global Ambassador
From banzai to goodbye, Yokozuna met his demise at age 33 due to pulmonary edema in the year 2000. Despite being one of the younger names on this list, it had been a couple years since Yoko appeared in WWE or WCW at the time of his passing. This is largely because of his size (pardon the pun), which was ballooning upwards of 800 pounds near his last years, making him a huge liability to any wrestling promotion hiring him to act at all athletic. In today’s world, perhaps WWE or some other generous souls might have stepped in and helped Yoko realize bigger is not always better, inspiring him to slim down to a lower weight through some sort of healthy physical therapy regimen. From there, a comeback isn’t entirely out of the question, yet we think a less demanding Global Ambassador type role would be far more likely. The only question is whether WWE would let him represent Samoa or keep pretending he was Japanese.
2. Chris Benoit – Head Of A Wrestling School
Knowing that Chris Benoit died at age 40 due to a double murder-suicide almost makes it feel in bad taste to discuss the good things he could have done if only his life turned out differently. Obviously, the biggest plus to Benoit not dying the way he did would be that his wife Nancy and son Daniel got to live and experience their lives like normal people, and no success in the ring in any way compares. That said, Benoit’s legacy would look a whole lot better had he slowed things down on top of the WWE ECW brand before gradually easing into retirement. According to Nancy’s sister after the murders, Benoit had already been making plans to open a wrestling school, so we imagine his time in the ring wasn’t going to last that long no matter what. Ideally, Benoit could have been helping the next generation of wrestlers reach his level, but instead he assured no one would ever want to hear that comparison.
1. Eddie Guerrero – Winding Down A Legendary Career
No longer able to cheat death after lying his way into our hearts, Eddie Guerrero suffered a fatal heart attack in late 2005 at the age of 38. In many respects, Guerrero was still at his absolute prime as a performer, having won the WWE Championship for the first time just one year earlier. Eddie also remained wholly capable of wrestling the best match of the night each time he entered the ring, a trend we can only imagine he planned to continue indefinitely until being ripped away from this mortal coil. Some rumors claim Eddie was going to win the WWE Championship again the night he died, but this has since turned out a dubious claim at best. Of course, that doesn’t mean recapturing the gold was out of the question, as Eddie could have easily had another decade plus in him before his abilities truly started to fade. All we know is that with Eddie, it would have been a wild, entertaining ride, and we’re still sad we all missed out on the adventure.
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