Professional wrestling may not be true competition, but just like any other athletic career, it takes a hefty toll on the wrestlers’ bodies. The layer of padding on the mat can only protect you so much when you’re slamming your body against it hard and repeatedly multiple times a week. And we don’t even need to get into all the crazy things wrestlers have done since extreme wrestling became popular. There’s a reason they call it “death defying.”
But part of the beauty in wrestling is that because it doesn’t require true athletic competition, professional wrestlers often have longer careers than athletes in other sports. Whether by wrestling a calmer style, wrestling less often, or just plain powering through the pain like a badass, many of the greatest wrestlers of our generation and previous generation have kept at it until their late 40s or even their 50s even though they might not be able to keep up with the newer, younger talents anymore. And even others go farther than that. Ric Flair didn’t truly retire from in ring action until he was 63 years old.
Obviously not everybody’s body will keep up until that late in their lives, but it actually happens more often than you probably think. We tend to only take notice when it concerns true legends of the business, but the passion professional wrestlers have to keep at their craft leads many of them to keep wrestling well after their name has faded into obscurity. And to prove that to you, we’re going to take a look at 15 wrestlers who were famous in the '90s, but are still wrestling today.
15 Billy Gunn
Billy Gunn is one of the most recognized tag team specialists from WWE’s Attitude Era, and that’s saying something considering the company that puts him in. He started with the company in 1993 as part of The Smoking Gunns, who were themselves two-time Tag Team Champions, but he truly made a name for himself after aligning with “Road Dogg” Jesse James and becoming The New Age Outlaws. And then they got even more over as part of D-Generation X, arguably many people’s favorite part of the famous stable.
The New Age Outlaws briefly returned to WWE a few years ago before Gunn was released for a wellness policy violation. But even after that, Billy Gunn is still going at it in New Japan Pro Wrestling. He teamed with Yoshi Tatsu in the NJPW World Tag League 2016, and has wrestled four times in 2017, including at Wrestle Kingdom XI. Although don’t expect Road Dogg to join him for one last reunion of The New Age Outlaws. He’s a bit too busy being the creative lead of SmackDown Live.
And now onto most people’s least favorite part of D-Generation X. X-Pac debuted in WWE in 1992 and between then and 2002, he jumped between WWE and WCW as The 1-2-3 Kid, Syxx-Pac, and finally X-Pac. His backstage standing as part of The Kliq with Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall helped him to a moderate degree of success, but he never really got over with crowds. His name is synonymous with audience heat gained for no other reason than because they don’t like the wrestler.
It’s been a wild ride for him since, making news for things like a sex tape with Chyna and getting busted for drugs, including a charge that was just recently dropped. But past all that, he still wrestles on occasion, making a few dates each year, mostly with CHIKARA, including a September 2016 Tag Team Gauntlet which he won representing DX alongside Billy Gunn.
13 Al Snow
Al Snow had quite the journey of a wrestling career. Despite being considered one of the best workers on the circuit, he debuted in 1982 but never got his break until coming to ECW in 1995. It took a long time for Snow to find the gimmick that would get him over, and it was quite a strange one that finally did it. Fans ate up his act as a schizophrenic who brought a mannequin head to his matches, famously chanting “We want Head!” Dirty pun clearly intentional. This is ECW we’re talking about.
His popularity was unfortunately never enough to break him out of the midcard of ECW and WWE, but he’s indeed still around occasionally wrestling for Impact Wrestling. In addition, he opened a wrestling academy in the United Kingdom in late 2015, giving back to a business that arguably wasn’t kind enough to him.
12 Tommy Dreamer
Extreme wrestlers are insane. The truly dedicated ones often do in a single match more dangerous things than most people do in their entire lives. But despite this, many of them hold onto long careers, although that shouldn’t really be surprising. We’re talking about clearly who are clearly not worried about taking agonizing pain on a daily basis. Case in point: Tommy Dreamer, who debuted for ECW in 1993, is still wrestling almost exclusively hardcore matches.
Tommy Dreamer never saw much success outside of explicitly extreme promotions like ECW, but in said promotions, he might as well be a god among men. And he’s doing his part to keep the extreme style alive and well, founding his own wrestling promotion, House of Hardcore, in 2012. And he doesn’t just run it, he wrestles on almost all of its shows, including a match against Cody Rhodes on May 19th earlier this year.
11 The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express
If you only really ever paid attention to WWE in the Monday Night War, you probably don’t remember The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express too well. They only had a few very brief stints in Vince McMahon’s company, but their legacy in Jim Crockett Promotions, Smokey Mountain Wrestling, and WCW earned them a nod in the WWE Hall of Fame, inducted at this year’s ceremony. But the interesting part about that is that Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton still wrestle occasionally, almost always together as The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express.
At 58 and 60 years old, respectively, Gibson and Morton understandably only wrestle one or two times a year. Their most recent high profile appearance was at Impact Wrestling’s special event, Total Nonstop Deletion, in the Tag Team Apocalypto match. But they also wrestled at Legends Of Wrestling on March 25th 2017, less than a week before being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
10 Rob Van Dam
While casual WWE fans didn’t meet Rob Van Dam until 2001 when ECW folded, his name was established in the late 90s as a top face in Paul Heyman’s promotion. And though he never won the ECW Championship until WWE revived it in 2006, he’s a classic example of using a midcard title to build a star, something WWE seems to have forgotten how to do. And indeed, the most well-known ECW Television Champion is still at it today.
After his last WWE run ended in 2014, he made multiple appearances at House of Hardcore, sticking to his extreme roots. More recently, he won the Pacific Coast Wrestling Heavyweight Title in late 2016 and is still defending it, his most recent defense against MVP. His overall schedule is much lighter than the rigor of WWE and all its live events, so the safe bet seems to be that we’ve seen the last of him in the big promotions.
9 Bubba Ray Dudley
As if we didn’t already have enough ECW alumni on this list, here’s one more. Perhaps the most famous of the ECW comedy stable The Dudleys, Bubba Ray along with his kayfabe brother D-Von brought so much attention to the Dudleys that WWE snatched them up just before the turn of the century and helped solidify them as one of the greatest tag teams of all time. And Bubba Ray even had success in a singles career in Impact Wrestling as Bully Ray before returning one last time to WWE.
But that wasn’t the last of the dancing, stuttering Dudley. He’s continued to make frequent appearances in promotions like WhatCulture Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and naturally, House of Hardcore. D-Von even followed with him for a little after their release from WWE in 2016, but then officially called his career by the end of the year. Looks like Bubba will have to get the tables for himself from now on.
Though not one of the biggest names from the Attitude Era, the vampire character of Gangrel still holds a soft spot in many fans hearts to this day. Fans still seem to enjoy the unique gimmick and how he was handled to be truly menacing instead of childish like it could easily have ended up. Things got even hotter for Gangrel when he introduced his Brood, even though his underlings quickly became bigger than himself, changed their names to Edge and Christian, and started posing for the benefit of those with flash photography.
Nowadays, WWE only ever seems to mention Gangrel when talking about Edge and Christian, but all credit to him, he’s still out there doing what he loves. It’s pretty much a safe bet that if you haven’t heard of the promotion, Gangrel has probably wrestled for it at some point. His biggest profile match recently was a 20 Man Battle Royal at WrestleCon for the DDT Iron Man Heavy Metal Title. It was won by Hornswoggle.
7 Jeff Jarrett
Jeff Jarrett is a five-time Intercontinental Champion. I bet most people didn’t know that considering when you think of Jeff Jarrett today, he’s about the furthest thing from WWE. The co-founder and Executive Producer of Impact Wrestling, WWE’s main competitor, if you can even still call them competition at this point, it’s easy to forget that he was once the country singer “Double J” who defeated Razor Ramon for the IC Title. And the fact that he still wrestles occasionally.
Jarrett made occasional appearances for his other wrestling promotion, Global Force Wrestling, before Impact absorbed it. And these aren’t even on a one-off basis. He actually held a championship as recently as earlier this year, winning the RCW Heavyweight Title in January before dropping it to Rockstar Spud in March.
6 Marty Jannetty
Of course Marty Jannetty was going to be on this list. He’s always been the quintessential “other guy” in wrestling. Of course few people would know that he’s actually still an active wrestler.
Marty Jannetty famously tagged with Shawn Michaels to start their careers in wrestling, making their way to WWE in the late 80s and keeping up as top contenders in the tag division in the early 90s. They never got a good championship reign like you’d expect such a well-known tag team to have had, but sometimes a kick into a sugar glass window is just as good. Right?
Jannetty maintained moderate midcard success after the infamous breakup, but asked for his release after a failed team with Leif Cassidy, aka Al Snow before he went crazy. He later returned to WWE in 2005, and after leaving again in 2009, he still makes occasional appearances. He even recently semi-main evented a GCW pay-per-view, losing to Joey Janela.
5 The Steiner Brothers
Rick and Scott Steiner were one of the top tag teams in the 1990s. They truly made the rounds of the major promotions, winning titles in WCW and WWE, and even spending time in ECW. Not only were they great technical wrestlers (early in their careers, at least) having both been amateur wrestlers at the University of Michigan, they took part in well-built, compelling angles, especially Scott turning on Rick as arrogance started causing friction between the brothers.
After WCW folded, the Steiner Brothers fell out of the spotlight, mostly because of Scott’s part in an infamously bad feud with Triple H. But both Rick and Scott are still going at it on the independent circuit. Though the brothers often have done their own thing, to nobody’s surprise, they do still occasionally reunite as a team, most recently in APWA in 2016.
4 Taka Michinoku
Taka Michinoku might be one of the biggest cases of “what could have been?” in WWE history. He started in the company in 1997 and showed off his athleticism in the ring by becoming the inaugural WWE Light Heavyweight Champion and defending it for ten months. Then inexplicably, WWE decided “You know what he needs? Casual racism.” And then Kaientai happened, which people only remember for trying to chop Val Venis’ manhood off. Seeing Shinsuke Nakamura becoming a star in WWE puts an even finer point on what we may have missed out on because of that.
Taka Michinoku disappeared from the American wrestling scene soon after the turn of the century, but those who follow Japanese wrestling know he’s still going strong. Not only does he run and wrestle for his own promotion, K-DOJO, he’s also a regular for NJPW, including being a competitor in this year’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament.
3 Jim Duggan
“Hacksaw” Jim Duggan was never too big a star in WWE, but he’s still an iconic character of his time. His trusty two-by-four made him both memorable and credible as a competitor. He never won a championship in WWE, but he did win the very first Royal Rumble, stamping his place in history. And WWE still loves him to this day, making occasional surprise appearances and even getting referenced in a backstage segment, even if it was just an excuse for Dean Ambrose to call Stephanie McMahon a “Hooooo!”
I might by cheating a little bit since his biggest success came in the late 80s, not quite the 90s, but he’s still coming on 63 years old and still wrestling here and there. He’s wrestled at least four matches so far in 2017 alone, and is clearly still having fun with it, based on his occasional teaming with comedy wrestlers like Grado.
Okay, one more ECW original for good measure. Sabu is perhaps the single wrestler most known for risking his body and health for the sake on entertainment. It’s hard to even count all the matches Sabu took part in and injured himself at some point. Hell, he even had an infamous Barbed-Wire match with Terry Funk that was called “too extreme, even for ECW” that was so brutal that Paul Heyman never wanted to see another match like it even again. This guy knows extreme wrestling.
And no matter how much his body has taken, he still wants more. He hasn’t wrestled in 2017 because of a hip replacement, but has explicitly said he’s not done yet. And a look at his match listings in 2016 and 2015 shows many of them still have some sort of hardcore stipulation, including a steel cage match against Sandman last July.
Big Van Vader, or Vader as he’s known in WWE, is often considered a legend in professional wrestling. As far a big men showing surprisingly amazing athleticism, he pretty much takes the cake. He was billed at 450 lbs, and his finisher was a moonsault. He became very famous in NJPW before making his mark in American promotions, winning the WCW Championship in his run there, though he never won a championship in WWE. He’s also a conspicuous absence from the WWE Hall of Fame, but perhaps they’re saving that for when he’s actually done wrestling. Cause he’s not.
Vader still makes occasional wrestling appearances, though they’re becoming less frequent by the year. So far in 2017, he’s only wrestled at the Dradition event in Japan, wrestling two matches in three days, even though he passed out from being dropped on his head in the first one. This in addition to his known heart condition means he doesn't have much longer to live, let alone wrestle. But even in the face of being told by doctors he has less than two years left to live, he has still wrestled on occasion. He recently delivered a cryptic message on Twitter that may have hinted at his retirement at last.