The WWE has grown some of the brightest Superstars in the history of professional wrestling. Even though we’ve gotten the chances to see guys like Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair fight into their ’60s, we still never got to say proper good-byes to some of our favorite wrestlers.
Some of them had untimely deaths, unexpected retirements, or even shocking firings. Because of this, some of our favorite wrestlers who sacrificed their bodies for our entertainment didn’t get the send-off that they deserved.
For some wrestlers, they chose to fight one more match and never return, but they refused to tell us that was it. Other stars had real-life injuries and gave up on the dream of continuing their pro wrestling careers.
We look at Shawn Michaels and Trish Stratus, as Hall of Fame wrestlers who got the proper good-byes, since we knew they were wrestling their final matches. Ditto for Ric Flair.
But sadly, for the reasons outlined above, some of our favorite wrestlers participated in their final matches and we had no idea that was going to be it for them. It’s hard for us to accept, because after all they did for us, they deserved a standing ovation.
Then, you take guys like CM Punk who chose to leave on their own, under ugly circumstances. Do we really feel bad about not giving him a nice farewell? Not exactly.
But no matter how you feel about these wrestlers on our list, we weren’t expecting their final matches to be, well, their final matches in a WWE ring. Here are the 15 wrestlers who surprised us with their final matches coming unexpectedly.
15. Beth Phoenix, Monday Night Raw
One of the toughest and most vicious Divas in WWE history, Beth Phoenix was extremely popular with the fans, even though she often portrayed a heel character.
The one-time Women’s Champion and three-time Divas Champion destroyed every other woman in the ring and even eliminated The Great Khali in the 2010 Royal Rumble. How strong is that?
On the October 29th, 2012 edition of Raw, Vickie Guerrero kayfabe fired Phoenix for her poor performance after defeating A.J. Lee in a match Vickie had restarted (AJ had originally won). In reality, Phoenix had chosen to left the company, but the fans didn’t think that would be the last time we saw her in a ring.
14. John ‘Bradshaw’ Layfield, WrestleMania XXV
WWE has had no problem finding heels, but it’s still hard to put Seth Rollins, The League of Nations, and soon-to-be Roman Reigns on the level of John ‘Bradshaw’ Layfield, the loud-mouthed millionaire cowboy.
He had an epic run as a WWE Champion, with the reign lasting almost a year until John Cena beat him at WrestleMania 21. Even though JBL wouldn’t be a top-card wrestler for much longer after that, he put on some good shows against Rey Mysterio, Shawn Michaels, and other Superstars.
However, after losing to the master of the 619 at WrestleMania XXV, he picked up a microphone and screamed “I quit,” retiring from in-ring action that night. JBL would appear for a brief moment in the 2014 Royal Rumble which can hardly be considered as competition.
13. Edge, WrestleMania XXVII
The Rated R Superstar was arguably the greatest heel that the WWE employed during the 2000s. Edge just knew how to get under the skin of the fans and top faces for nearly six-straight years of being a bad guy.
He was a four-time WWE Champion and seven-time World Heavyweight Champion, and it didn’t take long for him to get into the WWE Hall of Fame after his retirement in 2011. Sadly, his doctors warned him that he could be permanently paralyzed or killed if he continued his career after several neck injuries.
Edge retired in 2011, but he went out on top by defending his World Championship at WrestleMania XXVII against Alberto Del Rio, before retiring on Raw a week later.
12. Bret Hart, Monday Nitro
Bret Hart was one of the most decorated Superstars of all-time, no matter how you feel about him, given his controversial career.
There’s no denying what he did for the industry and how he brought fans from North of the border to their feet. His ugly WWE departure was one of the darkest moments in the company’s history, but when he joined WCW, he went out in the complete opposite away.
He defended his WCW World Heavyweight Championship successfully against Kevin Nash on the January 10th, 2000 edition of Monday Nitro. He’d have to retire due to several real-life injuries, including concussions.
Yes, he came back and fought Mr. McMahon at WrestleMania XXVI, but that’s not considered much of a match, but more a beatdown for revenge. Hart would even become the United States Champion for a short stint but these were far from competitive matches.
11. Christian, Monday Night Raw
Christian was one of the biggest personalities during his WWE career. Hence, why he and Edge get a lot of time with their show on WWE Network.
The two-time World Heavyweight Champion closed out his career in terrific fashion, like many others on this list. On the March 24th, 2014 edition of Raw, he defeated Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus, and Dolph Ziggler to become the number one contender for the Intercontinental title.
Sadly, he had to retire after a concussion and the match never happened. Still, it was a nice way for him to go out, even though we didn’t think it’d be the last time he wrestled in a WWE ring.
10. Goldberg, WrestleMania XX
Goldberg was a huge star in WCW and he was a huge reason they nearly put the WWE out of business in the first place. When Vince McMahon won the War, Goldberg never became much of anything in WWE.
Still, when he and Brock Lesnar faced off at WrestleMania XX, fans booed the two, knowing they were both leaving the company after the match. With Goldberg winning, anybody could have assumed either A) He’d go to TNA, NJPW, or another major promotion, or even B) He’d return to the WWE ring by now.
Neither of those happened. And we hope he can get at least one more match in WWE to fix what was a sour ending to an illustrious career in the ring.
9. Dean Malenko, Dark Match
It’s hard to categorize what you want to call Dean Malenko’s last official wrestling match, but if you want to be technical, it occurred in a dark match against who we now call Sin Cara on February 27th, 2007.
Malenko never had a proper send-off or last major match in WWE, so he disappeared from the spotlight pretty quickly and the fans never got to thank him one last time in the ring. Malenko was never much of a personality but was always a great wrestler.
8. Andre the Giant, WrestleMania VI
The Eighth Wonder of the World became the first ever WWE Hall of Fame inductee for obvious reasons. He was a giant for the pro wrestling industry. Pun intended.
The 7-foot-4, 520-pound machine put on a clinic of great matches, with his last one coming in a tag-team match, teaming up with Haku to face Ax and Smash at WrestleMania VI. Andre’s team would lose, and it was sadly the last time we’d see him in WWE. Andre’s last official match came in All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1992, leaving many fans feeling cheated that is did not happen in WWE.
We never got to say good-bye to a legend the way we would have liked to, but it was still a terrific run in WWE filled with epic moments.
7. Daniel Bryan, SmackDown
This was a sad way to end an excellent career.
Daniel Bryan and his “YES!” movement brought the crowd to intense energy every time he came out to fight. Just how much did they love him? Everyone considers it an epic failure of booking that he didn’t get to win the 2014 or 2015 Royal Rumble events.
Still, it didn’t take him long to emerge as the newest face of the WWE. But after dealing with multiple concussions, Bryan found himself in Edge’s situation, where doctors told him the risks were too great to keep performing, and he retired in 2016.
His last match was a tag-team victory with John Cena, as they defeated Cesaro and Tyson Kidd on the April 16th, 2016 edition of SmackDown!
6. AJ Lee, Monday Night Raw
It’s no coincidence that something is missing and that the Divas Revolution has been a complete disaster since losing its best member.
AJ Lee, a three-time WWE Divas Champion, was probably the closest Diva to reach Trish Stratus’ level since the Canadian star retired ages ago. Lee, who hasn’t even turned 30 yet, retired in April 2015.
Her and Paige defeated the Bella Twins at WrestleMania 31. The following night on Raw, Lee would team with Paige and Naomi to compete against The Bella Twins and Natalya in what would be Lee’s final match as she would announce her unexpected retirement shortly afterwards.
5. Brian Pillman, Shotgun Saturday Night
Brian Pillman was one of the most underrated Superstars of both WWE and WCW. Wherever he went, he performed a great show. His tragic passing was a devastating moment for the fans to go through, as nobody saw this coming.
His last televised match came against The Patriot on October 4th, 1997 during Shotgun Saturday Night. Goldust would come out to interfere and that’d be the last time we’d all get to see him perform. He was to face Dude Love (aka Mick Foley,) at the Pay-Per-View, Badd Blood: In Your House. But he passed away from a heart problem at age 35.
4. Sting, Night of Champions
Sting’s WWE career finished the way it started: Horribly…ish.
His debut at Survivor Series 2015 to thwart Triple H and The Authority was phenomenal, but his first official match against Triple H at WrestleMania 31 was a huge disappointment.
Then, he got a chance to face Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions. Of course, he lost the match and it had to end early after he suffered a real neck injury during the match.
Though the fans were more expecting him to face The Undertaker to set up a dream match at WrestleMania 32, Sting announced his retirement as he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
So no, we won’t get to see The Icon have one more WWE match.
3. CM Punk, Royal Rumble
CM Punk was one of the company’s largest stars, embarking on a 434-day WWE Championship reign. He could play top-notch heel or an all-around good guy. He was a huge score for the company.
But sadly enough, after being eliminated in the 2014 Royal Rumble, we thought there were plenty of moments ahead for the Superstar. But he and had a rather ugly fall-out with Vince McMahon and the company.
He took a leave of absence and was officially let go on his wedding day (to the aforementioned AJ Lee). The rumours are that he wasn’t happy with the way he was being booked and behind held out of the main event at WrestleMania. Nonetheless, he’s now in the UFC and a reunion with WWE appears unlikely in the foreseeable future.
2. Owen Hart, Monday Night Raw
Owen Hart came from an iconic Canadian wrestling family. The brother of Bret didn’t need his family routes to promote him, as he made a huge name for himself in the WWE.
At the Over the Edge Pay-Per-View during his Blue Blazor gimmick, Hart was set to face The Godfather for the Intercontinental Championship. Sadly, a devastating tragedy took place before the match.
Hart was to make a comedic entrance from the rafters and he’d “accidentally” let himself go too early and fall to the mat to provide humour for the crowd. However, he was released too early and fell to his death.
Jim Ross announced to the television audience that he had died that night, leaving the WWE and fans in one of the most horrifying and devastating moments ever.
His last televised match was a tag-team match on Monday Night Raw, before the Pay-Per-View event took place.
1. Stone Cold Steve Austin, WrestleMania XIX
There’s no debating that the Texas Rattlesnake is the biggest name in the WWE’s history. Jim Ross and Vince McMahon told us that first-hand.
Austin did so much in such little time. He was a main event star from The Attitude Era until WrestleMania XIX in 2003. He faced The Rock in a singles match, so at least he put on a great clinic to close out his career.
Stone Cold would lose the match and, after dealing with severe neck injuries, retired in 2003. It was hard for the fans to accept, but Austin didn’t have a choice as he couldn’t jeopardize his own life any further.
But fans had no idea this was Austin’s final match.
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