Nobody wants to acknowledge it, but our heroes in the wrestling ring are mere mortals, human beings like the rest of us. Considering the larger than life personalities and the seemingly endless amount of abuse their bodies can take, it’s easy to forget that like all of the other people in the world who go to work, wrestling is a job to them. Yes, most wrestlers have a passion for their profession, but like everyone else, someday they won’t be reporting to work anymore.
Retirement for wrestlers comes in all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately for many, it’s unplanned and the result of an injury that is just too major to come back from. Edge is a perfect example of this. There are guys like Mick Foley who didn’t have one incident, but years of wear and tear which took a toll that when he admitted to Vince McMahon he was losing his memory, he was never allowed to wrestle again. For a guy like Terry Funk, retirement is a storyline. It’s a reason to come out and see someone for the last time, even though it may not be the last time.
And then there are the guys who do it perfectly. We’re talking about the way Ric Flair went out (ignoring that his finances forced him back into the ring in TNA) or the way Shawn Michaels left wrestling behind. So few guys get to leave on their own terms, to the point that we wish more would think about retirement before it’s too late.
We seem to lose a few wrestlers, by choice or fate, to retirement every year and here are the 15 WWE wrestlers/personalities we think are most likely to retire in 2016.
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15 Nikki Bella
The woman who has been the most dominant Diva over the last few years isn’t made of stone and her boyfriend is looking at a serious career transition soon. Nikki Bella’s decision to retire will be most heavily influenced by her health. She has been missing ever since dropping the Divas Title to Charlotte and Internet reports suggest she has a serious neck injury. There are plenty of other little factors that could cause this happen. First, if for any reason Total Divas is cancelled, the reason she and her sister returned to WWE is gone. Second, her sister is married to someone who may be retiring soon. If she wanted to follow her husband, the “twin magic” part of the act is over. Finally there is her relationship to John Cena. While he claims he’ll never leave the WWE, Hollywood has been knocking pretty loudly lately. If proximity to her boyfriend is important and Cena pulls way back on his schedule, being on the road with him may not be a priority.
14 The Rock
The Rock has made it known that he will be at WrestleMania 32 this April in Dallas, saying he’s going to make history, but being vague on details. He has made plenty of non-wrestling appearances since his last match with John Cena where he was injured, but he has yet to get back into the ring. We see The Rock in the same light as Shawn Michaels in that when he decides to retire, he’ll be done. We’ll still see him on WWE programming from time to time, but not as an active competitor. What better way to end your career than in front of the largest crowd to ever see wrestling in North America? That’s history.
13 King Barrett
Somebody backstage didn’t like the “Bad News” Barrett character, which is too bad because it was finally catching on with fans when Barrett was once again injured. When he returned, he quickly moved into the “King” character, which is code for “not good enough for a title, but good enough to be a major player.” We’d be leery of putting a real title on him, too. Repeated shoulder and elbow injuries have kept him outside the ring as much as he has been inside in recent years. He seems like the kind of guy who might be brilliant as a commentator or as a manager and it wouldn’t surprise us if this injury-prone grappler had to hang up his trunks at some point in 2016.
12 Mark Henry
One of the best swerves the WWE has presented in the last five years was when Mark Henry, clad in a salmon-colored suit coat, gave a heartfelt retirement speech that brought him to tears. It was capped off with John Cena raising the hand of “The World’s Strongest Man” and letting him wear the WWE title on his shoulder. It was a sweet, tender moment for a guy who has been our TV sets for almost 20 years. And then he attacked Cena with a couple of massive forearms and gave the champion The World’s Strongest Slam. We were completely fooled, but we have a feeling the next time Henry says he’s retiring, it will be for good. Injuries and a lack of decent storylines have left him doing almost nothing since that last run with Cena. He’s made some comments that he’s looking at the end of things soon and if 2016 happens to be it, we hope he’ll quickly be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
11 Big Show
It seems reasonable to believe someone who the fans chant “Please retire” at may be giving it some serious thought. After almost 20 years and 200 face/heel turns, nobody is going to blame Big Show if he follows the advice of the audience and decides to retire in 2016. He’s still allowed to squash the scrubs, but the audience knows he’s not going to be any serious threat to a title or be in a top spot again. Yes, he was the one who drew the short straw to face Brock Lesnar at the Madison Square Garden special on the network and he did win the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania last year, but his days of being in the spotlight are over. Considering the bus he tours in, it’s clear he’s saved some money over the years and doesn’t need to be wrestling anymore.
10 Daniel Bryan
It has been hard to see someone who loves wrestling so much, not be able to pursue his passion much over the last two years. He had to vacate the World Title with injuries and after more than half-a-year off, he returned to capture the Intercontinental Title, which he had to vacate just a few weeks after that. He claims that his doctors have cleared him to wrestle again, but between his neck and concussion history, the WWE seems a little hesitant to allow him back in the ring. Bryan has said he’ll find someplace else to wrestle if the WWE won’t allow him back. You have to think the WWE wants him in their ring today, but won’t risk his health and allow him to be a liability. If they thought he could be wrestling, he would be. You’ll probably never see him as a competitor in the WWE again. For his health, he should retire, but if he ends up in an ROH or TNA, we have a feeling history will repeat itself for a third time and Bryan will be forced to retire. We’d rather see him go out with his head held high now, instead of being the guy who didn’t know when to say when.
9 Lilian Garcia
Lilian Garcia turns 50 this year. It shouldn’t matter, but in the world of wrestling, it does. Much like you could see the writing on the wall when Michael Cole was being groomed for Jim Ross’ seat on Raw, you can see Eden Stiles and JoJo waiting in the wings to become the new top tier ring announcer for WWE. Garcia only appears at WWE Raw shows and pay-per-views at this point, not having to travel the house show circuit. She’s also an accomplished musician and, in 2008, retired from the WWE for a couple years to pursue that passion. She returned in 2011 and is still the most recognizable voice this side of Howard Finkel, but with the writing on the wall, her days in the ring may be numbered and we hope she retires before WWE removes her.
8 The Undertaker
Every time we see The Deadman get into the ring, we wonder if it’s going to be his last match. His Hell in a Cell match with Brock Lesnar was his best showing in years, but it’s ridiculous to expect him to be able to put on another match like that. He could bring it down a notch, but like Shawn Michaels, he seems to be the kind of guy who would rather retire than give the fans a lesser version of The Undertaker they remember. After 25 years in the WWE, not to mention several years in wrestling before that, we really hope that he knows when it’s time to hang it up, because if anyone deserved retirement pageantry, it's The Undertaker.
7 Kurt Angle
If you don’t watch TNA, you may have thought Kurt Angle retired years ago. Even if you watch TNA sporadically, you may have thought Angle retired years ago, but you can find him on the Internet every other week saying:
A) He’s not done wrestling
B) He’d like to finish his career in WWE
C) This will be the year he retires.
There’s some reported bad blood between him and Triple H, which won’t help his return chances and his medical history is the kind that the WWE stays away from, much like the case with Daniel Bryan. He’d made an excellent NXT coach and maybe he could even do something on-screen to give the rub to Chad Gable, who he is often compared to, but his days as a regular, active competitor are over and for some reason, we believe his claim of planning retirement in 2016.
It may not seem like it, but Natalya has been a wrestler since 2000 and has been employed by the WWE since 2007. Few Divas can claim a tenure with WWE that long and we’re sure if she walked away today, she’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer. She entered WWE after The Attitude Era, so she was never forced into bra and panties matches, but rarely was in the main Divas storyline, instead serving as a manager for her real-life husband, Tyson Kidd, or serving as a cog in whatever Hart Foundation/Hart Dynasty/Hart Family storyline the WWE was pushing at the time. Over the last few years, she’s been on main WWE programming less and less, either appearing on NXT or not appearing at all. Kidd is likely never coming back to the ring after a major injury suffered at the hands of Samoa Joe. Aside from Total Divas, where she serves as the most normal of the cast, the WWE doesn’t seem to have any plans for her and at 33, we wonder how much more she feels she has to prove inside the ring.
Sting has likely wrestled his last match and it’s just a matter of making it official with some kind of official announcement. Maybe he could be involved in an impact-less tag team match of some sort, but after seeing him collapse twice in his world title match with Seth Rollins and learning of his subsequent neck injuries which will require surgery, it’s hard to believe that The Stinger is going to rebound and be able to offer the WWE anything other than being a brand ambassador. It’s OK. He’s given us an amazing career and he did get his WrestleMania moment.
Much like Big Show or Mark Henry, Kane is a guy who is going to be given courtesy wins over the lowest guys on the card, but if he’s even allowed to be involved in a major storyline, you can bet it will end with his shoulders on the mat. As he has had to pull back a little on the physical aspect of his matches, Kane has been hilarious as a member of Team Hell No with Daniel Bryan and as the wiseass Director of Operations as a foil to Seth Rollins. Kane was never “The Man” at any point of his WWE tenure, but for nearly 20 years, he was always up there in the top four or five and that’s something that very few wrestlers can claim. He can hold his head up high if he decides it’s time to call it a career and we won’t even mention a certain dentist.
3 Hulk Hogan
It’s going to take a long time for the WWE to be cool with Hulk Hogan again, and this is if they’re ever capable. We know Hogan wants one last match at a WrestleMania, but because of his racist comments caught on tape, we also know it’s never going to happen. There is no way that any other wrestling organization will either be able to afford him, and maybe even want to hire him, considering the baggage he now comes with. Twice during his career, when he was between major organizations, Hulk Hogan promoted his own shows and we could see a retirement tour happening in 2016. The question is, will a crowd still turn out live or tune in to pay-per-view to see The Hulkster hang it up for good?
2 The Dudley Boyz
It was great to see Bubba Ray Dudley as a surprise entrant into the Royal Rumble in early 2015 and even cooler when The Dudley Boyz reunited at the end of the summer and worked a program putting The New Day over. They brought back Tommy Dreamer and Rhyno to taste the big stage one last time to the delight of hardcore fans as they helped to rebuild The Wyatt Family following months of horrendous booking, but after losing the only two feuds they’ve had since returning, where can The Dudley Boyz really go? It doesn’t seem like the WWE sees giving them a tenth tag-team title reign as a priority and it’s clear both have lost a step. Instead of them ending up being quietly released and fading into the dust on the indy scene, we hope these guys get the send-off they deserve, but it should happen soon.
1 Triple H
Much like The Rock or The Undertaker, calling Triple H an active competitor is a stretch, but he continues to periodically climb into the ring, usually only at WrestleMania as a special attraction. While certainly more special than the always-returning Chris Jericho, Triple H just doesn’t have carry the weight that The Rock or The Undertaker does. We fully expect him to continue on-screen as the COO, which he also does in real life, but we’re hoping he knows a big-deal retirement match, similar to those of his friends Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels should be on the near horizon. He’s been the top foil to all of the big stars of his generation, but was never quite the top star. That ship has sailed, but he could still make his retirement mean something these days. We’re not so sure it will mean much if he waits until 2019.
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