When a wrestler is at their peak there’s nothing more exciting than to watch them in the squared circle, explode, and just join along the chorus of cheers or jeers. But, alas, time waits for no man, and professional wrestling is a sport that can make the clock tick by faster than most other types of jobs. The worst is when you have a wrestler who’s clearly phoning it in and/or just completely worn out their welcome. Such an example would be Roman Reigns, barring his current tweener heel attitude that he has right now, which has added something dynamic to his character, but Super Roman overstayed his welcome by about a year.
We, as fans, appreciate it when we see legends go out on top. Shawn Michaels’ final match is the embodiment of what it means to have a historical run without becoming a shell of your former self. Did you see him at WrestleMania 32? I bet he could still go. However, for every Heartbreak Kid, there’s probably about four or five wrestlers who stave off retirement just a little bit longer and have weak matches lower down the card.
It can be difficult to blame them. After all, for many wrestlers this is the only life they've ever known. They've never dreamed of doing anything else and so many of them hold onto their wrestling careers for as long as they possibly can - or die trying. Nevertheless, it's important to know when to quit, otherwise you risk damaging both your long term health and your legacy. This list is about those poor, unfortunate souls who didn't know when to quit and overstayed their welcome.
15 Chris Jericho
I wrestled with this one quite a bit, because it’s not that Jericho is terrible, per se; he’s just unnecessary. At this point, Chris Jericho might be the most decorated enhancement talent that WWE has. He comes back periodically to help put guys over – Fandango, Dean Ambrose, CM Punk – and he’s fine at it, but his continued returns tarnish what could have been a perfect career.
It’s easy to pick on Jericho for his dad-bod look, but it’s not even that. It’s that he’s not as exciting as he used to be. Years of high flying maneuvers have taken their toll and while he’s better than a lot of younger talent, Jericho is not the Lionheart that we all grew up with. Additionally, his gimmicks like the Highlight Reel don’t work as well as they used to, though its recent cancellation (and subsequent return) in favor of the Ambrose Asylum was a hilarious part of his feud with Ambrose.
Still, it would be nice to remember Chris Jericho as the first Undisputed Heavyweight Champion and most decorated Intercontinental Champion instead of whatever boring version he is when compared to some of the talent that are on the current roster.
14 Buff Bagwell
When Vince McMahon bought World Championship Wrestling, I was pretty psyched, if only because my dumb teenage self could watch Monday Night Raw instead of having to switch back and forth between that and WCW’s Monday Nitro. One of the better results is that I didn’t have to see Marcus “Buff” Bagwell anymore. For people who don’t remember Buff Bagwell, he was basically a human version of an old LJN wrestling action figure, only with a really, really thick Southern accent and he wore funny hats.
Buff Bagwell is one of those guys who I got sick of as soon as I saw him on TV, which became much more frequent once he joined the New World Order. Then I saw Bagwell every damn Monday Nitro and Thursday Thunder. To be fair, Buff Bagwell was doing such a great job as a heel that I hated him through my TV screen, but it had little to do with his persona. I hated how he wrestled, his lack of decent promo work, and the fact that he was basically a male stripper-wrestler. In my opinion, Buff the Stuff should’ve got the boot the day after he showed up on TV.
13 Tamina Snuka
As of this post, Tamina Snuka has been absent from WWE television for about three weeks and I haven’t noticed. In fact, no one has noticed until she tweeted about an injury that she’s recovering from.
Like so many wrestlers before her, WWE’s writers dropped the ball on Tamina Snuka. She could have been a monster heel and could go toe-to-toe with Charlotte right now, but that hasn’t happened and it probably won’t. The fact that they’ve relegated her to be a heater suggests that she won’t get a shot at the Women’s Title for a long time, if at all. She’s overstayed her welcome by virtue of the fact that she probably won’t go anywhere in the company and could be utilized by an organization that could do something special with her (*cough* Lucha Underground *cough*).
I love Batista. He’s a strong heel and just rips it in his matches. When he initially left WWE in 2010, that really should’ve been it and if he came back, my suggestion is that it would be in the way when Shawn Michaels comes back – sporadically, occasionally to referee a match, and just nothing super crazy – but that’s not what Vince and company had in mind.
Nope, Batista came back as a face during the height of Daniel Bryan's popularity and pretty much ruined his return. WWE did an awful job of booking him and the subsequent Mania match until they injected Daniel Bryan. Batista's made no secret about his distaste about his return and while it's understandable that that may have been the last time we'll see him in a wrestling ring, it's sad to say that it was indeed Batista bombing.
11 Matt Bloom/Prince Albert/Lord Tensai
Before Matt Bloom replaced Bill DeMott as NXT’s head trainer, he titillated the WWE Universe as Prince Albert, one-half of the tag team T&A. Paired with the late Test and managed by Trish Stratus, the duo were certainly entertaining to watch; of course, this was during the halcyon days of the Attitude Era, so realistically, the coveted WWE demographic really saw T&A as Trish Stratus flanked by two huge and jacked up bros with face piercings and bad tattoos.
Prince Albert is very much a staple of the Attitude Era and when he was repackaged as Lord Tensai in 2012, it was a pretty big disappointment. In between the end of his Albert run and Tensai debut, Bloom was a monster in New Japan Pro Wrestling and WWE really, really dropped the ball when he came back as a cartoonish samurai character (which, let’s be honest, is definitely a “yellowface” character if we’ve ever seen one).
The Tensai character lasted for all but two years, but it’s a sad way to see the end of Bloom’s in-ring career before transitioning to being an NXT trainer. If he’d left as Prince Albert, he wouldn’t have tarnished his Attitude Era legend.
10 Mark Henry
The World’s Strongest Man aka Sexual Chocolate aka Mark Henry is another legend who came up during the Attitude Era. Henry’s character has seen many changes and even though he might be most remembered for siring a hand with the late OG women’s champion, Mae Young, he also had a great run as a monster heel.
In colliding with the likes of Daniel Bryan and John Cena, Mark Henry got to show a much darker and sinister side and we knew that he wasn’t all smiles and bad sexual innuendos.
Unfortunately, the last few years of Henry’s career have been painted with injuries and meaningless feuds with Ryback and Big Show (for the billionth time). Like so many people on this list, Mark Henry is a great public ambassador for the WWE and it’s no secret that his best years are behind him, but this is the kind of thing that should’ve been said three years ago.
9 Big Show
And what’s talking about Mark Henry without mentioning the company’s other massive superstar, Big Show? For many notable wrestlers, there have been those definitive moments when they cemented their places in history when turning heel or face: Shawn Michaels superkicking Marty Janetty, CM Punk GTS-ing The Rock, Hulk Hogan hitting the leg drop on "Macho Man", "Stone Cold" Steve Austin sharing a beer with Vince McMahon – these are unforgettable moments. You know what is forgettable? The amount of times the Big Show has turned face or heel.
It’s a figure he’s acknowledged on both Talk is Jericho with Chris Jericho and on the Stone Cold Podcast. In just his WWE tenure, Big Show has had over 20 heel/face turns, which really solidifies the inconsistency of his character. Now in his twilight period, Show is mostly seen on Superstars, battling for the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, or providing sage-like advice on Total Divas. He’s physically there, but not really there and it certainly comes through in his current performance.
While I wouldn’t call Aksana the worst WWE Diva ever, she certainly didn’t leave a mark. I would say that she was with the company a year and a half too long. Her matches were sloppy and by the time she was fired, she had mostly been used as enhancement talent for the other women on the roster. In fact, her presence was so minuscule that I didn’t even notice when she was fired. She left no lasting impression, which is a shame, because her spot could have gone to a wrestler who could have maximized her opportunity.
7 Lex Luger
The Lex Express ran out of gas in the most spectacular way in as much as I don’t remember him even wrestling at all. By all accounts, Lex Luger was a junior Hulk Hogan – jacked, likable, and captivating when he needed to be. Despite having one of the dumbest finishing moves in the Torture Rack, Luger was able enough to be a credible champion for most of his run in WCW and WWE.
When Luger famously defected back to WCW at the start of the Monday Night Wars, he was poised to be the next big thing, clashing with Hulk Hogan and whoever else, only it didn’t really work out that way. During his second WCW run, Luger was overshadowed by the likes of Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Kevin Nash, Ric Flair, and Sting. When he joined the NWO, he became even more of a background player, particularly when he had nothing to set him apart from anyone else in the faction, and he certainly wasn’t a high flying cruiserweight.
Luger just sticking around and not doing anything said more about his overall uselessness within the NWO and validates his place on this list.
I hate putting Christian on this list. As a teen, he was one of my favorite wrestlers, as he flanked Gangrel as one-third of the Brood. Christian was one of the few sports entertainers who could be a convincing serious wrestler and comedy act. While my high regard for Christian over Edge is overwhelmingly unpopular, you can’t discount the great singles matches he had with Randy Orton and CM Punk. And there’s the whole “changing the tag team division” mark he made alongside Edge, The Dudley Boys, and The Hardyz.
As of this writing, Christian’s retirement is recent and sudden enough that he didn’t even get a farewell match, though it wouldn’t make much of a difference. The last few years of Christian’s active wrestling duty has been plagued with injuries and concussions. While he’s doing a hell of a job as a personality on the "Edge and Christian Show that Totally Reeks of Awesomeness", as well as the occasional stick work when he is back in the ring, his last run as the World Heavyweight Champion should have been the way he left in-ring work instead of chasing whatever titles or feuds the company put in front of him.
5 Jeff Hardy
The downside to the high-flyers of the Attitude Era is that the latter parts of their careers have been plagued with debilitating injuries and addictions related to healing the pain, and such is the case with Jeff Hardy. Like our last overstayed entrant, Christian, Jeff had a huge part in reinvigorating the tag team division within the WWE, though it’s arguable that the impact he made was nearly voided due to his publicly reported drug problems.
Still, Jeff overcame his addiction and had one of the best World Heavyweight Championship runs of any wrestler during that time. That’s really where he should have stopped. If you watch his documentaries, “Twist of Fate” and “My Life, My Rules,” then you know that Hardy could have left the business and spent his free time painting and living on his family’s massive property. Instead, Jeff continues to wrestle, popping in and out of Total Nonstop Action (TNA) and indie promotions either performing embarrassingly bad (as evidenced by his five-minute match against Sting) or injuring himself terribly.
It’s a miracle that Hardy can even walk at this point, but he’s one of the better examples of why you have to stop while you’re at your physical peak.
4 Ric Flair
The Nature Boy went further than he probably should have. It could be argued that Ric Flair should have stopped wrestling when WWE purchased WCW. He had a decent match with Sting on the final Monday Nitro and nobody would have faulted him for that. Years later, when Flair appeared on WWE television, he laced up his boots and continued to wrestle, which culminated in an excellent retirement match against Shawn Michaels. In revisionist WWE history, that’s where Flair took his bow and went away for years. Except he really didn’t.
Flair went to TNA where he continued to wrestle and was just a shell of his former self. His financial and personal discrepancies are pretty public, which – like Hulk Hogan – Flair probably felt obligated to continue to put his body on the line far past his farewell match. At present time, Flair is managing his daughter, Charlotte, as she crushes the WWE Women’s Division, but it’s hard to erase those questionable TNA years where he was just not Natchin’ it up properly.
Like our last entrant, Ric Flair, Sting is synonymous with the WCW brand and was there until the very end. Also like Flair, Sting did some time in TNA before finally making his way to the WWE. By and large, Sting’s run in TNA wasn’t terrible and for someone who is considered ancient by wrestling years, he certainly was able to have several good matches. An ideal scenario would have had Sting be an ambassador for WWE and his own brand once he signed with the company. His brief appearances on WWE TV were fine, but if you watch his WrestleMania match with Triple H and his final match against Seth Rollins, you could tell something was amiss, particularly in the latter bout.
It was evident that Sting was having trouble keeping up with Rollins, someone who is half his age and wrestles a far more frenetic style. That’s not to be ageist, but Sting probably has injuries that are older than Rollins. An ideal last match scenario would have been Sting’s match against Triple H, but we’ll never have that comfort.
2 Hulk Hogan
Even before his tasteless racist comments and gross sex tape, Hulk Hogan had still wrestled for far too long. Though he wasn’t the greatest in-ring technician, the Hulkster could put on a hell of a fight. His matches weren’t five-star greats, but they were sure entertaining. Around the time of the NWO, Hogan began to get noticeably lazy in the ring, which is probably what makes his two moments of WCW infamy – the "Fingerpoke of Doom" versus Kevin Nash and the Jeff Jarrett Bash at the Beach lay down – so appropriate.
In a world of fantasy booking, Hogan’s last match should have been when he put Goldberg over on Monday Nitro, but there was about another ten years of Hogan "Hulking out" on WWE and TNA television. Universally panned, the WWE version of the NWO is best left forgotten and for anyone who saw the documentary “Finding Hulk Hogan,” it was evident that his last years as a performer in TNA were a cash grab in his post-divorce life.
There are many rumors and stories about Hulk Hogan and the difficulty that comes along with working with him, but facts are facts and seeing how he wrestled in the last 12 years, the red and yellow should’ve been retired long before that.
1 The Undertaker
This is probably the most controversial pick, but let’s not kid ourselves: Undertaker shouldn’t be in the ring anymore. A good swan song would have been when Brock Lesnar broke Taker’s undefeated streak on WrestleMania 30. It was the match that many, many fans had been waiting for and it followed Undertaker’s match with CM Punk the year before, which was an instant classic.
With age and injury, Undertaker’s matches have seemed like they’re a lot more careful and instead of getting a knock down drag out, this year’s Hell in a Cell WrestleMania match against Shane McMahon was a paint-by-numbers affair, right down to Shane taking a huge bump from the top of the cage. Let’s also couple this with the fact that the Undertaker just does not look or move like he used to. And no one is faulting him for that – time will do that to a man – but every time he comes back to TV, he just looks sad, which is not the way that fans want to remember 'Taker.
In a day when kayfabe is laughable at best and we know that 'Taker usually has a white beard, it’s insulting to the audience to try and sell him on who he used to be in the Attitude Era and that’s what puts him at the top of this list. We love Undertaker, but seeing his slow decline right in front of us only hurts his legend.