No matter how bright a star shines, eventually it will begin to burn out over time; this is the case for many careers in the wrestling industry. What can start as a promising career, filled with hundreds of memorable moments, can quickly shift to a downward spiral of fan support and ability.
Let’s take a modern example of a wrestler who overall has a great legacy, but is performing way past their prime; Kane. When it is all said and done, The Big Red Machine will go down as a legend in the history of professional wrestling; however the past few years have tainted his legacy. Besides infuriating fans by changing his gimmick multiple times, Kane’s matches have been of a lower quality than while in his prime during the early 2000s. Even if you give him the benefit of the doubt and say his last good run was in 2010, that is still five years of a watered down version of Kane.
Even if you think the last paragraph was a bit hard on Kane, you could swap him out with a few different Superstars; Big Show, Mark Henry and Kurt Angle all come to mind. Very few wrestlers can have a second half career that matches, or suprasses the first half; creating a sad scenario for fans. Older fans face the soul crushing burden of watching once great wrestlers’ bodies falling apart in high definition. An even worse scenario, is when newer fans of the product only associate a great name like Kane with the trash he has been assigned with lately.
Regardless of how fans feel, ultimately it is up to the wrestlers to decide how long they think they can go. Some stay in the business for the money and fame, and others just don’t know how to leave the wrestling profession on their own. As a matter of fact, every entrant on this list would have been better off retiring earlier to preserve a better image of themselves for wrestling history books. This list will only contain wrestlers who have already retired from full time wrestling from a major promotion. As always feel free to leave a comment below and let us know who we missed.
20 Viscera/Mabel/Big Daddy V
To be fair, if this were a list of people who shouldn’t have gotten into the wrestling business, Viscera would be on that list too. Newer fans might not know that Viscera debuted in the WWE in 1993, and actually won the King of the Ring competition just two years later.
Needless to say with his size, V was a formidable opponent to even the strongest of wrestlers. After a while his being a 500 pounder gimmick got old, and he lost steam. Viscera should have probably retired after the WWE finished the Ministry storyline, but he didn’t, and gave us all another few years of mediocrity.
Deriving part of his style from his uncle The Original Sheik, Sabu debuted in ECW in 1993, and quickly changed the face of the company. Sabu was most famous for jumping off of things, onto things...if that makes any sense.
While it’s true that Sabu was hands down one of the best ECW Originals, he made his name doing crazy stunts that can’t be held up in the long run. Sabu can still be found doing independent shows, but not nearly at the same level he once performed.
18 Rey Mysterio
Rey may be the only entrant on this list who technically is still full time (currently signed to AAA), but given all the injuries he has suffered over the past three years, he deserves to be on this list.
Mysterio’s body can’t sustain the style it once did, forcing him to abandon some of his lucha ways. For example, it has been nearly a decade since we saw him perform a West Coast Pop, because his knees literally can’t handle the impact. He was great, and sold tons of merchandise, but Rey Mysterio should retire on his own, before his body forces him.
17 Jerry Lawler
Jerry Lawler has been going by “The King” since the 1970’s and for good reason too, the WWE Hall of Famer is one of the most decorated wrestlers to ever live. Lawler didn’t slow down his wrestling outside of WWE until his nearly fatal heart attack in 2012; after which he wrestled a match eight months later. Despite the fact that he can still drop the strap, and follow it up with a diving fist, Lawler should have stepped away from the throne long before his heart attack.
16 Great Khali
The best way the WWE could have used The Great Khali, would have been to sign him for a single angle against The Undertaker. Instead the company decided to keep him for eight years, serving them more as an attraction than a talent. WWE had to know that they were getting the short end of the stick by signing Khali, as even when he was younger he couldn’t move well in the ring.
You can actually tell you the exact moment that Khali should have retired. While wrestling for New Japan Pro Wrestling, in 2001, Khali (wrestling as Giant Singh) unsuccessfully tried to powerbomb his opponent two times. After dropping his opponent on his neck for the second time, Khali decided to try a chokeslam. The giant should have been forced to retire immediately after that match...no questions asked.
15 Tommy Dreamer
Though he runs his House of Hardcore promotion, Tommy Dreamer still finds time to make it into the ring on a part time basis. An ECW Original, Dreamer is approaching 25 years in professional wrestling, and has only recently thought about slowing down.
Dreamer had a fantastic ECW career, but never could sustain that connection with the crowd in WWE. Going from the heart and soul of ECW, to a jobber in WWE is no way for a stand up guy like Tommy Dreamer to be remembered. In 2006 Dreamer was working in the WWE corporate headquarters in various office jobs, shortly leaving to return to the in-ring competition. If he wouldn’t have returned to action, he wouldn’t have been on this list.
There is no doubt that at one time, Big Van Vader was the baddest man in the business of professional wrestling; the last thing anyone wanted to do was get into a brawl with the heavily decorated wrestler. Vader, like most on this list, holds many accolades, but still fell victim of holding onto glory.
In fact Vader has wrestled as recently as June of 2015, wrestling a singles match in TNA. Vader performed without his gear, mask, and many of his signature moves, leading most fans to believe he should have called it quits years ago.
13 Mae Young
Mae Young was past her prime during the PG Era, Ruthless Aggression Era, Attitude Era, New Generation Era, and even the Golden Era. So why did this former NWA Women’s Champion “wrestle” her last match in 2010, at the age of 86?
The truth is Young was so frail during her final match, that she literally had to have a Diva on each side of her to keep her stable. It is almost painful to watch her during her later years appearing on screen, and even as a nostalgia act, Mae Young should have retired decades before her death in 2014.
12 Jim Duggan
The winner of the inaugural Royal Rumble match, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan has performed in front of millions of people for over three decades. Duggan was well over the hill before his triumphant return to WWE in 2005, and even more so during his 2008 return.
Ironically enough when he came back in ‘08 he was feuding with The Legacy stable, who tried to convince him to retire so that young guys could thrive. Sadly Duggan did not take their advice, and is still taking bookings on a part time basis today.
11 Terry Funk
Remember when Terry Funk announced that he was retiring during the Beyond the Mat documentary in 1999? Well that didn’t last long, neither did his retirement in 2006, 2011, or his most recent retirement in 2013. In order to truly put his inability to retire into perspective you have to realized that in 2014, Funk wrestled in Japan at the age of 70.
Some might say that Funk’s better days were behind him during his second run in the NWA in 1989, but that didn’t stop the legend from competing in hardcore massacres from here to Japan. Though he may have wrestled past his prime, Funk has earned his place in nine separate wrestling Hall of Fames.
10 Ultimate Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior had a tumultuous relationship with the WWE during his multiple stints as a wrestler there. Warrior was given many opportunities to shine during his tenure at the company, but constantly conflicted with management regarding money and substance abuse.
When Warrior signed with WCW in 1998, many fans hoped that he would have a successful run as a counterbalance to the nWo. In reality he only had three matches, which were all forgettable, and he probably should have stayed retired after his second run in WWE.
9 Road Warrior Animal
Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of two parts, which was the case with Hawk and Animal of The Road Warriors. On certain cards, the team would actually have the top billing, outdrawing some prominent singles stars.
Due to their popularity, many fans thought that the gimmick as well as Animal should have retired after the passing of his partner Road Warrior Hawk in 2003. Animal decided to keep the gimmick going, and continued to wrestle under the Road Warrior mantle; often losing in squash matches during his return to WWE in 2006.
8 Bob Backlund
You can tell a guy is old school when the archival footage of him wrestling, contains matches against Billy Graham, Ivan Koloff, Nick Bockwinkel, and a young Ric Flair. During his heyday, Backlund was an accomplished wrestler, holding the WWE Heavyweight Title for over five years; the second longest title run in WWE history.
His historic run was nerfed by his return, where he gained and lost the WWE Championship in three days. Backlund should have stayed retired instead of returning and tarnishing his reputation.
7 Ric Flair
There is a large school of thought within the IWC that Ric Flair will die in a wrestling ring one day. The worst part about having to put the Nature Boy on this list, is that his final match in the WWE was epic. That isn’t to say that his last few years were that amazing, but his final storyline with Shawn Michaels created one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time. So why did Flair have to ruin it by wrestling (spoilers for later) Hulk Hogan during his “Let the Battle Begin” tour in 2009? The return to the ring in 2009 no doubt influenced his eye rolling run in TNA from 2010-2012.
Luckily WWE doesn’t acknowledge Flair’s matches after his “final” match at WrestleMania XXIV, because nothing after even came close to what that match was.
6 Hulk Hogan
Considering the fact that Hulk Hogan was still planning on having a match at Wrestlemania 32 if not for his infamous 2015 scandal, it’s safe to say that he deserves to be on this list. The Hulkster has been in the WWE Hall of Fame since 2005, and also has been inside the squared circle almost every year since.
Put aside the fact that Hogan could barely wrestle to begin with, but the 62-year-old could barely move the last time we saw him in action in 2013. After his return to WWE in 2014, Hogan was successfully used as a personality rather than a talent, and hopefully with his recent scandal he truly is retired from in ring action...Brother.
Some may be wondering why Edge is an entrant on this list, seeing as how he retired before turning 40. Well Edge was forced to retire, meaning that every time that he stepped into the ring, his health and life were at risk. Given the kind of stunts that Edge had been apart of earlier in his career, he was lucky to still be walking by the end of it.
When he was finally banned from wrestling by doctors, it was because another match could have killed or paralyzed him. Edge can’t even take bumps when he comes back, for fear of literally dying in the ring. If he had retired sooner, Edge may have been in a better overall state to make guest appearances in the WWE.
4 Bret Hart
You love Bret Hart and that’s okay, but even his biggest fans can’t deny that “The Hitman” was a shell of his former self by the time he left WCW in 2000. Hart’s run in WCW wasn’t as bad as his return to the ring in WWE at WrestleMania XXVI.
Hart didn’t even put on his trademarked singlet for the match, rather he wore long jean shorts and a t-shirt. No fans wanted their final memory of Bret Hart to be either him getting speared by Goldberg, or him wrestling in hobo clothes. Hart would have been best off retiring from WWE after the Montreal Screwjob.
3 Scott Hall
Arguably the best wrestler to never hold a Heavyweight Title in a major promotion, Scott Hall changed the business during the 1990s. Hall had the charisma and in-ring ability to catapult himself to the front of the wrestling world. The most amazing thing about Hall’s run in WCW was the fact that he was creating innovative angles...while on drugs. We are in no way condoning the use of drugs, but the man wasn’t even on his “A” game and was still able to hang with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Goldberg, Stone Cold, and The Rock.
Since his run in the 90s Hall has been suspended or fired (or both) multiple times from WCW, followed by WWE, and finishing off at TNA. The “Bad Guy” continued to book independent wrestling shows, all while struggling with substance abuse; often with the two scenarios crashing into each other. ESPN’s E60 even produced a story detailing the incident, and Hall’s subsequent decline into drugs and depression. Even though he is much healthier now, Hall still tarnished his legacy by not hanging up his boots earlier to take care of himself.
2 Jake Roberts
Jake “The Snake” Roberts officially retired on January 29th, 2011, leaving behind a legacy of squandered potential. In a career that spanned nearly four decades, Roberts struggled with abuse issues for most of it. Addiction forced him out of the WWE, even after they offered him a backstage position as an agent in 1996.
His years of independent wrestling were captured during the filming of the Beyond the Mat Documentary, as well as his personal demons for the world to see. Luckily Roberts has gotten past all of that and is healthy, but even he must cringe at some of his “matches” that occurred during his post WWE days.
1 Mick Foley
Foley is God...but is also guilty of wrestling too hard for too long. Unlike others, Mick Foley has made it apparent that his comebacks are usually financially driven. He mentions his motives for returning to wrestling in his WWE special For All Mankind, where he details his various retirements.
It is really a shame that Foley didn’t stay retired after his classic with Randy Orton in 2004, or after his fiery defeat at the hands of Edge at WrestleMania 22. Instead of five star matches, we have Foley’s final matches taking place in the wasteland that TNA was in 2010.