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 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.
19 19. Sabu
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.
18 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.
17 17. Jerry Lawler
16 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.
15 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.
14 14. Vader
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.
13 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?
12 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.
11 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.
10 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.
9 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.
8 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.
7 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.
6 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.
5 5. Edge
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.
4 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.
3 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.
2 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.
1 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.
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