The length of a wrestler’s career can be as long or as short as they desire. Variables come into play to factor int othe way things end, such as injuries, accomplishments or a desire to start a new chapter in life. Many wrestlers have the goal of working for as long as possible at a high level. The dream is to make great money for decades, since a promoter can stop booking you any time if you’re not a major star.
However, that leads to many wrestlers hanging on too long, since they have developed a fan base. Quite a few wrestlers have made the bolder move to retire in their prime, to end their careers in the ring on a high note.
10 Retired in prime: AJ Lee
AJ Lee was still the most popular woman on the WWE roster when she made the decision to leave WWE and retire from wrestling back in 2015. The talent of Lee helped provide change for the women’s division, with accomplishments like her record-breaking title reign length and becoming the first woman to get merchandise.
Lee was dealing with a few injuries and the workplace was likely awkward given the ugly departure of her husband CM Punk from WWE. It would be hard for anyone to work for a company planning a lawsuit against your husband. Lee has gone into writing with no signs of ending her retirement.
9 Hung on too long: Hulk Hogan
Fans were wondering if Hulk Hogan was near the end of the road in the 90s. The legend was already slowing down and looking a bit outmatched against younger talent. Hogan continued working, though, mostly on a part-time schedule.
WWE would bring back the older Hogan for one-off feuds with Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton. TNA even allowed him to wrestle, with his final match coming against Sting. Perhaps Hogan wanted to continue making money and enjoying the spotlight way long than he should have.
8 Retired in prime: Steve Austin
The iconic run of Steve Austin helped WWE find its greatest success to create the path of becoming a global brand. Austin’s run was almost cut short when a botched piledriver from Owen Hart severely injured his neck. Luckily, it wasn’t serious enough to make him miss more than a few months.
The problem was that his neck injuries lingered for years and continued to get worse because of the move gone wrong. Austin retired in 2003 after a loss to The Rock at WrestleMania XIX to avoid any further injury. There was still gas in the tank, but Austin made the right move for his health.
7 Hung on too long: Terry Funk
The running joke in wrestling for years has focused on the retirement of Terry Funk. Wrestling fans have enjoyed the work of Funk since the late 70s. Funk decided to retire for the first time in the 90s, with a huge event celebrating his career.
The retirement ended within a few months as Funk continued to retire and return many more times. Fans and wrestlers joked any time Funk revealed it was the end of the road for him. He has now retired for real (it seems), with his last match taking place back in 2017.
6 Retired in prime: Edge
Edge stated he was preparing to retire in his prime before injury forced his hand. The run of Edge saw him emerge as one of the top stars of the 2000s. Edge had his final feud with Alberto Del Rio in 2011 with a move from Brodus Clay injuring his neck.
Edge's final match came at WrestleMania XXVII, when defeating Alberto to retain the World Championship. Edge retired the following night in an emotional moment.
5 Hung on too long: Big Show
Big Show has been wrestling for almost 25 years now, with his career still going strong today. The huge, powerful athlete came to WWE in 1999 and became a consistent on the roster. Big Show thrived by contributing in every role, from humor to serious characters, face to heel roles, and main event and lower card runs.
Even though he is a legend, Big Show should have retired a few years ago. Recent years have seen him become a bit of a joke, with WWE having him go back and forth between the heel and face roles quite often. The transition into acting may see Big Show officially retire soon, but it probably should have happened a couple of years ago.
4 Retired in prime: The Rock
The Rock joined WWE younger than most of his peers in the Attitude Era, which means he’s still in his 40s today. His return appearances always show Rock in great shape; he would probably still be good enough to compete in the WWE ring if he wanted to.
His acting career comes with restrictions from studios regarding his health, however, and he can’t risk injuries. This prevented Rock from making more appearances and wrestling a few more matches.
3 Hung on too long: The Undertaker
The Undertaker has officially hit the status of hanging on too long. Fans and wrestlers speculated on his potential retirement as early the mid-2000s. Undertaker continued performing at a high level, with classic matches at WrestleMania each year.
Things started to trend downhill after the WrestleMania undefeated streak ended at the hands of Brock Lesnar. The past few years have featured some embarrassing performances from Undertaker against Roman Reigns, Triple H and, most recently, Goldberg.
2 Retired in prime: Lita
The women’s division has seen a few stars retire in their prime, but Lita had one of the more interesting reasons. WWE booked her as a top heel with Edge, both of whom became some of the most hated people in wrestling back in 2005.
Lita did not enjoy playing the role that saw fans getting personal with the insults. The unhappiness at work led to her retiring in her prime. Lita would return a few more times after finding more joy away from the ring.
1 Hung on too long: Ric Flair
Perhaps the best example of a wrestler hanging on too long would be Ric Flair. Flair was already teasing retirement during his WCW days as a sixteen-time world champion.
WWE gave him another impressive run that ended with the perfect retirement. Flair joined the Hall of Fame and then had his final match in a classic against Shawn Michaels. WWE wrote Flair off perfectly, but he still wanted to wrestle. Flair returned for a tour with Hulk Hogan in Australia and a few more matches in TNA.