Pro wrestling is a dangerous profession that takes a serious toll on one’s body. It has been said that one year of wrestling ages one’s body at the same rate as three years for a normal person. It isn’t uncommon for wrestlers to have serious long-term health issues by the time they are into their thirties that last the rest of their lives.
At the same time, most wrestlers’ careers peak when they’re between their late thirties and mid-forties. Because of the strain this business puts on the body, it’s extremely hard for any wrestler to keep going after that…but a few manage to do so.
There have been some wrestlers that have managed to ignore what time does to one’s body and have wrestled well beyond the age limits of the late 40s that normally define pro wrestling. Terry Funk is the classic example. He first debuted as a wrestler in 1965, and has wrestled more or less nonstop since then. He went through several retirements, only to come back to the ring because his love for the sport was too powerful. He appears to have finally retired for good this time in September 2016 at age 72, with a career spanning an astonishing 51 years.
Another example was Mae Young, who wrestled her final match in November 2010, having wrestled in nine different decades. Many thought she was the closest thing to being immortal, as she was unafraid to get in the ring at such a late stage in her life.
With 2017 just starting, there will be several wrestlers that will still be wrestling well beyond their physical peaks. These are both part-time and full-time professional wrestlers that still take bookings and either wrestle in matches or take part in wrestling angles of some kind.
15. Triple H (48 Years)
Triple H has been a staple of WWE’s programming for almost two entire decades. He reached the top of the mountain in 2000, and has, in some way or another, been involved with the top feuds and storylines ever since. Whether it was as the unstoppable World Heavyweight Champion on RAW or as an on-again/off-again member of the on-screen Authority, Triple H has long been considered a ‘main-event’ worthy wrestler.
Over the past few years, HHH’s in-ring work has decreased significantly, as he spends more and more time building the NXT brand up as much as he can. But when he does appear on the main shows, he’s considered an instant ‘semi-main-event’ performer. He will be wrestling in 2017 without a doubt, given his high-profile feud with Seth Rollins that’s set to pick up more steam in the coming weeks. And when he does wrestle, HHH will be approaching 48 years of age, which would make him one of the oldest wrestlers on the roster.
14. Kane (50 Years)
There’s something to be said about a man that can enjoy a 20-year career in WWE. Although some might say his best years were his first few, Kane has managed to become the ideal ‘soldier’ in WWE. He has done anything and everything his employer has asked of him without question, and has been more than willing to keep the spotlight off of himself in order for younger and bigger stars to enjoy that spotlight.
Kane’s loyalty and determination to keep wrestling for WWE despite being 50 in 2017 are both very commendable traits. Even if many people might complain over Kane’s questionable booking over the past few years, none can deny the fact that Kane still wrestles at more or less the same level he did ten years ago. After all, when was the last time a 50-year-old wrestler did a flying clothesline off of the top rope and kept going? Only Kane can do that.
13. Goldberg (50 Years)
For the longest time, many fans have wondered if Goldberg would ever return to a WWE ring. Most fans knew that, no matter how much they dreamed, Goldberg would never return to WWE, especially after his 2003-4 run was marred by disappointment. But, as they always say in and about WWE, ‘never say never’, and Goldberg made a shocking and triumphant return to WWE in 2016.
He returned, accepted Brock Lesnar’s challenge, and demolished Lesnar in 86 seconds at the 2016 Survivor Series PPV. Goldberg had initially come back for only one last match, but now it looks like he’s going to be wrestling at least one more match in 2017, and he’ll be 50 years old when he’ll be doing so. Say what you want about WWE and its dependence on wrestlers from the past; Goldberg wrestling Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 33 despite being 50 years old takes a lot of guts.
12. Akitoshi Saito (51 Years)
Pro wrestling in Japan is different from its American counterpart in many ways. One of those critical differences is length of profession. Few wrestlers enter the profession and then leave after a few years; once you enter the ring, you’re a wrestler for a very long time. In fact, many of the longest-spanning careers today belong to Japanese wrestlers. One of those is Akitoshi Saito, a midcard wrestler that has been active since 1990, and will be 51 in 2017.
Saito has spent most of his career as an upper-midcarder for New Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling NOAH. But his biggest claim to infamy was that he was the person that suplexed Mitsuharu Misawa, which led to Misawa’s death in the ring. Although it was ruled that Saito wasn’t directly responsible for that incident, it must’ve had a crippling effect on his psyche. Yet strangely, Saito still wrestles for NOAH, despite the fact that many of Misawa’s most loyal fans blamed him for the Emerald Emperor’s death.
11. The Undertaker (52 Years)
He’s the most revered wrestling superstar in WWE history, and the longest-tenured wrestler that’s still on the WWE roster. Undertaker managed to outlast everyone else, including those stars that were bigger draws than him, like Austin and the Rock. WWE likes to claim that his career began at Survivor Series 1990, but the man behind the Undertaker had been wrestling since 1984, and even wrestled in WCW for a short period as well.
There are rumors swirling that the Undertaker will be wrestling in his final match at WrestleMania 33, with his most likely opponent being John Cena. If so, the Undertaker will be 52-years-old when he wrestles this match, which is incredibly old for a wrestler. But what’s more astonishing is that unlike most wrestlers, the Undertaker’s matches have (for the most part) gotten better the older he got. Given that trend, his matches in 2017 might be some of the best of his career.
10. Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger (52 Years)
The legendary Jushin Liger began his career all the way back in 1984. At the time, Liger was applying to wrestle for New Japan Pro Wrestling, but he was refused at first, because they believed he’d be too small to ever be a big draw. So Liger went to Mexico and learned the Lucha Libre style, before NJPW took him in. Since then he has been a mainstay for the promotion, wrestling in arguably more matches than any wrestler alive today.
It seems like donning a cape and mask has actually made Liger a real-life superhero: he hasn’t stopped wrestling even after being diagnosed with a brain tumor in the late 1990s. Nowadays, Liger’s main role appears to be in opening and closing matches, but he sometimes appears in tournaments, which shows just how much tenacity he has.
9. Keiji Mutoh/The Great Muta (53 Years)
Mutoh is arguably the most legendary wrestler to have never performed in a WWE ring, but he has wrestled pretty much everywhere else throughout his 32-year career. Whether it was under his own name or as his alter-ego the Great Muta, Mutoh managed to achieve a legendary level of popularity in Japan that can best be compared to the Undertaker’s popularity in North America.
Many people thought Mutoh’s career was done in 2000, as he had accomplished everything there was to accomplish at the time, especially since he wasn’t allowed to sign with WWE. But instead of retiring, he changed his look and wrestling style and went on to enjoy another 15 years plus of success in the wrestling business.
Mutoh still wrestles occasionally, though most of his time is spent managing his own promotion, Wrestle-1. He’s fully aware of his own drawing power, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he’ll don the mask and mist on occasion, even as his body (especially his knees) have suffered through unimaginable wear and tear over the decades.
8. Big Van Vader (61 Years)
Known as one of the most agile big men in wrestling history, the man they call Vader has been wrestling for more than thirty years. Even though his peak in matches was during the 1990s, Vader has continued to wrestle sporadically throughout the 2000s and 2010s, with no end in sight. Even though he recently announced he was in a major car accident and was later given only two more years to live, Vader still wrestles.
At 61 years of age, Vader’s body is incredibly worn down, both from the physical toll of the wrestling business and from his own weight. That said, Vader looks like he’s going to keep going in 2017, most likely in independent bookings like he did in 2016 in the UK. There are also rumors that WWE might be inducting him into their Hall of Fame in 2017. If so, that would be a fitting reward for such a legendary wrestler.
7. Masanobu Fuchi (63 Years)
During the 1990s, All Japan Pro Wrestling’s roster was composed of only 26 wrestlers. One of those was Masanobu Fuchi, a man who had been with AJPW longer than anyone else before or since. AJPW was founded by Giant Baba in 1972, and Fuchi debuted with the promotion in 1974, and stayed with Baba’s company until 2009, even when 95% of the roster left the promotion with Misawa in 2000. Fuchi’s biggest claim to fame was that he took part in several 5-star classics in the 1990s during AJPW’s peak in critical popularity.
In 2017, Fuchi’s likely to still be wrestling for AJPW, as he recently won the AJPW All Asia Tag Team Championship. At 63, Fuchi’s one of the oldest active wrestlers in Japan, but, as with many Japanese wrestlers, longevity and loyalty are cherished virtues, so it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere soon.
6. Jerry Lawler (67 Years)
Jerry Lawler is one of the most legendary wrestlers in American history. He’s an icon of Memphis wrestling, and has been a color commentator for over two decades. But even though a lot of his time in the wrestling industry has been behind the commentator table, Lawler still wrestles outside of WWE on a part-time basis. Lawler’s most recent match was against none other than Terry Funk in 2015, when Lawler was 66 years old. With Lawler having fewer WWE-related commitments in 2017, there’s a chance he might be wrestling more indie shows in the future.
At 67, Lawler’s one of the oldest active wrestlers in the United States, but given his showmanship-based style, he’s one of the few wrestlers that can put on a show with only a handful of moves, which means that he can probably go on for a long time without having to worry about getting too hurt in a match.
5. Mitsuo Momota (68 Years)
Most people might not know the name Mitsuo Momota, but they’re likely to know his father’s name: Mitsuhiro Momota, a.k.a. Rikidozan, the father of Puroresu.
As his father was a national hero to the Japanese, Mitsuo (center, above) was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps. Unfortunately, he was unable to achieve any major success, winning only a handful of titles during a career that has spanned 46 years. Momota has been a regular in opening matches for Pro Wrestling NOAH for many years, and could be described as a decidedly average wrestler.
But again, his is the story of longevity, and despite never having that one major career-defining moment, he still wrestles despite being 68-years-old. Clearly some people have the gift of endurance and tenacity if they can work the stiff King’s Road wrestling style for over four decades without retiring.
4. Bill Eadie (68 Years)
Demolition was one of the biggest tag teams in WWE history and, up until a few short weeks ago, were the longest-reigning Tag Team champions in WWE history. The duo of Ax and Smash were one of the most dominant tag teams that WWE had ever seen, which was reflected in their once-unmatched title reign. Of the two primary members of Demolition, Ax is the one that still wrestles.
At 69-years-old, he appears primarily at ‘Legends’ shows throughout the United States and only participates in short matches where he doesn’t have to do much intensive work. Apart from his in-ring work, Eadie’s also known for being part of the ongoing class action lawsuit against WWE over their ignoring of traumatic head injuries over the decades.
3. Nikolai Volkoff (69 Years)
Most fans will remember Volkoff as the evil Russian that brought fear to WWE mid-1980s, as the Iron Sheik’s tag team partner. They were hated evil foreigners that riled fans up with their anti-American promos and gimmick.
For years Volkoff would sing the Soviet national anthem, which made him one of the most despised characters in WWE. But even though that was his most notable gimmick, Volkoff has still managed to find work in wrestling long after his career peaked decades ago. Volkoff wrestles for various independent wrestling promotions throughout the year, which is amazing for a man pushing 70 years.
At his most recent event in 2015, he acted as a manager for a younger team, before attacking their opponents post-match. Although he wasn’t really known for his versatility in the ring, he still manages to stick to what works, which allows him to maintain a healthy amount of bookings despite wrestling at 69 years of age.
2. Bushwacker Luke (69 Years)
The man with the farthest wrestling debut on this list, Bushwacker Luke debuted all the way back in 1962. Luke wrestled during a period when the National Wrestling Alliance was not only an influential organization in the United States, but also internationally, as it had an office in New Zealand that allowed for Luke to develop as a wrestler.
While in WWE, Luke and Butch (the Bushwackers) were known as a comedic team that used unusual gestures and motions, which ended up being surprisingly popular with the audience. The two of them enjoyed a relatively lengthy tenure in WWE, competing throughout the mid-to-late 1980s through to the early 1990s.
After WWE, Luke returned to the independent scene, where he performs to this day. Although much of his activity in the ring doesn’t involve taking part in actual wrestling matches, he does take part in angles and post-match beat downs, which allows for the 69-year-old Luke to still be involved to some degree in wrestling without being limited to autograph signings.
1. Mil Mascaras (74 Years)
Earlier, I mentioned that Terry Funk retired with a career that had spanned 51 years. Now that he has retired, his reign as the wrestler with the longest career has been taken over by Mexican Lucha Libre legend Mil Mascaras.
Mascaras debuted in 1965, and still wrestles to this day. He has wrestled in virtually every major promotion in the world, from various promotions in Mexico, to All Japan Pro Wrestling in Japan during that promotion’s peak, to WWE throughout the 1970s in a feud with Superstar Billy Graham. He won his final championship, the WWA (Mexico) World Heavyweight Championship, when he was 49.
As he hasn’t announced a formal retirement as of yet, Mascaras is the oldest wrestler still technically active. That speaks volumes to his love of pro wrestling as a sport, and the impact he’s had on Lucha Libre both in his home country of Mexico and abroad.