One thing every athlete in every sport needs to know is when to call time on their career; the same is true for professional wrestling.
In an ideal world, all wrestlers would go out on top and before their post-prime decline becomes obvious. However, unlike other athletes, wrestlers are often left with little choice but to continue their careers in order to avoid financial ruin.
That, and some guys simply just don’t know when to say enough is enough.
We all know that pro wrestling isn’t exactly the easiest thing for your body to cope with. On top of the multiple bumps comes the demand for repeat performances night after night, along with the taxing schedule even experienced at the top tier of WWE.
It’s no surprise that decades of intense work can quickly take the wind out of your sails, yet time and time again we continue to see legends of yesteryear continue to slug away in search of some extra coin that will hopefully hold them steady through retirement.
However, the sad repercussion of sticking around that much longer is often criticism and ridicule, with wrestlers’ past highlights becoming forgotten due to lacklustre showings in their old age.
These 15 wrestlers all hit incredible highs in their careers, but their unwillingness to wave goodbye to the squared circle long after they had reached their peaks put a damper on their achievements.
These are 15 wrestlers who became a shell of their former selves.
15. The Nasty Boys
If you didn’t even know The Nasty Boys, Jerry Sags and Brian Knobbs, were still wrestling to this very day then one, you’re not alone, and two, lucky you. Unsurprisingly, the punk bruisers that earned a reputation of being stiff, crass and generally disliked throughout the 90s are still just as bad today, except much older.
The childhood friends, who are both now at the age of 52, became a staple tag team in both WWE and WCW when wrestling began to boom in the late 1990s. Even then they weren’t all that much to write home about in the ring, but if you’re unlucky enough to see them throw stiff jabs and fall down a few times at independent shows in the present time, well, sorry.
Amazingly, The Nasty Boys were recalled to WWE in 2007 and made sporadic appearances up until their TNA debuts in 2010, when their ol’ buddy ol’ pal Hulk Hogan was giving his buddies some of that sweet Spike TV money. It won’t come as a shock to learn they were released from their contacts after acting inappropriately in front of Spike representatives.
14. Bob Backlund
With an in-ring career spanning almost 40 years, Bob Backlund is a living legend and all-around crazy guy who we still see on WWE programming today alongside Darren Young. As lovable of a guy as he seems, Backlund is guilty of overstaying his time in professional wrestling.
Having won WWE’s grandest prize in 1978 from the flamboyant “Superstar” Billy Graham (told you he was old), Backlund is lauded as one of the greatest champions of all time, holding the title for and incredible 2,135 days, the third-longest reign in WWE history. However, the once-loved great was growing unpopular with fans for changing his style and becoming less defined physically, eventually causing the company to go in a different direction and spark what we now know as Hulkamania.
After his 1984 title loss, Backlund understandably stepped away from the ring but was coaxed back in 1992 and even recaptured the world title in 1994. Sadly, his two reigns were polar opposites of each other as a now softer-looking Backlund lost the championship three days later in a match that lasted just eight seconds. Backlund himself agrees he should have stopped wrestling when Vince McMahon Sr. passed away, yet that didn’t stop him from continuing to wrestling sporadically all the way up until 2007.
13. The Undertaker
This one hurts to acknowledge given The Undertaker‘s unbelievable career – some would say the best ever – but you know it’s getting back when The Deadman is now resembling an actual dead man.
No man has had a better WWE run than The Undertaker, who is on the brink of notching his 26th anniversary with the company. However, we are reaching the point where a storied career is suffering as a result of a broken down man being brought back to put butts in seats.
When ‘The Streak’ died at WrestleMania XXX, it was thought we could have seen the last of The Undertaker following what was a less than impressive showing against Brock Lesnar. Though he continues to wrestle on an extremely part-time basis – his schedule has essentially been cut down to just WrestleMania – ‘Taker has reportedly expressed his desire to call it quits for good, and understandably so. A man that size and at his age isn’t meant to take bumps.
At the age of 51, The Undertaker should officially step away from WWE following WrestleMania 33. It would be a cruel shame for his legacy to continue to suffer at the hands of a constantly pestering Vince McMahon.
Much like with The Undertaker, it’s difficult to write this entry considering the incredible career and impact on the landscape of pro wrestling Sting had over the course of his career. However, it was clear to the naked eye that Sting’s work was eroding in front of our eyes.
After a highly successful WCW career, Sting continued to do decent work in TNA, though time was rapidly working against him. Had he not been able to get a stable income from the company, The Icon might have pulled the plug on his career years earlier.
His long-awaited WWE stint was bittersweet. On one hand, he proved at WrestleMania 31 that on a given occasion, Sting could still put on one hell of a show. At Night of Champions later that year, however, not so much. It makes you wonder whether The Stinger’s decision to potentially come out of retirement for one last match at WrestleMania 33 is really a smart idea.
11. Mick Foley
It’s not hard to understand why Mick Foley continued to wrestle through severe pain long after he should have been away from the ring, but it’s still difficult to agree with it. Anyone who has heard him speak knows he is a very articulate man, but continuing to wrestle in such trying circumstances was not the smartest move.
Foley has openly discussed the numerous injuries that left him a rather hollow wrestler, but that’s to be expected from a guy who was booked as a human crash test dummy for the majority of his career. It’s really no surprise that he struggled to do anything beyond the bare basics in the final matches of his drawn-out career.
Thankfully, Foley’s legacy has not suffered for his decision to continue wrestling as a near-cripple; the fact he is flourishing in his role as on-screen General Manager of Raw is a testament to that.
10. Bret Hart
The case of Bret Hart is a rather perplexing one. In most occurrences, wrestlers’ abilities taper off due to old age, but The Hitman simply lost the drive to be great he once had.
Hart was undoubtedly the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be when it comes to technical wrestling, but no Hitman fan wanted their last genuine in-ring memories of their idol to be lacklustre. Though unrelated, the sight of him getting kicked in the head by Goldberg didn’t make matters any better.
Though he was still perfectly capable, it’s interesting to ponder whether Bret Hart should have just stopped wrestling if the passion was no longer there following the Montreal Screwjob. Either way, his kiss-and-make-up with WWE in 2010 was a nice finishing touch to his career, though not so much the unnecessary and painful to watch WrestleMania XXVI match against Vince McMahon.
9. Road Warrior Animal
If you were to say The Road Warriors aka The Legion of Doom are the greatest tag team of all time, there aren’t a whole that could dispute it. The pairing of Hawk and Animal were a phenomenon in the 80s and 90s, often outdrawing top billed singles competitors. However, their success was a case of the whole being greater than the individuals, as Animal discovered.
The LOD was brought back to WWE in 2003 with the pair hoping to earn a full-time contract. Sadly, Hawk passed away later that year as a result of a heart attack. Oddly, Animal was signed to WWE in 2005 and teamed with Heidenreich to win the WWE Tag Team Championships in a match dedicated to Hawk.
By then, Animal was 43 years of age and clearly not the intimidating presence he was back in the Warriors’ heyday. Eventually Heidenreich was released, leaving Animal to job to younger talent before his own eventual dismissal. Animal continued to wrestle until 2014, having well and truly wrestled beyond his use-by date.
8. Jim Duggan
If the phrase “it’s time to stop” were to ring true for any one individual currently still wrestling, it would be for “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. He was already well and truly over the hill when he returned to WWE in 2005, so you can image what the situation is like now. At the age of 62, it’s almost unbelievable that Duggan continues to take bookings – and that promotions are still booking him.
It feels like Jim Duggan’s 2008 feud with Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr., in which Rhodes and DiBiase tried to convince Duggan to retire and let the younger talent have their chance, hit the nail on the head. Although it was a kayfabe story, it’s hard to not feel like the former Legacy stablemates were making a valid point.
Despite already being a bona fide legend of pro wrestling, having won the first ever Royal Rumble and being a beloved American hero in his prime, Duggan still continues to slug away on the independent circuit, though thankfully his in-ring roles are now limited.
7. The Ultimate Warrior
To say The Ultimate Warrior‘s long-awaited battle with Hulk Hogan was a flop would be a strong understatement. For an icon of the 80s to fall so far in the minds of wrestling fans was almost upsetting to see; unless you paid money to see one of his three WCW matches, then you were probably just enraged.
As one of the WWE’s most beloved individuals in the late 80s/early 90s, The Ultimate Warrior’s popularity even grew beyond that of Hulkamania. However, his 1992 departure from the company as a result of the steroid crackdown was the beginning of a steep decline for The Warrior.
Although he briefly returned to WWE in 1996, it was his WCW debut in 1998 and an inevitable, long-awaited rematch with Hulk Hogan that exposed just how far The Warrior had fallen. In two of his matches, Warrior had little involvement; the third being the disaster that was the Halloween Havoc match with Hogan which boiled bad blood between WCW and Warrior, leading to his retirement.
6. Mae Young
Talk about smashing your reputation to smithereens.
Mae Young was by far the most recognizable and accomplished female wrestler over the majority of her career. Though there are conflicting reports on when she began wrestling, her career spanned seven decades which matches the record held by the legendary Lou Thesz.
Sadly, the multiple-time NWA Champion in Young will likely only be remembered by most as the crazy, inappropriate grandma she portrayed in the Attitude Era, during which she won a bikini contest at the 2000 Royal Rumble for exposing herself and began a sexual relationship with Mark Henry.
Ridiculously, Young even ‘wrestled’ a match during the 2010 “Old School” edition of Raw during which she needed assistance just to stand upright. She went on to make numerous appearances on Raw before her death in 2014 at the age of 90.
5. Terry Funk
Simply put, Terry Funk is a man that loves wrestling too much. Having wrestled on the wrestling circuit since 1965, Funk had already comfortably achieved a Hall of Fame-worthy career by the time he hung up his boots in 1997, a time that many critics said was already 10 years too late.
It was a surprise – even somewhat of a joyous one – when Funk came of out retirement to rejoin WWE later that year, but another retirement announcement in 1998 would surely be the end of his career. Until her returned and retired again in 1999. Then in 2006, 2011 and 2013.
To say Funk’s stop-start career has gone on far too long is more than warranted. The man was on the decline when he called time on his career the first time and by all reports, his most recent outings were the kind of quality you’d expect from a 72-year-old – which Funk is. Hopefully his most recent retirement in September will stop the slow erosion of Funk’s legacy.
4. Scott Hall
Beyond becoming a shell of his former self, Scott Hall‘s tale is rather tragic. Though his struggles battling drug and alcohol addictions were commonly knowledge even during the NWO’s prime, it would have been hard to prediction just how far Hall would fall.
After his TNA release in 2010, where his ring work had descended further than anyone could have imagined, there was hope that Hall would turn his life around when WWE paid for him to check into rehabilitation. It only seemed to be the beginning of more problems, as Hall suffered multiple health issues in the years that followed.
As told in the Living on a Razor’s Edge: The Scott Hall Story documentary, it was warming to see that Hall has turned his life around with the assistance of Diamond Dallas Page and Jake “The Snake” Roberts and is even contributing to the development of NXT rookies.
3. Jake Roberts
By now, Jake Roberts‘ story of despair and redemption is well known. From being one of WWE’s icons, along with his slithery friend Damien, to hitting the lowest of lows due to his drug and alcohol addiction, Roberts couldn’t have possibly fallen any further than he did.
In 1999 while working the independent scene, Roberts was featured in a Beyond the Mat documentary that shed a light on just how bad his issues were. Sadly, things would only get worse in years to come, and the beloved wrestler was beyond washed up by the time he retired in 2011.
The Resurrection of Jake the Snake provides us with the happy ending we all wanted, thankfully. With Diamond Dallas Page dishing out some tough love, Roberts has managed to kick his addiction and even mended ties with the WWE.
2. Ric Flair
The 16-time world champion Ric Flair is arguably the most successful man in wrestling history, but his in-ring career carried on way past its used by day. By the time he officially hung up the boots in 2012 – because an incredible, poetic send-off in a loss to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV apparently wasn’t the right time – Flair had racked up a dazzling 40-year career.
Sadly, a great deal of that time was spent putting on performances well below the standard that had previously become synonymous with the limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ dealin’ son of a gun. Though flair did some excellent things after his final world title win in 2000, seeing the man rapidly erode in the ring was rather sad.
1. Hulk Hogan
Anyone who knows even the slightest thing about pro wrestling knows about Hulk Hogan. Anyone who is a tad more invested knows just how bad he became.
You could question how good Hulk Hogan was as an in-ring performer, but nobody could deny he had the perfect look and a heap of charisma. As a result, the Hulkster became a wrestling icon and by far the most recognizable face in both the 80s and 90s as he transcended wrestling into pop culture.
However, as big as Hulkamania once was, it seems like Hogan was going to squeeze every ounce of life from his personal brand until he became a hollow shell of his former self – which he did successful, we’ll credit him that. His already questionable wrestling skills paled in comparison to talent coming through in the 00s, and seeing a once-ripped behemoth waste away to a man resembling a seared slab of old beef turned off more than a few fans.
Of course, then there’s the whole TNA disaster and racist slur thing that made sure the Hulkamania legacy would forever be tarnished.