Growing old isn’t easy, especially for professional athletes. The fact that our bodies are bound to inevitably break down can be hard on most people, and it only gets worse if you rely on your body to make a living. Pro wrestlers are in a unique situation as sports entertainers since they can occasionally adapt their style to remain viable contenders as they get older. Although, this alone doesn’t save them from showing signs of their age in one way or another. Outside of their bodies starting to fail them, the most blatant sign that a wrestler is starting to lose their touch in the ring can be a midlife crisis, many of which have occurred live on camera in front of our very eyes.
There are no clear-cut parameters to what defines a midlife crisis, and yet people are instantly aware of the signs as soon as they see them. There’s also no exact definition of what “midlife” means, allowing the superstars on this list to show a range of ages from their late 30’s all the way into their early 60’s in the most extreme cases. Regardless of specifics, the point is that these wrestlers were too old to be acting the way they were, and it was obvious that they were acting out in this way in response to their own realizations of their own aging. Surprisingly, not all of these wrestlers ruined their careers through their actions, and a few of them even benefitted through some of the smartest character work that they portrayed for years. If you want to know which wrestlers freaked out the hardest over the passage of time, keep reading to learn about the 15 wrestling figures that exhibit the most obvious signs of a midlife crisis in WWE history.
15. Lex Luger Throws His Own Funeral
Virtually every top level heel has some sort of vanity in their system, and yet only Lex Luger went so far as to flat out call himself “The Narcissist.” Granted, Luger at least picked a good time in his career to do so since even after decades had passed, few superstars could boast a physique quite as impressive as Luger in his prime. On the (literal) strength of his impressive body, Luger became a huge star in NWA/WCW and a major player in WWE, winning two WCW World Championships and a plethora of other titles along the way. That success seemed to be behind him in 1999, though, and Luger made it clear that he wasn’t ready to go away quietly by holding a “funeral” for himself and being “reborn” as The Total Package. Luger apparently believed that if he made fans and commentators refer to him as a big deal enough times, it just might come true. Luger also paraded around his girlfriend, Miss Elizabeth, so it was extra clear that Luger still had “it” and could still land beautiful women. Surprisingly, The Total Package persona actually did help to keep Luger relevant into the final days of WCW, although he faded out of the spotlight almost immediately thereafter.
14. Scott Steiner And The Harem Of Freaks
Having a midlife crisis doesn’t always kill a wrestler’s career, and in Scott Steiner’s case, it actually helped his career to skyrocket. Steiner had spent close to a decade, teaming up with his brother, Rick, when he turned heel to join the nWo in 1998. Around this same time, Steiner’s already large arms seriously started getting out of control, which Steiner passed off by calling himself a “Genetic Freak” but most fans knew the real story was likely chemically influenced. Even more embarrassing than Steiner’s sudden muscle explosion was the fact that he started surrounding himself with dozens of bored looking supermodels, whom clearly had nothing to add to his character. Steiner nonetheless experienced the greatest successes of his career with these women accompanying him to the ring, defeating Booker T for the WCW World Championship and reining as that company’s champion through to the day when they went out of business. Steiner made his debut for WWE about a year and a half later but his horrific display in the ring caused fans to believe that the real crisis had just begun.
13. “Superstar” Billy Graham, Karate Master
There’s no denying that the bombastic promo style of “Superstar” Billy Graham was one of the most influential in wrestling, and his 10-month WWE World Championship reign made history as the first significant stretch of time that a heel held the belt. “Superstar” was wild, colorful, and an expert insult artist, all of which made him a prime choice to defeat Bruno Sammartino and lead a new generation of wrestling in the late 1970s. Vince McMahon, Sr. thought it was still too early to run with a heel on top for an extended period, though, and thus had Graham lose the title to Backlund when he thought he still had a significant amount of gas in the tank. The decision to have him drop the title left Graham feeling despondent, depressed, and perhaps a bit betrayed, and he left WWE for several years as a result. When he returned, Graham shaved his long blonde hair, grew a mustache, ditched his tie-dye shirts, and started calling himself a “karate master.” Graham admitted that the gimmick was partially inspired by the bitterness he felt from being previously abandoned by the WWE, which may have been justified. This doesn’t change the fact that Graham looked out of shape and uncoordinated as he flailed his arms around in “martial arts displays” that he clearly was making up on the spot.
12. Jim Duggan Turns His Back On America
Certain pro wrestlers don’t know when to give up, and Jim Duggan has been a poster child for this concept for nearly twenty years now. That in mind, to give credit where credit is due, Duggan never lost the ability to rile a crowd into a patriotic fervor by carrying around the American flag and incessantly chanting “USA” regardless of who his opponents were. It is for this reason that the angle where Duggan turned his back on America bombed as badly as it did, with hints of terrible management and a midlife crisis being the only two places to look for justification. On the terrible management side, Duggan joined Team Canada at a time when WCW was fueled entirely by swerves and nonsensical ideas. More importantly to this list, we still cry midlife crisis because Duggan easily could have said no to the idea, knowing that it would have ruined his character’s persona. Instead, he said yes, presumably in a desperate grab at maintaining his relevance through any means possible.
11. D-Generation Reunite To Act Like Children
Despite how people feel about Triple H these days, there’s no denying that he played a huge role in launching the Attitude Era through the early days of D-Generation X. The thing that often gets left out in this fact, though, is that Triple H was a mere lackey to Shawn Michaels, and much of the humor came from how little respect the duo had for law and order, specifically Vince McMahon. By the time the second (or arguably third) DX revival happened in 2006, Triple H was the law and order since he married McMahon’s daughter and started his ascent up the company ladder that could very well end with Triple H becoming in charge of WWE. Despite this, DX re-engaged in their battle against the establishment, removing any edge they once had for silly jokes about male cheerleaders and port-a-potties. The original DX was often compared to Beavis & Butt-Head, while this new version was a bit closer to cartoons of the Saturday morning variety. Triple H and Shawn Michaels were both talented enough competitors that their careers were basically unaffected by turning DX into the most childish show in the WWE Universe, but the DX name itself unquestionably suffered, with more modern day fans aware of their childish attempts at recapturing their youth.
10. The King And Queen Of Kings And Queens
Triple H is the only wrestler going through so much denial that he made his way onto the list twice, and considering he was already freaking out about his age when he was in his late 30’s, it isn’t that shocking to know that things only got worse as he reached his mid 40’s. In all fairness to the King, though, Stephanie McMahon is the one who really went off the rails during her husband’s 14th reign as WWE World Champion. Triple H was at least a wrestler when he put himself over the entire roster at the Royal Rumble. Stephanie was never more than the daughter of the boss, even as she started slapping her male employees and consistently making herself look bigger, better, and more important than any of the women who stepped into the ring. Her proclivity towards wearing skin tight leather clothing while she introduced Triple H was begging people to comment on how good her body looked despite having had three kids, and her continued role on television is increasingly about how she has all the power and she’s a great, brilliant boss. Part of it is the typical McMahon ego at play, but it probably isn’t too off base to think that the fact that she recently turned 40 might also be a factor.
9. Jake Roberts Struggles With Jesus And Tequila
A midlife crisis isn’t exactly all bad, as people can often come out of them having experienced a great deal of personal growth. Part of this stems from people looking inwardly, asking themselves tough questions, and making revelations about themselves and the universe that, hopefully, will make them a better person when the gray skies clear. Looking for this sort of resolution, many people look to religion for comfort, and that’s exactly what Jake Roberts did when he made his WWE return in 1996. Roberts was still struggling with alcoholism despite alleging to have found God, harshly tipping this so-called redemption story into obvious crisis territory. WWE didn’t make things easy on Roberts during this time, having him engage in a feud with Jerry Lawler, who essentially mocked The Snake for daring to have personal problems. Roberts finally cleaned himself up years later with the help of “Diamond” Dallas Page (not to mention countless amounts of fan support), showing that even the worst of these breakdowns were manageable if the wrestlers were willing to fight through them.
8. Vince McMahon Gets Hardcore
Most people suffer their midlife crisis in the general vicinity of their 40’s. Vince McMahon isn’t most people, though, which is why his midlife crisis didn’t take a public turn until about six months after his 60th birthday. McMahon had already killed ECW once at this point, and so he decided that in order to recapture his youth, he would go through the motions of reliving his glory as the man who killed hardcore. McMahon probably didn’t solely revive ECW to make himself ECW Champion, although becoming the champ was just about the only thing that could get Mr. McMahon interesting in his extreme c-brand. McMahon feuded the much younger and stronger Lashley during this time, embarrassingly dressing in workout clothes and a doo-rag, presumably in an attempt to look young and hip. In all fairness, McMahon was, in fact, playing a heel during this time, and his various crisis-like behaviors were used to get crowds to hate him. Nonetheless, as the owner of the company who really shouldn’t have been in the ring at all, it’s hard to look at his actions as anything but a childish attempt to make himself seem cool and relevant.
7. Jerry “The Perv” Lawler
Women working for WWE have never had an easy time at getting fans to acknowledge them for their in-ring talents over their natural assets. Even as WWE continues their women’s wrestling revolution, certain fans will never be able to view them as serious contenders thanks to centuries worth of objectifying women becoming the norm. No one person in WWE has contributed more to this reality on camera than Jerry “The King” Lawler. For a period that lasted several years, a female couldn’t even appear in a WWE ring without Lawler either begging to see her “puppies” or calling her ugly (and even then, he still might’ve wished she was topless). This behavior was at its worst the same year Lawler turned 50, which most likely was not a coincidence. Lawler saw his fame and good looks fading, and yet he was still surrounded by the young beauties he may have been able to attract in his prime. It’s worth noting that people like Vince McMahon were supporting Lawler’s objectification, not to mention the dozens of fans bringing signs to arenas echoing Lawler’s pleas, normalizing his perverted behavior even further. Lawler has gradually toned down his sex-crazed status as WWE reverted to PG, but chances are that he still has plenty of creepy thoughts swirling through his head even though he’s simply no longer allowed to say them onscreen.
6. Randy Savage Redefines The Madness
Macho Madness is second only to Hulkamania in terms of movements synonymous with professional wrestling, as Randy Savage was always considered one of the greatest wrestlers to live. Unfortunately, both reputations took a harsh nosedive during his last few months in WCW, when his every move defined a man realizing his best days were behind him. Savage returned from a late 1998 sabbatical having gained a frightening amount of muscle. He was also flanked by a famous blonde with a fresh boob job, as well as two other blondes that were half his age. It would be one thing if Team Madness (Madusa, Mona, and Gorgeous George) did anything of note to aide Savage’s career, but all three of them were obviously only there to make it clear that Savage could still attract women. What’s worse was that the people Savage started keeping as company was only the tip of the iceberg, as his character started interfering in matches for absolutely no reason other than to prove he could beat everybody up with little effort. Savage bizarrely won the WCW World Championship for the last time during this awful time, although he would lose it only one day later and gradually fade away from wrestling not long after that.
5. The nWo Start To Show Their Age
No one’s going to deny the historical significance of the nWo, the group that changed the face of wrestling and served as the spark that caused WWE to respond with the Attitude Era. However, if you start to strip away the historical significance of the movement and look at some of the nWo’s individual moments, they start looking “too sweet” and start looking a bit too old to be flashing gang signs at one another. Of course, all wrestlers have unique taunts, so that isn’t too bad but on the other hand, most men in their 40’s know not to call each other “brah” while talking about how great they used to be 10 years ago. As the leader of the group, Hogan comes out looking the worst in retrospect, with the concept reaching its nadir when the Black & White reunited with the Wolfpac to form the nWo Elite. Hogan was a pretentious jerk entering the ring to Jimi Hendrix, and came off looking like a weird middle-aged man dancing his way towards the ring to rap beats. However, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Eric Bischoff, and especially The Disciple, all gave Hogan a run for his money in refusing to act like adults, both onscreen and off.
4. The Hairstyle Choice Of Sheamus
As the youngest wrestler on this list, it might be fair to pose the question of whether or not Sheamus has even entered the midlife crisis phase, to begin with. Regardless, one look at his hair situation should cause alarms to blare for anyone familiar with a man going off the rails. It would’ve looked bad had Sheamus suddenly grown a mohawk, muttonchops, or a gross braided beard, but Sheamus decided to make it totally obvious that he was losing his mind by introducing all three hirsute accouterments at once. Sheamus was 37-years-old when the look debuted, which might be a bit young to consider his half-life, albeit still a solid two decades older than a human could be and still pull off the look Sheamus was trying. Thanks to his friends in high places, Sheamus was able to continue his sterling career and regain the WWE World Championship, succeeding far beyond his highly questionable appearance. Fans responded by succinctly and repeatedly chanting “You Look Stupid,” but Sheamus has kept the look close to a year and a half now, and it doesn’t look like he’ll come to his senses any time soon.
3. Chris Jericho Drinks It In, Man
Truth be told, Chris Jericho’s midlife crisis is almost too good to include on this list, and we’re not just saying that so we don’t end on Jericho’s written record of the people who wronged him. To be fair, “The List” itself isn’t that bad, but the scarves, the skinny jeans, the mustache, and generally dressing like a cast member on an MTV reality show isn’t the way most men in their mid-40’s behave. Jericho gets away with it only on the laurel that he can still back it up in the ring on a level significantly greater than anyone else on our list was remotely capable of when they went off the deep end. Calling his fans “stupid idiots” and overly relying on nominative pronouns instead of relying on Jericho’s very genuine gift of gab is another sign that he’s regressing to a childlike state rather than expanding his persona. Yet again, Jericho is so good at what he does, his midlife crisis is a continual thrill to watch, so he can keep the crisis coming as long as he desires.
2. Sheriff Austin Won’t Stop Laying Down The Law
The “Stone Cold” Steve Austin character turned a midlife crisis into some of the best character work pro wrestling has ever seen, although the real deal wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining. In 2001, Austin shook hands with the devil and teamed up with his archrival, Vince McMahon, starting several months of increasingly paranoid delusions based on the idea that Austin wasn’t as good as he once was. The risk of a character like this is that it needs to come near the end of a person’s career, and as expected, Austin was forced into retirement as a result of nagging injuries less than two years after his last WWE Championship reign ended. That’s not even the bad part. The bad part is that Austin refused to go away, even though he couldn’t wrestle anymore. The result was “Sheriff Austin” riding a four-wheeler ATV around in circles and then giving a Stone Cold Stunner to whoever happened to be nearby. There was no payoff to the gimmick, and there couldn’t be since Austin would never wrestle again. He couldn’t handle losing his entire career all at once, though, and thus he spent a solid six months proving that he could still kick reign in the ring (so long as absolutely no one was ever allowed to fight back).
1. The Old Dead Man And His Yard
The idea of a midlife crisis in the wrestling industry begins and ends with The Undertaker literally telling kids to get out of his yard. We feel compelled to end it there, and yet The Undertaker gave us too much to work with to let him off so easily. There were denim vests, horrible contemporary rock music, motorcycles, and a buxom blonde second wife you just know he met at a strip club. The initial few months of The American Badass persona, as it came to be known, were a breath of fresh air to the dark Undertaker persona fans were familiar with. As it raged into its second year, however, and Biker Taker turned heel, all the endearing qualities he brought to the gimmick were passed away and all that remained was a bitter old man that was angry that wrestlers younger and more talented than he was were taking away the spotlight. The only way for The Undertaker to recover from this embarrassing period of his career was to pretend that it never happened, and that’s pretty much exactly what happened after The American Badass was buried at Survivor Series 2003 and the real Dead Man made his return at WrestleMania XX, never to look back.