They say you never really retire from pro-wrestling. In traditional sports, athletes retire when they are no longer physically able to compete in the same way they did when they were younger – but that’s not necessarily the case for sports entertainers. Wrestlers can keep their careers going well past the age where any other pro athlete would have to retire. A wrestler who is pushing 50 might not be able to move around as they once did, might not be able to pull off the spots that they used to, but their fans still cheer them on out of nostalgia.
Many wrestlers have had some of their best matches after having once retired as well. Shawn Michaels was retired from wrestling for four years before he came back and had classic matches with the Undertaker at WrestleMania. Terry Funk first retired almost 20 years ago and still has the occasional match from time to time, and Ric Flair had some of the best moments of his career in his 40s and 50s.
In pro-wrestling, you are never really retired until you stop breathing, which is why the names on this list will definitely have at least one last pro-wrestling match.
15. Road Dogg
At 47 years of age, Road Dogg’s window for wrestling another match is closing, but the former tag-team specialist is still in the same age range as the likes of Triple H, Undertaker, and Shane O’Mac; all three who had high profile matches at this year’s WrestleMania.
Originally cast as a flunky for Jeff Jarrett, Brian James struggled to find his place in the WWE until put in a random tag team with another guy in such a scenario, Billy Gunn. The two would become known as the New Age Outlaws and for a period of time they were big players in the WWE.
The pinnacle of the New Age Outlaws time in WWE was WrestleMania 14 where they lost the WWF Tag Team Championships to Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie (Terry Funk) in an epic dumpster match. The two teams would meet again the next night in a steel cage match and Gunn and Road Dogg would win back the titles with the help of their new stablemates D-Generation X.
James now works backstage with the WWE and in 2016 appeared on a live show podcast on the WWE Network.
Batista has already returned once to the WWE – it just didn’t go over that well. Vince’s original plan for WrestleMania 30 was for the returning Batista to win the Royal Rumble and challenge WWE Champion Randy Orton in the main event.
The only problem was that at that year’s Royal Rumble event the fans were so upset that Daniel Bryan wasn’t even entered into the Rumble match that they booed Batista out of the building.
WWE was forced to call an audible for that year’s WrestleMania plans in order to capitalize on Bryan’s popularity. It seems reasonable to assume that the WWE would want to take another shot at writing a return story for Batista eventually.
Now a WWE Hall of Famer, Rikishi’s name gets mentioned with some frequency on WWE’s current programming. His sons, who wrestle by the names Jimmy and Jey Uso, are perennial contenders for the tag belts and commentator JBL is often quick to make reference to their father.
The most memorable period of Rikishi’s WWE career was probably when he was partnering with Scotty 2 Hotty and Grand Master Sexay as Too Cool, but Rikishi did spend some time as a main eventer as well -usually wrestling the Rock.
Rikishi is now 50 years old, so a full-time return to the ring is probably out of the question for the big Samoan, but the WWE pairing him up with his sons for a 6-man tag team match seems likely to occur eventually.
12. Dan Severn
Dan Severn is far more famous for his career in the UFC than he is for his time spent in the WWE, but a return to pro-wrestling is something that could happen sooner rather than later for the MMA pioneer.
Severn, who is a UFC Hall of Famer, was scheduled to take part in a mixed martial arts fight against Ken Shamrock in March 2016. Even though both fighters would have been in their 50s, the fight was sanctioned by an Athletic Commission. However, Shamrock would test positive for PEDs and after substitution fights fell through, the fight was cancelled.
Older fighters competing in MMA seems to be happening with more regularity, so one can assume that Severn would consider a pro-wrestling return if there are no more MMA fights made available for him.
11. Dean Malenko
When WCW first launched its Cruiserweight division, their first recognizable champion was Dean Malenko. Then known by the nickname “the Man of a 1000 Holds” Malenko showed that smaller wrestlers didn’t necessarily have to rely on high spots to get over, but could simply have technical wrestling matches that the fans would respond to.
Now at 55 years old, the window is certainly closing for Dean Malenko, but a return to the ring cannot be ruled out. Malenko works backstage for the WWE, and with the company holding the World Cruiserweight Tournament later this year, it is certainly possible that Malenko decides to have one last match in the division he helped pioneer.
Real name Amy Dumas, Lita retired from WWE in 2007. Now in her 40s, we could see Lita compete again in the WWE in the not too distant future.
While Lita did suffer from nagging neck injuries throughout her career it was not injuries that forced her to retire. In interviews she would give later, Lita seemed to feel as though it was time to move onto something different when she left the company almost a decade ago, and she would go on to work on several projects including playing in a punk band and developing an organization dedicated to animal welfare.
Injuries would not prevent Lita from making a comeback in the WWE, and the current division sure could benefit from an established Hall of Famer wrestling the new breed of Divas from time to time.
Bradshaw will turn 50 late in 2016 so his window for a return is closing, but the door isn’t quite shut. Having debuted in 1995, JBL’s career as an in-ring performer lasted a decade and a half, including a lengthy run as WWE Champion.
JBL struggled to find his place on the WWE roster early after his debut under the name Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw, and again as a member of the New Blackjacks along with Barry Windham (who at that time was nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career). It was only after Bradshaw began teaming with Ron Simmons that he really came into his own. While JBL would win the WWE title under his wall street tycoon gimmick, it’s his backstage vignettes with Simmons as part of the APA that are the most memorable moments of his career.
A full-time return is not in the cards for JBL, but a one-off match that utilizes a lot of smoke and mirrors (possibly against one of his broadcast partners) should happen at some point.
8. Ken Shamrock
Shamrock is in his 50s and still actively competing in mixed martial arts. While Shamrock did test positive for PEDs after his last fight with Royce Gracie, the UFC Hall of Famer and former Intercontinental Champion still looks to be in great shape.
While a return to the WWE after so many failed steroid tests seems implausible, a return to pro-wrestling for Shamrock outside of the WWE should be considered inevitable.
Ken had a good run in the WWE, debuting there in 1997 as the special guest referee for Austin vs. Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13, and would go on to be a fairly popular star in his own right before returning to mixed martial arts.
7. Billy Gunn
Billy Gunn competed in the WWE as recently as 2013, along with his partner the Road Dogg as the New Age Outlaws. At the time of their reunion, both were working backstage in the company as agents. Gunn was fired, however, and for a rather bizarre reason. Without WWE’s knowledge, Billy Gunn would compete in power-lifting competitions but ultimately was disqualified from one after failing a PED test. Once this got back to the WWE, they opted to let the former King of the Ring winner go, perhaps because it sent a bad message to the active roster.
Since getting fired from WWE, Gunn, now 52, has made appearances on the independent scene and even gotten involved in a few Indy matches. Considering that Gunn has gotten some in-ring work in since his firing, it can only be a matter of time before we see a full blown Billy Gunn comeback – possibly with the Legends of Wrestling promotion that is hiring so many stars from his era.
6. AJ Lee
It most likely will not be with the WWE, but we will see AJ Lee return to wrestling at some point. Lee’s current status is listed as retired, but she is most likely simply waiting out the remainder of her WWE contract so that she can compete elsewhere. Following her match at WrestleMania 31, Lee announced her retirement, which was not much of a surprise considering the legal battles that the WWE and her husband CM Punk have been going through since he left the company.
AJ has a large following of fans, and is still in her athletic prime, once her WWE deal expires and she is free to wrestle elsewhere it is a certainty that we will see her do so somewhere.
Sean Waltman has had a great career in pro-wrestling, and it might not be over just yet. At 43 years of age, Waltman still has a few good years left in the tank by pro-wrestling standards, and seems to be on good terms with the WWE.
The last time we saw Waltman around the WWE product was last summer, when he was shown backstage at an NXT Takeover event. We also saw Waltman at WrestleMania 31 as part of DX in the Triple H vs. Sting match that also saw Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Hollywood Hogan make cameo appearances.
Waltman is not old enough to be considered too old just yet, but he if he wants to make a full-time WWE return the clock is ticking. In terms of having at least one more WWE match, however, that should be considered a certainty.
4. Michelle McCool
Michelle McCool, apart from being one of two members of Team Lay-Cool, is also the Undertaker’s wife. Her and Taker married in 2010, and had their first child in 2012 – one year after McCool retired from the ring.
McCool, an ex-teacher, was the first ever Divas Champion, a title belt created for the women wrestlers on the SmackDown brand in 2008. Until recently, the Divas Championship had become the only recognized title for women wrestlers on the main roster.
When McCool left the WWE it was said that her and the Undertaker wished to start a family. Perhaps when the Undertaker fully shuts the door on his in-ring career, McCool will decide to pick hers back up. The women’s division in WWE sure could benefit from the first ever Divas Champion joining the roster.
3. Trish Stratus
At 40 years old, Trish Stratus could still compete in the WWE today. A former fitness model and yoga expert, Trish has taken good care of her body and doesn’t have any major injuries that would keep her from making a comeback.
In 2011, Trish did return to the ring for one last match; however, it might not have been the comeback match she was hoping for. She was teamed up with John Morrison and reality TV star Snooki. The team of Trish, Morrison and Snooki wrestled against the team of Dolph Ziggler and Team Lay-Cool. Stratus noted after the match that she felt Morrison was not too happy that she had been in the match and not his longtime love interest Melina.
As one of, if not the most respected women’s wrestlers of all time, Trish deserves to have a final match where she doesn’t need to share the spotlight with Snooki.
Yes, we will absolutely see Goldberg participate in a pro wrestling match again, and that day probably isn’t too far off.
Goldberg’s last match was a debacle at WrestleMania 20 against Brock Lesnar, with the fans booing both competitors. It had been 11 years since Goldberg had anything to do with a pro-wrestling event until the promoters of “Legends of Wrestling” brought Goldberg in to be a figurehead character and face of the company.
There has been teases of a Goldberg vs. Scott Steiner feud in this promotion as well, with Goldberg twice spearing Big Poppa Pump. Early in 2016 Steiner became the promotion’s champion, and a match between the two seems to be building.
1. CM Punk
Phil Brooks will definitely have another pro-wrestling match. While Punk has been very outspoken that he will never return to WWE, he has never stated that he is done with pro-wrestling. In fact it seems that Punk still follows the business, although most likely not the WWE, to some degree. Since leaving the WWE and beginning to train in MMA, Punk has shared more than a few tweets with Indy darlings the Young Bucks, and even made a brief passing comment about possibly ending up in PWG with the Bucks at some point down the road.
For now, Punk is attempting to become a mixed martial artist, but age closes careers on MMA fighters quicker than it does for pro wrestlers – so expect Punk to have another high profile wrestling match at some point, even if he is in his mid-40s come that time.