Generally speaking, the younger you are, the better chance you have of succeeding in pro sports. There’s a certain level of experience that obviously makes a huge difference, but athletes typically reach their physical peak at a very young age, regardless of the sport it is they play. This is just as true for an “exhibition” sport like professional wrestling, as well, since those men and women who wrestle need to be in pretty good shape not only to look good on camera, but to bounce around the ring for as long as they do as often as they do. There have been plenty of wrestlers who completely proved this wrong and only got better as they aged, but by and large, the cut-off for a wrestler suddenly becoming a household name is usually somewhere around 35.
That being said, the starting age for true superstardom is also usually around 30. Only a select few lucky superstars have managed to become main event players while still in their 20s, or even their teens. When a wrestler becomes this famous this fast, they run the risk of quickly fading out and landing in the history books as a flash in the pan, since it’s pretty hard to keep up the level of performance that their youthful selves were able to utilize while en route to fame. Plenty of them survive the faded looks or talent and maintain long careers, but typically these careers are wrestled on the independent scene and far away from the spotlight they saw in their younger years.
As everyone knows, there have been plenty of wrestlers who died well before they even reached the young ages we’re talking about, and we’ve left them off this list out of respect. We couldn’t help but include a few people we included didn’t make it to 40, though, in order to showcase just how quickly a once-great talent can fall. Not all of these wrestlers had such dramatic professional denouements, but they all seemed destined for wrestling history only to fizzle out in their 20s. Keep reading to find out which superstars were too much too soon with our list of professional wrestlers who peaked before they hit thirty.
15. “Das Wunderkind” Alex Wright
Alex Wright was destined to wind up on a list like this one as soon as the marketing executives at WCW decided to brand him “Das Wunderkind.” Wright was born in Germany, which is where he made his debut as a wrestler when he was only 16. By coincidence, WCW happened to be doing a tour of Germany in 1994 and saw Wright compete, immediately leading to him signing a contract with Time Warner. Wright still needed a little more training, but he made his WCW debut by the time he was 19, and his gimmick was basically that he was super-young to be wrestling professionally.
Wright was very inexperienced to be thrust into the role he had, as his nickname would imply, but truth be told he wasn’t that bad of a wrestler. Wright had a few good matches against people like Eddie Guerrero and Chris Jericho, and started to make a decent name for himself in the midcard once he turned heel. Buying into his German nationality, Wright became a huge fan of European dance music, and somehow parlayed this into winning the WCW Cruiserweight, Television, and Tag Team titles on various occasions. All of these title victories came when Wright was still under 25, as that was the age Wright was when WCW went out of business, and Wright more or less disappeared from wrestling after that event took place.
14. Buff Bagwell
In all fairness, Buff Bagwell was 31 when he debuted in WWE, but even he would have to admit that his WWE career was an embarrassment not to be spoken of. Bagwell is better known for his decade wrestling in WCW, where he was a five-time WCW World Tag Team champion. Bagwell debuted wrestling under his real name of Marcus Alexander Bagwell, portraying a smiling young blue-chipper, which was quite appropriate as Bagwell was only 21 years old when he was hired. This was young enough that Bagwell rode out the happy young face gimmick for five whole years, and it was during this time he earned four of those five aforementioned tag team titles. Bagwell won the belts with a variety of partners, including The Patriot, 2 Cold Scorpio, and Scotty Riggs.
After years of championship success, Bagwell turned heel and joined the nWo in late 1996, rechristening himself as Buff and The Stuff. Bagwell wasn’t a bad heel, but at only 26-years-old, the majority of his success was already behind him. He moved up the card as the lackey to Scott Steiner, but most of this really just embarrassed Bagwell and made him seem second note, high up the card as he may have been. As soon as he turned 30, he started to go extremely downhill, teaming with Vince Russo in The New Blood and winning his last tag title with Shane Douglas.
These may seem like slight problems, but anybody who bothered watching WCW at the time knew how dire such things were, and in fact most people weren’t bothering anymore. Even those that still did probably stopped when Bagwell’s mother became a part of the deal. Bagwell was fired from WWE shortly after they bought WCW, feeling his one match for the company was bad enough to prove his fall had fallen all the way to the bottom.
13. The Tonga Kid
Sam Fatu, not to be confused with Samu or any of the other Fatu’s in wrestling, is a member of the extended Anoa’i family that has been a major part of WWE since before Vince McMahon even purchased the company from his father in the 1980s. Sam took several different monikers when he stepped foot in the ring, most notably The Tonga Kid and Tama. As The Tonga Kid, Fatu was thrust into the main event scene in WWE while still a teenager, introduced to the wrestling world as the kayfabe cousin of Jimmy Snuka. Through this relationship, Tonga became part of Snuka’s legendary feud with Roddy Piper, wrestling several matches with the WWE Hall of Famer.
The Tonga Kid started teaming with Haku when he reached his 20s, and despite teaming with another major player in the company, he was already starting to lose traction. Fans weren’t cheering him without Piper acting as his foil, so the company turned him and Haku heel and paired them with Bobby Heenan. Heenan was able to get the crowd to boo their team, known as The Islanders, and the pair were at least able to wrestle some decent matches against The Killer Bees, Strike Force and The British Bulldogs. Fatu left WWE in the late 1980s while still in his early 20s, and despite a brief attempt at teaming with his twin brother Rikishi as The New Wild Samoans in WCW, Tonga’s career never again hit the heights it did while he was a teenager.
Rhyno is one of the oldest wrestlers regularly competing in NXT, but for some reason he seems right in place with the young rookies and independent stars getting their first taste of wrestling for WWE cameras. Perhaps this is because Rhyno at one point was a rookie given a whole lot of faith by a promoter trying to make a statement, and he did the best he could when given the shot. Rhyno was the last ECW World Heavyweight champion, and he was only 25-years-old when he won the belt. Rhyno made his debut in WWE at the same age, and spent the better part of the year in high profile angles with Edge, Christian, and Kurt Angle. When Team RECK dissipated, Rhyno ended up being a pretty important part of the Invasion. Although that era is fairly lambasted, Rhyno was having pretty good matches and doing solid in his role near the top of the card, but tragedy struck as it often does in wrestling, and Rhyno’s career took a sharp turn.
In 2001, Rhyno herniated two discs in his neck and needed surgery that kept him away from wrestling for over a full year. By the time he returned to WWE, his momentum had completely been removed, and he was already a shell of the superstar he was prior to the injury. Rhyno floundered in the midcard for a little while, until he was fired by WWE when he was 29. Perhaps in a vain effort to stay off lists like this one, Rhyno won the NWA World Heavyweight title shortly after his 30th birthday, but he lost it back to Jeff Jarrett only days later, hardly validating another decade of his career. He’s doing solid work again now that he’s back in NXT, but we doubt he’ll ever get to the big show again, and he definitely won’t be winning any more World titles.
11. Rey Mysterio Jr.
There may be a little bit of controversy behind putting Rey Mysterio Jr. on this list, but hear us out. It’s true Rey’s career continues to this day as he marches into his 40s, and he’s usually in the main event wherever he chooses to wrestle, but there’s something to be said about the quality of his matches, especially considering the style he chooses to wrestle, that makes it clear he’s not what he used to be. Mysterio was at one point perhaps the most exciting wrestler in America thanks to his lightning fast exhibitions in WCW’s cruiserweight division. Especially through his matches with Eddie Guerrero, Rey put high-flying wrestling on the map, and without him wrestling really wouldn’t be the same.
Rey’s biggest successes in WCW came in his early 20s, as he was only 26 when that company went out of business. We acknowledge the fact Rey was 31 when he won the 2006 Royal Rumble and his first WWE World Heavyweight title later that year, but he was already losing enough of his capabilities in the ring that we have to mention him. Rey can still pull out a good match now and again, but to compare it with some of the stuff he did in his early 20s is like watching two different wrestlers, and it’s obvious which one more people watched.
10. Juventud Guerrera
Juventud Guerrera was one of the other cruiserweights who helped Rey Mysterio Jr. put lucha libre and high-flying wrestling on the map. Juvi held the WCW Cruiserweight title on multiple occasions, as well as the WCW World Tag Team title with Rey himself. Like Mysterio, Guerrera was only in his mid-20s while they were achieving these honors, but his downfall would be far more dramatic than that of the Ultimate Underdog. Guerrera was infamously arrested while WCW was on a tour of Australia after a drug-fueled outburst, and being found naked and incoherently screaming in a hotel lobby. The Juice was 25 at the time of his arrest.
Obviously, an incident like that can put a dent in one’s career, but in the world of professional wrestling the extent of such a dent varies on factors no other profession would consider. Namely, can he still wrestle and make money, and Juvi still could, even into his 30s, which is when WWE finally forgot about the PCP thing and offered Juvi a contract. Juvi debuted with WWE as a member of the Mexi-Cools when he was 30 years old, and already the fact that his best days were behind him was crystal clear. Juvi did win the WWE Cruiserweight title on two occasions, but the racial hideousness of his gimmick is too much of a negative to allow this era of his life any credit, and he faded away from the American wrestling scene shortly thereafter.
9. “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer
“Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer might not be an immediately familiar name with modern wrestling fans, but people who were watching the sport in the 1980s are unquestionably familiar with one of the most passionate and ferocious heels ever to come out of Florida. WWE fans also no doubt are aware of Sawyer’s influence on the wrestling business whether they know it or not, since he was one of the participants in the match that eventually inspired the Hell in a Cell. Sawyer took part in a vicious blood feud with Tommy Rich throughout the early 1980s, and it needed to end with a new type of match to ensure the wily Sawyer couldn’t escape the beating of a lifetime the virtuous Rich wanted to give him. It was known as “The Battle of Atlanta,” and Buzz was only 24-years- old when he entered that cage as the most hated man in the state.
Sawyer didn’t have much success in WWE during his brief stay there in 1984, but he was a major attraction at every other territory he stopped in throughout that decade. Still only in his 20s, Sawyer feuded with the likes of Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors, and the future Ultimate Warrior (then still a Dingo). Once he turned 30, Sawyer joined WCW and entered the main event stable the J-Tex Corporation, which could have meant his career still had places to go, but he was quickly made into a second-fiddle and left the company by the time he was 31. Sawyer died of a drug overdose the next year, confirming his success ended in with his 20s.
8. “Wildfire” Tommy Rich
Wrestling matches take at least two competitors, so Buzz Sawyer obviously didn’t wrestle The Battle of Atlanta against himself. His opponent was the equally young and bombastic superstar, “Wildfire” Tommy Rich. Rich was slightly older than Sawyer during their feud, but he himself was only 27 during their most famous encounter, and Rich’s biggest success actually came a bit earlier tan that. Two years prior to feuding with Buzz Sawyer, Tommy Rich was one of the youngest NWA World Heavyweight champions in history. Rich shocked the world by winning the belt from Harley Race in a major upset, only to lose it back a few days later, all while 25-years-old.
Tommy Rich had a long career after that, and as the Sawyer feud shows, it’s not like his downfall came immediately after his flash in the pan title success. Although seedy rumors at the time implied Rich may have performed certain favors for NWA bookers in order to get the title, the reality is Rich was simply the most popular babyface in a region in the middle of a territorial power struggle, and Rich’s fame and quick title reign were used to ensure NWA booker Jim Barnett kept his job. Tommy Rich continued wrestling after the Sawyer feud, and in fact wrestled well into the late ’90s, but he never again achieved any kind of main event attention. He showed up in WCW in his early 30s to join the York Foundation, and kept digging his own hole in wrestling by joining the FBI in ECW shortly after turning 40.
7. Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger is probably the one person on this list who still has a chance to turn things around and have a career resurgence, but consider his placement here a vote of no confidence on our part. As of this writing, Swagger is 34-years-old, and still signed with WWE. Since anything can happen in professional wrestling, it’s possible he could tap into some sort of catchphrase or new gimmick that could completely revitalize his career, but being more realistic, the “All-American American” peaked only a few short years into his wrestling career. Swagger debuted for WWE in 2008 when he was 26-years-old, and won the ECW Championship only four months into his career.
Swagger continued on a rapid upward trajectory, moving to Raw and winning the Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania 26 only days after his 28th birthday. Swagger jumped to SmackDown and won the World Heavyweight Championship the next week, reaching a height his career has yet to come close to replicating. Swagger lost the title to Rey Mysterio after three months, and immediately started to get shunted down the card. He went from World Champion to competing for the secondary United States title, and when he wasn’t fit for that role, he was moved into the xenophobic and highly controversial Real Americans gimmick. Today, Swagger has virtually no direction at all, solidifying our belief he won’t be crawling back up the card any time soon.
6. Justin Credible
Justin Credible may have fizzled out before he reached 30, but given how the wrestling world was introduced to him, he’s pretty lucky to have managed any sort of successful career at all. The man who would go on to be known as Justin Credible debuted for WWE in 1993 as a jobber named PJ Walker, when he was only 20-years-old. One year later, he re-debuted with a goofy yellow mask and called himself Aldo Montoya, The Portuguese Man O’ War. The gimmick is considered one of the worst of all time, and Montoya was a jobber for his first stint in WWE, eventually begging for his release to try his luck elsewhere. He would eventually find some of that luck when working for Paul Heyman.
The former Aldo Montoya attempted a street-wise gimmick similar to the tag team PG-13 and even worked a few angles with them on the independent scene, but switched his name to Justin Credible, a typical sneering heel, and somehow that was the key to him becoming a big success. Credible was 24 when he debuted the new moniker in ECW, and it was less than two years later he was the ECW World Heavyweight champion at 26. Credible would lose the title before turning 27, and with ECW going out of business shortly after that, he would never come anywhere near that type of height again. Credible did manage to win the WWE Hardcore title eight times, but even those victories came in his 20s, as he was fired from WWE when he was 29.
Carlito Caribbean Cool has a better chance of one day returning to WWE than most of the wrestlers on this list, but his chances are still pretty slim for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the least important of those reasons is his age, but at 37, Carlito is starting to get past the point where he could be a viable addition to the midcard on the level he was when he was a younger man. Carlito debuted for WWE in 2004 when he was 25, and he won the WWE United States Championship from John Cena in his debut match. Beating John Cena didn’t mean the same thing back then that it did today, but that’s still a huge way to debut, and it would be difficult for any career to follow that type of an entrance. Still, Carlito did pretty well for himself for a little while there, and went on to win the WWE Intercontinental title and both versions of their tag titles, as well.
Only Carlito’s final tag title win came after 30, and even that was only a few months after he reached that age. It was his second tag team championship victory with his brother Primo, who still wrestles for WWE to this day, thus furthering the belief Carlito may one day make a comeback. He lost the belt before turning 31, and left the company due to a violation of the Wellness Policy shortly after he eventually celebrated that particular birthday. Carlito continues wrestling in Puerto Rico and for independent promotions, but has only made WWE appearances in non-wrestling capacities, and it seems highly unlikely his career will ever again take off.
4. Kerry Von Erich
Kerry Von Erich is on this list as a representative of the entire Von Erich family, as he often did throughout his entire life. Kerry was the most popular and possibly the most talented of his brothers, although that’s only considering the fact his elder brother, who was argued to have greater potential, died at an age young enough to disqualify him from this list. David Von Erich was a rabidly popular wrestler when he died in 1984, and with David gone, Kerry was left to carry on the family reputation despite the fact he himself was only 24. Kerry accepted his role by wrestling some amazing matches and even won the NWA World Heavyweight title a few months later. However, pressure very quickly got to him, and Kerry simply wasn’t suited for mainstream superstardom.
Kerry continued to be a hugely popular wrestler, especially in the Southern United States, and continued competing on a World championship level throughout independent and territorial promotions until his late 20s. Kerry feuded with Jerry “The King” Lawler over the AWA World Heavyweight Championship and headlined their biggest attempt at the Pay-Per-View, SuperClash III, when he was only 28. Kerry made the jump to WWE shortly after turning 30, and though he had minor success with the company, it was nothing like the career he had been having in his home state up until that point. Kerry only lasted two years in WWE, leaving when he was 32. Tragically, he committed suicide one year later.
3. D’Lo Brown
D’Lo Brown spent six years in WWE, and although he was a pretty consistent presence throughout those six years, unless fans were paying close attention they might’ve missed the short window during which D’Lo seemed poised to be the next great superstar. D’Lo trained with Larry Sharpe and Al Snow before making his debut in the early ’90s, and he first came to the attention of wrestling fans as one of the forgotten early members of The Gangstas in Smoky Mountain Wrestling. D’Lo was scouted by WWE during this time and sent to their developmental territory for training, and eventually debuted for the company when he was 26-years-old. D’Lo started as a member of The Nation of Domination, a role he held for the better part of a year, quietly being regarded as one of the best actual wrestlers in the group.
Once the Nation had played it’s course, D’Lo had two feuds in the late ’90s that could have made him a major player if things went different for him. First, D’Lo feuded with X-Pac over the WWE European title and helped legitimize that belt as an actual prize after years of being treated by a joke by the other members of DX. Next, D’Lo feuded with Jeff Jarrett over the WWE Intercontinental title, inadvertently becoming the first man to hold both the European and Intercontinental belts in the process. D’Lo held both belts when he was only 28-years-old, and would be the only person to achieve that feat not to go on to win a world title. Only one month after losing the belts, D’Lo was involved in the incident that paralyzed fellow wrestler Droz, and his career was never the same again. He later moved on to a role behind the scenes, but his time in front of the camera peaked immediately before it exploded in horrific fashion.
2. Muhammad Hassan
Muhammad Hassan is a special case on this list, since the point here is wrestlers who peaked before 30, but Hassan has a case for peaking before he even hit 24. Hassan debuted for WWE the same age he peaked, which was 23, and that should tell you something about his unprecedented rise and equally meteoric fall. Hassan was the typical wrestling anti-American character, feeding on the xenophobia and racial unease powerful in the United States in wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. The gimmick was obviously and intensely controversial, but that was part of the point, and Hassan was able to play the role perfectly, quickly making himself a main event player in WWE.
Proving just how big of a star he already was, Hassan was poised to begin a feud with The Undertaker in the summer of 2005 when the incident that would summarily end his career took place beyond his control. Part of Hassan’s gimmick was that he was Muslim, and WWE made the very questionable move of having Hassan martyr his manager Daivari after sending hooded men in camouflage to attack The Undertaker. The incident aired the same day as the 2005 London bombings, and Hassan’s career was more-or-less over the second the segment hit the air. He only wrestled a few more matches to wrap up the angle with The Undertaker, and retired from wrestling in September of that year.
1. The 1-2-3 Kid
The Internet likes to be hard on Sean Waltman, or X-Pac as fans of WWE better know him, but that isn’t our intention with this entry. In fact, our intention with this entire list hasn’t been to mock superstars for fading out too soon, but rather to put a pin on just how great some of these superstars once were. Just like Rey Mysterio, there was a point in the 1990s when Sean Waltman, then called The 1-2-3 Kid, was one of the most exciting wrestlers North America had ever seen. High-flying wasn’t something the United States was used to with their wrestling, with only a few superstars like Jimmy Snuka utilizing one or two aerial maneuvers, and all of sudden people like The Kid were innovating lightning-quick aerial assaults that can wow audiences who subscribe to the WWE Network to this day.
The Kid didn’t exactly get worse when he first left WWE at 24-years-old to join WCW in 1996, adding up the numbers in his name to rebrand himself as Syxx. He did, however, get a little bit lazy, and obviously wasn’t trying to set the world on fire with his every move. He also started his lifelong drug problems around this time, which obviously put a damper on his work in the ring. When Waltman went back to WWE as X-Pac, his match quality was even lower, and his star was never quite as bright as it was back when he was The Kid. X-Pac achieved a few shots at the WWE World Championship, but it never seemed like he could actually make the upset the same way it did when he was The Kid.
X-Pac left WWE again shortly after turning 30, and spent the next decade wrestling on the independents while amidst a terrible downward spiral in his personal life. He briefly lived with Chyna, who herself was only a few months away from winding up on this list. Waltman seems to have cleaned up and is working with WWE in a legend’s capacity, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever step back in the ring for them. Even if he did, we doubt anybody would be chanting for him to get the 1-2-3.