Great wrestlers are athletes that have achieved success in various wrestling promotions. While wrestling promotions may book certain gimmicks or characters to achieve, it is the true intrinsic skill of the athlete that stands out. Their merit in the ring isn’t necessarily measured in wins and losses, but rather recognition by their peers, fans and promoters. For wrestlers, it is not the championships they’ve won that captures the attention of the audience. A wrestler’s greatness is defined by the connection they make with the fan and how that connection grows into an appreciation and respect for what the fan has just seen.
For the athletes on this list, their success is remarkable considering their age. The cliché term that age is just a number proves to be true when considering that a number of wrestlers have achieved greatness over the age of 30. During their twenties most wrestlers are still trying to find who they are and what they will become. It is in their thirties and beyond where wrestlers hone their craft and become great. This greatness is achieved by competing all over the world, in various promotions. They have overcome early failures to excel later in their careers. When some wrestlers tend to slow down, these select few only seem to get better with age. What special youth serum do they drink? Whatever it is, it unquestionably has made them better, despite their age. These athletes have gone from being considered good to becoming great.
20. Stardust (30)
Wrestling can be a hard business, especially if your older brother and father were successful before you. At 30 years of age however, Cody Garrett Runnels has worked to build a legacy all his own. Unlike a number of other wrestlers who have traveled the world, Cody’s development and growth has all been as a part of the WWE and its farm system.
After an amateur wrestling career that resulted in becoming a two-time Georgia State Champion, he followed his father and older brother’s footsteps into the professional ranks, joining WWE. He began training as part of Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) and achieved success almost immediately. While he was with OVW he captured their Heavyweight, Television, and Southern Tag team championships. He was only the fourth ever triple-crown champion in OVW history. Within a year, he was a part of the main roster, teaming alongside WWE Alumni Hardcore Holly.
It’s remarkable how much charisma and character he has, and he may not even be in his prime. He is a two-time Intercontinental champion, and a six-time Tag team champion: three-time World and three-time WWE, prior to the titles being unified. He has undergone character changes and continues to develop both in the ring and on the mic, and through it all his development has been remarkable.
19. Cowboy James Storm (38)
Storm has worked continuously for TNA since the promotion’s first broadcast in June of 2002. While Storm has garnered singles success, the majority of Storms’ success has been as a tag team competitor. Storm has held 13 tag team championships during his time with TNA, winning the NWA World Tag Team Championship seven times alongside “Wildcat” Chris Harris as part of America’s Most Wanted, and the TNA World Tag Team Championship six times alongside Robert Roode as part of Beer Money Inc. A veteran of the ring for 18 years, Storm continues to maintain relevance as both a singles and tag team competitor.
18. Kevin Owens (31)
While considered a prospect in WWE, Owens’ recognition in the ring and his achievements reveal that he is far from being a prospect. He is best known for his work in Ring of Honor, where he is a former ROH World Champion and ROH World Tag Team Champion. He has also wrestled for various promotions on the independent circuit, most notably Pro Wrestling Guerrilla where he is a former three-time holder of both the PWG World Championship and PWG World Tag Team Championship. Owens has wrestled professionally for over a decade. Owens will be 31 this May and had been on a collision course to face Sami Zayn in the WWE’s developmental NXT program. He is the current WWE Intercontinental champion and is among the top heels in the promotion since transitioning from NXT to the main WWE roster.
17. Eric Young (35)
It’s hard to believe, but Young has been wrestling professionally since 1998, an astounding 17 years. He is criminally underrated both in the ring and on the microphone. Young’s ability to reinvent himself has shown his versatility as a performer. Early in Young’s career he was a member of Team Canada. Young has played the fool and captured fans hearts. He later feuded with prominent athletes in the company such as Robert Roode and James Storm. He is a former TNA World Heavyweight Champion, X Division Champion, two-time Legends Champion and a three-time World Tag Team Champion. He also has the distinction of being the only male to co-hold the TNA Knockouts Tag Team Championship.
16. David Hart Smith (30)
This third generation wrestler is no longer the performer fans knew during his time in the WWE. His growth and progression over the past four years since departing the WWE has really stood out. The grandson of the late Stu Hart and son of the late Davey Boy Smith is competing for Pro Wrestling Noah in Japan, as well as Global Force Wrestling and, on occasion, Ring of Honor in the United States. As one half of the Killer Elite Squad alongside Lance Archer, the team is the GHC World Tag Team Champions in the Pro Wrestling Noah promotion and NWA World Tag Team Champions in the United States, a title the tandem have held twice.
Smith and Archer are also former IWGP Tag Team Champions, having held that title twice. Given his deep wrestling roots, Smith has always carried a lot of expectations. His continued development whole wrestling around the world has allowed him to meet them.
For Smith time away from the WWE product allowed him to grow and develop, adding a greater depth to his repertoire of moves, things that may not have been compatible with the WWE style. While in WWE, Smith held the Unified Tag Team Championship with Tyson Kidd. Smith, Kidd, and Smith’s cousin Natalya composed the Hart Dynasty because of their connections to the Hart family.
15. Cesaro (34)
Cesaro has traveled the world, achieving success in Japan and North America. His achievements include several individual and tag team titles in such promotions as Pro Wrestling NOAH, CZW, ROH, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and the WWE. Cesaro is quite popular among the internets wrestling community and earns the admiration and respect of his peers as well. At 34 years old, Cesaro has a refined skill set that has earned him notoriety. Whether he is using the giant swing or striking his opponents with multiple European uppercuts, Cesaro appears to be getting better with age.
14. Christopher Daniels (45)
Daniels is the second oldest selection on this list at the age of 45 years of age. He spent the bulk of his career in Total Nonstop Action (TNA) and also has worked in Japan and the American independent circuit. He has won 16 total championships between TNA, ROH, and NJPW, including being a 10-time World Tag Team Champion, with six reigns as NWA World Tag Team Champion and two reigns as TNA World Tag Team Champion, and two reigns as ROH World Tag Team Champion. His ability to put on high quality matches still takes place today. He currently works alongside good friend, Frankie Kazarian as one half of The Addiction.
13. Frankie Kazarian (38)
At 38 years of age, Kazarian is a well-seasoned veteran of the ring. His accomplishments throughout his career are quite extensive. In independent wrestling, he has won the BTW tag team championship, CWC Heavyweight and tag team championship, ECWA Tag Team championship, EWF Heavyweight and tag team championship, IWC United States championship, JAPW Light Heavyweight and New Jersey State championship, MPW Heavyweight championship, PCW Television and tag team championship, and PWG championship. During his time in TNA, Kazarian captured the TNA X Division championship five times, and the World Tag Team Championship twice alongside Christopher Daniels. Currently, he continues to reach new heights in Ring of Honor as part of The Addiction with Christopher Daniels.
12. Dolph Ziggler (35)
At the age of 35, Ziggler has achieved a great deal in the WWE. His accomplishments include; two-time FCW Florida Tag Team Championship, two-time World Heavyweight Champion, World Tag Team Championship, four-time Intercontinental Championship, and United States Championship. He has had feuds with such athletes as John Cena, Alberto Del Rio, Big E and Rey Mysterio. Ziggler is a key character in WWE programming. His matches, ability to sell moves and overall work rate all contribute to his overall appeal with fans. Thirty-five is the new twenty-five for Ziggler.
11. Low Ki (36)
In TNA, he was the X Division Champion which was his fourth reign holding the title. In addition, he is a one-time PWG World Champion, the inaugural ROH Champion and a three-time NWA World Tag Team Champion. He has won a number of tournaments and other championships on the independent circuit. Ki has also worked extensively in Japan, in particular New Japan Pro Wrestling where he was a three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and Pro Wrestling Zero-One where he was a one-time NWA/UPW/Zero-One International Junior Heavyweight and NWA International Lightweight Tag Team Champion. Ki was also a part of the WWE’s FCW developmental promotion until it was transitioned into NXT. He later was moved to the WWE’s main roster for a short time as well under the moniker Kaval. At 36 years of age, Ki is just as effective in the ring as he was when he was 25.
10. Tommaso Ciampa (30)
The “Sicilian Psychopath” is already a fifteen-year pro at just over 30 years of age. The Boston native was trained by greats such as Harley Race and Killer Kowalski, despite being billed from Palermo, Sicily in Italy,
With an appearance that resembles that of a Steve Austin for the new millennium, Ciampa is just as reckless in the ring as he is on the microphone. Ciampa is an active competitor with ROH, while working the continent competing for several independent promotions. Of these promotions, Ciampa can be seen regularly as part of PWG, BW and BCW.
During his time in ROH, Ciampa has captured the ROH World Television championship. He has also captured the Chaotic Wrestling’s Heavyweight and New England championships. His fire and intensity had made him a major drawing card for fans, and provided for some fiery moments during his time in ROH. Whether working as a heel or a face, he consistently portrays a character that will seek retribution and justice no matter the cost. He is currently embroiled in a storyline that does not allow him to put his hands on any official or he will be fired, and yet at the most recent ROH PPV he jeopardized that to save the very man that put that stipulation on him. The Sicilian Psychopath has future heavyweight champion written all over him.
9. Drew Galloway (30)
Once dubbed “The Chosen One”, Galloway’s skill hasn’t diminished in the slightest. He is a fourteen-year pro that has traveled the world over. During stints in ICW and Evolve, Galloway captured the ICW World Heavyweight and Evolve World Champions in their respective promotions. Galloway earned his stripes in the United Kingdom, where he achieved a great deal of success. His accomplishments include; being a two-time BCW Heavyweight Champion and the Danish Pro Wrestling DPW Heavyweight Champion. But it wasn’t until Galloway was signed by the WWE and competed for that promotion that North American fans became familiar with him.
During his time with the WWE developmental promotion FCW, Galloway captured their Heavyweight and Tag Team championships. On the WWE main roster, he captured the WWE Intercontinental and WWE Tag Team championships. He has recently joined TNA, and looks to flourish there as an aide to Grado in challenging the forces of the Beat Down Clan. Galloway is once again in a position to achieve.
8. Dean Ambrose (30)
At the age of 30, Jonathan Good has achieved quite a bit in his time in the ring. He competes in WWE under the ring name Dean Ambrose, and his appeal to fans has been well documented. During his time with the company, he has captured the WWE United States Championship. That particular title reign was the longest in the company’s history, at 351 days.
However, this isn’t where he first gained popularity. While on the independent circuit, he competed under the name Jon Moxley from 2004-2011. He has worked in Full Impact Pro (FIP), Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) and Dragon Gate USA. His travels have seen him capture the FIP World Heavyweight Championship and the CZW World Heavyweight Championship.
During his time on the independent circuit, Moxley developed his ability to promo and tell a story in the ring. He developed a stable known as The Crew which includes current WWE NXT wrestler Solomon Crowe (who competed under the name Sami Calilihan). Despite being now in his thirties, Ambrose has a great deal of experience, and is in the midst of a push for the Intercontinental championship.
7. Shinsuke Nakamura (35)
If you are unfamiliar with Nakamura, the word superstar is appropriately used to describe the Japanese wrestler. Nakamura’s popularity is mainly attributed to his work in the New Japan Pro Wrestling promotion. He is a former three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, four-time IWGP Intercontinental champion, one-time IWGP Tag Team Champion and winner of several tournaments. He first joined NJPW in 2002, and earned acclaim as the ‘Super Rookie’, standing out with a unique combination of moves within the ring. Nakamura’s stellar work hasn’t just taken place in the wrestling ring; he has also had success in Mixed Martial Arts.
One of the notable moments in Nakamura’s career was his challenge to former WWE World Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar for the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Over the span of three years, Nakamura competed in Mexico, Brazil and Russia. When he returned he joined the faction called Black, which was led by the legendary Masahiro Chono. The intent was to establish a new regime in NJPW, with Nakamura taking on the role as second in command. Nakamura eventually led the group after returning from injury. Upon his return, the faction was now known as RISE and included several notable wrestlers including Low Ki and Prince Devitt (now known as Finn Balor in the WWE).
Nakamura has played the role of beloved face and revered heel, and continues to reinvent himself. Key to his success has been his love for, and use of, Japanese strong style, and he has continued to add depth to his moveset throughout his career. Upon each return to the ring, Nakamura uses various finishing moves that continue to lead him to further success. The 13-year veteran continues to thrive in NJPW, and is definitely someone fans unfamiliar with his work need to make every effort to see. They will not be disappointed.
6. Samoa Joe (36)
Before debuting in TNA in June 2005, Joe competed in Ring of Honor where he held the ROH World Championship for a record 21 months. Upon joining TNA, Joe embarked upon an 18-month-long undefeated streak, in which he never lost a match by pinfall or submission. Throughout his career, Joe has won numerous championships, including a dozen between ROH, TNA, and in Japan. He’s held the ROH World Championship and the ROH Pure Championship once each, the TNA World Heavyweight Championship once, five X Division Championships, two TNA World Tag Team Championships, one TNA Television Championship, and in the Japanese promotion Pro Wrestling NOAH, he’s a former GHC Tag Team Champion.
5. AJ Styles (38)
The Phenomenal One is arguably the best wrestler not in the WWE. The 38-year-old Styles has won countless titles both in North America and Japan. While in TNA, Styles held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship three times, TNA World Heavyweight Championship twice, and the TNA X Division Championship six times. He is also a decorated tag team wrestler have been a World Tag Team Champion on seven occasions, six occasions with NWA and TNA and one time with ROH. Styles is currently part of the most imposing faction in North America and Japan, The Bullet Club. Styles is as relevant and successful today as he was 12 years ago when he captured the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
4. Jay Lethal (30)
At 30 years of age, it feels like Lethal has been successful forever. He is currently with ROH, where he is in his second reign as the ROH World Television Champion. However, Lethal rose to prominence during his time with Total Nonstop Wrestling (TNA), where he captured the X-division championship an astounding six times. It was also during his time with TNA where he captured the World Tag Team championship.
His success, however also dates before his time in TNA. For the better part of eight years, Lethal competed in Jersey All Pro Wrestling (JAPW) and captured the company’s Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight, Tag Team and Television championships. He was trained by former ECW alumni Mikey Whipwreck, and debuted professionally fourteen years ago. It’s remarkable the amount of high profile success as Lethal has seen in his career. Having already competed for some time on a national platform with TNA and ROH, fans could almost take for granted what he is capable of doing in the ring. As the current reigning ROH World champion, Lethal has defended against all challengers and has proven that, with or without the aid of manager Truth Martini, he is a success. He also held the ROH Television championship for an astounding eighteen months.
3. Finn Balor (34)
Another prominent 30-plus-year-old would be this former leader of the Bullet Club. He is best known for working for New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he is a former three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and six-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team champion. He is also a two-time winner of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, having won in 2010 and 2013. The former Prince Devitt joined the WWE’s NXT program in the fall of 2014. At 33 years of age he has captured the attention of a North American audience in the ring and through his entrances. He is currently the NXT champion and his in-ring ability coupled with natural charisma appear to shine through as he continues to hone his craft.
2. Brock Lesnar (38)
It’s remarkable what Brock has been able to achieve considering the five-year span where he didn’t wrestle professionally. He was assigned to the WWE’s developmental promotion Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) in 2001, where he was a three-time OVW Southern Tag Team Champion. He won the WWE Championship on three separate occasions. In 2002, Lesnar won his first WWE Championship at the age of 25, making him the youngest WWE Champion ever at that point. After leaving the WWE in 2004, Lesnar won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). In 2008 at the age of 31, Lesnar defeated Randy Couture for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. At the age of 37, Lesnar once again reigned supreme defending, undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Despite losing the title and competing on a part-time basis he was part of three of the most memorable matches in 2015. These being the WWE World Heavyweight championship and both matches against The Undertaker.
1. Kurt Angle (46)
The oldest competitor on this list, considering his accomplishments both past and present and what he can do at the age of 46, Kurt Angle is unquestionably the greatest. While others may argue John Cena or The Undertaker could have and should have been at the top of this list, Kurt Angle has consistently not only competed at the highest level, but made others around him look as impressive as he is. For the majority of his career, he has competed for either the WWE or TNA, with whom he works for now, predominantly.
Just look at the list of professional accomplishments that he has achieved: in the WWE he captured the European Championship and Intercontinental championship; he was a six-time World champion, when counting runs as the WCW champion, the WWE champion and the World Champion (when the titles were divided.) He captured the United States Championship, and was one half of the WWE tag team champions. He is one of just ten Triple Crown champions in the company, and the fifth ever grand slam champion, capturing the Intercontinental, WWE title, European title and the WWE tag team title.
While in TNA he has been a six-time TNA world heavyweight champion, two-time TNA world tag team champion and even captured the TNA X-Division championship. Remarkably, he even captured the IWGP Heavyweight championship with New Japan Pro Wrestling, while being a part of TNA. He has captured a remarkable twenty-one championships throughout his professional career. While he may take a sabbatical from time to time, Angle’s career will end when he says it ends. It’s real, it’s damn real.