The career length of a wrestling star is difficult to forecast. A combination of talent, health, and luck are most important when it comes to putting together a long career. The majority of successful wrestlers claim they will look to retire around the time they hit 40 years old. However, that will usually change thanks to the fact that wrestling is performance based as much as it is athleticism. The experience and drawing power allows wrestlers to continuing working as long as they are healthy. Most wrestling stars change their mind and keep the money coming in until they are no longer able to perform.
Various wrestlers have opted to retire early due to varying factors. Some retired out of frustration of not enjoying their time in WWE and having no desire to wrestle on the independent circuit. Others had injury risks that caused an early retirement. On the flip side of things, there are the wrestlers that hang on way too long. These stars went from being legends that everyone respected to jokes holding on to their fame. We will take a look at the history of both sides as we break down eight wrestlers that retired too early and seven that should have retired sooner.
15 Retired Too Early: Daniel Bryan
The retirement of Daniel Bryan is a touchy subject. WWE refused to clear Bryan to compete in their ring out of fear for his head injuries. Bryan suffered a few concussions that led to him eventually retiring for a very special WWE moment. The problem here is Bryan is adamant about continuing his in-ring career once his WWE contract ends in 2018. Bryan’s passion for the artistic side of wrestling could see him go back to Ring of Honor, New Japan and other promotions after leaving WWE.
Varying doctors have given conflicting reports regarding the health of Bryan. WWE’s doctors, however, will not clear him. Bryan has referenced his desire to wrestle again multiple times in interviews and even on WWE’s Talking Smack. Sadly, that will taint the incredible retirement speech he gave on Raw back in February of 2016. Bryan should have held off on making such a public decision unless he was sure about retirement.
14 Retired Too Early: Beth Phoenix
The current popularity of women’s wrestling in WWE sometimes downgrades the past era of talented female wrestlers. Yes, most of the failed models to join WWE had horrible careers, but there were a few tremendous talents. Beth Phoenix belongs at the top of that list as a genuinely great wrestler that struggled with a lack of competent competition. The talent, strength and beauty of Phoenix made her a pivotal asset for WWE.
Beth won the WWE Women’s Championship three times and the Divas Championship once before retiring in 2012. The retirement of Phoenix came when she was at the top of her game at just 31 years old. Beth is currently 36 and could likely still have great matches with the majority of women’s wrestlers on the roster today. WWE recently inducted her into the WWE Hall of Fame and she has shown no signs of wanting to return to the ring.
13 Should Have Retired Sooner: Scott Steiner
We all love the unpredictable and unapologetic antics of Scott Steiner. The legendary WCW star is known for his massive muscles and his even larger mouth when it comes to insults. Steiner stopped giving a damn towards the end of his WCW career with a new character. The on-screen badass character of Steiner made him follow suit with the same approach to real life. Steiner has issues with numerous wrestlers to this very day from Hulk Hogan to Triple H to Ric Flair.
As fun as Steiner’s insults may be, he turned into an embarrassment in the ring. Old school WCW fans can recall just how impressive his athleticism and strength was during his prime. Steiner refused to retire with a slower and awkward style during his final few years in TNA and on the independent scene. TNA recently re-signed him to appear on television. It is sad to see a former great talent ending it on such a sad note.
12 Retired Too Early: Nigel McGuinness
Underground wrestling fans know just how tremendous of a talent Nigel McGuinness was. The success of McGuinness in Ring of Honor saw him become an equal to the likes of Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens. Most experts would have predicted Nigel would achieve more success than any of the other names in WWE. The charisma and look of McGuinness made for a future superstar. WWE signed McGuinness and Bryan together in 2009, but an injury ended Nigel’s chance to join the company.
More bad luck in TNA led to him deciding to retire. McGuinness is technically healthy enough to compete, but he figured he would never get signed to WWE as a wrestler, so he hung up the boots. Funny enough, WWE did end up signing Nigel, but in the role of a commentator for NXT. If McGuinness kept wrestling, he most likely would be a huge star for NXT or already on the main roster.
11 Should Have Retired Sooner: Mick Foley
No high profile WWE star has taken more dangerous risks than Mick Foley. The risky spots in various hardcore wrestlers made him an icon, but did a lot of damage to his body too. Foley first retired from WWE back in 2001, looking to spend the rest of his life as a family man and a writer. While he did succeed in both of those goals, Foley consistently returned to the ring many times over the years.
WWE gave him a few more matches with varying results. There were times that he helped young stars get over, but other moments made us feel bad that he was wrestling at his age. Foley’s worst moment came when he signed with TNA. It started as an authority figure, but Foley ended up wrestling often. The moment of Foley winning the TNA Championship showed both he and TNA jumped the shark. Foley went a little too far and should have settled for a role outside of the ring.
10 Retired Too Early: Lance Storm
The technical wrestling skills of Lance Storm were second to none in the late 90s and early 2000s. Storm had tremendous matches in ECW as one of the rare stars getting over without using lots of weapons. WWE signed him and he was an impressive mid-carder before the company grew tired of his flaws. Storm did not have the charisma to match his athleticism. The eventual release led to Storm retiring from the ring to become a trainer, helping the young aspiring talents.
Storm officially retired back in 2005 at ECW One Night Stand against his closest wrestling friend Chris Jericho. There have been a few instances of Storm coming out of retirement to wrestle a few matches against talents he respected in Ring of Honor and other independent promotions. Storm looked great and could easily be a full-time star for ROH or NXT. Any promotion based around work rate could use Storm right now.
9 Should Have Retired Sooner: Terry Funk
Terry Funk originally planned to retire from the wrestling business in 1997. He actually retired in 2016. Funk is an absolute legend and inspired many future stars. The love for wrestling made it impossible for him to truly retire. Funk announced his retirement almost a dozen times, but always went back on it by returning. As much respect as fans have for the career of Funk, it was a tough time watching him hobbling to the ring at the age of 70.
Funk had a great retirement moment back in 1997 that seemed like it would have been the right time. There was a huge show dedicated to his career with the stars of ECW and WWE working together. Funk faced WWE Champion Bret Hart in his assumed final match. It was a great way to retire at the right, but Funk kept going and hung on way too long.
8 Should Have Retired Sooner: Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan was the first massive superstar for WWE during the 1980s. WWE wanted to expand into the mainstream and Hogan was the perfect person to become the face of the industry. Hogan had another strong run in WCW in the 90s and did some solid work for an assumed final run for WWE in the early 2000s. Things went too far when Hogan refused to hang it up. A few more WWE appearances featured him burying full-time talent and wearing out his welcome.
The worst decision of his wrestling career came when he signed with TNA. Hogan wanted to create a new war in the wrestling industry by leading TNA to challenge WWE similar to WCW in the 90s. The legend embarrassed his legacy by wrestling in a few matches in front of the small TNA crowd. Hogan struggled to walk and still looked to wrestle. Luckily, he has retired now but it would have been a better a decade earlier.
7 Retired Too Early: AJ Lee
The rise of the women’s division has led to many new stars in recent years. AJ Lee deserves credit for helping to loosen the doors for the other talented women to knock them down. A massive surge in popularity saw many fans connect with Lee as WWE pushed her as the face of the division. Lee was one of the first women in WWE history to get a strong merchandise catalog.
WWE’s controversy with Lee’s husband CM Punk is what eventually led to her very early retirement. Lee hung up her boots a few days after WrestleMania 31. The awkwardness of working for a company suing her husband had to be a tough workplace environment. Lee retiring at the age of 28 years old was way too soon. There would be so many incredible matches for Lee in WWE today with the likes of Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Alexa Bliss leading the current women’s division.
6 Should Have Retired Sooner: Jerry Lawler
Jerry Lawler is one of the oldest wrestlers that is still to retire. WWE has worked out a special deal with Lawler for many years now that allows him to wrestle outside of the company at independent shows. There would be the occasional match on Raw or PPV in WWE for Lawler until one shocking and terrifying moment. Lawler suffered a heart attack during a tag team match on Raw and almost died backstage.
The survival of a near-death incident didn’t convince Lawler to retire and he continues to perform on independent wrestling shows. Lawler was actually the final independent wrestling opponent for Kevin Owens before joining WWE. It is hard to watch Lawler, given that he is 67 years old and suffered a heart attack during a match a few years ago. There’s nothing left for The King to prove, but he still is keeping his career going way too long.
5 Retired Too Early: The Rock
The biggest WWE star to retire at a young age is The Rock, but he had a good reason. Rock left WWE in the mid-2000s to put all of his effort into his acting career. Today, he is one of the biggest stars in the entertainment industry and may actually run for President of the United States in 2020. Still, Rock had so much left to give in the ring. It would have been cool to see him wrestle top active stars occasionally.
John Cena and CM Punk had compelling programs with Rock, but there are so many other guys that could have been a part of something special with him. Rock didn’t have the greatest matches with Punk and Cena, but he still showed way more than the average wrestler coming out of retirement. We can only hope he has one more run left in him before he gets too old to perform at a high level.
4 Should Have Retired Sooner: The Undertaker
The most recent instance of a legend hanging on too long sadly played out in the main event of WrestleMania 33. It felt like The Undertaker would never lose his luster as one of the most special performers in WWE history. Undertaker defied the ageing process for many years by having outstanding matches at WrestleMania every year. This ended a few months ago during Undertaker’s final match against Roman Reigns.
Undertaker looked completely done as he struggled to execute some of his trademark moves. As the match went on, he looked significantly worse. It was a very depressing moment witnessing the iconic wrestler’s career end on such a disappointing performance. Undertaker will always be remembered for his best moments, but the final chapter being so embarrassing has to be a regrettable decision. Retirement should have come a few years ago for Undertaker to hang it up with his mystique still intact.
3 Retired Too Early: Trish Stratus
Trish Stratus is always the popular answer when asking a lot of fans who the greatest WWE women’s wrestler of all time is. WWE pushed her due to her marketable look, but Trish put the work in to become a genuinely great wrestler. Stratus achieved everything possible during her in-ring career and it allowed her to retire at a young age of 31 back in 2006. WWE would convince her to return for a handful of appearance, but she remained retired.
The desire for a normal life and starting a family convinced Trish to retire at her peak. Sadly, it created a huge gap in the women’s division. WWE didn’t trust the majority of their talent and the division suffered for many years after Stratus’ retirement. The presence of Trish could have given us many more great matches and moments. A legend retiring at such a young age is always selfishly tough for a wrestling fan to witness.
2 Should Have Retired Sooner: Ric Flair
No one did more damage to their wrestling legacy by hanging on too long as Ric Flair did. WWE gave him the fairy tale ending to a career at WrestleMania 24. Flair retired on the biggest stage in a tremendous match with Shawn Michaels in front of his family. WWE even went the extra mile the following night by having the entire roster and many of his old friends celebrate him in an emotional moment. It was the greatest retirement in wrestling history until it turned out to be for nothing.
TNA convinced Flair to sign with them and he decided to wrestle once again. Flair looked like a complete fool struggling to wrestle at his age. Almost every match of his in TNA ended with him blading himself to become a bloody mess. It is just not fun watching a 60+ year old man bleeding all over the ring in his underwear. Flair thankfully retired after his TNA tenure ended to become an ambassador for WWE.
1 Retired Too Early: CM Punk
CM Punk’s retirement will always be a sad moment for the wrestling world. The frustration of working in the political world of WWE caused Punk to walk out in dramatic fashion during his prime. Punk reached a rare legitimate top star spot in WWE, being only second to John Cena for many years. Wrestling fans absolutely adored him as one of the best talents in recent memory. Punk felt disrespected and used by WWE, which led to him feeling a disdain for the company.
A change saw him head to UFC for a career in mixed martial arts. The wrestling talent of Punk not being used just feels like a complete waste - especially since his UFC career is clearly going to be a flop. Punk retired way too early and could still be a top star today. If there is no desire to wrestle for WWE, there are a few alternatives out there. Punk could head home to Ring of Honor or just work smaller shows for fun. There is no doubting that wrestling is in his blood and such an early retirement is sad for us all.
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