WWE probably boasts the most diverse generational roster now than it has ever had. There are fresh talents migrating over from NXT like Paige and Neville, young wrestlers with a lot of years ahead like Dolph Ziggler, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Dean Ambrose, and Rusev, and then there’s the old guard.
These elder Superstars may have suffered through WWE’s gimmick-heavy days in the early 1990s, or they may have been responsible for making the brand the global sports entertainment kingdom that it is by ushering in the Attitude Era later in the decade. At the time, a professional wrestler like that was the cream of the company’s crop, rising to the top of the talent hierarchy, dominating main event slots, and even winning significant championship gold.
However, times change. The Attitude Era ended, and many of these Superstars stuck with WWE, especially once competition like ECW and WCW was shut down for good. Today, you can find a number of wrestlers on the roster that have had nearly 20 year long careers with WWE alone. While this is an achievement worth celebrating, it may also be time for some of these stars to consider stepping aside.
After all, NXT has become a hotbed for the best new talent. Wrestlers from all over the world have joined the developmental promotion and are starving to get a spot on the main roster. There’s not enough room for everyone though. Until these old veterans hang up their hats, they’ll continue to rule the roost.
Before 2015 is over, Christian (real name Jay Reso) will only have turned 42, making him among the youngest on this list. However, he’s also been with WWE since 1999 – a total of 16 impressive yet frustrating years.
Always known as Christian, when he debuted it was with a group called The Brood. This gothic trio consisted of vampiric leader Gangrel (real name David Heath) and Edge (real name Adam Copeland). While Gangrel faded into obscurity, fans remember Edge as a 31-time champion.
After The Brood split up, Edge and Christian stayed together (and are best friends off-camera to this day). Their tag team antics are the stuff of legend, but there was one problem for Christian: He never quite managed to get out of Edge’s shadow. Even when the team naturally went their separate ways and Christian tried to reinvent himself, he always failed to really resonate with audiences.
In 2005, he made the deadly mistake of working for competitor TNA. While Christian was eventually welcomed back to the WWE fold, it wasn’t exactly with open arms. You kind of had a feeling that his brief World Heavyweight Championship reign in 2011 was only because Edge was retiring early.
While WWE has made numerous statements that Christian has retired as of early 2015, he insisted that he hasn’t, and he’s still listed on WWE’s official roster.
The Undertaker’s servant? A beer-drinking brawler? A money-making business leader? A commentator? Check, check, check, aaand check. Since first joining WWE way back in 1995, John Bradshaw Layfield or JBL has worn all these hats and more.
The near-50-year-old got his career rolling in The New Blackjacks with Barry Windham. As WWE became edgier, so too did Layfield, who paired up with Faarooq (real name Ron Simmons) to become The Acolytes as a part of The Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness. After that storyline folded, Layfield and Faarooq naturally became The Acolyte Protection Agency or APA, two fighters who would play cards backstage and protect Superstars and Divas for a fee.
Layfield had the most success as a solo wrestler, however, in 2004, when he presented himself as a rich Texan stock market investor – which is true in the real world. Wrestling as JBL, he captured the WWE Championship. He also has the distinction of being a Grand Slam Champion and the Triple Crown Champion.
These days, JBL does commentary, but his snarky breed of dated references and verbal attacks on Michael Cole are wearing thin. The commentary team could use a reboot. Perhaps JBL could move further behind the scenes?
8. Mark Henry
Mark Henry’s tagline of The World’s Strongest Man is still as impressive today as it was when he debuted in WWE in 1998. As a Pan American Games winner, a champion in the American Open, an Olympic medalist in weightlifting, and a U.S. National Weightlifting Champion, Henry has a ton of accolades to his name.
Playing “Sexual Chocolate” during the dawn of the Attitude Era, Henry was a lady’s man who had a sex addiction and impregnated elderly Diva Mae Young (who later gave birth to a hand).
His character was amusing only because Henry tore it up in the ring, using his strength and brawn to defeat his opponents. However, during the course of his nearly 20 years in the business, he would become only a European Champion and reign as the ECW Champion. He collected Slammy Award after Slammy Award for his raw abilities, but the World Heavyweight Championship always alluded the very decorated Henry.
In 2011, Henry revealed himself as the monster he was, claiming that he would send the WWE roster into his Hall of Pain. As a dominating heel, Henry finally realized his dream and became the World Heavyweight Champion. However, he didn’t hold on to it for long, only holding it from September until December 2011 when he lost it to Big Show.
Ever since then, it was like the wind was taken out of Henry’s sails. While he went toe-to-toe with Ryback in battles of strength, Henry’s most riveting moment post-championship was his fake retirement speech. When it happened though, it seemed perfectly suitable for Henry to really hang up the boots. He’s had a long and fulfilling career that doesn’t need to be bogged down further by feuding with or befriending Big Show.
7. Jerry Lawler
Jerry “The King” Lawler, along with Jim Ross, was one of the biggest and most significant voices of the Attitude Era of the late 1990s. Before then, Lawler had a long and rewarding career back when a professional wrestler could join promotions all over the world.
With his 168 total titles across various territories (excluding WWE), when he debuted in WWE in 1992, he enjoyed a long, off-and-on career in the ring until 2001. After seeing if the grass was greener on the other side as an independent wrestler, Lawler returned to WWE that same year.
Newer fans will best remember “The King” as a color commentator, always disagreeing with JR and being creepily obsessed with the Divas. He sired a son, Brian Christopher Lawler, who wrestled in the Attitude Era stable Too Cool as Grand Master Sexay. For his contributions to the company, the elder Lawler received a spot in the esteemed WWE Hall of Fame in 2007.
Usually, when a wrestler is inducted into the Hall of Fame, they retire from television entirely. That wasn’t the case with Lawler though. He didn’t even stop getting into the ring, dusting off his boots in 2011 and 2012. Wrestling after turning 60 years old could have been what contributed to his heart attack in September 2012, which occurred right in the middle of a live episode of Raw.
While the heart attack could have been fatal, Lawler survived. He took time off to recover, and he never had to return. Now relegated to the SmackDown commentary team, he, much like JBL, just seems too dated to continue for much longer.
The Bizarre One. In those three words alone, you get a pretty good sense of Goldust’s persona. As the son of wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes (real name Virgil Runnels), who had never been Vince McMahon’s favorite performer, Goldust already had a tough road ahead of him.
Despite his last name, Goldust (real name Dustin Runnels) would have a lengthy career in WWE, one that has spanned nearly 30 years off and on (he did venture over to WCW a few times, but he always came back). During his inaugural appearance in WWE, he wrestled without the face paint and gold bodysuit that would later define him. That change occurred after he returned from his first WCW stint in 1995.
Goldust, now 46, pushed the envelope as far as it would go during the mid-to-late 1990s. He came out to the ring in a ball gag wearing bondage gear, was overtly sexual, and often displayed homoerotic tendencies. Even when his character was cemented as a movie obsessive, it took years for these fun facets of his character to die down.
For all of his time spent serving WWE, Goldust never achieved a higher rank than Intercontinental Champion. He had thrilling tag team partners in Booker T and his real life half-brother Cody Rhodes, who recently transformed into the Goldust-like, cosmic Stardust. However, after their dissolution (and no blow-off match to boot) in 2015, Goldust really has nothing more to do.
5. Big Show
Few viewers can ever forget when Big Show debuted in WWE in late 1999 by tearing through the ring mat during a heated cage battle between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon at that year’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: In Your House. His long flowing mane, gargantuan stature, and surprising agility immediately made him a force to be reckoned with, especially when he aligned with McMahon.
Before beginning his successful WWE career, Show (real name Paul Wight) had been a WCW personality known appropriately as The Giant. During his run with the company, he’d become a two-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion. However, it would take Show quite a while to see the same kind of gold in WWE. In fact, it wouldn’t happen until 2011, more than 12 years into Show’s career.
For as many triumphant moments that the 43-year-old has enjoyed, he’s also had many career lows. A lot of the time, WWE didn’t quite seem sure what to do with him, so he’s had dead-end unions and feuds with big guys like Kane and Mark Henry. He also went through a phase where he cried a lot on live TV.
With a ton of gold and even a laundry list of acting credits attributed to him, Big Show has made one huge impact in WWE that won’t soon be forgotten. However, it’s probably best that he step away from the spotlight before he has another random heel/face turn.
You may know Kane by a lot of names, including The Big Red Monster, The Devil’s Favorite Demon, and The Big Red Machine. His evil, organ-heavy drone of a theme song has been with him since the beginning of his incarnation as The Undertaker’s evil half-brother who had come back from the dead. Legend has it that The Undertaker had started a funeral home fire, murdering his parents and severely burning Kane (real name Glenn Jacobs) in the process.
Long before he donned his red mask though, Kane wrestled for a short time in WWE in 1995 as Isaac Yankem, DDS in the days when the company thought that every occupation was a gimmick. In 1996, he played a fake Diesel (Kevin Nash’s then-character) before becoming The Undertaker’s blood relative the next year.
Kane’s association and later feud with Taker skyrocketed him to the top of WWE. Although there were some mishaps along the way (the endless feud with X-Pac in the late 1990s, his undamaged face after inevitably unmasking, and…Katie Vick), The Big Red Machine was a Tag Team Champion with Daniel Bryan and Big Show, an ECW Champion, a two-time Intercontinental Champion, a former Hardcore Champion, a former World Heavyweight Champion, and a former WWE Champion. He also has the distinction of having eliminated the most men in Royal Rumble history at a total of 40.
In recent years though, something strange has happened to Kane. Although he hasn’t changed his name, he’s become a bald corporate crony. Instead of wrestling in black and red gear, he battles in trousers and business shoes. This reflection of the true Glenn Jacobs just doesn’t feel right. It’s not the same Kane anymore, and it’s not a reinvention that anyone has embraced.
3. Triple H
As the Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events & Creative, Triple H (real name Paul Levesque) will be an integral part of WWE programming for years to come. He’s spearheaded NXT and is responsible for the wonderful and regular quality content from that hourly program. He’s also known as one of the most popular and prestigious wrestlers in the history of the sport.
The Game, The King of Kings; whatever you want to call him, Triple H’s career almost didn’t happen. After being trained by Killer Kowalski, he started in WWE in 1995 after getting a taste of WCW and deciding it wasn’t for him. His character was that of a British snob called Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Despite his limitations, he befriended Shawn Michaels (real name Michael Shawn Hickenbottom), Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash, the group later known as The Kliq.
Once Hall and Nash jumped to WCW, Trips and The Heartbreak Kid broke kayfabe to say goodbye. As a result, Triple H was punished for years (or buried, as he may say). Miraculously, he escaped his fate, transformed into a capable performer without a British accent, ascended to the top of the company, and managed to marry Stephanie McMahon (on WWE programming and in real life) in the process. Not bad for a guy who had no future in the middle of the 1990s.
Triple H, soon to be 46, has realized that his time as an in-ring performer is mostly done. While he does step into the squared circle when necessary, he mostly plays a villain in The Authority. However, even this can be draining. Triple H and Stephanie have had too much of a monopoly on WWE programming for too long. It’d be best for business if Trips just focused on NXT.
2. The Undertaker
Every year, fans would gather around the TV (or tablet or laptop) to watch The Undertaker defend his illustrious streak at WrestleMania. Starting organically, that streak came to benchmark Taker’s entire career. Everything changed in 2013 at WrestleMania XXX though when Brock Lesnar broke the streak at 21-1.
As a 50-year-old, The Undertaker (real name Mark Calloway) has been in the wrestling business for decades. Before he came to WWE, he appeared in World Class Championship Wrestling or WCCW in 1984 as a green performer. By the time that Vince McMahon hired him in 1990, he stepped right into The Undertaker character, although then he was called Kane the Undertaker for a short time. Over the years, The Undertaker would transform his looks while still remaining true to The Deadman character. His first incarnation was the dark and spooky undead, and then he moved on to lead The Ministry of Darkness. After an injury, he returned as a natural redhead riding a motorcycle down to the ring as Limp Bizkit blared in stadiums across the country. He then came full-circle to The Deadman character again, although less gimmick-heavy.
With his Tombstone Piledriver, Chokeslam, and Hell’s Gate, it’s no wonder at all that The Undertaker is a six-time Tag Team Champion (with Kane, Big Show, The Rock, and Stone Cold Steve Austin), a four-time WWE Champion, and a three-time World Heavyweight Champion. He’s won countless Slammy Awards and received lots of recognition. However, as mentioned, it’s the streak that counted the most, especially as Taker began slowing down.
As the years passed, The Undertaker would only resurface in WWE in time for WrestleMania to choose his next victim. Surprisingly, even after Lesnar ended the streak, Taker fought at this year’s WrestleMania 31 against Bray Wyatt. When The Lord of Darkness won though, it felt like it was all for naught. No one can deny that The Undertaker looks and moves older than his 50 years. It may be time to finally let his career rest in peace.
1. Vince McMahon
Of course, none of the wrestling personalities that you enjoy on a regular basis on Raw, SmackDown, and monthly live events would be possible without one Vincent Kennedy McMahon. With pro wrestling in his family’s lineage and his blood, Vince grew up watching his father buy up wrestling territories to try to create a global empire. Although never trained as a wrestler himself, Mr. McMahon would achieve his father’s dreams with WWE and even step into the ring a good number of times over the years.
Thanks to McMahon’s passion and business savvy, WWE built huge stars out of Bruno Sammartino, Roddy “Rowdy” Piper, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Hulk Hogan, and countless others. However, by the 1990s, Vince realized that his silly gimmicks weren’t working well, especially when Ted Turner introduced WCW, which often got better ratings.
Ushering in the Attitude Era, McMahon became an on-screen persona that many liken to the devil incarnate. Vilified after the 1997 Montreal Screwjob between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, McMahon embraced his new character. While he would lead The Corporation (a late ’90s version of The Authority), win the 1999 Royal Rumble, and briefly hold the WWE Championship, he’s most remembered for his feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, who attacked McMahon in the hospital, shot an empty gun at him, filled McMahon’s luxury car with cement, and doused the WWE boss with beer from a giant truck.
Vince McMahon will turn 70 this August. Many men and women his age are retired or heading in that direction. He already has son-in-law Triple H who’s more than ready to take over the helm. Trips has proven that he can lead NXT and give fans what they really want. Vince, oppositely, often seems out of touch. The WWE Universe as a whole would be happier if Vince relinquished control over his brand, as unlikely an event as that seems.
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