“One more match!”
It’s a chant oft heard when a veteran is hanging up their boots. The fans simply can’t bear to believe it’s the last time. Usually, it isn’t. Pro wrestling finds a way, usually via hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, to convince it’s icons away from the golf course. But there have been plenty of WWE legends that have overstayed their welcome.
You can be a multiple-time world champion. Be in the Hall of Fame god knows how many times. You can have countless five-star classics under your belt. If you’re still running the ropes when you are well, well past your use-by-date, the cheers will inevitably turn to polite claps or, more likely, flat-out groans.
Of course, some WWE legends are not simply sticking around to protect ‘their spot’ or hold anyone down. They simply love the business too much. Or fear the unknown of retirement and not spending their days on the road ‘making towns’. But that still doesn’t mean the crowds wish to see their ex-favourites struggle to play the hits.
So here are five WWE legends who fans wanted to retire much earlier than they did.
1. Hulk Hogan
Let’s face it, there’s an infamous tape out there which provides plenty of reasons as to why a lot of people don’t want to see Hulk Hogan on WWE television any more. His appearance during WrestleMania 37 last year was met with very, very audible boos from the live crowd. The decision to bring him out of exile was not a popular one with large swathes of the WWE Universe. But long before his 2015-2018 disappearance, fans had lost interest in the Hulkster’s in-ring exploits.
In 2005, a heated programme with Shawn Michaels was certainly well received. Although perhaps most memorable for HBK’s overzealous bumping in their SummerSlam main event. Michaels’ actions were reportedly a response to discovering Hogan had no intention of working a proposed rematch where the Showstopper would go over. A 2006 feud with Randy Orton, however, has largely been forgotten about. And for good reason. An almost immobile Hogan, in his early 50’s, comfortably put away ‘Legend Killer’ Orton in the third bout on the SummerSlam card that year. That electric WrestleMania comeback match against The Rock in 2002 felt like a distant memory. A young talent sacrificed (albeit temporarily in Orton’s case) for a victory Hogan had absolutely no need for. Fortunately it would be his last bout in a WWE ring. One that came years too late, however.
Technically, The Big Red Machine hasn’t made an official announcement regarding retirement. But his Mayoral duties in Knoxville, Tennessee have kept him away from the squared circle almost permanently for the last few years. And even before then, he was working a part time schedule for WWE. Which was just as well, really. A tag team appearance alongside The Undertaker against DX in Saudi Arabia in November, 2018 was disastrous, even by the admission of the four WWE legends who participated in it.
A year earlier, a squash victory over Finn Balor was similarly poorly received and while a brief Team Hell No reunion with Daniel Bryan popped crowds, there was a unanimous consensus that no one needed to see Glenn Jacobs taking up any more of Daniel Bryan’s precious in-ring time. Where once his dramatic fire and brimstone returns would have elicited huge reactions, the ovations were fizzling out before the ring post pyro did. Oh, and given Jacobs’ very public pro-gun stance, in the wake of the horrific Uvalde school shooting, not to mention his anti-abortion tweets, there is even less reason for anyone to pay to see him perform ever again.
3. Kurt Angle
Now, no one would disagree that it has been wonderful to witness Kurt Angle back on WWE television over the last five years. The Olympic Gold medalist’s 2017 Hall of Fame return was a genuinely special moment. His General Manager role on Raw was also very well handled. Jason Jordan being revealed as his estranged son? Maybe the less said the better. Fans were genuinely excited to see Angle don the singlet a few more times. Especially given the dream matches that were available for him in modern WWE.
However, the Angle that left WWE in 2006 and the one that returned 11 years later were two very different Olympic heroes. Everyone’s favourite milk enthusiast was already in pretty poor shape during his initial WWE run, given his various neck traumas. And after a further decade of churning out bangers in TNA/Impact and the indies, Angle’s mobility had been tragically reduced to almost zero.
In the great man’s defence, he still put his heart and soul into every match (including THAT unforgettable mixed tag alongside Ronda Rousey against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon at WrestleMania 34) while receiving passionate responses from the crowds. But by the time he laid down for Baron Corbin in his final match, at WrestleMania 35, everyone seemed more than ready for that to be the end. Even if Corbin, with all due respect to him, was nowhere near anyone’s top 20 final opponent choices for a WWE legend of Angle’s stature. One more match would no doubt be well-received, but at this point, also not something many WWE fans, out of concern for Angle’s health, would be clamouring for.
4. Ric Flair
Tricky one, this. Flair’s WWE retirement is generally considered one of the most fitting send-offs in wrestling history. His final WWE match, with Shawn Michaels, an emotional triumph with the perfect opponent. Fans lapped up The Nature Boy’s finishing stretch. And he has maintained his retirement since 2008. In WWE at least. Not so much everywhere else. There was the Australia tour with Hulk Hogan, in 2009. Then the two years with TNA/Impact between 2010-2012. Even if these in-ring returns were happening well away from WWE, their existence still erased some of the magic of Flair’s final WWE bout at WrestleMania 24.
And now, 10 years on from his Impact run coming to an end, Flair is giving us ‘one more match’. At 73 years of age. Just over four years removed from being in a coma that doctors barely gave him a chance of kicking out of. On 31st July, in Nashville, Flair is lacing them up one last time. Despite his pacemaker. Despite his blood-thinning medication. Even with strong ticket sales, there is a strong sense of unease wider wrestling community. The match will take place during Starrcast weekend, opposite SummerSlam in the same city. Even over a decade prior to his original retirement, at the age of 59, there had been many negative words delivered by critics and peers regarding Naitch’s later legacy. Fourteen years later, it feels more like novelty than legacy that is selling The Nature Boy’s final match.
For the record, this writer has buzzed off most of Bill Goldberg’s post-2016 WWE run. Most of it. The two return matches with Brock Lesnar. His use of Dolph Ziggler as a Crash Test Dummy at SummerSlam 2019. The banger with Drew McIntyre at the 2021 Royal Rumble. And who could forget the hossfest between him and Bobby Lashley in Saudi Arabia earlier this year? But there have also been plenty of missteps along the way.
Dethroning ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt as WWE Champion certainly didn’t help matters. Neither did THAT car crash with The Undertaker in Saudi Arabia, either. There was also the time Big Bill legit knocked himself silly on his dressing room door prior to delivering a live promo. Not even preparing for a match. Lest we forget that Goldberg’s original WWE run, between 2003-2004 was hardly well received either. Many thought his return run with Lesnar in 2016-17 and subsequent Hall of Fame induction would be it for the former WCW Champion. Six years and multiple main event title matches later, and more than a few eyes are being rolled whenever the words ‘Who’s Next?’ are uttered on WWE television.
WWE legends being overused is hardly a new phenomenon, let’s face it. We’ve all been indifferent to a few icons showing up here and there. Even some of our favourites. It’s more a question of how WWE legends are booked that tends to be the issue. Give us returning Hall of Famers as managers, special guest referees, GM’s, commentators. And maybe save the heroic in-ring returns for those legends who can still go (COUGHbring back Great KhaliCOUGH).
Featured Image Credit: WWE