For many years now, I have seen wrestling fans, wrestling journalists, and even those within the wrestling industry, question the logic of promotions utilizing older wrestlers. Going back to the days of the Monday Night Wars, WCW was often criticized for signing wrestlers in their 40s and featuring them in prominent spots on television. For the first ten years of their existence, IMPACT Wrestling (formerly TNA Wrestling) was heavily criticized for signing virtually every big-name star that they possibly could who was not signed to a WWE contract.
At the present time, WWE and AEW are the two largest promotions in the United States, and both promotions have faced criticism for utilizing older performers on their roster in recent years.
There seems to be a stigma about the age of 40 in professional wrestling. Many people seem to think that every professional wrestler needs to retire from the ring on their 40th birthday. Later on in this article, I'm going to explore that quite a bit. I'm going to give you a lot of reasons and specific examples (and I do mean A LOT) as to why I don't agree with that mentality.
It is certainly a valid argument that young stars need to be focused on. Young talents need to be considered a top priority. Up-and-coming talents need to be groomed to become big stars for wrestling promotions in the future. There is no denying this. However, I have never understood the intense hatred that many people seem to have for wrestling promotions utilizing older wrestlers.
In order to create new stars on television, they need to be seen working with established names who the fans care about. You could have a roster full of incredible young talents who have great matches on a regular basis, but if none of them really have any name value and they are all only working with each other, how far can the promotion really go? You can have a dominant World Champion, but if they don't have any real name value and they have only been defeating other wrestlers with little-to-no name value, how much is that World Title reign really worth? That's where the old expression "who did he ever beat?" comes from.
Now, people might try to argue that point by mentioning WWE's NXT brand, and the fact that at one point, NXT was widely considered to be the hottest brand in WWE. I have absolutely no problem admitting that NXT was the best thing going in WWE for a long time, and quite frankly, I still think NXT tends to be a better program than both Raw and SmackDown. And yes, NXT enjoyed tremendous success with young, up-and-coming stars who had not yet been established on the main roster. People like Finn Balor, Asuka, The Four Horsewomen (Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley), Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, The Authors of Pain, The Revival, Velveteen Dream, American Alpha, The Undisputed ERA (Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, Roderick Strong, Kyle O'Reilly), just to name a few. All of those people helped make NXT the hottest and most-talked about brand in WWE.
However, even when NXT was at its peak, it was still considered to be "the developmental territory." Let's be honest, NXT will always be "the developmental territory," even if the quality of their weekly programming and the TakeOver pay-per-views is better than the main roster programs.
Now let's talk about what goes on "in real life" and behind the scenes. Whether or not anybody wants to admit it, the fact is the matter is that young wrestlers need to sit under the learning tree of experienced veterans. Young wrestlers can have all of the physical athleticism in the world, but they need to be guided by experienced pros who can teach them how to tell a story in the ring, and more importantly, how to maintain longevity. Again, whether or not you want to admit it, every wrestling match can't just be flips, high spots, various weapons, and Exploding Barbed Wire Death Matches. A true professional wrestler can tell a story in the ring and get over with the audience without doing anything too crazy or too "extreme" (yes, pun intended).
So far, I have discussed how young wrestlers benefit from working with seasoned pros, and I have also briefly discussed how wrestling programs need to have established names in order to appeal to a broader audience. Let me expand on that point even further.
Let's go back to the Monday Night Wars. WCW signed every big-name star they could who was no longer with WWE. Between having all of those established names, as well as their up-and-coming stars like Bill Goldberg, Diamond Dallas Page (who was NOT a young man when he was climbing through the ranks in WCW), Harlem Heat, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, and others, WCW offered an incredible combination of established, big-name stars, as well as young, fresh, rising stars. As we all know, for 83 weeks, WCW Monday Nitro surpassed WWE Monday Night Raw, and both programs dominated the television ratings on Monday nights.
The established names were a critical part of WCW's success.
Let's talk about IMPACT Wrestling (formerly TNA Wrestling). The fact of the matter is that IMPACT Wrestling enjoyed their biggest success and highest television ratings on Spike TV (now known as Paramount Network) when their roster was loaded with big-name stars, as well as the "TNA Originals" who had been there since the beginning of the promotion. The TNA Originals carried the company throughout the early years, but TNA really started to get hot and create a lot more buzz when they started signing people like Kevin Nash, Jeff Hardy, Christian Cage, Sting, Scott Steiner, Kurt Angle, Booker T, Mick Foley, etc.
There was about a six-year period of time from 2004 to 2010 where TNA was creating a lot of buzz, and the company seemed to just be growing and getting bigger. They were on FSN in 2004 and 2005 before moving to Spike TV in the later part of 2005. From 2005 to 2009, they signed many of the big-name stars that I had previously mentioned, and their television viewership grew to around 1.2 or 1.3 million viewers, and the ratings stayed solid for a long time.
In 2010, it felt like they were taking everything to an even higher level when they brought in Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, Ric Flair, Rob Van Dam, Mr. Ken Anderson, Mickie James, and they also brought back Jeff Hardy, who had returned to WWE from 2006 to 2009. And of course, 2010 was also the same year that TNA did somewhat of an ECW revival, if only a mini one. They brought in many of the ECW Originals in time for their Hardcore Justice pay-per-view in August of 2010, which was essentially TNA's equivalent to WWE's 2005 ECW One Night Stand pay-per-view.
TNA seemed to lose their momentum throughout 2011 and 2012, and truth be told, they've never been able to reach the heights that they were at between 2006 to 2010. But during those years between 2004 to 2010, TNA was considered to be a hot commodity within the wrestling business, and their big-name talent acquisitions were a huge part of the success that they enjoyed during those years.
All Elite Wrestling has been a great alternative to WWE since their inception in 2019. AEW has benefitted from expanding their roster over the past two years, and yes, that does include signing people who used to be in WWE. C.M. Punk, Jon Moxley, Christian Cage, Sting, Malakai Black, Andrade El Idolo, Paul Wight, Mark Henry, Miro, the late Brodie Lee (R.I.P.), Matt Hardy, Chris Jericho, Jake Hager, PAC, Dustin Rhodes, and even AEW Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes, all made names for themselves prior to joining AEW. How could anyone try to say that adding more star power has somehow hurt AEW?
As I had mentioned earlier in this article, when it comes to professional wrestling, there seems to be this weird stigma about the "dreaded" age of 40. Everybody seems to think that every professional wrestler needs to retire from the ring on their 40th birthday. Okay then, have it your way. As of right now, I'm going to create a scenario where every professional wrestler throughout history retired from the ring on their 40th birthday, and never stepped in a ring ever again.
I'm willing to bet that mentally, you are probably not ready to lose some of the greatest matches and greatest moments in wrestling history, but since everybody wants wrestlers to retire on their 40th birthday, let's see some amazing things that never would have happened, just off the top of my head:
*The returns of Edge, Christian Cage, John Cena, C.M. Punk and Brock Lesnar never would have happened. These recent returns have created great moments for all of us wrestling fans. Forget about all of them. They can't happen because those guys are all in their 40s.
*Bobby Lashley's current WWE Championship title reign would not be happening. Bobby Lashley is 45 years old and is still an absolute freak of an athlete. Nobody seems to be complaining about Lashley's title reign. Well, it wouldn't be happening if Lashley would have retired five years ago when he turned 40.
*The best matches from The Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania never would have happened. Say goodbye to The Undertaker's WrestleMania matches against Dave Batista (2007), Edge (2008), Shawn Michaels (2009 and 2010), Triple H (2011 and 2012) and C.M. Punk (2013). Those matches have to be erased from our memories because The Undertaker turned 40 years old in 2005. As a matter of fact, The Undertaker turned 40 years old just before his match against Randy Orton at WrestleMania 21, so you can kiss that match goodbye as well. All of those wonderful matches never would have happened if The Undertaker would have retired at 40.
*The Monday Night Wars never would have happened. Hulk Hogan never would have signed with WCW, the New World Order (nWo) never would have been formed. Everybody says that wrestling was at its peak during the Monday Night Wars. Everybody has fond memories of WCW Monday Nitro vs. WWE Monday Night Raw. Forget about it, WCW isn't allowed to have anybody over the age of 40, so this amazing period of time never happened.
*Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson vs. "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8 in 2002 never would have happened, and Hogan's final run in WWE from 2002 to 2006 never would have happened either. If you were watching wrestling at that time, I know that you remember that match between Hogan and The Rock at WrestleMania X8. Say goodbye to that incredible match. It never happened because Hulk Hogan was in his late 40s, and we can't have wrestlers in their 40s.
*Terry Funk winning the ECW World Heavyweight Championship at the 1997 Barely Legal pay-per-view never would have happened. Funk gave his body to the wrestling business, and continued to destroy his body to try to help ECW become a successful promotion. He was rewarded for his hard work when he got the ECW World Title in 1997. But because Terry was in his 50s at that time, we can't have that title reign anymore. Forget about it.
*Kane's WWE World Heavyweight Championship title reign in 2010 and Mark Henry's World Heavyweight Championship run the following year in 2011 never would have happened. Kane and Mark Henry were both long overdue for a good, dominant World Title reign. They had both worked hard for WWE for many years, but never quite got rewarded for their efforts. Kane got his reward in 2010 and Mark Henry got his reward in 2011. Forget about those title reigns. They can't happen because both of them were in their early 40s.
*Ric Flair would have had to retire in 1989. Let me say that again. Ric Flair... would have had to retire... in the year 1989. Everything that Ric Flair ever did after 1989 never would have happened, including his extremely emotional retirement from WWE at WrestleMania 24 in 2008, as well as the incredible send-off that WWE gave him the following night on Raw.
*A.J. Styles, who everybody loves, is 44 years old right now. He's still one of the best in-ring performers in the world, but if everybody gets their wish of having wrestlers retire at the age of 40, he would have had to retire in June of 2017 when he turned 40.
*Hiroshi Tanahashi is 44 years old right now. He'll be 45 in November. An absolute legend of Japanese Puroresu, specifically in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. You would have had to say goodbye to Tanahashi in November of 2016.
*Keiji Mutoh, also known as The Great Muta, is 58 years old and is still going strong in Japan. But according to everybody who wants wrestlers to retire when they turn 40, he should have been done 18 years ago.
*Chris Jericho has played a huge role in the success of All Elite Wrestling. He was the first-ever AEW World Champion. Jericho is 50, and he'll be 51 in November. If Chris Jericho would have retired at the age of 40 in 2010, he never would have done the things he has in WWE, AEW and NJPW since 2010. Do you want to say goodbye to everything that Chris Jericho has done in wrestling since 2010?
*Sting turned 40 in 1999. Sting and Ric Flair could not have had the final match on WCW Monday Nitro in 2001, and Sting's runs in TNA, WWE and now AEW never would have happened because we can't have him wrestling over the age of 40.
*Kurt Angle would have had to retire in December of 2008 when he turned 40, so most of his TNA career never would have happened. Kurt joined TNA in September of 2006. Imagine if his TNA run would have ended in December of 2008 when he turned 40.
*Randy Orton is 41 years old, and is still one of the top Superstars and one of the best performers in WWE. If some people had their way, Orton would have had to retire in April of 2020 when he turned 40. Randy Orton is still going strong and still has a lot to offer in WWE. If you want Orton to be retired, that is very foolish on your part.
*Everybody wanted Samoa Joe to be able to return to in-ring competition. Samoa Joe, at 42 years old, is the current WWE NXT Champion, and is also the first three-time NXT Champion. If he had to retire at 40, he wouldn't be the NXT Champion right now.
*Current WWE Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura is 41 years old. Everybody loves Shinsuke. But we have to follow the rules of this game we're playing, which means that Nakamura had to retire last year when he turned 40.
*Jushin "Thunder" Liger retired in January of 2020, but if he had to retire at the age of 40, then he would have retired in November of 2004.
*Jerry "The King" Lawler was born in 1949, which means that he would have had to retire in 1989. Lawler still wrestles to this day, in 2021. He's a smart enough worker that he knows what he can do and what he can't do. Do you think that The King should have retired in 1989 when he turned 40? I don't think so.
*Trevor Murdoch's NWA World Heavyweight Championship win at last weekend's NWA 73 pay-per-view wouldn't have happened. Murdoch is exactly 40 years old and he'll be 41 on September 10th. He's been in the business for a long time and has certainly paid his dues. It was nice to see Murdoch get rewarded for all of his years in the business, but it wouldn't have happened if he would have retired in September of 2020 when he turned 40 years old.
I could go on forever. I'm sure I could find a lot more examples of wrestlers who still had a lot to offer in their 40s. The point that I'm trying to make is that people should really just STOP COMPLAINING about the age of wrestlers, and just try to enjoy the show and appreciate the fact that the established veterans are still trying to offer whatever they can to the business that they love.
Look at all of the examples that I've provided in this article, and just imagine what would happen to wrestling if every wrestler were to retire at the age of 40. If a wrestler is still a good, solid performer in the ring and still has a connection with the audience, what's wrong with them doing what they love to do? When the time comes that a wrestler is no longer a very good performer in the ring, then yes, absolutely, it's time to hang up the boots and call it a career. But if they can still perform well, then why would you want them to step away just because they are over the age of 40? That's a foolish mentality.
So, once again, stop complaining about the age of wrestlers. If a wrestler is still a solid performer, which many of them still are in their 40s, then just appreciate the fact that they are continuing to perform for you.