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Age in big-time US wrestling ; shifting perceptions


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I feel like this topic has come round time and time again ; did you know X was only Y years old when this match happened, why the WWF was so keen on presenting a Jake Roberts as ancient at 41 when many wrestlers ended up winning the big belt in their 40s, did we realize The Rock is older now than Hollywood Hogan was in their match at Mania 18, and so on.

So.... for your interest, presented with a minimum of editorial and hopefully no bias in context, and far from intended as a complete reference tool, are a series of events over the years of my wrestling knowledge where the ages of the wrestlers are either made reference to or are particularly interesting. What I was getting at here was that times have certainly changed in terms of what "old" is as a pro wrestler at the peak of their profession, but moreover, just wanted to provoke any thoughts you have about any of these.


Throughout - Ric Flair has arguably his greatest year in the ring ever, the vast majority of which coming after his 40th birthday (Feb 20th).


March - At WrestleMania 7, Sgt Slaughter (42) vs Hulk Hogan (37) becomes the oldest Mania main event for combined age. This record will stand until Taker vs Reigns at Mania 33.


January - Ric Flair wins the Royal Rumble and his first WWF title at the age of 42.

April - WrestleMania's title match is Ric Flair (43) vs Randy Savage (39). Meanwhile Hulk Hogan is portrayed as considering retirement when he goes on his latest sabbatical at the age of 38.

July - Bob Backlund returns to the WWF after 8 years away, at the age of 42. Much is made over the months to come over the inspirational story of his return at such an advanced age, despite him being younger than Ric Flair.

September - Flair wins the WWF title for the second time.


June - With the "New Generation" campaign having kicked off in earnest, the WWF has the temerity to close a PPV with Roddy Piper (40) vs Jerry Lawler (44).

November - Mr Bob Backlund challenges for (and ultimately wins) the WWF title at the age of 44, drawing comparisons from the commentary crew to George Foreman who had recently won the World title in boxing at the age of 46.


January - "Billionaire Ted's Rasslin War Room" airs on episodes of Raw, taking pot shots at the ages of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage - 42 and 45 respectively when they air.

Throughout - Much is made of Jake Roberts' age (41) during his comeback. Notable is the commentary of Owen Hart at King of the Ring, hilariously saying he's 51 or 61 at various points to emphasize that he's past his best.

November - At Survivor Series, JR makes a quip about "covering a bald spot" in a sly reference to Hulk Hogan (43) during the comeback match of Bret Hart (39) as well as underlining that Hart and Steve Austin are "not past their prime, they're IN their prime."


July - Ric Flair (48) vs Roddy Piper (43) is one of the top billed matches at Bash At The Beach.

August - Bret Hart wins his fifth WWF World title at SummerSlam, a shade over 4 weeks after his 40th birthday.

October - Jim Cornette rips into the Hulk Hogan vs Roddy Piper match at Halloween Havoc, noting things like Hogan's bald spot and Piper's hip replacement. Fans will retcon the "title" of the match to "Age In The Cage" (coming so soon after "Hell In A Cell") though Corny himself didn't actually say it. Ages - 44 (Hogan) vs 43 (Piper).

November - At Survivor Series, on his way out, JR puts emphasis on Bret Hart making his debut "at the age of 19, in 1978" so alert viewers can do the maths that he's "old".


March - At Mania 14 "LOD 2000" puts a fresh coat of paint on the Road Warriors attempting to create an exciting new act out of Animal (37) and Hawk (41). Underneath, Terry Funk (54) wins the tag titles.


January - The allusions begin to Mick Foley being broken down and knowing he needs to retire at just 34. Meanwhile his idol Terry Funk (55) works a hardcore match at WCW Souled Out with Kevin Nash (40).

March - The top matches of Uncensored include Sting (a day shy of 41) vs Lex Luger (41) and Hulk Hogan (46) vs Ric Flair (51) which goes on last.


April - The company puts on a "Gimmick Battle Royal" at Mania 17, for laughs at some of the stars of yesterday. Including Michael Hayes (42), Repo Man (42), Typhoon (42) and Earthquake (37).


January - WWE brings back the nWo as Hulk Hogan (48), Kevin Nash (42) and Scott Hall (43).

March - Hogan wrestles a huge match at Mania 18, vs The Rock.

August - Shawn Michaels (37) comes out of retirement looking like he hasn't missed a beat.


March - Steve Austin (38) is forced into retirement with a neck injury.


November - Ric Flair (57) and Roddy Piper (52) win the tag team title from The Spirit Squad.


March - Ric Flair (58) loses his first retirement match to Shawn Michaels (42).


April - Mick Foley (42) beats Sting (49) to win TNA's World title.


Feb - TNA, at the peak of Hogan & Bischoff bringing back all their mates, have Team 3D (a sprightly 37 and 38 in comparison) defend the tag belts against The Nasty Boys (both 45).

March - WrestleMania 26 is headlined by Shawn Michaels (44) vs The Undertaker (45 by 4 days).


February - Sting (51) beats Jeff Hardy to win the TNA World title for the 3rd and final time.

August - Kevin Nash (52) waddles out at the end of SummerSlam to cost CM Punk the WWE title.

October - Sting (52) vs Hulk Hogan (58) happens at Bound For Glory, Hogan's final big televised match.

December - Triple H (42) vs Kevin Nash (52) is one of the top matches at TLC.


April - The Rock (40) drops the WWE title to John Cena (35) in the culmination of a two year long storyline. The other top matches are Triple H (43) pinning Brock Lesnar (35) and The Undertaker (47) continuing "The Streak" against CM Punk (34).


January - Goldust (45) and young Cody lose their tag titles to Road Dogg (45) and Billy Gunn (51).

April - Dave Batista (45) contests a Mania main event with champion Randy Orton (34) and winner Daniel Bryan (32).


March - At Mania Triple H (45) defeats Sting (56 by 9 days) in one of the marquee matches.


April - Triple H (46) loses the WWE title to Roman Reigns in the main event of WrestleMania 32. On the undercard the company presents The Undertaker (51) vs Shane McMahon (46) in Hell In A Cell. At a combined age of 97, compared to 87 for Hogan vs Piper in "Age In The Cage."

November - The first match between Brock Lesnar (39) and Bill Goldberg (49) happens at Survivor Series.


Febuary - John Cena (39) loses the WWE title for (as it stands) the final time at Elimination Chamber.

March - Bill Goldberg (50) wins the Universal title at Fastlane.

April - The Undertaker (52) goes on last at Mania, losing to Reigns.


January - the first womens Royal Rumble occurs, a real highlight of which being the pop for Trish Stratus (43) at number 30.


April - WrestleMania 35 features, as one of it's marquee matches, Triple H (49) vs Batista (50). However in Ronda Rousey (32) vs Becky Lynch (32) vs Charlotte (just gone 33) the main event is the youngest since Mania 19 (Angle at 34 vs Lesnar at 25) for average age of wrestlers or excluding Lesnar as a freakishly young outlier, Mania 18 (Jericho at 31 vs HHH at 32).

August - Fresh new alternative AEW crown Chris Jericho (48) as their first World Champion.


January - Edge (47) returns in the Royal Rumble.

February - Bill Goldberg (53) wins the Universal title from The Fiend at Super Showdown.

March - The Undertaker (55) wrestles his last match, the cinematic boneyard match vs AJ Styles (42) - at 97 years combined age, the oldest match ever at a Mania.

October - Sting (61) returns to wrestling in AEW - by March, he's having matches again.


January - Bill Goldberg (54) challenges Drew McIntyre for the WWE title at the Royal Rumble. Edge (48) wins the Royal Rumble, but won't win the title at Mania.

August - John Cena (44) is positioned as challenger to Roman Reigns for SummerSlam. Bobby Lashley (45) defends the WWE title against Goldberg  ; Reigns (36) is the only wrestler younger than 40 in two singles matches for World titles on the show.

October - Goldberg vs Lashley is one of the top matches at Crown Jewel, won by Goldberg to win their feud.


January - Brock Lesnar (44) vs Bobby Lashley (45) is the WWE title match at the Royal Rumble.

February - Goldberg (55) vs Reigns occurs for the Universal title at Elimination Chamber.

April - Steve Austin (57) comes out of retirement after many, MANY attempts by WWE, and defeats Kevin Owens at Mania 38.

July - Ric Flair (73) wrestles a match heavily promoted as his retirement match at the show titled "Ric Flair's Last Match" though he has suggested that, in fact, it will not go down as his last match.


Throughout - Trish Stratus (47) completes a triumphant return year, including winning the Womens tag titles with Lita (also 47), competing in a Money In The Bank match and putting over Becky Lynch in a cage match at Payback.

August - Edge (49) wrestles his last match for WWE.

November - CM Punk (45) returns to WWE and is immediately positioned as a threat to Raw's World Champion, Seth Rollins.

December - Adam "Edge" Copeland (50) wins the TNT title in AEW before immediately losing it on a "cash in" type deal straight back to Christian Cage (also 50).


January - The Rock (51) returns to TV and immediately makes allusions to challenging Roman Reigns. Reigns defends the WWE title at the Royal Rumble in a four-way with AJ Styles (46), Randy Orton (43) and LA Knight (41).

March - Sting (64) wrestles his retirement match. Mick Foley (58) starts talking about a retirement match.


So.... thoughts? Anything that surprises you there? I mean, there's a fair amount of hypocrisy, but it's wrestling, so that really shouldn't.

Edited by air_raid
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It might be that the average wrestler these days comes from a very different background to those pre-2000, but I think they have to go through the same transition as wrestling nerds to actually get good - you start trying to be a bigger character than you are, then you start learning the inner workings and turn into a movez nerd, then you get the confidence to pick the movez you want, then you finally uncover the final form of the bigger character you originally tried to be. Regardless of what the attitude seems to be among a lot of modern workers, most family crowds I witness want the characters; that requires confidence that only experience can provide.

I assume most of the guys in your list pre-2000 were also working a helluva lot more frequently than today's lot, both on the indies and your weekend warriors, so they simply made that transition loads faster. They didn't have libraries of matches on Youtube to cadge spots from, bloat their movesets and diminish their crowd work; almost every thing they learned was on the road, either watching other matches on the card or travelling with actual vets who'd made the transition. There's a seminar by Raven where he counts three matches as one week's wrestling experience, so with lower schedules, it makes sense that the current lot have comparatively longer careers.

My main issue with guys wrestling for ages is the lack of variety and change. It's been noted on here at least how homogenous the WWE 'eras' have become where the last 20 years feels like one stale format, whereas there felt like distinct personalities for the 80s, early- to mid-90s, millennium, and so on. I also worry about "the love of the game" causing a worker-bee mentality, when I would prefer wrestlers maximised their value, made their money as quick as possible, and got out healthy and happy to mentor the developmental crews and indies.

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There's absolutely the factor that in professional sports generally, the retirement age has been pushed back a decade by improved physio, nutrition, surgery and so on.   Tennis players are retiring mid-40s where they'd be done by 35 in the 80s, sprinters can go on to 40, and so on.  And particularly in wrestling, injuries are taken a lot more seriously.

Then there's the eye of the beholder thing - we're all in our 30s/40s now so that suddenly doesn't seem like such a big deal!

But maybe it's a 90s thing, as there have always been older wrestlers around.  Harley Race was in his 40s as NWA champ, Bockwinkle was AWA champ in his 50s.  And in Japan, Billy Robinson was wrestling in his 60s, Lour Thesz as well.  Obviously those two were seen as "old" but it pushes back the boundary a bit.



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13 minutes ago, Loki said:

But maybe it's a 90s thing, as there have always been older wrestlers around.  Harley Race was in his 40s as NWA champ, Bockwinkle was AWA champ in his 50s.  And in Japan, Billy Robinson was wrestling in his 60s, Lour Thesz as well.  Obviously those two were seen as "old" but it pushes back the boundary a bit.

This is the thing for me - the WWF decided at some point that while age didn't matter previously, it did now, because they were going to go with guys younger than 40. Although the message got fairly jumbled for a while, with the "here's good old Bob Backlund" stuff starting up with Backlund at 42, not a huge amount older than our Terry at 39 when he won his 5th WWF title at Mania IX. Even before they started taking jabs at the guys that left in that bracket, despite them being barely older than Bret, who was the first WWF Champion under the "New Generation" slogan. A viewpoint that gradually they'd end up forgetting when they realized that - shit! - the guys they were relying on to carry the PPV were suddenly in their 40s.

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Outstanding post! I think Loki's point about the same sort of thing happening in professional sports is a huge factor. Something like this could probably be done for football, where in the 90s it seemed like you were washed up by the time you hit your early thirties.

The gimmick battle royal ages are insane, as is the fact Foley was only 34 when he retired for the first time. Animal only being 37 for their Mania 14 redebut shocked me too.

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Just now, Dai said:

Something like this could probably be done for football, where in the 90s it seemed like you were washed up by the time you hit your early thirties.

When Micky Thomas scored his free kick against Arsenal in the great FA Cup upset of 92, Tony Gubba described him as being "the venerable age of 37." That's the one that lives with me.

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My mate Ben swears blind the opposite is true and football has become increasingly a young man's game since the 90s. We argue about it regularly. 

Anyway, not to turn this into a football thread... couple of commentary moments that always stick in my head in this field - Lawler screeching "He's fifty-three years old!" as Austin stomped away at Vince at KOTR 99 (as if he was assaulting a senior citizen), ' and Nigel McGuinness saying Adam Cole was "Like a young Shawn Micheals" on an NXT show at which point Cole was the same age as HBK was when he initially retired (at which point Shawn was young, but still...) 

I also recall @BomberPatof this parish noting that when LA Knight got called up to the main roster and the comparisons with early Steve Austin were flying, Knight was actually older than Ted DiBiase was when Ted was managing young(ish) Steve Austin. 

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I think the lifestyle of a wrestler was a lot tougher in previous generations than it is now.

I always use two people as examples. At Survivor Series 1987 when she was part of the Glamour Girls, Judy Martin was just 32 years old. Similarly, during his tenure in the Midnight Express, Dennis Condrey was in his early to mid 30s. 

Yes, some wrestlers always looked a lot older than they were (see: Earthquake) but I would imagine over a decade of working and travelling in the pro wrestling business in the 70s and 80s would age anyone beyond their years.

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you only need  to look at the 1980s Footballers Aging Badly Twitter account to see that it's not just wrestling where athletes of the past looked rough as arses.

A lot of it comes down to TV exposure. Aside from going bald and looking a bit leathery, Hogan was on WWF TV when it was all grainy and washed out colours through to the bright lights of Wrestlemania IX - the older your archive footage looks, the older you're going to seem. He felt older than he was in the mid-90s in part because he felt so much a product of the '80s. You don't tend to look at, for example, Finn Balor and think of him as a star rooted in the mid-10s because there's less distinction in terms of media tech or in terms of pop culture between now and then, even though Finn's the age Hulk Hogan was at the time of The Huckster and the Nacho Man. Damian Priest is only a year younger at 41, and he's presented as an up-and-comer just waiting for his breakthrough moment - and LA Knight is in the same boat, at the same age. 

One you overlooked from the Gimmick Battle Royal that blew my mind was Duke "The Dumpster" Droese; 33 years old at the time of that match.


Something that I think changed for the worse in how WWE approach older wrestlers, is that while I'm sure Jake Roberts and Bob Backlund didn't like being painted as knackered old men making an unlikely comeback during their mid-90s runs, the acknowledgement that they were older meant there were possibilities for some interesting storytelling around that fact, much as Terry Funk was arguably a more compelling character in his late '90s run than in his prime. Now, WWE don't lean in to the age of wrestlers at all - and I don't mean necessarily acknowledging that Bobby Lashley is pushing 50, because he looks incredible and there's no need to draw attention to that if you don't have to - but when older wrestlers are coming out of retirement, or on part-time schedules, they're always treated as if there as good as they ever were. In the build to a Wrestlemania match they would always talk about The Undertaker as "the old gunslinger", but then in the match you'd have Michael Cole screaming about how The Undertaker looked as good as ever. Outside of the matches with Daniel Bryan and with Ronda Rousey, Triple H never leaned into the fact that he was a semi-retired executive who shouldn't be able to hold his own against a full-time wrestler any more, he was still booked and presented as if he was in his prime and better than anyone. Not only does that sort of thing not help the full-time roster when, as we're seeing to some extent with The Rock now, there's always a sense of "stand aside lads, the real stars are here now" when anyone from the Attitude Era shows up, it also cuts off a whole avenue of potentially really interesting storytelling around whether an aging fighter still has what it takes, and of youth vs. experience.

Basically, in WWE you're as good as you ever were until the day you retire, and then within a year you're dancing backstage with Jimmy Hart and Sgt Slaughter while Ron Simmons makes a face.

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3 hours ago, Loki said:

But maybe it's a 90s thing, as there have always been older wrestlers around.  Harley Race was in his 40s as NWA champ, Bockwinkle was AWA champ in his 50s.  And in Japan, Billy Robinson was wrestling in his 60s, Lour Thesz as well.  Obviously those two were seen as "old" but it pushes back the boundary a bit.

On my point on WWE not "allowing" wrestlers to become old, I think it's something that was almost always done better in Japan; older wrestlers tend to get transitioned into largely working multi-man matches where they can tag in, hit all the old signature spots so the crowd are happy to see them, and that's enough. They're not often presented as on a level with younger wrestlers, but are treated with respect (guys like Fujinami or Fujiwara always needing everyone in the ring to pile on top of them in a New Japan Rambo to eliminate them), and there's a niche carved out for them. Keiji Mutoh having a full-blown singles championship run in NOAH stood out as unusual largely because most older blokes over there had moved on to some kind of unofficial Masters/Legends circuit. It's often similar in Mexico - a lot of the older guys often work trios matches against each other, and that's an accepted position on the card.

Saying that, Giant Baba always strikes me as one of the early exponents of stepping down the card to just do the hits in a six-man, and he was "only" 61 when he died and Meltzer had been describing him as "a corpse with skin stretched over his bones" ten years earlier.

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33 minutes ago, IANdrewDiceClay said:

Orange Cassidy is 40. I bet nobody at home would know that. If you dont know, nobody cares to know.

The secret to his youthful looks is boiling himself before matches. I haven't seen a pink hue like that on a wrestler since Hercules. 

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