Wrinkles and Wrestling: The Issue of Age in the WWE and TNA
Many have grown up with sporting dreams. Hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, throwing a Hail Mary to win the Super Bowl, downing a three-pointer with seconds to go, or ending the Undertaker's Wrestlemania streak.
Ok, the last one is sacred but we can all dream.
There is a day however when the realities of life kick in and we realize that those dreams are just that, we won't be joining the pantheons of sporting greats.
I am twenty five years old and while I try to keep in shape, the reality is that I am already too old to compete professionally in most sports. Even allowing a year of solid fitness work in the gym, there are few sports, if any, I can master before I get too old to compete.
The German tennis player, Boris Becker, won the Wimbledon Title when he was 17, Tiger won his first Major at 22, whilst Babe Ruth had won three World Series by the time he was my age. The path to the heights of professional sports begins early.
Wrestling, however, does not have such a policy of youth development. The breakout star of 2009 was the Celtic Warrior, Sheamus and yet his arrival came in his thirty-first year. One of the newest member of the WWE, Mike McGillicutty is 31, Wade Barrett is 30 whilst King of the WWE, John Cena is 33.
When other athletes are seemingly contemplating retirement, the career of a wrestler is just beginning.
It is perhaps due to the danger involved in the wrestling business, that only those that undergo rigorously training are allowed to make it to the heights of the WWE and TNA. The need to make sure that the can perform the required movesets whilst still being able to take a bump, ensures that sheer athletism is not enough.
Can I therefore begin a path to Wrestlemania now? Probably not. For while they may come to prominence later in their working lives, the preparation offscreen has lasted for years. Just look at Daniel Bryan as the example here.
Life as a wrestler is therefore a tough one. For every Shawn Michaels, there have been a hundred would-be superstars that have been cast aside. To make it requires true grit.
Is it therefore any wonder that after this "life training" that few wrestlers are willing to retire before they reach the age of 40. Life supposedly starts at this age and for a wrestler it seems to be true.
Long term absentee, Triple H, is regarded as still being a major player in the WWE despite turning 41 during the summer. Many questioned Shawn Michaels for retiring too soon and yet he was 45, the Undertaker is still headlining Wrestlemania at the same age whilst cross over to TNA and we see Hogan and Flair still competing at the ages of 57 and 61 respectively.
Not all of course will be in the proper physical condition to be wrestling in their twilight years, and indeed, many have tragically not been given the opportunity but life as a wrestler can be a job for life.
There is a complex debate that exists in wrestling circles when someone like Hogan or Flair is mentioned. On one side, we say that they should have retired years before, in their prime, their current status is making a mockery of their former glory and that they are suppressing new talent that is barred from coming through. We oppose the parody that they have become.
Alternatively, there are some who will continue to watch the veterans ever more. Wrestlemania 25 and 26 were dominated by two athletes in the mid-40s. No other match even got close to matching it. Looking down south and TNA's biggest rating for a couple of years came during a Foley-Flair match on the recent Live edition of Impact! So seemingly we still have an interest in watching our former heroes.
It begs the question as to whether age actually matters. In wrestling, the body will dictate how long a superstar will actively compete but if with Flair, major injury can be avoided then they can seemingly continue well into their seventh decade. Whether we fans actually want to see this leaves us with mixed emotions.
Shawn Michaels can easily have another Wrestlemania moment. For many he should not have retired at Wrestlemania 26 and yet there comes a time in every career when a sportsman realizes that they are going back down the mountain.
So would we want to see a superstar for years after their prime or prefer that they retire with grace?
The Undertaker is the latest superstar linked with retirement and while his injuries might force an earlier than expected departure, some have questioned whether he should remain active on the WWE roster. It seems wrong to suggest that one of the greatest WWE superstars should be forced out and yet the case can be made.
In other sports, physical conditioning dictates that when a pitcher no longer throws 100mph heat, they are replaced, when a QB can no longer throw that long pass, or when a racing driver can no longer make up a lap, they retire.
In wrestling, this natural replacement does not occur. Character and popularity ensures that many continue to wrestler, long after their originality and contribution to their profession has passed.
So the question remains, how old is too old?
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