Shawn Michaels fans take solace. This isn’t the first time a wrestler has claimed to have retired at WrestleMania, only to come back to the ring a few years – or a few months – later. If the wrestling business has taught us anything, it’s to take match stipulations with a grain of salt. And so, while it may be that Michaels will never again take on a full time WWE schedule, I’m sure last night was not the final time we’ll see him in a WWE ring.
Here are a few other WrestleMania “retirements” that didn’t stick:
Roddy Piper at WrestleMania III, 1987: “Hot Rod” was embroiled in a red hot feud with the androgynous Adrian Adonis that led to their grudge match at WrestleMania III. Piper said it would be his last, “win, lose, or draw.” He won, and shaved Adonis’ head as part of an added stipulation to the match. Piper took the next two years off to do some acting, including the cult classic John Carpenter flick, “They Live.” At WrestleMania V in 1989, he returned to host a Piper’s Pit segment. He later joined the broadcast team on Prime Time Wrestling, where he began a war of words with Bobby Heenan. It led to Piper interfering and costing Heenan’s henchman, Rick Rude, the Intercontinental title against the Ultimate Warrior at SummerSlam 1989. A hot feud between Piper and Rude followed. Piper went on to be a semi-regular competitor in WWE and WCW until the late 1990s, and has wrestled the occasional match here and there, including at last year’s WrestleMania 25. Total time retired: Two years, five months.
Randy Savage at WrestleMania VII, 1991: “The Macho King” lost a thrilling “career ending match” against the Ultimate Warrior and reunited with his estranged love Miss Elizabeth after the bout. Soon after the match, he found his way into the broadcast booth doing color commentary on Superstars alongside Roddy Piper and Vince McMahon. When Jake “the Snake” Roberts had his cobra attack a prone Savage on a November episode of Superstars, it was enough for WWF figure head president Jack Tunnel to reinstate Savage – after “much deliberation”, of course. Savage and Roberts finally hooked up at the Dec. 3, 1991 “Tuesday in Texas” pay per view, with Savage winning. He wrestled full time for WWE for the next couple years, and then scaled back his wrestling in favor of broadcasting until he joined WCW, where he wrestled regularly until around 2000. His last “match” was in 2004 at TNA’s Turning Point pay per view, although he did nearly nothing. Total time retired: Eight months.
Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VIII, 1992 – Hogan vowed that, “win, lose or draw,” his WrestleMania VIII match with then arch-rival Sid Justice would be his last. Hogan was leaving WWE to pursue an acting career that didn’t quite pan out as well as he had hoped. Hogan beat Justice by disqualification in one of the worst WrestleMania main events you’ll ever see, and celebrated in the ring with a returning Ultimate Warrior to close the show. About 11 months later on Monday Night Raw, Ted Dibiase and I.R.S. – collectively known as Money Inc – attacked Hogan’s buddy Brutus Beefcake. That was enough to bring the Hulkster out of retirement at WrestleMania IX , where he and Beefcake took on Money Inc. for the tag team titles in the night’s co-main event. Later on the show, Hogan won the world title in an impromptu match against Yokozuna. Hogan left WWE again a few months later, and resurfaced in 1994 in WCW where he wrestled until 2000. Since then, he’s wrestled occasionally for WWE and other independent ventures, and competed earlier this month in the main event of the March 8 Impact. Total time retired: One year.
Mick Foley at WrestleMania 2000 – Foley’s first retirement from WWE actually lasted all of four weeks, as he lost a career-ending match a month earlier against Triple-H at No Way Out. But he returned for “one night only” to take part in a fatal four way match for the WWE title that included the Big Show, the Rock and champ Triple-H. Triple-H pinned Foley after a pedigree onto a steel chair to eliminate him. Foley remained involved with WWE for much of the next several years, including as on-air commissioner for a period. In late 2003, Randy Orton began antagonizing Foley as part of his “legend killer gimmick.” Foley’s ring return came at the 2004 Royal Rumble, where he competed in the Rumble match. He teamed with the Rock a few months later at WrestleMania XX to take on Evolution, and at Backlash had a memorable hardcore match with Orton that many saw as the match that “made” Orton’s career. He stayed with WWE, on and off, until 2008, both wrestling occasionally and as a color commentator, and then joined TNA in 2008, where he has wrestled a number of terrible matches. He can be seen ruining his legacy most Monday nights on Spike TV. Total time retired: 3 years, nine months.
Ric Flair at WrestleMania XXIV, 2008: Months before the 2008 installment of WrestleMania, Vince McMahon told Ric Flair that if he wanted to stay employed in WWE, he’d have to win all his matches. The first match he lost would be his last. In reality, Flair had been winding down, and believed he was ready to hang up his boots. The angle climaxed with the classic bout between Shawn Michaels and Flair that ended with HBK telling Flair “I’m sorry. I love you,” before super kicking Flair and pinning him. Flair’s three-day send off, which included his induction in the WWE Hall of Fame and a memorable farewell ceremony on Raw the night after WrestleMania, marked the most emotional retirement in wrestling history. Surely this one would last, no? Within months, Flair began talking about wanting to return to the ring – possibly for a lucrative tour in Japan - but only if Michaels gave him his blessing. Flair held out until November, 2009, when Hulk Hogan hired Flair to be his touring opponent for a series of matches in Australia. Then, just a few weeks ago, Flair wrestled his first match on U.S. soil since his retirement, when he teamed with A.J. Styles against Hogan & Abyss in the main event of TNA Impact’s first night in its new Monday timeslot. Total time retired: One year, six months.
It’s worth noting that some wrestling greats did, indeed, wrestle their last matches at WrestleMania, including Steve Austin, Andre the Giant, the Rock and JBL. But they weren’t billed as retirement matches. They just turned out that way.