1. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (WrestleMania III – March 29, 1987)
“Win, lose, or draw”, he was done.
When the villainous “Rowdy” Roddy Piper returned to the WWF in the fall of 1986 after a brief hiatus, he was no longer hated. But there was a problem. His long running Piper’s Pit segment now had competition in the form of “Adorable” Adrian Adonis’ Flower Shop.
This didn’t sit too well with Hot Rod. Adonis wasn’t thrilled with the situation, either, and with the help of Piper’s former bodyguard, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, and his tag team partner, The Magnificent Muraco, he hoped to have Piper’s Pit cancelled for good.
Despite having his leg injured by Adonis and company, Piper endured. After destroying The Flower Shop set, he battled The Adorable One and his former friends in numerous in-ring encounters over the next several months.
In 1987, with the feud still raging, Piper & Adonis were booked in a haircut match for WrestleMania III. The loser would be shaved bald. Regardless of the final result, Hot Rod was retiring from professional wrestling. With a possible career in Hollywood beckoning, after 15 years of bumps, bruises and a lot of screaming, he was planning to hang up his kilt for good.
In the end, Piper won his match by submission via a not very persuasive sleeper hold, Brutus Beefcake shaved off as much of Adonis’ bleached blond hair as he could and after kissing ring announcer Howard Finkel’s bald head, he walked out of the WWF forever.
Well, not quite. Two years later, the They Live star returned to the company to do a Piper’s Pit segment with Brother Love and the late talk show host Morton Downey, Jr. at WrestleMania V. And shortly thereafter, he was feuding with Bobby Heenan’s stable of wrestlers, most notably Ravishing Rick Rude, in a series of matches.
Piper would disappear again following his short stint as InterContinental Champion in 1992 only to make occasional part-time runs throughout the next couple of decades. As for Adonis, he would continue to quietly work WWF house shows for a month (while only making a couple of TV appearances) until, according to The History Of WWE website, his firing on April 27 following a house show in London, Ontario. (Beefcake beat him in his final match for the company.) He ended up in the AWA where Orton would later join him. Sadly, Adonis ultimately died in a car accident while en route to a Canadian indie show in the summer of 1988.
2. Randy “Macho Man/King” Savage (WrestleMania VII – March 24, 1991)
In the build-up to the 1991 Royal Rumble, former WWF Champion Randy Savage wanted a title shot against current title holder The Ultimate Warrior. But he was rebuffed. Even Savage’s manager, Sensational Sherri, couldn’t charm a “yes” out of him.
So, during his title defense against Sgt. Slaughter at the Rumble event, the then-King & Queen of wrestling did everything in their power to make sure Warrior lost the title. While the new champion prepared to drop his newly won strap to Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VII, a pissed off Warrior wanted Savage.
Adding to the drama, both men agreed to put their careers on the line. In a very entertaining match that probably should’ve been the main event (Hogan/Slaughter certainly wasn’t anything special), Warrior survived five straight flying elbow drops to go on to put Savage out of wrestling. After Sherri attacked Macho King for losing, his former manager Elizabeth (who was conveniently shown sitting in the audience) ran down to the ring to toss her out. They ultimately reunited and Savage turned ‘face once again.
Unfortunately, his “retirement” would be short lived. After “marrying” Liz (who he was about to divorce in real-life) at SummerSlam 1991, Jake “The Snake” Roberts turned heel by sending a live snake as a wedding present to their reception. Savage would ultimately be reinstated to fight him. Meanwhile, Warrior had a real-life dispute with Vince McMahon over money & merchandising and would be absent for months.
The following year, Savage would regain the WWF title at WrestleMania VIII and successfully defend it against The Warrior (who returned to WM VIII to rescue Hulk Hogan) at SummerSlam 1992. They would also temporarily join forces to become The Ultimate Maniacs. However, Warrior would suddenly disappear again before the Survivor Series that year. He briefly returned in 1996 only to work an even shorter run at the soon-to-be-defunct WCW in 1998.
Savage would enjoy a final high-profile experience with WCW beginning in 1994 and officially quit the business a decade later.
3. Ric Flair (WrestleMania 24 – March 30, 2008)
Beginning in late 2007, Mr. McMahon wanted The Nature Boy out of the business. As a result, he would be consistently booked in “career-threatening matches”, particularly on pay-per-view shows, where a loss of any kind would mark the end of his career in WWE.
At the 2008 Royal Rumble in January, he defeated MVP. At No Way Out in February, he survived his encounter with Mr. Kennedy. But at WrestleMania 24, Flair ran out of luck against his old friend Shawn Michaels.
In an excellent match filled with memorable moments, none was more so than the finish. A teary-eyed Flair, knowing full well what was coming, begged The Heartbreak Kid to finish him off. In the corner, after saying, “I love you. I’m sorry,” Michaels superkicked The Nature Boy into retirement.
While his in-ring WWE career certainly ended that night (but not his on-air role as a sometimes physical mouthpiece), Flair would actually continue to wrestle for other promotions, most notably TNA where he revived his hardcore feud with Mick Foley. That said, at this point, with the man well into his 60s now, and with WWE wanting to maintain the legitimacy of the WrestleMania 24 finish, he will likely never wrestle for Vince McMahon Jr. ever again.
4. John “Bradshaw” Layfield (WrestleMania 25 – April 5, 2009)
InterContinental Champion JBL walked to the ring at WrestleMania 25 in a particularly cocky mood. After delivering a supremely confident promo, he would lose the title in seconds to his challenger that night, Rey Mysterio. Immediately afterwards, the shocked and disgusted Texan announced his in-ring retirement. Despite his most recent return as Michael Cole’s annoying sparring partner on commentary, the former Acolyte has been true to his word.
5. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 26 – March 28, 2010)
Two years after ending Ric Flair’s WWE career, The Heartbreak Kid would lose his own. Disappointed that he couldn’t break The Undertaker’s legendary streak at WrestleMania 25, he demanded a rematch. The Dead Man refused. So, HBK entered the 2010 Royal Rumble in order to become the number one contender to Taker’s World Heavyweight Championship. He lost.
During the WHC Elimination Chamber match at the 2010 EC event, Michaels suddenly popped up inside the chamber, superkicked Taker and watched as Chris Jericho won the title. Now that he had The Phenom’s attention, Michaels got his wish.
But Taker wanted to up the stakes. So it was The Streak vs. Michaels’ career in the main event at WrestleMania 26.
In another superb battle between two of the WWE’s all-time finest performers, once again Mr. WrestleMania came up short. Taker tombstoned him out of action for good.
Although he has returned on occasion to work as a Special Guest Referee, a cornerman and to cut promos, HBK has remained inactive as an in-ring talent for four years. Barring some unforeseen circumstances, this will likely never change.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, March 4, 2014