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 late in the summer 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, either. 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" canceled 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 early 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 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 by submission with a not very persuasive sleeper hold. Brutus Beefcake, who had a score of his own to settle with The Adorable One, entered the ring to shave off as much of Adonis' bleached blond hair as he could. Having kissed ring announcer Howard Finkel's bald head, Piper walked out of the WWF forever.
Well, not quite. Two years later, the They Live star returned 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 numerous part-time runs in both the WWE and WCW throughout the next couple of decades. He last wrestled for the WWE in June 2011 when he defeated The Miz on Monday Night Raw.
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 the 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 became a good guy 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.
The Macho Man (the King gimmick was abandoned after WrestleMania VII) would continue to work for the WWF for three more years. Savage would enjoy a final high-profile experience with WCW beginning in 1994 and, after a short stint in TNA, would officially quit the business a decade later.
3. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (WrestleMania 19, March 30, 2003)
The Texas Rattlesnake hadn't been the same since Owen Hart gave him that legitimately devastating tombstone piledriver at SummerSlam 1997. Although he powered through the lingering pain for several more years to great success, by 2003 on the advice of medical professionals he decided to stop taking bumps for good.
Steve Austin had owned The Rock at WrestleMania. In fact, he won two world championships from The Great One at both WrestleMania 15 and 17. But at WrestleMania 19, no title was at stake.
When Austin came out to his famous entrance music wearing a vest that said "OMR", few knew it meant "One More Round". In the end, it took three consecutive rock bottoms to retire him. The next night on Monday Night Raw he was fired by Eric Bischoff. Austin made the official announcement the following day.
Although he has made numerous Raw & WrestleMania appearances since then, beyond delivering Stone Cold Stunners during promos and serving as a Special Guest Referee during matches, The Rattlesnake hasn't returned to in-ring action.
4. Goldberg (WrestleMania 20, March 14, 2004)
It was supposed to be a dream match. The man who dominated WCW in the late '90s vs. The Next Big Thing. Two jacked-up powerhouses colliding on the grandest stage of them all. That's not what ended up happening.
Bill Goldberg's stint in the WWE was far less memorable than his glory days working for Eric Bischoff. And so it shouldn't have surprised anyone when he announced before WrestleMania 20 that he wasn't renewing his contract. But when Brock Lesnar said the same thing, it was a bad sign.
The fact that both men were planning to have their final WWE match together at the Showcase of the Immortals made their pairing all the more anticlimactic. With no title on the line and no real interesting story to tell in the ring, despite months of slowly laying the groundwork for it, disaster was inevitable.
Despite the presence of Stone Cold Steve Austin as special guest referee, neither Goldberg nor Lesnar looked the least bit interested in working that night as the match took forever to get going which greatly annoyed the impatient Madison Square Garden audience. As they booed and chanted negatively throughout the punishingly long 13-minute encounter, Goldberg finally ended it with a Jackhammer.
When Austin delivered his finisher, the Stone Cold Stunner, to both men afterwards, it got the only positive reaction.
While Lesnar would triumphantly return eight years later (he became a four-time WWE Champion in 2014), Goldberg hasn't wrestled since.
5. 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'm sorry. I love you," Michaels super-kicked 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 the company ever again.
6. 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.
7. 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 five years. Barring some unforeseen circumstances, this will likely never change.
8. Edge (WrestleMania 27, April 3, 2011)
After The Mexican Aristocrat Alberto Del Rio won the 40-man Royal Rumble in 2011, he was only one match away from his destiny, becoming the next World Heavyweight Champion. All he had to do was beat The Rated R Superstar in the opening match of WrestleMania 27 to claim it.
He failed. The good news was he had a rematch booked for the strap at Extreme Rules. The bad news was he would not be facing Edge.
Eight days after WrestleMania 27, Edge appeared on Monday Night Raw to inform everyone that because of persistent neck problems, he would no longer be cleared to wrestle. The risk of possible permanent paralysis was just too great. His longtime childhood friend and frequent tag team partner Christian would take his place. Edge would ultimately forfeit the title on Smackdown.
At Extreme Rules, thanks to a distraction from his old pal, Christian would beat Del Rio for the WHC in a ladder match. Edge has since made occasional TV appearances on WWE's weekly prime time shows purely to talk.
Read more by Dennis Earl at dennisearl.wordpress.com
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