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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Conditioning & Wrestling: Is Age Still A Factor"
September 28, 2006 by Robert Zarp


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Throughout the long, storied history of the sport of professional wrestling, the precedent that had been set for decades was the thought that at a certain age, many professional wrestlers would need to retire to avoiding risking permanent injury. Many of the titans of the squared circle would not have made it past 40 years of age as an active performer at the advent of the sport, with men like Tazz, Ted DiBiase, and Steve Austin as perfect examples, as all of them retired from competition before or at the age of 40. In recent years, though, a new trend has been on the rise in the world of professional wrestling, and despite a catch-as-catch-can, breakneck speed style in today's rendition of wrestling, more and more often wrestlers are not retiring after they reach 40 years old.

Conditioning is a very key factor to maintaining the longevity of a wrestler's career, and with improved conditioning methods, the wrestlers are able to compete with a quicker yet safe pace without risking too much injury along the way. In the 1960s, many wrestlers were not in the greatest of physiques, as they were presented more as the carnival sideshow that wrestling had been years prior. A decade later, and Billy Graham introduced a new look to the sport, that of a bodybuilder, something radically different at the time. When the 1980s hit and Hulkamania was raging, this look was abundant in the world of professional wrestling. However, with the 90s, and a steroid trial case against Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation, a new look of wrestler was exhibited, especially by men like Bret and Owen Hart, and Shawn Michaels, to name a few. Wrestlers were in great shape, but were not overtly muscular. With less steroid use, albeit still present with some talent, and with wrestlers being more conditioned for endurance than for strength, a new breed of wrestler was born.

Since a majority of wrestlers are now focusing on being conditioned to have a high endurance rather than an exorbitant amount of strength and power, they are able to last more years as active competitors, if they do not suffer a serious injury. With that being said, is age truly a factor in this day and age in the sport of professional wrestling"

One name that comes to mind when discussing this topic would be none other than the incomparable "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, who has maintained an active career now for over 30 years, making his debut in 1972. Even after suffering what should have been a career ending back injury, Flair strived and made a comeback, that comeback lasting for 31 years at this point. At the age of 57, Ric Flair is a man that should not even be able to walk, let alone wrestle an entire match, but with superior conditioning, Flair has been able to stay in the ring long after his prime. In the case of the "Nature Boy," it would seem that age has not been and will not be a factor concerning his retirement, if and whenever that may actually happen.

At the age of 62, the hardcore icon and living legend from the Double Cross Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, ring veteran Terry Funk is an amazing athlete. He has knees that should have been totally deteriorated at this point in his life, a back that should be permanently broken, and countless other injuries that should stop him from resuming an average, everyday lifestyle. Once again though, Funk is a wrestler that was properly conditioned for endurance, not power, and thus he has miraculously lasted an incredible 40 years as an active competitor in the sport of professional wrestling. Although Terry is not wrestling every day of the year, he is still going strong, putting on an amazing performance at this year's ECW One Night Stand. For this hardcore legend, age has seemed to be more of an afterthought than an actual concern.

There are some wrestlers that start at a later age in life, and thus are supposedly more prone to serious injury early in their careers. Rico Constantino, Dave Batista, and "Diamond" Dallas Page are three prime examples of wrestlers that have started at a later age, but with proper conditioning, have maintained an active career in this sport. DDP may be 50 years old, but he still is going strong, making several appearances on the independent circuit and even at one point wrestling for TNA. Dave Batista has been a success with the WWE, no doubt about it, and at the age of 37, when many wrestler's careers are supposed to be ending, Batista's is only truly starting. Rico Constantino, at the age of 45, is still wrestling full time, traveling abroad and maintaining his career long after the age of 40. These three men are proof that not all wrestlers starting their career later in life are destined to become injured sooner in their sojourn to the squared circle. Conditioning is credited once more to keeping these wrestlers not only in top shape, but adding onto the longevity of their careers as well.

To truly deliver the point, one key example of a wrestler that is past the age of 40, with a career ending injury, that has somehow, some way, by miracle or not, maintained a career and even has begun anew when many detractors thought he'd never compete again. That man of course is the main event, the show stopper, "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels. HBK is a true legend in the sport of professional wrestling, but his most amazing accomplishment thus far has been being able to come back to a full time schedule after suffering what many felt would be a career and even life threatening back injury. Even though he needed four years to recover, Shawn came back to the WWE and has been an active wrestler for the past four years, adding onto his already illustrious legacy. Through physical therapy and rehabilitation, a great endurance conditioning program, and a will that never quit, Shawn Michaels did what many, including himself, thought would be impossible, to come back to the sport he loves. It would seem that neither age nor injury would be a factor in keeping Shawn away from his second home, the wrestling ring.

With so many clear examples of how conditioning has helped many wrestlers endure longer, more prosperous careers, it seems that age is no longer as much of a factor in the sport as it was over 40 years ago. While some may argue that younger talent should be deserving of the spotlight, and that longer careers might affect the pushing of new talent, many of the wrestlers listed as examples are no longer on the center stage, so to speak. Rather, many of them are working more to help put over the newer, younger talent, more so than anything else. Shawn Michaels had one last World Title reign, that only lasted one month, and during that reign, he almost lost his title to Rob Van Dam. Ric Flair has held the World Tag Team title with Batista a few years ago, and even recently the Intercontinental title for a few months, but he has not been stealing any limelight from younger talent to say the least.

So in all honesty, is age ever going to be a factor again in determining the length of the career of a professional wrestler" In this day and age, the answer is more often than not a clear and resounding "no."

by Robert Zarp ..


Erkka Järvinen wrote:
How come you not mention Lou Thesz, he wrestled in seven different decades! For me, thats more than Ric Flair wrestling in the age of 58
Stephen Broughton wrote:
Excellent Article, I am a Indy wrestler in the state of Ky. I am also 38 yrs old and I owe my 7 yr career to Conditioning and should have retired a few yrs ago. Excellent Article right on the Money.
Tony Francioni wrote:
I think it is very inspiring that any athlete can compete with younger ones. Its really amazing to watch Ric Flair and Shawn Micheals wrestle at their age. Besides your only as young as you feel. The human body is an amazing machine and even when the body ages it can still do great things if you are focused on eating healthy and exercise. Flair and HBK are two wrestlers that have done that.
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