We've seen it a million times. Old wrestling veterans, established household names, "retire", and then come back again (and sometimes again and again and again) for "one last" glory run. Guys in their late forties and early fifties, who feel the urge to bask in the limelight yet again, hogging the top spots which rightfully should belong to somebody twenty years younger. It's tolerable at first, if the returning veteran can actually still go, but when they start to move like a broken down, rusted cyborg and run the ropes at speeds that would make a snail burst into laughter, it becomes rather pitiful and irritating. When their once chiseled physiques all of a sudden resemble microwaved Marshmellow Peeps, it becomes sad. When they are reduced to rambling into the microphone incoherently for ten minutes or more until their voice reminds you of an 80 year-old emphysema patient, it becomes downright disgusting.
Let's look at two old, famous veterans who came back (and left again) not too long ago who fit the above descriptions, and then at one who's still going strong, and why he is.
Hulk Hogan came back to WWE with the nWo in early 2002. For some reason, the fans couldn't wait to cheer the 48-or-so-year-old with a spray-on beard and Jimmy Hendrix entrance music, so he was promptly turned face, reverted to his old trademark red and yellow garb (complete with a hideous feather boa which would've made Jesse Ventura rake his hand over his face while groaning), and began cutting the old "Well you know something brother" promos. Having been a huge fan of Hogan when I was little, while not being overly thrilled to see him back again I still tolerated it without complaint. Nevermind the clichèd-to-the-point-of-nausea promos and catch-phrases. Nevermind the fact that the 24-inch pythons looked more like shed snake skins. And you couldn't be surprised at the fact that his matches were sub-par; let's face it, Hogan's never been known for his technical ability. His only good match after his return to my memory (or that I saw, 'cause I was unable to view his PPV match with Vince so can't comment on it) was his Wrestlemania match with Rock. Thank god for Rock. Just on the way he moves in the ring he can make anybody look good (even Goldberg). Then Hogan embarked on a feud with Vince... then, while still one of the most popular guys by far in the company, he suddenly disappeared.
Hogan was greedy. Even after all these years, and who knows how many millions of dollars this guy has to have, he had some sort of contract squabble with Vince, the details of which I don't feel like digging up. So the two parties "respectfully parted ways". It seems like the greed bug has bitten a lot of wrestlers lately. See Kevin Nash as one who I've recently become disappointed with (in one WWE.com interview conducted soon after his return to WWE in 2002, he claimed it wasn't about the money for him anymore- but when contract renewal time rolled around, all of a sudden "if the offer wasn't high enough" he would go elsewhere- like NWA-TNA is a financial improvement). But putting Nash aside, the point is that Hogan most likely could still be in WWE right now, pleasing all the thousands of
marks fans who went nuts at the mere site of him coming to the ring. But instead, he's gone. Good riddance in my opinion. One less money-grubbing, miserly old coot gone, the better WWE will be.
Hogan's latest venture, for all five or six of you who care, is an attempt to start his own wrestling promotion with Jimmy Hart, the rumored name of which (XWF-Y2K4) sounds more like a robotic serial number than a wrestling company. Apparently Hogan wants to add "great" names to the roster like Lex "Charles Manson" Luger, Bret Hart, and other assorted bitter/talentless slugs. Good luck Hulk.
On to the next old sack who came back and flopped. He wears a kilt and, while not speaking with a Scottish accent of any type whatsoever, at the same time seems to mispronounce the most common words of the English language in the vast majority of his promos. Of course I'm talking about Roddy Piper. Piper was brought back for god knows what, I'd love to tell you but his whole last run in WWE was so horrible that my memory has blocked most of it out except for the most lurid details. He worked with Sean O'Haire, but you couldn't tell if he was his manager, mentor, owner, grandpa, or what. Basically all he did was come out every week and garble in the microphone unintelligibly until the mic cut off. You would've needed one of those United Nations translation helmets to have been able to understand the words coming out of his mouth (not that they were worth understanding). He didn't even look sober half the time. The few times he wrestled, his pasty, swollen torso resembled a grotesque Pillsbury Doughboy on crack.
Speaking of crack... drugs in wrestling is the subject which ended Piper's last WWE run. He went on some HBO special which had a segment on drugs in the wrestling business, said a bunch of stuff he shouldn't have said (and should've known better than to say while working for the company), and, thank god, Vince got rid of the old goof. Just like that, O'Haire was back on Velocity, and Smackdown had been reduced by yet one more tired, out of shape has-been. Piper's biggest endeavor since leaving is to engage in a petty e-mail feud with the Honky Tonk Man, and you can actually read one of Piper's e-mails to HTM (and his spelling and grammar are just as bad as his speaking skills) by clicking the link above and going to HTM's newsboard. Check it out, it's good for a laugh.
Now, let's look at an older wrestler who is a legend, a household name, a true icon, and let's see why he's still flourishing today while the two geezers above are floundering in obscurity. He is none other than Ric Flair.
Since Ric came back, he's done nothing but SHINE each and every single episode of Raw. Unlike with Hogan and Piper, you actually notice and are disappointed when he's NOT on a Raw. His presence alone adds so much more to whatever segment he's in. Ric has more charisma and energy, even at 54 years of age, than 90% of the current WWE roster. He might not be the most chiseled, but at least unlike the above two, he can WRESTLE. Out of Hogan, Piper, and Flair, Flair is the one who can do it all- he can cut the best promos, wrestle the best matches, and have a good match with anybody. And those three things are what he's been doing since his comeback. He's had great matches with wrestlers much younger than he is, especially Shawn Michaels and Triple H. He's cut some of the best promos in recent Raw history. Flair is so good at what he does that just the first note of his entrance music can bring an entire crowd to its feet. They go nuts when he does so much as let loose one "WOOOOO" or do one strut.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the last several months of Flair's career, in stark contrast to Hogan's and Piper's, is that he's not out for himself. Hogan came back specifically to steal the main spotlight. Piper wanted it as well and came back originally to be in the middle of the Hogan/Vince feud. Flair for the past several months hasn't been the "main figure" of Raw. Working with Evolution, he's ADDED TO what his three younger cohorts have been doing. He acts as a mentor or sorts to Triple H, as a manager and occassional tag team partner to Randy Orton and Batista (and Hunter as well). He doesn't detract from what they're doing. He's done nothing but help to further elevate all three. He doesn't try to put himself above Triple H when Triple H is the world champion. He doesn't condescend to the rookies Randy Orton and Batista. Watching their interaction on TV, they come off as equals. This is what separates Flair from Hogan and Piper. With Hogan, it's about money and fame even now. Piper's the same way, except he's also a moron. For Ric Flair it's about the love of the game. He goes out every week and looks like he's having a blast, and when he wrestles, he still goes all out.
Hogan and Piper, take some notes. Ric Flair is, and always will be, The Man.