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No Country For Old Dead Men: 5 great matches from men over 50

With The Undertaker seemingly a lock for WrestleMania, the show gets a little bit older.

The Dead Man turned 53 just days ago and is years removed from being able to perform at the level he once was capable of hitting. While he understands the psychology of the ring, he simply lacks the physical ability to do many of the things that made him so great for so long.

But there’s reason for hope, wrestling fans.

Old men have certainly put on great matches throughout wrestling history. So here’s a list of five of the most entertaining performances by men over 50 to hopefully inspire some confidence in our favorite lightning zombie.

  1. Ric Flair vs. Triple H - WWE RAW - May 19, 2003

Flair: 54 years, 2 months, 24 days

In the heights of Triple H hate among the fandom, this was maybe a little under-appreciated in its time. In his SmarK RAW Rant at 411 Mania, Scott Keith wrote, “Trust HHH to craft a show where they spend two hours making you care about his challenger and then have him get pinned clean by the Lord of RAW in the center of the ring in order to hype a gimmick match with his best friend in a rematch from what will be the least-bought PPV of the year.”

But in practice, this is a beautiful example of pro wrestling. In under 10 minutes, these two tell a complete story, and by the end the crowd is biting on everything.

Triple H, battered and ribs taped from a post-match attack by Kevin Nash the night before, is told by Steve Austin he must defend his title in the night’s main event and it must be against a former champion. Left off the list of potential opponents is Triple H’s buddy Flair. He, of course, picks Flair and tells him he can just lie down in the ring later in the night.

Flair, instead, informs Triple H he’ll be kicking his ass later in the night and the result is one of my personal favorite Raw matches ever.

Even if we all hated Triple H at the time.

2. Sabu vs. Terry Funk - ECW Born To Be Wired - September 8, 1997

Funk: 53 years, 2 months, 9 days

ECW has aged poorly for me and hardcore wrestling isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but this match will always stand out for me.

In large part, it’s because Funk is one of the greatest to ever step into a wrestling ring and his ability to have a 20-minute barbed wire match with Sabu at 53 years of age and have it be compelling is a testament to his overall craft.

This match is, of course, most remembered for Sabu ripping open his bicep and bleeding all over the place before wrapping it up and continuing on.

However, it’s a strong and compelling match in 1997 hardcore terms and ECW stuck it on TV two years later (linked above) just to spite WCW’s “toned down” hardcore efforts.

3. Jushin Thunder Liger vs. KUSHIDA - NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 2016 - March 5, 2016

Liger: 51 years, 3 months, 5 days

If you’re noticing a running theme here, it’s grumpy old men who are among the wrestling gods in title matches where they come up just short. It’s worth noting that Liger is still performing at a high level two years after this match, but this was a thing of beauty.

This was for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, with Liger challenging KUSHIDA for the strap.

Liger spent the match working over KUSHIDA’s leg, about which Joe Lanza of Voices of Wrestling wrote, “Liger worked over KUSHIDA’s left leg, and KUSHIDA sold it extremely well with little touches like limping back into the ring at 19.99999 to avoid count out, stumbling over and collapsing on a leap frog, and using his right leg to kick instead of his left.”

The two had met in various tag and six-man matches during the Road to Dontaku tour and built a chemistry that was very much in display.

Liger worked the leg, KUSHIDA worked the arm to set up the Hoverboard and eventually used it for the victory.

Pure, in-ring storytelling between Liger and KUSHIDA when he was really hitting on all cylinders.

4. Vince McMahon vs. Hulk Hogan - WWE WrestleMania 19 - March 30, 2003

McMahon: 57 years, 7 months, 6 days
Hogan: 49 years, 7 months, 19 days

Including Hogan in the age listings is a bit of a cheat, given he was still a few months from turning 50, but he was nearing a decade past moving like a 50-year-old, so count it.

There have absolutely been better McMahon matches in WWE history, but the combined age and effort here deserves attention.

The street fight rules help a lot to cover up any need for “wrestling” and allow both men got color. Vince dropped a leg off a ladder through an announce table and they get the crowd completely into the match, which lasted over 20 minutes.

There’s a lot of Sports Entertainment™ on display with Roddy Piper getting involved, ref switching and the like, but asking any more of these two would be completely unfair.

This is the “had no right to be as good as it was” match of the list.

5. Big Van Vader vs. Antonio Inoki - NJPW Tokyo Dome Show - January 4, 1997

Inoki: 53 years, 10 months, 15 days

This was in the final handful of matches in Inoki’s career and it was a hell of a good one. Also, his entrance started with someone playing the harp live.

Vader is brutal in this match, hitting german suplexes and choke slams that drop Inoki at some pretty severe angles. The big man was so great working as a monster who was working from on top and with the beloved legend taking the beating, it works so well.

There are great little touches here, like Vader absolutely leveling Inoki with a punch as the ref is checking him pre-match and Inoki rolling out of the ring before coming back in with a smirk and clap before the first lock-up. Then, they return to the Inoki grin moments later after Vader has been laying heavy shots in.

It’s a different play on the “old man with nothing to lose” approach and that plays well with Inoki firing back throughout the match but Vader being too big, too strong and hitting too hard. By mid-match, Vader is holding Inoki by the hair, yelling, “Come on, Inoki! Fight!”

Eventually, Inoki does fight and draws Vader’s blood, which forces Vader to another level of viciousness and he draws Inoki’s blood.

The ending is a bit sudden with Inoki winning with the cross-arm breaker, but it’s the final bit of a beautifully told story and Inoki stands as the lone crazy old man to get the win on this list.

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