Save The Last Dance For Me: Wrestling Legends Final Dance Partners

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Photo: WWE

The announcement that WWE Hall of Famer and 12x World Champion (13 if you include the IWGP Second Belt) Kurt Angle would have his retirement match at WrestleMania 35 had many fans salivating at the thought of Angle’s final opponent of a legendary career – names like John Cena, Shelton Benjamin, AJ Styles. But on this past Monday night, the announcement that it was Angle’s year-long nemesis Baron Corbin (despite completing the story) fell on stunned ears, leaving the WWE Universe agape with a slow “Whaaaaaaat. Thuuuhhhhhhh. Fuuuuuuhhhh…”

But while the thought of the perfect final opponent is a great thought and want from wrestling fans and wrestlers alike, how often has that happened throughout history? How many of wrestling’s greatest icons have left the sport and retired facing someone truly worthy of their final appearance? And how many times has the final match simply been a way to end a story? Here’s a look at three of the best final match stories in history.

Gorgeous George, vs. The Destroyer (Match vs Hair), Olympia Auditorium, November 11, 1962

He made his debut in 1932, but the 1940s and 1950s belonged to Gorgeous George. While not the best technical wrestler of the era by a long shot, few could match the draw that the bleached blonde haired bravado of George Wagner held when his narcissistic and arrogant Gorgeous George entered an arena. But by the beginning of the 1960s, things had changed. A new breed of wrestler was dominating the main events and George was well past his prime – he was nearly 50 years old and his alcohol abuse had taken its toll on his body. But on November 7, 1962, he stepped into the ring one last time, at the Olympic Auditorium for the World Wrestling Alliance (WWA) in Los Angeles, California. His opponent was one of the fastest rising stars in the sport, the masked marvel The Destroyer, who was also the WWA World Heavyweight Champion. For the match, Gorgeous George decided to up the ante and give the crowd something they would pay to see. He would put one of the defining items of his 30-year ride of arrogance on the line – his platinum hair – against Destroyer’s title and his mask. In the end, The Destroyer retained – both belt and mask – and in the middle of the ring, Gorgeous George’s head was shaved clean. While it was never fully intended to be his final match, it ultimately proved to be so, as he died from a heart attack on December 24, 1963. But by ultimately being humbled in the ring, after 30 years humiliating others to keep his own bravado, provided the ultimate ending for one of professional wrestling’s most inspirational, imitated and effective heels of all time.

Buddy Rogers, vs. Ric Flair, NWA Mid Atlantic House Show, November 22, 1979

Taking his cues from the bleached blonde arrogance of Gorgeous George before him, Buddy Rogers‘ “Nature Boy” persona continued to work on George Wagner’s initial blueprint, but while Wagner wasn’t the best physical specimen to drive home the bravado of the character 100% (although it definitely helped add to the heat factor), Buddy Roger’s physical and technical acumen surely did. The “Nature Boy” gimmick was such a hot commodity that it would be passed down to many future wrestlers, including the recently departed “Nature Boy” Roger Kirby in 1967 and “Nature Boy” Buddy Landell in the 1970s. But easily his most famous benefactor was the 16x World Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Ric Flair was one of the fastest rising stars in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) in the late 1970s, and was ready to take the next step in becoming the main event. In 1978, Flair began calling himself “The Nature Boy”, taking swipes at the elder Rogers as being the new breed of arrogance. The two would meet at a huge NWA Mid Atlantic event, Battle of the Nature Boys, on July 8, 1979, that would see Flair (then the NWA United States Champion) defeat Rogers at the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina, finally having the torch passed to the younger Naitch. But the two would have a few more encounters at House Shows and on November 22, 1979, Rogers’ final singles match would happen in Charlotte, North Carolina – Flair’s adopted hometown – and Rogers would score the victory. While he may have passed the torch at the bigger, well documented event, Rogers ultimately had the last laugh at who the greatest “Nature Boy” really was – the original.

Jesse Ventura, vs. Tito Santana, WWF House Show, March 22, 1986

Jesse “The Body” Ventura was one of the bonafide superstars of the late 1970s and early 1980s, primarily with Verne Gagne‘s American Wrestling Association (AWA). With his flamboyant persona (inspired by then-WWWF World Champion “Superstar” Billy Graham) with his real-life history as a Navy SEAL, he was as tough as he was exotic looking – and one of the game’s best mic men to boot. During his time with the AWA, he began a rivalry with a Mexican grappler named Tito Santana in 1980. By 1983, both men were now in the WWF, and their feud continued. Sadly, due to blood clots in his lungs, Ventura would begin to wrestle less and less, switching to the role of color commentator alongside Gorilla Monsoon, but he continued to berate Santana on the mic during Tito’s matches, infamously referring to him as “Chico Santana”. But in a storybook ending, Ventura’s final match before he had to retire for good due to health reasons, he was defeated by Tito Santana at a WWF House Show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin, vs. The Rock, WWE WrestleMania XIX, March 30, 2003

Photo: WWE

In one of the greatest final matches of all time, two of WWE’s biggest icons in their history, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock, would face off one last time at WrestleMania XIX in Seattle, Washington. There was no title on the line – the WWE World Heavyweight Championship was decided that night between two newer stars in Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar – but for many, this was the true main event of the evening. The two had been at war for the entire duration of the Attitude Era, starting in 1997 over the WWE Intercontinental Champion, both emerging as the two biggest stars of the era and two of the biggest personalities the industry had ever seen. Unbeknownst to everyone watching, though, this was to be Steve Austin’s swan song. His neck issues, stemming from the botched piledriver from Owen Hart years previous, had finally reached their limit, and he could no longer physically compete in the ring anymore. The following night on RawAustin was “fired” by then-GM Eric Bischoff to cover his departure, but it was his health that had forced the Rattlesnake to abandon the squared circle. But it closed the chapter on arguably the greatest rivalry of WWE’s infamous Attitude Era.

Here’s a more extensive look at some of the industry’s greatest superstars, and the person they faced in the final singles match of their careers.

  • George Hackenschmidt, vs. Frank Gotch, Comiskey Park, September 4, 1911
  • Frank Gotch, vs. Georg Lurich, April 1, 1913
  • Ed “Strangler” Lewis, vs. Billy Hanson, December 20, 1946
  • Mildred Burke, vs. Mae Young, May 30, 1951
  • Rikidozan, vs. Freddie Blassie, Olympic Auditorium, July 25, 1962
  • Gorgeous George, vs. The Destroyer (Match vs Hair), Olympia Auditorium, November 11, 1962
  • Buddy Rogers, vs. Ric Flair, NWA Mid Atlantic House Show, November 22, 1979
  • David Von Erich, vs. Kamala, WCCW House Show, February 7, 1984
  • Jesse Ventura, vs. Tito Santana, WWF House Show, March 22, 1986
  • Verne Gagne, vs. Nick Bockwinkel, AWA TV, May 31, 1986
  • Magnum TA, vs. Jimmy Garvin, NWA Mid Atlantic House Show, October 12, 1986
  • Bruno Sammartino, vs. Hercules, WWF House Show, August 28, 1987
  • “Superstar” Billy Graham, vs. Butch Reed, WWF House Show, November 7, 1987
  • Dick The Bruiser, vs. Sheik Adnan Al-Kassie, AWA House Show, February 4, 1988
  • Bruiser Brody, vs. Dory Funk Jr., WWC La Copa Gilette, February 27, 1988
  • Andre the Giant, vs. Ultimate Warrior, WWF House Show, December 11, 1989
  • Harley Race, vs. Junkyard Dog, WCW House Show, October 7, 1990
  • Lou Thesz, vs. Masahiro Chono, NJPW King of Kings, December 26, 1990
  • Kerry Von Erich, vs. Buffalo Brawler, GWF TV, January 29, 1993
  • Nick Bockwinkel, vs. Dory Funk, Jr., WCW Slamboree, May 23, 1993
  • Rick Rude, vs. Sting, NJPW Wrestling in Dontaku, May 1, 1994
  • Dynamite Kid, vs. Brian Walsh, German Pro Wrestling, May 28, 1994
  • Junkyard Dog, vs. Honky Tonk Man, National Wrestling Conference, June 24, 1995
  • Brian Pillman, vs. Goldust, WWF House Show, October 4, 1997
  • Owen Hart, vs. Road Dogg, WWF House Show, May 16, 1999
  • “Macho Man” Randy Savage, vs. Sid Vicious, WCW House Show, January 14, 2000
  • Davey Boy Smith, vs. Steve Blackman, WWF House Show, May 27, 2000
  • Antonio Inoki, vs. Renzo Gracie, December 31, 2000
  • Taz, vs. Hardcore Holly, WWE SmackDown House Show, May 18, 2002
  • Mr. Perfect, vs. David Flair, TNA #27, January 8, 2003
  • “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, vs. The Rock, WWE WrestleMania XIX, March 30, 2003
  • Eddie Guerrero, vs. Mr. Kennedy, WWE Smackdown, November 8, 2005
  • Dusty Rhodes, vs. Randy Orton, WWE Great American Bash, July 22, 2007
  • Chris Benoit, vs. Elijah Burke, ECW on Sci Fi, June 19, 2007
  • Ultimate Warrior, vs. Orlando Jordan, Nu-Wrestling Evolution (Spain), June 25, 2008
  • Mitsuharu Misawa, vs. Atsushi Aoki, May 18, 2009
  • Ricky Steamboat, vs. Drew McIntyre, WWE Smackdown/ECW House Show, August 2, 2009
  • Kenta Kobashi, vs. Yuto Ajima, November 24, 2009
  • Bret “Hitman” Hart, vs. The Miz, WWE Raw, June 17, 2010
  • Mae Young, vs. LayCool, WWE Raw, November 15, 2010
  • Edge, vs. Alberto Del Rio, WrestleMania XXVII, April 3, 2011
  • Rowdy Roddy Piper, vs. The Miz, WWE Raw, June 13, 2011
  • Ric Flair, vs. Sting, Impact Wrestling, September 12, 2011
  • Booker T., vs. Cody Rhodes, WWE SmackDown House Show, February 25, 2012
  • Sara Del Rey, vs. Sassie Stephie, Remix Pro Power Play, August 5, 2012
  • Hulk Hogan, vs. Sting, TNA/IMPACT Bound For Glory, October 16, 2012
  • William Regal, vs. Cesaro, NXT TV, November 21, 2013
  • CM Punk, vs. Billy Gunn, WWE Raw, January 20, 2014
  • Christian, vs. Big Show, WWE House Show, March 23, 2014
  • AJ Lee, vs. Nikki Bella, WWE Raw, March 16, 2015
  • Tyson Kidd, vs. Samoa Joe, WWE Superstars Dark Match, June 1, 2015
  • Sting, vs. Seth Rollins, WWE Night of Champions, September 20, 2015
  • Paige, vs. Sasha Banks, WWE Raw, December 4, 2017

 

 

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