Ageism in Wrestling: ‘They’ve Still Got It’ by Marc Madison

Ageism is considered (no pun intended) the oldest form of acceptable stereotype. Let’s revisit that statement, though. A stereotype shouldn’t be acceptable and is fundamentally wrong, because it says someone can’t do something because they fall within a broad category. In professional wrestling, it seems that ageism is running rampant, less on the part of the promotions but among the fanbase that watches it. In recent weeks fans are proclaiming more and more that someone shouldn’t be doing something because of their age. While we aren’t ignoring that other things may factor in, age is typically the reoccurring point of contention. Blanket statements get made such as ‘Wrestler X’s spot is being taken.’ It doesn’t seem to be an issue everywhere but is being raised in relation to WWE and AEW.

A couple of years back, fans will recall the Undertaker faced Goldberg in what could have been considered a match of the ages. Before that, there was a tag team match-up between the Brothers of Destruction and Degeneration X. In both matches, the arguments made were that those involved were ‘too old’ and were taking someone else’s spot. The success, or lack thereof, for these matches, had to do with a number of issues, but focusing criticism primarily on age falls under the discriminatory foundation of ageism. Timing, stamina, & conditioning were all equal contributors for why those matches weren’t effective. Had those involved all been under 40 and guilty of all of the things above, would age be perceived to be a factor? It wouldn’t. It would likely be that the match just wasn’t very good because of all those things mentioned above.

More recently, the choice of Goldberg to face Drew McIntyre for the WWE Championship at WWE’s second-biggest pay-per-view event of the year, the Royal Rumble, certainly got the ire of the WWE Universe. The build-up was based upon Goldberg’s perception that McIntyre was disrespecting those that came before him. The problem was that countless times, the face champion McIntyre had far too often shown and expressed respect for those who came before him. When the match came about, it went less than three minutes. Was the match all that good? For those that watched it, the response is likely no. However, that wasn’t tied to age but other factors such as timing, conditioning, and chemistry between champion and challenger, not to mention the story that was meant to be told by those that put the match together.

Similarly, in AEW, the signing of Sting has also been met with mixed responses. For every person who is pleased to see him back in the ring, someone else has an issue with it. At 61 years of age, Sting’s age was the first concern listed by fans, whether due to worrying about his safety or because he is taking someone’s ‘spot.’ Regardless, Sting has become an integral part of a storyline and has been used to help elevate rising star, Darby Allin. The concern for Sting is presumably founded on his last match in WWE when he was injured facing Seth Rollins for the WWE Championship. With every bump taken, fans appear to collectively cringe; this was never more evident than when he took a powerbomb from Brian Cage. As he laid there, viewers wondered, what was Sting feeling, would he recover? Fans felt concerned because of Sting’s age. A bump at 61 isn’t the same as someone that’s learned how to take a bump at 16. Not to mention, his injury six years prior was the result of a powerbomb into the turnbuckle and the result that he has suffered from spinal stenosis since then.

That said, for a veteran of 30 years in the ring, wrestling isn’t unlike riding a bike. While the concern for injury is legitimate, no one knows their body better than the wrestler and their physican(s), and they are the ones best positioned to weigh risk versus reward. Though “The Icon” seemed fine in the weeks that followed, that just meant fans worried about what could happen during his match at AEW Revolution. Throughout, there has also been the argument that he doesn’t serve a purpose as an in-ring competitor. To that, we say, why? He has shown that he isn’t to be used as a primary focal point but a strong supporting role in the hopes of elevating Allin.

With AEW’s Revolution now complete, the match between Team Taz against Allin and Sting did as much or more to elevate the younger talent as it did to showcase what Sting can do. Yes, the match was prerecorded, and yes, he was likely taken care of in preparation for the match. While those things all play a factor, so does his ability to still compete with young talent and show that he can keep up with them. It showed that having Sting involved in a match was proof that his last run didn’t truly capitalize on what he could do like this matchup did. Saying that he shouldn’t be in there because of the risk of injury is unfair, as the risk is no more or less greater than it is for anyone who lands awkwardly.

Another couple of newsworthy items that have also come from AEW are two of its newest editions. Paul Wight (formerly The Big Show) & Christian Cage (formerly known simply as Christian) at 49 and 47 years of age, respectively, are collectively approaching the century mark. Whether or not fans were ‘let down’ or ‘surprised’ about their arrival, much should be said about their willingness and desire to compete. Christian lost years of his career, much like Edge (WWE’s Royal Rumble winner and WrestleMania headliner), due to injury. For Wight, a new opportunity has been presented to him as well in AEW. Both have worked to put themselves in the best possible position to succeed. They are physically in tremendous shape and are of the mindset that they can give back as much as they can achieve themselves.

Years ago, a storyline that fans may or may not recall was when a WWE Hall of Famer returned as an in-ring competitor for a feud with, ironically enough, a current AEW star. In 2009, Chris Jericho would disrespect legends Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka. However, when 55-year-old Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat stepped into the ring with Jericho, fans voiced a resounding ‘You Still Got It’ chant for this series of matches. He turned heads and impressed fans even in defeat. Steamboat proved that he had the strength, stamina, and skillset still that many would envy. (Jericho, by the way, is 50 years old and showing no signs of slowing down as a regular performer.)

The argument could be made that ageism is more of western bigotry, an argument that is supported when you look at wrestling fans in the east. Over the last several weeks, two men of great distinction have captured championships. Jun Akiyama, at 43, and Keijoh Mutoh, at 61, have recently become champions in Japan. While there has been some criticism about Mutoh capturing it, it was never centered around his age, but whether or not having then-champion Go Shizaki lose the title made sense at all. For weeks, Shiozaki had rechallenged Mutoh time and time again. The story that played out was of the challenger whose best years were behind him coming for the title. Whether western wrestling fans would embrace something like this remains to be seen. What it did prove was that age could, in fact, not be seen as a detriment but rather an asset.

Too often, the passing of the torch doesn’t take place. Fans will recall that the Hogan/Rock and Rock/John Cena matchups at their respective Wrestlemanias were clear examples of a passing of the torch. It is something that doesn’t always need to be done but often could be done. For all the declarations that performers of the past shouldn’t be given a second chance, we ask why? We would remind you of this quote before you decide that age should be the deciding factor on whether or not someone should step in the ring again.

‘He put hard times on Dusty Rhodes and his family.You don’t know what hard times are daddy.Hard times are when the textile workers around this country are out of work, they got 4 or 5 kids and can’t pay their wages, can’t buy their food. Hard times are when the auto workers are out of work and they tell ‘em go home.And hard times are when a man has worked at a job for thirty years, thirty years, and they give him a watch, kick him in the butt and say “hey a computer took your place, daddy”, that’s hard times!That’s hard times! And Ric Flair you put hard times on this country by takin’ Dusty Rhodes out, that’s hard times. And we all had hard times together, and I admit,I don’t look like the athlete of the day supposed to look. My belly’s just a lil’ big, my heiny’s a lil’ big, but brother, I am bad. And they know I’m bad.’

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