- Retirement doesn't always mean leaving the wrestling business. These former WWE superstars continue to contribute backstage and have a significant impact on today's wrestling products.
- From legendary talkers like Arn Anderson to technical wrestlers like Dean Malenko, these retired wrestlers bring their skills and experience to roles such as coaches, trainers, and producers.
- Fit Finlay's influence transcends generations, as he is responsible for training stars like John Cena and Becky Lynch. These selfless wrestlers continue to contribute to the industry they love.
Retirement is a touchy subject in the world of professional wrestling and while some wrestlers never know when to hang up the boots, others graciously step aside and allow the next generation of young superstars to take center stage.
Some of these retired wrestlers and sports entertainers continue to work in the industry in a backstage capacity in roles such as trainers who teach the next generation of wrestlers new skills to hone their craft, bookers who have a say in creative decisions, and road agents who assist in the flow of their respective company's backstage happenings.
Without further ado, here are eight former WWE Superstars who retired from the ring and decided to continue contributing to the wrestling industry in a backstage capacity, and some of these names are far more influential on today's WWE, AEW, and independent wrestling products than you realize!
8 Arn Anderson
Arn Anderson had a truly legendary career as an active in-ring performer, going above and beyond what is expected of a professional wrestler in all aspects of his career. A legendary talker, it is impossible to be bored when watching Arn Anderson cut a promo. His intense wrestling style was way ahead of its time. A founding member of the legendary Four Horsemen, Anderson went on to achieve global fame, love from the audience, and huge respect from his peers. While he carved out a legendary career in WCW, Anderson wrestled for WWE briefly between 1988 and 1989.
Anderson was forced into retirement due to a neck injury in 1997, but he did not leave the professional wrestling business. Anderson continued to work backstage for WCW as a road agent and jumped ship to the WWE when Vince McMahon purchased his competition in 2001. Anderson continued working backstage for the WWE until 2019. Today, Anderson works as a coach for All Elite Wrestling and also works as an on-screen talent as a manager.
7 Dean Malenko
One of the greatest technical wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of boots is none other than Dean Malenko. One short binge of Malenko matches on YouTube or the WWE Network will give you an idea as to why he is known as "The Man Of 1,000 Holds." A second generation wrestler as the son of Boris Malenko, Dean followed in his father's footsteps, traveling the world honing his craft, and often teaming with his brother Joe in Japan. This is where Dean honed his craft, and when he began working full-time in the United States, he made a huge impact for his unique and intense wrestling style.
Malenko quietly retired in 2001 after the injuries sustained during his lengthy career began to mount up. Following his retirement, he remained at work for the WWE for almost two decades as a road agent before leaving in 2019. Today, Malenko still works in a backstage capacity as a senior producer for All Elite Wrestling and is a highly respected member of the backstage team.
6 Fit Finlay
The Irish-born Fit Finlay is a professional wrestler who is perhaps best known for his tenure in the WWE during the Ruthless Aggression era. He also wrestled for WCW. While staying away from the spotlight in recent years, Finlay has been much more involved with wrestling than you realize. Finlay is a pro-wrestling lifer and his skills in the ring transcend generations, with his influence still clearly visible in today's generation of WWE and professional wrestling superstars. He is also the trainer behind the careers of John Cena, Batista, and Randy Orton!
While he was still active in the ring, Finlay would often work backstage as a coach, a trainer, and a producer. Talk about having your hands full!
Finlay took his roles very seriously. He is truly one of the most selfless wrestlers the industry has ever seen. He is responsible for training a vast amount of the women's division throughout the years, including current stars Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch, as well as veterans such as Trish Stratus and Beth Phoenix. Finlay still works for the WWE as a trainer for the WWE Performance Center to this day.
5 D-Von Dudley
The iconic Dudley Boyz went on to claim tag-team championship gold in every explored corner of the world, and probably others that haven't been discovered yet. Throughout their iconic careers since their original pairing in ECW, The Dudley Boyz have done it all. WWE legends in every sense of the word, the devastating duo also cleaned up in TNA Wrestling as well as in Japan and are widely regarded as one of the best tag teams of all time.
While Bubba Ray Dudley is still active today in Impact Wrestling where he competes as Bully Ray, D-Von Dudley quietly retired in 2016 due to a series of nagging injuries, but he didn't officially announce his retirement until 2020. Following his decision, he returned to work for the WWE in a backstage capacity as a producer in 2016 and stayed with the role until January 2023 when he announced that he had left the company. Today, D-Von Dudley works as a coach and a trainer for his own wrestling training company, the D-Von Academy.
4 Billy Kidman
Billy Kidman had a great run in WCW's cruiserweight division and is a multiple-time Cruiserweight Champion in both WWE and World Championship Wrestling. He also saw his popularity surge in the late 1990s when he teamed with Rey Mysterio as the duo were members of the faction known as The Filthy Animals, a team of rebellious younger superstars (and Disco Inferno for some reason) who were hell-bent on making life difficult for the older, veteran superstars on the roster. The act was a hit, and it was the first time that Kidman, Rey Mysterio, and Eddie Guerrero were given some proper character development outside the Cruiserweight Division, although backstage politics hindered their rise
Kidman went on to jump ship to the WWE in 2001 and had a decent run in the company as both a cruiserweight and a tag-team wrestler before quietly retiring in 2008. In 2010, Kidman returned to the WWE in a backstage capacity as a producer and remains with the company in the role to this day and thus far, hasn't had the seven-year itch to return to the ring.
3 Norman Smiley
Perhaps most well-known for his time as a comedy act in WCW, Norman Smiley is actually a true ring general and one of the best pure wrestlers going. Trained by Boris and Dean Malenko, it was only natural that the talented amateur wrestler would be highly competent at the technical prowess side of sports entertainment, and he put his own unique spin on his famed wrestling style, adding comedy elements into his character in the process.
While Norman did not jump ship to the WWE in 2001 as an active wrestler, he continued to wrestle independently before deciding to become a trainer. Well-liked and respected within the industry, WWE was quick to sign Smiley up to a contract when he decided to make the career transition, and to this day, Smiley is one of the head trainers over in WWE NXT and has played a hand in honing the sports entertainment skills of some of your favorite wrestlers on TV today.
Even though he was never officially a WWE Superstar, Norman wrestled a couple of dark matches for WWE in 2003 and the company owns the intellectual property to the WCW videotape library which features Smiley.
2 Jerry Lynn
Widely regarded as one of the greatest all-around wrestlers of all time, Jerry Lynn is a former ECW World Heavyweight Champion, and he is perhaps best known for his legendary rivalry with Rob Van Dam. Lynn also had stints in both the WWE and WCW, but his career following the demise of ECW really skyrocketed when he joined TNA Wrestling. Lynn competed on the first-ever TNA show and was one of the first wrestlers signed to a contract, and he became the absolute pioneer of the X-Division. During his stint with WWE in 2001, Lynn held one reign with the Light Heavyweight Championship.
Jerry Lynn was planting seeds for his future retirement during his time in TNA where he became a mentor to the young talents of the X-Division, including future WWE Champion, AJ Styles. Lynn's role would extend both backstage and in the ring. He finally retired from wrestling due to injuries in 2013 and returned to the wrestling business as a producer for Ring of Honor in 2016. Today, Lynn works for All Elite Wrestling in a backstage capacity as a trainer and a producer.
1 Bryan Danielson, also known as Daniel Bryan
Bryan Danielson is the very definition of a professional wrestler. His lengthy career has seen him dominate the independent circuit as well as take the WWE by storm when he competed for the company as Daniel Bryan, engaging in memorable feuds with the likes of Triple H and CM Punk. Bryan was forced into retirement in 2015 due to injuries and began working for the WWE in a backstage capacity and as an ambassador, but he eventually returned to in-ring action after being medically cleared in 2018.
Today, Brian Danielson is an active in-ring competitor for All Elite Wrestling since joining the upstart promotion in 2021. The widely respected Danielson however has also been working for AEW in a backstage capacity as a member of the AEW creative team. As Danielson is currently on the shelf with a brutal arm injury that he sustained at the 2023 AEW X NJPW Forbidden Door pay-per-view, Danielson's role in creative is expected to grow while he heals up his battle wounds.