UFC President Dana White caused an uproar on Twitter when he proclaimed pro wrestling to be “fake” right before the Ronda Rousey vs Bethe Correia fight. Several wrestlers from WWE, TNA, and Ring of Honor took offense to the remarks, many of whom live with chronic pain or deteriorating health because of their efforts to entertain in professional wrestling.
Over the years, professional wrestling has made numerous attempts at upping the danger ante at the expense of performer’s health. Men have fallen from insane heights without safety nets, lacerated their backs with actual razor wire, and jabbed medical syringes through their opponent’s cheeks for paydays averaging about $200 – less, if you factor in things like stitches, staph infections, and surgery.
WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley tells a captivating story about the rush of emotions and pains that were involved with winning the 1995 IWA King of the Deathmatch Tournament. At this point in his career, Mick wasn’t sure he was going to be a great WWE superstar and so he was doing the thing that made him famous: pushing his body to the physical limits for entertainment value and to gain a psychological reaction out of his audience.
We will look at some of the world’s most dangerous pro wrestling match stipulations and salute the brave men and women who rolled around in thumbtacks, ate some steel chair shots and bled profusely for the wrestling industry.
Warning: the following list contains extremely graphic material. Discretion advised.
10. Scaffold Match
A product of the old territory days of pro wrestling, the Scaffold Match places two (or more) men 20 feet above the ring on an elevated platform. The winner of the match is determined when their opponent has been thrown off the scaffold and onto the ring below.
The earliest known example of a scaffold match took place in Louisville, Kentucky at a 1970s Memphis Wrestling show between Don Greene and Jerry Jarrett for a $5,000 prize purse. After his fall, both the ringside announcer and the referee remarked that Don Green’s arm appeared to be broken.
The most infamous scaffold match took place in Los Angeles, CA for XPW on February 23, 2002 between New Jack and Vic Grimes. As retaliation for “The Danbury Fall Incident”, New Jack zapped Vic Grimes with a concealed stun gun and shoved his unresponsive opponent off a 40-foot tall scaffold. New Jack admitted on video that he tried to legitimately murder Vic Grimes by aiming for the arena floor, not the wrestling ring.
Luck saved Vic Grimes’ life that night.
9. Japanese Deathmatch
In the early 1990s, Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling added legitimately deadly weapons and stipulations into the emerging “hardcore” wrestling style, giving birth to the “Deathmatch”. Examples of these weapons include barbed wire, thumbtacks, glass, fire, electrified cages, live piranha fish and C4 explosives!
Many wrestlers in the business made their names working these dangerous matches such as Abdullah the Butcher, Madman Pondo, Jun Kasai, Mister Pogo, Yoshihiro Tajiri, and Necro Butcher. Audiences loved the product enough that Big Japan Pro Wrestling once partnered with the American ultraviolent wrestling promotion, Combat Zone Wrestling, to produce a series of deathmatch “dream matches” to satiate their bloodlust.
Even more dangerous is the “King of the Deathmatch” tournament format, where the finalists must endure three full-length deathmatches in a single evening. WWE Hall of Famers Mick Foley (as Cactus Jack) and Terry Funk squared off in the finals of the 1995 IWA King of the Deathmatch tournament in an No Ropes Barbed Wire Explosives Match.
Today, there are a few independent wrestling promotions in the United States of America still booking deathmatch-style shows, such as IWA Mid South Wrestling and Combat Zone Wrestling.
8. Crazy 8 Match
Pro Wrestling Underground (or “PWU”) was founded by indy wrestlers Johnny Kashmere and Trent Acid in 2004. Like so many independent wrestling promotions, PWU came about as a result of a backstage falling out between Kashmere and Combat Zone Wrestling’s John Zandig.
PWU was a promotion hailed as “By wrestlers, for wrestlers”, and the level of creative freedom the guys backstage enjoyed was on full display inside the ring. One example of the show’s more creative inventions is the Crazy 8 match.
The Crazy 8 match more closely resembles the final round of American Gladiators than it does a professional wrestling match. Participants swing between the cage wall and top rope like pirates boarding an enemy ship. The wrestlers tease falling from the cage into the first two rows of the audience. Some of the younger spot monkeys booked in the contest deliberately took unsafe bumps because they felt it “added to their match”.
Pro Wrestling Underground may no longer exist, but they left behind many DVDs showcasing their more memorable matches for future generations of pro wrestling fans to enjoy.
7. First Blood Match
The origin of the First Blood Match isn’t clear. Some stories claim it’s an American invention while others believe it began overseas. One of the oldest examples in the United States was between Tony Stetson and Larry Winters at ECW Super Summer Sizzler on June 19th, 1993.
There are no pinfalls, count-outs, or disqualifications in a First Blood Match. The winner is decided after their opponent has been beaten bloody. Traditionally, the losing party “blades” (glides a thin razor across their forehead) to initiate bleeding at the conclusion of the match, though some matches have ended the hard way (legitimately) with broken noses and other injuries.
First Blood Matches have been featured in WWE, WCW, ECW, TNA Wrestling and Ring of Honor as well as many others. Many prolific wrestlers participated in First Blood Matches such as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle… even TV-PG darling John Cena.
In WWE’s modern “reality era” of professional wrestling, blood is considered forbidden for air on their PG rated programming.
6. Taipei Deathmatch
The Taipei Deathmatch made it’s world debut at ECW’s Hardcore Heaven on July 1st, 1995. In this match, competitors tape their fists, dip them in glue, and roll them around in shards of real broken glass. You read that right. It would be easy to chalk it up as another one of Paul Heyman‘s “mad scientist” creations, but the real pioneers here are (kayfabe) brothers Axl Rotten and Ian Rotten.
Glass was ground into bare flesh, opening wounds and coloring up both competitors like a paint brush. Barbed wire was introduced into the match. Bodies were thrown onto the arena floor with no regard for safety. It all ended with both men laying on a pile of thumbtacks!
At the 2005 ECW Hardcore Homecoming 2 show in Philadelphia, Axl Rotten faced Ian Rotten in the 10 Year Anniversary Taipei Deathmatch. This time the brothers managed to up the danger by incorporating dinner forks, thumbtacks, and using a staple gun to stick audience-supplied dollar bills to each other’s faces and tongues!
The Taipei Deathmatch is one of the most dangerous match types in the world, and there are still promotions in the United States booking these bouts in 2015.
5. Cage of Death Match
Combat Zone Wrestling is an ultraviolent independent promotion based in Philadelphia, PA. The show’s original creator, John Zandig, went into business in 1999 and the promotion continues to produce live shows, DVDs and pay-per-views in 2015 under the lead of hardcore alumni DJ Hyde. Infamously known for their free use of weapons such as barbed wire, weed whackers, light tubes and fire, it is the annual Cage of Death event that takes the cake.
To date, there have been 16 Cage of Death matches produced by CZW, each one managing to increase the danger to gut-wrenching new heights. Past competitors utilized cacti, baseball bats, barbed wire spider nets, lemon juice, knives and wrestling rings filled with millions of thumbtacks to secure victory.
In a 2004 Reddit “Ask me Anything” interview, current CZW promoter DJ Hyde was asked several questions about the Cage of Death. He revealed talent has been seriously hurt in the past at his shows, and some take it so personally that they ultimately retire out of professional wrestling altogether.
Every year, Cage of Death is Combat Zone Wrestling’s biggest show. As long as fans continue to pack the house for these exceptionally brutal (and in some states, illegal) shows, the blood will continue to flow.
4. Inferno Match
The Undertaker may be synonymous with Hell in a Cell, but it’s his kayfabe brother, Kane, who embodies the Inferno Match. As a matter of fact, the very first WWE Inferno Match took place on Kane’s birthday!
The rules are menacing on paper: two or more competitors meet in the center of the canvas, the gas is turned on and flames begin to surround the ring along the apron. The winner is decided when their opponent catches fire.
WWE may have coined the term, but ever since they entered their TV-PG era of television programming, the Inferno Match has never been seen or replayed during regular broadcasts. The closest fans have gotten to it was at Summerslam 2013 when Kane faced Bray Wyatt in a Ring of Fire Match, where the victor is instead decided by pinfall or submission and the flames are just a gimmick to prevent escape.
3. Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match
Vince McMahon named Mankind the first-ever WWE Hardcore Champion on the November 2nd, 1998 episode of Raw is War. This acknowledgement from the top transformed hardcore wrestling from something untrained workers did at recreation centers for a buck into a multimillion-dollar draw.
One of the biggest money-making ideas that came from this creative period was the Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match (or “TLC” for short). There are no pinfalls, count-outs, or disqualifications. The winner of the match is the man who climbs to the top of a ladder and retrieves the Championship Title suspended above the ring.
The high risk nature of these matches has led to a number of injuries both in the independents and in WWE such as dislocated ankles, blown-out knees, broken noses and concussions. Originally conceived as a stipulation for a tag team championship match between Edge & Christian, The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boyz at Summerslam 2000, TLC is now its own annual pay-per-view titled TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs.
Prior to creating the pay-per-view, TLC made it’s Raw is War debut on October 7th, 2002. This classic encounter features Kane defending the Tag Team Championships alone against the teams of Rob Van Dam & Jeff Hardy, Bubba Ray & Spike Dudley and Chris Jericho & Christian.
2. Hell in a Cell
Presently the focal point of it’s own annual pay-per-view extravaganza, WWE’s Hell in a Cell started its life in the head of professional wrestling legend Jim Cornette – an excitable, foul-mouthed manager, writer, and promoter over several decades. Cornette drew inspiration for the design of the Hell in a Cell from cage designs he had seen in Memphis and the cage used for WCW’s Wargames match.
At WWE Summerslam 1997, The Undertaker’s WWE Championship Title match was ruined when special guest referee Shawn Michaels interfered in the bout. A simple one-on-one matchup wasn’t enough to satiate The Undertaker’s hunger for revenge. And so the Hell in a Cell superstructure was designed to keep the two men in the ring and everyone else locked outside.
At WWE King of the Ring 1998, Mick Foley (as Mankind) decided to start the third Hell in a Cell match by climbing the exterior of the cage and waiting for The Undertaker on the roof. What happened next set a new precedent for violence and surrounded the Hell in a Cell with an unshakable cloud of dread.
1. No Rope Electrified Barbed Wire Swimming Pool Dynamite Double Hell Death Match
Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) is one of Japan’s most controversial pro wrestling organizations. One year after their first show at FMW Summer Spectacular 1990, founder Atsushi Onita and Tarzan Goto revolutionized the deathmatch scene with the world’s first Exploding Electrified Barbed Wire Match.
While that match wasn’t spectacularly violent, it kicked off an arms race in Japan through the ’90s to see just how much violence a single match can hold.
Not to be outdone by imitators, FMW gave the world its first and only No Rope Electrified Barbed Wire Swimming Pool Dynamite Double Hell Death Match on August 28th, 1994. This gimmick featured the team of FMW founder Atsushi Onita, Katsutoshi Niiyama & Mr. Gannosuke versus the team of Hideki Hosaka, Mr. Pogo and The Gladiator in elimination-style tag team action. Eliminations can occur via pinfall, submission, or being thrown into the pool (triggering explosions).
In order to pull this match off, a 20 x 20-foot wrestling ring was placed on a 30 x 30-foot barge, anchored to float dead center in a full-size swimming pool. Each team had to board a motorboat just to reach the ring. Two sides of the ring are wrapped with electrified barbed wire, while the other two sides are wide open as a falling hazard. The match featured sharp sickles, barbed wire-wrapped baseball bats, fire-breathing, huge explosions, and lots of blood from all six competitors.
In the years that followed, various elements of this spectacle were picked apart and reused as inspiration for other dangerous match stipulations all over the world. These high-risk offshoots resulted in scars, broken bones, and gallons of blood loss… and they have this influential match to thank for it.