In stark contrast to how things appear on TV, it has been said that the most important job of a professional wrestler is actually making sure their opponents never get injured. Bumps and bruises are practically unavoidable, but WWE superstars only break each other’s bones by accident. Of course, certain wrestlers have exhibited a pattern towards being accident prone, and they have therefore gained reputations as being unsafe or outright dangerous people to work with. Surprisingly, a reputation for causing injuries isn’t necessarily something that gets a wrestler blackballed from the industry. In fact, the only way to gain this sort of status is by sticking around and continuing to injure other wrestlers, which could implicate WWE executives in the most repeated offenses, considering they apparently aren’t doing anything to stop the problem. This could be explained by the fact that several of the superstars responsible for the most frequent and severe injuries were also the most successful in WWE history.
On the other hand, certain wrestlers had their careers seriously damaged by their reputation by being labeled unsafe, so it isn’t as though the wrestling world has completely turned a blind eye to dangerous workers. One thing to remember when reading this list is that none of these workers were dangerous out of vindictiveness, and chances are when they injured someone, they apologized for it and worked harder the next time to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. That doesn’t change the fact that it did happen once, though, or in the case of these superstars, regularly enough that people started taking notice. Check out our list of the 15 pro wrestlers you never knew caused the most injuries, and see how not all of pro wrestling is fake.
15. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is the most destructive force in WWE in kayfabe, and at least a few of his co-workers would attest that reputation is more than just for show. Early in his career, Lesnar was responsible for breaking Hardcore Holly’s neck due to a botched powerbomb. Holly was out of action for over a year, and he later claimed to believe that Lesnar was sick during their match, and the illness caused Lesnar to drop him. On the bright side, the injury led to Holly’s highest profile match of his career. He returned to challenge Lesnar, coincidentally seeking his revenge while Lesnar was WWE World Champion. Holly failed to take advantage of these title shots. Outside of Holly, Lesnar has also injured Jamie Noble and was assumed to be involved in concussing The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX. The details surrounding the incident with The Undertaker wasn’t entirely made clear, while the Noble injury was far more cut and dry. Lesnar clearly broke Noble’s ribs by shoving him too harshly. Lesnar has also been criticized for his sloppy suplexes, which look impressive in the ring, but frankly don’t do much to protect his opponents.
14. The Undertaker
In the same sense that wrestlers are responsible for protecting their opponents, they’re also responsible for taking moves properly and protecting themselves. The Undertaker has been directly involved in legitimately shortening careers, although a big part of that has to do with what his opponents were willing to let him do to them in their matches. In 1998 alone, The Undertaker ended Shawn Michaels’ career in a casket match, and a few months later he and Mick Foley conspired to give one another a plethora of injuries at King of the Ring in their infamous Hell in a Cell match. The Undertaker has actually been extremely safe throughout his career considering his style and gimmick, but these two high profile incidents remain on his record and can’t be forgotten. Obviously, The Undertaker’s status as a respected locker room leader has endured beyond these two matches, and both Michaels and Foley would take the blame for wanting to take the ridiculous bumps that caused the injuries in the first place.
13. Big Van Vader
Few men who weigh well over 400 pounds are able to fly around the ring as gracefully as Big Van Vader, but in all fairness, this really only pertains to about 10 percent of Vader’s offense. The other 90 percent of The Mastodon’s ring style was harsh, stiff power moves, many of which were responsible for his opponents getting badly hurt every time they stepped in the ring with him. The worst victim was Cactus Jack, although as usual, he was somewhat responsible for the damage himself. Vader concussed Jack multiple times and infamously ripped off his ear, which was allegedly only the worst example of what was a constant barrage of real pain suffered by Vader’s opponents. Vader never seriously injured Bret Hart, and yet Hart did admit during an interview with WrestleZone Radio that he specifically refused to work a program with Vader because doing so was “like wrestling with a cement truck filled with barf.” Hart argued Vader hurt him with every move, and many other superstars have made statements confirming this reputation.
ECW was often called a haven for hardcore, although another way to refer to it would have been a death trap for young and impressionable wrestlers. No superstar exemplifies this status more than the homicidal, suicidal, and genocidal Sabu. Sabu flagrantly threw caution to the wind almost every time he wrestled, flying off the top ropes with chairs or barbed wire in his hands, sending his opponents through tables and ladders years before it was en vogue, and otherwise truly personifying his death-defying nickname. Sabu probably injured himself more than anybody else, which made him one of the few wrestlers on this list to have his reputation as a dangerous worker get turned into a storyline. The Impact Players, Lance Storm, and Justin Credible had Sabu suspended from ECW in late 1999 after convincing other members in the locker room that Sabu was too violent and dangerous to be allowed in even the most extreme company around.
Ryback left WWE in August of 2016 of his own volition, after releasing a statement to the Internet complaining about his salary and the salaries of comparable WWE superstars. While Ryback’s complaints were valid, it might actually be more relevant to discuss the equally controversial exit of CM Punk. Punk’s laundry list of complaints was as long as it was infamous, and perhaps most important amongst his problems was the fact WWE continually stuck him in what he considered dangerous matches at a time he should have been recuperating from injuries. The reason these matches were so dangerous was the fact that they were against Ryback, who Punk felt never protected him in the ring. Ryback was also seen working unsafely with AJ Styles in Styles’s debut, lifting him for a particularly high back body drop despite it being well known Styles had back problems at that time. Ryback might have been worried about not getting paid enough, or maybe WWE didn’t see the point in paying him more when his technique proved less than reliable.
10. Jack Swagger
When Jack Swagger won the World Heavyweight Championship in April of 2010, most fans were surprised, and not in the feel-good sort of way. Swagger never quite seemed ready to be a World Championship contender, and part of that had to do with his less than impressive form in the ring. Swagger isn’t as outright careless as some others on this list, but he still has caused a few big name injuries in his time, most notably separating the shoulder of Bad News Barrett and concussing Dolph Ziggler. Barrett was injured when Swagger through him into a barricade too harshly, while Swagger was even more direct with Ziggler, directly kicking him in the head during a SmackDown taping. Swagger has also had blatant problems connecting with fans and has derailed his career with a series of DUIs and marijuana-related arrests. Despite all this, Swagger has rarely been chastised by WWE or singled out by any of his coworkers for working in a manner people consider dangerous.
9. The Big Show
With hands celebrated as being the size of dinner plates, it probably isn’t a surprise that The Big Show has injured a wrestler or two in his day. The reality is, he’s only hurt a small number of workers considering what his size implies he may be capable of, although at least one of his mistakes was high profile enough to earn him a mention on this list. Show was working with Brock Lesnar in late 2002, during the tail end of Lesnar’s first WWE World Championship run, and in fact it was the world’s largest athlete who defeated Lesnar for the title. The switch came only a few short weeks after Show allegedly injured Lesnar at a house show, although the full story surrounding the injury was unclear. Lesnar wasn’t out of action long, and the injury barely affected his rise to fame, thus allowing this incident to slide under the radar. Also, despite how important this particular injury could have been were it any worse, it’s fair to point out Show was only responsible for one such scare in his more than 20 years in the WWE.
8. A.J. Styles
One of the strange things about wrestling is that sometimes the only way to actually get hurt by a wrestling move is if the person on the receiving end of that move does something wrong, essentially hurting themselves. The laws of gravity mean that they didn’t do so entirely alone, though, which is why A.J. Styles occasionally gets blamed for the neck injuries of Yoshi Tatsu and Lionheart, along with the more minor bruises suffered by the handful of wrestlers who incorrectly reacted to his finishing move, the Styles Clash. The rule of thumb when taking a bump is to tuck in your chin to prevent whiplash, but with the Styles Clash, tucking in your chin is the most likely way to ensure yourself a trip to the hospital. Both Yoshi Tatsu and Lionheart injured themselves in exactly this way, and there have been close calls with Roderick Strong, Satoshi Kojima, Frankie Kazarian, and quite a few others, leading to some superstars calling for Styles to put an end to the move. Styles remains adamant, however, that his opponents are hurting themselves, and thus he intends to continue putting them at risk.
For 173 matches in a row, Goldberg tosses his opponents around like rag dolls to become the most dominant WCW World Heavyweight Champion of his era. Goldberg was a phenomenon in the true sense of the word, captivating WCW fans unlike any other superstar in the company at the time, and part of how he did so was his unorthodox and highly athletic move set coupled with an unnecessarily stiff in-ring style. Goldberg’s biggest mistake was kicking Bret Hart in the head at Starrcade 1999, followed by a series of mistakes in rematches that left Hart with post-concussion syndrome, which ultimately ended his career. Hart clearly never forgave Goldberg for the accidents, arguing that Goldberg clearly “didn’t know what he was doing” throughout most of his career, and especially during the matches where he injured Hart. Plenty of other wrestlers have complained about a wrestler achieving his success before truly earning it, as well as giving Goldberg a reputation as a generally unsafe worker, although Bret remains the only wrestler he seriously injured.
6. Alberto Del Rio
Coincidentally, Edge and Christian both wrestled their last matches against Alberto Del Rio, although it may not have been a total coincidence considering the circumstances surrounding Christian’s retirement. Christian permanently stepped out of the ring in 2014 after suffering a concussion in a match with Del Rio, Ziggler, and Sheamus in his return match, only a few months after he had returned from a different concussion. Christian and Del Rio had also worked an injury angle around Christian’s shoulder, although that was entirely kayfabe. Del Rio has also admitted to once knocking out Daniel Bryan, possibly contributing to the concussion problems that shortened Bryan’s career, as well. Del Rio twice left WWE amongst public controversy, first complaining about rampant racism and then choosing to leave when it appeared WWE was failing to follow through on a series of promises. There’s no excuse for the racism, but maybe if Del Rio keeps injuring his fellow top stars, WWE has a pretty good reason for not giving Del Rio the push he apparently thought he deserved.
There’s a certain type of wrestler who has no choice other than to be open about the fact that their entire career revolves around their unusually large girth. Nelson Frazier, also known as Mabel, Viscera, Big Daddy V, and a number of other nicknames was one such wrestler, at certain points in his career boasting a weight tipping the scales at over 500 pounds. Regardless of his name, Mabel’s impressive size made him stick out in his various runs with WWE, in a manner that made him a regular friend and foe of The Undertaker. Mabel’s interactions with the dark side began as enemies, and not coincidentally, it was his feud with The Undertaker that made Mabel’s unsafe tendencies alarmingly clear. During a 6-man tag team match on Monday Night Raw, Mabel attempted a leg drop on The Undertaker and landed directly on his face, breaking his orbital bone and sending him out of action for several months. Mabel’s only other main event feud took place against Diesel, who also argued Mabel was dangerous in the ring, particularly in how he performed his leg drops and sit outs, neither of which were up to par with the versions performed by comparable big men such as Yokozuna and Bam Bam Bigelow.
4. Rick Steiner
The Steiner Brothers may have a reputation as one of the greatest tag teams of all time, but they are a rare case where both members went on to achieve significant solo careers that ironically caused fans to like them less the more they elevated themselves through the crowd. Scott Steiner at least had an insane charisma, although his brother Rick never quite managed to connect with fans on his own, and did manage to seriously harm a few careers during the latter half of his. Rick Steiner’s most infamous misstep was breaking Buff Bagwell’s neck on an episode of Thunder, on top of which he has endured a distinction for working dangerously stiff his entire career, often leaving his opponents with more than just the typical bruises. WWE Hall of Famer, Jim Duggan, cited The Steiners as some of the least safe workers he had ever seen, and Rick only got worse as his career went on. Obviously, Scott wasn’t free of this reputation, and in fact, might overall have an even worse status in the wrestling world due to his irascible attitude, and yet he also deserves some credit for the fact that he hasn’t ended careers the way his brother did.
3. Ahmed Johnson
The career of Ahmed Johnson is highly controversial for a number of reasons, most famously for the fact that he was WWE’s first African American Intercontinental Champion, and yet he claimed to have met an incredible amount of racism during his time in the company regardless of achieving that accolade. The counterpoint to this argument is the other reason Johnson gets brought up these days, which was his reputation as one of the least safe wrestlers in history. Johnson was particularly injury-prone himself, making him an all-around dangerous person to be in the ring with. Faarooq got the worst of Ahmed’s abuse, having his ribs broken and lung punctured by Johnson at WrestleMania 13. Owen Hart was also reported to frequently complain about minor injuries at Ahmed’s hand, including at least one concussion from a stiff scissor kick. Johnson went from a hot prospect to a pariah in only a few short years, as his co-workers in WWE were starting to refuse to work with him en masse. This was one of several factors that sent Johnson to WCW so soon after a seemingly meteoric rise to fame.
2. Seth Rollins
Lists like this one can admittedly be damaging to a wrestler’s career, as there’s nothing worse for a potential superstar than a reputation for repeatedly working dangerously in the ring. Seth Rollins learned this first hand when WWE Hall of Famer, Bret Hart, started publicly calling him out for allegedly ending Sting’s career with a turnbuckle powerbomb, followed by similarly injuring Finn Bálor with the same move. However, both of these injuries were actually caused by Sting and Bálor, the latter of whom actually spoke out in Rollins’ defense when word started spreading that Rollins was being careless. Sting also claimed that he didn’t blame Rollins for ending his career, and many fans have likewise been able to acknowledge Sting was equally at fault for trying to take a difficult move despite his advanced age and lack of recent in-ring experience. Rollins also broke John Cena’s nose after a Curb-Stomp gone wrong, later serving as one of the reasons Rollins was later banned from using the move. Rollins has joked about the reputation, using it as a threat during his feud with Kevin Owens by winkingly claiming “dangerous” was his middle name.
1. Ken Kennedy
While most of the wrestlers on this list earned their way here by injuring their coworkers, Ken Kennedy managed to get called out for working unsafely before he even had the chance to do so. Kennedy was one of the top WWE stars around his dismissal in 2009, although he wasn’t quite as untouchable as the real bread and butter of the company like John Cena and Randy Orton. Cena and Orton both complained to Vince McMahon after matches with Kennedy about how dangerous they felt Kennedy was being in the ring, ultimately leading to Kennedy getting fired. Kennedy started going by his real name, Ken Anderson, in TNA, only to burn that bridge as well a few years later when an unconfirmed drug problem allegedly started getting out of control. Kennedy has long denied any claims that he was unsafe by pointing to the fact that he didn’t seriously injure anyone. Yet, with stars at the caliber of Cena and Orton, even a minor scrape that might have left them off the show for a week was a big enough deal Kennedy was virtually blackballed from the industry.