Professional wrestling has always been a highly physical form of entertainment. The wear and tear of the matches combined with the constant upkeep of most of the wrestlers’ physiques makes it a guarantee that somebody is going to eventually get hurt. WWE isn’t immune to this risk, so it’s only a matter of time before an injury hits their business hard.
Injuries in the past have been so calamitous that they’ve rewritten the course for many top stars’ careers. Examples of this include Shawn Michaels awkward landing on a casket that caused his back woes as well as the time Triple H had Chris Jericho continue with his submission finisher while his quad was completely shredded. Injuries like those cause an immediate and sudden change not only for the wrestler, but for the entirety of WWE. Forcing creative to make sudden changes in these times of crises can be absolutely devastating.
Just like in the past, 2016 has its fair share of injuries. WWE veterans like Randy Orton and John Cena have missed substantial ring time this year because they were stuck in recovery time. Outside of the Raw and SmackDown main events, talented wrestlers like Neville and Hideo Itami have missed out on chances to prove themselves to the big brass, something they could easily do if not for being sidelined with injuries.
The following 15 WWE wrestlers have suffered the most devastating injuries of 2016. Be careful if you have a squeamish stomach, especially when looking at the image for number 5…
15. Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins began 2016 already on the injured list due to a knee injury suffered in a house show match in Ireland against Kane. His 2016 wrestling schedule wouldn’t even begin until he returned at May’s Extreme Rules event, so any further mishaps would be terrible for the former Shield member.
Rollins did in fact suffer another mishap, but thankfully it wasn’t nearly as serious as the 2015 injury. Facing off against Kevin Owens for the Universal Championship at Clash of Champions, Rollins injured his ribs after taking a top rope gutbuster against The Prizefighter. Thankfully, the damage suffered was only minimal and it barely affected his on screen presence.
14. Enzo Amore
Debuting on Raw the night after WrestleMania 32 alongside his tag team partner Big Cass, Enzo Amore looked poised for a breakout 2016. The duo instantly connected with the main roster audience thanks in large part to Enzo’s unending gift of gab, but all of that was momentarily derailed in the finals of a #1 Contender’s Tag Team Tournament at Payback.
The Vaudevillains’ Simon Gotch threw Enzo toward the bottom rope, presumably to make him slide out of the ring. Instead, Amore’s head bounced off the bottom rope hard, knocking him loopy. As the replays showed the incident over and over, it became clear that Enzo was in a bad way.
The Smacktalker Skywalker was only out of action due to a concussion for about a month and seemed to recover fully, but it stopped their initial momentum cold. They’re now back to entertaining the crowds with Enzo’s odd style of mic delivery. Considering there won’t be any Demolition tag team records to break in 2017, they might have a chance to claim championship gold next year.
Considered initially a major reason for WWE’s Women’s Revolution of the past couple of years, Paige has been absent for quite a while. It’s true that a couple of Wellness Policy violations has been a big culprit for her lack of presence in 2016, but there’s another issue that’s setting her back and that’s because she’s battling a variety of injuries.
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter commented back in June that Paige may have been dealing with possible nerve damage in her back and shoulder. Paige herself even took to Twitter on September 29th to say that a Dr. Uribe gave her a couple of surgery options concerning her neck, which would result in a huge amount of time off. Few updates have been given in the time since but if Paige did undergo a surgical procedure on her neck, it might be midway through 2017 at the earliest before she returns to the ring.
12. Bray Wyatt
While touring Europe in April, Bray Wyatt suffered a bit of a setback in Milan, Italy. While facing off against Roman Reigns in an untelevised event, The Eater of Worlds locked up with The Big Dog and pushed him back into a corner. Bray immediately began hobbling and then backed up before stumbling to the ground in the middle of the ring. The diagnosis was that he had suffered a severely strained calf, halting a highly intriguing storyline development that WWE had brewing.
One week prior to this injury, Bray formed an unlikely tag team with Roman Reigns to face off against Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio. Many fans might recall the spectacular finish in which Bray hit Alberto Del Rio with his Sister Abigail then did a finger gun motion toward an incoming Sheamus as Roman Reigns speared him out of his blind spot. It was pretty rad.
There was an undeniable chemistry in this Wyatt/Roman alliance but it ended as quick as it started. Where it might’ve headed nobody knows for sure because the calf injury immediately shifted directions for all parties involved.
11. Luke Harper
The Wyatts simply couldn’t catch a break during the first half of 2016. Bray’s calf was one setback for the crew, but he wasn’t the only member of this cult to go down. Just before WrestleMania, Luke Harper suffered a leg injury that was confirmed to be an issue with his ACL. Testing revealed that he dislocated his patella and tore his MPFL ligament. This caused the man known for exceptional wrestling proficiency as well as odd guttural moans to be sidelined for a huge amount of time during the middle of the year.
It wasn’t until October’s No Mercy event that Luke finally returned to action, helping out Bray Wyatt in a battle against Randy Orton. Orton would later join the Wyatt’s cause but for Harper, the time he was active in 2016 has been a year of unwavering support for Bray. Here’s to a healthy 2017 so they can brainwash even more top stars.
10. Sasha Banks
Women’s wrestling keeps getting better and better in WWE and Sasha Banks is one of the cornerstones of the current landscape. She was involved in a fantastic triple threat match earlier in the year in front of a record-breaking WrestleMania crowd, then went on to have a rivalry with Charlotte that’s been a bright spot of the current brand split. All of this success was almost taken away from her during the summer.
Just a few short weeks after first winning the Raw Women’s Title, Sasha dropped the belt back to Charlotte at SummerSlam. During that match, there was a scary move in the corner that saw Banks get dropped on her head rather ungracefully. When news came out after the fact that The Boss was already scheduled to drop the belt to recover from whatever ailment she had, that one move in the corner became all the more cringier.
Details regarding what exactly she was dealing with were never fully revealed, but she teased retirement on the September 9th edition of Raw. Thankfully, it was all a swerve. She was back in action soon enough but the brief time missed and scare that she could end her career early due to her wrestling style is very devastating.
As if The Man That Gravity Forgot needed a reason to be kept off TV, an ankle fracture suffered during a match in March sidelined Neville until mid-July. This high-flying specialist found himself shelved from action after performing a surprisingly un-high risk maneuver. Wrestling against Chris Jericho on Raw, a simple baseball slide caused him to fracture his ankle. X-Rays and a CAT scan confirmed that surgery was not necessary.
Neville returned to action by mid-July, but has failed to make his presence known on his home brand of Raw. A new cruiserweight division has since been introduced to Monday nights but for some odd reason Neville has been kept completely apart from it. Neville’s injury shouldn’t be an excuse to not put him in action against these stellar athletes so the only logical conclusion is that creative hasn’t been informed that he’s been active for the entire second half of 2016. Can somebody pass the memo along?
8. Roman Reigns
In a storyline, Roman Reigns suffered a severely battered and bloodied nose at the hands of Triple H during a wild brawl on a February edition of Raw. Roman’s face was repeatedly slammed off of the announce table and it looked like WWE spiced up the attack with some fake blood. The whole incident came off well but fans were later shocked when Roman posted photos days afterward showing a very real post-surgery selfie.
The truth apart from this storyline attack was that Roman had some very real nasal issues that needed taken care of. The Triple H attack was a smart development to write him off television for several weeks of recovery. According to WWE’s Senior Ringside Physician Dr. Amann, “Roman underwent nasal reconstruction surgery which consisted of a deviated septum that was fixed and realigned.” The original cause of the injury is speculated to be an awkward table bump during a match with Sheamus in December of the previous year.
Roman Reigns still made it back in plenty of time before his WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match against Triple H at WrestleMania 32, but the timing could not have been worse for a superstar that WWE invests so much into.
7. Randy Orton
Randy Orton’s 2016 injury woes can initially be traced back to last year’s garbage – literally. In October of 2015, Randy injured his shoulder simply by taking the trash out to the curb at his house, shelving him for the entire first half of 2016. When he finally returned to action during the buildup to SummerSlam, WWE decided to take it easy on him by giving him a light return match…
…just kidding! WWE thought it was a better idea to book him to be bludgeoned viciously by a blunt force elbow directly in the head by Brock Lesnar. Unsurprisingly, getting bloodied the hard way by the most legitimate athlete in all of professional wrestling sent The Viper straight back onto the injured list.
This match finish caused Orton to miss a singles match on the following month’s PPV against Bray Wyatt, a decision that wasn’t made until right before the show started. Randy finally made his way back to full time action, but the majority of his 2016 was lost to a combination of 2015 trash and The Beast Incarnate.
Emma first appeared on the main roster back in 2014 without ever really lighting Raw or SmackDown on fire. She had loads of potential but her goofy dance and alliance with Santino wasn’t the most star-making way of packaging her. Thankfully, she took the opportunity to spend some time down in NXT in 2015 to tweak her character. It was a smart decision that payed off for her.
Emma aligned herself with Dana Brooke while on the Full Sail-based brand, brandishing a new attitude and a not so fan-friendly approach. The duo was a perfect foil to whatever babyfaces stood in their way and in no time, she made her way back to the big brands. Her and Dana Brooke took their act right in the face of wrestlers like Becky Lynch, even defeating the Irish Lass on a May episode of Raw. Sadly, the run would be short lived.
At a live event on May 16th, Emma suffered a back injury that would require surgery. Dana Brooke was immediately shuffled into an alliance with Charlotte while Emma has yet to resurface on-screen. Promo videos of a more Diva-inspired persona have been airing on Raw for what feels like months. The amount of time left on the calendar year makes 2016 a lost cause for her.
5. Austin Aries
The Greatest Man That Ever Lived has had a decent 2016 in his new home of NXT. Austin Aries has been holding down the midcard, working entertaining programs with younger talents like No Way Jose. Things looked to be heating up for Aries when it was announced that he’d be teaming with his former Generation Next stable mate as well as former Ring of Honor World Champion, Roderick Strong, for the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. If that alliance was ever to lead to a singles match at a future TakeOver event, we’ll never know.
Wrestling against NXT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura at a live event in Fresno in October, Austin Aries took a way too snug boot to the face by the King of Strong Style. The match had to be called off due to an injury that would later be revealed as a large orbital fracture.
To update his fans of his condition, Aries shared gruesome images online indicating that he would need permanent titanium plates inserted into his skull. It’s expected that Aries will be out of action until early 2017.
4. Hideo Itami
Even when arriving to WWE with loads of fanfare, sometimes luck just isn’t on a wrestler’s side. Hideo Itami debuted in NXT late in 2014 and shortly after WrestleMania 31, he was sidelined due to a shoulder injury. What should’ve been only a 6-8 months recovery time ended up lasting for more than a year due to complications. When Itami was finally slated to return just before the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in the summer of 2016, he had to have been massively disappointed for what was about to happen.
Teaming with Shinsuke Nakamura at an untelevised live NXT event against Riddick Moss & Tino Sabbatelli, Hideo injured his neck when he took an awkward powerslam. The first half of 2016 was completely erased for Itami but considering he was set to pair off with Kota Ibushi for the Dusty Tag Tournament, at least one potential singles match can now be filed into the “what if” cabinet of wrestling lore.
3. Shelton Benjamin
The 2016 brand extension was set to provide a ton of opportunities to not only overlooked talent on the current WWE roster, but also for a few wrestlers primed and in shape for a return. One of the most anticipated returns was former U.S. Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion, Shelton Benjamin.
It was decided that Shelton would return to WWE under the SmackDown banner and even got the promotional video treatment. His return was given importance and he could’ve made an impact upon arrival, but an injury cancelled that return for him. Taking to social media on August 7th, Benjamin explained in a series of Tweets that WWE doctors helped him discover that he needed surgery to repair his rotator cuff.
Shelton was appreciative that WWE caught this injury but it has to be heartbreaking to be so close to a return and then it all fell apart. SmackDown is currently doing fine as far as presenting an entertaining show but it could’ve benefitted from the star power of Benjamin. The first few months of the new SmackDown Live may have been lost to Shelton but at least he should be recovered by early 2017.
2. John Cena
There’s no doubt that the biggest star in WWE for more than a decade has been John Cena. So when that star announced on January 7th through social media that he will be in Birmingham the following day for shoulder surgery, that’s a gigantic blow to business very early into the new year.
The busiest time of WWE’s calendar year is during the few months leading into WrestleMania and Cena was gone from every last bit of it. He had no match leading into what would become a record-breaking attendance in AT&T Stadium in Texas, which made the build far more of a challenge. To the rest of the roster’s credit, they were still able to put enough butts in seats to set an all-time attendance record of 101,763 people.
Thankfully, Cena didn’t miss out on this huge audience. He competed alongside fellow part-timer The Rock. Rocky defeated Erick Rowan in an impromptu and very quick match, but then had to deal with the ire of the entire Wyatt Family. John came to the rescue to help fend off Bray and family, which was a light work day for the still-recovering star.
It wouldn’t be until the Memorial Day edition of Raw that Cena would return full-time. Even after a full-time schedule through the summer, John’s bustling career outside of the ring started taking off, making him an absentee even though he’s healthy. This has become a year of learning how to make wrestling happen without a strong reliance on Cena and most of that was due to injury.
1. Finn Balor
It should be no surprise that the most devastating WWE injury of 2016 was suffered by Finn Balor. Called up to the Raw roster via the July 19th draft, Finn was poised to do be a major player on Raw. He won the right to compete for the brand new WWE Universal Championship the following week, facing off against Seth Rollins at SummerSlam.
Due to an awkward landing against a barricade via running Powerbomb, Balor’s shoulder popped out of place near the beginning of the match. He painfully re-inserted his own shoulder back into place outside of the ring and like a true champion, finished the match.
By the time Raw aired one day after winning the title, an MRI had revealed that Finn suffered a labrum tear that would require surgery. Raw’s inaugural Universal Champion had to vacate the title less than 24 hours after winning it, completely altering the direction of the flagship show’s top storyline.
Finn’s recovery time has been pegged at 4-6 months, which means he very well could be ready for in-ring action by the Royal Rumble. There’s still plenty of hope that Finn can pick up where he left off in 2017 but his previously earned run as Champion on Raw has been stolen away due to injury.