There is a reason why chair shots are currently banned in the WWE. Thwacking someone in the noggin with steel is not good for the gray matter, and in the wake of the Chris Benoit tragedy and the CTE studies of Dr. Bennet Omalu, Vince McMahon and company are wary of courting any controversy related to concussions. Even Paul Heyman, the former head honcho of Extreme Championship Wrestling, told “Stone Cold” Steve Austin on his podcast that he could never in “good faith” sign off on another chair shot to the head.
This was not the norm only a few years ago. Before WWE officially went PG, chair shots were de rigueur for any blood feud or hardcore match. During the much celebrated Attitude Era, stiff shots to the head bloomed wildly like flowers in an unrestrained English garden. Nowadays, with eyes and ears more comfortable with the tamer fare of the modern product, watching something like The Dudley Boyz versus The Hardy Boyz at the 2000 Royal Rumble is kind of shocking. At that time, chair shots were not only acceptable, but they proliferated as if they were just routine, workaday moves like arm locks or chin locks. In ECW and Japan, chair shots occurred even more frequently, with some of the gnarliest examples appearing in federations like FMW.
This list seeks not to glorify chair shots, but to present a look back at what was once the norm in pro wrestling. Remember, don’t try any of this stuff at home.
15. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels – Badd Blood: In Your House 1997
The first ever Hell in a Cell match is rightly regarded as a classic match-up. Not only did the event feature the first ever appearance of Kane, but it was also an excellent contest featuring two legends in their prime. For much of the match, The Undertaker dominated the much smaller Shawn Michaels, who winds up battered and very bloody. One of the more sickening sights of the match occurs when Taker rubs Michael’s bloody forehead across the steel cage, which causes several droplets of blood to land on one of the cameras. The obviously annoyed cameraman lets out an expletive and someone in the back transfers to another camera.
In the last five minutes of the match, The Undertaker pulls a blue steel chair from underneath the ring and cracks The Heartbreak Kid with a very mean shot. Everyone at home knew why The Undertaker did it—it was to avenge Michaels’s earlier (and unintentional) chair shot at that year’s SummerSlam, which cost The Dead Man the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Not long after braining Michaels, Taker was reintroduced to Kane, thereby marking the opening chapter of one of WWE’s greatest rivalries.
14. The Undertaker vs. Bret Hart – SummerSlam 1997
Speaking of that earlier chair shot, even though Taker slightly turns his head away, you can still hear the thick thud of steel connecting with the side of his head. Even though Michaels, the special guest referee, intended for the chair to hit The Hitman, The Undertaker got all of it and lost the match because of it.
Although 1997 was the year when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin became the most popular worker in the entire WWE (then called the WWF), Bret Hart, Michaels, and The Undertaker had a great three-way feud that lasted until the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” at that year’s Survivor Series. Following arguably the greatest double turn in wrestling history at 1997’s WrestleMania, Hart became a whiny Canadian nationalist who had a thing against the pretty boy Michaels. For his part, by the time he cleaned Taker’s clock, Michaels, although nominally a babyface, was starting to get a little rambunctious. Soon after SummerSlam, D-Generation X was born, with Michaels as the raunchy leader of the heel stable. As funny as it sounds, this one chair shot fed into three major storylines.
13. The Rock & Ken Shamrock Confrontation – Raw Is War 1998
Long before Brock Lesnar, Ken Shamrock was the WWE’s “legit” tough guy. Along with the under appreciated Dan Severn, who entered the company as part of the atrocious NWA invasion angle, Shamrock had an extensive martial arts pedigree, including a celebrated stint in the early UFC. Therefore, when he first showed up in the WWE in 1997, Shamrock became the company’s premiere “shooter” and was billed as someone not to be messed with.
The Nation of Domination did not get the message. Although absorbed in a power struggle between The Rock and Farooq, The Nation of Domination picked a fight with Shamrock, and on the March 17, 1998 episode of RAW Is War, Shamrock squared off against D-Lo Brown. With the match’s prescribed two minutes winding down, The Rock entered the ring and hit Shamrock with a chair. The first shot slapped Shamrock’s back; the second shot, which Shamrock not only saw coming, but welcomed with an open hand, made a wet smack off of Shamrock’s forehead. The only way to describe this chair shot is “bone rattling.”
12. Sabu vs. Rey Mysterio – ECW One Night Stand 2006
When the WWE rebooted ECW in 2006, the idea initially had so much potential. The first One Night Stand in 2005 was not only a great pay-per-view, but it may have been the company’s best show of the entire year. While the 2006 version was not as good (mostly because it felt too much like regular WWE programming), it still managed to be better and more extreme than most anything going on in North America at that time (CZW excluded).
During an otherwise ho-hum match, Sabu hit Rey Mysterio, then the World Heavyweight Champion, with a particularly brutal chair shot. In classic Sabu fashion (which Sabu admittedly borrowed from wrestling great Kevin Sullivan), he didn’t hit Mysterio in the standard, two hands and over-the-head style. No, no. Sabu threw the chair at Mysterio. When it hit, the chair made a loud, hollow sound that brought the rabid New York crowd to their feet. It’s hard to believe that just two years later, chair shots in the WWE were completely buried.
11. JBL vs. Eddie Guerrero – Judgement Day 2004
Call me crazy, but I am of the opinion that the Ruthless Aggression Era was as good, if not better than the Attitude Era. Sure, the Attitude Era had better stars and better storytelling, but the Ruthless Aggression Era had better wrestling and was not as chock full of sophomoric hijinks. As evidence, go back and review the amazing rivalry between JBL and Eddie Guerrero. While Guerrero played the inspiring underdog, even while he was champion, JBL was the perfect Texas heel with his tycoon swagger, big hat, and chauffeured limousine.
The feud quickly became highly personal. At one point, at a house show in El Paso, Texas, JBL caused Guerrero’s mother to suffer a kayfabe heart attack. Then, when the two scrapped at Judgement Day, JBL hit Guerrero with a thunderous chair shot that was made all the more brutal by a botched blade job. Apparently, Guerrero, either due to sweat, tiredness, nervousness, or all three, nicked an artery and wound up bleeding himself into shock after the match. This grotesque scene has taken a little starch out of the chair shot itself, which was sickening.
10. Balls Mahoney & Chilly Willy vs. Da Baldies – ECW November to Remember 2000
This list could be full of nothing but Balls Mahoney matches. The late, great “Chair Swinging Freak” plastered ECW’s rings with the blood-stained carcasses of his many victims. Mahoney’s chair shots were notoriously stiff. Steve Corino has half-jokingly and half-seriously accused Mahoney of ruining his short-term memory and potentially giving him dementia. Although he was never a great in-ring technician, Mahoney was over with the ECW faithful and was always exciting to match.
During the 2000 installment of November to Remember, Mahoney and Chilly Willy (an odd tandem if ever there was one) fought Da Baldies in a Flaming Tables match. Not long after the bell rang, Mahoney hit Angel with a weak chair shot that pretty much skimmed off of the man’s head. Tony DeVito wasn’t so lucky. Mahoney pulled back and leveled DeVito with a chair shot that put a skull-sized dent in the seat. Ouch!
9. The Rock vs. Mankind – Royal Rumble 1999
Even though The Rock was never considered a hardcore wrestler, he was involved in plenty of brutal matches during his time atop of the Attitude Era. None is more well-known and infamous than the I Quit match between The Rock and Mankind at the Royal Rumble in 1999. While Mankind (Mick Foley) had a reputation for taking insane bumps, The Rock exposed a vicious side during the match. As documented in the film Beyond the Mat, The Rock went a little overboard when he began using a chair against Foley in the match. Making maters worse, when The Rock begins his assault to Mankind’s skull, the latter competitor has his hands bound with handcuffs. As such, in front of his wife and children, Foley takes almost twenty unprotected chair shots to the head before the match ends.
8. Shawn Michaels vs. Vince McMahon – WrestleMania 22
The Shawn Michaels versus Vince McMahon feud was very strange. At one point, the head of the WWE had an in-ring confrontation with God, who was represented as a beam of light. Apparently, in McMahon’s bizarro world, God is a fan of the song “Somebody Better Call My Momma,” the original entrance theme for Ernest “The Cat” Miller. McMahon danced like a fool as the song played and God looked on. Elsewhere, McMahon and his son Shane cut a promo in a church all designed to show their contempt for Michaels’s stance as a born-again Christian.
Maybe McMahon’s blasphemy drove Michaels to do what he did. Or maybe the divine hand of God’s wrath took control, but whatever the case, Michaels cracked McMahon with a vicious chair shot that left a baseball-sized dent in the chair’s seat. The shot not only cut McMahon open, but probably curled more than a few toes in the audience. For a No Holds Barred match involving the boss, this moment was surprisingly extreme.
7. The Hardy Boyz Attack Brock Lesnar – Raw 2002
Much like in 2016, Brock Lesnar in 2002 looked like an unstoppable force. As a young, hungry villain, Lesnar got good booking as a human wrecking ball bent only on destruction. Basically, back then, if you were scheduled to wrestle Lesnar, you were bound to lose. Most wrestlers tried to flee the scene, but The Hardy Boyz were made of braver stuff. On the April 8, 2002 edition of RAW, a pre-Broken Matt and a pre-Brother Nero Jeff interrupted a Paul Heyman promo to attack The Beast Incarnate.
In less than a minute, The Hardy Boyz managed to hit Lesnar twice in the head with chair shots. The first one, which was swung by Jeff, made a revoltingly crisp smack. Matt’s shot was a little less intense, but Lesnar’s head still made an imprint in the steel. Amazingly, despite being rocked with two unprotected chair shots, Lesnar never left his feet. That, my friends, is how you make a monster.
6. Brock Lesnar vs. Zach Gowen – SmackDown 2003
Like the I Quit match at 1999’s Royal Rumble, Brock Lesnar’s chair-wielding assault of Zack Gowen was thoroughly one-sided. Gowen, an amputee with just one leg, had the unfortunate task of jobbing to a very angry Lesnar on the August 21, 2003 edition of SmackDown. To call this match anything but a mugging would be unfair. While Gowen’s family looked on, Lesnar yanked off Gowen’s prosthetic leg, then proceeded to ram the injured man’s body into the ring post over and over again.
The most jarring moment in the match came when Lesnar, with a steel chair in hand, hit a defenseless Gowen over the head while the latter struggled to stand up. Although this decision earned Gowen a victory via disqualification, Lesnar doesn’t heed the bell and continued to wreck Gowen. Two F-5s later, an incredibly bloody and undoubtedly concussed Gowen was wheeled out on a stretcher. It’s funny to think that this moment happened under the auspices of a company that today prides itself on working with anti-bullying charities.
5. Mike Awesome vs. Masato Tanaka – ECW One Night Stand 2005
During the glory days of ECW, Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka almost killed each other every time they stepped into the ring. As two veterans of Japan’s ultra-violent organization Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, Awesome and Tanaka were both comfortable and familiar with sickening chair shots. When they traded the ECW World Heavyweight Championship back and forth between September and December 1999, their matches routinely stole the show, with broken tables, crooked chairs, and ecstatic fans being their calling cards.
When the two rekindled their rivalry at the first One Night Stand, Awesome had to perform from behind the eight ball. Because he walked out on ECW as the champion and defected to WCW, the very partisan crowd in New York looked like they wanted to rip Awesome apart that night. Awesome and Tanaka eventually won them over with a blisteringly fast and brutal match. The gnarliest chair shot belonged to Awesome, who, after repeatedly trying to knock Tanaka down with chair shots, wound back and hit Tanaka with a shot that almost broke the chair in half.
4. The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar – Unforgiven 2002
Give Brock Lesnar credit—for as much as many people want to paint him as lazy today, the guy has a history of taking loads of punishment. 2002 was an especially rough year for Lesnar, for besides eating two steel chairs swung by The Hardy Boyz, Lesnar was also the recipient of one of the hardest chair shots in history courtesy of The Undertaker.
Because their feud was so personal, The Dead Man entered the ring for 2002’s Unforgiven as one motivated American bad ass. Although Lesnar’s title was on the line, Taker clearly just wanted to pulverize the so-called “Next Big Thing.” With blood running into his eyes, The Undertaker corked back a steel chair and swiftly brought the foreign object down on Lesnar’s unprotected head. The strike bent part of the chair’s seat inward, plus it created one solid sound of bone meeting steel. This moment more than made up for the match’s unfulfilling double disqualification finish.
3. Any Chair Shot Ever Thrown in CZW
Philadelphia’s Combat Zone Wrestling is the self-stylized successor to ECW. That said, during its heyday, CZW made ECW look downright tame. Indeed, unprotected and stiff chair shots rarely ever make anyone’s gross-out reel of the sickest moments in CZW history. After all, this is the company where Masada utilized a drop toehold on Jun Kasai during a death match in 2013 which sent the Japanese wrestler face first into a Gusset plate board full of razors. The result was more barbaric and bloody than most could ever imagine. Also, a chair shot seems like small potatoes when weed whackers and power saws are also considered fair game.
Be that is it may, CZW has seen so many nasty chair shots that it’s hard to list just one. CZW veterans who have proven to be particularly adept at throwing some mean steel include John Zandig, Justice Pain, Nick Gage, and Danny Havoc. For those brave enough to try it, CZW’s many hardcore and death matches are available on YouTube and other streaming services. Be forewarned: the chair shots are bad enough, but there are nothing compared to the thumbtacks, the syringes, the barbed wire, and the wooden spikes that often get used.
2. The Undertaker vs. Mr. Kennedy – Survivor Series 2006
The WWE almost made Mr. Kennedy a big star. Unfortunately for Kennedy, Randy Orton didn’t like him and many of the boys in the back felt the same way. Before his big push got cancelled and he was shuttled down to TNA, Kennedy took part in a pretty good feud with The Undertaker. Kennedy was booked as the full-of-it newcomer who picked a fight with The Dead Man in order to add another former world champion to his list of victims. After defeating The Undertaker via disqualification at the 2006 installment of No Mercy, Kennedy agreed to face Taker in a First Blood match at the following pay-per-view.
Like any good heel, Kennedy cheated to win. First of all, Kennedy utilized Montel Vontavious Porter, alias MVP, to his advantage. MVP not only cleaned up the blood that Kennedy coughed up, but he also played a crucial role in getting Taker bloody in time for the referee to see it. An enraged Undertaker got revenge on Kennedy by hitting him with an obscene chair shot. Not only was the shot loud, but Taker swung the chair so hard that Kennedy’s head went through the seat. Now that’s brutality.
1. “The Chair Shot Heard Around the World” – Heat Wave: Rage In The Cage 1995
It’s arguably the most identifiable chair shot in pro wrestling history. Not only that, but the moment when Tommy Dreamer hit Raven with the “chair shot heard around the world,” ECW arrived on the scene as the premiere distributor of ultra-violence in North America.
In short, Raven and Tommy Dreamer were in the midst of their legendary feud. This feud, which had its origins in the pairs younger years at a summer camp, included an ever-increasing cast of characters. During Heat Wave 1995, Luna Vachon represented the interests of Tommy Dreamer against Stevie Richards, Raven’s key flunky. Inside of a cage housed in the ECW Arena, Vachon managed to make Richards tap out. However, few remember this. Most remember the fact that Dreamer handcuffed Raven to the cage and put him in a crucifixion pose. Unable to defend himself, Raven suffered a massive chair shot from Dreamer that pushed Raven’s head right through the steel seat. For 1995, this was unimaginably brutal. It’s still brutal today.