Professional wrestling is often mocked for being fake, and there’s no denying that it is indeed scripted, but there’s also no denying that the performers are genuinely putting their bodies at severe risk every time they step into the ring. Injuries happen all the time in wrestling, and as of this writing WWE is facing one of their worst eras in terms of injuries, with countless top stars getting injured and forced into early retirement at a rapid rate. If this all sounds pretty serious that’s because it is, but that hasn’t stopped plenty of wrestlers from making a mockery out of their own profession by faking serious injuries.
At first, the idea of faking an injury likely seemed brilliant, especially since the true toll wrestling takes on one’s body hadn’t been realized until recently. Unfortunately, it seems like the trend is accelerating with time instead of decreasing, with plenty of wrestlers faking injuries to this day. This has started to amass a great deal of controversy, since some of the injuries they’ve faked have actually claimed the careers and even lives of wrestlers who came before them. That said, a few of these examples are still viewed as classic angles, and even we admit some of them were pretty funny. Read on if you want to learn about 15 times wrestlers may have sold a little bit too much and lied about a serious injury.
15. Shawn Michaels – Faked A Head Injury
Shawn Michaels was almost inarguably the greatest wrestler in WWE during the mid-90s, but he was also a huge jerk to everybody he met at the time. In October of 1995, Michaels was legitimately attacked by a questionable number of Marines outside of a bar, and desperately needed time off from wrestling to heal. To give himself time off, the next month he wrestled a match with Owen Hart and “collapsed” after being kicked in the head with an Enziguri. We’re going to start feeling like a broken record quick with this list, but considering how possible it is for a wrestler to actually collapse in the ring, especially after taking a real kick to the head, the angle comes off as pretty tasteless with a few decades of hindsight. Michaels returned from his mysterious collapse just a few months later, predicting years of professional sports ignoring just how serious head injuries can be.
14. Jerry Lawler – Faked Anal Bleeding
It’s not that uncommon for wrestlers to fake or exaggerate some vague or nondescript minor injury, like a “bruised shoulder,” or a “ripped back muscle,” and although that’s still offensive to the people suffering real back and shoulder injuries, we let it slide as wrestling being wrestling. At least once, though, WWE went in such a strange direction with it we have to give it some attention on our list. In September of 2011, Lawler was attacked by Mark Henry and slammed through the announce table. Somehow, this translated to Michael Cole bestowing Lawler with some reasonable, vague, and nondescript bruised ribs, and also…anal bleeding. Booker T can merely give a dead stare and ask “What?!” in response. Can’t help you there, Book.
13. Michael Cole – Faked A Spinal Injury
Proving that being a WWE broadcaster is one of the most dangerous careers in broadcasting a person could imagine, Michael Cole joined his longtime partner Lawler in lying about a serious injury. While Lawler’s sin was absurdity, Cole’s fake injury was an issue of particularly horrible timing. In March of 2015, Brock Lesnar attacked Cole and left him with fake injuries described on WWE.com as “a possible cervical fracture.” Now, if they had gone with their usual vague “back injuries,” there may be no harm, no foul, but unfortunately, barely over one week earlier, popular Mexican wrestler Perro Aguayo Jr. actually died during a match by fracturing his vertebrae. Some people will argue this entire list is complaining about wrestling being wrestling, but this example in particular proves that certain considerations need to be made when faking injuries, lest it look like WWE is trivializing the health and lives of their talent.
12. Bob Orton, Jr. – Exaggerated A Broken Arm
This list could get negative fast, so we’ll keep it light with this fun one. Bob Orton’s broken arm is generally considered one of the funniest and most inspired heel moves of the 80s. Like several items on this list, the injury started off as real. Orton broke his left arm in a match with Jimmy Snuka in the mid 80s, and briefly needed to wear a cast. After his arm was completely healed, he kept wearing the cast, using the hard protective plaster as a weapon against his opponents. Orton rode the fake injury gimmick to the top of the card, eventually becoming a regular accomplice to the era’s top villain, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Though lauded at the time, Orton and his inflated injury have more or less been forgotten, in part due to the increased sensitivity towards injuries over the years, and in part because Orton has been overshadowed by his infamous family.
11. Joel Gertner – Faked A Neck Injury
Like Bob Orton, Joel Gertner’s fake injury was fondly viewed as smart comedy at the time it was introduced, but given how many wrestlers have retired young due to neck injuries, it’s hard to look back and laugh. The Quintessential Stud Muffin was a longtime manager in ECW, who eventually went on to become the co-host of ECW on TNN and Hardcore TV, in addition to many of ECW’s Pay-Per-Views. On the very first ECW PPV, Barely Legal, Gertner was on the receiving end of John Kronus and Perry Saturn’s Total Elimination, which “broke his neck.” He wore a neck brace for most of his career after the move, and even now we have to admit wearing a bowtie on top of said neck brace was a pretty inspired move.
10. Chyna – Faked A Neck Injury
Chyna will forever be remembered as a historic and troubled figure within WWE history. She broke ground in wrestling in ways few women could even dream to this day, and after her tragic death in April of 2016, it seems she’s finally getting some respect from the company she once loved working for. One thing that may never get respect is the fake broken neck that occurred Royal Rumble in 2001. Chyna was wrestling Ivory for the WWE Women’s Title, and “collapsed” after a handspring elbow. The crowd didn’t buy the “re-aggravated neck injury” WWE were trying to sell, and things were only made worse when Jerry Lawler “rushed to the ring” to check on Chyna. Lawler actually rushed to the ring when Owen Hart died, and having him start doing so during angles makes an angle out of one of the darkest days in company history, as if faking career ending injuries due to moves that couldn’t hurt a ballerina wasn’t bad enough.
9. Pitbull #1 – Exaggerated A Neck Injury
Pitbull #1, who was born as Gary Wolfe, actually did break his neck in a match, which is probably why he and almost everyone involved with this “classic” ECW angle were pretty uncomfortable when it came time to pretend he was still injured and really take the idea of picking on the disabled to the limit. Wolfe’s neck was broken in a match with Shane Douglas, and the extent of his injury required him to wear a halo with actual screws bolted into his skull. Obviously, the injury was pretty bad, but Wolfe actually completely healed before he ever appeared in ECW again. That’s not what they told the fans, though—Paul Heyman manipulated the wrestling media and kept Wolfe hidden enough that fans believed his neck was actually still broken, which resulted in true vitriol when Shane Douglas grabbed him Wolfe his halo and threw him to the ground. It was a truly dastardly move, but it arguably went way too far.
8. Scott Steiner – Faked Multiple Injuries
Scott Steiner actually faked serious injuries several times in WCW, so much so that it could be argued having no respect for the fickle creation that is the human body was a part of his gimmick. Steiner first played the fake injury card at Road Wild 1998, having the actually recently injured Buff Bagwell wheel him to the ring on a gurney, only for Steiner to almost immediately pop up and attack his brother Rick. Although Bagwell had nearly ended his career with a real injury only months earlier, he just laughed along with the same lack of respect as the Steiners. Barely a year later in December of 99, Steiner pulled an almost identical shtick, pretending that serious back injuries were forcing him to retire. Before the night was over, it was shown to be a ruse, and Steiner was nWo for life once more, and the very real possibility of wrestlers forced into early retirement was seen as a punch line yet again.
7. John Cena – Exaggerated A Pectoral Injury
One of the last true surprises in professional wrestling came at the 2008 Royal Rumble. The clock struck zero for the 30th entry and out walked…John Cena. It’s hard to see the fuss in hindsight, but at the time, Cena was believed to be out for up to an entire year with a very serious injury to his pectoral muscle. He injured himself while wrestling Mr. Kennedy in October of 2007, and he was still a long way en route to recovery when the Royal Rumble came around. Cena had been making posts on Twitter that his recovery was moving faster than expected, but gave no hints exactly how fast he meant until he actually showed up that night. In fact, Cena heavily implied it would still be months before he got back in the ring. Some part of the injury was clearly real, and since it was used to such dramatic effect, maybe it was okay to bend the truth in this instance.
6. The Rock – Faked A Hand Injury
Most of these fake injuries happen either inside of or at least in relation to a wrestling ring, but The Rock has transcended wrestling, so it makes sense his fake injury happened on a film set. While shooting the film Central Intelligence, The Rock was involved in some kind of minor onset accident, and decided to document the results on his Instagram. The Great One joked and laughed throughout the video, and also provided a picture of his hand—including a ring finger that was either broken or about to snap off entirely. The Rock shared it with Instagram as if it were all real, but it turns out the broken finger was just a prop from the movie, and the onset accident was probably just a prank altogether. Real onset accidents happen in film all the time, too, so the fact it happened so far away from a ring is hardly an excuse.
5. Jonah Adelman – Faked A Neck Injury
Maybe it isn’t entirely fair to call Jonah Adelman a wrestler, although he certainly gave it his best effort. Jonah was one of the contestants on the third season of WWE Tough Enough in 2002. Tough Enough started out as a real life style documentary show portraying the training process of truly beginner wrestlers, looking for a shot at the big time in WWE. That included an introduction to injuries and hardcore bumps, which Jonah took to the extreme during a “prank” early on in his season. After a particularly bad bump, Jonah was forced to go to a hospital. Luckily, it turned out to be a minor issue unrelated to his neck, but Jonah and show producer John Gaburick decided to prank the rest of the contestants, and pretend Jonah had suffered a career ending neck injury. The prank went over surprisingly well with the cast, but it’s worth noting this particular episode has been removed from the WWE Network, as well as more than half of Tough Enough’s controversial third season.
4. Matt Hardy – Faked A Spinal Injury
This fake injury is still under development as of this writing, but there’s enough evidence out there for us to call it fake, even if we don’t know where the story is going to end. Matt and Jeff Hardy wrestled an “I Quit” match in late March of 2016, and the match aired on Total Nonstop Action’s Impact Wrestling approximately one month later. It ended in a “No Contest” with both brothers stretchered out of the arena, and after the broadcast, Matt Hardy took to Twitter to claim a piece of one of the tables broken in the match lodged into his spine causing permanent damage and forcing him to retire. The problem is, in between the match taking place and the match airing on TV, Matt had already wrestled a handful of matches. It’s one thing to say you’re taking some time off due to a tough match, but faking career ending injuries is totally uncalled for.
3. Stevie Richards – Exaggerated A Neck Injury
While the morality of faking an injury is ultimately up for debate, at least one performer on this list has expressed some extreme regret for doing so, although his reasons are pretty specific to his situation. In late May of 1997, Stevie suffered what at first looked like a serious neck injury in a match against Terry Funk. Although Stevie’s career and ECW both seemed to be moments away from exploding in the wrestling world, it seemed like Stevie would have no choice but to retire, or at least that’s what he told everyone at ECW in order to get out of his commitments with them. In fact, just a few months later, he realized the injuries weren’t nearly as bad as they first seemed, and signed a contract with WCW. Stevie wasn’t acting alone, listening to bad advice from Raven and others, but he reflects on the incident by admitting he acted immaturely. He also said he considers the real neck injury that started the lie the scariest moment of his life, which once again goes to show how serious the things these wrestlers lied about is.
2. Ric Flair – Faked A Heart Attack
All of the other fake injuries on this list are somewhat offensive in the world of professional sports, where absolutely anybody can suffer a serious injury at any time. Faking a heart attack takes the offensiveness to a level beyond, laughing in the face of the number one cause of death on the planet. In the late 90s, Ric Flair did exactly that, and he did it in the middle of a WCW ring. In December of 1998, Flair was giving increasingly intense and passionate promos about his hatred of Eric Bischoff, regularly taking off his clothes and turning red in the face while screaming about whatever came to his mind. The announcers would laugh and tell him to calm down lest he have a heart attack, until one night on Nitro it looked like Flair did exactly that. Wrestling being wrestling, they later revealed Flair was actually poisoned, but for at least a few days it looked like one of the top names in wrestling could’ve suffered a tragic fate on national television—the same tragic fate countless co workers of his actually faced in front of crowds of hundreds at high school gyms.
So, what could possibly be worse than faking a heart attack? Well…
1. Vince McMahon – Faked A Fiery Exploding Death
Vince McMahon is the biggest and loudest personality in wrestling history, in charge of arguably the biggest and loudest sports entertainment company in television history. Obviously, this is a man who goes big or goes home, so if he’s going to fake an injury, he’s going to go all out on an epic level. In July of 2007, Vince McMahon walked into a limo at the end of an episode of Raw, and seconds later the limo exploded. WWE actually reported on their web site that McMahon was presumed dead, and claimed authorities had immediately begun investigating the probable “murder.” Any wrestler can stare into the eyes of fate and mock it with a fake injury, but to actually stare down death and laugh? Now that takes a McMahon. Unfortunately, WWE immediately found out just how bad an idea this was, as less than two weeks later Chris Benoit murdered his family and subsequently committed suicide. Suddenly the fake explosion seemed a little bit gauche.