Professional wrestling is acting and stunt work, but it’s a very special kind of acting and stunt work in that it happens live, often very fast, and in front of thousands of fans who expect it to look as real as possible. Despite the fact those fans want it to look real, there’s also an expectation that it will all be performed in the safest way possible. Wrestlers still get hurt all the time, but the main goal of sports entertainment is for them not to. Because of this, a wrestler’s most important job is to at once look like they’re trying to beat their opponents while also making sure they are as safe as they could possibly be.
Of course, some wrestlers ignore the part about making sure their opponents are safe. We’re not just talking about working stiff, or actually punching and kicking your opponent instead of pretending to, although some of the worst offenders of that concept did make the list. Much worse than unnecessary roughness is the number of wrestlers who have intentionally attempted to hurt their opponents, or maybe worst of all, entered the ring under the influence of so many drugs virtually everyone in the ring was at serious risk. Keep reading to learn 15 wrestlers who put their opponent’s life in genuine danger.
15. Kurt Angled Repeatedly Dropped Shane McMahon On His Head
Kurt Angle is highly respected for his skills inside the wrestling ring, excelling in virtually every style of wrestling he’s attempted, and that includes fighting some of the most hardcore brawls in history. One of the most intense Street Fights in history was fought between Kurt Angle and Shane McMahon at the 2001 King of the Ring. While the entire match is brutal, for a brief stretch in the match, Angle was repeatedly putting Shane at serious risk of breaking his neck or even ending his life. Angle gave Shane three belly-to-belly suplexes that were supposed to send him through a Plexiglas plate, but instead Angle dropped Shane’s head directly onto the concrete floor. Any of the shots could’ve concussed Shane, broken his neck, or even worse, but the toughest McMahon only demanded Angle keep trying to break the glass.
14. Marty Jannetty Broke Charles Austin’s Neck
There was a time when Marty Jannetty was actually considered a talent on par with his Rocker partner Shawn Michaels, but years of drug abuse eventually robbed him of his potential and made him fall into obscurity while Michaels became a superstar. Well before the substance abuse problems took over, Jannetty was responsible for one of the worst wrestling injuries in history, when he paralyzed and broke the neck of a jobber named Charles Austin with a botched Rocker Dropper. Austin testified in court it was Jannetty’s bad advice that caused the injury, and he won a $26 million court case to prove it. Jannetty’s career actually recovered and he was given several extra chances, but he always managed to ruin them again, this time with drugs.
13. Vader Gave Cactus Jack Multiple Concussions
While plenty of wrestlers have a reputation for working stiff in the ring and seriously hurting their opponents, Vader regularly took things too far, especially in his early 90s matches with Cactus Jack. It was in a match with Vader that Cactus ripped his ear off, but that’s hardly the most dangerous thing the two of them did. More than once, Vader Power Bombed Jack onto concrete, legitimately knocking him unconscious and giving him concussions while he did it. Given what society knows about head injuries today, we know just how potentially fatal this action could have been, and it’s just one of many reasons it’s a miracle Mick Foley can think straight to this day.
12. Abdullah The Butcher Gave Indie Wrestlers Hep C
Most of the wrestlers on this list made a stupid dangerous choice, but Abdullah the Butcher was the only one who has actually been taken to court over his terrible decisions. Abdullah the Butcher has known for years that he had Hepatitis C, but that hasn’t stopped him from being one of the bloodiest hardcore wrestlers on the planet into his 70s. Abdullah was proven to have transferred the virus to at least one indie wrestler named Devon Nicholson, who won a $2 million court case against him, and many other wrestlers have accused him of doing the same. Abdullah somehow became a WWE Hall of Famer in spite of this knowledge, and “Superstar” Billy Graham asked for his induction to be removed as a result.
11. Road Warrior Hawk Wrestled While Dangerously Drunk
Road Warrior Hawk was well known for his substance abuse issues throughout his life, mostly due to WWE’s insensitive treatment of him during The Attitude Era. What fans might not realize is that during The Legion of Doom’s first run in the early 90s, Hawk was once terrifyingly drunk during one of his most important matches. He and Animal were wrestling Ted DiBiase and IRS at SummerSlam 1992, and according to Animal, Hawk was so drunk he could barely ride his motorcycle to the ring for their entrance. He hardly sobered up once the match started, and flailed around the ring uncoordinated constantly putting IRS and DiBiase’s lives in danger while he did so. The LOD managed to win the WWE Tag Team titles anyway, saving his job for at least a little while despite his dangerous, drunken performance.
10. Mr. Kennedy Failed A Drug Test Seconds Before A Match
Whether or not Mr. Kennedy/Ken Anderson actually was putting his opponent’s life in danger is somewhat of a matter of debate. Anderson himself feels he was always being safe, but at least two of his biggest opponents and one of his former employers felt quite differently. While competing as Kennedy in WWE, both Randy Orton and John Cena spoke out to Vince McMahon about Kennedy, saying he regularly worked so unsafely they didn’t feel safe with him. He was fired and moved to Total Nonstop Action, but that company also eventually fired him when he allegedly showed up to wrestle while under the influence of unnamed drugs. Kennedy loudly disputed that claim as well, but it seems clear he at least has a pattern of disrespecting his opponents on a serious level.
9. Owen Hart Broke Steve Austin’s Neck
Owen Hart and the entire Hart family have a reputation as some of the safest and greatest wrestlers in history, but at least once Owen made a major mistake that could’ve cost one of the most important wrestlers in history his life. Arguably the most famous botch in history came at SummerSlam 1997, when Owen Hart dropped Steve Austin on his neck during a Tombstone. Hart’s grip on Austin wasn’t as strong as it should have been, causing Austin to slip and his neck to connect with the mat so harshly he jammed his neck. Austin was briefly paralyzed, but the accident could’ve left him permanently paralyzed, or even worse. Austin made a miraculous recovery, and Hart can’t be blamed as harshly as the others on this list since it was a rare and total mistake, but the mistake remains his fault.
8. Steve Austin Poured Beer On Scott Hall
Steve Austin didn’t directly put Scott Hall’s life in danger, but he was complicit in a very poorly thought out angle that both admitted could have contributed to Scott Hall’s gimmick in a major way. In 2002, Hall was taking a drug called disulfiram, which essentially made him allergic to alcohol. The drug is often used to treat substance abuse problems, and if someone is taking it they can’t even have alcohol touch their skin without experiencing violent physical reactions. At the same time, Hall and Austin were feuding, and Austin poured beer all over Hall more than once in the heat of their battles. Hall’s attempt at kicking the habit didn’t work that time around possibly in part to WWE’s insensitivity to his problems. And on that note…
7. Scott Hall Wrestled While Heavily Intoxicated
Scott Hall is one of the most notorious alcoholic substance abusers in wrestling history, so it’s sadly not a surprise he more than once got in the ring while in no condition to compete. The saddest instance was a small independent show in 2011, when Hall was so drunk he could barely walk to the ring. Hall was actually so drunk no one was really in any danger unlike some of the other instances on the list, but even needing to work in a physical contest with someone that inebriated is a dangerous affair that could cause everyone involved serious injury. Luckily, Hall and his opponents all ended up unhurt, and the incident was one of his final wake up calls that brought him to DDP Yoga today.
6. X-Pac Wrestled AJ Styles While On Meth
X-Pac is well known for once being an incredible wrestler who quickly fell into a pit of drugs and alcohol that took away his focus and talent in wrestling. They didn’t stop him from wrestling at all, though; he simply was far more dangerous in the ring than he would have been if sober. The worst incident was probably wrestling AJ Styles for Total Nonstop Action while under the influence of crystal meth. X-Pac has spoken out about his stupid, dangerous decision to do so on a variety of podcasts and admits it’s a miracle neither of them got seriously hurt, let alone the fact the match actually wasn’t that bad. Despite the fact X-Pac somehow pulled it off, one wrestler wrestling under the influence of any drugs puts both wrestlers at serious risk.
5. Vic Grimes Gave New Jack Brain Damage
Vic Grimes alone didn’t put New Jack’s life in danger at Living Dangerously 2000, but he was a big piece of the series of mistakes that ultimately caused Jack permanent brain damage. The two brawled around the arena eventually fighting their way to the top of a poorly made scaffold. Exactly what was supposed to happen next has been debated, but what definitely happened was Grimes threw New Jack off the scaffold and fell down on top of him, driving Jack skull first onto the concrete. Jack was also temporarily blinded from the fall. Things easily could’ve gone even worse for both men, and it’s possible they could have if Jack had his way…
4. New Jack Tried To Kill Vic Grimes
New Jack has not only put his opponent’s lives at risks, but he takes things a step further by being the only wrestler on this list to intentionally do so, and he’s done it more than once. The first famous incident came in 1996, when New Jack wrestled an untrained 17-year-old named Mass Transit and legitimately cut his face with an exacto knife. Transit’s life wasn’t directly in jeopardy, but he bled so badly many people at ringside, including his father, were deeply worried for his safety. More blatantly dangerous, at a show in XPW, Jack threw Vic Grimes off a 40-foot high scaffold in an alleged attempt to murder him. Jack himself claimed he was trying to seriously injure Grimes, but fans have questioned if it was a serious comment or a work. Either way, the incident itself proves Jack had no concern for his opponent’s lives.
3. The Sandman Wrestled Sabu While On Acid
The Sandman was arguably the most popular wrestler in ECW for nearly its entire run. The Hardcore Icon resonated with the fans like no other, and part of his appeal was his prolonged entrance that saw him drink multiple actual beers before his matches began. Virtually every ECW wrestler has since spoken out to say they hated this and it made him impossible to work with, because he was often so drunk he couldn’t remember even the most basic moves. Sandman had a legendarily horrible match with Sabu at November to Remember 1997, and both men have since explained the situation as the result of Sandman taking acid before the match and thinking Sabu was a lizard. With these habits, it’s pretty much a miracle Sandman never accidentally seriously injured or even killed an opponent or himself during a match. And speaking of Sabu…
2. Sabu Didn’t Care About His Or Terry Funk’s Safety
Sabu is a special case in this list, in that not only did he put his opponent’s lives at risk, he regularly put his own life at risk, as well. One of the most dangerous and risky matches in wrestling history was the barbed wire match between Sabu and Terry Funk at ECW Born to Be Wired. Sabu ripped his bicep so badly with the barbed wire he was gushing blood at a rate he easily could’ve passed out. Instead of getting medical attention, he duct taped his injury shut and soldiered on. He and Funk got so tangled in the barbed wire neither man could move without risking another serious injury. Sabu hurt himself even worse during a match in Japan, claiming he cut his stomach so badly people could see his muscles. He soldiered on through his potentially fatal injury that time, too.
1. Jeff Hardy Was Too Drugged Out To Wrestle Sting
Jeff Hardy is number one on the list with a bullet, as he tried to pull the same antics as The Sandman and X-Pac before him, and Hardy made things worse by doing it at the main event level. Hardy was set to face Sting for the TNA World Championship at Victory Road 2011, and reports indicate Hardy was under the influence of an unspecified but massive cocktail of drugs as the match was about to start. Lucky for Sting, but unlucky for the thousands of fans who paid money to see the event, TNA executive Eric Bischoff came to the ring before the match to inform Sting of the situation, leading to an extremely quick match that had fans chanting “Bullshit!” Sting screamed that he agreed, but chances are he preferred the merciful result to a long match that put both their lives in real danger. The incident is still the most embarrassing of Hardy’s career, and to this day people point to it as proof he doesn’t care about his or his opponent’s lives.