Only the youngest wrestling fans have yet to be clued in on the fact that the action in the ring is scripted, but the emotions that sports entertainment can inspire within its audience is often very real. Whether or not the grapplers in the ring actually hate each other, many of the fans actually have experienced visceral negative feelings about the top heels of their era. Luckily, security measures have gotten heavy enough at least within the major wrestling companies that this generally only translates to bad words and angry threats, but before wrestling was completely mainstream, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for fans to attack and even stab or pull out guns on wrestlers.
While the allegedly more mature fans like to laugh at the people screaming it’s still real to them, damn it, this form of committed devotion to our favorite sport is often terrifying, and has nearly cost a few wrestlers their lives. Not that they complained, though—there was actually an era in wrestling when stab marks were a sign of a truly great heel, and whether or not it was any fun receiving them, the meanest heels would wear them with pride as a sign they were absolutely killing it at their jobs. Regardless of how the wrestler reacted, we think you’ll wince in shock at least a few times as you gaze through our list of 15 wrestlers who had their lives threatened by fans.
15. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper is almost certainly the greatest villain in wrestling history. Despite the fact he didn’t start dominating the wrestling world for over a decade after the era when stabbings were a normal thing in wrestling, Piper was hated enough to suffer some of the worst attacks out of anyone on the list. Piper had his life seriously threatened by fans at least four times. Piper claimed to have been stabbed three times, the worst incident finding the blade within a few inches of his heart. In addition to the stabbings, Piper was managing Ric Flair against Jack Veneno in the Dominican Republic, and when Piper was about to interfere with the match as the script demanded, the men in the security force, who were huge fans of Veneno, actually pulled their guns on him to stop him.
14. Ole Anderson
Ole Anderson was one of the founding members of The Four Horsemen, and for years before that he was a reviled heel in the Minnesota Wrecking Crew with his storyline brother Gene. Ole was so hated that in 1976, after a tag match in Georgia teaming with Gene against Mr. Wrestling Tim Woods and Dino Bravo, an elderly man surprised Ole backstage and repeatedly stabbed him in the chest and arm with a hawkbill knife. Anderson required a four-hour surgery to repair his injured tendons, and dozens of stitches were needed to close the wounds. Anderson proved his toughness by appearing on television not two days later to tell his enemies he wouldn’t back down.
13. “Classy” Freddie Blassie
“Classy” Freddie Blassie was one of the most beloved figures in WWE during the time of his death in 2003 thanks to his true status as a legend of the industry, but he earned that status by being one of the most hated heels in history. Blassie alleged to have been stabbed at least 21 times, and one amazing story claims he was even doused in acid by a group of angry fans. Blassie was undeterred by the attacks and went on to have one of the most successful management careers in WWE history, and stuck around so long fans started to respect and love the man who clearly reveled in making us hate him. Hopefully, no future legends will inspire that sort of hatred again.
12. Dean Ambrose
Crazy fan attacks aren’t a thing of the past, and they aren’t just happening in small shows with little security, either. Several WWE superstars found themselves victims of a series of fan attacks over the past few years, and none were more in danger than Dean Ambrose. After a SmackDown taping in August 2015, a fan jumped the railing carrying some kind of weapon others identified as a knife and tried to attack Ambrose. Luckily, security was able to immediately tackle and disarm the would-be attacker, and the show went on as planned. While fans might still be as crazy as they used to be, at least wrestling promoters don’t see stab wounds as a sign of a job well done anymore and security have learned how to do their jobs.
11. Hans Schmidt
Most of these instances took place in the 1960’s or earlier, well before WWE became a mainstream industry giant that turned professional wrestling into the more corporate institution it is today. Another thing that hadn’t exactly happened yet was political correctness, which is how Hans Schmidt entered the national spotlight as the most hated wrestling Nazi of his era. Schmidt was hardly the only wrestling Nazi, as xenophobia has always been a huge selling point in wrestling. Even the great Fritz Von Erich had his start in National Socialism, but he turned into a proud Texan before receiving any serious injuries. Schmidt wasn’t so lucky, as although he was actually a French Canadian, his fake German accent was convincing enough to earn him dozens of minor stab wounds and lighter burns. That’s no fun, but it’s not potential murder—the fans who would throw bricks at his car when he was driving, and attempt to set it on fire when it was parked, took care of the serious life threatening duties.
10. Assassin #1
Today’s wrestling fans remember Jody Hamilton as the father of former referee Nick Patrick, but he was a hugely hated heel in the 60’s as a member of the masked Assassins. Hamilton started the team by tagging with Tom Renesto, and their villainous ways led them to the Georgia Tag Team titles a record number of times. For more concrete evidence of how dominant the team was, Hamilton recounts endless tales of fans trying to stab and shoot at them both in and out of the ring. Hamilton tagged with a variety of new Assassins after Renesto decided to take off his mask and split up the original duo, but none inspired quite as much hate as the initial team.
9. Killer Kowalski
Killer Kowalski is a WWE Hall of Famer best known as the trainer of Attitude Era superstars including Chyna and Triple H. During his time as a wrestler, he was one of the most hated villains around, and like everyone else on this list, that meant carrying a few stab wounds under his belt. Not only was Kowalski stabbed, but also he claimed to be a regular victim of fans throwing apple cores, cartons, chairs, or whatever else they could grab at him, and even more distressingly, shot at with peashooters and burned with cigars. The stabbing is probably the worst of course, but even without increased security measures in mind, fans wouldn’t think of doing those things to wrestlers today regardless of the hatred they inspired. Kowalski got them to do it all the time.
8. Boris Malenko
Boris Malenko is no doubt best known by wrestling fans today as the father of Dean Malenko. Diehards might even know he has another wrestling son named Joe who made a few Japanese and WCW appearances in the late 80s and early 90s, but the elder Malenko’s career is probably a mystery to some. Allow us to shed a little light on that mystery, as Boris came to fame wrestling in the Florida area throughout the 1960’s, and rapidly became one of the most hated heels of the territory due to his villainous Russian character and his feud with Eddie Graham. It might be hard to picture his son Dean as an angry Bolshevik, but father Boris pulled off the role extremely well, and had the wounds to prove it. Although Boris spent the highpoints of his career in Florida, it was in Virginia that an angry fan stabbed him and left a wound so bad he required 30 stitches.
7. Dr. Jerry Graham
Dr. Jerry Graham is famous as the founder of wrestling’s legendary (and kayfabe) Graham family, and also for allegedly being Vince McMahon’s favorite wrestler when he was a young man. Obviously, if he was able to get that kind of an honor from the man who would end up being the most important in wrestling history, Graham must have been pretty good at his job. He was so reviled that one of his matches teaming with Dick The Bruiser against Edouard Carpentier and Antonino Rocca caused a riot in Madison Square Garden, and less than a year later he was stabbed in the chest after a match in Washington, D.C. Graham and his partner Eddie had just won the US Tag Team Titles from Don Curtis and Mark Lewin in the main event, and apparently the assailant wasn’t a fan of the decision.
6. Blackjack Mulligan
Blackjack Mulligan is a WWE Hall of Famer and former World Tag Team Champion, and fans today know him best as the father of Barry Windham and the grandfather of Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas. As for his own accomplishments, fans probably focus on his tag success, but that ignores the fact he was one of the most hated heels in WWE history long before he started teaming with Blackjack Lanza. In 1971, Mulligan was set to wrestle the extremely popular WWE World Champion, Pedro Morales, at the Boston Garden. The match didn’t even get a chance to start, as a fan jumped the rails and managed to stab Lanza in the thigh. He began bleeding profusely and the match was instantly thrown out when Gorilla Monsoon ran to ringside with a towel and started to give Lanza medical attention. Police thought it was part of the show and didn’t arrest the attacker, and Lanza ended up needing over 100 stitches to close the wound.
5. Pedro Zapata
We’re going to be honest with you—we don’t exactly know who Pedro Zapata is, aside from the fact he was a wrestler who was stabbed by a fan in the early 1960’s. Very little information on the then-25-year-old grappler is known, aside from the fact that during a match against 60’s wrestling icon Happy Humphrey (pictured above) in front of thousands of wrestling fans, a man ran into the ring and stabbed Zapata in the back nine times. The referee of the match was also caught in the crossfire, receiving minor injuries to his eye. Zapata was rushed to a local hospital where he was said to be in critical condition, and the man who stabbed him was charged with attempted murder. Cases like this show even the smallest names can inspire fans to protect their biggest heroes.
4. The Messiah
The story of independent wrestler The Messiah is still a little bit unclear more than a decade later, but the one fact that seems clear is that wrestler promoter/adult film magnate Rob Black hired men to attack and maybe kill him. Maybe it’s a stretch to include Black as a wrestling fan, but prior to the incident, Black was instrumental in Messiah’s success in the industry and definitely supported him as a wrestler. Things changed after Messiah allegedly had a sexual relationship with Black’s adult film star wife Lizzy Borden. Messiah left Black’s XPW for the rival CZW, and shortly thereafter two hit men attacked The Messiah in his own home and cut off his thumb. They tried to cut something else off as well, but luckily the former King of the Death Match held his own and fought them away. Black was never officially charged in this incident, but Messiah himself was pretty sure who the ultimate culprit was.
3. Stan Stasiak
Stan Stasiak is a strange name in WWE history, as he is at once a former WWE World Champion, and almost a completely forgettable character other than that. His brief time on top came in 1973, when he acted as the transitional heel champion for 9 days, defeating Pedro Morales and then losing to Bruno Sammartino. Nothing about Stan “The Man” was particularly noteworthy, but that didn’t stop him from inspiring some serious hatred in his era for daring to cheat against the biggest heroes of the day. In one incident, during a match at the Boston Garden, a fan managed to shoot Stasiak in the leg with a dart. This might not look as bad as some of the stabbings on the list, but given the circumstance, it’s easy to picture that fan missing and hitting Stasiak, or his opponent, or the referee, or just some random person, some place that could’ve done some serious damage.
2. The Mummy
We’ve called out WWE in the past for blatantly ripping off music and pop culture to create not so original wrestling characters, but things were even more transparent in the 60s. A wrestler named Benjamin Ramirez took his character straight out of Egyptian mythology and was the first wrestling Mummy. His gimmick was pretty similar to the more recent ECW Zombie, in that he just grunted and acted like a centuries old dead creature. The Mummy was a hated villain throughout the South in the 1960s, and during a match with Pedro Morales, his undead antics inspired so much hatred a 79-year-old man ran into the ring and stabbed him. The assailant defended his actions by claiming the Mummy was making Morales bleed, which is against the rules. We have to side with the madman’s wife, who said at his age, he probably should’ve just calmed the hell down.
1. Paul Lee
While some of the wrestlers on this list are obscure due to age, Paul Lee simply isn’t that well known of a wrestler. “The Real Nature Boy” has competed for indy promotions like AWF for several decades, but never received much attention despite his solid heel character (unoriginal as it may have been). Lee finally made headlines in July of 2016 when a woman at a show in Georgia stormed the ring and pulled a gun on him during a match. Lee was in the ring with Iron Mann, and tied Mann to a chair to deliver a beating. The woman not only had a gun but also a knife, which she used to free Mann before pulling the gun on Lee. The attack wasn’t entirely unprovoked as Lee had been yelling insults at the crowd, but it’s still an amazing example that crazy things like this still happen at even the smallest wrestling shows.