The most common misconception of wrestling is that everything is fake. Yes, the results are planned out but the matches themselves still carry plenty of risk. In the old days of kayfabe, wrestlers would go to great lengths to play an “injury” out. When the Junkyard Dog was supposedly blinded by the Freebirds, he went out in public with his eyes bandaged. Bill Watts made it clear that if a guy got an in-ring beating and was seen perfectly fine later that night, he’d be fired on the spot. On the flip side, some guys would hide real injuries to keep working, leading to major problems. With kayfabe dying out, it’s easier to tell when a guy is hurt for real and how it can be nasty at times.
Injuries can happen a lot outside the ring. Magnum T.A.’s car accident in 1986 cut short a fantastic main event career and he’s not alone. However, many an accident occurs in the ring and can alter things. Finn Balor is proof as after a great build and him winning the first Universal Championship, a shoulder injury during the match has forced him out for months. It reminds fans of Daniel Bryan finally reaching the top only to drop it due to injury that led to his retirement. It’s a terrible thing but it happens and continues to be a major risk. Some injuries are more horrible than others, particularly when they happen before fans. Here are 15 of the most gruesome, in-ring injuries wrestling has seen and a reminder how dangerous it really is.
15. Darren Droz
A talented youngster, Droz thought he got his big break with WWE but it didn’t work out that way. As shown in the documentary Beyond the Mat, Vince McMahon was obsessed with pushing Droz as a guy who puked in the ring. He then worked with the Legion of Doom to replace a drug-addled Hawk which led to some bad stuff. He was still getting a push in 1999 as he faced D’Lo Brown and Droz blames his light shirt on what happened. Going for his patented power bomb, D’Lo failed to get a proper grip while Droz failed to aid him in the right jump. As a result, Droz landed hard on his neck, fracturing two disks. For years afterward, Droz was paralyzed from the neck down although he has gained movement in his upper body. D’Lo was sorry for the whole thing which cost him big in WWE and a shame to lose a good talent to a bad botch.
14. Seth Rollins
The newest entry on this list, some might find this a bit of karma. Seth Rollins is getting heat for contributing to Finn Balor’s injury and complaints of him going too far with other workers. So it makes a cosmic sense that Rollins would be hit by his own harsh injury. Riding high as WWE champion in 2015, Rollins had the fans backing him majorly as a heel but still highly popular. WWE was clearly building up to Rollins vs Roman Reigns which hopefully could give Roman the rub he’d been lacking. But all that went out the window during a tour of Ireland in November. Executing a power bomb on Kane off the corner, Rollins tore his ACL, MCL and medial meniscus all in one go. It shifted WWE up big time and robbed Rollins of his momentum to show that he got a bad injury as much as he could dish them out.
Contrary to opinion, HHH was already rising up as a star long before he and Stephanie McMahon became a couple. In 1998, HHH was taking off as leader of DX as he and the Rock battled in a ladder match for the IC title at SummerSlam. HHH won the match but suffered a leg injury that forced him to give up the belt. It was the start of other injuries that shifted him up as he rose as a main eventer. The biggest was in 2001 as HHH and Steve Austin faced Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho in a tag team title match. Racing to break up a Walls of Jericho, HHH tripped and tore his left quad completely off the bone. He managed to complete the match but was on the shelf for months, costing WWE a key guy during the Invasion. Most believe this hurt HHH’s standing afterward as he moved to a slower style but still suffered another serious quad tear in 2007, this time on his right knee. Say what you will about him but one has to respect HHH coming back after these terrible injuries to remain the Game.
12. New Jack
One of the biggest names of ECW, New Jack was already famous for a gang lifestyle and a hard attitude. But he also boosted himself up for his incredibly brutal ring style. He instigated the infamous “Mass Transit” incident by beating a 17-year-old kid bloody and nearly getting ECW thrown off the air. He was also stapled right in the eye amid various bloody battles and heated promos. The most famous of all was “The Danbury Fall.” At the 2000 “Living Dangerously” PPV, New Jack and Vic Grimes battled it out on a scaffold. The two sailed down to the concrete floor with New Jack blinded in his right eye and suffering legitimate brain damage. This aided his later wild behavior, including stabbing an opponent with a knife and his rather insane public interviews. The man gave his all for the job but this fall was harsh even by ECW standards.
11. The British Bulldogs
The Dynamite Kid has been described as “the Ty Cobb of wrestling:” Absolutely brilliant as an athlete and worker but also an utter bastard. The Kid was known for his brutal “pranks” and real life fights that didn’t make him that popular. He and Davey Boy Smith were acclaimed for their work as a tag team yet not popular thanks to their ways. Yet it still engendered some sympathy when, during a tag match in late 1986, Don Muraco landed right on Dynamite’s back and neck, compressing his spinal column and breaking two discs. WWE was forced to have the Bulldogs drop the titles and while Dynamite impressed many by coming back fast, his skills weren’t as good and contributed to him now being in a wheelchair. In 1998, Davey Boy was taking part in a War Games match when he took a backdrop onto a trapdoor meant to allow the Ultimate Warrior to enter. WCW didn’t bother telling anyone the door was there as Davey Boy suffered severe back injuries and was fired by the company while recovering. This led to Smith’s addiction to painkillers that no doubt contributed to his early death in 2002. As bad as their attitudes were, one has to feel for the Bulldogs on these bad injuries.
10. Chris Candido
This one is truly tragic. A talented worker (best known as Skip in WWE), Candido had been held back by drug issues. His real contribution to the business was the introduction of his wife Tammy, better known as Sunny. By 2005, Candido had gotten his life back on track, clean and sober, and intending to make a good run in TNA. Not only was he wrestling but also managing the Naturals. At the first “Lockdown” PPV, Candido teamed with Lance Hoyt against Apolo and Sonny Siaki in a steel cage. Taking a rough dropkick, Candido fell back wrong and snapped his leg right on the spot. In a bitter irony, the announcers figured he was faking it as he’d pulled the stunt before but the repays clearly showed his leg snapping. Candido would be shown on crutches at a TV taping a week later as he managed the Naturals to win the NWA tag team titles. Tragically, just days later, Candido suddenly died in surgery due to a blood clot from his leg. A true shame that he passed so early from such a dumb injury.
Goldberg’s story is a fascinating one for WCW who did a great job building the guy up with the unbeaten streak but then faltered after it. They were still trying to keep him as a major star but kept dropping the ball thanks to bad ideas and angles. A major one was Goldberg going after the newest version of the New World Order on a December 23, 1999 Nitro. Goldberg chased them to a limo with the plan being to use a lead pipe in his sleeve to help him break the window. Goldberg decided to do it more by hand and smashed them up pretty bad. While pulling his arm out, Goldberg ended up cutting it with a horrific gash. He was raced to the hospital with the surgeons telling him that he came within inches of losing the entire arm. This cost WCW one of their biggest guys at a critical time and Goldberg wasn’t quite the same after his return. It could have been worse but still a nasty sight even for 1999 WCW.
8. Steve Austin
It’s an injury that changed WWE forever. By summer of 1997, Steve Austin was the hottest star in the company, the fans loving him as this bad-ass rebel. At SummerSlam, Austin faced Owen Hart for the Intercontinental title, the plan to have him win and set up a future WWE title match with Bret Hart. Picking Austin up, Owen hit a variation of a tombstone piledriver, the plan for Austin to kick out and hit a Stunner to win. However, it ended up botched and Austin landed on his head, breaking his neck. Somehow, Austin incredibly managed to still roll up Owen for the pin but was clearly in bad shape as he was helped out of the ring. Austin was out for months which led to him actually becoming more popular with Stunners on various folks, including Vince McMahon. Meanwhile, the heat turned to Bret vs. Shawn Michaels, setting up the events of Montreal and Bret leaving for WCW. One has to wonder how much different the wrestling landscape would be without him.
7. Jesse Sorensen
If you want a good reason to hate TNA, here it is. In 2012, Sorensen was a rising star for the company, taking off well with his great athletic style. He was being primed for a good push in the X-Division and TNA thought they had a new star. At Against All Odds, Sorensen fought Zemma Ion in a contender’s match and went for a dive outside the ring. Instead of catching him as planned, Ion failed and Sorensen landed on his head. The match was stopped as Sorensen suffered a vertebrae fracture that compressed his spinal column. Sorensen would show up on TV to say he’d be back and Dixie Carter publicly declared that he would “always have a job” at TNA. After rehab, Sorensen was finally cleared to wrestle in 2013…at which point, he was part of the massive wave of lay-offs of TNA talent at the time. It turned out the company never paid for his medical bills and letting go a guy who nearly paralyzed himself for them was a major black eye for the company.
When you bill yourself as “homicidal, genocidal, suicidal,” it should be no surprise you end up with some injuries. However, even the most hardcore ECW fan was left gasping in 1994 when Sabu and Chris Benoit fought it out on TV. Taking a backdrop, Sabu landed right square on his head, his neck instantly cracking to the side. The show stopped to take him away as he broke his neck and was out for months. That wasn’t his only brush with insane injury as a few years later, Sabu and Terry Funk went at it in a barbed wire match. Sabu received a vicious cut that bled profusely but just wrapped it up to keep fighting. It was such a bloodbath that Paul Heyman decided to never do it again for fear of Sabu’s life. The man’s style made him an ECW favorite but also put his life on the line more than once.
5. Joey Mercury
Here’s a good reason WWE puts those “don’t try this at home” warnings on their DVDs. At “Armageddon 2006,” WWE decided to surprise the crowd by changing the planned tag team title match of Paul London and Brian Kendrick vs William Regal and Dave Taylor to a ladder match. Then made it better by having MNM and the Hardyz take part as well. As expected, it was a fantastic affair with the big moment being MNM attacking Matt by a ladder set up on top of another. Jeff took to the top rope and leapt off, landing on one end of a ladder to send the other half flying into MNM’s faces. Mercury got it right smack in the face, seemingly busted open. As the cameras saw Mercury flop outside with blood pouring, it became obvious it was worse as his face was instantly swollen. Raced to a hospital, it turned out Mercury had cracked his orbital bone, shattering his nose and half his face and lost seventy percent vision in one eye. Mercury’s career was never the same, soon fading away and shows the dangers of such ladder bouts even for the professionals.
Usually, Vader was the one dishing out injuries due to his brutal style. He famously broke the back of a jobber with his power bomb and also caused Mick Foley to lose an ear. However, Vader got the worst of it in a fight in Japan in 1990 against Stan Hansen. Just as stiff as Vader could be, Hansen battled the then rookie in a hard fight, the two brawling by the ropes with Hansen grabbing Vader by his mask. One of his finger slid into the holes and in trying to pull, Hansen tugged too hard and popped Vader’s eye out of the socket. This led to the unbelievable sight of Vader removing his mask to pop his eye right back in and then go back to the match like nothing happened. Even the Japanese crowds were rocked by the sight as it added to the legend of Vader as one of the biggest bad-asses wrestling has known.
The final days of WCW were a sad sight. A company once on top of the world was sinking faster and faster with terrible programs and the end clearly on its way. Perhaps it’s fitting that one of their final PVVs would feature such a horrible moment. At “Sin,” Sid was part of a four-way battle for the World title with Scott Steiner, Jeff Jarrett and a “mystery man” WCW had been hyping as a big deal. The battle was rough with the first three fighting it out in a stiff manner, Sid never quite known as a great in-ring competitor. He was also not known for flying moves which was why it was baffling when he took to the second rope to try a jumping attack. As he landed, Sid’s leg gave way and then twisted, fracturing it instantly. Sid flopped around in agony as the other three fought it out before Steiner won and the mystery man turned out to be Road Warrior Animal. Sid’s career was basically over and the sight of him withering in pain seemed a sad comment on WCW’s last months.
2. Bob Holly
For years, Holly was mocked for gimmicks like “Sparkplug Holly,” the guy set up like a NASCAR driver. He tried to change to a harder style with short blond hair and a tougher build but injuries kept slowing him down. This included a botched power bomb from Brock Lesnar that seriously hurt Holly’s neck. When he entered the revival of ECW as “Hardcore,” most fans just rolled their eyes at WWE trying to push him. But they ate their words when Holly had a TV match against Rob Van Dam, going over the top rope and slamming his back onto the apron. The cameras caught Holly with a horrific gash across his upper back that looked to be a couple of inches deep. Despite this, Holly continued to fight on with blood pouring from the wound and the fans soon cheering him on with his work. Holly lost the match but won wide respect as finally living up to his name of “Hardcore.”
1. Mick Foley
For a nice guy, Foley has sure seen some brutal times in the ring. The most famous is of course his battle with Vader in Germany in 1993 when Foley got his ear caught in the ropes. Trying to get it free, Foley had his ear ripped right off, an incredible sight that still amazed anyone watching and anyone who’s heard it today. Then there was Hell in the Cell as he broke ribs and had a tooth knocked out during the battle while being slammed on tacks and smashed through a table from 20 feet in the air and through the cage roof. He also got some mild concussions from the multiple chair shots from the Rock at the 1999 Royal Rumble and toss in various burns as well. It’s the ear one that’s the most famous and helped solidify Foley as a true hardcore legend.