Ever since sporting events have been broadcast on television, responsible organizations have been warning fans, “Don’t try this at home.” Being a scripted version of an athletic competition, it’s possible that messages like this are more necessary in professional wrestling than in any other enterprise. Fans assume they can pull off whatever moves their favorite WWE superstars can and not get hurt because the people on TV end up just fine after they do it. What people forget is that the men and women of pro wrestling trained for years in exactly how to fall without severely injuring themselves.
No fact elaborates how patently dangerous pro wrestling is than that despite all the training they receive and the good planning that goes into a wrestling match, virtually every person to enter the sports entertainment business has broken at least one bone or torn a muscle. It’s almost impossible to think of a wrestler who's never had his or her career impacted by a horrifically timed injury, from the biggest superstars in WWE history down to the lowliest performers who may not have suffered much financially but nonetheless didn’t want to get paralyzed at work that day.
In the worst case scenarios, the pain endured by wrestlers inside the ring has become shockingly public due to the fact some horrific injuries have been caught on camera during live WWE events. Fair warning: some of these injuries are pretty graphic and are therefore tough to look at even years after they took place. The following article is not for the weak of heart, yet to those fans who wish to see firsthand the risks wrestlers will take for their art, keep reading for 15 harrowing images of wrestlers suffering severe injuries.
15 Steve Austin Gets Paralyzed
Certain injuries are so severe, they affect not only the wrestler who suffers from it physically but indeed the entire business of professional wrestling. Though it doesn’t happen often, this was certainly the case at SummerSlam 1997 when Owen Hart broke Steve Austin’s neck with a botched inverted piledriver. The above photograph shows just how badly things went, as Austin’s head is significantly beneath Hart’s legs, meaning he took the full impact of the move. Though the point of the move is to make fans think that could happen, the point of wrestling, in general, is to do so in a safe manner, and suffice to say, this is not how to pull off this maneuver free of injury. Austin’s broken neck couldn’t have come at a worse time, as he was months away from taking over as WWE’s unquestionable top star, and his in-ring style needed to change dramatically to work around the limitations he suddenly faced.
14 Vince McMahon Destroys Both His Legs
Ninety percent of the time, the WWE CEO and owner Vince McMahon is a walking embodiment of authority in every sense of the word. The man’s strut itself has become iconic, defining the concept of swagger long before rappers made it a buzzword. And yet, sometimes, Vince McMahon can trip on himself and take a tumble just like anyone else. That happened in horrifically embarrassing fashion at the 2005 Royal Rumble when McMahon was forced to rush to the ring because two competitors seemed to win simultaneously. This wasn’t in the script, so McMahon was furious, perhaps explaining why he fell through the ropes and blew both his quadriceps muscles in the process. Truth be told, this image isn’t quite as graphic or shocking as some others on the list, but it nonetheless reaffirms just how easy it is for a person to hurt himself in a wrestling ring.
13 Joey Mercury’s Face Gets Caved In
With “TV star” being one of the many hats worn by pro wrestlers, having a serious facial injury can hurt their careers faster than any internal problem ever could. Take for example Joey Mercury, who experienced a steel ladder getting seesawed into his face care of the Hardy Boyz. The impact crushed Mercury’s nose and broke his orbital bone, not to mention turned his face into a crimson mask, blood pouring out of his face from multiple places. Mercury’s partner, John Morrison, was left to finish the match on his own as Joey went to the hospital, where he received some 30 stitches for his troubles. On the plus side, this injury didn’t take Mercury out of action for as long as some others on our list, as he only missed a couple weeks before returning to the ring. For whatever reason, however, WWE fired him shortly thereafter, making this one of the last things most fans remember Joey doing in the ring.
12 Seth Rollins Stomps On John Cena’s Nose
No star is safe from the WWE injury bug, and that includes the face of the company, 16-time World Champion John Cena. On top of that, injuries hardly stop hurting when the cameras are finished rolling, as this shot shows Cena was still very blatantly suffering the effects of a broken nose as he sat backstage and waited for medical assistance. Cena’s snout was shoved out of place by Seth Rollins, who mistimed a Curb Stomp and forced the Leader of the Cenation face first into the mat. There’s no denying Cena’s injury looks extremely painful in an image like this, but it’s fair to point out it only took him out of action for a few weeks. Cena was back to wrestling all of three weeks later, challenging Seth Rollins in a series of rematches where no further bones were broken.
11 Mick Foley Has Trouble Hearing Vader
Speaking of Big Van Vader, the monster from the Rocky Mountains can dish it out just as well as he can take it, if not more so. No wrestler learned this lesson more directly than Mick Foley, who experienced a severe concussion and briefly lost feeling in his extremities due to a powerbomb on concrete. Just under one year after this harrowing incident, Foley and Vader would have another infamous encounter, though it was neither wrestlers' fault what would ultimately take place. During a routine Cactus Clothesline, Foley got his neck caught in the ring ropes, which had apparently been tied far too tight. Realizing this could have suffocated him, Vader and the referee tried desperately to untangle Foley from the ring before it was too late. Mick obviously survived the incident, but it messed up his ears enough that Vader was able to accidentally rip one off with a single punch when Cactus got back in the ring.
10 Jim Cornette Falls And Breaks Both His Knees
Weasel-like, conniving, and proudly referred to as a Mama’s Boy, meek manager James E. Cornette is the last person fans would expect on a list about wrestlers injured through death-defying stunts. That said, Cornette suffered one of the most painful and severe injuries in wrestling history at Starrcade 1986, during a match where his Midnight Express challenged The Road Warriors. Called a “skywalkers match,” also referred to as a “scaffold match,” the four competitors did battle atop a small platform 25 feet above the ring. Naturally, the end of the match featured Cornette being chased up said partition by the Road Warriors’ manager, Paul Ellering, and then falling off, caught by Big Bubba Rogers. Only Bubba wasn’t there to catch Cornette, so instead, he landed on his knees, tearing all of his ligaments, breaking some bones, and badly damaging his cartilage. Camera angles didn’t catch just how horrible the injury was, though simply seeing the height from which Cornette was dangling above the ring gives a hint at how badly the stunt would go.
9 Triple H Tears His Quad
It’s not always immediately apparent how painful a wrestling maneuver would be in the real world. For example, this Walls of Jericho that Y2J has Triple H trapped in doesn’t look all too different from the average take on the hold. Beneath the surface, however, HHH’s leg is being ripped apart in multiple places, as he had just torn his quadriceps muscle seconds before the move was applied. The Game’s doctor was shocked to hear the wrestlers completed the match despite his serious injury, and it’s easy to guess this particular move made things a whole lot worse for him. Triple H himself later called it one of the most physically painful moments of his career, and not just because he and Steve Austin were losing the WWE Tag Team Championships the night it happened.
8 Buff Bagwell’s Neck Jams
At this point, Buff Bagwell is pretty much a joke in the wrestling industry thanks to his disastrous week-long run in WWE. Back in WCW, however, he was a rising star with seemingly boundless potential that came crashing to a halt on an otherwise nondescript 1998 episode of Thunder. Teaming with Scott Norton, Bagwell was wrestling Rick Steiner and Lex Luger when Steiner attempted a top rope bulldog that went horribly wrong. Either Bagwell ducked too short or Steiner slipped after both had already started falling, causing Buff to jam his neck into Steiner’s shoulder upon the landing. The move shattered several of Bagwell’s vertebrae and led to spinal shock, leaving him paralyzed in the ring. Amazingly, Bagwell still won the match due to Rick’s brother Scott interfering, yet he hardly looked like a winner and needed months to recover from the horrible incident.
7 The Pedigree Nearly Kills Marty Garner
Given his ego, some fans would probably expect Triple H to take pride in the fact his finisher was very nearly a “lethal” move. Then again, the man does have some dignity and is currently an executive, so he may not want people remembering one of his highest-profile mistakes. Granted, the real error in judgment belonged to the injured party, Marty Garner, a wrestler who spent most of his career as a jobber. Not familiar with the Pedigree, Garner assumed HHH was going for a more standard maneuver, jumping and flipping himself when he should have simply fallen down. This, in turn, caused HHH to slam the guy’s full body weight down on his neck, which looks like it could be deadly because it really could be. The position of HHH’s knees in this photo shows just how far beneath him Garner was, and thus how forcefully his neck was driven to the mat. Garner’s neck was badly damaged through the move, leading to several appearances on the talk show circuit when WWE broadcast it anyway.
6 Brock Lesnar Can’t Stick The Landing
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. “The Beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar, 25 years young, had made it to the main event of WrestleMania barely a year after his WWE debut. Not only that; Lesnar’s opponent was an Olympic Gold Medalist known world over for his mastery of sports entertainment, and the WWE Championship was, of course, on the line. In the final moments of WrestleMania XIX, Lesnar had Angle beat, yet he chose to shock the crowd by heading towards the top rope for his finishing touches. Launching off in a move he hadn’t ever performed on national television before, Lesnar attempted to hit Angle with a Shooting Star Press, only to botch his backflip so horrifically he landed flat first on his face, the Olympic Hero a solid six inches away. Even if Lesnar had landed on Kurt, his neck would have been destroyed, causing a concussion and almost killing him. Believe it or not, the Beast survived and even won the match.
5 Hayabusa Falls Off The Ropes
There’s a good chance most fans reading this list won’t know much about the life and career of Hayabusa, and all we can do to fill in the gaps is say that’s a darn shame. Hayabusa’s most famous American match likely came in ECW when he teamed with Jinsei Shinzaki to face Sabu and Rob Van Dam for the Tag Team Championships. In his homeland of Japan, Hayabusa was one of the greatest and most exciting stars in Atsushi Onita’s Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, a promotion that very much matched ECW’s penchant for ultra violence. More than being a hardcore brawler, though, Hayabusa was also renowned for his incredible speed and high-flying abilities, all of which came crashing to a horrific end when he slipped on the ropes during a springboard moonsault, barely managing to complete his rotation and landing directly on his head. The fact his mask almost completely blends in with the mat and is a little hard to see only elaborates how direct the impact was. Initially, it looked like Hayabusa wouldn’t survive, as he cracked two vertebrae and was left completely paralyzed.
4 Vader Can’t See Straight Against Stan Hansen
One quality all wrestlers need to share to succeed within their industry is toughness. This list is a testament to the fact all wrestlers fall down sometimes, and the good ones are always able to get back up. Usually, this means making a dramatic return to the ring a few months after breaking a bone. In rare instances, however, wrestlers have proven so durable they faced unspeakable injuries mid-match, fixed it themselves, and then kept on wrestling. Such was the case when Stan Hansen was wrestling Big Van Vader at a joint All Japan/New Japan Pro Wrestling event. The actual contact was barely captured on film, yet Vader’s face in this snapshot taken moments later tells it all. During a very close, stiff, heated punching match, Hansen had apparently poked Vader with his thumb, causing the Mastodon’s eye to pop out of its socket. Rather than seek medical help, as already stated, Vader simply popped his eye back in, ignored the massive swelling, and went back to exchanging blows with The Lariat.
3 Cashing Checks And Breaking Necks
Upon AJ Styles’ WWE debut, there was a legitimate discussion as to whether or not he would get to keep using his finishing move, the Styles Clash. Ultimately, Styles has used the move plenty of times, though it nonetheless does seem a little less common in his repertoire than it once was. This is largely due to two incidents where the wrestler taking the move tucked in their neck, which is typically what they’re supposed to do when facing the impact of a stiff maneuver. However, with the Styles Clash, tucking one's head in is a surefire way to break one’s neck, something both British independent wrestler Lionheart and former WWE superstar Yoshi Tatsu (pictured above) experienced firsthand. In Tatsu’s case, he somehow managed to finish the match despite suffering two broken bones and winding up in a surgical halo for the better part of three months.
2 Akira Hokuto Wrecks Shinobu Kandori’s Face
Okay, we’re going to go ahead and admit this wasn’t the image we were looking for in creating this list. There’s another famous match involving Akira Hokuto where she broke her neck and finished the bout holding her head in place, which is terrifying to think about, yet this picture of The Dangerous Queen kicking Shinobu Kandori in the face had a more immediate effect. The two had been feuding for some time for Kandori’s Ladies Legend Pro-Wrestling organization, while Hokuto was also one of the top stars for All Japan Women’s. Both organizations, along with several other female-based wrestling companies, put together a super show called All-Star Dreamslam in 1993, featuring a main event between the two women. The intense, bloody affair was considered one of the best women’s matches of all time, and the facial damage Hokuto is inflicting on Kandori goes a long way in explaining how that reputation was built.
1 Sid Breaks His Leg
This is the big one, folks. There have been worse wrestling injuries detailed on this list than the one suffered by Sid Vicious at WCW Sin, yet few are more viscerally upsetting to look at. The former WWE and WCW World Champion was reaching the twilight of his career, and the brain trust in that latter promotion decided he needed to broaden his move set to include a more aerial offense. Sid attempted to listen to his bosses by attempting a top rope big boot, which doesn’t make much sense in the first place. Beyond the gap in logic, there was also the issue that Sid had no idea how to land such a maneuver, awkwardly falling on his left ankle and causing it to snap in half. One of Sid’s bones actually broke straight through his skin, his boots covering up that gory detail.
Sources: WWE, NJPW, AJWPW, FMW