WWE is firmly entrenched within the PG era of wrestling, which means there aren’t very many ultraviolent hardcore death matches happening in modern sports entertainment. To be fair, WWE never truly was the place for the most hardcore matches in the wrestling world, as fringe promotions like ECW and CZW were more likely to fill that role throughout the years. And that doesn’t even begin to describe some of the outright chaos that occurred in Japanese wrestling promotions, specifically Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, a company that made the bloodiest matches in WWE history look relatively safe and simplistic by stark comparison. Sometimes, the offerings from these hardcore promotions were more than just extreme wrestling matches; they were outright dangerous locations for people to perform even the most staged fights imaginable.
Linda McMahon made the decision that the company associated with her family name would be geared towards children after she started her political career, but thanks to the WWE Network, we can still look back and see the company created some mindlessly dangerous matches over the years. In a couple of cases, it wasn’t hardcore booking that even caused the danger, but rather the fact some countries to host wrestling shows were so politically tumultuous, even traveling there was a pretty risky proposition for the superstars involved. While matches taking place in countries ran by dictatorships had the competitors fearing for their lives as they went back to their hotel rooms, the worst examples put the wrestlers in danger whenever they were so bold as to stand up and walk around the area they were supposed to be wrestling. Keep reading to discover 15 ridiculously dangerous locations you won’t believe promoters actually had their superstars compete.
15 Parking Lots
Especially compared to some of the stuff we’ll be getting into further down the list, a parking lot doesn’t seem that much more dangerous than a wrestling ring until you really start to consider what a parking lot entails. Wrestling rings have a certain amount of bounce to them which prevent the wrestlers from hurting themselves too badly when they take bumps, and even the floor around the ring is covered with protective mats. Parking lots generally are solid concrete, and there’s no way to safely get dropped on your head against concrete. While most wrestlers to get into such parking lot brawls are extra safe with this knowledge, when a match is actually scripted as a Parking Lot Brawl, bumps like this are the entire point, and that’s where things get dangerous.
There have only been a few Parking Lot Brawls in WWE history, but perhaps the most infamous took place between John Cena and Eddie Guerrero on SmackDown in late 2003. Eddie and Cena both took a multitude of bumps onto the concrete and onto cars, which obviously aren’t padded for their safety, either. Eddie even had his head driven through a real glass window, but somehow came back to win the match and retain his United States title, anyway. Matches like this one were lauded at the time for their gritty nature, but considering the safety measures needed for it to be performed without injury, it’s probably a good thing there hasn’t been a big name match like this one in over a decade.
14 Boiler Rooms
Boiler rooms are similar to parking lots in that they don’t seem inherently dangerous, but similar to concrete and stray glass, noxious gasses and extreme heat play a very real role in adding obstacles to wrestlers working their usual, safe match. There have only been a handful of Boiler Room Brawls in the history of pro wrestling, and all of them took place in WWE. Not only were they all within one company, but they all revolved around one superstar in particular, that being Mick Foley acting under his Mankind persona. Mankind was first introduced to WWE through vignettes that saw him creepily hanging out in boiler rooms and befriending rats, so when his first major feud against The Undertaker had its initial grudge match at SummerSlam 1996, Mankind invited the Deadman into his home turf for the battle.
The first Boiler Room Brawl was the only one that was truly dangerous, which speaks to how poorly though out the idea was. The lighting was poor and the room was extremely hot, which they should have understood was going to be a problem, but somehow no one noticed until the match was under way. While later Boiler Room Brawls would be heavily gimmicked and take place entirely in the boiler room, the idea of the first one was to fight all the way to the ring, lasting almost five times as long as any of the future attempts at the match. Foley explained in his book this was due to them realizing how unsafe the idea was in hindsight, but ever the troopers, he and The Undertaker still managed to have undoubtedly the best attempt at the gimmick the first go around, regardless.
13 A Ring Surrounded By Fire
There’s a reason we’ve only seen four official Inferno Matches in WWE despite the fact Kane, the character around which the match was based, has been with the company almost two decades now. The idea of a gimmick match is for one wrestler to become the winner by setting their opponent on fire, and although there are ways to prevent that from being life threatening, it’s still a ridiculously dangerous concept to force two men to do battle in. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that Kane and virtually of his opponents in these matches happened to have long, greasy hair.
The first two Inferno Matches appropriately saw Kane face The Undertaker, and as dangerous as the idea was, at least it made sense why the two would do battle in a ring of fire. Since then, Kane has always had a vague association with the element, but none of his feuds really require engulfing another human in flames. Kane is usually the brunt of the burning, but MVP took the honors at Armageddon 2006 when Kane set him ablaze to win the last official match of this type. A similar but safer idea was introduced at SummerSlam 2013 for Kane to battle Bray Wyatt, but in that match, at least the point wasn’t setting your opponent on fire.
With all due fairness, WWE can’t be blamed for this one. Neither can ECW, FMW, or any other so-called ultraviolent hardcore promotion out there. Even the Juggalos who released a video game called Backyard Wrestling had some kind of irony in mind when they did so, and the roster consisted mostly of well-known hardcore superstars (and Andrew WK, because wrestling is a party). The only people truly to blame for the backyard wrestling phenomenon are the untrained teenagers competing in poorly thought out, dangerous matches themselves.
Backyard wrestling is dangerous in and of itself, as any kind of untrained attempt at pulling off what wrestlers do could easily result in serious injury. The fact most backyard wrestlers seem to revel in the ultraviolent aspects of the sport, including smashing fluorescent light tubes over each others heads, only serves to make the idea even more dangerous and frightening to consider this is what some people do for fun. It seems the backyard wrestling craze has toned down over the years with WWE and other mainstream wrestling promotions toning down their content in general, but the concept no doubt still exists, and people are putting themselves in danger for audiences of dozens all around the country.
11 Barbed Wire Matches
There have only been a few barbed wire matches in America, and most of them took place within the hardcore halls of ECW. The idea behind a barbed wire match is that the ring ropes are all replaced by actual barbed wire, and usually loosely so, thus allowing the wrestlers to rip pieces of the barbed wire off and attack their enemies with it. The ECW World Heavyweight Title actually changed hands twice in barbed wire matches, first when Raven recaptured the title from The Sandman at Holiday Hell 1996, and then more infamously the next year when Sabu defeated Terry Funk for the strap.
The Sabu-Funk match is often considered one of the most violent and hardcore in ECW history, and we’re inclined to agree with that assessment. While every match of this kind is dangerous by default, adding the homicidal, suicidal, genocidal maniac that is Sabu to the mix brings an entirely new dimension to the danger, as the man himself has seemed many times to be the most dangerous part of his matches. Sabu proved why he had that reputation in this match by wrapping himself in the barbed wire before diving off the side of the ring through a table where Terry Funk waited below, ultimately causing the two of them to become so intertwined with the barbed wire and each other they couldn’t even move. Sabu could move slightly more than Funk, which is how he won the title. The match was never tried in ECW again because the wrestlers felt they couldn’t top that one, but they’d find a few ways to push the envelope over in the Land of the Rising Sun…
10 Electric Barbed Wire Matches
We just claimed the barbed wire match isn’t a concept that gets used often in American wrestling, and that’s true. However, we made sure to specify “American” wrestling in that sentence, because the concept has been used on countless occasions in the more extreme promotions that exist in Japan. Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling has yet to pop up on our list, so here they arrive in explosive fashion with the electric barbed wire match. It’s as violent as it sounds, and (pardon the pun) the most shocking thing about it may be the fact they were typically contested between women.
Anyone who is a fan of these types of matches no doubt considers Megumi Kudo a bona fide legend, as she was the first woman to suggest to FMW officials that female wrestlers should get in on the death match action. She wanted to start things off huge, which is why she engaged in a legendary feud with Combat Toyoda, ultimately culminating in a match with explosive, electrified barbed wire surrounding the ring. Megumi would go even harder for her retirement match in 1997, adding landmines around the ring for even more fireworks, calling it the “no ropes 200V double hell double barbed wire barricade double landmine glass crush death match.” And we thought women in WWE had it rough sometimes…
9 The Barbed Wire Inferno Match
Long before WWE tried the Inferno Match or the Funks and ECW brought Barbed Wire matches to America, FMW was already setting the bar extremely high over in Japan. The women had it pretty rough when they joined the mix and electrified the barbed wires, but things were already plenty dangerous well before then, when in at least one extremely perilous occasion, the barbed wire was set on fire. It didn’t help that one of the participants in the match was officially a senior citizen and could barely even move around in the ring, nearly causing himself to catch on fire when things got out of hand. And boy how they got out of hand.
Taking place in May of 1992, the idea was for Sabu to team with his uncle, the nearly 70-year-old Sheik, against FMW founder Atsushi Onita and fellow Japanese hardcore legend Tarzan Goto in a barbed wire match, where bits of fabric soaked in paraffin were wrapped around the barbed wire, and then lit ablaze. At least WWE Inferno Matches used well controlled fires; the paraffin was so flammable that the fabric easily broke apart and caused the entire ring to become an actual fiery inferno in under five minutes. Luckily, most of the competitors were fighting around the ring already, attempting to escape the sweltering heat. Of course, ever the madman, Sabu was still in the ring when it nearly collapsed from the fire, and only managed to escape by sliding to safety at the last second.
8 The Dominican Republic
Switching gears for a moment, as we mentioned up top, sometimes the most dangerous part of a wrestling match is the country it takes place in. The Dominican Republic isn’t a particularly dangerous or war torn country, and in fact in recent years, the country has become one of the most visited destinations by tourists amongst the entire Caribbean. That wasn’t always the case, though, and governmental corruption has long plagued the island nation, leading to dangerous situations for some of the country’s citizens and visitors. This includes visiting professional wrestlers, as evidenced in one of the most infamous matches during Ric Flair’s first NWA World Heavyweight Title reign.
In the early 80s, Flair traveled to the Dominican to face the extremely popular Jack Veneno, who was basically a folk hero in the eyes of many local fans. There were two planned matches between Flair and Veneno, both of which intended to end with Flair still the champion. The first go around, the fans thought Veneno had won and started a celebration so powerful Flair let the illusion stand for fear he could cause a riot by leaving with the title. Things were even scarier during the rematch, when ringside guards pointed actual guns at Roddy Piper’s head when he attempted a planned run-in. Piper slowly backed out of the ring, Veneno would kind of keep the title, and the NWA would stop booking shows in the Dominican for a long, long time.
7 Saddam Hussein's Iraq
One of the issues in talking about war torn countries with oppressive dictatorships is that not all of the information on the regime is wholly available to the public. This is why people have brought some suspicion upon the story we’re about to tell, but enough of it checks out that it certainly seems plausible, and if it happened, it was even more certainly one of the most dangerous locations a wrestling match ever took place.
WWE fans may remember a manager from the early 90s named General Adnan. Adnan was the brains behind the WWE World Heavyweight Title reign of Iraqi turncoat Sgt. Slaughter, and the man behind the gimmick had a pretty direct connection with the country the United States was at war with in the Persian Gulf at the time, too. Better known throughout his career as Adnan Al-Kaissie, the would-be General claims he was actually high school buddies with Saddam Hussein, and the story gets crazier from there.
According to his autobiography, Al-Kaissie was forced by Hussein to perform wrestling matches in Iraq for decades, essentially with the safety of Al-Kaissie and his family on the line. Al-Kaissie always won these matches against various foreigners, including the legendary Andre the Giant. The Andre match provides the most frightening story, as Al-Kaissie claims spectators shot their guns into the air to celebrate when the Iraqi hero defeated the Giant—just think about where they may have been aiming if Al-Kaissie lost.
6 North Korea
While the other two dangerous foreign country stories are flawed with a lack of in-depth information on what exactly happened, the time WCW and New Japan Pro Wrestling co-promoted the biggest show in wrestling history in Pyongyang, North Korea. Advertised in America as the Collision In Korea and North Korea as “The Pyongyang International Sports and Culture Festival for Peace,” the event drew a possibly forced and perhaps a bit exaggerate crowd, reported at the time to exceed 300,000 people over the two days the event took place.
If fact the crowd may have been forced to be there didn’t quite clue you in to just how dangerous the situation may have been, the wrestlers who voluntarily appeared at the event didn’t exactly have a walk in the park, either. The big main event for the show saw Japanese legend Antonio Inoki defeat Ric Flair, and Flair has since given several first hand accounts of just how scary and regretful the trip to North Korea was. He claims the wrestlers had very little phone access, and Scott Norton in particular found himself under government suspicion when he was heard complaining to his family about the way he was being treated. Luckily, everyone escaped without harm, but we assume there’s a reason this is one of the very few WCW Pay-Per-Views that isn’t currently available on the WWE Network.
5 Scaffold Matches
Reigning things back in a little, Scaffold Matches aren’t quite as dangerous in the long term as the times pro wrestling took to war-torn foreign countries, but there’s something to be said about the fact they almost always end with at least one wrestler becoming seriously injured. The idea of a Scaffold Match is that either two wrestlers or two tag teams will climb up an incredibly high, poorly put together, not nearly large enough stretch of cardboard and duct tape, and fight it out until one wrestler or team knocks the other wrestler or team down 20 feet to their doom. The injuries we just mentioned pretty much always happen during the 20 foot drop part.
One of the most infamous Scaffold Matches in history saw The Road Warriors challenge The Midnight Express at Starrcade 1988. While the four wrestlers themselves were fine, the Midnight’s manager Jim Cornette also fell off the scaffolding, and ended up severely injuring both of his knees as a result. Years later, ECW would take the concept to the extreme when New Jack and Vic Grimes climbed up a scaffold during a no disqualification match at Living Dangerously 2000. While the Scaffold Matches in NWA were haphazard, the ECW attempt was practically in shambles, and fell apart as soon as New Jack reached the top, causing him to fall off. Jack grabbed Grimes on the way down, and caused the 300 pounder to land on top of him, but not until after his skull already crashed into the concrete below. New Jack suffered brain damage and permanent vision loss from the fall, and luckily, few wrestling companies have tried to bring back the gimmick since.
4 A Junkyard
Not to be outdone by their predecessor, WCW managed to come up with a match more dangerous and stupid than the Scaffold Match. In fact, due to the complete lack of planning that surrounded certain portions of the match we’re about to discuss, it may have been even more dangerous than the exploding Japanese examples we’ve offered to this list. At Bash at the Beach 1999, WCW decided to enter the growing hardcore wrestling craze sweeping America by creating the Junkyard Invitational. The idea was that wrestlers would do battle in an actual junkyard, and use whatever garbage they found in order to beat the tar out of each other. And they found some pretty big garbage.
The most telling statistic of the match is the fact that four out of fourteen of the competitors wound up injured. Ciclope, The Sandman, Silver King, and even the Invitational winner Finlay all ended up seriously hurt by wrestling in the environment, made worse by the fact WCW clearly had no idea how to film the thing. Junkyards are by definition dark and disgusting places that aren’t easy to navigate, and with 14 wrestlers running around randomly, it’s impossible to follow or call the action. Still, the worst idea of the whole match has to belong to The Public Enemy, who for some reason thought it would be a great idea to flip a car off a mountain of garbage, even though they couldn’t even see what or who was on the other side.
3 An Exploding Swimming Pool
We started getting into the whole Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling scene with their variations on barbed wire matches, but the company actually pulled off something far crazier than that pretty early into their run. In the Autumn of 1994, for perhaps the biggest main event in hardcore wrestling history, Atsushi Onita, Mr. Gannosuke, and Katsutoshi Niiyama did battle with Mr. Pogo, Hideki Hosaka, and “The Gladiator” Mike Awesome in a “barbed wire electrified dynamite pool double hell death match.” Since that sounds too crazy to easily be made into logic, we’ll clarify: the ropes were replaced with barbed wire, and the ring itself was in the middle of an Olympic sized swimming pool. If a wrestler gets thrown into the pool, dynamite will explode adding further damage. Multiple wrestlers go in the pool, and plenty of dynamite explodes.
FMW was known for pushing the envelope on violence, and it was hard to imagine them topping this hardcore display. Whether or not you enjoy the match lies within your interest in explosions and extreme violence, as not much technical wrestling is able to happen in such a chaotic environment. And yet, it’s not even the craziest thing those hardcore Japanese wrestlers ever managed to pull off…
2 Exploding Rings and Exploding Cages
So, while every match we’ve mentioned so far had something inherently dangerous about the environment it took place in, they all existed under the auspice that the extreme violence would cause the match to end, with the victim of said violence declared the loser. Even FMW operated this way with their exploding pools and inflamed barbed wire, since the only person hurt by this was the poor wrestler thrown into those dangerous situations. At least twice, with their exploding time bomb matches, there was absolutely no escaping the violence, as the matches were both just long countdowns towards the inevitable, where both wrestlers were going to blow up.
The first exploding time bomb match took place between Atsushi Onita and Terry Funk, and saw them both explode when Funk was too injured to escape the ring before the timer went off. Ever the babyface, Onita stayed in the ring to try and protect Funk, despite the fact he could have escaped to assure his own safety. Onita would take the concept even further against Hayabusa several years later, when they did battle in a barbed wire exploding cage match, which was extremely similar to the exploding ring match as you might imagine, but the cage prevented any illusion the wrestlers might escape before things got explosive.
1 In A Stable With A Pissed Off Horse
There’s not really anything funny about most of the violent, dangerous matches we’ve just listed, so let’s end with something that’s just a little bit light hearted, if only because of the comic stupidity involved, coupled with the undying toughness of one Terry Funk. The Funker has been all over our list as one of wrestling’s number one hardcore icons and verified madmen, but one of the most dangerous matches he found himself in didn’t take place in FMW, or even ECW, but rather the relatively tame WCW. WCW’s hardcore division was highly criticized for both being more dangerous than any other attempts at hardcore, while almost paradoxically somehow managing to completely miss the point, making for some very strange matches.
Most of these matches were created for either Pay-Per-Views or to settle the most epic blood feuds in wrestling, but this WCW offering was just a random show featuring a ridiculous idea, in classic WCW tradition. On a random episode of Thunder, the Funker defended the WCW Hardcore Title against Chris Candido in a literal stable, which also contained an actual live horse. Horses don’t like people causing a bunch of ruckus in their close proximity, and are infamous for their ability to kick people hard enough to kill them. Terry Funk piledrove Candido a little too close to the horse, and nearly had his head kicked off as a result. The horse only hit Funk’s arm, but Candido knew that the wild, kicking animal could destroy them both, so he ran the hell out of the stable and finished the match elsewhere on the farm. To the Funker's credit, his only reaction was threatening to kick the horse’s ass.
Sources: The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated
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