Even though the fighting is scripted, professional wrestling can still be an extremely dangerous profession. Sports entertainment has one of the highest early death rates of any field of entertainment, and wrestlers die younger than most people outside of the entertainment world in general, as well. Part of this is due to drugs and alcohol, but even those problems can often ultimately be attributed to the fact wrestling is often perilous and almost always painful. The best wrestlers out there will tell you the point of their job is to make sure their opponent never actually gets hurt, but the fact is, they often do. Regardless of how well planned it is, falling down hurts, and the human body is a fickle and confusing beast.
Despite all of this, certain wrestlers regularly throw caution to the wind and undertake in some even more dangerous than necessary behaviors. We’ve covered before the times wrestlers stepped out of the ring and into some really questionable locations to wrestle their matches, but we’ll keep it within the squared circle this time to focus on the big moves and maneuvers that are more than likely to actually send a wrestler to the hospital. It’s a tragic accident when a wrestler tries out a move for the first time and someone gets badly hurt, but it’s a downright disaster when they keep doing the move anyway, and careers keep ending as a result. Keep reading to discover 15 dangerous wrestling moves that sports entertainers are still using today.
15 Chair Shots
Depending on your definition of wrestling, this first one might not strictly count as a “move” per se, but it’s one of the most common elements in wrestling since the early 1990s, so it bears inclusion nonetheless. For a long time, it was considered essentially safe for a wrestler to get hit in the head with a chair. Apparently, they didn’t hurt too badly, and it looks kinda cool when they get crumpled up and smashed into a person’s head.
Of course, several years after chair shots to the head were the in vogue thing to do in wrestling, it was discovered that whether they badly hurt at the time or not, taking repeated blows to the head is pretty much the worst thing that a wrestler can do. Regardless of the immediate pain, being hit in the head can cause permanent and life-threatening damage to a person’s brain, as has been evidenced in countless wrestlers, NFL players, and other athletes. Luckily for WWE wrestlers, chair shots to the head are being phased out thanks to Linda McMahon’s decision to make the company PG. However, chair shots in general are still used, and it’s very easy for a wrestler to miss and get hit in the skull. And of course, outside of WWE, plenty of independent promotions focused on the hardcore have wrestlers hitting each other with much worse than just chairs.
14 The Muscle Buster
Samoa Joe is a big and tough wrestler, and thus has a reputation that lead to fans chanting “Joe’s gonna kill you” at his unlucky opponents. Unfortunately, that very nearly came true in Joe’s very first official match with WWE, which saw him defeat and nearly paralyze Tyson Kidd with his finishing move, The Muscle Buster. The Muscle Buster begins in a fisherman’s suplex position, but instead of dropping the opponent onto his back, Joe sits down while still in the hold, appearing to do serious damage to the neck and spine of his victim. While Joe did the move properly millions of times, holding his opponent loosely enough that they weren’t actually hurt, something went wrong in the match against Kidd, and more than a year later Tyson is still just thankful to be alive.
No less a source than Bret Hart immediately began speaking out against WWE for allowing Joe to do the move, calling it obviously dangerous and the reason for the injury. While that may be the case, it’s still reasonable to say Joe himself isn’t to blame, since he’d performed the move hundreds of times before and since without any serious incident. Still, no matter how many times Joe does it correctly, the one time he did it wrong was genuinely almost deadly, so it's clear the move is very dangerous and a risk to his opponent every time he performs it.
13 Diving Headbutt
The diving headbutt is a special move on our list, in that while most of these moves are dangerous to the person receiving them, a headbutt of any nature is actually more harmful by far to the person performing the act. We already mentioned that the worst thing a wrestler can do is get hit in the head, and it’s going to be a running theme in this list, which is why the diving headbutt is such an obviously dangerous move.
Not only does a superstar purposefully hit themselves in the head as hard as they can against their opponent’s body, they often do so from the top rope and without any true concern where they’re going to land. Chris Benoit in particular performed this move onto chairs and from the top of steel cages, and his mental problems and horrible end of life actions could have been directly related to him doing so. The Dynamite Kid was Benoit’s inspiration to use the move, and while not as bad as what happened with Benoit, Dynamite wound up confined to a wheelchair due to his reckless behaviors in the ring.
12 Running Powerbomb
Powerbombs in general are fairly dangerous, because the person receiving the move needs to entirely trust their opponent in regards to where their head and neck are going to land. The move is also one of the most common in wrestling, because while it’s very dangerous if done wrong, it can be done pretty safely and in a manner that won’t hurt anybody as long as the performer is strong enough and in control enough not to literally drop their victim. When running gets added to the mix, though, it becomes a lot easier for a wrestler to slip or drop their opponent, and the powerbomb can have terrible consequences.
One of the most infamous wrestling injuries of the Attitude Era was the accidental paralysis of Droz. D’Lo Brown attempted a running powerbomb on Droz, but slipped and dropped Droz on his neck, resulting in an extremely serious injury. Droz told D’Lo not to blame himself, but at least some attention needs to be focused on the dangerous move itself. Especially if a wrestler is on the smaller side, a running powerbomb is a huge risk to perform. Nonetheless, it’s still used all the time today, though usually by larger wrestlers we hope can get a good grip of their opponents.
11 Alabama Slam
The Alabama Slam doesn’t seem as inherently dangerous as most other moves on this list, in part because a major name superstar never used it. Wrestlers including Nikki Bella, Stardust, and especially Bob Holly were known for using the move, and it continues to get used by up and comers and probably even veterans on certain occasions, all of whom seem unaware how easily the move could go wrong for their opponent. The problem with the Alabama Slam isn’t the typical head injury issue, as the point of the move is to drop a wrestler on their back.
However, the point of the move is also to hold the wrestler basically by their ankles, or at least as far down their leg as you can reach, holding them completely upside down, and then dropping them on their back. Basically, it’s a much further drop than the average wrestling move, and its hard to have full control of how you’re dropping someone while holding the bottom of their legs. The wrestler receiving the Alabama Slam is supposed to tuck in their neck to prevent a head injury, but with the velocity and drop we just described, most wrestlers have complained it's almost impossible not to snap back and seriously hurt the back of their heads.
10 German Suplex
Suplexes are one of the most common types of moves in professional wrestling, and the German suplex might be the best known variant thereof. Unfortunately, it’s also probably the most dangerous, discounting the Dragon suplex. A German suplex sees a wrestler grab their opponent from behind in a waist lock, lift them up, and fall backward in a bridge to slam them on their neck and back. In the case of Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, and several others who used the most extensively, it wasn’t unusual to perform three in a row without letting go of the original wristlock.
The problem with the German suplex, as usual, is the fact the opponent gets dropped on their neck and the back of their head. Making matters worse, because the person performing the move is falling backwards, they can’t see where they’re dropping their opponent. The less used Dragon suplex is essentially the same thing and features the same problems, the only difference being the waist lock is replaced with a Full Nelson, thus ensuring some serious damage will be done to the opponent’s head regardless of how “safely” the move is performed.
9 Burning Hammer
The Burning Hammer is such a dangerous move it was never used regularly in WWE, despite what fans of Tyler Reks might try and tell you. Reks used a move with the same name, and they had generally the same set up, but we’re talking about the original Burning Hammer that was invented by Kenta Kobashi. Both moves start in a reverse torture rack position, with Reks flipping his opponents over into a DDT from his shoulders. Kobashi is far more sinister, and merely drops the victim onto their head and neck.
The risks associated with a true Burning Hammer are obvious, which is why Kobashi himself only used the move on rare and special occasions. This hasn’t stopped independent wrestlers around the world, especially in Japan, from attempted to recreate the move, hurting their hapless victims while trying to do so. While we mentioned that the move was never regularly used in WWE, Cesaro actually came closer to the original than Reks ever did in a match against Dean Ambrose on SmackDown in 2015. Oddly, it received almost no attention by commentary, and is unlikely to happen again.
8 The Punt
This list may be starting to feel like a broken record already, but when it comes to dangerous wrestling moves, there’s one fact that needs to be said over and over. The most dangerous thing a wrestler can do is hit their opponent in the head. There have been countless wrestling moves, some we’ve covered already and some we’re still about to, that are based on pretending to hit a wrestler in the head, and those moves can easily go wrong, which is why they’re on this list. The Punt is special in that there’s not really any way for it to go wrong, and yet it's still so obviously dangerous it's amazing it was ever allowed to happen in the first place.
Randy Orton is the wrestler who popularized The Punt in WWE, and there have been rumors even he has been banned from using it for several years, and with good reason. The Punt is, as it sounds, a very swift and fast kick directly to the opponent’s skull. The move was Orton’s trademark for several years, and although WWE was wise enough to put a stop to it eventually, there are no doubt independent wrestlers out there who haven’t gotten the memo yet and continue to kick people in the head to dramatically end matches or begin feuds.
The Brainbuster has as most of the qualities moves on this list tend to share, but perhaps paradoxically, it also seems to be one of the safer moves out there at first glance. Considering it was so heavily used by legendary wrestlers like Eddie Guerrero, and was once so popular a famous tag team was renamed after the move (Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard), it may be hard for fans of old school wrestling to understand why there have been rumors WWE banned this move along with several others we’ve mentioned. The Brainbuster is essentially a combination of a suplex and a spike DDT, both of which still get used safely today, but the vertical drop of the Brainbuster is much greater than the average DDT.
It seems like we can’t stop repeating ourselves about how dangerous head injuries can be to athletes, and the Brainbuster once again is a dangerous move for this reason. With a regular suplex, the opponent’s head isn’t in any particular danger, and with a regular DDT, the drop is short enough and both wrestlers have enough control the move can be stopped before actual damage is done. With a Brainbuster, all of the faith is put in the person performing the move, as the person receiving it really can’t protect their head in the slightest. As for people still using the move, well, we said it was merely a rumor WWE banned the move for a reason—NXT wrestlers have allegedly been spotted using it once again at house shows.
6 Curb Stomp
Even if you aren’t a wrestling fan, it should be of zero shock to you that Seth Rollins Curb Stomp is an extremely dangerous move. A “curb stomp” as it is known in our culture isn’t even a wrestling move, it’s a horrific and violent act that is generally associated with real life assaults and even murders. The wrestling move is virtually the same as the actual crime, in that Rollins would stand above a wrestler attempting to stand up, only to kick their face back into the mat with a forceful jump onto their head.
In fairness to Rollins and WWE, there are no actual reports of wrestlers being significantly injured by the move. However, the fact Rollins could easily slip and actually kick his opponent in the head was a big part of why they had to get rid of it. Even more importantly than that, though, is the fact with WWE headed in a permanent direction towards the PG, officials felt the real life violence associated with the move was too harsh for their viewers to have to think about.
5 Styles Clash
The Styles Clash is a fairly new move to fans of the WWE Universe, but wrestling fans in general know it’s been around for the better part of a decade. Just recently, it was famous in New Japan Pro Wrestling as a move that legitimately broke the necks of Yoshi Tatsu and “Lionheart” Adrian McCallum. Styles joined WWE in early 2016, and while there were early reports the company might ban him from performing the move, it eventually made its debut against Curtis Axel and has continued to get used safely since then.
The Styles Clash in and of itself isn’t a dangerous move, and AJ Styles makes sure every wrestler he performs it on is aware of the only risk associated with it. Most wrestling moves require the person receiving them to tuck in their chin and prevent a head injury, but the Styles Clash demands the exact opposite. The only way a wrestler could actually get hurt from it would be to tuck in their head, which is what Tatsu and McCallum both admitted they did. AJ uses it less regularly now than he ever had before, in part because of its increased reputation as a deadly move after breaking so many necks, but has been outspoken about the fact he’ll keep using it as long as people are willing to take it. Hopefully, they can all take it correctly.
4 Suicide Dive
The Suicide Dive is the kind of move where you really don’t need to look any further than its name to understand it might be a risky action for a wrestler to attempt. Despite the death-defying name, countless wrestlers have performed the move, especially amongst the cruiserweight division. Perhaps this is because whenever it’s used outside of that division, fans gasp in fear at the sight of wrestlers routinely coming close to breaking their own necks.
As the name would imply, a Suicide Dive sees a wrestler jump through the ropes to the outside of the ring head first, relying entirely on their opponent catching them to prevent their fall. If the opponent catches them, both wrestlers will safely take a bump to the ground. If someone is out of position or the person who is supposed to be making the catch isn’t strong enough, the person performing the move will go head first onto the mat, at has happened several times. Sasha Banks and Big E both experienced this first hand in the recent weeks of this article’s publication, and The Undertaker infamously suffered the same problem at WrestleMania XXV.
3 Tombstone Piledriver
The Tombstone Piledriver is one of the most iconic moves in wrestling, thanks to its association with perhaps the most iconic superstar in WWE history, The Undertaker. The Deadman isn’t the only one to use the move, though, as his fake brother Kane also performed it extensively, and smaller wrestlers like Fit Finlay, Justin Credible, and Owen Hart have used variations of it throughout the years, as well. The dangers are inherent regardless of who is doing the move, as the Tombstone drops victims directly on their heads, but the bigger superstars to use the move, like Kane and The Undertaker, are generally strong enough and seasoned enough to perform it without incident.
Unfortunately, one of the most infamous mistakes in wrestling history surrounds Owen Hart incorrectly performing the move. Hart’s version was slightly different than the more famous variety, in that he sat down while most others to perform the move drop to their knees. The real flaw of Owen’s execution, however, was the fact he was holding Austin too loosely or too low, thus actually dropping him head first and jamming his neck, instead of catching him and merely making it look like his head made contact with the mat. The move is rarely used these days with years of hindsight making WWE realize perhaps the Tombstone itself was the problem, but Kane and The Undertaker have both been known to dust it off for special feuds.
The Tombstone might be the more legendary variant of the move, but the original Piledriver made popular by Jerry “The King” Lawler and countless others could actually be just as dangerous if it went wrong. Lawler didn’t actually break Andy Kaufman’s neck with the move, but the most famous angle in Memphis wrestling was based on the fact if things went wrong, Lawler could actually break just about anybody’s neck with the move. Luckily, it never happened to The King, but as recently as 2015, Ring of Honor wrestler B.J. Whitmer ended up in the hospital after Mike Bennett performed the move on him.
Whitmer was lucky and didn’t end up seriously hurt, but it's obvious that the Piledriver easily can seriously injure someone. The only difference between a Tombstone and regular piledriver is the direction the person receiving the move is looking; nothing changes about the inherent peril of having your head and neck drive into the mat by a wrestling dropping you at full force. Piledrivers are increasingly rare in WWE, and Vince McMahon himself is on record with having banned the move, but it still pops up all the time on a minor scale outside of the major leagues.
1 Shooting Star Press
The Shooting Star Press combines virtually every pitfall we’ve mentioned a move being capable of having thus far. If it goes correctly, there’s very little potential for injury, but it's so easy to mess it up that it’s considered one of the most dangerous moves for a wrestler to perform or take in wrestling history. Jushin “Thunder” Liger invented the move in the late ‘80s, but it wasn’t until the move was introduced in America and started getting used by increasingly large wrestlers that the problems started to become apparent.
The Shooting Star Press is a standing backflip from the top turnbuckle that hopefully finds a wrestler landing in a splash on top of their opponent. Anyone who has witnessed a backflip in any variety understands it’s not the easiest stunt to perform in general, and standing up a few feet on bouncy ropes helps, but it also makes it easy to slip or overestimate yourself into failing to make the full rotation. That’s what happened to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XIX nearly breaking his neck and giving him a serious concussion, and it’s rarely been used in WWE as a result. For some reason, though, certain wrestlers are given special permission to perform the move even in WWE, and we doubt the Shooting Star will ever go away for good. It just looks too cool when they actually pull it off.