Injuries are common place in professional wrestling. Over the last 12 months, WWE has seen more top stars than ever before put out of action because something went wrong. Superstars such as John Cena, Cesaro, and Seth Rollins have all missed time in the ring due to injuries sustained last year; thankfully, all three men have returned seemingly without missing a step.
Other superstars have not managed to return quite so soon. Tyson Kidd has been out of action since June of last year, when he suffered a severe spinal cord injury due to a mishap during Samoa Joe’s “Muscle Buster” finishing move. While he likely won’t step into the ring again for a very long time (if ever), Kidd should be thankful that he is alive at all, as only 5% of people survive such an injury.
Unfortunately, not everybody is as lucky as Kidd. It’s been almost a century since professional wrestling as we know it crawled out of the mud and the smoke of the carnival tent, and found its way into the public eye. In that time, quite a lot of wrestlers have fallen in the line of duty. Some had their lives cruelly cut short by a botched move or a bad landing, while others passed away because a heart condition picked the worst possible time to make itself known.
In fact, so many wrestlers have met their end inside the squared circle that we could probably compose a list of several dozen, but that would be really, really depressing. Instead, we’re going to keep it to a smaller number. Here are 15 wrestlers you may not have known died in the ring.
14 Kevin Cawley
British wrestler Kevin Cawley found his greatest success as “The Black Baron,” a menacing character in a black mask who bore a slight resemblance to Mark Calaway during his time as The Punisher.
Cawley also performed under a number of different names, and usually under a hood. Like most British wrestlers of his era, he began his career when still a teenager and had a long list of memorable moments behind him by the end of his life.
Despite his long career, information on Cawley is hard to find, and it seems the most notable thing he ever did was die in the ring. While performing as The Black Baron for All Star Promotions, Cawley was placed in the end-of-show battle royal. Among the madness and the flying bodies, Cawley collapsed into the corner after suffering a heart-attack. Officials removed him from the ring and the match continued with the audience, and the wrestlers unaware The Black Baron had passed away before their very eyes.
13 Luther Lindsay
During his career, Luther Lindsay held the NWA Hawaii Heavyweight Championship, the NWA Canadian Heavyweight Championship, and the All Asia Tag Team Championship. But perhaps the man’s greatest accomplishment was making Stu Hart tap out in his own dungeon.
Lindsay’s career in professional wrestling took him all around the world, and he was one of the first African-Americans to really break through the racism of the day and become a major star. It’s likely he would have had some sort of involvement with Vince McMahon and the WWF had he not passed away in 1972, a decade before the pro-wrestling boom.
Luther wrestled his last match in Charlotte, North Carolina at the age of 47. He defeated his opponent with a big splash which didn’t seem to be executed quite right. Luther did not rise to his feet after the referee had counted the pin fall. Authorities were called and it was determined that Lindsay had suffered a heart attack in the ring.
12 Emiko Kado
Emiko Kado had a very short and unsuccessful career. It’s likely things would have picked up for her a little later on, but she died while still in the jobber stage of her career, having lost every one of her 15 matches.
Kado’s last match took place on March 31, 1999, and saw her team up with Mariko Yoshida and Mikiko Futagami. The match was a long one, and probably far longer than a rookie such as Emiko Kado should have been wrestling.
At the 20-minute mark, Kado received a stiff blow to the head and collapsed to the mat, with what was determined to be an acute sprained membrane. She was rushed to hospital, where she received treatment and would remain alive for 10 days. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old wrestler ultimately succumbed to bleeding in her brain. Emiko Kado’s death was only the second in-ring death in Japanese wrestling history – the other having occurred two years prior - and brought to a close a career of less than two months.
11 Malcolm Kirk
Malcolm Kirk was a big guy from West Yorkshire, essentially everything you needed to make it big in the golden age of British wrestling. Before venturing into the world of professional wrestling, Kirk spent time as a coal miner, which is actually something a lot of people did before becoming wrestlers back then. He also had a go at playing rugby, but didn’t experience enough success to justify sticking at it.
After entering wrestling, Kirk travelled to Germany, where he would spend a number of years mastering the art and creating a new character for himself. The giant returned to England looking significantly fiercer than before, and took the name “King Kong Kirk” because of his resemblance to Captain Kirk (though I could be wrong).
Kirk entered into a feud with Big Daddy, a right of passage for bad guys in British wrestling, and teamed up with King Kendo to take on Daddy and his nephew in what would be his final time inside a ring. A heart condition, obviously aggravated by his participation in the match, took Kirk just moments after Big Daddy hit him with a Big Splash for the finish. Big Daddy wrestled the next night.
10 Larry Cameron
Larry Cameron spent the first half of his adult life playing professional football. Though he was born in Chicago, Illinois, he became a big name in the Canadian Football League, where he played for the Ottawa Rough Riders. Cameron’s time in the CFL was cut short by an injury, and so he decided to give professional wrestling a try, as so many ex-footballers do.
As he had been living and working in Canada, Cameron didn’t have to travel far to get top quality training. He enrolled in the infamous Hart Dungeon, where he was trained by Stu Hart. His in-ring debut came in 1985 and two years after that he became Pro Wrestling America’s Heavyweight Champion.
For the next several years, Cameron worked to legitimize his reputation as a brash powerhouse and found himself much in demand. He managed to score himself a tryout with McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation in the early 90s, but nothing ever came of it. Despite this, he continued to be a regular at wrestling shows around the world.
It was in Bremen, Germany in 1993 that Larry Cameron would wrestle his last match. Not long into his battle with Tony St. Clair, he fell to the mat after suffering a heart attack. The bout was stopped and awarded to St. Clair while the medics were called. Unfortunately, Cameron could not be revived and he died while still in the ring.
9 Plum Mariko
There are endless opportunities for women when it comes to wrestling in Japan. Females are given the same exposure and the same chances to make it big as their male counterparts. For this reason, Plum Mariko was extremely popular among Japanese wrestling fans at the time of her death.
In the weeks leading up to Mariko’s final match, those close to her began to suspect something was not quite right with the woman. Though she was a consummate professional and dedicated to the art of wrestling, she had been making sloppy mistakes in her matches and had even been forgetting finishes.
The final time Plum Mariko stepped into the ring, she teamed with Command Bolshoi to take on Mayumi Ozaki and Carlos Amano. Ozaki hit Mariko with a Liger Bomb to finish the match, and those in attendance thought little of it when the wrestler didn’t get to her feet afterwards. However, it became clear something was wrong when Mariko began to snore while still lying on the canvas, which can be a sign of bleeding in the brain and not just really good selling. Mariko was taken to hospital but died a few hours later at the age of 29.
While her father requested no post-mortem be carried out, it is generally thought that years of hard hits and concussions had led to a number of abscesses on Mariko’s brain, resulting in her death.
8 Perro Aguayo Jr.
Rey Mysterio’s post-WWE career has been marred by underwhelming matches, low pay, and the death of Perro Aguayo Jr.
Perro Aguayo Jr. was the son of Perro Aguayo (obviously) and made his in-ring debut at just 15 years of age. He spent eight years as part of AAA and left the company in 2003 to work with CMLL.
By the time of his death in 2015, the 36-year-old Aguayo was a veteran of the ring and had competed against some of the biggest names in lucha libre. On March 20, 2015, he teamed with Manik to take on Rey Mysterio and Xtreme Tiger.
Towards the end of the match, Mysterio sent Perro Aguayo into the middle rope in preparation for his “619” finishing move. Manik was also sent to the middle rope immediately after, by which point Aguayo looked to be limp.
It became clear something was not right when Mysterio went for the 619 and Manik was the only one to move out of the way. Aguayo remained hanging over the second rope, showing no signs of movement. The match came to an end shortly after and officials rushed to the ring to check on Perro Aguayo. His condition was probably not helped by Konnan tossing his head from side to side in an attempt to wake him up.
The poor treatment Aguayo received in the arena – which included being carried out on a piece of plywood – resulted in much criticism of those who organized the event. However, the coroner has said that this made little difference as Aguayo suffered a cervical stroke caused by multiple fractured vertebrae, meaning he died almost instantly.
Jesús Javier Hernández Silva found his greatest success as Oro. He adopted the name shortly after beginning his training at 18 years old and quickly established himself as one of the most promising up and comers in lucha libre.
On October 26, 1993, the young man found himself tagging with La Fiera and Brazo de Plata in what was to be his last time inside a wrestling ring. While planning the match backstage, Oro told his co-workers that he wanted to take a bump similar to one he had seen Kenta Kobashi take in Japan. Kobashi’s bump saw him land on the very tip of his shoulders, making it look as though he had broken his neck. Oro wanted to use this bump to create suspension and build excitement towards the end of the trios encounter.
Oro’s attempt to convince the audience that he had broken his neck proved successful. Mainly because he actually did. While Oro was being carried out of the arena, his brother, fearful he would lose consciousness and not wakeup, pleaded with him to stay alert. Unfortunately, Oro died before the medics could get him into an ambulance.
Oro’s death can be compared to the death of Plum Mariko in that his family decided against an autopsy. Obviously, this means it’s impossible to say for certain what killed Oro, but his cause of death is believed to be a brain aneurysm. He was twenty-one years old.
6 Brian Ong
Unlike the other entries on this list, Brian Ong never made it past the early stages of his training in professional wrestling.While attending an All Pro Wrestling training camp, Ong suffered a concussion which should have disqualified him from further participation in the sessions. However, both Ong and APW officials made the decision for him to continue training.
This decision for Brian Ong to keep going despite his concussion, while irresponsible, probably wouldn’t have been that big a deal if he had just spent the rest of the training camp rolling or doing pushups or something. Even some running of the ropes likely would have passed without incident. However, later in the camp, Brian was paired with another trainee to do some in-ring work. That trainee was Dalip Singh Rana, a seven-foot tall Indian fellow who would go on to compete in WWE under the name The Great Khali. As you can imagine, things did not go so well.
In the ring, Khali sent Ong into the air for a flapjack, which has the potential to go horribly wrong even when performed by a true great. Ong hit his head upon landing, leaving him with the concussion which would end his life.
The Great Khali was a clumsy wrestler at the height of his abilities, so one can only assume he did not exactly know what he was doing during this training camp. That being said, the fact that he was in the ring with Ong when the incident occurred does not mean the Punjabi Playboy should be blamed for the young man’s death. Thankfully, Brian Ong’s family understood this and instead took legal action against the trainers at All Pro Wrestling, who allowed Ong to continue training despite his head injuries.
5 Moondog Spot
Moondog Spot spent some time in what is today’s WWE all the way back when it was owned by Vince McMahon Sr. While there, he became one half of the WWWF World Tag Team Champions, alongside Moondog Rex.
Spot also performed in Vince Jr.’s WWF as part of the Wrestling Classic tournament in 1985. Here, he made it to the quarter finals before being eliminated by Junkyard Dog (there were a lot of dogs in wrestling back then).
Moondog Spot spent the rest of his career drifting from organization to organization, performing on the indy circuit with some of the friends he had made during his WWF years. In 2003, when performing at one of Jerry Lawler’s Memphis shows, Spot suffered a heart attack in the ring. The match was scheduled to be a food fight (don’t ask), but Spot collapsed after the bell rang and the paramedics were called. Not long after, Moondog Spot was pronounced dead.
Like many professional wrestlers of the seventies and eighties, Moondog Spot had been forced to stay active as he was struggling financially. In order to keep his family afloat and cover funeral expenses, Jerry Lawler and other familiar faces from the Memphis wrestling scene introduced what they called the “Moondog Fund.”
4 Mitsuharu Misawa
Those who do not follow Japanese wrestling probably aren’t familiar with Mitsuharu Misawa. If you want to fully understand his profile at the time of his death, just imagine John Cena dying in the ring. Cena would probably make a miraculous recovery and return to WWE five months ahead of schedule, but you get my point.
In his final match, Misawa teamed with Go Shiozaki to take on the Global Honored Crown Tag Team Champions Akitoshi Saito and Bison Smith.
At some point during the match, Misawa took a suplex from Saito. Although this was a move Saito had given and Misawa had taken hundreds of times before, something went wrong and Misawa loss consciousness in the ring. The crowd looked on in shock as paramedics rushed through the ropes to tend to their fallen hero. Misawa was pronounced dead at 10:10 PM and his death had rocked all of Japan.
It is believed Misawa’s cause of death was cardiac arrest brought on by a spinal cord injury, but his family requested the details not be made public.
3 Gary Albright
Though unknown to many wrestling fans, Gary Albright was a member of the famous Anoa’i wrestling family. Through his marriage to the daughter of Wild Samoan Afa, Albright was related to Yokozuna, Roman Reigns, and The Rock, among others.
Albright made his debut in 1988 as part of Stampede Wrestling and went on to make a name for himself in a number of Japanese wrestling promotions.
In 2000, after he had returned to the United States, the thirty-six-year-old Albright was wrestling a match against Lucifer Grimm in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The match, which was part of a World Xtreme Wrestling show, came to an early end when Albright collapsed after a bulldog from his opponent.
Medics rushed to the ring and Albright was pronounced dead shortly after. Following his death, it was revealed that Albright had been suffering from a number of medical conditions, including an enlarged heart, blocked coronary articles, and diabetes.
2 Jeanette Wolfe
In the late 40s and early 50s, Mildred Burke was the face of women’s wrestling. Funnily enough, she was also the wife of Billy Wolfe, one of the most prominent promoters in the business.
In 1951, Burke and Wolfe began to plan for life after Burke’s career and embarked on a search to find the woman who could replace her. This led them to 18-year-old Janet Boyer. The couple gave Boyer the ring name of Jeanette Wolfe and took her under their wing.
Six months later, Jeanette Wolfe was wrestling in Liverpool, England, where she was performing twice a night. On July 28, 1951, Burke’s first match of the night pitted her against Ella Waldek, who defeated her with a powerful body slam. When she came through the curtain after the match, Wolfe began complaining of a headache, but decided to continue the show as planned.
Wolfe’s second match of the night was a tag team match – with a youthful Mae Young on the opposing team– during which she collapsed on the apron. Though she was rushed to hospital, Wolfe never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at just 18 years of age.
1 “Iron” Mike DiBiase
“Iron” Mike Dibiase was the adoptive father of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, and was also an accomplished wrestler in his own right.
On July 2, 1969, DiBiase was taking on Man Mountain Mike in a match in Lubbock, Texas. Man Mountain Mike weighed-in at over six hundred pounds, but it was DiBiase who collapsed to the canvas after a heart attack.
Fearing the worst, Harley Race ran to the ring and performed CPR on the father of The Million Dollar Man. Race also rode with Mike in the ambulance to the hospital, where further attempts were made to revive him. These proved unsuccessful, however, and DiBiase was declared dead shortly after. He was 45.
DiBiase’s son went on to honor his father by following in his footsteps. Ted DiBiase became a mainstay in Vince McMahon Jr.’s World Wrestling Federation, where he performed as a wealthy villain who was not afraid to use his money and underhanded tactics to pickup a win. The Million Dollar Man’s son, Ted DiBiase Jr. also spent a couple of years in WWE, where he experienced his greatest success teaming with Cody Rhodes and Randy Orton as part of Legacy.
Despite his untimely death in the ring, “Iron” Mike DiBiase’s name and hard-hitting style has been carried on by his descendants.