In its most basic form, a professional wrestling match is a scripted contest in which two or more wrestlers try to hurt each other in creative ways with the winner being predetermined before the match. The last three seconds of the match is decided by those in power in a wrestling promotion, while everything else in that match is determined by the wrestlers involved (and sometimes an agent who wants to help them tell a specific story inside the ring.)
The point is, a wrestling match is supposed to be a controlled environment because both parties know what’s supposed to take place. But what if they decide to do something that’s so high risk that they could cripple themselves or worse in doing so? Worse yet, what's the fallout (sometimes literally) when something happens during a wrestling match that isn’t supposed to?
Wrestling history is filled with terrible botches and unscripted moments that have shaken the wrestling world to its core. Many of the moments and matches you’ll see listed in this article demonstrate the purest definition of wrestling ‘craziness,’ in that they serve to test the limits of human endurance and willingness to sacrifice oneself to entertain the audience.
One thing is for certain; if you’re reading this and are thinking about possibly pursuing a career as a wrestler, you may want to reflect on your decision before diving headfirst into a world filled with botched maneuvers, terrible facial disfigurements, and in one case, literal hellfire…
20 Shane McMahon's Love Of Self-Torture
Though he was never as much of a trained wrestler as other big WWE superstars, Shane McMahon made up for his lack of formal training and technical skill with a willingness to put his body through absolute hell to entertain the audience.
Over the years, Shane has put himself through such considerable pain (both staged and real) that it’s no wonder that he still gets such a huge reaction from the audience. Fans remember the crazy things he did for them, so they show their appreciation with monstrous ovations.
His accolade of ridiculous stunts includes: Falling 40 feet down after getting hit with a cane at SummerSlam 1999, getting Chokeslammed by the Undertaker from the ring into the announcer's table, getting Suplexed through a glass stage set twice (the first time the glass didn’t break, so he fell headfirst onto the concrete stage), and of course, diving off of the Cell and onto the announcer's table at WrestleMania XXXII.
All of these moments showed just how far Shane was willing to go to entertain the audience, and many of them were so crazy that fans still talk about them long after Shane has moved on from in-ring competition. But given how brutal some of these contests were, it’s amazing that Shane actually left the ring in one piece after sacrificing his body to such a degree.
19 Brock Lesnar's Botched Shooting Star Press
It’s one of the most famous botches in modern wrestling history, and it nearly ended Lesnar’s burgeoning WWE career.
In his main-event match against Kurt Angle at WrestleMania XIX, Lesnar attempted to show just how versatile he can be by attempting a Shooting Star Press, a highly dangerous move he hadn’t done since his rookie days in OVW. This was made more daunting by the fact that Angle was further away from the turnbuckle than normal, so Lesnar had to leap extra far.
Lesnar ended up grazing Angle’s side with his head, jamming his head and neck in the process. Lesnar did receive a legitimate concussion from that error, but from how the botch came off on camera, it was amazing Lesnar wasn’t injured more severely. It also served as one of the earliest moments that helped solidify Lesnar’s reputation as a certified badass, considering almost anyone else might’ve had their career ended by such a botch.
18 Mick Foley Takes 11 Unprotected Chairshots...To The HEAD!
Foley has always been considered a glutton for punishment, as he was willing to do whatever it took to tell a good story in the ring. To hammer the point home, he risked his body arguably more than any other main-event wrestler in the 1990s, including in one spot where he exposed his head to the full brunt of the Rock’s chair-assisted onslaught.
In one of the most brutal matches of the Attitude Era, Mankind faced the Rock in an I Quit Match at the 1999 Royal Rumble. At the conclusion of the match, Rock handcuffed Mankind’s hands behind his back and proceeded to hit him right on the head with a steel chair…11 times.
What makes this segment even more shocking is that not only was it a moment of sheer brutality that really pushed the envelope in the envelope-pushing Attitude Era, but given how much we have come to understand about concussions and their consequences, it’s amazing that Foley didn’t suffer any major brain damage, which is more than can be said for other famous wrestlers that got hit in the head too much.
17 The Undertaker's Botched Suicide Dive At WrestleMania 25
Widely hailed as the greatest match in WrestleMania history, the first 'Mania match between ‘Taker and HBK nearly ended in tragedy when the Deadman’s signature suicide dive didn’t go as planned.
As Undertaker dove over the rope, the man that was supposed to catch him, Sam Snuka, disguised as a cameraman, wasn’t in place, and so the two of them collided awkwardly outside the ring. Based on the angle at which ‘Taker landed, he was almost vertical when he hit the canvas below, and looked to have injured his neck severely.
He didn’t move for what seemed like an eternity, raising concerns that he might’ve actually hurt himself badly. Then, as if his supernatural powers were more than just a gimmick, Undertaker got back to the ring and continued the match as if nothing happened.
While that might make some people think that Undertaker is some kind of crazy badass who ignored the pain for that one match, keep in mind that this is the same man that climbed a Cell with a broken foot, wrestled Brock Lesnar with a broken hand, and wrestled long matches throughout the Attitude Era with tape covering his broken ribs.
The man’s an obvious legend who would sacrifice it all for the WWE, as seen in this obvious spot gone horribly wrong.
16 The Great Sasuke Cracks His Skull & Keeps Wrestling
With this entry, it’s really difficult to draw the line between being a crazy badass and just pure unadulterated craziness.
The Great Sasuke was one of the most jaw-dropping cruiserweights of the 1990s. He dazzled audiences with his wide array of high-flying moves and out-of-the-ring dives, to a point where some felt his wrestling style was more showmanship than psychology. But he still managed to put on a good show on a regular basis, and no injury would stop him…not even a cracked skull.
During the final match of the 1996 J-Crown Tournament, Sasuke performed a somersault plancha and landed hard on the floor. This is one of the most severe injuries one can suffer anywhere, as many kinds of skull fractures can put pressure on the brain and lead to even more serious damage. Keep in mind that most promotions stop a match when there’s even the smallest hint of blood or possible injury (as seen by WWE’s old Sin Cara, who stopped a match from a single dislocated finger). But Sasuke? Nothing stops him from finishing his match like he’s supposed to.
Watching him do that makes me wonder if he’s really human at all…
15 'Dr. Death' Steve Williams & His Dangerous Backdrop
There are some people in the wrestling business that will go to incredible lengths to make even the simplest move look deadly. Steve Williams mastered that skill a long time ago when he became known for dropping people on their heads with his patented ‘Dangerous Backdrop,' also known as a ‘Homicide Backdrop,’ and for good reason.
Instead of taking a Back Suplex on your back or shoulders (as any sane person would), Williams would throw his opponents at a higher angle, causing them to land on their upper shoulders, necks, or square on their heads. Williams would go on to do this for many years, and would inspire an entire generation of wrestlers to follow in his footsteps and drop people on their most important body parts with the Dangerous Backdrop.
For years, seeing this move executed was downright cringe-inducing, as one would assume that the person taking the move would end up paralyzed or dead. Then, when the victim would get up (on some occasions), one’s mind would then shift to being in awe of that victim’s toughness. Sadly, this move’s reputation was forever tarnished and the years of being dropped on the neck finally caught up with one of the move’s most well-known recipients, Mitsuharu Misawa. He took one of these backdrops and got his spine separated from his skull, causing him to essentially pass away in the ring.
Clearly, the term ‘Dangerous Backdrop’ lived up to its name in the most obvious way possible.
14 Manami Toyota Nearly Kills Aja Kong With A Crazy Wrestling Move
The 1990s is widely considered the greatest decade in Japanese wrestling history because there were so many outstanding wrestlers putting on phenomenal matches. One of these women was the legendary Manami Toyota, widely considered the best women’s wrestler of all time. During her wars with various rivals, Toyota used a variety of impressive suplexes, dives, and out-of-the-ring attacks, but she wasn’t one to use many super-dangerous moves.
Except for one maneuver.
For a while during the mid-1990s, Toyota had a rivalry with Aja Kong, one of the biggest women’s wrestlers in Japan (both metaphorically and literally). Since Toyota could barely lift Kong to Suplex her as she did her other opponents, she had to come up with another method to keep Kong down.
Enter the Victory Star Drop.
Basically, Toyota performed a top-rope-bodyscissors-back-flip into a back-to-back piledriver. While she herself landed on her knees in a rather safe position, Aja Kong had to basically fall backwards from the top rope and land on her head. If you listen to that crowd and commentary, the viewers are stunned by the sheer craziness that it took to execute such a move. Given how it was executed, it’s a miracle that Aja Kong wasn’t paralyzed by that maneuver.
13 Chris Benoit Breaks Sabu's Neck
Considered one of the finest technical wrestlers to ever grace a wrestling ring, Chris Benoit was capable of performing almost any maneuver with more or less perfect timing. But if there’s one lesson that wrestling has taught us, it’s that even the most proficient of wrestling masters can make mistakes.
Case in point, a young Benoit attempted a ‘pancake’ spot on Sabu, but somewhere during the quick execution of the move something went awry and Sabu attempted to flip in mid-air to land on his back. He failed to do so and landed square on his head, breaking his neck in the process.
The way Sabu lands, with a sickening thud, and the way Paul Heyman reacted in shock after this, really drives the point home how serious this injury was. Even today, after witnessing so many crazy head drops and high-impact maneuvers, this is still one of those moves that could’ve paralyzed Sabu quite easily.
Interestingly, it was after this botch that Benoit earned the nickname ‘the Crippler’, which would follow him for many years to come.
12 Yoshihiro Takayama Gets His Face Destroyed At Pride 21
During the late 1990s & early 2000s, the top wrestling promotions in Japan had a sort of love affair with MMA, which led to several pro wrestlers trying their hand at the more dangerous combat sport. One of those brave souls was Yoshihiro Takayama, known as one of the toughest wrestlers active at that time. This reputation of his was cemented in one of the most brutal beatdowns in MMA history, when Takayama took on Don Frye in 2002.
Eschewing the traditional (and common sense) tactics of blocking punches, both Frye and Takayama pummeled each other with stiff punches and knees without remorse for six minutes. Both men simply would not stop hitting each other no matter how much damage each one of them took. It was the perfect example of ‘fighting spirit’ that has become the strongest pillar of Japanese wrestling.
By the time it was over, and Frye was declared the winner, Takayama’s face looked like a swollen potato. At the same time, his reputation as a tough guy was solidified forever, as he had just become the human equivalent of a rock-em-sock-em robot.
Frye, meanwhile, mastered the art of blocking with his mustache.
11 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin Gets His Neck Broken
Steve Austin will be the first to tell you he’s one tough S.O.B., which is something he proved when he survived one of the most cringe-inducing botches ever recorded.
At SummerSlam 1997, Austin faced Owen Hart for the Intercontinental Championship. Towards the end of the match, Hart reversed an attack by Austin and delivered a sitting Tombstone Piledriver onto Austin. The problem was, Austin’s head hit the mat for real, and he suffered a broken neck and temporary paralysis from that move.
When watching this match, you can see from how low Austin was and, if you listen closely, you can hear Austin’s head and Owen’s hips hit the ring at two separate times, which isn’t what’s supposed to happen. Though it might not have looked like much at the time, seeing this match in retrospect can be difficult considering what happened to Austin. That said, Austin did prove how tough he was by not only improvising a new finish for this match, but also returning to the backstage area under his own power.
The long-term consequences of this match were severe. Austin had to relinquish his titles and underwent surgery in 1999. Though he did manage to continue wrestling for a time and went on to become the biggest wrestling draw of all time, his career was cut short in a major way as a result of this injury.
10 Sabu Rips His Bicep Open At Born To Be Wired 1997
Sabu is widely considered to be the craziest wrestler still active today, one that has taken some of the scariest bumps of all time. Although we’ve discussed his neck injury at the hands of Chris Benoit earlier, there is one injury that not only eclipsed that earlier one in terms of discomfort, but did far more to cement Sabu’s legacy in wrestling.
At Born To Be Wired 1997, Sabu faced Terry Funk (the one true Hardcore Legend) in a No-Rope-Barbed-Wire Match, and attempted an Air Sabu into the turnbuckle to hit Funk. But Funk moved and Sabu hit the turnbuckle and got tangled in the barbed wire ‘ropes’. He hit the wire so violently that he suffered a 10-inch gash in his arm, which he promptly taped up to continue the match.
There’s a very good reason you’re not supposed to come into contact with barbed wire; it’s razor-sharp and even the smallest cut can cause immense pain. But Sabu jumped into barbed wire and continued the match as if the injury never happened. This, coupled with the gruesome nature of the match itself, caused Paul Heyman to never book another match like it again.
But the scariest part of this match wasn’t the injury that Sabu suffered or the amount of blood both men lost; it was the fact that Sabu wanted to take part in another barbed wire match in ECW, seemingly apathetic to what happened to him in this first one.
9 Vader's Eye Gets Knocked Out Of Its Socket
Many people still regard the man they call Vader as one of the greatest of all time. Not only was he a mammoth human being with unbelievable agility for a man of his stature, but he, like all wrestlers who dared to wrestle in Japan during the 1990s, was a certified badass who worked incredibly stiff and never complained about injuries…even if they might’ve cost him his eye.
In a now-famous match that Vader himself discussed at the 2016 WWE HOF ceremony, known wrestling badass Stan Hansen poked Vader’s eye out with an errant thumb during an AJPW/NJPW supershow in February 1990. Although you could barely see it from the video footage of the moment, Vader’s eye was sticking out of its socket from that contact, and Vader had to react quickly.
But instead of calling for a doctor or stopping the match, Vader simply took off his mask, pushed his eye back into place, and used his eyelid to hold that eye in place for the rest of the (stiff) match with Hansen.
He held his dislodged eye in place…with his eyelid…while working a match with arguably the stiffest pro wrestler ever in Stan Hansen. That’s true dedication right there.
As if Vader needed another reason for fans to respect his reputation as a badass wrestler…
8 Hiroshi Hase & Keiji Mutoh Create The Muta Scale
Blood had always been a staple of wrestling, used to create more drama and excitement out of the athletes involved. It’s believed that the more one bleeds, the more vicious the feud is between the two. By that metric, Hiroshi Hase & Keiji Mutoh must’ve truly wanted to destroy each other.
The match took place on December 14, 1992. Hase wanted revenge for Muta busting him open badly almost two years prior, so he hit Muta in the head with a foreign object and Muta bled. Unfortunately, he cut himself way too deep, and blood proceeded to pour from his wound. In seconds, his entire face, torso (both his and Hase’s, actually), parts of his pants, and the ring mat where he was lying were all covered in blood.
This match would forever live in infamy, as it led to the creation of the so-called Muta Scale, an unofficial sort of measurement of match bloodiness, with this match ranking at 1.0 Muta. For reference, the match between Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton at SummerSlam would probably be around 0.5-0.6 Muta. In fact, there might be only one match in history where one wrestler might’ve bled more than Muta did here, and we’ll get to that match later.
7 Hayabusa Breaks His Neck & Is Paralyzed Instantaneously
Throughout the 1990s, Hayabusa was considered one of the greatest pioneers of high-flying wrestling. An innovator with immense skill, Hayabusa mesmerized audiences everywhere with his array of wild maneuvers, including his patented Phoenix Splash. He was considered the heart and soul of Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling (FMW), and even made waves in ECW during the 1990s as well.
But even a technically-skilled wrestler like him wasn’t immune to that timeless adage that disaster is only one misstep away.
On October 22nd, 2001, Hayabusa attempted a springboard Moonsault, but lost his footing on the ropes. As a result, he landed on his head and cracked two of his vertebrae, paralyzing himself in an instant. The sight of Hayabusa going from maestro of high-flying acrobatics to being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life was one of the most tragic moments in Japanese wrestling.
Though he survived that particular injury, it remains a gruesome sight nonetheless. Hayabusa would eventually regain some movement back in his legs, and would walk to the ring for a few tribute specials, before passing away earlier this year.
6 The Undertaker Gets Set On Fire Unintentionally
It’s one of the most famous accidents that took place outside of the ring…and it was caught on tape by numerous fans and by WWE’s cameras as well.
At Elimination Chamber 2010, Undertaker was making his way to the ring, accompanied by his usual grandiose spectacle of an entrance that involved smoke, eerie lights and music…and fire. Though ‘Taker’s entrance had long been accompanied by pyrotechnics, this time something went terribly wrong.
As he walked towards the ring, the flames that shot upwards from the entrance ramp hit him not once, not twice…but thrice. You could see the flames engulf his face and torso, and it looked like he was badly burned by this mistake.
But Undertaker, being the Undertaker, simply walked forward, took off his coat, and proceeded to work the match, trying his best to ignore the damage caused by that horrifying mistake. He was doused by water while waiting in his pod for twenty minutes, and still worked as he was supposed to, despite suffering first and second-degree burns.
It was one of the most horrifying moments in the Undertaker’s career, and it could’ve been much worse for him…like it was for the pyro technician responsible for that mistake.
5 The Mass Transit Incident
This is one of pro wrestling’s most notorious moments in history, and serves as the prime example of why hardcore and so-called ‘garbage’ wrestling is so widely condemned by both fans and enemies of the sport.
Eric Kulas, a then-17-year-old kid, lied to Paul Heyman to work a match against New Jack (a.k.a. one of the most violent wrestlers in history, period) and Mustafa Saed, and worked under the gimmick of ‘Mass Transit’, a bus driver character of sorts. The ‘match’ ended up as a glorified squash, and New Jack bladed Mass Transit with a surgical scalpel, but cut too deeply and caused him to lose a massive amount of blood. They then proceeded to keep working him, smashing him with weapons and performing many aggressive moves on him until he passed out.
This moment had serious ramifications for ECW. Barely Legal was cancelled by a PPV provider, Kulas' family launched a lawsuit against the promotion, and they even appeared on Inside Edition in a segment that vilified the growing promotion even further.
If there was ever a moment that might make a wrestling fan question their love for the entertainment medium, it would be seeing New Jack cutting a kid’s head open with a surgical scalpel and then hitting him with a toaster, all while calling it ‘wrestling’.
4 The Ganso Bomb
This is what happens when you’re constantly trying to one-up your opponents in a never-ending game of ‘create a more dangerous maneuver’. So far, Toshiaki Kawada holds the dubious distinction of having created what many call the most dangerous maneuver in wrestling history…and he allegedly did it by accident.
Kawada was challenging his perennial archrival Mitsuharu ‘drop-me-on-my-neck’ Misawa for AJPW’s Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship. Shortly into the match, Kawada broke his arm legitimately, and so his offense became limited. But this was King’s Road All Japan, where they don’t care about injuries. To prove that point, Kawada went for his signature Powerbomb, but didn’t have enough strength to get Misawa up all the way, leaving Misawa dangling off of Kawada. Seconds later, Kawada dropped to his knees, driving Misawa straight to the canvas, headfirst and unprotected.
This was one of those moments where even in the desensitized audience of AJPW you could feel concern for Misawa’s safety. The audience shouts loudly, the commentators lose their mind, and fans watching everywhere react in utter shock, expecting Misawa to be crippled or worse. But not only was Misawa fine, he kicked out at two after a pin attempt by Kawada.
Incidentally, the Ganso Bomb/Kawada Driver would only be used two more times ever, and in both cases they would likewise fail to secure a pinfall. So either the move isn’t as painful as it might look, or Japanese wrestlers really do take the tough-guy image to insane lengths.
3 Eddie Guerrero Blades At 1.2 Muta
Eddie Guerrero was known to be very dedicated to his craft. He also knew when it was appropriate to use blood to add to the drama of a match and when not to. Sadly, this is one of those times when Eddie’s judgment truly failed him.
Eddie cut his forehead far too deep when blading during a WWE Title match with JBL at the Judgment Day 2004, allegedly severing an artery in his forehead in the process. Soon, the blood started pouring from his head like a fountain, and within seconds he was covered down to his tights in his own blood.
The sheer horror of Guerrero being covered in blood had serious ramifications, both for the WWE and for the wrestler himself. It’s alleged that Guerrero lost so much blood during that match that he went into shock backstage and couldn’t compete at full strength for two weeks (some even suggest that this moment added onto the stress on his body that led to his untimely death). Furthermore, subsequent re-airings of Judgment Day 2004 had to be rated TV-MA due to the amount of blood Eddie lost during that match.
And here we thought Muta and Hase created a bloodbath…
2 Mankind Falls From The Top Of The Cell...TWICE
When Jerry Lawler delivered that now-infamous ‘that’s it, he’s dead’ line, it wasn’t an attempt at black humor; he, like many of us watching, thought that Mankind was legitimately dead.
Sure, Foley had put his body through incredible torture throughout the years, but his thirst for punishment reached its apex at King of the Ring 1998. It was one thing for him to be thrown off the Cell onto/into the announcer’s table; that spot was planned. But when the Cell roof gave through, and Mankind plummeted to the ring below, that was one of the most catastrophic botches in wrestling history…one that even managed to make the stoic Undertaker react with shock and horror.
Foley fell at least 16 feet onto the ring canvas, and the chair that he carried hit him right in the face, causing him to sustain even further injuries. In the end, Foley suffered multiple injuries, including a separated shoulder, a concussion, and had a tooth pierce his lip and end up in his nose. Miraculously, despite suffering so much damage, he still continued the match, and in doing so became known as ‘the Hardcore Legend’.
For obvious reasons, that has become the single-most watched moment in WWE history, and was critical in creating two legends out of Mankind and the Undertaker.
1 New Jack Botches Catastrophically At Living Dangerously 2000
Also known as ‘the Danbury Fall’, this was the moment that New Jack’s penchant for high-risk bit him in the ass.
The epitome of high-risk-no-reward, New Jack and his opponent Vic Grimes brawled on a scaffold 15 feet up (without any protective material anywhere near them), and when they pushed off to fall through the table that was supposed to break their fall, they both missed. Grimes fell onto New Jack’s head as he hit the concrete, causing the match to stop immediately.
Seeing two men fall 15 feet is always shocking. Seeing them miss their intended landing and crash into concrete without any protection is straight-up terrifying.
Of the two of them, New Jack was worse off afterwards. He suffered actual brain damage after Grimes fell on him, and was permanently blind in his right eye from the injury. Even worse, New Jack claimed that after the fall there was brain fluid coming out of his nose.
That fall could’ve (and by all accounts, should’ve) killed one or both men, but both are still alive, albeit with severe damage to their bodies from doing such things to themselves. So either New Jack truly is one of the toughest wrestlers ever, or he’s one of the luckiest, given how he survived this incredible act of bravery and/or stupidity.