WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan shocked the WWE Universe last week on RAW when he announced that he would need to undergo neck surgery. No superstar has been hotter than Bryan for as long as he has been, culminating with his win over Triple H at WrestleMania 30 to get into the main event followed by his epic win against Randy Orton and Batista to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Daniel Bryan’s popularity skyrocketed once it became known that The Authority didn’t view Bryan as an “A+ player” and did everything in its power told hold him back.
Bryan’s neck injury really couldn’t have come at a worse time, as he had finally reached his dream at WrestleMania in becoming champion and has been riding high ever since with the backing of the thousands of fans that pack the arena each night chanting, “YES! YES!” It also couldn’t have come at a worse time for WWE as a whole, as it is no secret that the company hasn’t been doing so hot in the ratings department and now it’s out one of its biggest superstars. It is unknown when Bryan will return to the ring or what will happen in relation to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. This list takes a look at some of the biggest superstars in recent memory to go down to injury at the most inopportune times.
8. Randy Orton Breaks Collarbone in 2008
WWE superstars, as well as most athletes, never want to miss time from what they love due to injury. Missing time while on a losing streak makes missing time that much worse. Randy Orton had to suffer through this after suffering a broken collarbone in 2008. Orton was on a losing streak (PPV wise) losing his WWE Championship in a Fatal 4-Way Match at Backlash to Triple H, losing at Judgement Day in an attempt to regain it, and losing at One Night Stand. But a loss is not all he suffered at One Night Stand on September 1st, 2008. In his match vs Triple H, Orton attempted an RKO which Triple H countered, throwing Orton outside the ring where he broke his collarbone.
Just when it couldn’t get any worse, Orton was set to make his return, but then was injured in a motorcycle accident, causing him to miss even more time. Not the best timing to get injured twice for Orton.
7. Lita Breaks Neck in 2002
Unlike most of the injuries on this list, Lita’s injury occurred outside of the squared-circle. By 2002, Lita had established herself as one of the top Women’s competitors in WWE. She, along with Matt and Jeff Hardy, dazzled WWE fans with her high-flying in-ring ability, becoming the only female to be physically a part of the dangerous TLC Match and a 2 month reign as Women’s Champion.
While filming a fight scene for the TV show Dark Angel, Lita suffered what was thought to be a stinger after being dropped on her neck. It was later revealed that she suffered 3 cracks in her vertebrae, which would require surgery. Lita would end up missing 17 months from the ring, halting the momentum she built as one of the top women in wrestling. Her rumored push also had to be put on hold but she obviously turned out fine, turning in a Hall of Fame career.
6. Triple H Tears Left Quad in 2001
Triple H‘s left quad injury is without a doubt one of the most significant and talked about injuries in WWE history. By 2001, Triple H was already well on his way to establishing himself as one of the best in the business. At the time of his injury, Triple H had already won the European and WWE Championships, and was the current Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion with Stone Cold Steve Austin. On May 21st, 2001 on RAW during a Tag Team title match vs Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho, Triple H misstepped, attempting to save Austin from the Walls of Jericho and completely tore his left quad from the bone. The injury threatened to to derail his career as he would need nearly a year of rehab. This put an end to 2 of the top storylines in WWE with the McMahon-Helmsley Era ending and it put an end to the reign of one of the most dominating and dangerous tag teams in the Two Man Power Trip. Triple H would also miss the WWE vs WCW/ECW Alliance story while he went through a long and tenuous rehab.
Triple H was the most hated superstar for some time in WWE at the time of his injury but the pop that he received on his return at Madison Square Garden on RAW on January 7th, 2002 was second to none.
5. Batista Tears Triceps in 2006
Believe it or not, there was once a time when Batista was a favorite of the WWE Universe and not known as “Bootista.” Batista, who became very popular after turning on his former but now present group Evolution, was riding high during his 2nd reign as World Heavyweight Champion. He defeated King Booker on November 26th, 2006 at Survivor Series to capture the title. Batista would get into a short-lived feud with Mark Henry after Henry attacked Batista, causing he and partner Rey Mysterio to lose the WWE Tag Team Championships. It was announced on January 9th that Batista tore his biceps at the hands of Henry on January 6th. Batista was only 2 days removed from surpassing Triple H’s reign as the longest reigning World Heavyweight Champion at 280 days but he would be forced to vacate the title, derailing the enormous momentum he’d built during his reign as champion.
4. John Cena Tears Pectoral Muscle in 2007
WWE’s biggest superstar and most polarizing figure certainly had his share of trials and tribulations on his way to becoming one of the best to step into the squared circle. Look no further than the torn pectoral muscle that Cena suffered in 2007. At the time of the injury, Cena was the longest reigning WWE Champion in over 19 years having won the title on September 17th, 2006 at Unforgiven in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match.
The injury occurred on October 1st, 2007 during a match vs. Mr. Kennedy where Cena would injure himself executing a hip-toss. Cena was able to gut the rest of the match out, still beating Mr. Kennedy. But the next day it was revealed that Cena’s pectoral had been torn completely from the bone which required surgery to repair and a rehab time of 7 months to a year. Cena’s 380 day reign as champion officially came to an end the next night on ECW when Vince McMahon stripped him of the title. Cena would go on to shatter the expectations of his rehab time and return by shocking WWE fans and superstars (namely Triple H) as the last entrant in the 2008 Royal Rumble, which he won.
3. Edge Diagnosed With Cervical Spinal Stenosis
Now Edge‘s neck injury did not occur during the height of his popularity, but he was forced to miss time due to the effects of it at the pinnacle of his popularity. And he would never make it back. On the April 11th, 2011 edition of RAW, it was made known that Edge, who was the World Heavyweight Champion, had a major announcement with the possibility of a retirement announcement teased, but not certain. When Edge came out and began to get into his announcement, it was pretty clear that this was not a storyline, but in fact a real situation. He would soon announce that due to pain he was suffering from a neck injury in 2003, he would have to retire immediately. He mentioned that after going through spinal fusion surgery, he knew he was “wrestling on borrowed time” and that he’s glad he sought a 2nd opinion so that he wouldn’t end up in a wheel chair.” The initial shock and disbelief of the crowd turned into an overwhelming show of support and appreciation as Edge continued speaking about his childhood fanhood, some of his career highlights in WWE and being able to end his career by defending the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania.
Edge’s surprise retirement came during his then record 7th reign as World Heavyweight Champion and his 31st overall title reign, which is still a record to this day. On the April 15yj edition of Smackdown later that week, Edge would officially relinquish the World Heavyweight Championship, retiring as champion and going out on top.
2. Stone Cold Breaks Neck in 1997
“You talk about your Psalms, John 3:16. Well Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass.” With that statement after winning the 1996 King of the Ring, the Austin 3:16 train was in full motion, with enough momentum to knock down any obstacle in its way. Well, almost any obstacle. For a good part of 1997, Stone Cold was in a heated feud with the Hart Foundation, mainly the late Owen Hart. Austin, at the time of his injury, was a double-champion holding both the Tag Team titles and the Intercontinental title as his popularity continued to rise with each match.
Austin would put his Intercontinental Championship on the line at SummerSlam 1997 against Owen Hart, in a match that became known for a botched piledriver. Owen Hart lifted Austin up to execute a piledriver but failed to cushion Austin’s head between his thighs, and dropped him directly on his head. This resulted in a broken neck and immediate short-term paralysis for Stone Cold who was able to finish the match, retaining his title. His injury would force him to vacate both of his titles, and temporarily put an end to the wave of momentum he’d been on since the King of the Ring. Austin would return months later and pick up right where he left off by recapturing the IC title and winning his 1st WWE Championship the next year, signaling the beginning of the Austin Era.
1. Shawn Michaels Injures Back in 1998
If there was ever a bigger case of “what could have/might have been” in WWE, you’d be hard-pressed to find a situation that fits better than the 4 year retirement of the Heartbreak Kid due to a badly injured back. Although other superstars, such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, were on the rise, Shawn Michaels was THE man in WWE and had been for a while. Michaels was the reigning WWE champ going into the 1998 Royal Rumble where he faced The Undertaker for the title in a Casket Match. After taking a back body drop to the outside of the ring and hitting his lower back on the casket, Michaels suffered a serious and career threatening back injury. Michaels would go on to win the match but he was clearly not the same after. In fact, Michaels was in so much pain that he would not step into the ring again until WrestleMania XIV. There he would lose the WWE Championship to Stone Cold and retire after.
Michaels did make appearances during his 4 year retirement from in-ring action as a commentator, commissioner, and other roles, but that is obviously not where the fans wanted him. The wanted to see the Showstopper, Mr WrestleMania do what he did best. Michael’s back injury put a legendary career on hold but thankfully for him, the WWE, and fans worldwide, it didn’t end his career as Michaels returned to in-ring competition in 2002 and built on his Hall of Fame career from then on.
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