WARNING: This article contains video and images that shows the tragic effects of botched or stiff moves that have resulted in serious injury in the ring.
Pro wrestling has always been a sport that relies on big moments to capitalize on as a release from the tensions created via storytelling and ring psychology. Apart from the final “three” count of a pin, big spots are usually the moves that bring the audience to the seats, in shock or awe (and increasingly more so, followed by “HOLY SH*T!” chants). But ever since the days of the original ECW, the bloodthirst of the audience and a desire to something more reckless or dangerous has mounted the expectation for something enormous to happen. And in many cases, these are leading to more and more injuries (or at the least, situations where injuries were very narrowly avoided).
This past week we saw three very different situations go down where two combatants were injured (one severely, one still awaiting testing results) and one scarcely avoid serious injury not once, but twice, during the same match.
Katsuyori Shibata Headbutts Kazuchika Okada NJPW Sakura Genesis, April 9, 2017
During the main event for the IWGP Heavyweight title against Okada last Sunday at NJPW’s Sakura Genesis – a match Shibata earned for winning the 2017 NJPW New Japan Cup tournament – Shibata landed a devastating headbutt to the top of Okada’s head. The sound emanating from the move was like two wet logs banging together. Any true Scotsman will tell you that the best place to land a Glasgow kiss is on the bridge of the nose – nature kind of made the top of the skull the thickest part on purpose. Shibata has an international reputation for being a stiff worker – he’s arguably the truest version of Strong Style in Japan – but this kind of move was a poor decision in the heat of battle. Sadly, Shibata took the worst of his own move and it may be far worse than initially expected. Following the event, he was rushed to hospital where it was determined he’d suffered from a subdural hematoma – or “blood on the brain”. He had emergency brain surgery and now officials are of the opinion that Shibata may indeed never be medically cleared to wrestle again.
Jinder Mahal Elbow Strike to Finn Balor WWE Raw, April 10, 2017
The following night on WWE’s Monday Night Raw, Finn Balor returned to television for his first Raw match since he was put on the shelf to injury last year only to be sent back to the IR once again. In what was supposed to be a simple enhancement match-up versus Jinder Mahal, Balor took an elbow strike from Mahal with full force, with Balor seemingly knockout out for a few seconds. Balor would finish the match, but the markings on his face – and the glazed over eyes – following his victory were a clear cut indication that the Demon King had just entered concussion territory.
Nia Jax Botches Twice In One Match Versus Charlotte, WWE Raw, April 10, 2017
As if losing Finn Balor again wasn’t bad enough, the WWE nearly lost their biggest women’s star, Charlotte Flair, due to not one, but two botches from her adversary Nia Jax on the very same broadcast. First, early on in the match, Nia Jax flubbed a routine shoulder breaker and hit Charlotte face first on her knee, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Later on, Charlotte attempted one of her trademark moonsaults from the top of the turnbuckle to Jax on the floor below, but Jax missed her mark and Charlotte ended up doing a faceplant instead. Luckily for Charlotte, she came out no worse for the wear, but both had the potential to end with broken bones in the skull.
Various wrestling personalities have chimed in on the past few days, decrying the continued allowance of such moves as the headbutt and elbow strikes. Although both moves are wrestling staple moves, as today’s wrestling performers strive to compete with the MMA world, these moves are often done more recklessly or just plain worked stiff to appear more vicious than they need to be. And as this week has shown, can end in the potential to end careers. Following the Shibata incident, current WWE and Smackdown Live Superstar Shinsuke Nakamura – a former NJPW megastar and purveyor of Strong Style – hinted in a recent interview with Yahoo! Japan (and translated by Chris Charlton on Twitter) that perhaps the days of working so stiff in Japan should start to move in another, safer, direction.
“Lately exchanging dangerous moves has become a trend in Japanese wrestling. With serious injuries happening, it might have to change, and wrestlers should look back and think about dangerous moves they do and the risks they take.”
But while this was a particularly glaringly bad week for pro wrestling for cringe worthy moments from botched or stiff moves, it’s hardly something new for an industry blueprinted on mimicking combat. In fact, there’s a veritable trail of incidents throughout pro wrestling that have left many people wondering if the resulting injury was a work or a shoot (and some that flat out was obvious that something had gone terribly wrong). Here’s a look at some of those pro wrestling moments that left the audience speechless and horrified.
Mankind (Mick Foley), WWE King of the Ring, June 28, 1998
For the bloodthirsty fans of the Attitude Era, this Hell In A Cell match was an emotional masterpiece, but looking back in hindsight, we’re all very lucky – no more so than Mick himself – that Mrs. Foley’s baby boy is even still with us. His biggest spots – such as the legendary fall onto the announce table – were unplanned moves, and Foley himself was knocked so loopy from all the action that he doesn’t remember finishing the match. Luckily for him, he came out okay (ish) and the match redefined him as an icon in the industry. But a few inches either direction and he may be another entry in the obituaries.
Enzo Amore Knocked Out By Ring Rope Botch, WWE Payback, May 1, 2016
The move was so utterly clumsy looking that many figured it was part of the storyline at first, but it didn’t take long for the tone to get serious. Enzo Amore was shy on ducking the ring rope and connected with his head, which springshot his head onto the mat with a devastating speed, knocking him out for a few minutes. Enzo would miss several weeks with a concussion, but thankfully returned to full health.
Minori Suzuki Destroys Kana (Asuka), June 2014
It was a mixed tag match in Japan featuring Asuka (back when she still went by Kana) and Naomichi Marufuji taking on Meiko Satomura and Minoru Suzuki, a legendary Japanese veteran known for being mercilessly stiff. Before anyone gets too down on Suzuki for working so stiff on Kana, this was a show entirely booked by Kana – it was her idea for Suzuki to work her so stiffly. But the initial headbutt is eerily reminiscent of the one that just put Shibata on the shelf. A case where Kana ended up coming out unscathed, but the risk factor was enormous.
Seth Breaks John’s Nose, Raw, July 27, 2015
Another move lauded by many is the increasing use of knee strikes and the damage Seth Rollins did to John Cena’s nose following one errant one reinforced those concerns.
Joey Mercury Eats A Ladder, WWE Armageddon, December 17, 2006
Armageddon ’06 saw a fatal four way ladder match for the WWE World Tag Team titles, with champions Paul London and Brian Kendrick defending against the teams of The Hardy Boyz, MNM (John Morrison and Joey Mercury) and William Regal & Dave Taylor. During one infamous spot, Jeff Hardy jumped on a prone but balanced ladder causing it to spring up and strike the two members of MNM. Unfortunately for Joey Mercury, he caught is square in the face and his nose exploded instantly.
Candice LeRae Takes A Thumbtacked Superkick To The Face, PWG 11, July 26, 2104
Intergender wrestling in the indies is a commonplace occurrence. There’s a kinship of male and female wrestlers on the indies that allows them to have fantastic match-ups where the men and women often wrestle each other. One of the top intergender wrestlers is Candice LeRae, who wrestled often as the tag team partner of Joey Ryan. During a match for the PWG Tag Team titles against then champions the Young Bucks, Candice took a superkick in the face – but the boot was ingrained with thumbtacks. The crimson mask that followed was legendary (as was the entire match itself) and Candice and Ryan ended up defeating the Bucks and capturing gold. But that kick could just have easily left LeRae blind.
The Mass Transit Incident, ECW House Show, November 23, 1996
One of the most gruesome tales from the original ECW was the occurance known as “The Mass Transit Incident”, where a 17-year old fan convinced Paul Heyman he was actually a 23-year old trained wrestler and subbed in for a no-show Ian Rotten in a tag match against The Gangstas (New Jack and Mustafa Saed). During the match, New Jack hit his chair finisher and then bladed Mass Transit (real name Eric Kulas) so deep that two of his arteries were severed and Kulas was rushed to hospital for blood loss. While he survived the entire ‘incident’, Kulas passed away in 2002 at the age of 22, following complications from gastric bypass surgery.
Sid Breaks His Leg, WCW Sin, January 14, 2001
During a match live on WCW PPV, Sid Vicious had a match against ‘Big Poppa Pump’ Scott Steiner and went for a top rope kick to Steiner, but landed awkwardly and broke his leg.
Taka Michinoku’s Royal Rumble Elimination, WWE Royal Rumble, January 23, 2000
Taka Michinoku was the token small guy to take a huge bump via elimination in the millennium edition of the Royal Rumble, but probably wasn’t expecting the separated shoulder and concussion that accompanied this horrible landing.
Shane McMahon Is Tossed Around Like A Dummy, WWE King of the Ring 2001, June 24, 2001
It’s regarded as one of Shane McMahon’s classic match-ups, where he faced Kurt Angle in a no-holds barred street fight at the 2001 King of the Ring PPV. And like most of his matches, he was beaten senseless and took several over the top bumps. Anyone who’s seen the match will never forget the suplexes Shane O-Mac took through the glass (and the one that didn’t).
Spike Dudley Misses The Table (Sort Of), WWE Raw, September 8, 2003
The runt of the Dudley family took a nasty spill when the team of La Resistance (Renee Dupree and Sylvain Grenier) did a double chokeslam to Spike Dudley outside the ring to a waiting table. Unfortunately, the French duo were a tad off on their sights and Spike missed the table – well, except for his head, which took the brunt of the fall. Thankfully, he’d experienced much worse punishment in ECW and he was able to walk away.
Neville Breaks His Ankle, WWE Raw, March 14, 2016
Last year’s WrestleMania season was an unusually bad one for injuries and Neville was part of that list due to a broken ankle and tibia from a fairly routine baseball slide in a match against Chris Jericho. This match is also remembered for Jericho’s berating of referee Charles Robinson who seemingly was unaware than Neville had been seriously hurt.
Owen 3:16: I Just Broke Austin’s Neck, WWE SummerSlam, August 3, 1997
In hindsight, the injury actually forced Austin to take a simpler brawler style going forward, which helped cement “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as one of the biggest icons in wrestling history, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he could have been left paralyzed or dead. The Hart family are highly respected for their professionalism and safety in the ring, but on this fateful night at SummerSlam ’97, Owen Hart delivered a poorly set-up piledriver to Austin that broke the Rattlesnake’s neck.
Beasts Can’t Fly, WWE WrestleMania 19, March 30, 2003
It was the match-up the whole world was waiting for – Olympic Gold medalist Kurt Angle versus the NCAA wrestling juggernaut Brock Lesnar in a WrestleMania confrontation. But what no one was expecting was the giant Lesnar going to the air. He shocked the world with a shooting star press, but it was the misjudged landing that sucked the air out of Safeco Field that day. Lesnar decided to leave the aerial stuff to the Cruiserweights after that.
Lita Nearly Breaks Her Neck, WWE Raw, December 6, 2004
Lita and Trish Stratus had a legendary feud during their time together in the WWE, but things got ugly during their 2004 run together. During Survivor Series ’04, Lita broke Trish Stratus’ nose and weeks later on Raw, the two continued their feud. With a helpless Trish outside on the floor, Lita goes for a suicide dive but lands horribly awkwardly on the top of her head, narrowly avoiding what could have been a serious neck injury or worse.
How Not To Land A Double Moonsault, Beyond Wrestling WWA4 Showcase, September 30, 2012
Indie wrestler Charade went for a double moonsault but missed due to his cunning opponent, The Black Baron, moving out the way. Unfortunately, Charade had a bit too much torque in his rotation and landed squarely on the top of his head, fracturing his skull. But in true kayfabe fashion, Charade still had the audacity to kick out of his opponents pin attempt to try and end the match so he could get medical attention. In a true wrestling miracle, Charade survived to wrestle another day.
The Last Ride of Rick Rude, NJPW Dontaku, May 1, 1994
During a time when WCW had a working arrangement with NJPW, they had transitioned Big Gold into the WCW International Heavyweight Championship (they were in the process of ending ties with the NWA), which was defended in Japan. During a title match against champion Sting, Rick Rude takes an awkward bump (at 1:15 in the video below), landing awkwardly on the side of an unusual platform around the ring, rupturing his C-4 and C-5 vertebrae. In true warrior fashion, Rude finished the match and won the title, but was soon after stripped of it as he was not cleared to wrestle. He would retire from the ring shortly after.
The Bump That Broke The Heartbreak Kid, WWE Royal Rumble, January 18, 1998
Shawn Michaels’ first retirement from wrestling came due to a spot that occurred during his casket match versus the Undertaker at Royal Rumble ’98. A backdrop from the Undertaker onto the closed casket was misjudged, and Michaels’ back clipped the wooden lid hard. He would herniate two discs in his spine and crush one more, putting him out of action until WrestleMania XIV, where he was forced to drop his WWE Championship to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He retired the next day. It wouldn’t be until 2002, after years of rehabilitation, that he would finally be able to return to the ring, losing four years of his career.
The Hitman Is Silenced, WCW Starrcade, December 19, 1999
After being wasted in WCW for nearly 2 years following the Montreal Screwjob in the WWF, Bret Hart was finally back in the main event of WCW and facing off against Goldberg. But a wanton superkick from Goldberg connected hard with the Hitman and it resulted in the concussion that ended the legendary career of Bret Hart.
A Styles Clash Asunder, NJPW Power Struggle, November 8, 2014
In 2014, former WWE Superstar Yoshi Tatsu returned to NJPW after languishing in mediocrity during a seven year stint with the WWE. He feuded with AJ Styles and was poised to become a big star back in his home promotion. Until he stuck his head too far out taking AJ Styles finisher the Styles Clash and broke his neck. He wouldn’t return to the ring until April of 2016. He’s lucky he returned at all.
The Beast Bleeds The Viper, WWE SummerSlam, August 21, 2016
It was one of last year’s most controversial endings to an angle, when Brock Lesnar strode atop Randy Orton and unleashed several UFC-style elbow strikes that busted Orton open and left the Viper in a pool of blood in the ring, suffering a concussion. The stunt was all staged but the internet – normally a crowd that clamoured for this kind of action – were outraged.
And This Is Why He Was Called The Crippler, ECW November to Remember, November 5, 1994
Chris Benoit’s nickname “The Canadian Crippler” was acquired honestly. During a match against Sabu at the ECW PPV, November To Remember, a back body drop left Sabu with a broken neck.
Vader Pops His Eye Back In His Head, NJPW Super Fight, October 2, 1990
In a supercard pitting the toughest of NJPW versus the best of All-Japan, NJPW’s monster Big Van Vader faced off against All-Japan’s Stan Hansen in a big men match for the ages. During the match, Hansen poked Vader’s eye so hard that it popped out of his socket and Vader had to remove his mask and pop it back into place.
A Sick Ending, CZW Tournament of Death 2, July 26, 2003
“Sick” Nick Mondo was one of CZW’s most death defying performers when he entered this match-up versus Ian Zandig at the 2nd annual Tournament of Death. But even this bump was too much and the injuries he sustained in this match would lead to his retirement from the sport.
Hardcore Meets The Beast, WWE Smackdown, September 12, 2002
Although rumours continue to persist that Lesnar intentionally dropped Hardcore Holly on his head in retaliation for Holly sandbagging the move, Bob Holly has insisted it was just an honest accident. Regardless, it still left Hardcore Holly with a broken neck.
The End of a Japanese Icon, FMW Power Splash, October 22, 2001
In one of the more tragic accidents to cut a wrestler’s career short, Japanese icon Hayabusa botched a move he’d perfected for years – an Asai moonsault – and slipped off the rope, leading on his head, and breaking his neck. In 2015, fourteen years after the accident, Hayabusa finally regained the ability to walk, but sadly, a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage last March would take his life.
There are many, many more instances of bumps gone wrong – Droz being paralyzed by D’Lo Brown from a botched powerbomb (the match was never aired as it was pre taped for Smackdown), Triple H tearing his quad, and the tragic passing of Owen Hart following a failed gimmick entrance.
But the question remains. Are wrestlers taking too many risks with bigger bumps or most “severe” looking moves just to entertain us, the fans? Or is this just an unfortunate side effect of the industry that these performers have chosen to partake in?
Let us know in the comments below!