To be an athlete, one must be tough. They need to be able to handle the emotional ups and downs, the pesky injuries that can nag throughout a career, and once in a while they also need to deal with the intense physical trauma that occurs after sustaining a more serious injury. It’s something that a lot of athletes unfortunately have to face, but some instances are so gruesome and devastating that a competitor wouldn’t even wish the pain on their worst enemies.
Although torn ACLs and MCLs get a lot of attention (especially when they occur at the same time) due to the cringeworthy highlight footage they produce, there are worse injuries to witness. Broken bones are probably the next step up, because they usually involve a limb or other part of the body bending in an even more unnatural way, and sometimes a bone even breaks through the skin after fracturing, like a scene from a horror movie. But the worst might be when an athlete actually loses a part of their body. This could be a temporary loss, where the displaced piece is eventually sewn back on or reattached in some way, or it could be permanent. For a lucky few (relatively speaking), the body part might end up staying attached, but barely manages to cling to its host.
Based on that description, you can likely guess some of the specific bits and pieces that get detached. There will definitely be some repeats too - but it’s not so much what comes off, but how it happens, and to whom. The stories are especially interesting because all of these injuries took place during a competition, or at least during practice, training, or some other activity directly related to their respective sport. With that, here are the top 15 athletes who lost a body part in action.
15 Shigeyuki Uchiyama
When one hears that a fighter lost an ear due to the ring’s ropes, they probably envision a wrestling match. Yet Shigeyuki Uchiyama, an MMA fighter, had this very thing happen to him. During a 2010 bout with Masaya “J-Taro” Takita, a double leg takedown fell through the ropes, and somehow (possibly via contact with the vertical ropes that hold the horizontal ropes in place) Uchiyama had the top half of his ear severed completely off. As serious as it was to have a sizable chunk of bloody ear laying on the canvas, Uchiyama later received successful surgery to reattach the missing piece.
14 Clarence Blethen
This might be the only injury on the list worth laughing about. Back in the early days of baseball, there was a player by the name of Clarence Blethen, who played mostly in the minor leagues, but got brief call-ups from the Boston Red Sox and Brooklyn Robins. In his only career appearance as a major league baserunner, Blethen slid into second, but forgot that he had previously put his false teeth in his back pocket.
The chompers bit a big chunk out of his rear, forcing Blethen to leave the game due to excessive bleeding. It’s uncertain if a piece of his rump was actually “lost” though, because accounts from the game are scarce; it occurred in 1923, almost 100 years ago!
13 Michael Bisping
Surprisingly, this is the only toe on the list. After a 25-minute UFC battle in July of 2015, fighters Michael “The Count” Bisping and Thales Leites both appeared to be in good shape when the final bell rang, until pools of blood started to form beneath the former. It turned out that Bisping had ripped his toe in half horizontally, with the bottom portion barely clinging to the rest of his toe and foot. Like a true badass, Bisping made no show of emotion or discomfort because of the injury, aside from the commentators noticing his footwork and mobility were a bit off.
12 Yukon Eric
Back in the early days of professional wrestling (1952, to be precise), now-legendary wrestler Wladek Kowalski faced an opponent named Eric Holmback, a.k.a. Yukon Eric. In what is likely the most famous match of the latter’s career, the former botched a knee drop that tore his opponent’s ear off. Kowalski visited Holmbeck in the hospital afterward to apologize, and the two laughed it off. However, eavesdropping reporters only heard Kowalski’s laugh, and the next day’s headlines said: “Kowalski Visits Yukon in the Hospital and Laughs.” This led to an unexpected heel turn for Kowalski, who earned the nickname “Killer,” as he is famously known today.
11 Wayne Shelford
This one might be tough for our male readers. In 1986, New Zealand rugby player Wayne Shelford and his All Blacks faced off against France in the infamously brutal “Battle of Nantes” match. Only 20 minutes in, Shelford found himself in an aggressive ruck where he caught the boot of an opposing player and lost four teeth in the process. Oh yeah, and he also had his scrotum torn wide open, which left one of his testicles hanging freely. No matter to Shelford though, who simply had a team physician pop the jewel back in the bag and sew it up so he could return to the game. He was later knocked out of the match after receiving a concussion, but watched the rest from the stands. To this day, Shelford still has no recollection of the game.
10 Paulo Diogo
The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon recently spoke about an accident he had, in which his wedding ring became caught on a piece of furniture and almost tore his finger off. Almost. Swiss soccer player Paulo Diogo wasn’t so lucky. While celebrating an assist during a December 2004 match, Diogo briefly scaled a metal fence, but when he jumped down, his ring became stuck and pulled half of his finger clear off. Doctors were unfortunately unable to reattach the severed portion.
Adding insult to injury, referee Florian Etter penalized Diogo with a yellow card for excessive time-wasting while match stewards were searching the field for his missing digit.
9 Greg Neeld
Defenseman Greg Neeld, at only age 18, was skilled enough to draw comparisons to the great Bobby Orr. Despite only playing for the Toronto Malboros at the time, hockey experts saw a bright NHL future in the kid, and it seemed like nothing could stop him. That is, until December 7, 1973, when an errant stick by Kitchener Rangers blueliner Dave Maloney accidentally gouged out Neeld’s left eye, ending his shot at the NHL due to vision regulations.
As a result, helmets soon included visors - with Neeld and his father pioneering the first prototype - and the league eventually made them mandatory in order to protect future players.
8 Senad Lulić
To be fair, “in action” is meant to refer to injuries suffered during a game, match, or other sporting event, but we’ll give this one to Senad Lulić because he was at least training at the time. Details are still scarce regarding the accident that occurred just over a month ago, but we at least know the Lazio star was working out in the gym when his hand was somehow crushed, leading to a sub-amputation of the distal phalanx and fracture of the fourth finger, in addition to a fracture of the intermediary phalanx of the third finger. In other words, he broke two digits and had the tip of one chopped off. Luckily, soccer players aren’t supposed to use their hands anyway.
7 Bethany Hamilton
Pro surfer Bethany Hamilton may not have made it big until 2007, but she was still a force to be reckoned with for many years prior. So much so that she didn’t let a 2003 shark attack stop her, even though the mighty beast bit her whole left arm off. The incident occurred while the 13-year-old and some friends were surfing in Kauai, and she was suddenly attacked while laying on her board with her arm dangling in the water.
In addition to severing the limb just below the shoulder, the 14-foot tiger shark also took a gigantic, crescent-shaped bite out of Hamilton’s surfboard. Although learning to surf with only one arm was difficult, the brave young lady returned to the water after only three weeks, and competed again less than three months later.
6 Leslie Smith
Although UFC fighter Leslie Smith’s ear didn’t completely fall off like a lot of the other body parts on this list, it was nevertheless completely destroyed courtesy of a right hand from opponent Jessica Eye back in 2014. Smith had a pre-existing cauliflower ear condition from her years of fighting, and when Eye landed her punch to the side of Smith’s head, the left ear exploded with a geyser of blood visually spraying into the air.
The fight was immediately stopped, and the dangling bits of cartilage were stitched back together. After the match, Smith received a comforting email from a famous wrestler (more on him later), who said, “Welcome to the wounded ear club.”
5 Rashad Johnson
NFL players Jason Pierre-Paul and C.J. Wilson both received a lot of attention this past year for blowing off parts of their fingers in separate fireworks mishaps, but Arizona Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson also lost part of his finger back in 2013 - on the field! The weirdest thing about Johnson’s injury is the fact that he doesn’t know how it happened, and that his glove didn’t even rip. As if he was playing and then - poof! - the tip of his finger was suddenly detached. Although it wasn’t quite that painless, as the gruesome photos proved. But in a display of true grit, Johnson didn’t even miss a game.
4 Mick Foley
Losing an ear isn’t easy, but when the choice is the ear or your life, it becomes a lot less difficult. Such was the case with wrestler Mick Foley back in his Cactus Jack days in WCW. During a 1994 match against Vader, Foley unexpectedly encountered over-tensioned ropes during a hangman move, which became stuck around his neck and began to slowly strangle him. In order to save his own life, Foley wedged himself out of the vice-like grip, pulling off his ear in the process. If this wasn’t horrific enough, seeing the referee pick up and pocket the ear sure as hell was.
3 Kevin Klein
Although taking a skate to any part of the body can be a gruesome and scary injury, sticks can do quite a bit of damage too. Just ask New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein, who had the upper portion of his left ear sliced off during a December 2014 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The high-sticking came courtesy of forward Zach Sill, and required emergency surgery to sew the severed piece back on. Shockingly, not only did Klein eventually return to the game, but he went on to score the winning goal in overtime.
2 Ronnie Lott
One of the toughest NFL players of all time, Ronnie Lott lost the tip of his pinkie in 1985 in a bit of an unconventional way. Instead of it getting severed completely right away, the finger was first smashed to bits by a helmet during the attempted tackle of a Dallas Cowboys player. At this point, most people would head to the hospital, but Lott decided to just jog off the field, hack off what was left of the mangled tip himself (or he possibly had a trainer do it), wrap up the wound, and continue playing. The injury didn’t affect his play either, as Lott matched his Super Bowl wins in 1981 and 1984 with two more in 1988 and 1989.
1 Evander Holyfield
This story is so famous that it probably doesn’t necessitate a retelling, but here we go, because journalism. On June 28, 1997, Mike Tyson was fighting Evander Holyfield in a highly anticipated rematch, which the latter was once again in control of. In only the third round, Tyson, in a moment of desperation, chomped down on the right ear of his opponent and bit a small chunk of the helix off, which he spit on the canvas in front of ringside judge Duane Ford. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the fight was allowed to continue, and Tyson soon attempted to chew off Holyfield’s left ear as well. Unsurprisingly, Iron Mike was then disqualified.