It’s not a desk job, Lex Luger so succinctly put it. “You can’t fake being thrown through a table.” The physical toll of being a wrestler, whether over a career of five years or 40, is made to break you. Pain seems to be parallel with fame and many wrestlers (maaany) turn to pills, drinking, smoking, doing crack, shooting heroine, meth, you name it, all to numb injury and keep their pseudonym in big bright lights and chalked on the roster. The fast lifestyle of being a wrestler and spending 90 percent of your time on the road also makes the world feel like a never-ending party (see: more drugs, some mistresses, and not a lot of round meals). Looking at the profession from arm’s length, the conditions of the job start to form a fatal cocktail. Steroids to keep fit, muscles to make you feel invincible, pills to lessen pain, body slams to break your back, ten years of body slams to take away the use of your legs, a fat paycheck and wide-spread celebrity to build you up, being replaced by newer, hotter wrestlers to break you down. From there, it’s a pretty straight shot to getting fat, suffering a stroke, heart attack, bankruptcy, and starring in an adult film.
The career situations of wrestling are uniquely primed to provoke hardships. There are probably hundreds of broken Cinderella stories of wrestlers who self destructed from the physical and mental stress of the job. Here’s a definitive ranking of the top 15 main-eventers that fell far from where they began, and wear the profession heavily on their faces today.
15 Ric Flair
Nature has not been kind to its Nature Boy, who at 67 years old looks an awful lot like a vanilla ice cream cone melting in the sun. If you take into account that the guy has wrestled for every promotion for about 40 years, he doesn’t look THAT banged up. His damage really came at the hands of greed and personal loss (oh, and a pesky alcohol addiction that caused a form of congestive heart failure and long-term anxiety). Inflated by the paychecks of a WWE celebrity, Flair has always been an extravagant bloke (if you couldn’t tell by his tricked-out, floor-length, feather jackets). There have been many warning signs that indicate the cash has run out, including being evicted from his North Carolina home after failing to pay rent, tax evasion dating back to the 80s, a 100 percent illegal online business Ric Flair Financial, and a jungle of court cases that revolve around some form of payment failure or earning scheme. Add to his financial woe a son, Reid Flair, that died of a heroine and pill overdose in 2013 and a daughter, Charlotte, that disowned her father in 2016 in front of a packed Raw audience, saying, “you’re immortal to them, but to me? Dead.” Call it great acting if you will, but the tears felt real. They actually made us feel sorry for the guy, who in that moment wasn’t one of the greats but just a broken old man.
14 Tyson Tomko
A TNA staple, The Problem Solver was poised to make a tidal break into the rings of WWE. He had the bod, the tats, and even the weird but distinguishable chin hair. At TNA Tomko was in the peripheral of fame, acting as Christian’s bodyguard. Ironically, before getting into wrestling he was the bodyguard for Limp Bizkit. As his career at TNA progressed, he came to hold Tag Team Championship and World Tag Team Championship status simultaneously for almost six months, partnering with today’s SmackDown megastar A.J. Styles. But once Tomko signed on the WWE dotted line, he was employed by the network for about a month (never getting in the ring) before being let go due to a back injury. We always assumed he was just an angry, scary dude, but a severe addiction to oxycodone came to light when in 2011 Tomko robbed a Florida CVS pharmacy, swiftly going to the neighbourhood Chili’s to shoot up in the bathroom. By this time there was no hope for an all-expenses rehab trip from WWE’s Talent Wellness Program.
X-Pac (Sean Waltman) was one of those guys who started out with everything and everyone on his side. Protégée of Boris Malenko, only months after getting a contract with WWF in '93, he was on the roster for a pay-per-view SummerSlam special. He lost, but then became the protégée of Razor. Despite The 1-2-3 Kid’s role as an underdog, everyone seemed to believe in him, or at least give him a chance. Waltman’s first stint in rehab came before his big peaks of fame, when he joined nWo and then D-Generation. The guy was good at being on a team of trashy villains. From what we know of his personal life, it’s because he might not have been acting. X-Pac was heavy into meth from a young age. He also did cocaine, smoked pot, and drank. As you can imagine, addiction didn’t translate well to his in-ring performance. X-Pac admitted to Stone Cold that he used meth before a 2002 A.J. Styles match, laughing about how awesome the drug made him feel. That same year, he left WWE. His very public relationship with Chyna came to fruition in 2004 when Waltman co-starred in the adult films One Night In China and the sequel Another Night In China. He still pops up in some wrestling circuits (although his appearances are crap— he nearly died from tearing his anus during a Bronco Buster in 2013), or when the WWE does a throwback to fellow D-Generation X members, sporting his signature long, greasy hair. But there’s a heavy sense of weariness, almost sadness, in his face and eyes.
12 Addullah The Butcher
There’s great hardships that come with being a wrestling legend. Being a phenomenon in the hardcore style is like quadrupling that hardship, due to the extreme physicality and commitment that comes with pushing the level of pain. There’s no hardcore Superstar quite like Addullah The Butcher, who is considered one of the most violent men in the ring. He didn’t even need to speak a word of coherent English because his actions said it all. The lunatic was touted as being 400 pounds of pure crazy, bringing everything from forks and razor blades into his matches. Fellow Hoosier wrestler Hannibal even sued Addullah for giving him hep C during a gruesome match. Other stars in the sport have attested to the blood-thirsty nature of the Butcher, with Billy Graham requesting for his own Hall of Fame status to be revoked because he didn’t want to share the honor with Addullah. And we completely understand. From the beginning, the Madman from the Sudan was a fan of blading— the practicing of cutting the top of your forehead with a razorblade to make matches more exciting. (WTF?). This move gave the Butcher his calling card scars on his forehead, which are deep enough to fit a quarter in.
11 Lex Luger
Steroids can make your muscles look like chiseled stone, but they can also cause acne, heart attacks, and liver cancer. That didn’t seem to stop Lex Luger, who was widely regarded as having the best body in all of pro wrestling. And from many accounts, he was doing a little less than chugging testosterone on the reg. In his glory days, fans dubbed Luger “The Total Package,” and he held the record (523 days) for keeping hold of the WCW American Championship. As a young guy in a fast lifestyle that revolved around tons of travel, being an athlete and taking steroids were a natural mix (plus all his buddies were doing it. **cough** Goldberg **cough**). Luger has been recorded saying even referees were taking PEDs. Sex, drugs, and alcohol are also natural accessories to the athlete lifestyle, and The Narcissist dove deep into all the above, even after retirement. Luger's drug addiction and “second life” became so scary that many believed he killed his mistress Miss Elizabeth, who Luger said died of a drug overdose in his arms. Still, The Human Torture Rack ended up serving time. In April 2006, something changed. Luger became a born-again believer, wrote a book about his wild ride of wrestling fame, and the addictions that came with it. Now off the roids, his physique has deflated tremendously. The physical toll of years in the ring also took effect when Luger became temporarily paralyzed from a spinal stroke in 2007.
10 Jeff Hardy
In 2017, Jeff Hardy will turn 40. That means more than half of his life will have been spent in the ring, and most of that time spent suffering the aftershock of his trademark death-defying stunts. Think back and try to guess how many ladders the Enigmatic Soul has jumped from, how many tables his body has broken in half. We lose count. There’s no doubt Hardy is the TLC king, but all that wear and tear has caught up… and he isn’t even retired yet. Hardy, currently signed to TNA, was knocked down from a cage-sized ladder at Lockdown 2015 as he went for the Tag Team Championship against The Revolution. On the way down, he landed trap-first on the steel ring steps. If you follow Jeffro, this wasn’t the first time you said to yourself, ‘how is he still alive?’ And if you look at recent photos of the former WWE star, you’ll ask the same question. A collection of wrestling injuries (remember the classic Edge spearing, hit-and-run accident storyline of 2009, or the pyrotechnics disaster on SmackDown that same year?), paired with personal life inflictions like a broken leg from dirt biking and addiction to pain pills has worn on Hardy. But if you look back to the beginnings of The Anti-Christ of Wrestling, looks have never been as important as the craft. He’ll be in the ring until there’s nothing left of him.
Before he was the Ugandan Giant, Kamala was raised in poverty with his mother and sister after his father was shot dead. The Mississippi native grew up to tower 6’7 at 350 lbs, and got noticed in the ring once he took on the persona of an African savage. Eventually he was facing up against Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, and was even in the first-ever Coffin match against The Undertaker, which took place at Survivor Series in '92. But tragedies in his personal life made it difficult to sustain a glimmering career. His sister was murdered, his son died after contracting AIDS, and about a year before retiring from the ring Kamala was diagnosed with diabetes— an affliction that would eventually lead to the amputation of both legs. Through it all, James Harris (the man behind the cannibal Kamala) has found a way to deal despite the hardships, and is commonly said to be one of the nicest guys in all of wrestling.
8 The Iron Shiek
Arguably the greatest heel ever, the Iranian-American Iron Shiek is best known for his on-screen beef with Hulk Hogan. The WWE villain hit a peak in '83 when he won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Bob Backlund, but today, at 74 years old, it’s more than just the Shiek’s body that has suffered from the wrestling lifestyle. His mind is completely gone. Fans have questioned since his glory days whether the wrestler was actually “crazy,” or if his angry rants were part of the act, but a series of rage ridden and incoherent interviews and tweets that began around 2006 solidified that Vaziri’s mental health was no joke. He blew up in an interview calling Brian Blair a f'n jabroni…little punk, and a grocery list of other slurs, viciously challenged The Ultimate Warrior in 2010, went nuts on Randy Savage in a Howard Stern filming, and wrote an angry, unintelligible open letter (written all in caps) to “the half and half howdy doody looking jabroni guitar player” Hulk Hogan. If you take away all the bodily destruction that a career in wrestling inflicts, Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri has also lived through an intense crack cocaine addiction, the murder of his daughter Marissa in 2003, early-life Olympic weight lifting (which has aided in the wreckage of his hips, knees, and joints), possession arrests, a heart attack, and occasional stab wounds inflicted by WWF fans who took his Iranian façade to heart.
The OG of WWE Divas, Tammy “Sunny” Sytch was flat out smoking. She climbed to the ranks of primetime with long-time boyfriend Chris Candido, after the two paid their dues at Smokey Mountain Wrestling. Nobody expected that the blonde 5’4 New Jersey native would pull attention from the in-ring action to the skirt, but she did it in stride, being one of the few stars to achieve crossover popularity with non-WWF fans. That’s because she was rock and roll. She was the girl next door wearing a red flame pushup. She was also smart, having managed almost a dozen wrestlers (and even an MTV 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom star). But all the attention Tammy received as a sex symbol in WWE would inflate her ego, and once Sable came on the scene to take the torch of resident ring-side hottie, Tammy fell hard. In 1998, she was reportedly fired from the company before her contract expiration, after failing to show up for work, supposed drug use, and personal conflicts with Sable. Despite all the brains in the body, Sunny succumbed to some stupid crap, lasting through the early 2000s and up to today, i.e. multiple DUIs, violating parole for those DUI arrests, and an adult film entitled “Sunny Side Up: In Through The Backdoor.” *cringe* You can read all her poor decisions that ensued from a life of hyper attention and sexualization on her face and body. Loud and clear. We don't want you anymore.
6 Jake “The Snake” Roberts
There’s no doubt that Jake “The Snake” is responsible for inflicting a lot of hardship on other wrestlers (see: hitting Ricky “The Dragon” with a DDT Finisher on concrete). At the same time, he’s credited with making WWE history, being the cause of Stone Cold’s "Austin 3:16 just whooped your ass!” reference. During his career, Jake was downing drugs and alcohol with dangerous frequency, and was checked into WWE’s rehab program in 2007. The alcohol caused his weight to balloon, while the drug use chipped away at mental wellbeing, making him suicidal. Jake relapsed many times, developed muscular cancer in his knee, and was found to have an abnormality on his brain which developed from years of carnage in the WWE/WCW rings. It’s clear that The Snake just refused to take care of himself, and even his 15-foot python which he starved to death in 2004. Today (probably thanks to Diamond Dallas Page), The Snake is doing work to bite the bad habits and heal. Most recently he made a sweet hype video for the Chicago Cubs’ before their World Series win. His voice was the same menacing rasp it's always been, but the darkened video does little to hide the age that has sunk into his body.
5 Dynamite Kid
The British sensation and one half of the tag team The British Bulldogs, was a freaking legend in the ring (I mean come on, he won a Tag Team Championship with the help of Ozzy Osbourne at WrestleMania 2). For being a small guy, Dynamite Kid stood out thanks to his unique style, which featured explosive flips, high-flying aerial maneuvers, and gnarly headbutts. These moves were largely courtesy of his time fighting at All Japan Pro and New Japan. He brought a genuinely unique flare to American wrestling, but despite Dynamite’s success in the ring, it’s widely recorded that he was an A-hole outside of it. Various WWE big-names say Dynamite drank heavily, had anger issues as a result of heavy steroid use, would haze other fighters backstage by cutting up their clothes with scissors, and is even rumored to have pranked Bret Hart by replacing the steroids in his needle with milk and watching Hart take it. The man behind Dynamite, Tom Billington, brought the aggression home with him, reportedly threatening his wife with a gun to her head multiple times. No, being an A-hole doesn’t necessarily make you look like crap (although the steroids will), but in Dynamite’s case his destructive attitude and ego had some hand in the deterioration of his physical body. Dynamite’s big, debilitating injury stemmed from something different. In December 1986, he was kicked in the lower back at a tag team match. After some time this injury, along with others to the back and legs, caused paralysis in his left leg. Dynamite has been confined to a wheelchair ever since, and suffered major heart problems and a stroke. Today he looks completely different from the firecracker we remember him as.
4 Mick Foley
OK, let’s make one thing clear: Mick Foley is only on this list because his body is a freaking shrine to the blood and sweat of wrestling. But if you ask me, he looks just as good if not better today than he did in early WCW Cactus Jack days. However, leaving him off the list would be an insult. The man literally had his ear ripped off by Vader thanks to being tangled up in the ropes during a Germany match in '94 … and didn’t didn’t retire. Then at the '98 Hell In A Cell matchup against The Undertaker, Mankind’s tooth was jammed through his lip where it got stuck in his nose (and it stayed there the rest of the match). This was the same bloodbath where Foley was thrown from the top and through the cage, landing once on the announcer’s table. Being physically “deformed” was a big part of the Cactus Jack/Mankind genesis story, which is why Foley’s encyclopedia of scars never looked out of place. They were also hard to see since many matches left him with a blood-drenched face. But if you take into account how many stitches the guy has received and how many bones he’s broken (one news account said he randomly discovered a rusted thumbtack in his skull), it’s a miracle he still has a head, two arms, two legs, and a torso.
3 The Undertaker
How in the hell is this guy still Chokeslamming people!? At 51 years old, The Lord of Darkness has freaking earned his legendary status, however fans are constantly questioning the state of his physical health. And for good reason. Then Phenom has been lit on fire from faulty pyrotechnics, had his cheek bone smashed in, a dozen concussions, eye socket damage, hip surgery, muscular tear in his chest, broken ankle, debilitating back injury, and a shoulder that is pretty much just a dangling piece of meat now. For a while there were even rumors that The Phenom had cancer (unverified). It wasn’t highly publicized, but Big Evil had a drug and alcohol problem during his younger days, reportedly partying at strip clubs and bars with fellow 15-Aged-Faces honoree Jake “The Snake.” This never seemed to hinder his magic in the ring, but constant injuries definitely did. Still today he works while hurt, and at least twice a year there are rumors of his diminishing health. The Deadman is good at keeping the details under wraps, but recent photos give away that it might be time to retire. As much as we want him to be immortal (I will cry the day The Last Outlaw leaves the ring for good), I’d rather see him pop up at Cavs game and backstage promos than not at all.
2 Scott Hall
Throughout his career, Scott was always on the top of WCW. A founding member of nWo and seasoned belt holder (Intercontinental, World Television, United States Heavyweight, Universal Heavyweight, and World Tag Team Championship to name a few), Razor Ramon ended up being better known for his raging alcoholism rather than his in-ring talent. Despite the mental and physical stress that comes along with being a wrestler, BFF Kevin Nash said Hall’s personal problems were already there when the Scarface persona was born. Nash wrote on his Tumble blog that Hall had PTSD and turned to alcohol and drugs as a method of relief. Unfortunately, this form of “coping” led to nearly fatal binges, multiple rehab stints, deeper relapses, a slew of arrests ranging from disorderly conduct to domestic assault in 2012, and an archive of wild stories that chronicle The Bad Guy’s uncontrollable, and often illogical, anger. Today Hall is still fighting the demons that have always plagued him, only with less gold chains and hair grease. In its place, Hall now accessorizes with a surgically implanted pacemaker and countless medications to help combat his anxiety. The last we heard of Hall, he was yelling inside an Atlanta airport in September 2016, calling a waitress a B after downing tequila shots.
Chyna will forever and always be the first real female wrestler (she’s also the only one to ever win the Intercontinental Championship). Still to this day, no other woman has been able to replicate what Chyna brought to the ring. She slammed and got bodyslammed just like one of the guys, but it was hard for her, as she was viciously shamed by fans for her masculine image. Chyna caved in to the pressure, getting breast enhancements and even got her jaw line surgically shaved to make it less masculine. After a heartbreaking split from Triple H (he started dating the Boss’ Daughter) Chyna began dipping more into pills and alcohol, which enhanced what one of her managers admitted was a pre-existing mental illness. Making matters worse, Chyna teamed up out of the ring with fellow-user and WWE star X-Pac. Then her binges began incorporating crystal meth and from there The Ninth Wonder of the World hit a new bottom. Broke, suicidal, and addicted, Chyna had lost herself entirely, and it showed tragically on her face. In April 2016, she was found dead from a suspected drug overdose.