Wrestling can be one cruel industry. The long nights on the road, the high levels of drink and drug addiction and the physical wear and tear that performers put themselves through every single week can have devastating consequences on a wrestler’s health and wellbeing and, in some unfortunate cases, can lead to premature death. Wrestling history is littered with famous names and faces that died all too quickly and every single one of them has a “what if?” attached to their name. There are plenty of wrestlers who some fans are convinced would have gone onto incredible things had they lived longer, whilst there are some whose deaths came at a time where they were completed isolated from the wrestling industry.
Before we get started, I’d just like to point out that there will be no Chris Benoit on this list. As interesting as his story is from an objective point of view, the circumstances surrounding his death are too loaded for me to speculate on and I feel it would be disrespectful to talk about him being still alive, when his death brought so much sadness. Anyway, on with the list. This should be an interesting one. Here are 15 Deceased Wrestlers and Where They Would Be If They Were Still Alive.
I would put down all the different names this guy went by, but I’d be here forever.
Nelson Frazier Jr. first signed for the WWE in 1993 as Mabel, a brightly-dressed Harlem kid who wanted to make positive changes to his neighbourhood. Alongside Mo and their manager, Oscar, Mabel was one third of Men on a Mission and managed to win the World Tag Team Championships with Mo, albeit dropping them just 2 days later. Mabel would also win the 1995 King of the Ring tournament, earning himself a shot at the WWE Championship against Diesel at that year’s SummerSlam. If you haven’t seen this match, then good, because it is probably the worst SummerSlam main event of all time and the mere thought of it makes me physically ill. Mabel would change names and gimmicks a couple of times – becoming Viscera, a member of The Ministry of Darkness, and Big Daddy V, the “World’s Largest Love Machine” – over his various runs in the WWE, before suffering a fatal heart attack in 2014s, just days before his 43rd birthday.
Whilst Frazier had been a pretty regular feature of WWE programming for nearly fifteen years, he hadn’t appeared on WWE TV for six years before his passing. He spent the last years of his career on the indies and in Japan, showing no signs of ever returning to the company he made his name in. Whilst it’s entirely possible WWE could have reached out to Frazier, I doubt he was one of the bigger names on WWE’s radar, so a return was probably never on the cards. Had Frazier lived on past 42, he probably would have enjoyed the retirement he entered just a year before his death, but, sadly, we will never know. He’s humping people in heaven’s Royal Rumble, now.
14 Lance Cade
I don’t care what other people say, I liked Lance Cade.
Cade worked for WWE between 2003 and 2008 and is best known for his time teaming up with Trevor Murdoch and his role in the Shawn Michaels/Chris Jericho feud of 2008. A three-time World Tag Team Champion, Cade had a pretty decent impact during his time with the company, but, sadly, that time would not last long. He would be released from WWE in 2008, make a few appearances on the indie scene, get re-signed by WWE in 2009 (although he would never re-debut on the main roster), before his untimely passing in 2010, due to a combination of an accidental drug overdose and a pre-existing heart condition.
Whilst Cade was never going to be the next big thing in WWE, he was certainly a competent worker, much more so than Trevor Murdoch. Had he not passed away, there’s every chance he could have had a nice little career on the indies (I could definitely see him popping up in TNA), maybe even returning to WWE at some point. If he were alive today, he would only be 36-years-old and so would still be in the prime of his wrestling career. A talented performer taken well before his time, Lance Cade may not have had the most glittering wrestling career, but there’s every chance he could have done much better for himself had he not tragically passed away.
Oh, Test, you could have been so much more.
Andrew Martin, better known to the WWE Universe as Test, made his debut for the WWE in 1998. He quickly joined Vince McMahon’s villainous stable, The Corporation, and had plenty of memorable moments over his lengthy run with the promotion; he teamed with Albert as “T&A”, the team that gave us our first look as Trish Stratus (who was their then-manager), being involved in a romance angle with Stephanie McMahon (before Triple H ruined their wedding by revealing he’d married Steph first, whilst she was knocked out – wrestling is weird) and captured Intercontinental, European and Tag Team gold a couple of times. Test would leave WWE in 2007, perform for a few years in TNA, before passing away in 2009, following an accidental drug overdose. He was only 33 and just four days away from turning 34. Seriously, that’s the second wrestler in a row to die four days before a birthday. Anyone else creeped out?
Test, in my opinion, was thoroughly under-utilised during his time in the WWE. A big man who could move pretty athletically, Test was never going to be a top star, but he definitely deserved better than the lower-midcard position he was given. Test had actually retired from wrestling before his death, wrestling his final match one month before his passing. Like Mabel, Test never got to enjoy his retirement from wrestling, something he was probably looking forward to after years of gruelling work. Had Test not died, I doubt he would have ever come back to wrestling, considering his career didn’t really live up to what it could have been. Again, I don’t think WWE would have been overly interested in reaching out to Test for a return to the company, so he’d likely have faded away from the wrestling world, perhaps making a return to TNA or a smaller wrestling company if he needed the cash. Test’s story is a very sad one and his death is truly tragic. At least now he is at peace.
12 The British Bulldog
Hmm, we have a wrestler who’s from Britain. I know, let’s give him the name “The British Bulldog”. Subtle, WWE, subtle.
Davey Boy Smith, also known as The British Bulldog, is arguably the most successful British wrestler of all time. Making a name for himself in his native land, Smith first signed for the WWE in 1985, teaming with The Dynamite Kid as The British Bulldogs, winning the World Tag Team Championships. He left in 1988, but returned in 1990 for a second run with the promotion. It was during this run that he would have arguably the greatest match of his career; the main event of SummerSlam 1992, held in Smith’s native England, where he defeated his brother-in-law, Bret Hart, to win the Intercontinental Championship in a technical masterpiece. Bulldog was also form part of The Hart Foundation, win European and tag team gold a few times and would main event several Pay-Per-Views, challenging for the WWE Championship. Sadly, Davey’s use of steroids and growth hormones caught up with him in 2002, when he died of a heart attack, aged just 39.
The British Bulldog hadn’t wrestled for a major company for almost two years at the time of his death, but he was actually in training to resume his career just before he passed away. Had this gone to plan and Smith had managed to get himself back into in-ring shape, there’s no doubt in my mind that WWE would have brought him back. He was a reliable hand who had already man numerous returns to the company when they needed him to. Bulldog was a legend in the WWE and the company could have definitely used him to put over some younger guys and the fact that Bulldog was actively training to return to wrestling meant that he was eager to get back in the ring. Davey Boy Smith is one of my favourite wrestlers of all time and his death was an extremely sad affair. At least he’s with Matilda up in Heaven now.
11 Mr. Perfect
Perfect was pretty spot-on in describing this guy.
Curt Hennig was a truly one-of-a-kind performer. Winning multiple titles in the American Wrestling Association (including their world championship), Hennig arrived in the WWE in 1988 as “Mr. Perfect”. His gimmick was a confident jock who was literally perfect at everything; in vignettes he would bowl a 300 game, nailing a hole-in-one in golf, catching his own long-pass in football and several other hilarious moments. Perfect also went on an undefeated streak that lasted almost two years and won two Intercontinental Championships in his time with the WWE before leaving to wrestle for numerous promotions, including WCW and later TNA. In 2003, aged just 44, Hennig was found dead in his home in Tampa, Florida, after an apparent drug overdose.
Perfect was released from WWE in 2002, following a physical confrontation with Brock Lesnar aboard the infamous “Plane Ride From Hell”. However, aside from this, Hennig was on pretty good terms with WWE, so it’s entirely possible that, given enough time, Mr. Perfect could have returned to the WWE again. I’d have loved to have seen Perfect in a managerial role once his wrestling career ended and there’s every chance that could have happened had he not died. At least Curt got the recognition he deserved from the company he gave so much to; he received a video tribute on Raw following his death and was inducted posthumously into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007. Hennig’s death was a truly sad moment for wrestling fans everywhere, especially considering he had so much left to give the wrestling business at the time of his passing. Rest in Peace, Perfect.
Remember that time Umaga and Rosey beat up some lesbians on Raw? God, WWE can be terrible, can’t it?
Eddie Fatu, better known by the ring names “Jamal” or “Umaga”, debuted for WWE as one half of 3 Minute Warning, a tag team of huge Samoan dudes used by Raw GM, Eric Bischoff, to break up any segment he thought was bored of after three minutes. After being released in 2003, Fatu returned in 2005 under the new name of Umaga. In his second run with the company, he won the Intercontinental Championship, crushed several legends and represented Mr. McMahon at WrestleMania 23 in the “Battle of the Billionaires” against Bobby Lashley, the choice of current President of the United States of America, Donald Trump. Yep, this is real life, folks.
Umaga died in late 2009 following a supposedly-drug induced heart attack. He was just 36. He was still wrestling at the time of his death, but had been out of WWE for nearly six months. Umaga still had close connections within the WWE, however; he was a member of the famous Anoa’i family of Samoan wrestlers that includes the likes of The Rock, Roman Reigns and Rikishi (Umaga’s brother), so he still had strong links to wrestling and the WWE. This, combined with his young age and relative popularity, might have opened the door for a WWE return and Umaga could have had another solid run in the company before retiring and moving into a backstage role had he not died or maybe going to work for TNA or New Japan (I think he’d have been a pretty solid fit for the Bullet Club as one of their heavies). However, as you know, this is not the case, as Umaga is currently running rough-shot with hum thumb in paradise. A great talent taken far too early. Rest easy, big guy.
9 Roddy Piper
He’s chewing bubblegum and kicking butt in the sky, now.
What can I say about “Rowdy” Roddy Piper that hasn’t already been said a million times? One of the biggest heels in the WWE in the 1980s, Piper’s antics made him the perfect foil to Hulk Hogan during the early days of Hulkamania and the two even squared off as a part of the very first WrestleMania main event. Ok, Paul Orndorff and Mr. T were in that match too, but we all know this was all about Piper and Hogan. One of the best to never win the WWE Championship, Piper’s pro wrestling career spanned over four decades and several major promotions. He was also a successful film actor, appearing in the cult classic They Live, as well as numerous other movies, although the less said about Hell Comes To Frogtown the better. Piper passed away in his sleep in 2015 at the age of 61, eerily matching his own prediction that he was “not going to make 65”.
Piper had been fairly quiet during the final years of his life, making his last WWE appearance at WrestleMania 31 in a backstage segment featuring former Intercontinental Champions congratulating Daniel Bryan for winning the title. By all accounts, Piper just wanted a quiet life away from wrestling, only making appearances for WWE because he needed the money. Had Piper survived beyond 65, then maybe he could have enjoyed that quiet life after being able to access his pension. Sadly, Hot Rod’s prediction was right and he never lived to truly enjoy his success, which is so sad for a man who brought such happiness and joy to millions of people through his wrestling act. Face or heel, Roddy was a true entertainer and we will never see his like again.
8 Brian Pillman
Maybe the most under-appreciated wrestler of all time? Maybe?
Brian Pillman is best known to WWE fans as the man who threatened Steve Austin with a gun in an infamous segment on Raw in 1996. However, before this, Pillman made a name for himself in WCW. As “The Loose Cannon” Brian Pillman, he set the benchmark for the crazy, unpredictable character in wrestling, partaking in a number of “worked shoot” promos that made him a pretty big name in the company. He was also known as “Flyin’” Brian Pillman before this and was a part of the popular tag team, The Hollywood Blonds, alongside his future rival, Steve Austin. Yes, you heard me, I said “Blonds”. Austin had hair once upon a time.
Pillman passed away in 1997, following a heart attack attributed to an undiagnosed condition. Pillman was only 35-years-old and was still wrestling at the time of his death; in fact, he was scheduled to face Dude Love at WWE’s Badd Blood Pay-Per-View on the very same night of his death. Pillman may not have gotten the main event push he deserved, but he was still a great performer, even after an ankle injury severely limited his in-ring work. Brian would have likely continued working for the WWE had he not died, although it would have been interesting to see how he reacted to the Montreal Screwjob (Pillman was a close friend of Bret Hart’s). Perhaps he would have jumped back to WCW and completed the rest of his career there. There’s no doubt Pillman would be involved in wrestling one way or another, were he still with us, but, unfortunately, all that remains of Brian now is his legacy. But what a legacy.
7 Dusty Rhodes
There will never be another like Dusty Rhodes, daddy.
Dusty Rhodes is easily one of the most popular and recognisable wrestlers of all time. With her everyman’s physique and working-class background, Dusty appealed to the common man, winning over millions of fans during his time in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). In the NWA, Rhodes won dozens of championships, including their World Heavyweight Championship, and engaged in numerous memorable rivalries, including a legendary feud with Ric Flair. Whilst Dusty’s time in the WWE was nowhere near as successful, he still made a huge impact as a trainer and booker for the fledgling NXT promotion, with numerous NXT stars citing Rhodes as one of their biggest inspirations and guides in creating their own success. Rhodes suffered from stomach cancer in his later years and, following a fall at his home in Florida, he passed away in June 2015. He was 69-years-old and left behind a wife and four children.
Whilst Rhodes may not have been an active wrestler when he died, he was still a huge part of wrestling at the time of his passing. Rhodes was a massive part of NXT’s initial success, helping to train some of NXT’s biggest stars and booking some of the top feuds that got so many fans invested in the show during its most popular period. Had Dusty not passed away, there is no doubt he would have remained a part of the NXT machine, continuing to help foster young talent, improve those who were already on their way to stardom and telling some truly brilliant stories in the ring. Dusty Rhodes is one of wrestling’s most legendary figures and his sad and shocking death came far too soon for all of his fans and admirers. Don’t be too sad, though, because Dusty continues to live on through two of his children – fellow pro wrestlers Goldust and Cody Rhodes. Damn, the Rhodes gene pool is a strong one.
6 Rick Rude
Even though he died when I was less than two-years-old, Rick Rude is one of my all-time favourites.
“Ravishing” Rick Rude was one of the most hated wrestlers on the WWE roster during the late 80s and early 90s. The “Ravishing” gimmick involved Rude flaunting his muscular physique, slowly disrobing before the crowd, gyrating his hips and even kissing women (who I really hope were plants) in the crowd. Rude’s obnoxious gimmick got him nuclear levels of heat from the crowd and he played into it like a pro, insulting the “average man” in his promos, calling them out of shape and labelling them “sweathogs”. Rude also worked for ECW and WCW (he is the only man in history to appear on both WWE Raw and WCW Nitro on the same night), winning numerous championships, including the Intercontinental Championship and three WCW International World Heavyweight Championships, a title he defeated the likes of Ric Flair and Sting to win. On 20th April 1999, Rude passed away from heart failure at the age of 40. His death was attributed to an overdose of “mixed medication”.
Rick Rude was a huge star in his day and was one of the most over performers of his generation. It might look like he would have stuck around with WWE, however, things happened in Rude’s career that, in my opinion, would have kept him away. Rude left the WWE for the second and final time in 1997 following the Montreal Screwjob in November of that. Rude was a close friend of Bret Hart’s and felt that the WWE had betrayed him, so he left for WCW not long after the show. It is perhaps this abandonment that meant WWE only inducted Rude into their Hall of Fame in 2017; there was still bad blood between the two parties after all these years. In my view, I feel that, had Rude not passed away, he would have continued his wrestling career, but not in the WWE; I could definitely see him in TNA (maybe as an authority figure) or maybe even Ring of Honor. This would have been a real shame though, because my love for Rick Rude is so strong that I would give almost anything to have seen him strut his stuff down to a WWE ring one last time.
This is going to be sad.
When it comes to female performers in wrestling, there has never been anyone like Chyna. Real name Joanie Laurer, Chyna debuted in the WWE in 1997 and immediately stood out from the rest of the women on the roster, thanks to her msucly physique and imposing presence. A true revolutionary, Chyna would compete with men just as often as she would with women, becoming the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble match, the King of the Ring tournament and would also become the first female to win the Intercontinental Championship, a feat no other female has ever repeated. Sadly, Chyna’s phenomenal run with the WWE was marred by backstage difficulties, potentially stemming from her ex-boyfriend, Triple H. Chyna left WWE in 2001 and was seldom mentioned again until her death in 2016 at the age of 46.
Chyna was an extremely complicated individual and a lot of the issues surrounding her personal problems are shrouded in secrecy, owing to the nature of the people involved (Triple H, Stephanie McMahon Vince McMahon etc.). She also engaged in some activities outside of wrestling that WWE were rather uncomfortable in talking about; she would have a prominent career in the adult film industry following her retirement from wrestling and Triple H cited this as the “reason” she hasn’t yet been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame when he appeared on Steve Austin’s podcast. Owing to all of this, I believe that Chyna would probably still be in exile from the WWE were she still alive today, a truly sad fact, considering how much she gave to the wrestling business. The way women in wrestling were seen changed completely after Chyna came along and there truly will be no one else like her in wrestling history ever again.
4 Owen Hart
Oh lord, it’s getting worse.
Owen Hart, member of the esteemed Hart wrestling family and younger brother of Hall of Famer, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, joined the WWE in 1988, but would only last a year. That was probably due to the utterly crap gimmick he was given; The Blue Blazer, a comedy superhero. Nice one, WWE. Anyhow, Hart returned in 1991 and finally got his career underway properly. Over the course of the next eight years, Hart would win the 1994 King of the Ring tornament, the Intercontinental Championship twice, the European title once, the tag team titles four times and would put on two classic matches with his brother, Bret, at WrestleMania X and SummerSlam 1994. Hart is widelyt regarded as one of the most technically sound pro wrestlers of all time, as well as one of the greatest never to win the WWE Championship. However, sadly, it is not these things that Owen is so often remembered for, but rather the devastating circumstances that led to this death in 1999.
At the Over The Edge Pay-Per-View in 1999, Owen Hart was scheduled to face The Godfather for the Intercontinental Championship. As part of his elaborate entrance, Owen was set to be lowered down to the ring on a set of ropes, only for him to fall from a safe height on his way down in a comical fashion. However, during this stunt, the harness released too early and Hart fell over 70 feet onto the turnbuckle below. He was taken out of the ring for medical attention and was pronounced dead later that night. He was 34. Had Hart not passed away, there is a huge chance he would have gone onto have more incredible matches and maybe even settle into a nice backstage role following his retirement. Bret Hart would have also benefitted, as many sources attribute Owen’s death as one of the reasons for Bret’s sudden change in disposition towards the end of his career. Sadly, we will never know what might have been and Owen’s death remains one of the worst incidents to ever occur within in wrestling ring. Rest in Peace, Owen, you deserved better.
3 “Macho Man” Randy Savage
Is Randy Savage one of the greatest of all time? OOOOOOOOOOHHHH YEEAAAHHHH.
For a generation of wrestling fans, “Macho Man” Randy Savage was the guy. Whilst Hulk Hogan may have always more popular, more decorated and more famous, Savage brought something to table that the Hulkster never could. His charisma, his flamboyant costumes, his incredible in-ring work, all of this put Savage, in my opinion, in a class of his own. A two-time WWE Champion, Savage also won the Intercontinental Championship and the King of the Ring title in 1989. Savage’s career came to an end in 2005, when he chose to retire from pro wrestling following a short stint in TNA (which is enough to put anyone off of wrestling forever). Savage died in 2011 after a heart attack suffered at the wheel of his car. His wife, who was travelling with him at the time, survived the crash, but Savage was killed by the heart attack, passing away at the age of 58.
When Savage died, he was, unfortunately, in WWE’s bad books. According to the rumour mill, Savage had been involved in a relationship with an underage Stephanie McMahon when he was in WWE, although this was never proven. Either way, Savage and the WWE did not see eye-to-eye in 2011 and it was only after his death that the company started to acknowledge Savage again, even inducting himself into the Hall of Fame in 2015. However, in my opinion, were Savage still alive, I don’t think this relationship would have been repaired. There was too much bad blood between Macho Man and the WWE, bad blood that only went away after Savage’s death. If he were still alive, I think the Macho Man would still be blacklisted from the WWE, which is a crying shame, because he was, as he put it himself, “the cream of the crop”, and we are all much poorer without him.
2 The Ultimate Warrior
Definitely the weirdest wrestling death of all time.
Jim Hellwig wrestled as The Ultimate Warrior in WWE from 1987 to 1992, then again in 1996 and for WCW in 1998. We don’t talk about those last two runs. Ever. In his first (and, as far as I’m concerned, only) run with the WWE, Warrior became one of the promotion’s top stars, winning two Intercontinental Championships and pinning Hulk Hogan clean at WrestleMania VI to win the WWE Championship, becoming the first man to hold both the Intercontinental and WWE titles at the same time. Warrior was insanely popular thanks to his incredible physique, manic promo style and boundless energy in the ring, but was apparently an absolute nightmare to work with, resulting in him being fired from the WWE on two separate occasions and essentially blacklisted by the company after he left in 1996. This would change in 2014, but this seemingly-happy moment was soiled by one of the strangest coincidences in wrestling history. Seriously, folks, this is going to get tragic.
The Ultimate Warrior was welcomed back to the WWE the night before WrestleMania XXX, when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. The next day, he appeared at Mania with the rest of his class. The day after that, Warrior appeared in front of the Raw crowd to give a rousing speech, which included the lines “every man’s heart will one day beat its final beat.” After leaving the ring to a huge ovation, he left the ring for what would be the final time. He died the very next day following a heart attack at the age of 54. Despite the truly upsetting circumstances surrounding Warrior’s passing, at least he got to have one last moment in front of his adoring fans and he got back into WWE’s good books before his death. Had Warrior not died, there is no doubt he would have become one of WWE’s biggest nostalgia pops; getting wheeled out at big events to remind everyone of the good old days, a role he could have taken over from Hulk Hogan, following the Hulkster’s banishment from WWE in 2015. Sadly, Warrior never got to fulfil this role, but his legacy will live on forever and the spirit of the Warrior will forever run in the WWE. Let’s just not remember that DVD they made called “The Self-Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior”. Didn’t see that in the Hall of Fame package.
1 Eddie Guerrero
Where to start with Eddie Guerrero? Whether it was his incredible in-ring ability, his phenomenal storytelling or his endless charisma, Eddie was a truly special performer. A decorated performer everywhere from Mexico to Japan to the United States, Eddie won dozens of champions around the world and entertained fans across the globe with his athleticism, power and speed between the ropes. He is perhaps best known for his time in the WWE, where he got over in a huge with his “Latino Heat” gimmick; a lying, cheating and stealing Hispanic character, who won his matches with creative tactics. Guerrero’s popularity won him a grand total of ten championships in the WWE, including the WWE Championship, which he won from Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004 to one of the biggest ovations of any world title win in wrestling history. Eddie’s career was truly astounding, but it was tragically cut short in 2005, when his history of substance abuse caught up with him. Eddie died of a drug-related heart attack at the age of 38. He received two tribute episodes of Raw and Smackdown in his honour and many wrestlers sported black armbands bearing his initials for weeks following his death, a true sign of his popularity and impact on the wrestling industry.
Eddie was still in his wrestling prime when he died, which made his death even sadder. Had he not died, there’s every possibility he could have won another world championship, maybe even more than one, and would have altered the landscape of the WWE as we know it today. When a top performer dies while still employed by a wrestling company, then that company has to drastically change its plans, so who knows what amazing storylines and matches we might have gotten from Eddie had he not passed. Despite the fact that he’s been dead for over a decade, the spirit of Eddie Guerrero lives on in the wrestlers he helped inspire and the fans he gave so much to entertain. His classic bouts with the likes of Brock Lesnar, Rey Mysterio and Kurt Angle will forever serve as a monument to the great man and can be enjoyed by fans for decades to come. Rest In Peace, Latino Heat, we are all far worse off without you here.