Professional wrestling is one of the most physically, mentally and emotionally draining industries you’re ever likely to encounter. Throughout the course of any given career for either a superstar or a fan you’ll probably experience heartbreak, ecstasy, disappointment and frustration ten times over – and that’ll be within the first 12 months alone.
Because of this we, the WWE Universe, have had to endure some of the most heartbreaking scenes in the history of the business. Whether it be live in person, watching on television or just catching up on YouTube, everyone has felt the emotion and heartache created by the entries on this last. That’s not a prediction either, as Paul Heyman would say: that’s a spoiler.
Some of you reading this may not have resonated with these moments as strongly as others, but that’s okay. Everyone reacts to these kind of things differently and that may sound like we’re trying to talk you through the five stages of grief, which is ironic considering how many deaths unfortunately feature on this list.
We can all debate the decisions made by WWE on a weekly basis when it comes to things like who the World Champion is, but in moments like these we all come together as one and celebrate professional wrestling for what it is – a beautiful, wonderful and devastating art form.
15 Eddie Guerrero’s Death
Viva La Raza. Eddie Guerrero was one of the most charismatic superstars in all of WWE, with his undeniable talent on the mic being bested only by his in-ring abilities. Over the course of his career, Eddie was known as a cruiserweight, a comedy star, a liar, a cheater, a stealer, and finally a WWE Champion after defeating Brock Lesnar in 2004 for the gold.
All of this and more is why pro wrestling was so heartbroken to learn that Guerrero had passed away in late 2005. After finding out about the news, WWE decided to dedicate the next edition of Monday Night Raw to Eddie’s memory, with the broadcast being full of dream matches and emotional tributes from superstars and friends alike.
14 Taker Retires HBK
Following The Undertaker’s victory over Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV, the world of pro wrestling was sat in stunned silence after what they’d just witnessed. These two legends of the business put on the greatest match of all time, and everyone was clamouring to see a sequel somewhere down the line. Twelve months later, we got our wish.
In the famous streak vs career bout at WrestleMania XXVI, the Heartbreak Kid threw everything he had at the Deadman but it just wasn’t enough. Following a spiked tombstone piledriver Taker pinned his longtime foe Michaels, retiring him in the process. To this day it’s one of the most poetic moments in the company’s history, and it’s about as close to Shakespeare as they’re ever going to get.
13 Jerry Lawler’s Heart Attack
Back in 2012, Jerry Lawler was still a part-time wrestler for WWE, occasionally throwing on his tights in order to step inside the squared circle and entertain the masses. Unfortunately for The King, the decision to keep going came back to haunt him on an episode of Monday Night Raw when, after wrestling a tag match earlier in the night, Jerry collapsed at ringside.
There was a noticeable silence on commentary before Michael Cole began to update fans on Lawler’s condition, with many fearing the worst. It was a terrifying moment to experience live as the WWE Universe didn’t know whether or not Lawler, who was delared clinically dead for 20 minutes, would survive. As we all know he thankfully did, and looks better than ever almost five years on.
12 Daniel Bryan Retires
The leader of the Yes Movement, Daniel Bryan, provided us with some of the best moments of the last decade on WWE programming, which included his triumphant World Title win at WrestleMania XXX. Unfortunately the fairytale wouldn’t last all too long, as Bryan was struck down with a neck injury that required him to vacate the belts just a few months after capturing them.
Fast forward to less than two years later, and Bryan was giving a heartfelt retirement speech on Monday Night Raw. It was a huge sucker punch for his legions of supporters, with the tribute video being enough to send any grown man to tears. He thanked his wife, his dad, his family and the WWE before riding off into the sunset with one final "YES!" chant.
11 The Undertaker Fades Away
Despite the Streak ending back in 2014, The Undertaker continued to wrestle on and off for another few years at events like Mania and SummerSlam. To many fans, it seemed as if no matter how many times we thought he was going to walk off into the sunset, he’d always come back and surprise us with one more match at the showcase of the immortals.
That is, until this past April in Orlando when Roman Reigns defeated the Deadman to award him his second loss at WrestleMania. Following the defeat, Taker laid his trademark hat, gloves and robe in the ring before kissing his wife and descending into the darkness. As Mania went off the air, grown men were in tears as it quickly became clear that we may never see the Phenom again.
10 Edge’s Retirement
The "Rated R Superstar" Edge was only really in the main event scene for a period of five years between 2006 and 2011, but boy oh boy, did he make it count. The multi-time World Champion achieved things that few could’ve expected, thrusting himself into being known as one of the top stars in all of WWE. Alas, past injuries would eventually catch up with the former tag team star as he entered the back end of his career.
Following his successful defence of the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXVII, Edge learned that he needed to retire from in-ring competition due to his health. What followed next was an outpour of tributes from fans around the world, with the man known in real life as Adam Copeland giving his farewell address on both Raw and SmackDown.
9 JR Announces Owen Hart’s Death
Owen Hart was an extremely underrated talent within WWE, with many people choosing to instead focus on the talents of his big brother Bret. So when the Hitman left for WCW, many of Owen’s supporters felt as if this was his chance to step out of the shadows and finally shine on his own. As we now all know, that didn’t come to fruition.
During Over The Edge 1999, Owen was set to descend from the rafters in an amusing skit as his Blue Blazer character. Unfortunately, an issue with the harness caused Hart to fall to his death, with the most heartbreaking moment of all being when Jim Ross had to announce to the live audience watching at home that the former IC Champion had indeed passed away.
8 Montreal Screwjob
No matter what anyone says Bret Hart really is the best there was, the best there is and the best there ever will be. In fact, we’d bet good money that Vince McMahon was well aware of that back in late-1997 when he decided to screw Bret out of the WWF Championship. Oh, and for those of you who have been living under a rock, this wasn’t a storyline.
Bret was on his way to WCW but refused to drop the title to Shawn Michaels in his home country of Canada. Vince, worried that the Hitman would take the belt over to WCW Nitro, decided to take matters into his own hands by screwing Hart out of the championship. It’s a murky issue to this day, but at the time it was heartbreaking to see the lengths that Vince would go to in order to protect the business.
7 Jeff Hardy Leaves WWE
This one may seem like an odd selection, but given the events it led to, we believe it’s earned a place on this list. Back in 2009, Jeff Hardy was embroiled in a feud with CM Punk for the World Heavyweight Championship, when it soon become public knowledge that he had picked up another Wellness Policy violation and would be leaving the company.
Everyone knew that Jeff had struggled with drug issues in the past, and when he delivered his farewell speech, fans were devastated to know that he’d let his demons get the better of him once again. Fast forward to two years later and Jeff, who was booked in for a World Title match against Sting, showed up intoxicated to a TNA pay per view event.
6 The Streak Ends
There were three things in life that were certain back in 2014: death, taxes and the Streak remaining intact. The Undertaker had gone more than two decades without losing on the grandest stage of them all and it seemed as if his run of victories would continue on for many years to come. That is, until the Beast Incarnate stepped into the ring with him.
Following a third F5, Brock Lesnar pinned The Undertaker in the middle of the ring, sending shockwaves through the WWE Universe and beyond into the mainstream media. Nobody could quite believe what they were witnessing, with fans young and old breaking down at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as their childhood was finally put to rest alongside the Deadman’s famous streak.
5 Connor The Crusher Dies
Never before has a fan captured the hearts and imagination of professional wrestling quite like Connor the Crusher. The youngster was suffering from medulloblastoma, which would eventually take his life. Despite this Connor, didn’t let the disease get the better of him, lighting up any and every room that he would enter.
After many appearances alongside numerous WWE superstars, Connor unfortunately passed away in April 2014, just a few weeks after seeing his hero Daniel Bryan reign supreme in the main event of WrestleMania XXX. The company subsequently created a tribute video to Connor, which still brings tears to our eyes to this day. Rest in power, Crusher.
4 Chris Benoit’s Murder-Suicide
Chris Benoit is arguably one of the greatest technical wrestlers to ever step foot inside a wrestling ring, with the Rabid Wolverine putting on some truly outstanding matches over the years in both the main event and the midcard. It seemed as if the veteran could do no wrong, until the summer of 2007 when he single-handedly turned the wrestling industry upside down.
Benoit killed his son, his wife and then himself over a three-day period in what is one of the darkest moments in the history of WWE. The former World Champion was believed to have had the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer's patient, which supposedly occurred due to years and years of undiagnosed concussions and head injuries.
3 Heenan Says Goodbye To Gorilla
Bobby Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon, together, are one of the greatest commentary duos in the history of professional wrestling. The only other partnership that realistically rivals them is Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, with Bobby and Gorilla having an undeniable chemistry that was adored by fans all over the world. Unfortunately, we all knew that one day it would have to come to an end.
Which, in itself, is pretty heartbreaking – but the real gut puncher came when Gorilla Monsoon passed away in late-1999. In response, his longtime partner and friend Bobby Heenan spoke about Gorilla during a broadcast of WCW Monday Nitro. Towards the end of the clip, Bobby was clearly quite distressed, and we as fans were right there alongside him.
2 HBK Retires Flair
It became obvious heading into WrestleMania XXIV that Ric Flair would be riding off into the sunset, with Shawn Michaels set to be the man who put the final nail in the coffin of his legendary career. Following a stunning match between the two men at the Citrus Bowl, HBK uttered those famous words of “I’m sorry, I love you” before superkicking the Nature Boy into retirement.
What followed, however, was the unbelievably emotional tribute to Flair on Monday Night Raw. Legends of the business from past and present came out to bid him farewell, including The Undertaker, who even broke character for one night only in order to give respect to the man who gave so much to the business. Despite everything that’s followed, this was both a heartbreaking and a heartwarming moment for all.
1 Dusty Rhodes Passes Away
Dusty Rhodes had a legendary career within the business as a performer, but perhaps his biggest asset is the work he’s done over the last decade or so down in NXT. Rhodes was a father figure to so many of the superstars that performed in developmental, with many of them recalling how the American Dream would refer to them as his “NXT kids.”
So naturally, his passing and the subsequent tribute to his life was extremely hard to take. Whilst many of us many not have interacted with Dusty on a personal level, we all feel like a part of his family because that’s how he made us feel. He was passionate, heartfelt and everything he did felt special. Thank you Dream, for everything you’ve done for the business.