The key to any professional wrestling promotion, including World Wrestling Entertainment, is that the action that takes place in an arena is a work. Even during a hardcore match, where traditional rules are thrown out the window and a variety of weapons are often made available for combatants, the idea that the wrestlers participating in the match will take care of each other remains intact. Sure, accidents happen in wrestling as they do in legitimate sports and other walks of life, and such miscues that have occurred during WWE contests over the years have made fans cringe and maybe even wonder if they should consider a different form of entertainment. Wrestling may be seen as a “male soap opera,” but we’re pretty sure actors in shows don’t slice their heads open for effect.
One of several events and/or factors could leave even the most passionate WWE fan cringing following a hardcore match. As was the case with one match spotlighted in this piece, it’s possible the quality of the contest was downright poor. In other instances, the amount of real blood that is shed during the match may have made your stomach feel a bit funny, especially if such visuals disturb you. Perhaps worst of all is when a wrestler forgets his role in the match and seemingly goes out of the way to put himself over even if doing so means endangering his opponent. The last match mentioned on this list may be an example of that, and it’s why it remains a difficult bout to view nearly two decades after the fact.
15 JBL vs. John Cena: I Quit (Judgment Day 2005)
If there’s one thing you’ll learn or remember upon reviewing this piece, it’s that John Bradshaw Layfield was involved in his fair share of blood-filled matches during his run as a main-event act in the 2000s. JBL met up with John Cena for an I Quit match at the 2005 edition of Judgment Day, and both men were left bloody messes when all was said and done.
Cena was opened up by a brutal chair shot to the head, and the leader of the CeNation seemingly spilled buckets of blood in the ring, on JBL and wherever the two battled. The sight of JBL attempting to choke Cena into submission numerous was also a bit cringeworthy. Both men looked exhausted and battered by the time JBL quit, and the heel was sent crashing through a part of the set after he surrendered. Ouch.
14 Pat Patterson vs. Gerald Brisco (King of the Ring 2000)
In what felt, at the time, like an attempt to punish people willing to spend money on a Pay-Per-View event, the WWE booked Pat Patterson versus Gerald Brisco for the King of the Ring 2000 show. If that wasn’t bad enough, the two senior citizens battled in a hardcore match, and they did so while wearing evening gowns.
The visuals, alone, were enough to make you cringe and even feel embarrassed you were watching the product, and the actual match was both terrible and ridiculous. Crash Holly, pardon the pun, crashed the affair via the 24-hour rule that existed at the time, and he ended up winning the Hardcore Championship. You’ll certainly cringe watching this even if it wasn’t all that brutal an encounter.
13 Cactus Jack vs. Triple H (Royal Rumble 2000)
The truth of the matter is that you could probably put together an entire piece on Mick Foley matches and moments that made you cringe and even feel sorry for “Mrs. Foley’s baby boy.” His Royal Rumble 2000 encounter must be featured in this list for numerous reasons. Not surprisingly, the legacy of this match lives on because of the numerous weapons and scary spots featured, and this encounter is one of many from the past the teaches important lessons about why we don’t see unprotected chair shots to the head in 2017.
The two warriors saved the worst spot for last, as Triple H won the encounter after hitting a pedigree on top thumbtacks spread out on the ring canvas. It’s a wonder, not to mention a small miracle, how Foley didn’t lose an eye from that move.
12 Dudley Boyz vs. Tommy Dreamer & Sandman (One Night Stand 2005)
The original ECW was both the best and worst of times, and that tradition continued during the One Night Stand show that ran underneath the WWE umbrella in 2005. The main event that featured the Dudley Boyz taking on the team of Tommy Dreamer and Sandman showcased the good and the bad from the failed promotion. There were run-ins made by numerous wrestlers not supposed to be involved in the encounter, ladders, cane shots and other shenanigans, and the ending included a table being set on fire because of course it did.
The Dudleys powerbombed Dreamer onto the table that had become engulfed in flames, and Bubby Ray earned the pinfall to mercifully end the encounter. This is the first of two matches from that fateful night featured here.
11 Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels: Three Stages of Hell (Armageddon 2002)
Triple H and Shawn Michaels were able to tell some incredible stories in the ring as foes after the “Heartbreak Kid” returned from a four-year hiatus, one caused by a serious back injury, in 1998. Arguably the best match the two had against each other occurred in December 2002 when they fought in a Three Stages of Hell contest, one in which the final fall was decided under the rules of a ladder match.
Probably the hardest moment to watch involved the ending, when Triple H pushed Michaels off the ladder and over the top rope outside of the ring. Michaels fell through numerous stacked tables, and he was fortunately alright in the end even though catastrophe easily could have struck had Michaels missed the mark by even a few inches.
10 Shane McMahon vs. Undertaker: Hell in a Cell (WrestleMania 32)
Shane McMahon earned a reputation for falling from great heights while working as a wrestler during the closing years of the Attitude Era, but the hope was that he would be a bit more cautious of an individual in his mid-40s when he returned to the WWE in 2016 to work a Hell in a Cell match versus Undertaker at WrestleMania 32.
We all should’ve known better. McMahon elected to take his life into his own hands when he decided to attempt an elbow drop from the top of the cage onto Undertaker, who was positioned on an announce table. Undertaker moved, McMahon crashed and burned and fans were left wondering if Shane-O-Mac was alright. McMahon survived, but we hope his days of taking such unnecessary risks have come to an end.
9 Undertaker vs. Big Boss Man: Hell in a Cell (WrestleMania XV)
The hope is that this will be the worst Hell in a Cell match we ever see, because it’s hard to imagine there could be one worse than the encounter between Undertaker and Big Boss Man at WrestleMania XV. From bell to bell, the so-called fight was mild, at best, even though it did involve a bit of blood. Undertaker won with a tombstone in the middle of the ring, but little did fans know, at the time, the in-ring action had only begun.
The “Deadman” motioned above him after the pinfall, and the three members of the Brood descended upon the cell, broke into it and tied a noose around Bossman’s neck. Then, in one of the most bizarre moments in WWE history, the four men hanged -- yes, hanged -- Bossman with the help of the cell, meaning those watching in attendance and via Pay-Per-View essentially witnessed an attempted homicide.
8 Cactus Jack vs. Randy Orton (Backlash 2004)
There may be some validity to the notion that the hardcore match between Randy Orton and Cactus Jack at Backlash 2004 solidified Orton’s status as a true “Legend Killer,” but that doesn’t mean the contest is all that fun to watch 13 years later. Both men wrapped wooden objects with barbed wire, and Jack even threatened to introduce fire to the contest.
The moment often replayed on WWE highlights occurred when Randy Orton attempted to hit an RKO on thumbtacks that had been poured onto the canvas. Jack countered and tossed Orton into the tacks, and Orton, who was wearing only his wrestling trunks and boots, had numerous tacks stuck into his back and arms when he arose. Orton won the encounter, but he paid a big price for that victory.
7 Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar: Hell in a Cell (No Mercy 2002)
While Brock Lesnar and Undertaker battled in multiple memorable matches during Lesnar’s second stint with the WWE, it’s possible their Hell in a Cell bout from the 2002 No Mercy card bested them all. Lesnar injured Undertaker’s arm before the Pay-Per-View, in storyline, and the living legend of the industry used his cast as a weapon to open a cut on Lesnar’s head during the HIAC encounter.
As brutal as that was, the cut that opened on Undertaker’s forehead was even worse. Undertaker bled all over the ring and on Lesnar, and he leaked with such force that blood actually dripped on one of the ringside cameras and was visible via that feed. Lesnar took the win via the F-5, and Undertaker looked like he had been in a legitimate war as he was left laying in the ring a defeated man.
6 Shane McMahon vs. Steve Blackman (SummerSlam 2000)
Shane McMahon is Vince McMahon’s son, but he more than earned a spot on the active roster when he faced Steve Blackman in a hardcore match at SummerSlam 2000. McMahon, the heel in this instance, received some help from Test and Albert, but he was nevertheless left running for the hills and onto a steel structure that was strategically part of the stage’s main set.
Blackman got the upper hand of the fight that occurred on the structure, and he ultimately knocked McMahon an estimated 30 or 40 feet down to the ground. This would’ve been a crazy bump to take for even a trained stuntman, and McMahon was just the son of the promoter who probably wanted to earn respect from wrestlers. He deserved it following this performance.
5 Mike Awesome vs. Masato Tanaka (One Night Stand 2005)
You could include just about any match between Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka on this list, but we went with the bout that occurred at the One Night Stand show that was run underneath the WWE brand. Awesome and Tanaka brutalized each other with far too many unprotected chair shots to the head, and Awesome delivered an “Awesome Bomb” -- a powerbomb -- off the apron of the ring and through a table positioned on the floor.
Probably the craziest bump of the match involved Awesome delivering a running Awesome Bomb over the top rope and through a table onto a floor, a move literally no independent worker should ever even consider attempting. It’s fortunate these two didn’t seriously injure, or worse each other whenever they wrestled.
4 Kurt Angle vs. Shane McMahon (King of the Ring 2001)
The match between Kurt Angle and Shane McMahon from King of the Ring 2001 is equal parts amazing and disturbing. If you’re anything like us, you can probably close your eyes and picture Angle attempting to suplex McMahon through glass windows that were part of the stage set. The glass failed to cooperate more than once, however, and the result was McMahon landing head first, unprotected, onto the ground.
Angle eventually threw McMahon through a pair of windows to make for minutes of action that will forever link the two together so long as wrestling and the WWE exist. Both men bled and sacrificed their bodies in one of the most gruesome WWE matches of the current century, but it was Angle who had his hand raised in the ring.
3 Undertaker vs. Mankind: Hell in a Cell (King of the Ring 1998)
Unless you accidentally stumbled upon this piece after clicking the wrong link, you probably know why the Hell in a Cell match between Undertaker and Mankind from the 1998 King of the Ring is on the list. The video clips of Undertaker tossing Mankind off the cage and through a table, of ‘Taker choke-slamming Mankind through the roof of the cell down into the ring and of Mankind “smiling” as he attempted to stick his tongue through -- yes, through -- a wound on his mouth have aired time and time again on WWE television over the years, and they’ve left a lasting impression upon those who watched the encounter live.
Mankind deserves his own wing in the WWE Hall of Fame for everything he gave to that company and to the business.
2 JBL vs. Eddie Guerrero (Judgment Day 2004)
Any wrestling fan wondering why unprotected chair shots to the head and blading are both outlawed in the WWE as of 2017 need only watch the brutal match between JBL and Eddie Guerrero from Judgment Day 2004 in order to understand the company’s thinking. During a brawl that occurred outside of the ring, JBL destroyed Guerrero with a chair shot that was way harder than necessary.
Guerrero went to draw some juice, but he unfortunately dug too deep and came up gushing blood. The match continued even though Guerrero lost a ton of blood throughout the rest of the bout, but the action following could make you cringe even if the sight of body fluids normally don’t bother you. It’s a small miracle disaster didn’t strike the WWE on this night.
1 Rock vs. Mankind: I Quit (Royal Rumble 1999)
The Rock and Mankind are two of the greatest Superstars in WWE history, but they managed to produce a sickening product during their I Quit match at the 1999 Royal Rumble. Rock handcuffed Mankind’s hands behind his back, and he then delivered numerous chair shots to the head when Mankind had zero protection. The Great One had his hand raised after a recording of Mankind yelling “I Quit” from earlier in the night played as Rock placed a microphone near the face of his unconscious opponent, but the result is not why fans and critics of wrestling speak about the bout to this day.
According to reports, Mankind took 11 total unprotected chair shots, and the controversy surrounding Rock’s treatment of Mick Foley on this night is featured in the movie Beyond the Mat.