A big knock against WWE is that they do not plan their storylines in advance. While they rarely may have long term plans in place for their storylines and Superstars, WWE more often than not plan on a week to week basis. In some cases, WWE may not know what to do for their programming until hours before their shows. To be fair, it's hard to blame WWE for having this sort of mentality. After all, there are so many combustible elements to consider while strumming up a storyline that it is impossible to predict that every single detail will go perfectly according to plan. For starters, fan reactions have to be considered. If fans do not respond kindly to a storyline, that storyline may have to be scrapped weeks or months before it is originally planned to. Same goes for Superstars. WWE may have plans for a wrestler to be a big-time face, but if they keep getting overwhelming heel reactions from audiences every week, WWE may have to consider turning them heel. Well, unless you're Roman Reigns that is, where you get to be a babyface for the rest of your career no matter how badly you get booed.
Anyway, the worst thing that can happen during a storyline is when a Superstar gets injured before that program could kick into high gear.
Real life injuries are perhaps the most unpredictable circumstances for any wrestling storyline and could throw all plans out the window at a moments notice. Whether the injuries be short-term or long-term, last mere weeks or several months (and in some unfortunate cases, the injuries are career ending), WWE must make drastic changes to the storyline immediately. This may include incorporating the injury into the active on-screen storyline or replacing the injured competitor with a more healthy and able one. Unexpected injuries have proven to be detrimental to the fluidity and storytelling of an angle, while in some cases vastly improve angles for the better. Here are some instances where real injuries in wrestling changed the script for on-screen program.
15 Cody Rhodes' Face Injury
After being drafted to the SmackDown brand in 2010 off the heels of the Legacy stable disbanding, Cody Rhodes unveiled his brand new Dashing gimmick. The gimmick saw him play a narcissist who was obsessed with his own good looks. On the January 21st, 2011 episode of SmackDown, the Dashing One had his good looks dashed in a match where Rey Mysterio's exposed knee brace collided with Rhodes' nose, legitimately breaking it.
While it was only a minor injury that saw Rhodes out of action for about a month, Rhodes took the opportunity to repackage his gimmick and become "Undashing". Under this new gimmick, we saw a much more distraught and unhinged version of Rhodes blame Rey for his good looks being shattered and being forced to wear a protective mask, which he used to win matches on occasion. This led to a Rhodes versus Mysterio match at WrestleMania XXVII, which Rhodes won, and then an impressive Intercontinental Championship run. It was one of the better characters that Rhodes brought into the WWE stratosphere.
14 Edge Vacates Belt
It's almost ironic to think that Edge was given Mr. Kennedy's Money in the Bank briefcase because there was concern that Kennedy would be out injured for a long time when in reality, it would be Edge who would go down with the severe injury. After cashing in on The Undertaker's title, Edge went on to successfully defend the title against Batista at three straight Pay-Per-Views.
Edge's next challenger for The Great American Bash was set to be Kane. Meanwhile, Batista had started a feud with The Great Khali that would have led to a one-on-one bout at 'The Bash. Unfortunately for Edge, his left pectoral muscle was torn after an encounter with Kane on the July 20th episode of SmackDown and Edge was forced to vacate the title with an injury. The next week, Khali won the title in a 20-Man Battle Royal. On short notice, Kane was added to the Batista and Khali program and the three fought for the title in a Triple Threat at The Bash, where Khali retained.
13 HBK's Return
At King of the Ring 2002, when Triple H had a confrontation with his Kliq buddies (now nWo members) Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash, it was teased that The Game might join the stable in the future. However, this was actually the beginning of the building blocks of a feud between Triple H and the nWo that eventually would have led to Trips facing Nash at that year's SummerSlam.
Before that storyline had a chance to kick into high gear, Nash would tear his quad shortly after KOTR in a tag match and would be out of action for a year. Plans were changed for Triple H to turn heel, feud with Michaels, and the two had a Street Fight at SummerSlam. This worked out for the best given how the one-on-one match went so well that HBK regained his confidence to return to the ring full time for almost a decade.
12 The Rock's Character Turn
Upon first entering WWE, Rocky Maivia was not as beloved by the fans as WWE would have hoped. Fans felt like the company was shoving the third generation Superstar down their throats and even started receiving "Die, Rocky, Die!" chants not long after winning the Intercontinental Championship shortly after debuting. He got the kind of reaction that Roman Reigns gets today.
Apart from his lineage, Rocky didn't have a character. He needed to find his niche somehow and after taking to the sidelines following a knee injury in April 1997, he had the opportunity to do just that. Stepping aside allowed him the opportunity to take a step back and find himself as a wrestling character. When he returned in August, he was a heel, joined the Nation of Domination, and started calling himself The Rock. Fans noticed this drastic change immediately and within some months of showcasing the character's new charisma, fans started to naturally gravitate towards him. It helped The Rock become a fan favorite and "The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment".
11 Rey The Opportunist
In 2005, Batista was on fire in the WWE having defeated Triple H at three straight Pay-Per-Views and moving on to bigger and better things on SmackDown. Unfortunately for Big Dave, his 2006 was off to a rocky start that saw him suffer a right triceps injury following a house show encounter with Mark Henry on January 6th. This forced The Animal to vacate the World Heavyweight Championship which he defended proudly since the previous year's WrestleMania.
As some already know, this would lead to Kurt Angle being drafted to SmackDown for a babyface run with the belt before losing it in a Triple Threat match at WrestleMania 22 to Rey Mysterio, who won the title in honor of his late friend Eddie Guerrero. On Rey's part, it's a rather touching underdog story, but it likely wouldn't have happened if Batista never got hurt. Original plans called for Batista to walk into 'Mania as Champion defending against former Evolution stablemate, Randy Orton. These plans started getting teased as far back as Survivor Series 2005 and the two even had a backstage staredown at WM 22 to compensate for not having a match.
10 John Cena's Injury Leads To Three Rapid Title Changes
During the tail-end of summer 2007 and in the early fall season later on, WWE Champion John Cena would enter a feud with who would become his longstanding rival, Randy Orton. Their feud was meant to culminate at No Mercy when they were booked to face off in a Last Man Standing match, but on the go-home RAW show beforehand, Cena suffered a pectoral muscle tear during a match with Ken Kennedy after executing a hip toss. It didn't help that right after the match, Cena suffered a beatdown from Orton that included an RKO on the announcer's table, further aggravating the tear.
Cena's year long reign came to an end via a vacancy that wasn't filled until the Pay-Per-View. No one knows if Cena would've retained or not had he wrestled, but one thing is for sure, the original plans were not for the title to change hands three times that night. That is exactly what happened at the PPV as Orton was awarded the championship by Mr. McMahon, then lost it Triple H in an impromptu contest to Triple H. After Trips won his scheduled match against Umaga afterwards, The Game lost the title to Orton in a Last Man Standing match main event later that night.
9 Ryback Gets A Chance Cause Of Cena's Injury
Another Cena injury which changed plans drastically came in 2012 during his feud with WWE Champion CM Punk. The two were expected to face off for the title in a Hell in a Cell match at the PPV of the same name. Weeks beforehand, Cena suffered an arm injury and wouldn't be able to make the event.
Around that time, Ryback had been undefeated since debuting in April of that year. Since WWE didn't have any other credible babyfaces which posed a believable threat to Punk's title, Ryback took Cena's spot. Ryback went from having squash matches against jobbers every week to entering the main event picture. He fought Punk at the PPV, but lost his first match after referee interference. Ryback and Punk would wrestle again at Survivor Series, this time with a returning Cena in the mix for a Triple Threat, but Punk would retain again thanks to the debuting Shield.
8 Emma's Injury Changes Dana's Plans
Shortly after WrestleMania 32, Emma had returned to the main roster with the protege she met in NXT, Dana Brooke. The two were set to be RAW's new heel duo of the Women's Division and their early sights were on a feud with Becky Lynch, but not long after, Emma suffered a back injury.
Since WWE still wanted a top heel female duo, the rookie Brooke was paired with Women's Champion, Charlotte. This was a big break for Brooke who went from debuting on the main roster in a starter feud to being in a big program with the top champion. This alliance would continue until early 2017 when the two split and Brooke became a babyface. Around the same time, Emma returned to in-ring competition and entered a feud with Brooke. Unfortunately, that feud has been put on hold as it seems like Emma suffered another injury at a live event.
7 Dolph Ziggler's Injury
When he cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase the night after WrestleMania 29, the bodacious heel in Dolph Ziggler received a roaring babyface ovation upon winning the World Heavyweight Championship. One can argue that this response turned him babyface to begin with, but Dolph continued being a heel in the weeks afterwards.
However, after going down with a concussion, WWE were persuaded to embrace the love for Dolph. At Extreme Rules, Dolph was set to defend his title against Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger in a Triple Threat Ladder Match, but after Dolph had to take the night off for the concussion, the match was made into a one-on-one I Quit Match between Del Rio and Swagger. Then, a month later at Payback, we saw a double turn between Ziggler and Del Rio where Ziggler fighting through his injuries turned him into a bonafide babyface underdog while Del Rio cheekily taking advantage of Dolph turned him back into a heel.
6 Ken Kennedy Missed Championship Opportunity
When Mr. Kennedy won the Money in the Bank briefcase at WrestleMania 23, there were big expectations in place. Months beforehand, he had racked up some impressive wins against former World Champions and Kennedy was expected to win a World Title himself at one point. He was slotted to cash in his title opportunity against The Undertaker on the May 8th episode of SmackDown, but right beforehand, Kennedy sustained a triceps injury.
Kennedy was expected to be out for five to seven months, but it turned out this injury was merely a hematoma that Kennedy could recover from in a week. However, when WWE panicked about the injury early on, they had Kennedy give up his briefcase to Edge, who cashed in on Undertaker. Edge and Taker would go into a year long program that included a main event spot at WrestleMania XXIV. One wonders if Kennedy would've been in that spot had he not gotten injured.
5 Magnum T.A.
In the 80s, there was a time when Magnum T.A. was one of the biggest stars in all of wrestling. He was quickly growing into the bonafide face of the NWA and was guaranteed to become a future World Champion within the company. Just as there were plans made for Magnum T.A. to win the United States Championship for a third time before being groomed to topple Ric Flair for the World Heavyweight Championship at Starrcade 1986, his career would come to a screeching halt following a career ending car accident.
Magnum T.A. was lucky enough to survive the car wreckage, but was advised to never wrestle again. NWA booker, Dusty Rhodes, was prompted to replace T.A.'s role as top babyface with Nikita Koloff. Koloff was a heel when he battled T.A. in T.A.'s final feud, but Koloff explained on television that he gained respect for T.A. during their Best of Seven Series and wanted to fight in his honor. He entered the program with Flair and nearly defeated The Nature Boy at Starrcade '86 before a double disqualification took place.
4 Finn Balor's Injury Pushes Kevin Owens
When it comes to Superstars who have the worst luck, Finn Balor would probably rank high atop that list. When first called up to the main roster from NXT, the Demon King led a wave of momentum behind him. On his first night on RAW, he defeated the company's crown jewel, Roman Reigns, to win himself a match against Seth Rollins to dub the inaugural Universal Champion at SummerSlam 2016. Balor would win, but halfway through the match, he injured his shoulder following a powerbomb into the barricade from Rollins.
Despite popping it back into place and continuing the match, Balor was forced to vacate the title a mere 24 hours after winning it. It was reported that had Balor not got injured, he would have entered a feud with challengers Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho; first defending against Owens at Clash of Champions and then both Jeri-KO members at Hell in a Cell for a Triple Threat. Since this never came to fruition, Kevin Owens would win the title in a Fatal Four Way the week after Balor vacated it, then hold it for an impressive five months.
3 Triple H's First Injury Leads To Face Run
On the May 21st, 2001 edition of RAW, The Two-Man Power Trip defended their Tag Team Titles against the team of Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. Early into the match, Trips tore his quadriceps muscle after running in to break up a submission from Jericho. Being a real trooper, Trips continued the match until the very end, but at the cost of aggravating his injury further.
The injury nearly ended The Game's career, but after an extensive rehabilitation, he returned in January 2002 to win the Royal Rumble and then defeat Jericho for the World Championship in the main event of WrestleMania X-8. Originally, WWE had planned for that Mania's World Championship match for a heel Triple H to take on a face Stone Cold Steve Austin after their Power Trip broke up. Since Triple H was expected to return to a hero's welcome after enduring a terrible injury, he would've needed to be face and after the Invasion angle, Stone Cold's heel run was considered a flop. Therefore, plans for the match were scrapped entirely.
2 Triple H's Injury Changes WM Main Event Plans
At New Year's Revolution 2007, Triple H and Shawn Michaels battled longtime rivals Rated RKO for the heel duo's World Tag Team Championships. 15 minutes into the match, Triple H re-injured his right quad and the match ended to an abrupt no contest because of it. Not only was DX expected to win the titles that night, but Trips himself was inked in to move on to face John Cena for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 23. The plan was for the two to have a rematch from the previous year's WrestleMania and Triple H would get his win back from the Doctor of Thuganomics.
It wasn't to be and Shawn Michaels filled in for Triple H instead, leading to a title retain from Cena. Michaels being a replacement also threw a monkey wrench into the Battle of the Billionaires debacle. Originally, having defeated Vince McMahon at the previous 'Mania, Michaels was going to wrestle on behalf of Donald Trump while King Booker would've wrestled on behalf of McMahon. With Michaels out, his role was filled by ECW's Bobby Lashley and Booker was replaced by Umaga.
1 Seth Rollins/Triple H Feud
Ever since the mentor turned on his protege in late 2016, it had been teased that Seth Rollins would go toe to toe with The Game, Triple H, at WrestleMania 33. When early 2017 rolled around, it looked like that match was coming to fruition. However, that match was in jeopardy when Rollins re-injured his knee during an attack from Samoa Joe just weeks before Fastlane, the penultimate PPV on the road to WrestleMania.
However, WWE decided to turn this inconvenience into a blessing. With a slight chance that Rollins could heal in time for 'Mania, the entire storyline between Rollins and Trips shifted from the basic master versus student storyline into a more suspenseful story surrounding if Rollins could make it in time for the event. Thankfully, Rollins did just that and proceeded to slay The King of Kings at the "Show of Shows".