Wrestlers are often annoyed by the fact that outsiders assume everything is fake — that includes injuries. True, some guys are faking injuries, but too many other times, workers have to put up with real injuries on a daily basis. There have been plenty of occasions when such injuries come at a terrible time and ruin big pushes. Finn Balor is a key recent example as his great push and plans were marred by his injury, as he was forced to give up the Universal title. He’s not alone, as many guys are hit by bugs — and too many are changed by it.
Sometimes, it can work. Shawn Michaels is famous for coming back from a back injury to be even better than ever in the ring. Others are able to keep up after harsh injuries and still be stars. But others are changed majorly, forced to switch up their styles and look like a different wrestler. Often, an injury can have long-term effects that can cut a career short or take it in other directions. Here are 15 workers who were never the same after a hard injury, proving how dangerous this business truly can be.
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15 Lex Luger
It’s been easy to slam Luger as a bad worker but his early stuff was good. He was a muscular and strong man but learned how to get into ring shape quickly and became a good worker. Luger’s issues with WCW are famous as he was denied numerous runs at the top before finally getting the belt and doing a good job. In 1992, he was going to be the star of the World Bodybuilding Federation only to suffer a serious arm injury in a motorcycle accident that led to an iron plate in his forearm. Returning to WWE in 1993, he was at first the Narcissist and then pushed as an All-American face. Luger was a bit slower, more into power moves and was worried about using that injured arm too much. His attitude was rougher too (not helped by WWE’s bad booking of him) and while he had some new life in WCW, it just wasn’t the same. Luger’s fire for the business faded a lot as his career went on and that injury just sped up his fall into a worse worker.
14 Daniel Bryan
It’s one of the most bittersweet stories in all of wrestling. For years, Bryan Danielson had been hailed as a terrific worker in ROH, and many fans wanted to see him wind up in the WWE. He finally made it there but was fired due to a public overreaction to an attack. Hired back, he was riding high and soon won titles; but the WWE, however, was reluctant to put the big belt on him. Eventually, they couldn’t resist the fans collective voice, so Bryan finally got to reign as champion in 2014. But just weeks after this, Bryan was badly injured and lost feeling in his arm. He had to endure neck surgery and subsequently surrendered the title. He eventually returned but wasn't quite the same worker as he was rougher in the ring, something that ultimately played a part in WWE's booking of him. As it turned out, another bad neck injury would hamper Bryan and force him into retirement. While it was an unfortunate circumstance that ended his career, it was for the best for Bryan's future.
Goldberg’s rise is truly one of the best things WCW ever did. Taking off as this unstoppable monster, he demolished all competition en route to winning the US and then World titles with an unbeaten streak along the way. He was hot as hell, even after the streak ended and pushed more into major programs with top stars. In late 1999, Goldberg was clashing with the latest version of the New World Order and chased them to a limo. The idea was for Goldberg to use a lead pipe to smash a window but he insisted on doing it for real. This led to a massive gash across his forearm, so huge that he came within a millimeter of losing his arm. On the shelf for months, this injury harmed Goldberg’s image of invincibility, and WCW didn’t help by booking him with a bad heel turn when he came back. His work afterward wasn't the same as he was a bit more gun-shy at times and not as powerful as he had once been. This would lead to his poor work in WWE as he just didn’t have the same magic anymore. It wasn't only his physicality, but his aura, too, was harmed by this injury, making Goldberg less of an attraction than he once was.
Adam Copeland had always wanted to be a wrestler and was eager to make it. After paying his dues in Canada and WCW, he finally got his calling to WWE and broke out nicely as Edge. After tearing up the tag ranks with Christian, Edge moved to singles work, soon taking off as Intercontinental champion, starring as both face and heel. In late 2003, he suffered the first of what would be several neck injuries that required surgery and put him out. When he returned, Edge had to shift up a bit, slower in the ring but still insisting on using the spear as his finisher despite the damage it could continue to do. The results spoke for themselves as Edge would require numerous surgeries over the next several years, often forced to give up a title because of them and each comeback rougher than the previous one. It finally culminated with Edge forced to retire for good.
11 Christopher Nowinski
One of the breakouts of “Tough Enough,” Nowinski got attention for being a graduate of Harvard and would use that for his act. It was a good one, as he was pushed as a true genius while mocking “stupid” opponents and backed it up with a good in-ring style. He was rough around the edges but the potential was clearly there, as he looked ready to rise in a feud with Tommy Dreamer. But at the 2003 Royal Rumble, Nowinski suffered a bad bump that led to a fall and a legitimate concussion. While he seemed okay at first, it was soon clear he’d suffered major trauma, unable to handle himself in the ring as well as he used to. He seemed out of it in some cases, and with reports of him suffering fainting spells backstage, the company eventually had to let him go. It was sad to see a promising career cut short by a bad fall.
10 Brian Pillman
Pillman’s story is one of caution for wrestlers today. In the ring, he was utterly amazing, able to do leaps off the top rope to an opponent halfway across the ring and mixing it with great technical work. He was a star as a light heavyweight in WCW, and eventually formed a great tag team with a young Steve Austin known as the Hollywood Blondes. However, in 1993, Pillman suffered a leg injury that forced the Blondes to give up the belts, and unfortunately, he raced too quickly to come back from it. It changed him, as he was no longer able to do high flying moves. This was key to him in his “Loose Cannon” act that blurred the lines and led to him getting a big contract with WWE. However, just before he started, Pillman was involved in a horrific car accident that nearly killed him. Thus, the man who wrestled in 1997 was a shadow of himself as he struggled to replicate the wrestler he was earlier in his career. Worse, however, was how it affected Pillman mentally, as addictions would plague him, eventually leading to his death in October of that year.
While she had some minor attention in ECW, it wasn’t until 2000 when Amy Dumas was considered a major player with the WWE. With her lush red hair, great outfits and tattoos, Lita was an instant sensation, soon rising from just a valet to a great wrestler in her own right. She was noted for moonsaults off the top rope, going as extreme as her counterparts in the Hardy Boyz. Ironically, it wasn’t in the ring that she suffered her major injury, as Lita fractured her neck while shooting a fight scene for the TV show “Dark Angel.” It put her on the shelf for a year and when she returned, she had to cut out the flips, to the dismay of the audience. It also meant less wrestling, as Lita transitioned from in-ring competitor to a valet/manager-type character.
8 Marc Mero
It’s a shame fans in WCW would chastise Mero for his ridiculous Johnny B. Badd gimmick. Made up to look like Little Richard, the act had major gay overtures with Mero coming out in colorful clothing, putting plastic lips on opponents and a having a blaster of confetti. The fact was, Mero was a pretty great worker, as he athleticism and ability from the top rope excited fans. In 1996, he joined WWE as “Wildman” Marc Mero, winning the IC title but then suffering a leg injury. When he returned, Mero remade himself into more a boxer, fighting it out with others which was depicted from his real-life stint as a boxer. While the character itself didn't work out, Mero did bring his wife Sable into the forefront, making her one of the biggest draws of the Attitude Era.
7 The Rock
Dwayne Johnson openly laughs at how he looked when he debuted for the WWE in 1996. Pushed as a babyface “blue chipper,” Rocky Maivia was a quick guy who had an emphasis on a flashy move set while mixing in some power. The fans loathed him with the infamous “Die Rocky Die” backlash, a chant that built up in cities across the states. Hell, even a run as IC champion couldn’t help stop the hatred. As fate would have it, Rocky suffered a serious knee injury that put him out for a time. When he returned, he was forced to cut down on his high flying moves and become more a brawler. It led to a new edge that transformed him into The Rock, an arrogant heel the fans soon came to love. It’s still amazing to see the transformation from fast babyface to the well-muscled man we know today and how this was one injury is what led the charge.
6 Triple H
Contrary to what many might think, Triple H was always going to be a star, with or without Stephanie McMahon. It was clear from the start, as he was a fantastic in-ring worker who was also strong on the mic. Working with DX boosted him to major stardom, but his leg injury in 1998 cut some of that back. His slower, methodical style that he had to adopt, however, is what catapulted him into the main event scene. Then in 2001, HHH basically tore his quad right off the bone in a tag team match, putting him on the shelf for months. While he would continue with his championship runs afterward, it was obvious that Triple H had slowed down as he was not as great in of a technical wrestler as he once was.
5 Kerry Von Erich
The tragedies of the Von Erich family are well known. While amazingly talented, the brothers suffered from a variety of issues like drug addiction and father Fritz doing too much in protecting them. Kerry suffered a lot, looking terrific in the ring but hampered by his drug issues. In 1986, Kerry was driving his motorcycle without his helmet when he wiped out and shattered his leg. As World Class badly needed him, Kerry raced to a comeback that was ill-advised and ended up doing far more damage. Eventually, the doctors were forced to amputate the foot and Kerry, forcing him to wrestle with an artificial limb. Amazingly, that was kept a secret for years but clearly Kerry was hampered, as he was a much different talent inside of the squared circle.
4 Joey Mercury
Here’s a key reason WWE does those “do not try this at home” warning ads. Mercury was a great partner for Johnny Nitro, the two joining with Melina as MNM and dominating as WWE Tag Team champions. At Armageddon 2006, they were part of a surprise four-team ladder match for the Tag Team titles that naturally became a wild brawl. The two were double-teaming Jeff Hardy in the corner when Matt Hardy came to attack. As Matt held their heads together, Jeff leaped off the tope rope onto one end of a ladder, sending the other end into MNM’s faces. Mercury took it dead on as the ladder smashed right into his face, resulting in a broken nose and orbital bone. Raced to the hospital, Mercury needed over 30 stitches and lost seventy percent of his vision in one eye. Naturally, he was never the same in the ring and was eventually forced to retire to a management position.
3 Nigel McGuiness
After breaking out in Ring of Honor, McGuiness looked to be on a fantastic roll. He was a terrific worker with amazing ring skills while also having quite a strong presence on the mic as well. He held the ROH World title for 545 days, taking on all comers and shining wonderfully. In 2009, he suffered a serious arm injury, one that required surgery; Nigel, however, refused. That did cost him as his later ROH work wasn’t the same quality as he was hampered by the arm injury. Signed to TNA, he became Desmond Wolfe and did well but kept from the title scene due to various issues with management. It also kept him from his full potential, as his matches with Kurt Angle were good but not quite the classics that were expected. It took its toll on McGuiness, as he was eventually forced to retire in 2011.
2 Steve Austin
When Steve Austin debuted in 1990, everyone knew he was a star in the making. He was a great heel, terrific on the mic and a fantastic worker. Austin could hold his own in technical ring work as well as brawling, as he was a skilled worker in a variety of different ways. His heat built up more during his time in WCW and ECW, and once he made it to the WWE, it was only a matter of time before his "Stone Cold" character came to the forefront. His 1996 Survivor Series battle with Bret Hart was a terrific technical affair as Austin showcased himself as the total package. But at SummerSlam 1997, Austin suffered a broken neck from a botched piledriver at the hands of Owen Hart. It’s amazing he was able to come back as quickly as he did, but unfortunately, his style was changed. No longer a great technician, Austin had to rely on more of a brawling skill set. It also led to long-term issues, as Austin needed time away to deal with his neck issues, cutting his career shorter than many expected.
1 Mike Von Erich
Going back to the Von Erich's Mike may be the most tragic of the entire family. He never wanted to be in the wrestling business but was pushed into the business by his father. While he was decent in the ring, his lack of passion was more than apparent. In late 1985, Mike suffered a shoulder injury during a tour of Israel. This led to a bout of toxic shock syndrome that led to brain damage and nearly killed him. It was obvious Mike was never the same, and pushing him back into the ring as “The Living Miracle” was a horrible decision. It took its toll as Mike killed himself in 1987, just adding to the list of the many tragedies surrounding the Von Erich wrestling family.
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