"Don't try this at home" has been one of the WWE's mottos for years, if not the industry at large. After all, these men and women traverse the globe to entertain the dearth of fans who come to the arenas and watch on TV. They've spent years and sometimes decades learning how to work matches and even the best ones still get hurt. Just look at Enzo Amore, the most recent Superstar to be injured in the ring. Simon Gotch went to heave him out of the ring, a seemingly simple move, but between the way he tossed him and the way 'Zo took it, he landed him concussed and on the shelf for a month. Of course, there's also former champ, Seth Rollins, who landed wrong and destroyed his knee.
Naysayers like to say what wrestlers do is fake. Just because victories are predetermined does not mean what they do is any less fake than a ballerina who has practiced since the age of three and unfortunately shatters her knee while doing one of their routines. Her career would be over the same as a wrestler’s might be. Some of our beloved wrestlers have given up their careers due to an injury, while some have their everyday way of life compromised due to a serious mishap.
Here are 15 Superstars who gave their bodies to this business.
15 Shawn Michaels
Once he ascended to main event status, there wasn't a competitor who could match HBK in the ring. Shawn Michaels would have phenomenal matches with anyone the brass would put him in the ring with and he made sure to give well over 110% of himself for the fans. Then along came The Deadman. Long before the their back-to-back WrestleMania saga, we would see them do battle in the first ever Hell in a Cell and then again at a Casket Match at the 1998 Royal Rumble, where Shawn would take an errant backdrop onto the coffin during the match. It was only a matter of time before Shawn, who was burning the candle at both ends at the time, would suffer an injury. Landing on the coffin was that injury. While he would eventually return to action in 2002 and retiring in 1998, he had to grimace through the next few months of his career, with Triple H helping to make sure he'd make to WrestleMania XIV, which was his final match for a number of years against Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Now he's known more for his promo gaffs than his menacing and terrifying ring presence, but to some people Sid seemed every bit his monicker – Psycho. Despite limited ring skill, he still knew how to work a big man's match and it carried him to an exclusive club of men who would hold both the WWE and WCW Championship during his career. In yet another reason WCW went under, the powers that be thought it would be a good idea to have a guy who barely left his feet to adopt a move off of the turnbuckles. Despite disagreeing wholeheartedly, Sid was being a good soldier, and during the World Title match at 2001's Sin, he would climb to the second turnbuckle and try to nail Scott Steiner. Unfortunately, the big man landed all kinds of bad and a gruesome on-camera shot of Sid's foot left the late great Gorilla Monsoon's words in many fans' minds - "the human body isn't supposed to bend like that." Sid tried a few more times on the indies, but he was never the same and decided to walk away.
13 Joey Mercury
As a member of MNM, Joey Mercury had a lot of things going for him. A great, rebellious tag team, John Morrison as a tag partner, and the gorgeous Melina as a valet. Not to mention being featured in pretty good matches with the likes of The Hardy Boyz. Then came Armageddon in 2006, MNM engaged in a Fatal 4-Way Ladder match where of course we know anything could happen to the human body. In this case, Mercury would find that out due to a ladder to the face after Jeff catapulted it into the future road agent, shattering his nose and orbital done. He would make a brief comeback, sporting the ever popular nose guard and again as a member of the Straight Edge Society, but it was nothing to write home about. Mercury decided it best to leave his ring career behind and has since become a trusted agent back stage for the company, most importantly as the unofficial fourth member of The Shield.
12 Rick Rude
During the late eighties and early nineties, Ravishing Rick Rude did something few heels of the day did – he got over. While never becoming a face, his work earned him the respect of the fans and there are some of his peers who still herald his work. Despite being the first guy to carry The Ultimate Warrior to a great match, it became apparent that the WWE was not going to make room for The Ravishing One at the top of the card. So he went down south to WCW and the workhorse carved a path through several of WCW's greats - Ricky Steamboat, Ron Simmons, Dustin Rhodes, and most notably Sting. He and Sting would square off at 1994's Spring Stampede. During that match, Rude would land on the corner of the raised platform WCW used to like to have for their rings, injuring Rude's neck and putting him on the shelf. He was planning a comeback, but sadly passed away before he could step back into the ring.
11 Arn Anderson
No pun intended, but The Enforcer was the workhorse of The Horsemen. While they all could go, he was the guy who started many War Games matches and had to go 45-60 minutes nightly during the mid-eighties Great American Bash tours. While not flashy, Anderson wrestled a hard–hitting, smash mouth style for his entire career. Wear and tear and a few accidents where the ring ropes snapped would leave Arn Anderson hurt. Back in those days, if you weren't on TV, you weren't making money, so those injuries never had a chance to heal. Eventually one day in 1997, while working out, a friend slapped him on the back and he lost all feeling in his left hand. The Enforcer knew his career was over. Emotional speeches being parodied on Nitro aside, one of the most underrated and best ever had to hang it all up and he has been a prominent figure backstage ever since as a road agent, cracking the whip on the sons and daughters of all of his former co-workers.
10 Tyson Kidd
Despite his small stature, Tyson Kidd along with his wife Natayla are seen as solid hands who can have amazing matches with anyone and help workers do what is needed to get them to the next level. As two of the last Dungeon graduates ever, they are both technically gifted inside the squared circle. So when current NXT Champion Samoa Joe came to the company, Kidd was one of his first opponents, not that Joe needed a whole lot of help, but he did need to learn a little bit about working the WWE style. At a dark match on Raw, however, Joe performed a Muscle Buster that sadly lived up to the name and 16 staples, four screws, and a rod were inserted into Kidd's neck in an injury Dave Meltzer equated to Christopher Reeve's. While not official yet, there is a good chance one of the last bricks in The Hart Foundation has seen his final match.
9 Corey Graves
On the indies, the voice of NXT was making a name for himself as Sterling James Keenan. He had memorable matches with CM Punk and Paul London. Then, he came to NXT and was rechristened Corey Graves, as he began making a name for himself along with Adrian Neville as Tag Team Champions. A spot on the main roster was imminent and even documented on the ESPN special. But concussion issues would creep up and the WWE would not medically clear him. As far as the WWE was concerned, his career was over. While he probably could have gone back to the indies and maybe caused more severe damage, he did the smart thing and thought about his wife, three kids, and his quality of life. As we all know due to the same ESPN special, Graves accepted the commentary job Triple H offered him and now Graves is the voice of NXT with a style not seen since the days of Jesse the Body Ventura.
8 Nigel McGuinness
Along with names like CM Punk and Bryan Danielson, Nigel McGuinness was an indy darling of the highest order. The battling Brit worked all over the world, most notably in Ring of Honor. Like many of the guys who came up through ROH, McGuinness worked a strong style that saw him face a lot of injuries over the years, above and beyond the usual bumps and bruises accrued by a pro. In 2009, around the time WWE and McGuinness agreed to do work together, he would suffer a spine injury thanks to a piledriver. He would not be able to pass the rigorous WWE physical tests. He would sign with TNA instead, become Desmond Wolfe and, despite a few classics with Kurt Angle, the injuries piled up and contracting Hepatitis B would end McGuinness’ career. Similar to Daniel Bryan, McGuiness had barely scratched the surface of being a top guy on a major scale and due to health concerns never even got the chance to work for the WWE. Surely he has no regrets, but to hopeful Indy guys now, McGuinness’ tale should be looked at as a cautionary one.
7 Bret Hart
#ItsStillRealtoMe might have been invented by Bret Hart. Growing up as part of one of the biggest and best wresting families of all time will do that to you. Bret was of course trained by Stu Hart, Mr. Hito, and Kazuo Sakurada in Japan and while it's all choreographed, Bret has always prided himself on never injuring a fellow competitor and taking the business seriously. Which is what makes Bret's career-ending injury all the more tragic. At Starrcade 1999, Bret would defend the WCW Championship against Goldberg, who Bret wanted to work with and help make a better worker and bigger star. During the match, Goldberg went for one of his devastating kicks, but unfortunately it landed on The Hitman and gave him a concussion. The tough-as-nails Canadian tried to carry on, but it ended the legendary career of the Hall of Famer.
He fought all over the world against the likes of Ric Flair, Rick Rude, Hulk Hogan, and The Great Muta. The Icon, Sting, for over 25 years was THE one guy who had never come to the WWE. The one guy who made a name for himself elsewhere. It look nearly 30 years for The Stinger to make it to the WWE and sadly the only history making moment for the guy was in September of 2016, when the legendary Hall of Famer became the first Superstar to be hit by the violent injury bug that plagued the entire company as they became forced to limp into WrestleMania 32. During a WWE World Heavyweight Championship match against Seth Rollins, The Architect would deliver his grisly looking turnbuckle powerbomb. Ever the consummate professional, he would do his best to finish the match and even grimaced through a top rope plancha to the outside. Fans still holding out hope for that fabled Sting/Undertaker WrestleMania match will never get to see it unfortunately, as The Stinger's injury would force him to announce his retirement during his Hall of Fame induction this year.
5 Mick Foley
On a list like this, you know Mick Foley is gonna be on it. More or less since the day he started, Mick Foley would perform a scintillating elbow from the apron to the floor - something never before seen in the early days of Foley's career. Mick's smash-mouth, hardcore style that has been heralded by an entire generation saw Cactus Jack bleed on just about every single continent, lose an ear, and be used as a human pincushion countless time. But rigorous destruction of the human body can only last for so long. Wear and tear on the human body, most notably during Hell in Cell matches, and receiving way too many unprotected chair shots over the years, especially during his I Quit match with The Rock, couldn't have helped either. Beloved for his work rate, commitment, and heart, Foley's is a cautionary tale of a hardcore wrestling lifestyle. Foley was never able to get his ear attached, has scars all over from hellish wars, and walks with a permanent limp.
Edge’s early career saw him have to crawl and scratch to get to the top. Getting next to zero mic time with The Brood but having stellar matches with The Hardy Boyz certainly helped to get him to the dance. But because he wasn't instantly labeled a main eventer, he had to take many risks which many might think were unnecessary, with all of the TLC matches he would compete in. Even at the top of the card, he would continue his hard-hitting, smash mouth style. But it would cost him his career. Several months prior to WrestleMania XVII, he began feeling numbness in his arms, which doctors would diagnose as Cervical Spinal Stenosis. Obviously docs would not clear the Rated–R Superstar for fear of paralysis or worse. While he had planned on retiring a few years down the road anyway, the fact that the choice was made for him was heart breaking. But Edge literally got to go out on top as World Heavyweight Champion, something few can say.
3 Daniel Bryan
Back in February, the career of The American Dragon ended. After almost a full year of Daniel Bryan trying to convince the WWE that he could still go, Vince McMahon and the Wellness Program did the 100% absolute correct thing and told the Yes Man no. While all of these injuries are heart-breaking, Daniel Bryan's might be the most heart wrenching. Wrestling, after all, was the only thing the man had ever done in his adulthood life and his peers considered him one of the best. Fans caught on and an entire movement was started to make sure the WWE recognized his skill and gave him the chance at the top of the card. He finally got there, only to be put on the shelf after years of injuries piled up, most notably concussions. Hopefully, he'll decide to come back as an agent and help the next generation learn the ins and outs about the business.
In 1998 at ECW's Heatwave, American fans caught a glimpse of Hayabusa as he teamed with Jinsei Shinzaki (Hakushi) against RVD and Sabu in one of the best tag matches of the day. While mainstream fans stateside never got to see too much of Hayabusa, in Japan, he is part of a legacy that is much revered throughout the community. In the states, fans who are in the know respect him as much as Jushin Liger or The Great Sasuke. The aerial master would attempt a springboard moonsalt, a move he had done countless times in a match against Mammoth Sasaki. Only this time, he lost his footing, and landed on his head, breaking two vertebrae and becoming paralyzed. While nowhere near as important as a man's ability to walk, FMW, the company he helped to legitimatize, also slowly folded under the weight of not having their top star anymore.
There's no telling what could or could not have been with Droz, as he sadly didn't get to wrestle for very long. He began his career in 1998 and was even a brief part of Beyond the Mat, as we all got to see the day he got signed. Watch it just for hearing Vince McMahon commentate on Droz's ability to puke on command. He was given a prominent role on Raw as a member of The Legion of Doom and then later with Albert. Clearly, the company had something invested in the guy and thought he had a big upside. But one fateful night in 1999, at a SmackDown taping, Droz took a powerbomb from D-Lo Brown which unfortunately showed exactly what kind of damage a real powerbomb could do to a man. Droz was left paralyzed from the neck down and a career was cut down in an instant. However, more importantly, the man's life was forever changed because of one bad botched 'bomb. The boys know it could end just that easily and that's why they work very hard to learn how not to have these things happen. But as we all know, accidents can happen.