There is nothing quite like professional wrestling. A unique mix of sport, entertainment and stunt man-like acrobatics. Unlike anything within those three categories is the fact that wrestling is a year-round gig. In WWE, some superstars have been known to compete up to 300 days a year, unheard of in any other profession let alone any other sport. Not only that but also the countless things that can go wrong, even during what seems like some of the easiest of moves. Wrestlers land on their heads, fall from great heights, or simply just miscommunicate for a vital split second. It takes a tremendous physical toll on the bodies' of those who choose to compete within it.
With the fast and high flying nature of today's product, it would appear to some that injuries are more common in the industry now than they ever have been. But trust me, that's not the case. There is simply a bigger roster in WWE now than ever before, plus a bigger spotlight on injuries and their causes. Injuries always have been and always will be common place in the squared circle, there's simply no avoiding it.
Whether those injuries keep a performer out of the ring for good or not, however, is always up for debate, no matter what the doctors in question might say. This list gives a definitive run down of superstars who suffered injuries, both in and out of the ring, that many of us believed would see them hang up their boots for good, but they defied the odds and returned to fight another day.
15 Ric Flair
Perhaps the greatest professional wrestler of all time to kick off this list. And yes, there was a time that it looked like The Nature Boy might never wrestle again. Very early on in Flair's career, October 4th 1975 to be exact, the sixteen-time world champion was involved in a plane crash. Ric broke his back in three places and was told by doctors that he would never wrestle again.
Despite that, Flair was back in the ring just eight months later. He did have to change his wrestling style up a fair bit, and went from being a 300-pound powerhouse to the Ric Flair we've known and loved for over 40 years. If it weren't for his change following the accident, we may never have had The Nature Boy and the wrestling landscape would certainly look very different today.
Bill Goldberg is certainly known for having somewhat of a temper. The crowd friendly 'superhero' that he currently portrays since his return to WWE for the sake of his wife and son isn't exactly the image he conveyed during his original run. It was this hot headed-ness that almost saw Goldberg's career come to a premature close during a WCW Thunder taping in late 1999.
The former NFL star chased his then rival Bret Hart backstage only for Bret to dive into a limousine in order to make his escape. In a fit of blind rage, Goldberg then plunged his fist through one of the limousine windows. That very poor decision resulted in a very deep wound and an awful lot of blood. Not only did it sideline Goldberg for five months but he was lucky he didn't lose his arm entirely!
There are an awful lot of broken necks in the wrestling business, hence there'll be a fair few featured on this list. The first of which is Lita's. The curious thing about this one is that despite Lita's innovative in-ring style, she did not break her neck in the ring. The former women's champion in fact suffered this injury while filming an episode of Dark Angle back in 2002.
Lita attempted a hurricarana, a move she had performed hundreds of times before, and landed awkwardly resulting in her breaking her neck. The former member of Team Extreme was out of action for over a year, but of course returned and picked up right where she left off. In fact, many of Lita's career highlights came after the injury that almost saw her permanently put on the shelf.
12 The Undertaker
The Undertaker is one of a few names on this list that probably has an array of career threatening injuries to choose from. In this instance, the time that springs to mind is his match with Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XXX. The night the streak came to an end. Early on in the match, Undertaker was inadvertently knocked unconscious and concussed. Conspiracy theorists like to make out that if that hadn't have happened, The Deadman would have gone on to win.
Probably not. However, what it did do was leave Undertaker in a bad shape. As soon as The Phenom made it backstage, he was rushed to hospital. Many believed that would be the last we would see of The Undertaker due to the injuries he suffered coupled with his age, but he of course he made a triumphant return a year later at WrestleMania 31.
11 Seth Rollins
Upon the break up of The Shield, Seth Rollins was given the keys to the kingdom. Triple H took The Architect under his wing. Rollins won Money in the Bank, then cashed it in at WrestleMania 31 to become WWE champion in one of the most shocking moments in the event's history. That would all come crashing down later that year when Seth suffered a devastating knee injury.
During a house show in Ireland, Rollins suffered a severe knee injury as he attempted to powerbomb Kane. Seth tore multiple ligaments in his knee, and it would be six months before he returned to a WWE ring. The worst part of it all is that Seth was still WWE champion at the time and had to relinquish the title due to the extent of his injury.
10 Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle has broken his neck on a number of occasions. The most famous of those breaks, however, is the one he suffered prior to competing at the 1996 Olympic games. Angle, of course, won a gold medal during those games, and as he boasted so very often during his career, he did it with a 'broken freaking neck'.
Not only did doctors recommend Kurt not compete in the Olympics at all, but following the games, they told him that he would never wrestle again. Angle eventually came to WWE following his Olympic triumph in spite of the future that had been predicted for him, and began a legendary pro wrestling career, that will soon be recognized at this year's Hall of Fame.
9 Daniel Bryan
Yes, I know that Daniel Bryan has now retired thanks to a string of injuries, but before all that, there was a period that we thought Bryan's career may have been up before his heart breaking retirement speech in 2016. At WrestleMania XXX, Bryan reached the pinnacle of his career. He defied the odds and won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The fans' jubilation, as well as his, was short-lived. It turned out that a neck problem Daniel had been suffering from was a lot more serious than he and WWE had initially thought.
The recovery time for the required surgery was supposed to be six to eight weeks, however, it became clear soon after that Bryan would in fact be kept away from the ring for a lot longer than that. The now SmackDown Live GM reluctantly gave up the title he had worked so hard for. Bryan didn't return to the ring again until the Royal Rumble the following year.
8 Mick Foley
Yet another name on this list where I could have selected any number of moments from his career. Perhaps more than anyone else in the history of the business. Mick Foley. A man who made himself famous for putting his life and well-being on the line for our entertainment. The moment that makes this list? The brutal ending to his infamous I Quit match with The Rock. Mick refused to utter the words "I Quit" and The Corporation used underhanded tactics in order to win, but The Rock certainly went after Mankind.
The conclusion of this match saw Rocky hit Mick over the head with a steel chair an astounding ELEVEN times. Foley's wife and kids had been in the front row for the show but were long gone by this point, understandably. The beating left Foley with a gash on his head, but it could have been so much worse following a beat down that should have never been allowed to happen.
7 Bruno Sammartino
There are countless stories of wrestlers battling through injuries and fighting on through the pain. Though few are as impressive than the story of Bruno Sammartino and his broken neck. During a match with Stan Hansen in 1976, Bruno fractured a vertebrae in his neck. While that would leave most men and women out for the count, Sammartino fought on. For a further fifteen minutes!
It gets better. After those heroics, the former WWE champion chose not to call an ambulance or make his way to the local hospital, instead he opted to catch a plane and head on home. The Italian Stallion didn't want to alarm his family by being hospitalized and them subsequently having to receive a call about it. An admirable but scary choice made by the champ.
6 Brock Lesnar
You may look at Brock Lesnar now and think he's indestructible. Well, back in 2003, there was a particular incident that may prove that statement to be true. At WrestleMania XIX, The Beast Incarnate had a showdown with perhaps his greatest adversary, Kurt Angle. During the match, Lesnar thought he may be able to put the Olympic Hero away with a shooting star press. Yes, you read that correctly. It was in fact a move that Brock had apparently performed countless times before and nailed it.
Well this time, not so much. Angle was further away from the turnbuckle than Brock had calculated, which resulted in Lesnar landing head first. It looks even more painful than it sounds and miraculously did no damage whatsoever. On another day with another person, it may have killed them, let alone ended their career.
5 Hardcore Holly
Recently, I found myself re-watching the Royal Rumble from 2004. During the PPV, there was a match between Brock Lesnar and Hardcore Holly for the WWE championship. I couldn't for the life of me remember why Holly was in the title picture. But then a little research jogged my memory. Over a year prior to that match, Holly and Lesnar fought in a bout that saw Brock accidentally drop Hardcore on his neck.
The injury he sustained kept Holly on the shelf for a long while, and upon his return, he went straight after Lesnar. At the time, Lesnar was Champion and that's what eventually led to their title match at Royal Rumble 2004. You'd have thought Holly may have won the title as retribution for having his neck broken but alas, not to be. Probably for the best.
4 Triple H
During one of RAW's forgotten matches back in 2001, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho competed in a match against Stone Cold and Triple H. The Game suffered an extremely painful injury. HHH tore his quad which resulted in him being sidelined for the rest of the year and some of the next. In an unfathomable feat of strength, Triple H somehow continued to wrestle on his torn quad, despite any normal human not being able to walk with the same injury.
It took months of painstaking rehab before the Cerebral Assassin could make his famous and triumphant return to action in early 2002. HHH believed that the fans may have forgotten about him during his stint on the sidelines, but the pop he got from that Madison Square Garden crowd upon his return proved him wrong almost instantly.
3 Eddie Guerrero
Before Eddie Guerrero made it to WWE and his career sky rocketed, Latino Heat was involved in a pretty serious car accident. In 1999, Guerrero was out of action, from WCW at the time, following the collision and as a result, the Latino World Order story line sort of just petered out.
Similarly to Ric Flair, the wrestling world would have been a much different place if Eddie's accident back in '99 had been a lot more serious and kept him out of the ring for good. No Latino Heat in WWE. No reaching the top of the mountain and becoming WWE champion. And no lying, cheating, and stealing along the way! Plus, countless stars we watch today may not have been as influenced by him as they are now.
2 Shawn Michaels
We've gone over a couple of heroic tales in this list involving superstars battling on through injury, but maybe none quite like that of the Heart Break Kid. At Royal Rumble 1998, Shawn Michaels competed in a casket match against The Undertaker. During the match, Michaels was tossed out of the ring and over the casket but didn't quite clear it, catching his back. It didn't look serious but it really was.
In fact, it crushed one of HBK's discs and herniated two others. Not only did Michaels finish the match, he continued to compete in others! It eventually led to his retirement but as we all know, nothing could keep The Showstopper down as he returned to the ring four years later at SummerSlam 2002.
1 Stone Cold Steve Austin
You won't see many piledrivers performed in WWE, and Stone Cold's injury back in 1998 is one of the main reasons why. During a match with Owen Hart, Austin received the move and had his head firmly planted into the mat. For a few moments afterwards, Stone Cold was paralyzed. Miraculously, not only did Austin gain feeling back enough to get return to his feet, he finished and won the match!
Nevertheless, it was an incredibly scary moment for both competitors and the fans, it certainly warrants the move being used sparingly in today's product. Despite recovering enough to win the match, it did leave Austin out of action for a while and with continued back and neck problems throughout the rest of his career.