In the mind of every professional wrestler, the risk is always worth the reward. Fame, fortune, and fandom await the men and women who stand on top of the sports entertainment mountain. In a world where only the strong survive, it appears the only survivors are the combatants who are willing to risk life and limb.
But in the current state of professional wrestling, some might argue that's not the case.
With on-the-job hazards like flying chairs, flaming tables, and rabid fans, the talented folks who inhabit the squared circle are constantly urged to go further, get bigger and fly higher. That accelerated pace, along with their grueling year-round schedule, has seen many a sports entertainer derailed by their physical limitations.
It can be from years of hard work or a single second of misfortune. In the world of suplexes and slams, one wrong move can be all that can stand between a long career, and "what might have been."
In recent years, many wrestlers have ended up fading to obscurity because of a blown shoulder, broken bones or a bad back. That doesn't even factor in lady luck and poor health decisions, either. With potentially thousands (or even millions) of dollars on the table, the disabled list can not only affect your performance in the ring, but your bottom line as well. That's not even mentioning the long term side effects of a haphazard wrestling style and the painful future it could hold.
Grab the Band-Aids and pass the aspirin. Here are 15 current pro wrestlers who need to take better care of their bodies:
Dubbed by the WWE as The Man that Gravity Forgot, Neville shot to notoriety by infusing a high-energy ring style that the company hadn't seen in quite a while. However, he's had a few bumps and bruises along the way, including a nasty knee injury during a match with Chris Jericho. His aerial act always makes him a crowd pleaser, but he's made no friends recently. He made his presence, and his new attitude, be known when he returned to attack the unsuspecting Rich Swann.
He's now fully-healed and returning to terrorize the little guys as a top heel in the company's new cruiserweight division. Neville has the chance to stake his claim to true greatness. That is, provided he doesn't end up back on the shelf any time soon.
14 Ric Flair
Stepping away from the ring in his time back with the WWE, Ric Flair has hosted episodes of his own wrestling podcast recently. That's good news for fans of The Nature Boy, who had grown concerned with the septuagenarian taking bumps and bleeding buckets just a few years ago during his ill-received run in TNA. While keeping Flair away from the ring is good for his body, there have been concerns that being inactive has had a negative effect on the Champ psychologically. He was removed from WWE television for a time and rumors of accelerated drinking circled the internet. Several sources reported that even Triple H himself was concerned about the 16-time world champ.
At his age, many of his most dedicated followers wish the Nature Boy would just simply SLOW DOWN. For the fans that love him, Flair is a treasure. However, many have begun to question if Flair's wild social life may eventually catch up to him, now that he no longer has an active in-ring career.
13 Zack Ryder
Can Zack Ryder catch a break, please?
The up-and-down career of Ryder took another strange turn when he was recently laid-up with another injury. His groundbreaking YouTube angle now an almost forgotten part of the past, Long Island Iced Z rebounded in 2016 to capture the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 32. He promptly dropped the belt back to its caretaker, The Miz, but the victory got fans excited about him again.
Not long after being put back in his place, Ryder began to repackage himself as the tag team partner of Mojo Rawley. And while The Hype Bros aren't a top of the card tag team, they've gained popularity among the WWE Universe.
Then suddenly, fate fired another shot to Ryder's career when he blew out his knee during a match on SmackDown with The Wyatts. It's a shame, too. Ryder is generally liked by the fans,and has an appreciation for the game. If he can make the changes to his routine or ringwork to stay active, he could forge a long, productive career somewhere on the card for years to come.
12 Sasha Banks
Revolutionizing the women's division can be hard work and Sasha Banks has been one of the main architects of the revolution. During her long-running title feud with Charlotte, Banks took bumps that female wrestlers had never performed before. During their historic Hell in a Cell match, Banks essentially sold Flair's moves for the majority of the match.
WWE is 'banking' on the Sasha-Charlotte dynamic to be be the face of the women's division for a long time to come. But for that package to work, Banks has to stay healthy. She has been sidelined. Some may suggest that the ladies in the women's division might want to tone things down and save a little for later. That could start with Banks toning it down in the ring a bit to prevent any freakish injuries.
11 The Undertaker
The Deadman is getting close to winding down his in-ring career, with most observers thinking this WrestleMania will be his swan song. Watching the former powerhouse dark lord slowly hobble to the ring is no longer intimidating, it's actually more sympathetic.
Long time fans of The Undertaker don't want to see his skills decay any further. It's time to throw some dirt on his active career, before he buries his legacy.
His legend has been cast. His greatness is undeniable. And, his name, ironically, echoes of both terror and joy. So, there's no reason for him to destroy his accomplishments any further. It's time for Mr. Calaway to trade in the his hat and gloves and ride off into the sunset. For his sake, as well as his loyal fan base.
10 Jay Lethal
Update: Jay Lethal has not signed a contract with World Wrestling Entertainment... YET.
The one non-WWE performer on the list, Lethal has long been considered one of the top stars to never wrestle under the McMahon umbrella. Lethal recently inked a two-year extension with Ring of Honor Wrestling, so fans will have to wait even longer to see him on either Raw or SmackDown. In that time span, Lethal will add to his mat resume, while taking a chance every time he enters the ring. He matches his incredible ring talent with a cool confidence behind the microphone, so he'll eventually be a perfect fit for the entertainment-based WWE. Here's hoping he suffers no injuries during the duration of those two years and he is still spry enough to sign a contract in Stamford around the year 2019.
9 Chris Jericho
It's a given that Chris Jericho will go down as one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time and he always appears to be in pretty good physical condition. So, why does he make the list? Because as the most entertaining presence on RAW, Y2J can't leave us anytime soon. As he continues to evolve his cocky, rock star character, the audience clamors for more. Jericho keeps hinting at retirement, but many fans don't want him to step away from the sport just yet.
A healthy Jericho on the roster can assist in the development of young talent, as he has shown in his current pairing with Kevin Owens. Here's hoping his body doesn't betray him, so he can stay around a little longer than expected.
8 A.J. Styles
A.J. Styles didn't make it to the WWE until he was nearly in his 40s (unless you count a few dark matches for the company when his career was in its infancy). He's circled the globe, wrestling for nearly every major promotion before appearing in McMahonland at last year's Royal Rumble.
So for a guy who has a lot of mileage on him, The Phenomenal One may want to tone down his high-wire act to ensure career longevity. Styles has been a virtual 'iron man' throughout his wrestling career and now as the top dog of WWE, he will want to get as many quality matches in, as he finishes the golden years of his wrestling prime. Make no mistake, Styles is the best in the world right now and the WWE's crown jewel, and the company will go to great lengths to protect their investment. If he's careful in the ring, Styles could establish a decade of dominance as 'the face that runs the place' in WWE.
7 Sami Zayn
He may be portrayed as fearless, but Sami Zayn might want to show better judgement in the future. His devil-may-care style and willingness to mix it up with super heavyweights could cut short what appears to be a promising career. As his star was on the rise in WWE, Zayn suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him briefly, as well as having MCL problems during his time in NXT. A high octane high flyer, he's always at risk for potentially re-aggravating those past maladies.
Recently in storyline, Zayn has feuded with former friend, Kevin Owens, engaging in a stiff, hard-hitting series of matches. Now, he is serving as the crash test dummy for the human waterbed known as Braun Strowman. While you have to admire Sammy for his courage, it's hard telling how much those big bumps will come back to haunt him in the years to come.
6 Finn Balor
Finn Balor walked into the WWE in 2016 to a huge ovation, unveiled the coolest new character in wrestling (his alter ego, The Demon King), and proceeded to become the first ever Universal Champion in the company's history. Along the way, he suffered a shoulder injury at the hands of Seth Rollins that has sidelined him up until present time. Unfortunately for Balor fans, his ascension as a mainstream superstar seemed to end just as it had gotten started.
Contrary to misconception, Balor is no spring chicken. Finally achieving stardom in the States at the age of 35, he has to return to action and show fans that his international reputation isn't all hype. In the land of giants, he will have to prove that a good little man can truly carry the ball for the world's biggest wrestling company. A long, uninterrupted run at the top would cement his place in North American wrestling lore.
5 Dean Ambrose
Dean Ambrose seems to have faded back a bit after his run as the WWE World Champion. Perhaps it's because his reckless style makes him a candidate for injury. While his sense of abandonment in the ring thrills WWE fans, his devil-may-care attitude could be a recipe for disaster. Ambrose has suffered multiple injuries since joining the WWE and now finds himself standing behind newcomers like A.J. Styles.
He's losing ground in the pecking order of the company and can't afford to waste any time. He's already stepped down to a secondary role as the new Intercontinental Champion. That essentially guarantees he will be out of the world title hunt for the next few months. Any extra time away from the main event would be detrimental to the career of a wrestler who is already at a bit of a crossroads.
4 Seth Rollins
Like his former partner in The Shield, Seth Rollins has suffered multiple, nagging injuries throughout his WWE career, with the most significant being a knee injury that resulted in major surgery in 2016. While his progress and rehabilitation have been well documented on WWE television, it seems Rollins has lost a little of the steam he had during his initial heel run as the World Champion. Let's face it, at one point he was getting the rub from Triple H as his handpicked titleholder. If he ever plans on being the company's clear-cut, number one guy again, he will have to prove to management that he can stay healthy. If not, he may fall back as a former champion who is on the outside looking in. (see: Ziggler, Dolph)
3 Becky Lynch
The Irish Lass Kicker is the type of nickname that sounds pretty indestructible, but Becky Lynch has certainly seen her fair share of bad breaks. Originally cast as one of the main stars of the revamped women's division, Lynch has recently been passed by both Charlotte and Sasha Banks in terms of popularity. Bayley isn't far behind, either.
So what happened to Lynch? While her plucky, Emerald Isle charm plays well to the audience, her in-ring style can seem, at times, careless. The end result? Multiple concussions, as well as being forced to skip the No Mercy pay per view in 2016 due to injury.
As she turns 30, Lynch might want to invest in a more ground-based, European style. She has a chance to be a young veteran leader in an inexperienced locker room, but can't fill that role if she's not an active competitor.
2 Randy Orton
The Master of the RKO doesn't like to talk about his ouchies, but the fact that he gets hurt a lot is obvious to fans. Sidelined numerous times with chronic shoulder injuries since joining the 'E' in 2002, Orton seems to always end up on the sidelines when he should be establishing himself as an icon. Stories swirled last year that he actually tweaked a shoulder while taking out the trash at his home. If that's true, then it gives fans an indication of how delicate Orton's situation potentially is.
Rumor has it that one of the biggest factors in giving John Cena a major push over The Viper several years ago was the fact that Cena was consistently healthy. Now tagging with Bray Wyatt, Orton seems to have found new life and even better, someone to carry some of the physical burden. Perhaps in 2017 he will avoid the kind of injuries that come...out of nowhere.
1 Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens can talk. Kevin Owens can wrestle. But, can Kevin Owens diet? Probably the most frustrating thing about the talented grappler from Canada is that he has shown little dedication to fitness. He has all the right moves in the ring, and is one of the most entertaining talkers in the sport. However, his physique looks more like he's been slamming cheeseburgers, instead of his opponents.
Owens has the tools to have a fine career at the top of the card, but until he achieves more of 'the look', his detractors will always dog him. Some slight changes in his conditioning would not only quiet the critics, but ensure a longer, more productive career. Hopefully, he will forego the fork, in favor of fitness, in the years to come.