Being sick sucks. Runny noses, constant coughing, feeling like you could pass out at any minute…nobody likes it when they get a cold. The only thing worse than being sick is working sick and the more physical your job is, the more true that statement becomes. Having a cold can kick your butt so bad even the more routine every day tasks can feel almost impossible to perform and that only intensifies if that daily routine involves kicking some butt yourself.
Athletes are like anyone else in that occasionally their bodies get sick, and their bosses aren’t always entirely understanding about it. In team sports, a franchise can survive even if the star player misses out on a game or two, but in a one-man sport like professional wrestling, a small cold can destroy months of build if it comes at the wrong time. Of course, wrestlers get sick all the time just like anybody else and, for whatever reason, a significant number of them have tried to push themselves through it and continue to work regardless of how crummy they feel.
Certain wrestlers are going to pop up on this list more often than others, either showing a tenacious spirit saying being sick won’t bring them down or a tyrannical boss who refuses to let them take time off, depending on which side you look from. One thing for sure is that all of these men and women deserve credit for managing to perform one of the hardest hitting and physical strenuous jobs imaginable while battling some sort of fever. Keep reading to learn about 15 wrestlers you never knew worked when they were seriously ill.
Looking at the history of the WWE Intercontinental Championship, the short two-day reign of The Mountie in January of 1992 stands out as an especially peculiar choice. Jacques Rougeau was talented enough as a wrestler, but his silly caricature gimmick didn’t exactly lend itself to a serious reputation in the title scene. It makes more sense when you hear the full story, which is that Bret Hart was wrestling with a 100+ degree fever during the match he lost to Mountie and the company wanted to get the title off the sick Hitman prior to the Royal Rumble. At the Pay-Per-View, the new champ defended against “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and lost the belt. Unlike the other entries on this list, there has been significant debate to whether or not this particular fever was real or if the whole thing was a ploy to cover a contract dispute between Hart and WWE. While the fever might in fact have been kayfabe to explain Mountie winning, the contract dispute stuff is far more questionable and this isn’t the place to discuss it anyway.
WrestleMania is such an iconic name in sports entertainment that even appearing on the card can be an honor and wrestling in the main event for the WWE Championship is pretty much the greatest accomplishment a wrestler can achieve. Because of this, matches contested to see who earns that shot have sometimes been even better than the Mania main event itself, as was the case on February 25th, 2013, when John Cena battled CM Punk in what many critics called the best WWE match of the year. The two warred for a grueling 27 minutes that ultimately saw Cena hit Punk with an Attitude Adjustment for the win. Most impressive of all, Punk was apparently battling the flu during the encounter, though it in no way seemed to hold him back. At least not at the time, that is, as this will later cover how working sick in matches like this ultimately lead to Punk quitting wrestling altogether.
Wrestling while sick is obviously no fun for the sick person, but it can easily be significantly worse for the person they’re wrestling against. Aside from merely opening themselves up to the risk of having the disease spread to them, anyone wrestling a sick person faces the possibility their cold can cause them to make a horrific mistake. Such was the case in September of 2002, when Brock Lesnar wrestled Hardcore Holly on SmackDown while suffering the flu. Holly contrived a slightly convoluted spot where he would flip out of a power bomb, but the timing was slightly off, possibly because of Lesnar’s illness and instead Brock dropped him flat on his head, breaking Holly’s neck. Holly spent the next 13 months on the injured list. To his credit, he never blamed Brock for the botch, especially with the knowledge Brock was working sick when it happened.
With the way he jumps around the ring, Rey Mysterio could probably cause a person to experience motion sickness just by watching one of his matches. Add food poisoning to the mix and the results are too disgusting to even imagine. According to Mysterio, he experienced this first hand on an episode of Raw in October of 2012. Rey wasn’t too specific about which match he was talking about, though he made it very clear he was forced to wrestle while he had food poisoning, a fact he didn’t realize until the match was underway. Once he got backstage, the situation was so severe that he had to go to a hospital and was further taken off television for several weeks afterwards. Based on the timeframe he was talking about, our best guess is that the match in question was Rey and Sin Cara against The Prime Time Players, which took place October 8th, and after which Rey took two weeks off to recover.
Wrestling undergoing a women’s revolution is a good thing in almost every way imaginable and yet with complete and total equality comes the most minor setbacks, i.e. women have recently started working sick in WWE, as well. The only incident we know of thus far came in late March of 2016 when the WWE Divas Champion Charlotte Flair worked Raw despite flu-like symptoms. That evening, Charlotte wrestled and defeated Natalya in a non-title match. The same week on SmackDown, Charlotte lost a match to Sasha Banks, presumably still feeling some residual discomfort from her illness. The women’s revolution truly was responsible for Charlotte feeling the need to work through her cold, considering it occurred on the road to WrestleMania 32, where she won a triple threat match that retired her Divas Championship and revived the Women’s Championship.
Sickness has a tendency to come at the worst time possible, like when you’re about to compete in a physically strenuous reality show. Well, maybe not everyone has experienced this particular difficulty, but it happened to Ryback, back when he was still calling himself Ryan Reeves. Long before Ryback was asking fans to feed him more, he was trying his hand at becoming a WWE superstar on Tough Enough, all the while getting mocked by trainer Al Snow for his profuse sweating while eating. According to Ryback, however, the unusual amount of perspiration was caused by the fact he had bronchitis during the contest and, on top of that, he contracted pneumonia right as things were wrapping up. Though Ryback was ultimately eliminated from the competition, he eventually recovered from the illness and the embarrassment to become the superstar we know him as today.
It should go without saying that everyone on this list who worked sick did so under a certain degree of duress. Even those who made the choice entirely on their own had the fear that something bad could happen to them if they took a sick day, and yet CM Punk had it much worse in that he apparently didn’t have a choice in the matter. In addition to the aforementioned episode of Raw where Punk wrestled with the flu, he later claimed to have been sick during the 2014 Royal Rumble, as well. Fans will no doubt recall this Rumble was infamous for being Punk’s last match in the company, as he dramatically walked out of WWE during a backstage dispute the next night on Raw. While being sick wasn’t quite at the top of Punk’s list of reasons for leaving, it was definitely a factor and had WWE given his immune system time to recharge, he may still be wrestling today.
It’s somehow fitting that if CM Punk wrestled sick when he lost to John Cena in a match that determined who would challenge The Rock at WrestleMania, then Cena would be sick when it came time for Mania. Granted, the two events were more than a month apart, so it couldn’t have been the same flu that took Punk out. In fact, Cena later claimed he was suffering from bad food poisoning during the Twice in a Lifetime match at WrestleMania 29. Cena was also wrestling with a broken thumb, but that doesn’t quite compare to the constant agony that bad food can bring. Technically speaking, Cena was getting over the illness by the time Mania rolled around, as the worst of his illness apparently came the Wednesday before the event. Food poisoning is bad enough he still felt some residual effects at Mania, though, going so far as to cite his illness as the most difficult part of the whole ordeal.
Nothing kills a cult leader’s power quite like them looking weak and revealing gross humanity in front of their followers. Unfortunately for Bray Wyatt and his family, that’s exactly what happened to him during a dark match after the February 16th, 2015 episode of Raw. Wyatt was particularly lucky the match went untelevised, as he allegedly threw up all over the ring after being hit with an Attitude Adjustment. WWE has been known to run some gross angles over the years, but this particular case seemed to be real, especially considering it wasn’t getting televised. Surprisingly, it seems like Wyatt’s schedule didn’t slow down in the slightest around this time, as he was back on Raw the very next week. Maybe Sister Abigail has some cure to the common cold we’re not aware of…
Compared to the rest of this list, Edge is somewhat lucky in that his experience wrestling while seriously ill at least occurred during a tag team match. Granted, it was one of the fastest and most critically acclaimed tag team matches in history, making things incredibly difficult for Edge that evening (and possibly even more impressive in retrospect). The match in question took place at No Mercy 2002, and was set to crown the inaugural WWE World Tag Team Championships, then on the SmackDown brand, and these days representing Raw. Edge teamed with Rey Mysterio against the tandem of Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, creating a 20+ minute classic for the ages. Everyone in the match pulled his weight, which for Edge was enough to make him later claim he felt like throwing up all over the front row, not an unusual statement considering he was suffering from the flu at the time.
Sibling rivalries never die and thus it feels comically appropriate that during one of the most highly regarded battles between Bret and Owen Hart took place while the former was getting over a severe case of strep throat. Brothers don’t stop fighting just because one of them is sick and, if anything, it worked for both Bret and Owen’s character that Bret would try and work through his disease, while Owen used it to take any advantage he could. The two wrestled so many times they may have done so while sick more than once, so we’ll clarify this time we’re talking about the legendary steel cage match at SummerSlam 1994. Todd Pettengill acknowledged Bret’s illness on screen, albeit only for The Hitman to claim it wasn’t going to hold him back, a fact he proved correct when winning one of the greatest matches in SummerSlam history.
The superstars on this list to work through illness did so because they didn’t want to disappoint their fans, their bosses, or even themselves. Considering his reputation for putting on the best show in wrestling coupled with a record-setting hometown crowd of more than 60,000 fans, Shawn Michaels was going to need more than a mere illness to stop him from giving his all against Psycho Sid at the 1997 Royal Rumble. The match was a rematch from the Survivor Series two months earlier, where Sid defeated Michaels for the belt in an unexpected classic. The Rumble match was nowhere near as good, largely due to the fact Michaels was suffering from the flu at the time. Still, he couldn’t let down his fans, making it all the more curious when he did just that and “lost his smile” only a month later, but that’s another article for a different day.
Despite featuring two huge stars fighting for the Undisputed WWE Championship, the main event of WrestleMania X8 had a lot going against it. The Rock and Hulk Hogan had already stole the show and pigeonholing Stephanie McMahon into the proceedings only made champion Chris Jericho look weak and confused against the challenger, Triple H. Making things even worse for Jericho, he also claimed to be suffering the flu during the match. Tempted though Jericho must have been to pretend he got the disease from Stephanie, instead he kept things quiet in his disappointing loss to her husband. Fans have long cited the match as one of the weakest main events in WrestleMania history, more so due to the issues with Rock/Hogan than anything else, but given how sick Jericho was at the time, it probably wasn’t going to be a classic in the first place.
Wrestling rumors are often highly creative and the truth is usually far less imaginative than anything they could create. The prevalent rumor surrounding In Your House: Final Four, the February 1997 WWE Pay-Per-View, was that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was slated to win the WWE Championship in the main event, only for a knee injury to cause Vince McMahon to call an audible and have Bret Hart win the match. The real story is that Hart was always going to win and that knee injury of Austin’s might have had an underlying cause in the fact he was suffering from a terrible stomach bug at the time and had been throwing up profusely backstage all day prior to the show. According to Bret Hart, Austin was actually so ill that he could barely talk, though he didn’t seem to have any problems yelling at Dok Hendrix during the show itself. Chalk it up to Texas Rattlesnake adrenaline.
Now that the list is almost over, we’ll be honest about something: the two previous Bret Hart entries, plus the one Shawn Michaels entry, have been a little controversial because they were mentioned on WWE programming at the time. Everything acknowledged on television could be mere kayfabe, but we’re choosing to believe they at least could be true for the purposes of this article. Less controversial because it was never mentioned on television is Bret’s third (or technically second) time working sick, which took place at SummerSlam 1993. At the event, Bret wrestled Doink The Clown and Jerry Lawler in back-to-back classics, proving how great he could be even as WWE tried shunting him out of the World Championship picture. Even if Bret wasn’t really sick the other two times, he almost certainly was suffering the flu here and claimed as much in his autobiography.