It’s well established that wrestlers have to put up with serious injury in the ring, often career-ending. Many in-ring injuries occur and are famous. There was Steve Austin having his neck broken by Owen Hart or Sid’s leg shattered at a WCW PPV. Some are well known for being injured and having to fight through it but others aren’t quite as obvious. Some guys are able to be injured in a match but keep it quiet and not have it be so obvious. Other guys are able to keep it quiet in surprising ways. It happened a lot in the old territory days such as how Mr. Wrestling II was in a plane crash but immediately went back to the ring rather than have it get out he’d been flying with rival Johnny Valiant.
It was easier in the pre-Internet days but even today there are times fans can be unaware a guy is badly hurt and still going through a match. From main eventers to lower rung folks, wrestling is packed with such people and impressive how well they can pull it off. Here are 15 times fans didn’t know just how badly a wrestler was hurt when they were going through a match that show the amazing lengths some guys are willing to go through for the future.
15 The British Bulldogs & Tito Santana vs. The Hart Foundation & Danny Davis, WrestleMania III
Back in 1986, few fans were into the “dirt sheets” and obviously the Internet was years away. Thus, when the Dynamite Kid suffered a horrible back injury against Don Muraco, few mainstream fans knew about it. The Kid herniated two discs and the prognosis was he was lucky to be able to walk. WWE had no choice but to get the belts off the Bulldogs so at a January 1987 taping, they dropped the titles to the Hart Foundation. TV audiences never saw how Davey Boy had to literally carry Dynamite to the ring and he was “knocked out” off the apron as an excuse for him being out.
Dynamite came back far quicker than expected (some might argue too quickly) as at WrestleMania, the Bulldogs teamed with Tito Santana to take on the Harts and Danny Davis. Fans were unaware of how much in pain Dynamite was as his back was still aching and was never truly the same. It led to an addiction to painkillers and sadly a hard fall for the Kid in the end. While one can be happy Dynamite wanted to keep wrestling, he paid a bad price for it.
14 Kerry Von Erich in any WWE Match
In his prime, Kerry Von Erich was a sensational athlete sadly marred by his drug addictions. A famous story is Kerry stoned out of his mind in a bout with Ric Flair so Flair had to carry an hour long-battle with Fritz Von Erich then putting out the story of Kerry having the flu. The worst was in 1986 when Kerry smashed up his motorcycle and crushed a leg badly. It took over a year before he came back and naturally a bit slower. Still, he had charisma and some style so WWE took a chance on hiring him in 1990. That led to him beating Mr. Perfect for the IC title at SummerSlam but it was a short reign as Kerry was too unreliable to count on.
What WWE, the fans and most everyone in wrestling didn’t know was that Kerry had needed his foot amputated due to the wreck and was using a prosthetic leg. It was one of the best kept secrets around, the reports of it snapping off in a match considered just an urban myth. In every single WWE match, Kerry was basically on one leg which sadly added to his need for painkillers. It wasn’t until after his suicide in 1993 that the truth came out and astounding to look at how Kerry kept this up in his WWE tenure.
13 The Rock vs John Cena, WrestleMania XXIX
While it wasn’t as epic as their encounter a year earlier, The Rock and John Cena did their best to make their Mania rematch a big event. With the WWE title on the line to add more heat to it, both men went at their best with various moves and pumping up the crowd with their antics. The Rock had already gotten folks impressed by revealing he had torn his hamstring in his WrestleMania XXVIII match with Cena but continued all the way through. This time, The Rock ended up suffering an abdominal tear and his abductor muscles ripped right off the bone.
Despite that, The Rock continued to wrestle the match, he and Cena leaning off each other to sell the battle with Cena finally winning. The Rock would later tweet a photo of himself in a Superman shirt at the hospital and was back on a movie set in just weeks. While The Rock may have been a part-timer, he impressed by battling through this pain to make sure to give fans a great show.
12 Undertaker, Elimination Chamber 2010
The Undertaker is highly respected by WWE fans for his amazing work in the ring and his incredible toughness. He’s clearly battled injuries before, some in the ring, others out of it and even with his age, he does his best to provide a memorable battle. At Elimination Chamber 2010, The Undertaker was making his typical entrance through smoke, pyro and some lightning effects. The folks who set up the pyro misjudged how close it was so it ended up catching The Undertaker’s coat on fire. He dropped the coat and the hat quickly to continue his march to the ring, not letting on that he had sustained first and second degree burns by the fire. Despite that, The Undertaker went on with the 40 minute match and was the last man pinned by Chris Jericho. Burned badly and yet wrestling over a half hour? Only The Deadman could pull that one off.
11 The Miz vs. John Cena, WrestleMania XXVII
In the last few years, the Miz has won a newfound respect from wrestling fans. He’s risen up better with his promos and all his ring work to impress people with actually good stuff in the ring. An early sign of this should have been his big Mania match against John Cena. During their battle, Miz and Cena brawled on the outside with Cena tackling Miz against the ring barrier. The blow legitimately knocked the Miz out cold so Cena had to cover with some taunting toward the crowd. The Miz managed to recover to get back in and put up with the complicated finish of the Rock interfering so the Miz could retain. To keep going when he barely knew what was going on around him shows the Miz should be respected a lot more by wrestling fans as a guy dedicated to the show.
10 Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar, WrestleMania XIX
There had been rumors online but fans weren’t sure how to buy it. After all, how likely could it be that WWE would insist on having a man with a broken neck in the main event of WrestleMania? As it turned out, it was all too true. As 'Mania XIX came, the build was huge for Angle vs. Brock, a major battle intended to push Brock back to the title. Angle’s neck was massively screwed up and the man was risking his career just being in the ring but insisted on going through with a top-level match to give Brock the rub.
Ironically, it was Brock who nearly ended up breaking his neck with his infamously botched shooting star press. They managed to pull it together for the finish of Brock getting the title and Angle having to take time off before returning faster than expected for some great rematches with Brock. To get through this bout in such bad shape and return in just months is yet another reason Angle wows so many fans.
9 Triple H & Steve Austin vs. Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, May 21st, 2001
In retrospect, it’s obvious when watching but at the time, it wasn’t as well known. As spring of 2001 began, Triple H and Steve Austin were doing great work as the Two-Man Power Trip, holding the IC and WWE titles respectively as well as the tag belts. They were defending the tag belts against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit on RAW in a major battle that went back and forth. Jericho had Austin in the Walls of Jericho as Triple H raced over to break it up. But as he did, Hunter took a bad trip and tore his left quadriceps right off the bone.
Triple H did his best to ignore it and continue the match for a few moments which ended with Jericho and Benoit winning the belts. Triple H was helped to the back but fans thought it might be part of the storyline. Instead, Hunter was out for the rest of the year, a key loss to WWE during the Invasion storyline and altered his ring style majorly when he returned so this ranks as an injury bigger than fans expected.
8 Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan, WrestleMania III
Nothing speaks to the success of Vince McMahon’s promotional ways than WrestleMania III. Vince managed to turn the show into a major success that made headlines with its huge attendance and celebrity factor. The highlight was the main event, Hulk Hogan defending the WWE title against long-time friend Andre the Giant. It was set up as a massive encounter with Andre unbeaten for 15 years against Hogan and WWE did a great job boosting it for fans. That’s all the more impressive given how Andre should have never been wrestling. Vince openly talks about how Andre was feeling the weight of years of work, travel and injuries and had just come off back surgery. He actually begged Vince not to bother flying to France to talk business but he persisted.
Despite his doubts, Andre was won over by the promises of a huge payday and the media attention. So he did his best to handle a massive brace on his lower back covered by his tights and sell being this monster against Hogan. It paid off with a huge main event and the sight of Hogan slamming the Giant was an epic moment. Andre’s last years may have been a bit sad to watch but that he was able to highlight this show in his condition is a truly giant feat.
7 Bruno Sammartino vs. Stan Hansen, 1976
In his heyday, Bruno Sammartino was the best worker in the WWE, a man who sold out Madison Square Garden on a regular basis. His first seven-year stint as champion helped put WWE on the map and make the company a powerhouse. Even when he lost the belt, Bruno was still a huge deal so WWE had him regain the title in 1973 for another long reign. In 1976, Sammartino faced wild Texan Stan Hansen in a major bout where Hansen botched a powerslam and Bruno suffered a fracture in his neck. He fought through it for 15 minutes for the planned victory with fans not seeing it as being so bad.
Afterward, WWE did recognize the injury but claimed it was Hansen giving Sammartino his Lariat clothesline in a backstage attack. This instantly made Hansen a major bad-ass for fans, gave an excuse for Bruno being out of action a couple of months and set the stage for a sold-out rematch that Bruno won. It showed the toughness and fan appeal that made Sammartino a legend who helped make WWE what it is today.
6 Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin, WrestleMania XIV
As 1998 dawned, Shawn Michaels was still feeling the heat of the Montreal Screwjob and in a bad place personally. At the Royal Rumble, Shawn faced the Undertaker in a casket match culminating with Shawn taking a nasty fall right onto the casket, cracking a disc in his back. He managed to finish but it was soon clear backstage that Shawn was barely mobile most days and dropping the title to Steve Austin at Mania was a risky move. A famous backstage story is Shawn cracking about keeping the belt and The Undertaker making a not-so-subtle taping of his fists to make it clear Shawn had to do it.
Despite his utter agony, Michaels managed to put in a great match with Austin at Mania to drop the title and launch Austin to mega-stardom. It would be Shawn’s last match for four years, returning in 2002 better than ever and that he was able to get through the pain to do the job for once was the first step to HBK’s redemption as a wrestler.
5 John Cena vs. Randy Orton vs Mr. Kennedy 2007
John Cena is slammed a lot by “smart” fans for his act and the “you can’t wrestle” chants echo in his matches. However, Cena has proven his toughness and amazing conditioning to come back from injuries fast. A key example is this late 2007 match on RAW as Cena took on Randy Orton and Ken Kennedy in a triple threat match. A simple armdrag, one of the easiest moves in wrestling was done on Cena by Orton but Orton tugged too hard and Cena ended up tearing his pectoral muscle. He ignored the pain to continue the match and ended up winning. However, he was attacked by Orton afterward who hit Cena with an RKO on a table.
It turned out to be odd timing as Cena was declared to be on the shelf for at least six months so WWE could use the attack by Orton as the excuse for him being out. Of course, Cena astounded everyone by coming back far sooner at the Royal Rumble but the fact he was able to continue the bout after such an injury should shut up a lot of his haters.
4 The Undertaker vs. Rey Mysterio, SmackDown May 25, 2010
As noted, The Undertaker is able to withstand a lot in the ring but even by his standards, this was something else. Taker has had facial injuries before such as in 1995 when Mabel dumped a legdrop on him that shattered his nose and Taker had to wear a mask for a while. History repeated in 2010 when Undertaker faced off against Rey Mysterio on an episode of “SmackDown.” Rey was doing his usual springboard splash but mistimed it so the full weight of his body came down on The Undertaker’s face as they landed. This led to Taker cracking his nose and orbital bone. He managed to keep it up to finish the match and fans at the time didn't realize how bad it was until reports came of his injury after the show ended. It’s a bit ironic how such a small guy as Mysterio could take Taker out like this but it shows the man’s toughness going through all this.
3 Mr. Perfect vs. Bret Hart, SummerSlam 91
Back in 1991, the Internet wasn’t a thing so fans weren’t as into the inside stories as they are now. Thus, when the Intercontinental title match at SummerSlam ’91 came up, no one knew that by all rights, Curt Hennig had no business being in the ring. After years of punishment, the man was now suffering a serious back injury with a slipped disc. However, Hennig insisted on doing the right thing by dropping the belt to Bret as planned. The two proceeded to put on an absolute classic, an incredible back and forth battle with fans having no idea Hennig was in utter agony through it all.
It ended with Bret getting Perfect into the Sharpshooter and showing how bad off he was, Hennig didn’t even wait for the move to be fully done before submitting. It was Hennig’s last match for a long while and it gave the rub to Bret with his first singles title and a key reason Perfect is so respected for going through this amazing experience.
2 The Undertaker vs. Mankind, King of the Ring 1998
Everyone knows of the massive amount of injuries Mick Foley suffered in this match. From the toss off the top of the Cell at the start to the chokeslam through the roof and dumped onto thumbtacks, Foley was put through agony. He ended up with busted ribs, concussion, lost two teeth and more. But what many didn’t realize at the time was that the reason for all this was to cover how The Undertaker was walking wounded going into the battle. He had broken his foot and both he and Foley were worried it would hamper the match too much and let fans down.
Thus, Foley came up with the idea of starting at the top of the cage and it was when he was halfway to the table that he realized this may not have been a great idea. In his book, Foley gave The Undertaker massive credit for helping the match along when Foley was recovering from the nasty bumps and that he was doing it on one leg was all the more impressive. Foley got the kudos but Taker deserves credit for getting through this battle with such an injury.
1 Bret Hart vs. Ric Flair, October 1992
Most everyone in the wrestling world was surprised when, at a house show in Saskatoon in October of 1992, Bret Hart won the WWE title off of Ric Flair. That included Bret himself as Vince told him the plan just before the match. He and Flair were both thrown, figuring some politics were going on, but went ahead with the battle. They kept it up in a good match going back and forth but as Bret was slammed into the corner, his finger got caught on a rope and as he was pulled back, it dislocated. Used to pain, Bret wasn’t going to let it stop the biggest moment of his career and kept on fighting. Look closely at the tape and you can see Bret popping his finger back in and on the outside, Mr. Perfect winces watching. Bret managed to get through the match to win the title and proved he could make any bout look stellar no matter what he went through.