Wrestling isn't real? Tell that to any of the wrestlers on this list and you might wish you never said anything like that to their faces. Yes, storylines are scripted. Yes, matches are predetermined. And yes, they are highly trained athletes who know how to perform complicated maneuvers and how best to land in a padded ring, but despite all of their hard work and dedication to the business sometimes things don't always go as scripted. This is a comprehensive list of some of the most memorable times that wrestling got real.
I would love to tell you that nobody on this list was seriously injured, but that's impossible. I'd love to say that everything went according to plan and that lives weren't forever altered in the blink of an eye, but I'd be lying. The truth is that we as wrestling fans have to appreciate the fact that day in and day out these people go out there and perform to the best of their ability solely because they love the business and they love to entertain, and without their profession we'd all have one less joy in life. At the end of the day, their lives are literally in the hands of one another, so to undermine what they do for a living just because it's wrestling is an insult to anyone who ever had to courage to lace up a pair of boots. We would like to personally show our respect to all of the men and women who unfortunately made this list due to injury, no matter how big or small those injuries may have been.
With all that being said, these wrestlers absolutely deserve all the appreciation and admiration that they do happen to get from the wrestling universe. So we hope you enjoy our list of the 28 times when wrestling went wrong!
*Some of these videos can be extremely graphic, so viewer discretion is advised.
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28 Spike Dudley Misses a Table
It's always painful to watch wrestlers drop from over the top rope to the outside, but tables certainly help break those falls. While this incident may have had a table, it was hardly used as a useful method of shock absorption. Spike Dudley was being thrown to the outside by two members of La Résistance, but Spike's legs were just low enough to catch the top rope on his way out and it impeded his momentum toward the table. What happened next was Spike's head slamming against the very edge of the table, followed by his back planting firmly on the outside mat. Spike was sidelined for quite some time from the injury - the table, however, was perfectly fine.
27 Mexican Wrestler Aguayo Dies in the Ring
We start this list off with a very rare and unfortunate case: a wrestler being fatally injured in the middle of the ring. Rey Mysterio Jr. is one of the world's most famous luchador wrestlers of all time and has been praised for his in-ring ability time and time again, however, a freak accident that occurred in January of 2015 saw Mysterio in the middle of a major controversy. While wrestling in Tijuana, Mexico Rey was in a tag team match against a wrestler named Pedro Aguayo when a routine dropkick that was designed to set up his famous 6-1-9 maneuver went horribly wrong, breaking Aguayo's vertebrae in three places. Autopsy reports showed that the injury sustained during that dropkick almost instantaneously ended the life of Aguayo while the match continued on for another two minutes before he received medical attention. Mysterio was never found to be at fault for any wrongdoing.
26 CM Punk Gets Rudely Interrupted
Not only can wrestling go wrong, but interviews also have a penchant for not going as planned. In a backstage interview during a live segment of Monday Night Raw, CM Punk was rudely interrupted by a falling light that crashed right in front of him, causing two stagehands to scramble and pick up the inadvertently floored prop while one of them uttered, "We're LIVE! You IDIOT!" Punk looked down for a few seconds in disbelief, but despite the obvious mistake on the part of WWE personnel all was well a mere five seconds later when he carried on with his interview as if nothing ever happened.
25 Sid Vicious Breaks His Leg
In one of the more painful to watch videos that have ever circled the internet, Sid Vicious had the misfortune of breaking his leg before a live WCW PPV audience on January 14th, 2001. The story goes that Sid complained over and over that he never used the ropes to do any sort of high-risk maneuver and wasn't about to start, but when it was showtime he was convinced at the last minute that it would be a great idea. It wasn't. Sid fractured both his tibia and his fibula bones and required emergency surgery to repair his clearly broken leg, which was an injury that essentially ended his wrestling career.
24 The Danbury Fall
ECW's New Jack is one of the most controversial wrestlers of all time. He's mostly known for his overtly gruesome hardcore matches that involve various weapons of destruction that he carries to the ring via shopping cart. But one of his biggest spots came against Vic Grimes in what has infamously been dubbed "The Danbury Fall," where New Jack and Grimes were perched atop scaffolding some 20 feet in the air with only a table below to break both their falls. New Jack claims that Vic bailed out at the last second saying that it's too high and he just couldn't do it, but New Jack leapt from the scaffolding anyway and grabbed Grimes to come along for the ride whether he was ready or not. What ended up happening was New Jack hitting the table first and Grimes' body slamming down directly onto New Jack's head shortly after, causing a severe injury to New Jack in the process.
23 Shawn Michaels' Back Hits the Casket
Even the greatest in-ring wrestler of all time isn't immune to wrestling mishaps and that was never more apparent than when he faced The Undertaker at the Royal Rumble in 1998. Michaels was at the top of the business at the time, so when his back bounced off that casket in the middle of the match, he simply thought nothing of it... until he wasn't able to move the next day. It turns out that he had herniated two discs and completely crushed another one in his lower back that required surgery, which derailed all the momentum he had previously built up as WWE champion. Despite his career-ending injury, Michaels was able to muster up enough strength to make it to WrestleMania XIV, where he put over an insanely hot Stone Cold Steve Austin.
22 Honky Tonk Man's Real Guitar
In another instance where interviews can go wrong, Jake the Snake Roberts was hosting a segment called "The Snake Pit" which featured the Honky Tonk Man as a guest who was going to come out and sing a song that absolutely nobody wanted to hear. After Jake repeatedly kept shoving his snake into the face of the Honky Tonk Man, he finally fell backward out of the pit and went around the stage to surprise an unaware Roberts who kept taunting him through the microphone. When Jake turned around, Honky Tonk Man blasted him over the head with a real guitar (not a prop), making a sound that pains me to this day. Jake was visibly injured throughout the rest of the promo, but the show must go on...
21 Shane McMahon Fails to Break Through Glass
For all intents and purposes, Shane McMahon is one hell of a wrestler. During the Attitude Era, he would put his body out on the line more than most of the boys back in the locker room ever would, and that means something. When he found himself in a hardcore match against Kurt Angle at King of the Ring, a spot in the match called for Angle to belly-to-belly suplex Shane through a pane of glass, but there was one minor problem: the glass didn't break. Angle claims through an interview that whoever was responsible for supplying the PPV's glass ordered the wrong type (plexi-glass instead of sugar glass), also stating that the PPV abstained from pyro for that night only in order to not break the fragile glass. It ended up not mattering because not even Shane McMahon's body would break that glass upon first strike, which caused his head to bounce off the concrete in an absolutely sickening thud.
20 Taka Gets Eliminated and Dislocates Shoulder
Light-heavyweights never really got a fair shake in the WWE, but one of their best talents was a Japanese wrestler by the name of Taka Michinoku. While his run in the WWE was successful, his most famous moment just may be the time when he was eliminated from the 2000 Royal Rumble by Gangrel and the Big Boss Man. He was thrown over the top rope with so much force that he unintentionally 450 splashed an imaginary opponent on the outside floor, slamming his face and chest against the mat and giving him a concussion and a dislocated shoulder in the process.
19 Mabel Crushes Diesel
Mabel was a giant of a man, easily manhandling many of his opponents en route to a King of the Ring victory in 1995. He also had real life criticism by plenty of the boys in the locker room for working rather stiff, with Kevin Nash being one of the more vocal critics. Nash explicitly told Mabel NOT to perform one of his favorite moves where he would stand over a face-down opponent, kick his legs out and completely squash their lower back with his giant backside. Well, he did it anyway, which Nash didn't take too lightly. Nash had complained about him injuring several other wrestlers with the same move, causing Vince McMahon to immediately fire Mabel after that match. Nash was able to convince McMahon to keep him on the roster, but Mabel's big push would come to an end.
18 Goldberg Ends Bret Hart's Career
Goldberg was an unstoppable force during the Monday Night Wars, so when Bret Hart jumped ship from WWE and went to rival WCW, it was a match made in heaven. Bret Hart is one of the most legendary and well-respected technical wrestlers of all time, while Goldberg is... not. Bret knew that Goldberg was as strong as they come but he lacked in-ring ability, so the last thing he said to Goldberg before their match was "don't hurt me." In one swift kick to the temple, Goldberg gave him a severe concussion that abruptly ended the career of the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.
17 Sabu Breaks Neck Against Benoit
Sometimes when a move starts off poorly, it's best to just ditch it and start it all over from the beginning. When wrestlers try to fight through mistakes they often end up making much bigger ones, and that was certainly the case with Chris Benoit breaking Sabu's neck. Benoit was attempting a one-legged slingshot of sorts, but Sabu ended up entering the move in a very questionable manner. Little blame can be awarded to Benoit, however, because Sabu appeared to be caught in between flipping all the way over and landing on his back or staying upright and landing on his chest, which unfortunately caused him to land directly on his head.
16 Hulk Hogan's Fireball Misses The Ultimate Warrior
Hulk Hogan. The Ultimate Warrior. The much anticipated rematch of the century. What could go wrong? Besides, you know, the fact that both wrestlers were always extremely limited in their in-ring ability and that their best days were already behind them. It was a hyped event nonetheless and featured a classic wrestling blooper: a self-inflicted fireball to the face. Hogan scrambled to the corner and retrieved a bag from his tights that contained flash paper and a lighter, but when he tried to light it up and throw it towards the Warrior, the paper burned up directly in Hogan's face, causing him to lose his eyebrows and whatever hair he had left on the top of his head. The match was a bust, but that wasn't the biggest error that happened that night.
15 WCW PPV Ends Before Main Event Does
The very next match after Hogan's fireball mishap was between Diamond Dallas Page and Goldberg, but a large chunk of people who paid for the PPV never saw it happen. WCW paid for precisely three hours of airtime and it's important to stress the word "precisely" because at that definitive three hour mark, a good chunk of people who paid good money to see the main event live were instantly blacked out. WCW had to scramble for a solution to the problem, so they offered a $5 rebate to those who missed out on the match, made a deal with cable companies to air the Tuesday night replay for free, and also later decided to air the main event the very next night during Monday Nitro.
14 Owen Hart Spikes Stone Cold
I think every wrestling fan worth a grain of salt knows about this botch. Stone Cold Steve Austin was set to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship from Owen Hart at SummerSlam 1997, but when Austin had his attempt at an inverted piledriver reversed, Austin's head ended up dangerously below Owen's knees, which is something that Austin had no control over. Owen completed the move as planned with Austin's head extending down past Owen's hips, spiking Austin's head directly into the mat. Instantly injured, Austin laid on the mat for a good 15 to 20 seconds while Owen (now knowing that Austin was seriously hurt) taunted the crowd until Austin was able to thankfully regain movement in his arms and legs. Austin claims that "the lights were on, but nobody was home." It took everything he had to crawl on his hands and knees toward Owen in order to perform "the worst roll-up in the history of the business," but Austin finished the match like the tough SOB that he is.
13 Spanish Announcing Tables Can't Handle Triple H and Kurt Angle
One of the bigger unsung heroes in WWE history is the poor Spanish announce tables. Some of the highest spots you see regularly on WWE programming contain the Spanish announcing tables, including a famous moment when Triple H and Kurt Angle crashed through them BEFORE Triple H was able to perform the Pedigree on Angle. In an ironic twist of fate, WWE's recent TLC PPV saw the same Triple H get powerbombed by Roman Reigns onto the Spanish announcing table, but maybe they reinforced them since the time they broke too early because the exact opposite happened that night: they didn't break at all.
12 Chris Benoit Misses a Dive to the Outside
Speaking of announcing tables, Chris Benoit makes the list again for his attempt at a dive to the outside that went inexplicably wrong. In a match against Booker T, Benoit performed his trademark dive to the outside - a move he's done hundreds of times - but he overshot Booker T for some reason and went crashing into the announcers' table. You can see Benoit barely make contact with Booker and as he does he twists awkwardly in mid-air, altering his trajectory slightly enough to send him careening into the table. His lower back slammed onto the edge and he fell down to the outside mats, clearly in a lot of pain.
11 Lita Nearly Breaks her Neck
I still can't believe that Lita ended up being perfectly fine after this fall. Dives to the outside are always high risk maneuvers whether or not they go as planned, and this one didn't exactly go as well as Lita would have wanted. Lita hits the ropes on the far side of the ring, runs across and dives through the top and middle rope toward Trish Stratus, but for some reason her feet continued on an upward path and carried her body through the fall too awkwardly and caused her to land directly on her face on the outside mats. Lita bent backward so viciously that I was convinced that she broke her neck right there on the spot, but she was miraculously uninjured.
10 Hayabusa Breaks His Neck
I strongly suggest that no one views this video because it's incredibly painful to watch. Hayabusa was one of the world's greatest aerial wrestlers before he broke his neck attempting a middle rope Asai Moonsault. Hayabusa's feet slipped off the middle rope, but he still tried to rotate through the move anyway, which is never a good idea. To make matters worse, his opponent was unaware of the severity of Hayabusa's injury and went along with a couple of more moves trying to continue the match. When he puts Hayabusa into a headlock on the mat, that's when he's informed that the person he's headlocking can't feel anything below his neck and is ordered to release the move, ending the match immediately.
9 Jake Roberts DDTs Ricky Steamboat Out Cold
Ricky the Dragon Steamboat and Jake the Snake Roberts had a terrific feud in the late '80s all thanks to a real bump on the concrete floor outside the ring. At the time WWE didn't have protective mats to cushion falls to the outside, so when WWE producers asked Jake the Snake to perform his DDT to Steamboat, he was hesitant to say the least. "It'll kill him," Roberts said, which wasn't too far from the truth: Steamboat's forehead slammed into the concrete and his lights went out immediately. Jake, knowing Steamboat was badly hurt, picked up his unconscious body and rolled him back into the ring where he then took out his pet snake Damien and draped it over Steamboat in an effort to ceremoniously end the match.
8 Brock Lesnar's Shooting Star Press
Brock Lesnar isn't known for being an aerial threat, so when he went to the top rope at WrestleMania XIX, you better believe cameras started to flash like crazy. What nobody expected, though, was for Lesnar to attempt one of the more difficult moves ever performed off the top rope: a shooting star press. A forward jumping backflip from a 300 pound beast of a man would have absolutely brought the house down - and it actually was supposed to be end of the match - but Lesnar botched the move so badly that he knocked himself out. He was "lucky" to escape with only a severe concussion, considering that he completely missed Angle altogether and landed squarely on the crown of his head.
7 Vader's Eye Pops Out of Socket
Big Van Vader and Stan Hansen engaged in a very big feud while they were both members of All Japan Pro Wrestling in the early '90s. In a special New Japan Pro Wrestling versus All Japan Pro Wrestling cross-promotion in February of 1990, Hansen accidentally broke Vader's orbit bone (eye socket) with a bullrope before the match had even started, but Vader carried on as if nothing had happened. After receiving an unintentional thumb to the eye, Vader's right eye popped out of the socket momentarily until he was able to pop it back in by himself. Vader stated through an interview that his eye was basically resting on his upper cheek, but when he popped it back in nature took over and the swelling of his eye socket is what actually held it in place until the end of the match. He had to have a metal plate surgically inserted into his eye socket in order to be able keep it from popping out in the future.
6 Edge's Debut Ends Abruptly
Edge was promoted through a series of vignettes as a "tortured soul" that was on the verge of going crazy at any moment, and his first ever match in WWE didn't disappoint. Not even one minute into his first match and his opponent Jose Estrada was knocked to the outside of the ring, where Edge would take advantage of the situation by somersaulting over the top rope and landing on a standing Estrada's head. The impact of Edge's leg hitting the top of Estrada's head bent his neck awkwardly and he was unfortunately unable to carry on with the rest of the match.
5 The Wrong Way to Take a Pedigree
Back in the early days of Monday Night Raw there was a clear distinction between Superstar and jobber, and squash matches that were specifically booked to enhance the Superstars were perfectly normal. When Hunter Hearst Helmsley debuted 20 years ago, jobber Marty Garner was not aware of his finisher the Pedigree, thinking that HHH was about to do a double underhook suplex instead. When he jumped into the maneuver he figured that he was supposed to flip all the way over, so the result of the move ended up with a completely vertical Marty being spiked headfirst into the mat.
4 Hardcore Holly Gets His Back Split Open
Tables are a staple of hardcore wrestling for their perfect audio and visual satisfaction, not to mention their role in providing a decent way to break a fall. Some tables have a rubber ring that wraps along the outside edge of the table, while others use metal. If asked to do it all over again, I'm sure Hardcore Holly would have probably wanted to opt with the rubber version instead of the metal one that sliced open his back something fierce and required over 20 stitches to close. He was out of commission for only about a month to fully recover.
3 Cactus Jack Loses His Ear in Germany
Mick Foley is world famous for being one of the craziest performers in wrestling history. One of his favorite spots to do in a match was to run toward the ropes and do a flip in between the top and middle rope, getting his head caught in the process (aka: the "Hangman"). On that particular night in Germany, however, Foley claims that the ropes were wound a little tighter than he had planned, so when he performed this routine maneuver, Foley's head was caught for real and he struggled to break free from the ropes. Since the ropes were too tight, once he broke free, his ear got scraped so severely that it was basically left dangling from his head. As soon as he re-entered the ring, Vader threw a punch that knocked the ear completely off, to be picked up seconds later by the referee and handed off to someone outside of the ring to preserve until the end of the match.
2 Over the Edge 1999
The important difference between storyline and real life was never more apparent than when Owen Hart was set to descend down from the rafters of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City in a "superhero" type fashion, because something went horribly wrong and he unfortunately fell 70 feet into the ring. The in-house audience of the Over the Edge PPV was probably unaware of the severity of Owen's injury until much later in the evening, but live viewers at home were immediately informed of Owen's passing shortly before the controversial decision was made to continue on with the show as scheduled.
1 The Infamous 2005 Royal Rumble Ending
Whether or not you're in either camp of the controversial ending to the 2005 Royal Rumble being a botch or a work, one thing is definitely certain: Vince McMahon got the worst end of the deal. After John Cena and Batista miraculously landed on the outside floor at the exact same time, WWE officials scrambled in order to declare the true winner of the Rumble. Half of the officials said Batista, the other half Cena... who was going to be the deciding factor? That's where Vince McMahon comes in, storming down the aisle with a fire in his eyes. He throws his coat down in anger, runs and slides under the bottom rope like a true superstar, slamming both his legs into the side of the ring in the process. He doesn't seem fazed at first, but when he makes an attempt to stand up, he crumbles back down to the canvas in agony. McMahon would blow out his quadriceps due to the run-in with the ring, so chalk that one up as: Ring-1, McMahon-0.
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