Though professional wrestling is a business built on the simulation of violence, there are also limits that this form of entertainment tends to respect. In the early days of professional wrestling, it closely mirrored real wrestling, and was sold as legitimate sport. As time went on, the action diversified to include striking that wouldn’t be allowed in traditional wrestling, as well as elaborate sequences or specialty moves that required some suspension of disbelief for anyone who knew anything about real wrestling or fighting. From there, outrageous gimmicks and complicated storylines showed up to the point that fans had to almost willfully choose to believe pro wrestling wasn’t a work.
Wrestling has steered clear of brutal violence and the use of traditional weapons, to respect the core of what wrestling is as family entertainment, and to maintain some façade of a legitimate sport. Sure, things got more cutting edge during the Monday Night War era with the New World Order and Sting wielding baseball bats, but it was nonetheless still shocking and, more to the point, out of place, when Tank Abbott briefly wielded a knife and threatened to cut people.
No, killing someone in a professional wrestling storyline is that rarest of devices. There’s an argument that it can, every now and again, be used to goo dramatic effect, though most fans would agree it’s usually in poor taste. It’s in poor taste, in particular when wrestling has the dark cloud of its share of real life early deaths—all the more so when some wrestlers have (at least allegedly) been responsible for real life deaths.
This article takes a look at eight times when wrestling angles involved someone attempting murder and seven times when a wrestler was at least alleged to have actually been responsible for a real-life death.
15 Kayfabe: Steve Austin
By Survivor Series 2000, the rivalry between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H had boiled over. They main evented the show in a No Disqualification Match that culminated in Triple H waiting in his car to try to run over Austin, only for Austin to show up with a forklift, raise Triple H, in his car, and dump him upside down, 30 feet to the ground.
In reality, the moment was of course staged with clever cutting used to create the image Triple H was still in the car when it was dropped. If storyline logic were to believed, though, there’s little way around it—Austin was very literally trying to murder his opponent. In the typical style of the day, Triple H was back almost immediately after—pissed off but not even noticeably injured.
14 Real Life: The Great Khali
The Great Khali made a surprise return at Battleground 2017 to help younger star Jinder Mahal. The alliance made sense enough as Indian countrymen, and Khali, as a former world champ and international star, lending some extra credibility to Mahal who sorely needed it.
It’s interesting to think of Khali as the veteran whom fans take seriously given his less celebrated beginnings in the wrestling business. Early on, he worked for All Pro Wrestling and trained with an unfortunate fellow rookie named Brian Ong. Ong suffered a concussion but was pushed to continue training, before absorbing a flapjack from Khali that caused his death. The death was an accident, though there was some speculation, particularly from fans, if Khali being too big and too unskilled set up the accident, and was cause for concern when he reached WWE.
13 Kayfabe: Matt Hardy
While I could pull on any number of instances of absurdity during the Broken Matt Hardy gimmick, including shooting fireworks at his enemies, I’m going to put all of that aside for the Broken Universe having different rules than the world we know. Instead, Matt Hardy gets the nod for this list for terrorizing his brother in late 2008 and early 2009.
The winter in question saw Jeff Hardy suffer a number of misfortunes, including ones as severe as his pyro malfunctioning and exploding into him on his entrance, a car accident, and his whole house burning down. Any one of these instances might have been fatal, and January 2009, Matt revealed he was responsible for all of it on account of his jealous rage. The set up gave way to a hardcore feud, before WWE realized the obvious—that everyone likes the Hardys more together than apart. The brothers somehow put aside Matt’s multiple attempted murders to get along again.
12 Real Life: Scott Hall
In an ESPN documentary, followed by a WWE-produced one, Scott Hall discussed his deepest, darkest secret that had haunted him from before his wrestling career got started in earnest. He worked as a bouncer at a bar and got into an altercation in a parking lot with a man who had a gun. While the details remain sketchy, the upshot was Hall fatally shooting the man. The incident was ruled an act of self defense.
The killing has clearly haunted Hall. In the WWE documentary about his life, it was suggested he suffers from PTSD, and that the killing may have been reason he fell into drug use and alcoholism to the extent that he did over the decades to follow. Fortunately, Hall seems to be in a healthier place now.
11 Kayfabe: Kane
Kane and The Undertaker, in many ways, exist in a different universe from most other WWE stars for all their mysticism, implication of magical powers, and survival of fatal situations. Kane has often been an aggressor in some of WWE’s most out there storylines.
One of the more out there ones included Kane turning on his brother after they seemed to have forged an alliance in 1998. Kane would not only cost his brother a world championship match with Shawn Michaels, but afterward lock him in a casket and set it on fire—clearly attempting to kill the man. Years later, Kane would also be implicated in the car crash death of Katie Vick, and potentially committing necrophilia. This angle was universally panned, and WWE largely buried it after Kane’s feud at the time with Triple H had come to a close.
10 Real Life: Jimmy Snuka
Jimmy Snuka got over huge in WWE in the 1970s, most notably for a pair of leaps from the top of a steel cage—the first time as a heel against Bob Backlund, the second time as a face against Don Muraco. As WWE began its national expansion, he looked like a natural choice to be a tip-top star for the promotion. But then, there was the mater of Nancy Argentino.
In 1983, Snuka’s girlfriend Argentino was found dead in their hotel room in Allentown, PA. Her body showed tell-tale signs of domestic abuse, and police immediately suspected Snuka in her death. Not helping matters, Snuka reportedly changed his story in recounting the circumstances surrounding Argentino’s death.
In a strange turn, no charges were filed for over 30 years, before authorities returned to the case. At that point, Snuka’s attorneys argued Snuka was not fit to stand trial, and the charges were officially dismissed in January 2017. Snuka would die less than year later of natural causes.
9 Kayfabe: Dawn Marie
Wrestling storylines that invoke death tend to be in bad taste. One would be hard pressed to find an angle in poorer taste than the 2002-2003 feud between Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie.
It was problematic that while Dawn Marie and Wilson were both attractive, neither was really any good at wrestling. So, it made sense WWE would want to create a sensational storyline around them to enhance their program (if they were going to insist on proceeding with the rivalry at all. The choice was made to incorporate Wilson’s father, Al, and contrive a situation of Dawn Marie seducing him mostly to get at Torrie.
The means of murder to follow? Perhaps the strangest, if least cruel possible—the story went that Dawn Marie had so much intercourse with Al Wilson on their eventual honeymoon that his heart gave out. The wheels were thus set in motion for a stepmother vs. stepdaughter grudge match at Royal Rumble 2003.
8 Real Life: Chris Benoit
In perhaps the most infamous wrestling related murder of all time, Chris Benoit purportedly killed his wife and son before committing suicide in 2007.
The story is a strange one, and that rare story that captured national, mainstream attention, albeit for reasons WWE would rather it wouldn’t have. The generally accepted series of events was that Benoit suffered a series of head injuries that ultimately impaired his mental state and led to a confrontation in which he killed his wife. From there, it’s believed that he spiraled even further, and wound up choking his son to death using a modified version of his signature wrestling hold, the Crippler Crossface. Benoit used gym equipment to hang himself in the aftermath.
There are those conspiracy theorists who hold out that Benoit was set up, but the general consensus is that Benoit was indeed responsible for the three deaths. The only silver lining to this ugly incident was that it drew attention to the importance of wrestling companies paying closer attention to concussions and potential brain injuries to avoid future tragedies.
7 Kayfabe: Randy Orton
Perhaps it’s his undead persona that makes wrestlers so inclined to try to kill The Undertaker. Nonetheless, there have been a few. Randy Orton took his shot during his 2005 feud with The Deadman. The rivalry started very much rooted in sport with Orton going hunting for The Undertaker’s WrestleMania undefeated streak for the sake the glory. It progressed to see Orton’s father get involved, before the father and son duo locked The Undertaker in a coffin and set it on fire.
Orton was still a young star at that point and The Undertaker feud went a long way toward establishing him as a sustained presence toward the top of the card. Along the way, he went through the rite of passage of going over the top with The Phenom.
6 Real Life: Jose Gonzales
Bruiser Brody was an enigmatic presence in the world of professional wrestling, known for being wildly entertaining, but also known for being difficult to do business with at times. He was a big enough and tough enough guy that he could make decisions on the fly in the ring, and fellow wrestlers, referees, and promoters had little choice but to go along with him. His exploits include commandeering a cage match after Lex Luger made him angry and chasing the young star out of the cage.
Brody’s exploits came to a head in Puerto Rico, though, where he had some differences with the people in power. Jose Gonzales purportedly invited Brody into the showers to talk business. Details are sketchy from there, but parties including Tony Atlas have reported seeing Gonzalez with a knife, and Brody would wind up dying from stab wounds suffered in the shower.
The matter is still touchy, with Eric Embry commenting on Steve Austin’s podcast as recently as last year that he received threats against him if he spoke out about what he knew about the murder. There was never concrete evidence for a conviction, but in wrestling circles, fingers seem to point toward Gonzales killing Brody, whether that was his intention or not.
5 Kayfabe: Rikishi
After a run as half of The Headshrinkers, and time in his Make a Difference positive figure gimmick, Rikishi settled into his best known character during the Attitude Era. He was a fun loving dancing big man who teamed with Too Cool, up until his character took a drastic turn in 2000.
The year 2000 saw Rikishi claim responsibility for having run over Steve Austin in a parking lot at Survivor Series 1999. The big man claimed he did it for The Rock, and it later became clear he was paid off by Triple H. Regardless, he attempted full on vehicular manslaughter in the storyline, mowing over Austin at a high speed right before the PPV.
Not so surprisingly, at least in hindsight, the character change didn’t take. The car attack was a little too far flung, and Rikishi was much more over with the fans in his face character. Before long the whole angle was set aside, and WWE pressed the reset button on Rikishi as a good guy paired with Scotty 2 Hotty.
4 Real Life: New Jack
New Jack is known as volatile, outspoken, and volatile figure in the wrestling world. These qualities have made him notorious and well known, but also may explain why he peaked in ECW and never made it to WWE or WCW. One of this most infamous incident came in what’s now known as the Mass Transit Incident. A large seventeen year old named Eric Kulas, billed as “Mass Transit” showed up at an ECW show, claimed he was a trained wrestler and was plugged in as a substitute for Axl Rotten in a tag match.
New Jack was intent on Mass Transit getting color in the match, and the inexperienced performer asked New Jack to cut him to make it happen. The blade job went badly and Mass Transit lost a lot of blood for which he had to be hospitalized. While New Jack didn’t literally kill the man, he certainly could have, and Kulas’s family blamed New Jack when they sued him five years later, after Kulas underwent gastric bypass surgery and did die, claiming New Jack’s attack on him led to depression and an eating disorder.
Lest you feel bad for New Jack, it’s worth noting there are more than one other instances of him suggesting he intended to kill another wrestler.
3 Kayfabe: Hulk Hogan
Halloween Havoc 1995 wasn’t exactly a high point for WCW programming. The wave of Hulkamania that the company had attempted to ride had largely died out as fans tired of Hogan’s old shtick. The company hadn’t yet found its way to the New World Order either, leaving it in an awkward in between space, and positioning Hogan as world champion defending against an unproven rookie, The Giant (later known as The Big Show).
Before the two titans could hit the ring for the main event, though, they first squared off in a monster truck sumo match on the roof of the building. The “match” was pretty lame, and made worse for the post match clash in which the two got in a fist fight on the roof, only for Hogan to punch The Giant clear off the roof, presumably to his death.
Despite the manslaughter, The Giant would rise in a campy moment that apologists might say fit the Halloween motif of the event. He returned to stalk to the ring and not only survive, but still successfully wrestle, and even beat Hogan for the title that same night.
In 2002, Hogan would strike again with a vehicle, this time ramming truck into an ambulance that was carrying The Rock, shortly after The Rock challenged Hogan to a WrestleMaia match.
2 Real Life: DT Porter
If you don’t know the name DT Porter, that’s probably fair enough. He broke into the famed PWI 500 ranking from Pro Wrestling Illustrated in 2009 based on his success on the indies, and he was a developmental talent under WWE contract for two years. Porter never actually made it to the main roster, though. There’s no telling if the guy might have ever made it to the top tier of wrestling based on merit. Porter’s sports entertainment dreams were cut short by his real life indiscretions. He purportedly stabbed his girlfriend to death in Tampa in 2013,
In 2016, Porter was sentenced to life in prison. In addition to other evidence, the prosecution shared that he posted about the murder to his Facebook account, including a graphic photograph.
1 Kayfabe: Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns may be WWE’s golden boy, but he interestingly took on a more violent edge than the company tends to espouse during his feud with Braun Strowman. In particular at the Great Balls of Fire PPV, the feud between the two big men hit a fever pitch. Strowman won the Ambulance Match between them. Reigns responded by trying to murder Strowman.
The aftermath of the match saw Reigns lock Strowman in the back of the ambulance, drive off, and then slam the back of the ambulance into a semi at high speed. While it was clearly a stunt and Strowman was in no real life danger, in the storyline version of the world, there was a real risk of killing Strowman in the process. In relatively real sell job, it took some time to get Strowman out of the ambulance, and when he was free, he appeared bloody and stumbling, looking as though he really were hurt.