Finn Bálor’s devastating injury at SummerSlam has opened a lot of fans’ eyes to the danger of injury that comes with the brand extension. The art of professional wrestling has never been without the risk of people getting hurt, as the two really go hand in hand, but now that there are two separate rosters in on the main shows, the margin for error is a lot slimmer.
As evidenced by Finn having to relinquish the WWE Universal Championship, we’ve already seen that back-up plans are an absolute necessity in WWE. Bálor’s absence will be a huge blow, considering he was on the verge of becoming a huge star, but the history books are already filled with instances where a star’s push, character, championship reign or even career as a whole has been altered by an injury sustained in the middle of the ring.
In the past ten years alone, a handful of wrestlers have had things drastically changed for them as a result of injury, with a lot of those taking place between 2014 and now. You’ll recall that even just this year, WWE was scrambling for ways to rectify the injury situation that saw names like John Cena, Seth Rollins, Nikki Bella, Sting and Cesaro all on the shelf and with no hope to return to competition in time for WrestleMania 32.
In this list, we’ll look at 15 WWE stars whose injuries significantly impacted upon a moment in their careers and forced them, or their colleagues down different paths in the WWE.
15 Enzo Amore
Since debuting in April, Enzo Amore has quickly become one of the most popular stars in the WWE, with his infectious catchphrases and unmatched charisma when it comes to the microphone. Complemented nicely by Big Cass’ stature and energy inside the ring, Enzo is very close to becoming one of the most well-known names in all of tag-team wrestling.
But that rise to stardom was halted for a moment at Payback, when Amore suffered a frightening concussion against The Vaudevillains. When Simon Gotch attempted to throw Amore out of the ring, “Smacktallker Skywalker” instead bounced his head off the bottom rope which forced him into an impact with the canvas before falling outside.
The injury ended up looking worse than it was, but the match was stopped and neither team was able to showcase their skills on their first WWE Pay-Per-View. Enzo and Cass bounced back nicely, but it’s possible that The Vaudevillains would have found more success thus far if they’d continued to have a good showing that night, instead of almost ending the career of one of the company’s brightest prospects.
“The Man That Gravity Forgot” has been electrifying the WWE Universe on the main roster for over a year now and in that time he’s amassed an impressive portfolio of extraordinary matches against the likes of Seth Rollins, John Cena and Kevin Owens.
The only issue was that no matter how well he performed each week, the opportunities that Neville was afforded just weren’t reflecting the work that he put in.
To make matters worse, any hopes that the new sensation had for a meaningful WrestleMania debut were thwarted when he suffered a fractured ankle against Chris Jericho just three weeks prior to the event - an injury that would take him out of action until July. What’s even more heart-breaking is that it’s been reported that Zack Ryder’s spot in the Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match at WrestleMania 32 was originally booked for Neville.
Ryder ended up winning that match, and the title, so the possibility is definitely there that if Neville hadn’t gotten hurt, he could have had an incredible WrestleMania moment just in Dallas. Even without the win, you just know that Neville would have delivered some awe-inspiring moments in that match due to his unparalleled athleticism and high-flying ability.
13 Bray Wyatt
After being embarrassed by The Rock and John Cena at WrestleMania 32, The Wyatt Family was sorely in need of a programme going forward that could put them back where they needed to be on the roster. Attacking The League of Nations the following night was a step in the right direction, but what happened the next week was much more interesting.
After a heated rivalry against one another leading into Hell in a Cell 2015, Bray Wyatt actually stood side-by-side with then-WWE Champion Roman Reigns. The two teamed up in a successful effort and it was phenomenal to see Wyatt relishing in the adulation of the fans on the hero side of things. Before this newfound babyface mentality could go anywhere though, Wyatt suffered a calf injury that would take him out until July, after which he returned to the menacing ways we were already accustomed to for a feud with The New Day.
This new rivalry with The League of Nations could have been the breath of fresh air that Wyatt needed to take the next step forward, but due to that unfortunate injury, we may never know what WWE had planned for him at the end of it.
12 Joey Mercury
There are few moments in WWE history where the mere memory is enough to make fans wince, but the Fatal Four-Way Ladder Match for the WWE Tag-Team Championship at Armageddon in 2006 is easily one of those moments.
Joey Mercury had recently just come off of a 30-day suspension for his first strike of the WWE’s wellness policy, which subsequently forced the popular tag-team MNM to break up for the time being. When Mercury got back to action, however, the team was ready to pick up steam once again, but then the man had his face practically shattered by a ladder at Armageddon later that year and Mercury’s career was changed forever.
The injuries sustained in that moment weren’t quite as serious as expected, with Mercury only missing a few weeks of action. But it goes without saying that Joey Mercury was a completely different performer after this moment. Something clicked in him that night that forced him to lose his in-ring confidence and any potential he had to be a big star both in tag-team and singles wrestling following this event were essentially nullified.
11 Mr. Kennedy
After winning the Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania 23, it was almost guaranteed that Mr. Kennedy had world championship gold in his future. Both previous holders of the case at that time had gone on to win the WWE Championship in tremendous fashion and Kennedy had all the makings to do the very same.
Kennedy would be the victim of poor timing, however, when it was revealed that a serious triceps injury would take him out of action for about half a year. An angle was devised for Kennedy to lose his Money in the Bank opportunity to Edge in a quick match on Raw, with “The Ultimate Opportunist” living up to the moniker and cashing in the contract to win the World Heavyweight Championship on SmackDown that same week.
As if this wasn’t enough, it was then revealed that the severity of Kennedy's injury wasn’t nearly as bad as first thought and Kennedy was back in action in no time.
This is one of those “what if” moments where we’ll never know just what direction Mr. Kennedy’s WWE career would have gone in if he had been booked to cash in the briefcase and win the title, but we do know for sure that this has to be one of the unluckiest injuries in WWE history that didn’t result in much time on the shelf.
10 Roman Reigns
Back when Roman Reigns was still trying to pick up steam following The Shield’s disbanding in 2014, there was still a lot of hope for Reigns to build some fan support and become a globally-accepted main eventer on the WWE product. He was clearly being geared towards success as a solo star, but as long as the WWE worked hard to make the fans like him in time for his Royal Rumble victory, things could have gone just fine.
But instead, Reigns had to leave for almost three months to recover from surgery to fix an incarcerated hernia. This took away the remaining time that WWE had to build Reigns up to be a star that could believably, and acceptably, win the Rumble and face off against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. All they could do was have Reigns dominate the competition for a month before winning the Rumble, which the fans didn’t like one bit.
Many will say that the fans would have turned on Roman Reigns regardless of what could have been done in those three lost months, but it’s certainly possible that WWE could have given him just one moment that made the fans think the man might actually do a decent job atop the card.
9 Hideo Itami
Back when NXT was still gaining in popularity, one of its biggest signings to date had come in the form of the world-renowned Kenta Kobayashi, who would be making his way from Japan to compete under the WWE umbrella with the ring name ‘Hideo Itami’. The newest signing made short work of the competition, competing in great matches against Tyler Breeze and Finn Bálor, even teaming with “The Demon King” to knock off The Ascension.
It didn’t take long for Itami to turn heads, as he was afforded the opportunity to compete in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 31, where he had a decent showing before being tossed out by Big Show. Things couldn’t possibly have been going better, with a chance at the NXT Championship looming on the horizon, but as luck would have it, a shoulder injury would put Itami on the shelf for over a year.
It’s fair to say that had Itami continued the way he had, we’d be looking at him now as a member of the main roster, a former NXT Champion, or both. Hideo is back in action now, but it’s going to be an uphill battle for the man to re-reach the heights of popularity he had following WrestleMania 31.
8 Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn’s run on the main roster has been a lot of fun so far. He’s had some phenomenal matches, particularly against Kevin Owens in their spectacular contest at Battleground.
But he’s yet to capture singles gold or even receive a main event a singles match with a world title on the line, and it’s worth wondering if he would have accomplished these things by now if his debut hadn’t been postponed as a result of a shoulder injury suffered on his first night on Raw, just before he challenged John Cena for the U.S. Title.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Sami Zayn’s arrival on Raw actually came before Kevin Owens’ did, because while Owens was making a name for himself, Zayn had to sit on the shelf for months, before returning to NXT for a short while and coming back up to try things out.
Things aren’t going too bad for him, but you can almost guarantee that he would have had a few high stakes feuds and maybe an Intercontinental Championship reign by now if his shoulder never popped out.
7 Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins spent the majority of 2015 as the face of the WWE roster, becoming the only man in history to cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase at WrestleMania and winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 31.
He was criticised for having a lot of his matches end due to interference from Kane or J&J Security, but, for the most part, “The Man” put on the best performance almost every single night, taking the likes of John Cena, Sting, Dean Ambrose, Neville and Kane to their limits.
But when the WWE hit Dublin in November, Seth Rollins’ reign as champion would come to an end as he landed awkwardly off a sunset flip powerbomb, tearing his ACL, MCL and meniscus in his knee. It was a shocking way for Rollins’ incredible reign as champion to come to an end, but it would be higher up on this list if it wasn’t rumored that Roman Reigns was scheduled to beat him for the title just weeks later. Plus, his return to WWE thus far has put the man in a great spot as the face of Raw, and the #1 overall draft pick.
Still, the injury did put a great title reign to an end, when his loss could have given a guy like Roman Reigns a title win that would’ve gone down better with the fans than a main event match against Sheamus or Triple H.
Sting’s arrival in WWE was like a dream come true for fans of “The Vigilante” and the moment he emerged at Survivor Series in 2014 we knew that we were going to witness some very special moments from the man over the course of his WWE run.
He had a great, nostalgic match against Triple H at WrestleMania 31, and became locked in a feud for the WWE World Championship against Seth Rollins later that year, but there was but one match that WWE fans all over the globe had on their minds – Sting vs. The Undertaker.
This clash would arguably be the biggest dream match in the history of professional wrestling and it just had to happen for Sting’s WWE career to be truly fulfilling. But we never got to that, because a neck injury sustained against Seth Rollins at Night of Champions would require Sting to undergo surgical spinal stenosis, a procedure that he turned down, instead opting to announce his retirement at the 2016 WWE Hall of Fame.
Sting was just starting to pick up steam in WWE when he wrestled his last match and it is a real shame that one move is what might forever have stood between Sting and the dream match of a lifetime against The Undertaker at WrestleMania.
5 Tyson Kidd
The story of Tyson Kidd’s neck injury is quite a heart-breaking one. The final graduate of the Hart family dungeon had spent most of his time in the WWE trying to find something that stuck and would get the fans behind him in a way that could see him into the future. He struggled for a while to make waves, but after a great showing in NXT in 2014, Kidd had been rejuvenated and was ready to start being a meaningful fixture on the product.
The opportunity came when Kidd was paired with another incredible performer in Cesaro. The two made a great tag-team, showcasing impeccable chemistry that played a big helping hand in giving the WWE tag-team division the adrenaline shot that it desperately needed. But before Kidd and Cesaro could make the impact they would've hoped, Tyson suffered a severe neck/spinal injury at the hands of Samoa Joe during a dark match on Raw.
He was lucky to be alive, considering the type of injury sustained is said to have a 5% survival rate, but his career had been taken right out from under him just while he was on the verge of becoming one of the best tag-team wrestlers in this generation of the sport.
4 Daniel Bryan - 2015
Although Daniel Bryan’s return to WWE 2015 wasn’t met with the role he’d given up due to injury the previous year, there was still a huge opportunity there for Bryan to move onto the next stage of his career and revitalize the WWE’s mid-card. After putting Roman Reigns over at Fastlane and allowing “The Big Dog” to go into WrestleMania against Brock Lesnar, Daniel turned his attention to the Intercontinental Championship.
When he won the title in a Ladder Match at WrestleMania 31, he had the potential to do for it what John Cena was doing for the U.S. Championship and restore some of the prestige that the title had lost over years of being tossed around like a hot potato.
But it just wasn’t meant to be, because the amount of concussion Bryan had received over his career was starting to rack up and after yet another one as IC Champ, they just couldn’t continue to risk his well-being anymore. The Intercontinental Championship itself probably missed Daniel Byran more than anyone else, considering the title was earned by Ryback at Elimination Chamber in one of the throwaway reigns that year.
3 Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler’s Money in the Bank cash-in from the night after WrestleMania 29 is easily one of the best, because it covered all the bases in terms of being a momentous occasion in WWE. Ziggler’s intensity as he walked to the ring was palpable, the booking had been perfect not to make then-champion Alberto Del Rio look weak in defeat, and best of all, the crowd reaction to Ziggler's music was on par with the biggest crowd reactions in history.
It was the perfect crowning moment, but one swift kick in the face is all it took to turn Ziggler’s dream into a nightmare. The concussion he received from Jack Swagger on SmackDown would send Ziggler away for a number of weeks, but by the time he got back to action, the WWE had moved on from Ziggler and awarded the World Heavyweight Championship back to Alberto Del Rio in a double turn at Payback.
Dolph Ziggler did everything right. He didn’t get hurt by landing poorly on his feet or by taking a bump the wrong way. How can you prepare for somebody to kick you square in the head? But it didn’t matter how well he performed, WWE does not mess around when it comes to concussions and Jack Swagger’s boot is all it took to derail Ziggler’s monster push.
2 Finn Bálor
The most recent injury on this list is also one of the most devastating. Ever since he arrived on the scene in NXT, Finn Bálor has been in the conversation for who is going to be the next WWE Superstar to take the company by storm and become the next face of the company.
His in-ring ability and incredible character portrayal allowed him to take the NXT brand to new heights, so when he was drafted #5 to Raw in July, fans were very excited to see what “The Demon King” had in store. He didn’t mess about, defeating Rusev, Cesaro, Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns in two separate matches on his debut night, allowing him to go to SummerSlam to beat Seth Rollins and become the first ever WWE Universal Champion.
Then tragedy would strike, as a torn labrum received during a bucklebomb spot (the same move that took out Sting) would be what forced Bálor to relinquish the championship just twenty-four hours later and get surgery, taking him out of action at least until January.
WWE still has the opportunity to make the best of this bad situation, but this is a huge blow to Finn Bálor, who was gearing up to be the top star on the WWE’s flagship show. With a bit of luck, a Royal Rumble victory might just be in his future prior to his WrestleMania debut.
1 Daniel Bryan - 2014
Daniel Bryan was easily the biggest star in all of WWE in the spring of 2014. He’d fought tooth and nail for his WrestleMania moment, and he got it in spectacular fashion by knocking off Triple H in the opening bout and overcoming Randy Orton and Batista in a triple threat match to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the main event.
It was a moment that will forever go down in history where the underdog won, despite all odds, to become the face of the company. Real life doesn’t always result in a fairy tale ending, however, and as bad as it was that Daniel Bryan’s father would pass away shortly after, Bryan only had one Pay-Per-View championship defense before losing the strength in his right arm.
After having surgery, Bryan had no choice but to relinquish the titles and go on hiatus to rehabilitate. We wouldn’t see Bryan lace his boots back up until the following January, but by then his spot on top had understandably gone to other stars on the active roster.
It’s a saddening thought that we’ll never know what kind of reign Bryan had in store for us following his monumental victory at WrestleMania XXX. It has to be killing the man to act as the SmackDown General Manager these days, knowing that if things had gone better with his physical health, we could be looking at him as one of the greatest champions in WWE history.