In professional wrestling, and sports in general, injuries are just a way of life. Seriously, when men and women are doing things their bodies aren’t meant to do, at extremes above what a normal person can accomplish, things are gonna happen.
One of the reasons I never pursued an athletic career, besides being 5’6” and 140 pounds soaking wet, was that I couldn’t stomach the risk of injury. All it took was one look at Joe Theismann’s leg getting obliterated to know that sitting behind a desk was how my bread was going to get buttered.
Depending on the injury, many athletes are able to come back and perform near the same level. Others who go through months of recovery show flashes of what once made them great, but never get back to that superstar level. Remember how good Derrick Rose was for the Chicago Bulls before both of his knees exploded? On the other hand, you have Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who blew out his knee and eight months later was back starting an MVP season.
But it’s different for professional wrestlers. Consider Mr. Wonderful, Paul Orndorff. He injured his arm during the biggest run of his career, but failed to get it repaired. He knew that if he took the time off he needed to heal, he’d lose his spot and lots of cash in the process. He finally got the surgery but was never back in the main event picture. You always hear about athletes wanting to go out on their own terms, but for some, they don’t get that chance. For the following wrestlers, an injury meant the push was over.
15 Sami Zayn
Zayn looks to be in line to do some great things with WWE, but his first opportunity to prove himself didn’t go as planned.
14 Chris Nowinski
If it weren’t for Chris Nowinski suffering a concussion in 2003 and dealing with post-concussion symptoms, who knows if we’d even be aware of the dangers of head injuries or CTE. We have more knowledge than ever over how they affect athletes in different sports, especially football players.
13 Mr. Kennedy
12 Ashley Massaro
11 Dolph Ziggler
Remember when Dolph Ziggler was coming to the ring with AJ Lee & Big E Langston? He was super heelish but also super over with the fans. At the Raw following WrestleMania XXIX, Ziggler blew the roof off the Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ when he cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase, defeating Alberto Del Rio and began his second run as the World Heavyweight Champion. The following month, Ziggler sustained a concussion and hasn’t returned to the main event picture.
9 Bret Hart
6 Rick Rude
For my money, there aren’t many heels better than Ravishing Rick Rude. His feud with Jake the Snake Roberts across 1987-88 is the stuff of legends. Rude never won the top prize in the WWE, but was in his third run as the WCW International Heavyweight Champion when he injured his back and was forced to retire.
5 Mr. Perfect
Many people are still perplexed to this day as to why Mr. Perfect was never a world champion. He had the charisma, was amazing in the ring and he had the 'it' factor. One major reason that he never reached the summit was he suffered a career threatening back injury. He worked through the pain to put Bret Hart over at SummerSlam 1991, but had to spend the next year and a half recuperating. This took a major chunk out of his career, a time that could have been spent building Perfect up as an eventual world champion.
Perfect acted as Ric Flair's "Executive Consultant" and also worked as a color commentator. He eventually returned to the ring in late 1992 after turning on Flair. Perfect would wrestle until 1994, but his back injury flared up again, forcing him to step away from the ring for another couple of years. Had Perfect stayed healthy, there's little doubt he would have gotten a title reign.
4 Seth Rollins
Since winning the WWE title at WrestleMania 31, nobody was hitting their stride quite like Rollins. Holding onto the Money in the Bank briefcase for nearly a year prior to that, Rollins cashed in and started one of the best heel reigns of recent memory. Unlike part-time champs like Triple H, Brock Lesnar and The Rock, Rollins was out there every week, defending his title and winning the United States Championship from John Cena in the process.
3 Tyson Kidd
2 Magnum TA
While it wasn’t an injury inside the squared circle, Magnum TA was well on his way to becoming the NWA Heavyweight champion in 1986 when a car accident ended his career. Injuries to his spine forced Magnum to walk with a cane for a few years, never to wrestle again.
1 Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan was on top of the world in 2014 having won the WWE World Heavyweight championship at WrestleMania XXX. The following month he was dealing with an arm injury and then in June, he was stripped of the belt. He returned the following January at the Royal Rumble and won the IC title at WrestleMania 31, but within a month, he was out with another injury and vacated that belt. It was the end of the road for Bryan in a WWE ring as he retired in February 2016.
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