The fact that wrestling is scripted may be the worst and best thing about the sport at the same time. On the one hand, it sucks knowing that rather than each competitor's fate laying in their own hands, success and failure are essentially in the hands of writers and storytellers. At the same time, the choreographed athleticism remains impressive and the pain and hard work are indeed real. Furthermore, working from a script allows so much more depth in terms of the competition. Of course, if you're a fan, we don't need to sell you on stuff.
Obviously, with anything scripted with characters, creative minds can write them in and out as they please. Some talent can be sent back to developmental promotions, while others can be written out in other creative ways, while others just disappear. Of course, for some characters, they can be killed off altogether. You can't do that in "real" sports, right? In the same way that killing off a wrestler can toy with the fans' emotions, bringing them back does exactly the same, and because wrestling seldom makes much sense (admit it, many story lines are ridiculous).
Kayfabe deaths are unheard of in WWE these days, given their focus on non-offensive, youth-friendly content, but back in the 1990s and 2000s the world of wrestling was gruesome and nothing was off limits, including terrifying on-screen (but ultimately fake) deaths. Here are fifteen of the most awful ways this has happened.
15 Stone Cold Steve Austin - Thrown Off Bridge
This may have been the greatest rivalry of the Attitude Era. Of course, it's up to opinion, and we're not about to dive into the argument in any detail. But needless to say, The Rock played the corporate scumbag brilliantly, and Stone Cold was the blue collar hero, The Texas Rattlesnake.
In this segment from back in 1999, The Rock and Stone Cold met on a bridge after the former stole the latter's belt. After a brief scuffle, Austin was clinging "for life" from the bridge and was pushed off by The Rock. The WWE briefly pretended that Stone Cold was no more, but of course, he showed up a week later and pummeled The Rock.
14 Mickie James - Train Station
We'll admit that there are some more brutal ways for one to meet their end, and while getting smoked by a train is at least quick (we hope, we have no experience with this kind of thing), this has got to be a messy way to go. A couple of years ago, when Mickie James had just a single appearance left on her contract with TNA, she was shoved off a train platform by James Storm on Impact, presumed to be dead in that storyline. He says things to the effect of "your train is coming" and "it's a long way down" (after pushing her off the platform) so it is left up to the audience to decide whether she got hit or just took a nasty to certain doom. This was a terrible acting performance to compliment a poorly put together segment, but oh well, wrestling is what it is.
Of course, she had one more appearance when she and Nick "Magnus" Aldis (her real life fiance) defeated Storm and Serena.
13 Hawk's "Suicide"
In one of the more tasteless moves that happened in WWE around the turn of the century, Hawk, one half of The Road Warriors (Legion of Doom) had a storyline that hit too close to home. Michael Hegstrand (Hawk) was going through what we'll call a rough patch involving heavy drinking and drug use. This all led to some talk of suicide. On an episode of Monday Night Raw, Hawk climbed atop a large TV screen (TitanTron) and was "pushed off" (it was a very accurate-to-life dummy) by fellow team member Puke, who would later imply that he had caused Hawk's addictions in order to take his spot in the Legion of Doom.
Hegstrand and Joe "Animal" Laurinaitis quit the WWE shortly after. Hegstrand died a couple of years later due to a heart attack after returning to smaller promotions and suffering some ill-health.
12 Vince McMahon's Limo Explosion
Looking back to 2007, before WWE started to rebrand and offer more PG programming, Vince McMahon stepped into his limousine during an episode of Raw, only to have it explode the second he closed the door. The real guy was fine, but the character he was playing at the time had been acting oddly for weeks prior, becoming paranoid and fearing that something was about to happen.
The original angle for this was to introduce a story line in which McMahon had died and nobody was sure who did it. Of course, right in the middle of this, Chris Benoit murdered his wife and son before killing himself. The death angle for McMahon's story became a bit too real and was called off.
11 The Giant (Paul Wight) - Falls Off Building
This was all the way back in the early days of Big Show's now over twenty-five year career. He was working for WCW at the time and was known as The Giant. His gimmick was that he was Andre the Giant's son (that didn't last long).
At Halloween Havoc at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit in 1995, and while there was a match between Hulk Hogan and The Giant, it was actually preceded by a Monster Truck match, that was filmed the day before, on top of another building, the Cobo Hall. After Hulk beat The Giant in their monster trucks, the two began to fight, and that scrap ended with Giant falling off the building, presumably to his demise. Wouldn't you know it, he showed up for his main event match without a scratch.
10 Abdullah the Butcher - Electric Chair
One of the all-time legends of the sport, Abdullah the Butcher, was in WCW during the early 1990s, when that promotion was a mess in which anything was acceptable and indeed encouraged. The Chamber of Horrors match at Halloween Havoc in 1991 was an example of this. Cactus Jack, Abdullah, Diamond Studd and Big Van Vader took on El Gigante, The Steiner Brothers and Sting. Abdullah ended up in the electric chair and got "fried" when Cactus Jack accidentally hit the switch.
He regained consciousness quickly, very much alive and understandably furious, sparking a feud with Jack in the aftermath of this misunderstanding. In real life though, it doesn't take long to get killed via an electric chair, and one certainly wouldn't be moving around after such a shock. This was WCW at its best.
9 Bael (Lucha Underground) - Killed In Matanza's Cell
This promotion just got started in late 2014, but has already earned a great deal of respect among wrestling fans for effects, great storylines (including some sci-fi inspiration), well-written characters, and of course, ample excitement.
They built up this character Matanza for a long time. He was the kayfabe brother of Lucha Underground "owner" Dario Cueto, with a monster gimmick; essentially an ultra-violent, semi human maniac, kept in a cage. When Cueto's three security guards failed to win a trios match for the championship, Bael was pushed up against the bars of this cage and quickly torn to shreds by Matanza.
8 The Rock - 18 Wheeler
In 2002, The Rock was set to take on Hulk (Hollywood) Hogan in an "Icon vs. Icon" match, in Toronto's Skydome at WrestleMania X8 (18). The WWE needed a way to vilify Hogan in the eyes of the fan, so they had Hogan and the New World Order beat The Rock senseless at No Way Out. After the aforementioned beating, they and Hogan proceeded to attack the paramedics who were helping The Rock and even destroyed his ambulance with a tractor-trailer. The state of The Rock was left ambiguous but he was okay to wrestle about a week later.
The Rock won their match at WrestleMania X8 and the two exchanged shows of respect, you know, despite the whole attempted murder thing.
7 Ric Flair - Buried in the Desert
Every Superstar has their ups and their downs, even Ric Flair, unanimously considered one of the greatest of all time. Between the numerous championships and the list of accolades on which we could write a book, he worked for WCW during the days of Vince Russo's writing (shortly before the promotion ended), and was the center of a story in which he feuded with the Filthy Animals, who buried him in Las Vegas. He returned a few months later, relatively unscathed.
Russo has expanded on this story and why it went wrong. His original idea was to keep having legends of the sport disappear and eventually have them returned as a single faction of iconic names. This was interrupted and Flair (according to his own version of events) was called back to television when Terry Funk left the promotion.
6 Mankind - Buried Alive
There really aren't many more terrifying ways to go than being buried alive. Whether you're in a casket or just buried in the soil, the very idea of it is unnerving just to think about. Hence why the Buried Alive matches were such a hit. There have only been five of them, and Mick Foley participated in two of them, winning the first in 1996, with the help of a few Superstars including Triple H. The Undertaker won it, but ended up getting buried regardless.
Years later, Big Show and The Undertaker took on The Rock 'n' Sock Connection (The Rock and Mankind) in a Tag Team Buried Alive match. The Undertaker and The Rock were wailing on each other elsewhere, and Big Show managed to get Mankind into the grave, partially covering him with dirt before Triple H rushed out, smoked him with his sledgehammer, and then finished the job, burying Mankind.
5 The Undertaker - Buried A Few Times
While Mankind was buried alive once, as we already detailed, The Undertaker wound up on the losing side of three of his five Buried Alive matches, and got buried despite winning the first one. His gimmick obviously allows him to be killed off and revived whenever the writers want, and has been used to give him some time off from the sport, when necessary. Despite the fact that his character is a sinister one and essentially immortal, these buried alive matches always made audiences feel uneasy given the thought of dying while buried alive. But of course, each time (usually a few months later) The Undertaker would return "alive" and well and ready to once again claim his spot within WWE, at the very top of the company.
4 Paul Bearer - Cement
One of the most iconic managers in the history of wrestling, and one of the most delightfully evil names ever to enter the business, was William Moody: Paul Bearer. He managed some of the biggest names in the business, from Stone Cold Steve Austin to Big Show to, of course, the Undertaker, earning himself a spot in the Hall of Fame.
In 2004, The Undertaker and the Dudley Boys were set for a match, and Bearer was encased within a glass crypt that was half filled with cement backstage, with the threat being, if Undertaker lost, the crypt would be filled. Undertaker won, but proceeded to pul the lever to full up the glass case anyway.
3 Sting - Falling Human Torch
Returning to the good ol' days when WCW was an unapologetic disaster (this event took place when Vince Russo was with WCW, because of course it did), Sting was in a human torch match with Vampiro, which culminated with Sting being lit on fire, as the name of the match would imply, and then jumping off the Tron, to what announcers indicated was his death.
Of course, the character returned and only (sort of) retired last year. This would have been a rough way to go. In an interesting turn of events, the stuntman who actually carried out the jump was badly injured doing so, and there was a rumor about him having to be resuscitated in the aftermath of the plunge.
2 Big Boss Man - Hanged
A prison guard in his early life, Ray Traylor started working for Jim Crockett Promotions in the mid 1980s with a personal bodyguard gimmick and took on wrestling as his full time career shortly after his start. He worked in WWE, All-Japan, WCW, and returned to the WWE in the late 1990s and worked as a heel for Vince McMahon and The Corporation while they were feuding with D-Generation X and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
He won a few championships during this period, including the Hardcore Championship a few times and the Tag Team Championship with Ken Shamrock. He was in a Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker at WrestleMania XV, and after losing, was hanged from the cage as it rose to the top of First Union Center in Philadelphia.
Watching this at age 11, it looked real and was about as terrifying a thing as I had seen at the time. Of course, the noose hooked onto a harness on Boss Man's outfit which allowed this nasty illusion.
1 The Undertaker - Casket Lit on Fire
We already listed The Undertaker for the amount of times he's been buried, but that awesome "undead" gimmick lets him come back every time. Funny how that works. Looking back to 1998's Royal Rumble, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker squared off in a Casket match in which Kane, who had re-allied himself with his brother, showed up and helped Michaels win the match, locking The Undertaker within the casket at which point he and Paul Bearer set fire to the casket.
Of course, The Undertaker would return, and has continued to work with WWE since. We're fairly sure that he escaped the casket in this instance via some kind of trap door in the ring, but an impressive spectacle nonetheless. One you simply cannot see in today's WWE.