When it comes to professional wrestling, there are supposed to be a lot of scary moments. The menacing characters, outlandish plotlines, realistic-looking violence, and occasional uses of blood and gore are meant to provide excitement akin to a roller coaster ride.
The angles and kayfabe (like the theme of a thrill ride) may touch on fears that people are known to have - be it natural or supernatural, rational or irrational - and as the technology and production value improves over time, the storylines and performances can get downright eerie at times. Plus, most of us don’t personally know the individuals involved, so who are we to dismiss that some of them (especially new ones) aren’t truly deranged deviants? That’s the point, right?
In other words, the audience is meant to experience the illusion or possibility of danger almost the entire time, but if all goes well, no one should truly get hurt. Sure, some bumps, bruises, and scrapes are expected to occur, but nothing serious.
Yet things don’t always go as planned, and although the safety of participants is usually secure, when things go very wrong, the results can be devastating. The difference between a successful piledriver and a failed one, for instance, can be less than an inch. This also means that the difference between a realistic-looking injury and an actual life-altering (or life-ending) one has the same margin of error. Even seemingly harmless move can have surprisingly dire consequences.
When wrestling constantly walks the line between reality and performance, between athleticism and acting, the real danger is always in the backs of fans’ minds - and it can be brought to the forefront in one terrifying instant. With that, here are the Top 15 Scariest Wrestling Moments of All Time.
As much as I’d like to say none of the vignettes, promos, or prerecorded clips could be scary, once in a while someone really dials up the creepiness factor, especially when they prey on a common fear. Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns, an informal phobia that is surprisingly common among people today. When the Los Psycho Circus made their AAA debut in 2007, let’s hope none of those people were watching.
12 13. Jake’s Macho Snake Bite
Few members of the animal kingdom can evoke fear like the snake. Just ask Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who made his whole career off of this fact. Of course, in the world of kayfabe, it’s all part of the act - sort of. Although Roberts de-venomized (but didn’t defang) them beforehand, he did use real snakes, and they did purposefully bite opponents. This usually went without incident, but in an October 1991 match against Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Roberts unleashed a king cobra in the ring and made it latch onto Savage’s bicep.
11 12. Vader’s Eye-Popping Injury
Prior to being signed by WCW, Big Van Vader was wrestling in Japan as part of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Arguably his most famous match occurred in February of 1990, when Vader squared off against Stan Hansen. During a series of punches, Hansen accidentally poked Vader’s right eye with his thumb, causing it to pop out. That’s right: although his eyelid covered it, Vader’s eye literally came out of its socket.
10 11. Sid Vicious Breaks a Leg
One of the most visually-disturbing real wrestling injuries was not life threatening, nor did it involve any visible blood. On January 14, 2001, Sid Eudy (then using the name Sid Vicious) leapt from the second turnbuckle at WCW’s Sin PPV event in Indianapolis while attempting to put a big boot move on Steiner, and instead broke his leg when he landed awkwardly. The footage of his tibia and fibula snapping was so graphic that some TV stations refused to re-broadcast it.
Injuries in wrestling are especially scary when the competitor cannot complete the match. Although this is often because they have been rendered immobile or unconscious, sometimes the injury is just so bad that the wrestler is not allowed to continue. During WWE’s December 17, 2006 Armageddon PPV ladder match, Joey Mercury took the end of a rail right to the face, and although he initially reacted in the same way as the others who feigned getting hit, it was soon apparent that Mercury was legitimately injured.
9 9. Sabu & Terry Funk’s Fight Comes Down to the Wire
On August 9, 1997, ECW held its championship match during the “Born to be Wired” event, and the titular barbed wire (used in place of the ring’s ropes) lived up to its billing. In the final match of the evening, which pitted Sabu against Terry Funk, a failed “Air Sabu” horrifically tore open Sabu’s bicep, and the match ended with both wrestlers completely and hopelessly tangled up in the wire.
8 8. Mick Foley Lends an Ear
Back in his Cactus Jack days in the WCW, Mick Foley and Vader squared off in Germany during a European tour, and the match nearly killed the former. Foley chose to perform the hangman move, which involves the wrestler legitimately entangling his neck in the ring’s ropes. However, in this instance, the ropes used were actually rubber-covered elevator cables, and unbeknownst to Foley, they had been tightened to their maximum earlier that day.
7 7. New Jack & Vic Grimes’ Fall(s)
New Jack and Vic Grimes really don’t like each other. Aside from the violent confrontations that allegedly went as planned (the flaming table, both balcony falls, etc.), there were a couple sloppier - and thus scarier - ones, with some possible malicious intent. Although the Danbury scaffolding fall (during March 2000’s Living Dangerously) had bigger consequences as New Jack suffered broken bones, brain damage, and permanent partial vision loss, Grimes’s February 2002 scaffolding fall looked worse.
6 6. The Mass Transit Incident
Though not televised, the Mass Transit Incident ranks in wrestling lore as one of the scariest events to ever occur. After Axl Rotten abruptly canceled just before a November 23, 1996 ECW match against New Jack, a heavy 19-year-old kid named Mass Transit (dressed as a Ralph Cramden-type character) who said he was trained by Killer Kowalski, stepped in to take his place. However, it later turned out that the training claim was a lie, and the kid was barely 17.
5 5. Mankind Plunges to Hell
1998’s Hell in a Cell King of the Ring match is arguably the most memorable and brutal match of all time. Only minutes into the bout, The Undertaker threw Mankind off the giant steel cage and onto an announcer’s table 20 feet below. Although paramedics tended to him for several minutes and began to lead him away, Mankind (now sporting a dislocated shoulder) ran back and climbed the cage to continue the battle.
Undertaker then chokeslammed Mankind onto the top of the cage, and (unexpectedly to everyone involved) he crashed through it and down into the ring below. Mick Foley (a.k.a. Mankind) was legitimately unconscious, had his jaw dislocated, and had a tooth visually knocked loose by a folding chair that fell with and on him.
4 4. Buff Bagwell Breaks his Neck
Back injuries are all-too-common in wrestling, and although some wrestlers remarkably don’t realize the true extent of their injuries until the match is over, for others, it’s quite obvious. When Rick Steiner attempted a diving bulldog on Buff Bagwell during an April 22, 1998 nWo Thunder bout, but instead severely jammed Bagwell’s neck, the seriousness was immediately apparent.
3 3. The Leatherfaces Nail Down a Win
On December 14, 1994, two Leatherfaces (Michael Kirchner & Rick Patterson) took on Shoji Nakamaki and Hiroshi Ono in one of the bloodiest hardcore bouts of all time: a Double Hell Deathmatch in Japan. To start, the Leatherfaces entered the ring with chainsaws blazing by cutting right through the crowd of terrified onlookers, who scattered in all directions as the heels chased them for a full minute. It only got worse from there.
2 2. The Death of Perro Aguayo Jr.
1 1. Owen Hart’s Deadly Fall
All the angles and kayfabe in the world can’t come close to creating the fear that occurs when something goes seriously wrong. During WWF’s “Over the Edge” live pay-per-view event on May 23, 1999, Owen Hart (as the Blue Blazer) was being lowered from the rafters of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City via harness and grapple line, when he unintentionally triggered an early release and fell 78 feet into the ring.
Although viewers at home didn’t witness the incident due to the broadcast of a prerecorded interview at the time of the entrance, 16,000 spectators were present in the arena, and everybody quickly realized this wasn’t part of the act. The show was halted for 15 minutes as the cameras only focused on the frightened and confused audience members. An hour into the event, announcer Jim Ross informed TV viewers that Hart had tragically died at the age of 34.
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