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.
15. Send in the Clowns
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.
Although clown-themed characters had been used before in professional wrestling, none were even close to the grotesqueness of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space-like Psycho Circus. Few opponents were close to the size of the three gargantuan wrestlers either. And to top off their debut match, one of the clowns even hurled an opponent into the shocked arena audience.
14. The Age of the Fall’s Bloody Good Debut
If there’s one generally reliable way to freak out fans, it’s with ample amounts of blood - and one of the bloodiest matches occurred at Ring of Honor’s 2007 Man Up pay-per-view event. It all started when the Briscoe Brothers were violently attacked by Jimmy Jacobs, Necro Butcher, and Tyler Black after a brutal ladder match. Jay Briscoe was then strung upside-down from the rigging by his feet, and ample amounts of his blood dripped down onto a white-suited Jacobs as he announced the beginning of the Age of the Fall stable. The scene was so dark, gruesome, and gory that it was actually removed from the televised broadcast. Fortunately for fans, it was released elsewhere soon after.
12 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.
While the crowd (and home viewers) squirmed at the extended closeup, it soon became apparent that Roberts was having trouble getting the cobra to let go, as real blood and deep fang marks became visible on Savage. After almost a minute, the cobra finally released him.
11 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.
He then removed his mask, physically popped the eye back into place, and continued wrestling. Although there was no blood, seeing a puffy mass bulging beneath Vader’s eyelid as he nonchalantly poked at it was one of the most disturbing injuries in wrestling history.
10 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.
We’re talking a Joe Theismann-level break. Nitro showed the injury extensively the following night though, after Eudy underwent two hours of surgery and had a 17-inch steel rod inserted into his leg.
10. Joey Mercury Gets Rung Up
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.
The dazed wrestler wasn’t allowed to continue due to the blood streaming down his face, and the fact that he had four fractures to his nose and orbital bone, and required more than 30 stitches.
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.
Ring technicians armed with wire cutters had to spend several minutes freeing the two profusely bleeding men, and the resulting scene gets the match consistently ranked among the most violent of all time. Paul Heyman later commented that the fight was “so gruesome, I never ever dared to schedule another one like it.”
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.
Foley’s head became stuck while a vice-like grip squeezed his neck, and he started to pass out. In order to save himself from brain damage or worse, Foley screamed and struggled to free himself, which he did so at the expense of his right ear. As blood poured from the wound, the ear soon fell off completely (and was picked up and pocketed by an official), in front of thousands of horrified spectators. After a four hour operation to attach what was left of the ear, a German nurse earnestly asked Foley, “Isn’t wrestling all fake?”
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.
In the former, both fighters fell onto the cement from a height of 20 feet; in the latter, Grimes tumbled 40 feet and barely nicked two tables intended to break his fall. He also violently struck the ropes, which probably saved him from smacking straight into the concrete.
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.
After agreeing to be bladed, Mass Transit's inexperience (and possibly New Jack's general recklessness) led to a much deeper cut than intended. As the crowd watched blood from two severed arteries pour out of Mass Transit's head while he lay passed out on the canvas (coupled with the pleas of Transit’s father to stop the fight) it was obvious something very wrong had occurred.
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.
Undertaker himself later said he actually thought his opponent was dead at this point. As the fight still continued and Mankind was thrown onto a bed of real thumbtacks, announcer Jim Ross cried out, likely in earnest, “Good God! Will somebody stop the damn match? Enough’s enough!”
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.
Bagwell laid on the canvas for 30 minutes as paramedics tended to an injury that would later require him to use a wheelchair and neck brace for some time, as TV cameras captured the many concerned looks of audience members. Any lingering suspicions of kayfabe were completely squashed when Steiner himself helped set up the stretcher for Bagwell.
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.
As if seeing all the wrestlers legitimately bleeding all over the ring from beds of nails and ample barbed wire wasn’t enough, the Leatherfaces ended the match by breaking off a large sheet of the nail bed, leg-dropping it on Ono’s throat, powerbombing him onto it (and between two of the sheets), and again chasing the spectators around the room with chainsaws as they made their exit.
2 The Death of Perro Aguayo Jr.
It is generally accepted that the planning, choreography, technology, and safety measures involved in professional wrestling matches nowadays should prevent any serious injuries from occurring. Yet, on March 21, 2015, wrestler Perro Aguayo Jr. died in the ring after a freak accident. And although the match wasn’t associated with one of the major US wrestling promotions, it wasn’t some backyard bum fight featuring a bunch of nobodies either. Aguayo was with AAA and facing former WWE star Rey Mysterio Jr. and two others in Tijuana, when Mysterio landed a flying kick to Aguayo’s shoulder and neck. Aguayo immediately fell onto the lower ropes, where he hung limp for two minutes before the referee and others realized the severity of his injuries. An autopsy later determined that Aguayo suffered three broken vertebrae, and likely died almost instantly. He was only 35.
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.