Contrary to what outsiders believe, injuries are a very real thing in wrestling. Many believe the reason WWE goes for a “main event” style today is to cut down on them as they can be constant and often very dangerous to guys down the line. The main reason, of course, is that promoters hate it when a guy suffers an injury at the worst time as it can ruin so many plans. It’s a brutal thing but it's true. For example, the Dynamite Kid’s back injury in 1986 threw off the tag team scene and Kid was never the same afterward. It’s the X-factor that can ruin many a booking plan and alter careers all over.
A guy coming back from an injury can be a big deal (see John Cena’s surprise return in 2008) but the loss of a guy to an injury offsets that majorly. There are many a time it’s happened but some stand out more than others. There are some times when a wrestler is in the middle of a career breakthrough only to see it ruined by an injury. Momentum is a very difficult thing to attain in wrestling and once it's gone, a wrestler may never get it back. Here are 15 workers who were injured at the worst time and how it changed them, and their companies, majorly.
A great worker and terrific on the mic, MVP had what it took to rise high in WWE, reigning as US and tag team champion and seemed ready to move up the ranks more. However, during a checkup, he was discovered to have a heart condition, needing some time off for surgery just as he and Matt Hardy were engaging in their great feud.
Joining TNA in 2014, MVP was set as the on-air authority figure, at first a face but then turned heel to attack champion Eric Young and create the Beat Down Clan. The plan was for MVP to face and beat Young for the title at Slammiversary and it was promoted in TV tapings. But on a tour, MVP suffered a serious foot injury and thus the whole thing was changed to Lashley winning the belt on TV. MVP wasn’t the same, removed from power and leaving TNA in controversy in 2015 and so this injury ruined the one main event push he had in store.
14 Bret Hart
Despite all the harsh stuff of WCW in 1999, they were trying to put out a good product as Bret Hart was still a top star and willing to make a go as a heel. He could still put out great matches such as a classic with Chris Benoit and determined to make his latest run as WCW Champion a success. At Starrcade ’99, he and Goldberg went at it in a much-anticipated battle, during which Bret took a nasty kick to the head. He retained the title but then felt woozy and suffered from severe headaches. Going to the doctor, Bret realized he had a severe concussion and thus had to drop the title. It was basically the end of Bret’s entire in-ring career. One of the greatest careers ever ended thanks to a terrible kick and cost WCW one of its major names at a time when they couldn’t afford to lose any. It also ended Bret's run just as WCW was finally starting to treat him like a top star.
13 Seth Rollins
A more recent example but clearly a major one. After cashing in Money in the Bank, Rollins was riding high as WWE Champion, his title defenses top-notch and things building to a clash with Roman Reigns. He was amazing on the mic, great in the ring, the full heel package and fans were eager to see him continue. So his severe injury at a house show couldn’t have come at a worse time, altering slews of plans for the future with some saying Rollins could have kept the belt all the way to WrestleMania to face Reigns and remain hot as hell. With him gone, we got the confusion of Reigns, then Sheamus, then Reigns, Triple H and then Reigns again, a series of booking that fans hated. Had Rollins stayed healthy, his dropping the belt to Roman would have gone better and not caused the massive backlash that’s hurt the Roman Empire so much.
After a stint in ECW, Amy Dumas erupted onto the scene in WWE as Lita in 2000. With her fiery red hair, amazing build, the alluring tattoos and terrific skill, Lita was a hit and helped revive the Women’s division of the company. Plans were made for more of her as in 2002, she did a guest starring bit on “Dark Angel” where, in an amazing irony, the woman who’d been great in the ring suffered a serious neck injury by a stunt gone wrong.
It had her away for a year, during which Trish Stratus took charge as the new Diva to watch. When she returned, Lita had dropped in popularity and wouldn’t become a big deal again until her affair with Edge went public in 2005. Lita in her prime could have helped the Divas out even more and her injury was a bad blow to a division just starting to reach its peak.
11 Kerry Von Erich
Much has been made of how Fritz Von Erich went way too far protecting his sons, turning a blind eye to their addictions and pushing them hard. World Class depended on the Von Erichs to stay in business, a huge responsibility that they often couldn’t live up to. Still, it was amazing how Kerry could be stoned out of his mind in matches and other mistakes that have become legendary. In 1986, when the company needed him the most, Kerry got into a nasty motorcycle accident, which was worsened by him not wearing a helmet. It was a miracle he wasn’t killed at the time. Instead, his leg was smashed so badly that it was later amputated (amazingly, it was kept quiet until Kerry’s death) and without him, WCCW basically collapsed.
Kerry wasn’t the same, and an addiction to painkillers drove him to his suicide in 1993 and showed how Fritz’s desire to protect the business at all costs helped cause so much tragedy.
10 Ken Kennedy/Anderson
You’d be hard-pressed to find a guy who was ready for a push so many times only to have it ruined by injury. Starting in 2005, Kennedy had a great ring entrance, a cocky persona, good on the mic and seemed ready to rise up the ranks quickly. But then he suffered a muscle tear that put him on the shelf for six months. He won Money in the Bank in 2007 but had to drop it to Edge thanks to a triceps tear. He was then caught in a steroid scandal and suspended to ruin the plans for him to be revealed as “Mr. McMahon’s secret son” and various smaller injuries pushed him to leave the company. In TNA, Anderson was in the main event scene and champion but once more, injuries would strike at certain points to kill his momentum and push him down. Without this litany of bad moves, Kennedy could have been a major star but the timing of his injuries always seemed to strike at the worst time.
9 Ahmed Johnson
Johnson was getting a serious push from his debut in 1995, body-slamming Yokozuna and Vince having big plans for the guy. He was bad on the mic but had popularity, being a strong man whose power bomb finisher looked impressive and at the 1996 King of the Ring, he beat Goldust to win the IC title. It was a big deal as Johnson was ready for a long reign as champion against various opponents. But in a battle with Farooq, Johnson suffered a very real kidney injury and had to give up the IC title and spend weeks out of action.
He was worse when he came back, the fan heat had faded and his push fizzled away quickly. He really had the look of a future star but that injury destroyed his potential just as he was about to get started. The rest of his time with WWE was a mess and he was eventually released from the company in 1998.
8 Brian Pillman
WCW in 1993 was rough to watch with bad angles, gimmicks and even terrible video presentation. However, a major bright spot was the Hollywood Blondes as Steve Austin and Brian Pillman were taking off majorly as tag team champions, fans loving to hate them as they put on terrific matches and their reign as champions was incredible. In a wild move to cut costs, WCW decided to do a weekend of tapings of syndicated shows that basically gave away months of programming, including the Blondes dropping the belts to Arn Anderson and Paul Roma. But Pillman suffered a serious leg injury so in order to keep to the tapings, Steve Regal was paired with Austin to drop the belts instead.
Pillman came back a bit too soon, and was never the same after that but WCW would follow it by splitting the Blondes up. It was a terrible move in many ways as Pillman’s injury helped ruin one of the best things WCW had.
Adam Copeland achieved his dream of super-stardom in wrestling but it came with a very high price. His first major injury occurred in 2003, just as Edge was about to really break through as a singles guy, putting him out until mid-2004. He came back and won the IC title but then tore his groin and had to give the belt up. He remained luckier for a few years as he rose to main event level but in 2007, his run as World Champion had to be ended after he injured his pectoral muscle, requiring more surgery.
There were more injuries to come, as 2009 had him tearing his Achilles. He would recover sooner than expected, returning to win the Royal Rumble and the World title. But in 2011, just as his latest run as world champion was about to get started, Edge announced his retirement due to all his bad neck issues. His career was amazing but marred by so many injuries at bad times and Edge might still be going today if not for all of them.
WCW had so many bad breaks but this had to rank as one of the absolute worst. Already seeing problems with falling ratings and Vince Russo’s writing, they decided to do a big angle of Goldberg charging out to go after Bret Hart and the new nWo. Coming to a limo, Goldberg smashed it with his bare fist, a move he wasn’t sure about in practice but did anyway. Pulling his arm out, he massively cut it across the broken glass, so severe that the doctors at the hospital said he came within inches of losing the entire arm. This meant that at a time when WCW was already suffering, one of the biggest guys they had was on the shelf for at least half a year. When he came back, Goldberg was subjected to a terrible heel turn that went nowhere and his stock in wrestling suffered badly. Yet another example of terrible timing in WCW.
5 Triple H
Many say Triple H was never the same after this despite all his good work in the ring since. The first blow was in 1998 as a fantastic feud between Hunter and The Rock climaxed with Triple H winning the IC belt in a ladder match at SummerSlam. However, he hurt his leg during the battle so had to give the title right up. A much bigger injury was in 2001 as Triple H was IC champion and he and Steve Austin ready to run roughshod as the Two Man Power Trip to dominate WWE. But in a tag match, HHH tore his quad, a horrible injury that put him out for the rest of the year. His presence might have helped the Invasion angle and other bits and he wasn’t the same top notch worker afterward.
It's probably no wonder why Triple H fought so hard to keep his spot after seeing how easily you can lose it in an instant.
4 Steve Austin
One wonders how the Monday Night War would have turned out without this moment. In August of 1997, Steve Austin was riding high, taking off huge as the anti-hero fans loved to cheer and clashing with the Hart Foundation. At SummerSlam, he was to win the IC belt off of Owen Hart which would set up a future clash with Bret. But then Owen hit a bad piledriver to break Austin’s neck. The man somehow managed to win the match, but he was unable to wrestle for three months. Having the hottest guy in the company on the shelf was seriously bad timing but it ended up changing things up majorly.
Austin would soon go on his run of hitting Stunners on everyone, including Vince, to make himself more popular than ever. Meanwhile, the circumstances without him would soon lead to the events of Montreal and Bret has always said he’d have gladly dropped it to Austin instead of Shawn. One injury changed so much and you have to wonder what the wrestling landscape would be today without it.
3 Daniel Bryan
When you talk about bad injury timing, it’s harder to imagine more bitter than this. In 2014, after a huge push from fans that started a mini-revolution online and in arenas, Daniel Bryan won the WWE title at WrestleMania. It was an epic moment as Bryan proved himself as the top guy against the company that doubted him, the fans overjoyed and prepared for Bryan to have a long run. Instead, just weeks after the greatest moment of his career, Bryan had to give the title up due to a nasty neck injury.
His return in 2015 was agonizing as WWE wouldn't give him another shot at the belt and that just soured fans more. He seemed to bounce back winning the IC title but once more, had to give it up following a concussion, this time retiring for good. A true tragic shame one of the best moments of a guy’s career was so short-lived.
In early 1990, Ric Flair was handling the booking for WCW (still under the NWA banner at the time) and was readying to finally give Sting the main event push he was due for. The setup was Sting getting kicked out of the Horsemen with Flair back as a heel, setting up a major match at WrestleWar where Sting would win the title and Flair would book him strong. But in a cage match, Sting tried to attack the Horsemen and suffered a bad fall, legitimately tearing his leg and was on the shelf for months. They filled the gap with Lex Luger turning face but Flair still keeping the belt.
This led to some sour bits with fans and a drop in business that led to Ole Anderson getting the book instead. So when Sting finally won the title months later, he was put into some bad stuff (The Black Scorpion) that ruined things more and put WCW in a tailspin. If not for this injury, the fortunes of the company might have been a lot better.
1 Magnum TA
Terry Allen may be the greatest case of “could have been” in wrestling history. He was rising high with Jim Crockett in the mid-80s, his run as US champion a major success and looking ready for more. He was handsome, a great worker, terrific on the mic, the female fans loved him, he was truly the full package. He very well could have been the Hogan-type guy Crockett needed to take off and plans were underway for him to win the NWA title at Starrcade ’86. But just a month before the show, Magnum was involved in a huge car crash, his body pinned badly and it’s amazing he survived. While he was able to walk again, he was never able to get back to the ring. Thus, a terrific career was cut far too short, robbing the NWA of a mega-star in the making and the fortunes of Crockett would have been far different if Magnum had been his healthy champion.