Injuries can happen at any time, anywhere, regardless of physical activity. Even a missed step leaving a front porch can lead to a sprained ankle. Obviously, the risk is higher for professional athletes. Some might argue that the risk is the highest in the world of professional wrestling.
The matches are predetermined, but there’s a lot of physical activity that had so many components within each move. Even the basic powerbomb requires a good grip from both parties and excellent control as one lifts another to bring them down. The complexity increases when it comes to suplexes, various strikes, and high-flying assaults.
Add in the factor that wrestlers are often competing in hundreds of matches throughout the year with no offseason, and the risk of suffering an injury increases even more. With all of that in mind, there will be mistakes made in the ring. There’s just too many opportunities for one to happen. It can happen to just about anyone in the pro wrestling world.
True, most injuries can occur when someone is inexperienced with a certain move or still young in their career. But even some of the greatest legends in the industry have a black mark here and there. No one is perfect as these superhuman men and women of wrestling are still, indeed, human.
There are actually two ways a wrestler “screws up” and hurts an opponent – 1) something went wrong in the match; 2) they let personal issues get in the way and become careless.
Regardless, the following are 15 examples of top pro wrestlers who screwed up and hurt their opponent during a match.
15 D’Lo Brown’s Powerbomb Paralyzes Darren Drozdov
Darren Drozdov might not have been one of the biggest names in the WWE’s Attitude Era, but he certainly made quite the impression during his time after playing college and professional football before pro wrestling. Drozdov was facing D’Lo Brown during a television taping in Uniondale, N.Y. in October 1999. It was a simple powerbomb that went wrong and paralyzed Drozdov from the neck down.
Drozdov never held a grudge with Brown. It was purely an example of even a basic wrestling move having a risk of something going wrong. Drozdov is in good spirits, as seen in a feature written by former WWE announcer Jim Ross for FoxSports.com. Drozdov said that he received a fair amount of support from the WWE and the McMahon family as he went through the medical treatment for his injury.
14 Mabel Breaks Undertaker’s Face
Long before he was part of the Attitude Era as Viscera or was last seen on television as Big Daddy V, the 400-pound big man was first known as Mabel in the mid-1990s. Originally part of the Men on a Mission tag team, Mabel was viewed as a possibly rising star. Early in his singles run, he showed some potential with squash matches that led to him winning the King of the Ring crown.
But in supporting Kama Mustafa’s feud with The Undertaker, Mabel did a leg drop that actually broke The Undertaker’s face. This led to the infamous “Phantom of the Opera” mask that Undertaker wore for a period of time in 1995. Since that moment, Mabel’s main event push would slow down. He never had a major run as a singles wrestler after injuring The Phenom.
13 Jack Swagger separates Wade Barrett’s shoulder
Wade Barrett was often viewed as someone who couldn’t catch a break. He did, but mostly in terms of injuries that set his WWE career back. One of the most crucial came during a 2014 match against Jack Swagger during a SmackDown taping. While holding the WWE Intercontinental Championship, Bad News Barrett was on the rise as some fans hoped he would be getting an eventual main event run.
But during the match, Jack Swagger threw Barrett into the barricade possibly a little too hard and Barrett’s shoulder separated. This led to him missing an extended period of time from WWE. While criticism might be viewed as unfair by some, it was just one of a long list of injuries sustained by superstars who competed in matches with the All-American American.
12 Flapjack from The Great Khali leads to death
It’s not normal for a wrestler to accidentally kill another in the ring, but it was an unfortunate situation that came up from The Great Khali’s training in 2001. Well before he would debut in the WWE, he was training at a camp for All Pro Wrestling in California when he was delivering a flapjack onto another student, Brian Ong. Khali’s flapjack was apparently done incorrectly as Ong landed badly.
To be fair, Ong was forced to continue after having suffered another rough landing that caused a concussion. However, Khali was still partially blamed by many fans for the incident. The death led to a lawsuit from the family against the wrestling company, who had to pay more than $2 million to the family.
11 Ahmed Johnson breaks Faarooq’s Ribs
Ahmed Johnson was a very muscular athlete who certainly got a big push from the WWE during the 1990s because of his physique. However, he still had a lot of things to work on. One of them was being able to work safely and professionally. During a tag team match where Johnson teamed with the Legion of Doom against the Nation of Domination at WrestleMania 13, Johnson delivered a spinebuster that injured Faarooq.
Johnson reportedly drove his head into Faarooq while slamming him to the mat, breaking some of Faarooq’s ribs. Johnson would later admit that he did it on purpose. Why? According to Johnson, Faarooq injured him in an earlier feud and Johnson felt he was justified in retaliation. This might have been part of the reason Johnson would be released months later.
10 Ryback hurts CM Punk, multiple times
During CM Punk’s controversial podcast interview with Colt Cabana, the former WWE Champion called out a lot of people in the company. One wrestler specifically mentioned was Ryan “Ryback” Reeves. The two had a feud in 2012 for the WWE Championship and Punk suffered a number of injuries during the feud. After one minor injury, Punk was willing to work on a clean slate.
However, in another match, Ryback was supposed to gorilla press Punk onto a table, but Punk missed the table and hit the concrete, injuring his pelvis. Punk claimed he approached Ryback and thought he did it on purpose. Ryback has defended himself since then with other WWE Superstars supporting him. Whether he did it on purpose or not, Ryback still missed the table.
9 Mr. Kennedy’s Botched Suplex on Randy Orton
Ken Anderson had a pretty successful rise in the WWE when competing as Mr. Kennedy (pause, Kennedy), but injuries affected his rise to the main event spotlight. His job with the WWE would ironically come to an end after hurting one of his opponents legitimately. During a 2009 tag team match billed as Team Lakers vs. Team Nuggets, the returning Kennedy put Orton in a backdrop suplex.
However, Orton landed a little high and was hurt in the process. This led to the infamous moment where Orton was seething, throwing his hand towards Kennedy in frustration. This led to reports of both Orton and John Cena telling officials that Kennedy wasn’t a safe worker in the ring. Eventually, Kennedy was released from the WWE and has since competed for other promotions.
8 Chris Benoit Breaks Sabu’s Neck
Chris Benoit had a long career in professional wrestling that can be viewed as one of the best for a technical wrestler. His career is marred by the double murder-suicide in 2007. Regardless, Benoit had some great moments in his career and some not-so-great ones, too. Early in his career with ECW in November 1994, a young Benoit flipped Sabu over him in a way that didn’t look like any kind of proper suplex or backdrop.
Sabu landed awkwardly on his head and suffered a broken neck in the process. Joey Styles even alluded to it during commentary. In Benoit’s defense, this wasn’t the only time Sabu would suffer a broken neck during his wrestling career. In fact, Sabu has often competed in the ring with little regard to his well-being or that of his opponent.
7 Owen Hart’s Piledriver on Steve Austin
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin developed a reputation through the 1990s as one of the toughest pro wrestlers in the industry. He was always willing to finish a match despite an injury. One moment that stands out was during SummerSlam in 1997 when he faced Owen Hart for the Intercontinental Championship. During the final moments of the match, Hart would put Austin in a tombstone piledriver, but Austin’s head was not completely protected and he suffered a broken neck.
Austin wasn’t able to kick out at the time but was scripted to win the match so an audible was called with Austin crawling into a roll-up pin on a “distracted” Owen Hart. The word that went around after is that Owen Hart never apologized to Austin about the accident. Years later, with Hart passing away, Austin has never really talked much about the neck injury.
6 Seth Rollins Breaks John Cena’s Nose
Seth Rollins has received a bit of a reputation for superstars getting injured in matches with him. However, one can say he isn’t 100 percent at fault for Sting’s neck injury in 2015 and Finn Balor’s shoulder injury at last year’s SummerSlam. However, it’s a little harder to defend Rollins from an incident that happened back in July 2015 during a match for John Cena’s United States Championship.
Midway through the match, Rollins got a clinch on Cena and went for a knee strike. It connected legitimately and broke Cena’s nose. It was bleeding throughout the rest of the match. His nose was noticeably crooked as he celebrated the submission victory. There’s always a risk when doing a strike like this, which is partially why it’s rarely seen today.
5 Ultimate Warrior injures Ric Flair
It might not be a surprise for some fans to imagine the Ultimate Warrior being viewed as reckless. Based on how he ran around the ring and threw his opponents around, Warrior seemed like someone who may have caused a few more bumps and bruises than normal. “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair was certainly one of his biggest critics, especially during one of his podcasts in October 2016.
A few nights before Flair dropped the WWE Championship to Bret Hart in 1992, Flair was dropped on his head by The Ultimate Warrior during a live event. Flair said he suffered an inner ear issue from the injury that messed up his equilibrium to where he couldn’t give a great performance in the ring with Hart. Flair was unable to get up after falling due to having to take the time to adjust after taking a bump.
4 Goldberg’s Kick Ends Bret Hart's Career
The late 1990s featured a lot of stars in WCW, including Bill Goldberg and Bret “The Hitman” Hart at the top of the mountain. The two would face off in the main event of WCW Starrcade 1999 in a no-disqualification match for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. It was a good match that was marred by a kick from Goldberg to the head of The Hitman. It was so brutal that Hart was forced to retire.
Hart has since called Goldberg a dangerous person to work with in the ring. Goldberg has commented that the infamous kick heard around the wrestling world is his biggest regret in his career. While Goldberg certainly didn’t intend to end Hart’s career, it was still a mistake for which he has accepted full responsibility.
3 Brock Lesnar Breaks Hardcore Holly’s Neck
It’s been mentioned that many of the injuries that happen in the ring are complete accidents. For the most part, no wrestler really wants to injure another superstar. Brock Lesnar received a lot of criticism from fans after a match with Hardcore Holly in September 2002. Lesnar set Holly up for a powerbomb, but it looked like there was a mistake when Holly was held for a few seconds before he was dropped right on his head.
The botch led to Holly suffering a broken neck. However, Holly would later refute that Lesnar broke his neck on purpose. According to Holly, it was an unfortunate mistake where Lesnar admitted he was trying to hold Holly up and unfortunately dropped him. Holly said he gave him the benefit of the doubt at the time considering he was young and certainly didn’t want to lose his job injuring other wrestlers.
2 Kurt Angle Drops Shane McMahon on his Head
Shane McMahon has developed a bit of a reputation for being a tough guy, despite never being a full-time wrestler on the WWE roster. Still, he’s had some great matches with memorable spots. One came during the 2001 King of the Ring pay-per-view in a match with Kurt Angle. The Street Fight match saw both men wrestle towards the stage where Angle was supposed to throw McMahon through one of the plexiglass plates.
However, Angle didn't quite drive Shane hard enough on the belly to belly and McMahon bounced off the glass, causing his head to hit the concrete with a thud. The match continued with Angle suplexing McMahon through the plate successfuly the second time. McMahon could have quit, but chose to continue. It wasn’t the first, nor was it the last, time fans saw Shane-O-Mac take a legitimate shot to the head.
1 Undertaker Hurts Shawn Michaels’ Back
Before he was a born-again Christian who gave us some of the best matches through the WWE’s Ruthless Aggression era in the 2000s, Shawn Michaels’ career looked to be over in 1998. During the 1998 Royal Rumble pay-per-view, Michaels defended the WWE Championship against The Undertaker in a casket match. At one point, the Heartbreak Kid was sent over the ropes with a backdrop.
As he went out of the ring, Michaels' lower back connected with the edge of the casket. He would get through WrestleMania XIV where he dropped the title to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. The injury led to a surgery where doctors fused the ruptured discs in his spine. It’s not fair to put all of the blame on The Undertaker, but there was certainly miscommunication and the distance for the back body drop was misjudged.