Injuries are a nearly unavoidable fact of life if you’re a professional wrestler. It doesn’t matter if someone is the safest wrestler in the world. Unless they’re made out of metal, there’s a very good chance that they are going to suffer a significant injury at some point. Hey, that’s what happens when your career involves getting repeatedly slammed onto metal, concrete, and wood. Fortunately, most injuries can be recovered from. Things like broken bones may sideline a wrestler, but there is a very good chance that they’ll return better than ever thanks to modern medicine and the athleticism of the average performer.
That’s not always the case, though. Sometimes, a wrestler suffers so many injuries that it’s just no longer safe for them to continue to get in the ring and do what they love. Other times, injuries force an all-time great wrestler to drastically change their in-ring style. Worst of all are the times when a single injury ends a career forever and causes irreparable damage to the performer. Yes, injuries are part of a wrestler’s career. These, however, are the top 15 wrestling careers ruined by injury.
15 Corey Graves
While Corey Graves has arguably found his true calling as an announcer, it’s truly a shame to think that such a naturally charismatic and athletic individual had to abandon their in-ring career due to injuries. Graves made his rounds on the indie wrestling circuit for quite a few years before settling into a respectable role as a tag team wrestler in NXT. While Graves was still trying to find his groove during this time, it’s easy to look back on his early NXT matches and see glimpses of a truly promising performer. Unfortunately, Graves was as concussion-prone as he was talented. After his first concussion in NXT sidelined him for several weeks, Graves returned and suffered a second concussion that knocked him out for months. It was determined that he should retire from in-ring action shortly thereafter.
Over the years, many former ECW fans have expressed how disappointed they were to see WWE go out of their way to bring in Tazz and then proceed to do almost nothing with him. In their defense, it was a bizarre situation. Tazz entered WWE on a wave of hype, beat Kurt Angle on his first night in the company, and then just fell down the card until he eventually faded away and became an announcer. His story makes a lot more sense when you consider that Tazz suffered a series of injuries during his time with the company that were made all the more difficult to recover from due to his history of such setbacks. Tazz may have never become a full-time main eventer, but he certainly would have had a longer WWE run were it not for injuries.
Unless you so happened to be a hardcore ECW fan or you were really into Japanese wrestling during the ‘90s, you probably didn’t know much about Hayabusa growing up. Fortunately for wrestling fans everywhere, though, other performers were well aware of Hayabusa’s accomplishments. While Sabu was clearly the North American wrestler who learned the most from Hayabusa, the innovations of one of wrestling’s most extreme performers can be found in the in-ring work of guys like Rob Van Dam, Jeff Hardy, and even Rey Mysterio Jr.
Hayabusa was a high-flying performer whose daredevil personality complimented his willingness to risk it all. Unfortunately, his iconic in-ring style would eventually lead to his downfall. While attempting a moonsault, Hayabusa landed on his head and cracked two of his vertebrae. He was left paralyzed for the rest of his life.
12 Darren Drozdov
Prior to becoming a professional wrestler Darren Drozdov was a highly accomplished athlete who first distinguished himself as one of the best high school quarterbacks in America. He eventually transitioned to defensive tackle when he attended the University of Maryland and continued to play the position when he joined the NFL. While his career in the NFL was most notable for an article Sports Illustrated ran which revealed that Drozdov had a chronic vomiting problem, WWE was still impressed enough with his athleticism to offer him a contract.
He was just starting to really establish himself in the world of professional wrestling before an infamous botched powerbomb he suffered through during his match with D’Lo Brown left him paralyzed for life. Drozdov has made peace with his injury and holds no ill will towards Brown.
11 Bret Hart
Sometimes, injuries are the reason behind a wrestler retiring, and sometimes an injury is just the punctuation mark that ends a career that was trending that way in the first place. Bret Hart’s injuries feel like an example of the latter.While Hart’s career was remarkably free of major injuries during his WWE run, the moment that Hart joined WCW, the injuries just began to pile up. At first, it was relatively minor medical setbacks like knee and groin injuries that required surgery, but didn’t completely put Hart out of action.
Then, Hart suffered a concussion during a match with Bill Goldberg that ultimately forced the legend to call it quits. He would wrestle a few more matches but his post-concussion symptoms never went away and he officially retired 10 months after the initial injury.
For a good chunk of his career, Christian has played second-fiddle – or second kazoo, if you will – to his best friend Edge. From the moment they entered WWE, the company seemed to identify Edge as the breakout star of the pair even though Christian went out of his way to become endlessly entertaining. Thanks to a main event run in TNA, however, Christian returned to WWE and was able to enjoy the time at the top of the card he so richly deserved.
Unfortunately, it was during Christian’s main event run in WWE that the injuries began to pile up. They happened so fast, in fact, that some fans who weren’t paying attention might have just sworn that WWE simply wrote Christian off of television.
Speaking of Christian’s best friend Edge, let’s talk about Edge. Edge’s marketable looks and natural charisma may have put him on the fast track towards superstardom early in his career, but young Adam Copeland wouldn’t find his true calling until he adopted his heelish “Rated-R Superstar” persona. In fact, we would go so far as to argue that Edge’s heel turn ranks among the greatest character changes WWE has ever booked. As Edge rose higher and higher up the card, though, he also worked more and more matches.
Somewhere along the way, his neck began to break down through the wear and tear that one gets when they wrestle for a living. Because Edge never really suffered that one long-term injury after his 2003 one, his retirement announcement came as a bit of a shock to some fans who didn’t know how much his injuries had begun to affect him.
8 Johnny Valentine
Once upon a time, John Wisniski – better known by his ring name of Johnny Valentine – was set to become one of the breakout stars of professional wrestling. This young star feuded with guys like Buddy Rogers, Lou Thesz, Harley Race, and Bruno Sammartino. Everyone wanted to work with Valentine because Valentine had the rare ability to make everyone look great in the ring while still getting the crowd to buy into whatever story he was trying to tell.
He was an all-around incredible performer that deserves to be remembered as one of the best. The reason why some people aren’t as familiar with him, however, is because of the circumstances of his retirement. Valentine was in the same plane crash that Ric Flair infamously recovered from. Valentine was not so lucky. The incident left him paralyzed and robbed him of a promising career.
7 Nigel McGuiness
As great as it is to see Nigel McGuiness finally join WWE, many of his fans would be lying if they told you that they thought he would do so as an announcer. Several years ago, Nigel McGuiness and Daniel Bryan led a stacked Ring of Honor roster that included named like Cesaro, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and Seth Rollins. Even though he was surrounded by some of the best wrestlers on the planet, McGuiness made a name for himself through his punishing in-ring style and flawless heel work.
Ultimately, he decided to go to TNA while Bryan joined WWE. While injuries would get the best of both stars, McGuiness succumbed to them first. WWE failed to offer him a contract due to his bicep injuries while TNA had to let him go after he contracted hepatitis B.
6 Dynamite Kid
Have you ever heard of some amazing new professional wrestlers who is apparently so good that they’re going to change the way you look at in-ring action forever? While many people have received such praise over the years, few performers have ever earned it quite the same way that the Dynamite Kid once did. In his prime, Dynamite Kid wrestled at a level that made everyone else look like they were stuck in slow motion. While not necessarily a high-flyer, Dynamite Kid raised the bar in terms of match speed, intensity, and pacing. Sadly, those same qualities which made Kid so notable would also come back to haunt him. Kid’s use of certain moves – most notably the diving headbutt – led to the rapid deterioration of his body. A seizure ended Kidd’s career prematurely while a series of injuries ensured that he would spend his current years in and out of hospitals.
5 Stone Cold Steve Austin
On the one hand, it’s hard to think of Stone Cold Steve Austin having a “ruined” wrestling career considering that he is arguably the most popular professional wrestler of all-time. On the other hand, there are few performers in history that have suffered the setbacks that Steve Austin did due to injuries. For instance, while the famous botched piledriver that almost paralyzed Austin helped make him an overnight star, it also shaved quite a few years off his career. Furthermore, a series of knee injuries deprived Austin of his considerable in-ring skills and forced him to adopt a more straightforward brawler style. While these injuries may have helped shape the Stone Cold character, they also ensured that we received far fewer years of Austin at his best than we should have gotten.
4 Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle is another interesting guy to talk about when talking about careers ruined due to injuries. While it’s true – damn true – that Angle had a pretty long career, there’s no denying that it would have been even longer and more eventful were it not for the myriad of injuries he suffered over the years. Injuries forced Angle to turn to painkillers more often than he would have liked which also led to Angle being released by WWE far sooner than he should have been.
Injuries also forced Kurt Angle to be sidelined in TNA far too often over the years which severely hurt his chances at reaching a wider audience while a member of the promotion’s roster. Everyone hopes that Angle has one more match left in him, but it just might not be safe for him to wrestle for much longer.
3 Ricky Steamboat
It’s funny, but many fans aren’t able to really pinpoint when Ricky Steamboat ended his career even though he’s thought of as one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time. After a failed second run in WWE during the early ‘90s, Steamboat decided to head back to WCW at a very interesting time for the company. In fact, it seemed like getting to work with young stars like Sting, Steve Austin, and Rick Rude was going to revitalize Steamboat’s career. Unfortunately, Steamboat suffered a major back injury while working a match with Steve Austin. Even though Steamboat won, he was forced to vacate the belt and take time off due to injury.
While injured, Eric Bischoff fired him via a FedEx package shortly before the company took off due to the start of the nWo angle. Steamboat worked matches after that, but his injury proved too great to ever fully recover from.
2 Daniel Bryan
It almost feels like it’s still too soon to talk about the sad later years of Daniel Bryan’s career. When Daniel Bryan arrived in WWE, his longtime fans were hopeful he could make a name for himself even as they worried that Bryan wasn’t the typical WWE superstar. That quality ended up being Bryan’s biggest asset, however, as his slightly smaller build and slightly different attitude eventually won fans over as much as his world-class ringwork and memorable catchphrase. Just when Bryan had reached the top of the mountain, though, he immediately began to tumble. At first, it was a neck injury that quickly ended Bryan’s first real reign as WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Then, a concussion-related injury forced him to abandon his attempt to bring glory back to the Intercontinental Championship. Bryan was never able to return from in-ring action following that injury and was forced to retire months later.
1 Magnum T.A.
Magnum T.A.’s story is one of the most infamous tales of “what could have been” in all of wrestling history. At a time when NWA had positioned Ric Flair as the ultimate elitist heel, Magnum T.A. was slowly turning himself into the ultimate everyman babyface. He was a lot like Dusty Rhodes in that regard, but T.A. was arguably a more accomplished in-ring worker as well as a greater natural athlete. He was the kind of guy you could build a company around, which is exactly what NWA planned to do. That is before T.A. lost control of his car one evening and hit a telephone pole. The incident shattered his vertebrae and left many doubting whether he would ever walk again. While T.A. would eventually walk, he would never wrestle again.