On a base level, it seems like professional wrestling ought to be difficult to watch. Physical violence can be uncomfortable to observe. Moreover, the predominantly straight-identifying male audience is watching mostly naked men grapple with each other and not batting an eye at it. On top of all of that, there’s the play element that most fans accept what they’re watching is staged violence—so why do we still watch, let alone get invested in storylines and our favorite performers?
For all of the dissonance attached to fans’ interest in wrestling, and for as high of a tolerance as we fans might have for the absurd, there are times when major wrestling promotions have tested even the most devout fan’s limits. Sometimes it’s a matter of a particularly absurd booking choice during a high profile match. Sometimes it’s a bad story, built to shock, but that in reality winds up hard to watch. And then there are those times when the real world infringes upon wrestling. Accident and injuries can occur. Sometimes they go unnoticed by the average fan, but then there are those times when something obvious, and downright hard to watch goes down in front of a live audience and there’s nothing a booker or a performer can do to compensate for it.
This article takes a look at twenty particularly disturbing moments in professional wrestling history. These are occasions that were not fun or captivating, but rather just moments that fans wish they could un-see for how troubling they were.
20. Hulk Hogan Whips David Flair
Hulk Hogan made an excellent heel in the late ’90s. Part of the magic came from the fact that his good guy act had grown stale and fans were all too eager to boo him. Also, removing himself from always fighting for the forces of good opened up all kinds of possibilities. It was one thing for just any heel to cheat. But Hogan, who had played the hero for so many years? That still felt shocking, even after he had established himself as a villain.
When Hogan turned heel to help launch the New World Order, one of his first opponents was Ric Flair. While the two had feuded before, the dynamic felt fresh for a reversal of heel and face alignments, not to mention the fact that WCW fans were predisposed to cheer Flair and boo Hogan. Hogan picked up some major heat by picking on Flair’s non-wrestler son, David Flair, highlighted by an incident of whipping him with a weight belt. Father and son both recall that David was supposed to be whipped a small handful of times. Whether he was reacting the crowd or going into business for himself, Hogan instead whipped him over a dozen times. The attack was meant to make fans hate Hogan, but may have worked a little two well as visible welts showed up on the younger Flair’s body and the segment crossed the line from simulating to violence to a very real beating.
19. Triple H Reenacts The Katie Vick Incident
When Kane became a challenger to Triple H’s World Heavyweight Championship in 2002, WWE made the strange choice to launch the Katie Vick angle. The story went that, in his youth, Kane was in a car accident that resulted in the death of his girlfriend Vick. As if that weren’t bad, and a non-sequitur to wrestling (let alone the Kane mythology) enough, the story continued with Triple suggesting Kane may have had his way with Vick’s dead body after the accident. The insinuation was disturbing enough, but Triple H went so far as to put on a Kane mask and simulate a reenactment on Raw.
You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who thought the Katie Vick angle was particularly good, but the spectacle of Triple H in a Kane mask pretending to have sex with a dummy was just disgusting. The angle, and particularly that moment, are remembered as some of the worst in WWE history.
18. Vince McMahon Makes Trish Stratus Bark
In the build to WrestleMania X-Seven, Vince McMahon grew increasingly megalomaniacal, as WWE told the story of his son Shane emerging to put the old man in his place. One of the lowest of the low points was Vince asserting his dominance over his kayfabe mistress Trish Stratus, who had run afoul of Vince’s daughter Stephanie.
Vince gave Stratus a verbal dressing down in the ring which was, itself, uncomfortable. Things took a much worse turn, though, Vince sought to more actively humiliate her, and had her crawl on all fours and bark like a dog in the ring.
Stratus herself has actually gone on the record to defend this moment, indicating that it was crucial to her turning face and getting back at McMahon at WrestleMania X-Seven. Still, the moment itself still reads as excessive and disturbing to watch.
17. The Sandman Gets Crucified
The original ECW was known for violence and shocking spectacles. The company is widely considered a major influence for Attitude Era WWE that led Vince McMahon to embrace a more mainstream version of their antics to help his product appeal to a teenage demographic. For all of ECW’s success and influence, there were times when the company went too far.
In 1996, The Sandman and Raven participated in an intense feud. It all culminated in Raven and friends attacking Sandman post match, beating him brutally, and finally affixing his bloody form to a wooden cross. The image was not only disturbing, but offensive from a religious perspective, and not even altogether sensical from a storytelling perspective.
A lot of fans were turned off by this disturbing moment, and perhaps most interestingly, Kurt Angle, who was visiting ECW and only then considering a foray into the pro wrestling world, was so offended at the segment that he cut off talks with ECW at that moment.
16. Brock Lesnar Lands On His Head
Brock Lesnar is a sensational athlete in so many ways. He’s awesomely powerful, and his power game is only augmented by his speed and real life wrestling skill that make him a unique joy to watch, and a uniquely credible performer.
One part of Lesnar’s game that tends to get overlooked his awesome athletic ability. For WrestleMania XIX, Lesnar and his opponent Kurt Angle elected to pull out all the stops, and decided that Lesnar would finish their main event match by executing a shooting star press off the top rope.
There are a lot of reasons why this move went wrong. Angle was poorly positioned, well over half the ring away from where Lesnar leapt. Moreover, while Lesnar was a capable of completing a shooting star press, he may not have accounted for the fatigue of doing so aft the end of a twenty minute match (let alone from that distance).
The result was Lesnar landing just shy of Angle, and under-rotating so that he landed on his head in a truly gruesome visual. In a combination of luck and Lesnar’s awesome musculature, he somehow emerged uninjured from an accident that could have realistically killed him.
15. Snitsky Tastes Mae Young’s Feet
Snitsky lands on the short list for most disturbing WWE characters of all time. After all, he debuted by causing Lita to have a kayfabe miscarriage and went on to terrorize her and her kayfabe partner Kane about it. After that initial drama was over, WWE seemed committed to making sure fans viewed Snitsky as a freak, which included booking him to have a foot fetish.
The truest nadir of the character came in a throwaway cameo, as Booker T wandered through a sea of WWE misfits and oddities. Snitsky was caught licking Mae Young’s feet. While what a person does on their own time is their own business, this scene was clearly constructed for shock value and to be as actively unappealing as possible to anyone watching.
14. The New World Order Mocks The Four Horsemen
While many of the moments on this list were physically uncomfortable to watch, this one was more psychologically problematic. The Four Horsemen were one of the most respected institutions in wrestling history. The New World Order were a newer group, largely following in their footsteps. It made perfect sense that the nWo would antagonize and defeat The Horsemen to pass the torch. However, the bad guys didn’t just beat their predecessors—they buried them.
In an emotional segment on Nitro, Arn Anderson effectively retired from the ring, handing off his spot in the Horsemen to Curt Hennig. The nWo delivered a parody segment shortly thereafter, with Kevin Nash posing as Arn Anderson and making fun of his own age and credibility, before handing over his spot.
Ironically, years earlier Steve Austin and Brian Pillman had mocked Flair and the Horsemen tradition in a segment that actually was funny and furthered their rivalry. The nWo parody was humorless, mean-spirited and seemed designed to disrespect the Horsemen and their fans.
13. Enzo Clotheslines Himself On The Bottom Rope
Enzo Amore is a very good talker, but has yet to exactly prove himself as an in ring worker. Never were his limitations more clearly on display than in tag match pitting himself and Big Cass against The Vaudevillains for a tag title shot at Payback 2016. Just a few minutes into the match, Enzo got thrown from the ring. While the responsibility probably wasn’t solely on him, he didn’t exactly protect himself as well as more experienced performer might and wound up catching his head on the bottom rope to really hurt himself.
The moment was uncomfortable, as it looked like Enzo was seriously hurt, besides which the match came to an awkward stoppage, which made it clear this wasn’t just part of the show. Injuries are a part of life in wrestling, but it’s hard to watch one this sudden and potentially severe go down live on PPV.
12. “Terrorists” Choke Out The Undertaker
In 2005, Muhammad Hassan was gathering steam in his Arab American heel gimmick. WWE had been largely successful in playing with shades of gray as the guy was justifiably upset at being discriminated against by Americans, only to grow more and more heelish in his own right. The tipping point, however, came in Hassan summoning a group of masked men in black and camouflage—the very caricature of terrorists—to attack The Undertaker on his behalf and choke him out with piano wire.
Maybe the Hassan character wouldn’t have worked in the long run anyway, but this already over-the-line, disturbing segment aired the same night terrorists attacked London, causing a PR disaster for WWE, and leading them to axe the Hassan gimmick altogether within weeks. The Undertaker finished off the character with a decisive victory and post match beat down at The Great American Bash later that month.
11. The Macho Man Gets Bitten By A Snake
In 1991, Jake Roberts launched a new heel character that was cutting edge for its time for being so legitimately dark and sinister amidst a WWE landscape that was otherwise largely cartoonish. Roberts had carried a snake to the ring for a long time, but newly recast as a villain, he got himself a cobra and used it to terrorize people—most famously Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, starting on their kayfabe wedding night.
In what may have been his most iconic moment, Roberts tied up Savage in the ring ropes and attacked with the cobra. While the snake had been de-venomized, its fangs were still real and sunk into The Macho Man’s arm deeper and for longer than anyone had planned, drawing blood on live TV for a deeply disturbing moment.
10. Randy Orton Says Eddie Guerrero Is Burning In Hell
Eddie Guerrero died suddenly in late 2005, and his passing indirectly paved the way for the inspirational story of Rey Mysterio winning the Royal Rumble and following in Guerrero’s footsteps to win a world title.
Along the way, Mysterio’s chief antagonist was young Randy Orton, who beat Mysterio to steal his WrestleMania title shot and antagonized the master of the 619 by insinuating that Guerrero was not watching on from heaven, but rather burning in hell.
Guerrero was a wrestling traditionalist and came from a wrestling family, and so probably wouldn’t have balked himself at seeing his memory used to generate storyline heat. Just the same, in disparaging a man who was legitimately dead, and had been legitimately well liked and respected, WWE really crossed a line. Orton’s promo was not fun or entertaining—it was simply disrespectful and hard to listen to.
9. Joey Mercury’s Face Gets Smashed
The Armageddon 2006 featured the fun surprise of the scheduled tag title match being reworked into a four way ladder match, featuring The Hardy Boyz, Brian Kendrick and Paul London, MNM, and the team of William Regal and Dave Taylor. This was a near perfect combination of high flyers and active young talent, combined with Regal and Tayler as both ground based veterans, and guys capable of working a snug style that complemented the moving pieces around them nicely. All in all, it was a very good match and probably the most memorable outing of the show.
Unfortunately, the quality of the match tends to get overshadowed by a single ugly spot when ladder got see-sawed up into Joey Mercury’s face. Ladder matches tend to carry with them the promise of a few stiff spots and rough landings, but WWE has generally been fortunate to evolve real catastrophe. With eight men in the ring, WWE was able to divert attention away from Mercury effectively enough, but the guy nonetheless took nasty hit to the face that instantly reduced him to a bloody mess.
8. Heidenreich Terrorizes Michael Cole
Heidenreich played a loose cannon character to say the least. He was generally harmless enough, working as a new tag team partner for Road Warrior Animal, and working as a crazed heel antagonist against The Undertaker. The guy reached a painfully uncomfortable low point, however, when he was booked in an unusual Raw segment with Michael Cole.
The segment saw Heidenreich grab Cole from his ringside broadcast perspective and take him backstage, only to press him against a wall and talk about knowing what Cole really wanted while pressing his body against him. The segment had violent sexual overtones that would have been hard for a more over villain and victim to get over, but with the limitations of the both performers, it was just plain disturbing and hard for fans to watch.
7. The Big Boss Man Hangs From The Cell
The Hell in a Cell Match between The Undertaker and The Big Boss Man at WrestleMania XV is generally agreed to be the worst Cell match of all time. It’s not that the match itself was awful, it’s just that the Cell carries a certain gravitas and reputation for epic matches, and this was more of a throwaway mid-card style match that befit neither the match gimmick, nor the stage of WrestleMania.
To make matters worse, it became clear in the immediate aftermath that the use of the Cell had less to do with the match itself than setting up the spectacle of the finish. The Brood—Gangrel, Edge, and Christian—lowered form the ceiling only to drop a noose down to The Undertkaer so he could hang his beaten foe. While the image was appropriately dark and brutal for The Undertaker’s evolving character at the time, it was also unnecessarily violent and off putting for really simulating a murder.
6. The Castration Of Val Venis
In the early days of the Attitude Era, WWE had some testing of boundaries to be done. The introduction of Val Venis in a porn star gimmick, in and of itself, was pretty risqué. But it was his infamous interaction with the Kaientai stable of Japanese wrestlers.
The issue started when Venis slept with Kaientai manager Yamaguchi-San’s kayfabe wife. The group vowed revenge, culminating in beating down Venis and bringing him back stage to “choppy choppy” his “pee pee.” Not only was the verbiage culturally offensive, but the very idea of wrestlers castrating an enemy on air was way over the top. WWE ultimately copped out of the situation as the lights went out and Venis escaped unharmed, only to break off his affair with Yamaguchi’s wife to put his issues with Kaientai behind him.
5. Sid Breaks His Leg In The Ring
Sid was one of the most impressive physical speciments wrestling had in the 1980s and 1990s. His stature and his physique made him an icon of the era and led him to world championship gold in both WWE and WCW. For how successful he was, the uncomfortable truth remains that Sid was never much of a worker in the ring, prone to accidents and moments of clumsiness.
Sid’s worst moment of all came in a match with Scott Steiner that saw him land badly on a leap from the second rope on to visibly break his leg in a positively awful sight. In Sid’s defense, rumor has it he was uncomfortable coming off the ropes in the fist place, but was pressured my management to add more exciting, flying offense to his repertoire. It would seen that Sid was right to have wanted to stay grounded.
4. Mae Young Shows Off The Goods
After a long and respected career as a wrestler, Mae Young added significantly to her legacy as an on air character, well into her geriatric years. While it may seem counterintuitive, she and The Fabulous Moolah fit strangely well into the Attitude Era as comedic foils who were completely willing to mix it up with younger women. On top of that, Young in particular demonstrated no inhibitions about showing off her body for comedic effect.
While Young certainly had her entertaining moments, but its pretty universally agreed that the character went too far at Royal Rumble 2000. Young participated in the Miss Royal Rumble swimsuit contest only to wind up exposing her chest to flash the audience. While it’s generally agreed that she exposed artificial body parts rather than her actual anatomy, the image remains disturbing and unsettling for fans of that era of WWE programming.
3. Vince McMahon Chokes Stephanie McMahon
2003 saw Vince McMahon get locked into what may have been his most unlikely feud of all, opposite his own daughter and Smackdown general manager Stephanie McMahon. The rivalry culminated in an I Quit Match with Stephanie’s job on the line. As tends to be the case for McMahon matches, there were enough smoke, mirrors, and sports entertainment shenanigans to make the match better than it had any right to be. Still, it was uncomfortable to see Vince largely physically dominating his daughter. Things went to the next level when Vince choked out his daughter with a lead pipe.
The remarkable subtext, discussed on the WWE produced McMahon documentary? This match occurred mere days before Stephanie’s real life wedding to Triple H. Sure, it was a convenient way of writing her off of TV, but the family largely agreed the risk was absurd before her big day.
2. The Boogeyman Eats Jillian Hall’s Mole
Jillian Hall had a strange journey through WWE. Before she evolved into the singing Diva, her first character was as a manager for JBL, during which time her defining characteristic was that she had a big mole on her face that WWE occasionally played for laughs.
The Boogeyman was strange, too, if a bit more linear in his career trajectory. He was semi-horror, semi-comedic act who both got to defeat a lot of big names, and was never really treated seriously as any sort of title contender. One of his peaks came opposite JBL, and that’s when he crossed paths with Hall.
The Boogeyman eating Jillian Hall’s mole served the duel purposes of getting him as gross, and getting the mole off of Hall so it wouldn’t define her character anymore. Despite these practical outcomes it was remarkably disgusting moment that no one enjoyed watching.
1. Owen Hart Falls To His Death
For the number one spot we arrive at perhaps the most disturbing moment in live wrestling history. At the Over The Edge PPV, Owen Hart, using his Blue Blazer super hero gimmick for comedic effect, was slated to descend from the rafters. An equipment error meant that he didn’t lower dramatically as he’d done before, but rather enter a free fall, plummeting to his death while the live audience looked on.
In the edgy Attitude Era, some suspected it was a stunt, but that perception was quickly corrected upon confirmation of Hart’s death, and Jim Ross having the unenviable role of reporting that news to the television audience. This moment goes down as one of wrestling’s great tragedies, and caused the industry to rethink stunts—in particular people lowering themselves from the ceiling.
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