Botches have been a common thing in wrestling for years. It’s easy to mess up something, whether or a promo or a match, even veteran wrestlers aren’t immune. Most are just laughable with video montages of blown promos, messed-up spots and other nutty moments that made wrestling a joke. But some are more extreme, serious injuries and wild botches and at least one utter tragedy. In some cases, a guy can suffer a terrible injury without anyone realizing it at all until it comes out later. But too many are truly obvious and fans could recognize that.
Whether house shows, TV or PPV, these instances are very common and shake up wrestling a lot. True, sometimes a “botch” is planned out and just looks like it was real to sucker in fans. But in other cases, it’s something truly awful occurring that gets the show thrown off and can harm careers. A show always seems to take an extreme turn when something bad happens and the fans can sense it. Here are 20 times in wrestling where it was quite clear to fans things had gone off the rails and how the business has some truly wild moments.
20 Droz Gets Paralyzed
A promising guy, Droz was pushed in WWE, first as the rather goofball “Puke.” He later joined with the Legion of Doom and became a partner with the angle of him trying to push out Hawk. That was ended when fans didn’t take to him as hoped and Droz was soon on the mid-card a lot. In October of 1999, Droz faced D’Lo Brown for a SmackDown taping with Brown preparing his running power bomb finisher. However, he failed to get a proper grip on Droz who also failed to lift his head up as he should have. As a result, he landed right on his head and neck and fractured two discs instantly. The sight of him flopping on the mat was a clear sign to fans things had gone wrong with Brown overcome with guilt. Droz was stretchered off and the match never made the taping. The man has been in a wheelchair since and still one of the worst in-ring injuries ever.
19 Bash at the Beach 2000
From the start, fans could see it was something seriously wrong and it got even worse as it went on. At Bash at the Beach 2000, Jeff Jarrett was to defend the WCW title against Hulk Hogan. Both men came out, looking upset before Jarrett just laid down and Hogan pinned him with a boot on his chest. Hogan then went on a tirade against Vince Russo on how he was screwing up the company that had fans baffled. Russo came out later to fire Hogan and declare Jarrett the champion and went on his own tirade screaming insults at Hogan.
It was a total mess but even bigger backstage. Hogan hadn’t wanted to lose to Jarrett and Russo wanted him to so they came up with this plan with the idea of Hogan coming back later to face Jarrett. But Hogan thought Russo went way too far with the promo and so left WCW for real and thus the entire worked shoot turned into a real shoot. The night ended with Booker T beating Jarrett for the title but yet another ugly blow and a public mess for WCW.
18 Sandman Forgets to Lose
Maybe you can cut some slack as when a guy takes one too many blows to the head, it’s natural his mind gets messed up. In 1995, Sandman faced Cactus Jack in an ECW Last Man Standing match that naturally turned into a bloody war. Both men were going at it hard with the plan to have Sandman lose and put Jack over. However, during the fight, Jack hit Sandman hard with a frying pan and legitimately knocked him unconscious. Coming to, the Sandman suffered a concussion and it messed him up to forget he was supposed to lose. Thus, no matter what Jack did, Sandman kept coming up before the 10 count. Foley thought Sandman was either drunk or being a jerk and his frustration became obvious to those watching. So Foley went ahead and basically beat the crap out of Sandman for real until he was sure the guy couldn’t rise up again. Sandman was nearly fired but kept around and added to his legacy of a wildman.
17 Halloween Havoc 1998
For eight years, fans had dreamed of the rematch of Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior. Leave it to WCW to turn it into a nightmare. With business rough that year, Eric Bischoff listened to Hogan’s push to hire the Warrior and give him a run at the top for the big showdown fans wanted. This led to crazy stuff like Warrior appearing in a mirror and kidnapping Ed Leslie among other bits. The match itself was one of the absolute worst ever seen, even Bischoff has said so. Both men had horrible timing, boring moves and just weren’t on the same page so fans turned on it fast.
The big move was going to be Hogan hitting Warrior with a fireball and attacking before Warrior made a big comeback. But Hogan ended up messing the fireball up, just a quick flash and smoke with nothing else and fans were howling. To his credit, Hogan himself has openly admitted how badly he blew things and obvious for the fans to see this dream match ending in a mess.
16 Foley’s Second Fall
It’s the moment that transformed Mick Foley into a legend but it nearly didn’t happen. He and Undertaker were to face off at King of the Ring 1998 in a HITC battle but Foley was worried as Taker had a broken leg. So they started off on top with Taker then tossing Foley off the roof of the cell into the announcer’s table. Fans were stunned but, as planned, Foley made an amazing comeback. They went at it again with Taker giving a chokeslam onto the roof of the cage. But rather than Mankind bouncing off so the two could climb down, Foley went right through the roof of the cage into the ring below. By the way the refs and officials came down, it was obvious this wasn’t planned and yet the fans went wild for it. Incredibly, Foley would continue with the bloody battle until finally pinned. In his book, Foley notes the injuries he suffered and the chokeslam nearly fatal yet it made him a star at last.
15 The Original Screwjob
In 1985, the “Rock N Wrestling Connection” was hot with fans and rising up well. Wendi Richter was a key member, having ended the Fabulous Moolah’s record title reign and regaining the belt at the first WrestleMania. Richter wanted more money, Hogan-level money and holding out for it. Vince didn’t like that so at a Madison Square Garden card, Richter faced the masked Spider Lady, who was using some familiar moves. She had Richter down, Richter clearly kicking out but the ref counting to three. Spider Lady was unmasked to reveal herself as Moolah. Fans realized Richter was honestly thrown as she grabbed the belt, thinking she’d won but it was taken away. She was double-crossed and walked out on the company, the first “screwjob” WWE would see but hardly the last.
14 Mercury Busted Open
At the Armageddon 2006 PPV, Paul London and Brian Kendrick were to face William Regal and Bill Taylor for the tag titles. Teddy Long surprised fans by making it a ladder match and then adding MNM and the Hardy Boyz to spice it up. It was a fantastic match with all four teams doing their best to sell some great spots. At one point, MNM had Jeff Hardy down with one ladder leaning on top of another. Matt Hardy came to break it up with Jeff taking to the top rope and then leaping down, sending the ladder smacking up into MNM’s faces. Joey Mercury immediately rolled out of the ring, blood pouring from his face. The cameras caught him with his eyes swollen shut instantly and officials racing down to help him away. Michael Cole told fans that Mercury had been raced to a nearby hospital and making it clear it wasn’t planned. The man ended up shattering half his face, losing 70 percent of his vision in one eye and a clear example why those “do not try this at home” warnings are to be listened to.
13 WrestleMania VIII Papa Shango Run-In
To this day, there are arguments as to why WWE could never do the seemingly obvious Hulk Hogan-Ric Flair WrestleMania match. Each man was refusing to job to the other and with Hogan wanting time out, having him win at Mania didn’t make as much sense. So Flair took on Randy Savage while Hogan took on Sid in the main event. The plan was for them to battle it out with Hogan making his typical comeback and building up. But then Papa Shango would race to the ring to break the pin and double-team Hogan with Sid. However, in the planning, no one thought to time out just how long it would take Shango to get from the backstage to the ring. As such, he ended up coming in too soon so Sid had to kick out of Hogan’s legdrop, throwing everything off. They kept it up with the Ultimate Warrior racing in but it was obviously not the plan and another reason robbing fans of Hogan-Flair was a bad move.
12 Starrcade '97
It’s still stunning how badly WCW blew it. For 14 months, the company had brilliantly built up the program of Hulk Hogan and Sting. Sting’s makeover to the brooding loner coming down from the ceilings had fans going wild and WCW smartly waited to build the feud with him and Hogan up. Finally, at Starrcade, the showdown happened where the only logical outcome was Sting crushing Hogan to win the title. However, something happened. Whether it was Hogan refusing to drop his spot, Sting not in good shape or the ref just messing up, the match had Hogan dominating totally and the crowd sagging.
Finally, Hogan got the cover and the count was made for him winning. The idea was a fast count and Sting kicking out but it somehow was messed up. Bret Hart came out to restart it with Sting winning but the damage was done. The fans could see this was bad in so many ways and what should have been WCW’s crowning moment turned into the beginning of its end.
11 Sid Breaking Leg
It was sad to see WCW in its last months. After so long a total mess, the company had some signs of life but were hampered by all their past mistakes. At the “Sin” PPV, Scott Steiner defended the WCW title against Sid, Jeff Jarrett and a mysterious masked man. The bout was an ugly affair as the guys went at it and the revelation of the big mystery man was Road Warrior Animal. During the bout, Sid (never known for his great ring skill) decided, for some reason, to take off the ropes for an attack. He botched it, landing right on his leg and instantly breaking it with one of the grisliest injuries in wrestling history. The sight of him howling in agony as his twisted foot flopped around had fans grimacing and yet also seemed to stand as a metaphor for WCW at the time.
10 Brock’s Shooting Star Press
In 2002, Brock Lesnar became a mega star as WWE champion, fans loving his mix of technical skill and fantastic power. Winning the Royal Rumble, Brock decided to face off against WWE Champion Kurt Angle at WrestleMania. There were concerns as insider talk was Angle was having neck issues (which were far more serious than most knew) but he insisted on going through the match. It was a fantastic affair with both men giving their all and the fans loving it. It built up to Angle down on the mat as Brock took to the top turnbuckle and performed a shooting star press. But in a terrifying sight, Brock lander right on his head instead of on Angle. The gasps of shock filled the stadium, many seriously concerned Brock had broken his neck on live TV. Amazingly, Brock just shrugged it off and won the title but it was scary how close his career came to ending.
One of the absolute biggest joke moments in wrestling history, it’s now legend. WCW was having a lot of problems in 1993 as they tried to come up with logical challengers for champion Vader. Dusty Rhodes cooked up the idea of a new star to face Vader down and lead to some push. As Fall Brawl approached, Sting and Davey Boy Smith were to face Vader, Sir and Harlem Heat in a War Games match. On a “Flair for the Gold” segment, the two sides faced off with Sting announcing their new partner: The Shockmaster.
What happened next was iconic: A flash of fireworks went out, a hulking figure smashed through a wall…and fell flat on his face. His helmet (a Stormtrooper helmet with glitter) fell off, revealing him to be Fred “Tugboat” Ottoman. He kept going as Ole Anderson did a voice-over as everyone tried hard not to explode into laughter. It’s one of the biggest blunders in wrestling history and yet the perfect summation of WCW.
8 Andre vs Akira
Andre the Giant was a fantastic sight and box office attraction. But when a guy is seven and a half feet tall and 500 pounds, he can do whatever he wants and you can’t stop him. Andre was known for showing up for bouts drunk but little his opponents could do. In 1986, Andre faced tough shooter Akira Maeda in Japan with Andre showing up seriously hung over. Akira was upset as he fought back with Andre refusing to sell any of his attacks and just brushing the man off. The Japanese crowd turned on the fight fast, booing both men hard as Andre just literally shoved Akira’s attacks off. Akira finally managed to get Andre down only for the Giant to just lie there and laugh, demanding Akira pin him which wasn’t the plan.
Finally, Antonio Inoki had to come down and stop the bout, the fans ready to tear at both men and it led to Andre banned from Japan for several years. Leave it to him to come up with a giant mess.
7 Mass Transit
ECW was always a place that crossed the line. But this was one time it went way too far and it nearly cost them everything. In November of 1996, Axl Rotten and D-Von Dudley were to face the Gangstas at a house show. Rotten couldn’t make it so enter Eric Kulas, a 17-year old who lied about his age. The match was a brutal affair with Kulas bloodied into a total mess by New Jack. His father was there and screaming to stop as he was just a kid but New Jack kept going and deliberately cut two veins in Klaus’ forehead, nearly causing him to bleed to death right in the ring. The fans could tell this was not planned as the Gangstas won and medics raced to Kulas along with his father. The aftermath nearly got ECW kicked off the air for good and Kulas would spend years suing the company until his death in 2002, ending one of the darker periods of ECW history.
6 Victory Road 2011
One of the lowest spots in TNA history (which is saying a lot) and it could have been avoided. For weeks, the company had been building up the main event of Sting vs Jeff Hardy for the TNA World title. Hardy was known for his wild off-camera behavior but most thought he could keep it together for a big match. Sting came out first and waited as Hardy’s music hit. After what felt like an eternity, Hardy finally stumbled out, clearly under the influence. He made his way to the ring and looked totally out of it. Eric Bischoff came out and whispered to Jeff and the ref, obviously telling them the plan was changed.
The bell rang, the two circled each other, some punches then Sting hit the Scorpion Death Drop out of nowhere. He covered Hardy who was obviously trying to kick out but Sting pressed down to make sure the ref made the three count. The fans booed the main event being only a minute long with Sting openly saying “I agree” to the sour chants. That Hardy ever got back into TNA after that was amazing given how he humiliated the company so badly.
5 Royal Rumble 2005
The Rumble has seen its share of botches here and there but nothing like this. It all came down to John Cena and Batista and the plan for a big battle to go at each other before Batista threw Cena out. However, both men misjudged their strength as they went to the ropes so both ended up going out together to the floor. It became obvious by the reactions of the referees that this wasn’t the plan as each got into the ring to declare themselves the victor.
It was here things got even more nuts as Vince McMahon stormed from the back, having spent the last few hours sitting watching the show. Somehow, coming in under the ropes, Vince managed to tear out both his quads. That led to the ridiculous shot of Vince sitting on the mat, yelling and directing the gang, who were clearly fighting not to laugh. The match was restarted with Batista winning and amazing WWE bounced back from this disaster.
4 Austin Breaks Neck
It’s the injury that changed WWE forever. As the summer of 1997 went on, Steve Austin was hot as hell, the wild fighter the fans loved. Things were building to him facing Bret for the WWE title but at SummerSlam, Austin took on Owen for the IC title. The plan was for Owen to hit Austin with some piledrivers, waste time boasting and then eat a Stunner as Austin won. But Owen ended up botching the first piledriver, landing Austin right on his head and compressing his neck. It was clear by the way Owen was buying time by bragging to the crowd. Somehow, Austin found the strength to roll Owen up into a pin for the title but had to helped to the back by officials.
It would change slews of storylines with Austin adjusting his style but paving the way to his confrontation with McMahon and thus one wrong move ended up altering the WWE landscape for years to come.
3 Sabu’s Broken Neck
When you bill yourself as “homicidal, genocidal, suicidal,” violence is par for the course. Sabu was taking off in ECW in 1994 with fantastic flying moves and smashing himself through tables. Meanwhile, Chris Benoit was getting attention for high flying and skills himself. The two went at it in a tough battle on TV with Benoit giving Sabu a backdrop. Somehow, on this easy move, Sabu landed right on his neck at a nasty angle. Paul Heyman raced into the ring and waved for doctors to come out. Sabu, known for his toughness, just lay there as Benoit was quite obviously shaken. It turned out to be a big move for Benoit, landing him his “Crippler” nickname and added to Sabu’s legend while still one of the nastiest injuries ever seen.
The arguments over it rage to this day over who was wrong and right. The story has been well-told but it boils down to a simple thing: Bret Hart wanted to leave as champion and Vince McMahon didn’t. With Bret ready to leave for WCW, Vince knew him going over as champ was not in the cards but Bret was adamant that no way was he losing in his home nation, especially not to Shawn Michaels. Bret thought he’d made a deal to keep the title by DQ and give it up the next night. Vince, however, had another plan.
After a wild brawl, Shawn slapped on the sharpshooter and Vince demanded the bell be rung. Bret spat at Vince, smashed up TV cameras and wrote “WCW” in the air to let fans know this was not his plan. Even without the talk of Bret punching Vince backstage, fans knew this was a wild bit that would transform the Monday Night War forever.
1 Owen Hart's Accident
The most obvious choice for sad reasons. In 1999, Owen Hart was still among WWE’s most dependable guys and entering a nice new act. He took on his ole role of the Blue Blazer, playing it up as a classic superhero character which had potential. At the Over the Edge PPV, he was to challenge the Godfather for the IC title. The plan was for him to come swinging down the rafters, then take a fall at ten feet into the ring. As fans watched a video promo play, a shape fell from the rafters and into the ring. At first, people thought it was some sort of dummy until doctors and officials raced to the ring.
Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler both broke character to talk about Owen in danger and fans began to realize this was no work. Later in the broadcast, Ross had to break the news that Owen had been pronounced dead at the hospital. Fans still debate continuing the show as many knew right off that a true tragedy had happened before them.