Professional wrestling is simulated combat. But despite the predetermined outcomes, it is still very dangerous. Even the safest of headlock-filled matches carry a degree of danger. Injuries, and often constant pain and discomfort, are just facts of life for many career wrestlers. Falling down for a living is a hard life, regardless of how well remunerated you are for it. And wrestlers know this. They accept the risk every time they step through those ropes.
A few months ago, Katsuyori Shibata wrestled Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP World Championship in New Japan Pro Wrestling. In the match, Shibata delivered one of his signature “shoot” headbutts to Okada, in which he legitimately cracks his skull against his opponent’s without the cushion of a thumb or anything else. This time, however, Shibata suffered a subdural haematoma. At the time of writing, he is still in hospital after several surgeries. His career is likely over. While I have nothing but respect for Shibata and his work, the skull-on-skull headbutt is just plain stupid. Pro-wrestling is supposed to be a work, not a real fight.
Thankfully, this type of headbutt has not made its way to the WWE. But WWE wrestlers still perform moves that are riskier than their reward merits. And then there are some banned moves which could actually add a lot to the product. So here are eight moves that are too dangerous (or just stupid) to do anymore in the WWE, and seven that we should see again.
17 Banned - Hardway Blood
When WWE went PG in 2008, Vince McMahon banned blading. Blading is the practice of a wrestler deliberately and furtively cutting himself, usually just above the eyebrow, with a razor blade to make it look as though his opponent has bloodied him. When done right, it can add a lot of drama to a match; think Stone Cold Steve Austin passing out in the sharpshooter at WrestleMania 13. But blood is a vector for disease and some people are squeamish, so Vince banned it. That’s OK, wrestling doesn’t really need blood. However, wrestlers sometimes still want blood, but fearing a monster fine from Vince, will not blade. Instead, they intentionally try to cut each other open with strikes --hardway blood-- and this is WAY more dangerous.
Worse still, Vince himself wanted Brock Lesnar to cut open Randy Orton at SummerSlam last year with elbows, and the result as Orton was legitimately knocked out and bled way more than they expected and the match was awkwardly called off.
If Vince wants blood, he has to let his wrestlers blade, or else use blood packs as they have a couple times with Roman Reigns (funny how he gets all the shortcuts).
15 Allowed - The Curb Stomp
The move that was Seth’s finisher, has been banned. This despite the fact that Seth never hurt anybody with it. The story here is that Vince McMahon banned the Curb Stomp shortly after WrestleMania 31. Vince feared that little kids would try to do it to each other and apparently had a vision of a young Shane doing it to Stephanie. But kids can try to do any move and hurt each other. What makes the Curb Stomp different? It’s a safe move and there can be creative counters to it, such as Randy Orton’s amazing RKO at the aforementioned ‘Mania.
Since losing the move, Seth has used the Pedigree and the “Kingslayer”, essentially Kenny Omega’s combination Rainmaker setup and V-Trigger knee, but neither suit him as well as the Curb Stomp did. And while we’re at it, Seth’s Phoenix splash looks great, but if he’s not going to utilize it as a finish either, he should just let Rich Swann use it.
14 Banned - Topé Suicida (Suicide dive)
The topé suicida is a dangerous move. In his retirement speech, Daniel Bryan admitted to loving the feeling he got when he did it. But the move may have also contributed to his early retirement, giving him a ‘stinger’ in one noticeable instance. Having said that, though it is dangerous, it is not extremely dangerous. It is, however, extremely overused. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Luke Harper, and Austin Aries each perform a suicide dive in just about every match they wrestle and many others do the odd one here and there, too. It’s way too much. It’s supposed to be a great athletic feat, but now it’s used as little more than a transition move.
And in a recent match Aires missed Neville (intentionally) and landed chest first on the floor. It’s too dangerous a move to mean so little; we need a break for a while.
13 Allowed - Doomsday Device
The WWE’s tag team division has started a comeback from the nadir it was in several years ago. As part of this, we’ve seen several teams give nods to the legends of yesteryear’s tag division, most notably with The Revival pulling out the Hart Attack in big matches. Given this, the Doomsday Device seems ripe for a comeback. Can you imagine how much of a boon it would be to a fledgling team like American Alpha if they could pull out a Doomsday Device? Having said that, the ‘DD’ was a dangerous move.
The Road Warriors were not always careful with their opponents in the ring and just letting a guy fall off your shoulders on to his neck is irresponsible and reckless, as we saw with Henry Godwin. But it seems to me that if the wrestler holding the opponent on his shoulders were to fall back with him, just like an electric chair drop, he could control his fall following the top rope clothesline and both could land safely. It would have to be carefully timed, but this variation would be much safer and look just as cool, if not cooler.
12 Banned - Rear Chin Lock
A lot of these moves should be or have been banned because they are dangerous. The rear chin lock, however, is about as safe a move as there is. The trouble is, it is boring as hell. And while there are a number of boring ‘rest holds’ in wrestling (though talented workers can make them exciting), the rear-chin lock also exposes the business. With the popularity of MMA and the increased use of rear naked chokes, principally by Samoa Joe and his Coquina Clutch, audiences know that a choke or sleeper hold is a devastating move that can end a match. So if a you’re in a position to slap on a rear chin lock, why wouldn’t a you just apply a choke instead?
Blood chokes, like sleepers, are allowed; it is the wind chokes (hand on windpipe) that are not. So why go after a guy’s chin? What sense does that make? And to the live audience in the upper seats, they can’t necessarily tell the difference and might become confused. Rear-chin locks are boring and dumb and they should be confined to wrestling’s past.
11 Allowed: The Piledriver
The piledriver has been banned for years, with the notable exception being The Undertaker’s tombstone variation. But it’s not clear why. Yes, if an inexperienced wrestler really screws it up, he could break his opponent’s neck. But the same could be true of a scoop slam. If you leave out Owen Hart’s bizarre, impromptu attempt at a tilt-a-whirl, tombstone, sitout piledriver that broke Steve Austin’s neck at SummerSlam 1997, there really hasn’t been a notable problem with the piledriver. Especially not with the standard piledriver version.
Look back at any mid-90s match when the style was generally much safer, and you’ll see Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Jerry Lawler doing piledrivers all over. There is no unreasonable danger in an experienced worker delivering a standard piledriver. And because it’s been banned for so long, it could be brought back as a devastating new finisher for an up-and-coming heel.
10 Banned: The 10 Punches in the Corner
File this one in the “exposes the business” category, too. Jim Ross has been perhaps the most vocal critic of the old ‘ten punches in the corner spot’, mentioning his dislike for it often on his podcast. And he makes an excellent point. Traditionally in wrestling, ‘closed-fist punches’ were banned. This is true to this day in Japan, where they instead build up to blistering forearm strikes or chops, and when there is the occasional punch, the crowd goes wild. But in WWE, guys punch each other all the time and yet...there are no marks on their faces. A punch-heavy MMA fight will leave bruises and cuts galore on the fighter’s faces, and they’re wearing gloves. How can we suspend our disbelief when one wrestler rains down 10-unanswered blows on his opponent (who makes no attempt to block them) only for there to be no evidence of these punches whatsoever?
9 Allowed: Package Piledriver
Continuing with the piledriver theme, we have the package piledriver. This one can be quite dangerous. But Kevin Owens is one of the most experienced and trusted workers in the business. Since he’s come to WWE, he’s done a variation of this move where he drops his opponent back-first on his knee, and it looks cool...but not as cool. Imagine a match where Owens can’t beat his opponent, who has kicked out after a superkick, a ‘bullfrog’ splash, and a pop-up powerbomb. And then Owens resorts to the package piledriver and wins. The crowd would go nuts. Owens has proven he can do it safely time and time again in Ring of Honor. If he uses it as a super-finisher and only busts it out at big shows, it would be amazing.
7 Banned: The Buckle Bomb
I won’t go as far as some disgruntled former 5-time WWE Champions from Calgary, Alberta have and call Seth Rollins reckless, but the buckle bomb has a bad history. A variation on the outside caused Finn Balor a shoulder injury forcing him to forfeit the Universal Title in the very much he won it. And a standard version effectively ended Sting’s career. And let’s not forget Rollins himself blew out his knee trying to perform a sunset flip powerbomb to Kane. Three freak occurrences? Possibly. But why take the chance? It’s not Seth’s finisher, so does he really need it?
He keeps doing it, and nobody has been injured recently, but that’s bad, too. When Rollins does it to Roman Reigns, for example, Reigns tends to no-sell it and hit him with a Superman Punch. So the move that ended Sting’s career doesn’t even phase Reigns? Another reason so many people hate his character...
The move should be banned or used only for big angles. At the very least they should ban the buckle bomb on the outside to the barrier.
6 Allowed: Randy Orton’s Punt
Speaking of Orton, when he was a red-hot heel in January 2009, he got over partly because of his punt. Orton would methodically line his opponent up on the other side of the ring, wait for him to get on all fours, and then run up and kick him right in the head. It looked great, but Orton would pull up and was careful not to injure anybody. In storyline, it was a devastating move and Orton took out Shawn Michaels, Rob Van Dam, Batista, and Vince McMahon himself for prolonged periods with the move. But, much like the Curb Stomp, one day Vince decided the move looked too violent and banned it.
Orton still teases it now and then, but hasn’t delivered a punt in years. But there’s really no reason he shouldn't. Similar to Owens and the package piledriver, Orton should be allowed to use the punt as a super-finisher. The first time Orton hits it after years and years, the crowd will pop huge.
5 Banned - Top-Rope Guillotine Leg Drop
This entry might be preaching to the converted, as Fandango --the only wrestler who was really used this move recently-- seems to have stopped doing it. And that's a good thing, too. Hulk Hogan has a lot of mobility issues and pain today and he was one of the
laziest safest workers ever. Why does he have problems? From jumping and landing on his butt in every single match he ever wrestled to deliver his leg drop. So imagine the damage you would do if delivered the leg drop from the top rope? And that was Fandango’s finisher! That kind of repeated impact can ruin your hip and even your spine. It’s just not worth it. The move just doesn't serve the same purpose it once did.
4 Allowed: The Burning Hammer
I’ve mentioned super finishers a couple times already in this list, but the Burning Hammer was the ultimate super finisher. When Kenta Kobashi would break this move out against Mitsuhara Misawa in their legendary matches in the late 90s, you knew the match was over. And it is a dangerous move. That style of wrestling in All Japan, “King’s Road”, involved a lot of guys being dropped on their heads, and it was that style that would eventually kill Misawa. So I’m not suggesting that we start seeing it in every match. But a careful and experienced worker can deliver it relatively safely.
Last year in the Cruiserweight Classic, Brian Kendrick pulled one out, did it safely, and the crowd went nuts, so smart fans are aware of the move and still respect it. If a wrestler like Sami Zayn or Shinsuke Nakamura busted out a Burning Hammer to win a title match, it would look awesome, the crowd would love it, and it would be unlikely to result in injury.
3 Banned: The Distraction Finish
You’ve seen it 912 billion times. Wrestler A has wrestler B on the mat. He’s signalled for his finishing maneuver. But what’s this? Wrestler C’s music has started to play! What on earth? Wrestler A is transfixed! He can’t believe he’s hearing music! Wrestler C has even come and stood out on the ramp. Wrestler A can't take his eyes away! How is this happening?! A man is standing and music is playing! Oh my gosh! And then Wrestler B runs up behind him, rolls him up, and pins him. This is breathtakingly lazy, it makes Wrestler A look profoundly stupid, and insults all of our intelligence. And it’s one of the reasons the WWE’s TV ratings are terrible right now. They’ve taught us that none of their matches matter and half are liable to end with this dumb finish. This spot has got to go.
2 Allowed: The Canadian Destroyer
I’ll admit it; I’m being a little hypocritical, yes. The Canadian Destroyer is undeniably dangerous. A standard piledriver is reasonably safe. Kevin Owens can do a package piledriver safely. But the Canadian Destroyer variation? I don’t know if anybody on the current roster can do/has done it safely. If not, then obviously, nobody should do it. But there shouldn’t be a carpet ban on the move in case somebody can do it. It’s just so awesome.
The Canadian Destroyer (front flip piledriver) involves starting in the standard beginning piledriver position, but then doing a front flip, causing your opponent to backflip and land on his head. It was popularized by Petey Williams. If they’re able to execute it in a safe manner reliably, think of how popular a cruiserweight like Tony Nese or Akira Tozawa could get by utilizing this incredibly impressive move. “What a maneuver!”, indeed.
1 Banned: Apron Spots
The apron spot is quickly becoming an unwelcome crutch both in the WWE and abroad. The first time we saw a wrestler perform a suplex of some kind out on the ring apron, we were probably all impressed. But it occurs far too often now. And every time it does, the announcers must remind us, “That’s the hardest part of the ring!”. They have to say that because there’s nothing about these moves visually that makes them look any more effective than were the executed in the middle of the ring. What’s more, just like with kicking out of finishers, it seems wrestlers are relying on apron spots too much to make a match seem like a big deal.
And while they don’t look particularly dangerous, they actually are. It hurts like hell to take a bump on the ring apron. It just screams of reckless indie guys trying to get over. And with the possible exception of Kevin Owens' powerbomb on the ring apron, these spots rarely lead to a finish. They’re just unnecessarily dangerous mid-match spots.