Injuries are an inevitable part of professional wrestling. Even at the top level of the business, in WWE, with skilled performers, consistent and top-notch equipment, and experienced medical personnel, the act of wrestling is inherently risky. Compound that with the effects of wrestling night after night, taking bump after bump, not to mention intensive travel, media, and workout schedules and people are bound to get hurt.
Nowadays, wrestlers are more likely to get time off when they are suffering from injuries, rather than feeling pressure to work through an injury. Additionally, as WWE attempts to grow more mainstream and purport itself to be more like a traditional professional sport, there’s an increased acknowledgment that injuries do happen. It’s to be expected that someone might need to go on the disabled list, not for lack of heart or being too fragile—without necessarily concocting elaborate storylines to explain why someone isn’t able to perform. Wrestlers are, after all, human like the rest of us.
The wrestling business, and particularly WWE hasn’t always been so understanding of injury, though. WWE has gone to some pretty extraordinary lengths to justify wrestlers taking time off while maintaining their tough guy images, or to get heat on someone else for the illusion they caused the injury. While some of the resulting stories were good—perhaps even more entertaining than if the wrestler hadn’t been shelved at all, others were less successful. This article takes a look back through WWE history to recall fifteen awkward ways in which WWE worked around or downright hid that somebody was hurt.
15 Steve Austin "Getting Held Back" By Management
In 1996, Stone Cold Steve Austin began to catch fire with the WWE audience, tearing it up in the ring and cutting hellacious promos. While the Attitude Era had plenty of outspoken stars who got over at a high level via violence and foul language, Austin was at the front end of this dynamic. He was also quite arguably better than anyone else, before or since, at making more mature content work in the context of pro wrestling.
Unfortunately, Austin got taken out of his groove, just as he was peaking, when Owen Hart nailed him with an uncharacteristically poorly executed piledriver at SummerSlam 1997. Austin suffered from temporary paralysis and needed to take time off from the ring in the immediate aftermath. Given how hot he was at the time, though, neither Austin nor WWE wanted him off TV.
The solution was to work an angle with WWE management keeping Austin from wrestling, and in so doing setting them up as un-cool, if not downright villainous. This characterization, as contrived as it was, was particularly successful in drawing heat from the rebellious teenage fan base WWE was catering to at the time, and keeping Austin’s popularity rolling along at top speed.
14 The Undertaker Starting On Top Of Hell In A Cell
The Undertaker’s King of the Ring 1998 Hell in a Cell match with Mankind has become one of the most legendary matches in WWE history. While the match itself was far from a technical masterpiece, and, in retrospect, features startlingly little actual action, it does feature two of the biggest bumps in WWE history. First The Undertaker threw Mick Foley off the top of the cage and through an announce table. Then he chokeslammed Foley through the roof of the cage, down ono the mat below.
Interestingly enough, the whole concept of the match—with it starting up on top of the cell and centering on huge moments to mask the limited action—all centered on the limitations of the performers at hand.
Foley was banged up going into the match, and The Undertaker was even worse off with a bad foot injury that limited his mobility.
So it was set that The Deadman and Foley settled on grabbing the crowd’s attention and satisfying their thirst for carnage immediately on top of the Cell. It’s hard to argue against their thinking as they created an iconic match that furthered each of their legacies and, in just the second iteration of Hell in a Cell, helped get the gimmick match over as one of the most dangerous in all of wrestling.
13 The Randy News Network
When Randy Orton first debuted on the WWE main roster, the reactions to him were lukewarm. Yes, he had a great look, good athleticism, and a wrestling pedigree embedded in his last name. However, he came across as largely vanilla and particularly the more jaded fans, coming out of the Attitude Era, were reticent to get behind him as white meat baby face.
Orton went down to injury, and WWE made one of the best decisions it possibly could by having the youngster appear in a series of pre-taped vignettes, billed under the Randy News Network. The concept was that Orton was offering concerned fans reports on how his recovery from injury was progressing, not to mention keeping his face on TV. Taken at their most literal level, the vignettes may have been perceived as misguided, annoying over-attention to a wrestler who wasn’t that over with the fans. The genius of these segments, however, was that they played into fans’ feelings on the youngster. By the time fans caught on that the vignettes were meant to cast Orton as a heel, they’d already done their work in successfully building heat for him.
Sure enough, Orton would return and join the Evolution stable in short order. He’d be upper card and then main event bound from there.
12 Kurt Angle’s Twin Brother
In the build to WrestleMania XIX, two things were certain for SmackDown’s main event picture. First, Brock Lesnar was scheduled to challenge reigning WWE Champion Kurt Angle for his title. Second, Angle’s neck was injured, and there were real doubts as to his ability to actually work the ‘Mania match.
Word leaked about Angle’s injury, and the fledgling Internet wrestling media spread the story widely. So, when a match between Lesnar and Angle was booked for an episode of SmackDown leading up to WrestleMania, there was a great deal of speculation that Lesnar would take the title then, in a short encounter, and WWE would sub in some sort of replacement match for the biggest show of the year.
WWE worked the smart fans beautifully in this instance, while protecting Angle from wear and tear and the risk of further injury.
Angle's twin brother Eric became involved, and pulled off a mid-match switch that would make the Bella Twins proud, helping Kurt steal the pin on SmackDown, and continue down the road to WrestleMania as originally scheduled.
Remarkably enough, after a few weeks of rest while WWE covered for him, Angle would pull off a surprisingly physical and successful match with Lesnar in a proper main event bout at WrestleMania XIX.
11 The Rock’s T-Shirt
Nowadays, the only thing The Rock may be more famous for than his gift for gab is his Herculean physique. Accordingly, he worked most of his wrestling career in traditional speedo style tights that showed up his upper body and muscular legs. There was, however, a period when The Great one wrestled in a t-shirt and track bottoms. It’s not that he was a lower profile wrestler at the time. On the contrary, the period came in early 1999, most of which time he spent as reigning WWE Champion. While the look made some sense for some his wild, out of the ring brawling matches with Mick Foley, on the whole it seems like an odd departure for the Brahma Bull.
The reality of the situation was that The Rock had had cosmetic chest surgery to remove fat and improve his look in the long term. The scarring was reportedly pretty bad, though, compelling WWE to have him wear a shirt in the ring. Had The People’s Champion been working in a less high profile spot at the time, WWE may well have let it go and had him sit out for a couple months. As he started his push toward the top of the business, though, and particularly after he’d been hand picked to put over Steve Austin at WrestleMania XV, WWE management felt compelled to cover him up in gym wear and send him out to the ring to ply his trade.
10 Batista Flexes In The Middle Of The WrestleMania Main Event
The main event of WrestleMania XXX saw underdog Daniel Bryan and returning star Batista challenge reigning WWE Champion Randy Orton for his title. The result was a fine match with a real mix of wrestling styles that was largely successful. Indeed, most fans remember this one most for the feel good story it told, with Bryan beating the odds despite having already wrestled earlier in the night, and being the smallest man in the match. He made Batista tap out cleanly in the middle of the ring and a memorable celebration ensued.
On the way to this spectacular finish, however, there was a truly scary moment in this match. Batista and Randy Orton teamed up to deliver a flash Batista Bomb into an RKO maneuver, through an announce table. The spot looked spectacular and was believable, in kayfabe, as the kind of move that would send technicians to ringside with a stretcher for Bryan. What the guys didn’t count on, however, was the presence of a TV monitor on the announce table. Orton went crashing into it, badly slicking open his back, and luckily not hurting him worse.
Bryan had to stay down to sell how badly hurt he was, and Orton really was hurt. This left Batista with the awkward responsibility of stalling for time and covering up for the obvious logical flaw that if both his opponents were hurt so badly, he really ought to have thrown one of the back in the ring for the pin. Instead, The Animal flexed, posed, and talked trash in the ring to kill time until Orton was ready to re-enter the match, before Bryan made his planned dramatic return to the fray.
9 The Miz Wrestles In Slow Motion
WrestleMania XXVII featured the main event of The Miz defending the WWE Championship against John Cena. The matchup itself, and particularly The Miz, at that point in his career, headlining WrestleMania, rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way. To make matters worse, the match itself was a total slog that felt an awful lot like it was just plugging along, waiting for the time when The Rock could get involved and prove instrumental in the outcome.
The Miz would reveal in interviews afterward that a big part of why the match was such a flop was because he hit his head very early in the proceedings and was concussed.
He thus proceeded to work the match in a slowed down dazed state, in so many ways the worst version of his typical wrestling style.
This was exactly the type of match that, particularly in the modern era, WWE probably would have called early for Miz’s safety were it merely a Raw or SmackDown contest. As the main event of WrestleMania, and so arguably the single highest profile match of the year, a referee stoppage or other abrupt finish simply wouldn’t do. So the guys followed through at a miserable pace, trying to cover for The Miz wrestling hurt.
8 Stone Cold Run Down In The Parking Lot
Survivor Series 1999 was advertised to feature a Triple Threat Match between no lesser stars than The Rock, Triple H, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. While various pairings of these three stars had, and would still wrestle extensively, it was the only time all three of the biggest stars of the time would lock horns in a three-way battle, and so fans were understandably excited for it. However, early in the night, WWE would broadcast footage of Austin showing up at the arena only to get run over by a speeding car. The kayfabe incident put Austin out of action for nearly a year, led to The Big Show replacing him for the night and winning the world title, and ultimately set up Austin’s come back rivalries with Rikishi and Triple H.
It's difficult to imagine what the WWE landscape in 2000 might have looked like with Austin in it now. That year away paved the road for Triple H to dominate as a heel world champion, and for The Rock to rise up as a worthy stand in as the top face in the company, which set up Austin to be able to turn heel in 2001.
Still, it’s interesting to think that all of this—most notably the hit and run car attack—was set up to explain away Austin taking time away for an overdue neck surgery from years old injuries. Austin was so over that WWE felt compelled to only explain his prolonged absence by vehicular assault, rather than what any wrestler could do to him.
7 The Undertaker Rising From Halfway Through The Entrance Ramp
The Undertaker is a legend of the wrestling business, and still a major draw whenever he resurfaces on the WWE landscape. One of the awkward realities of booking him, particularly in recent year, though, has been that he’s in increasingly poor physical condition as the year’s go by. While he did look better at WrestleMania 34 and the Greatest Royal Rumble than he had in preceding outings, he was still not in condition befitting a world class athlete of his renown.
The Deadman arguably hit a low point at WrestleMania 33, when he was in need of a very serious hip surgery.
He looked visibly slower in his match with Roman Reigns, which critics generally panned as a slog, and one of the least compelling WrestleMania main events of all time.
There was also the awkward matter of The Undertaker’s entrance, though. His signature style was to come to the ring with lots of theatrics, and moving slowly was a part of his gimmick. However, adding in the hip injury, there was a real possibility that he would take 10 minutes or more to get to the ring. As an awkward work around, WWE gimmicked the entrance ramp with a trap door that allowed him to enter and exit the ramp by only walking half the distance.
6 Kane Turns Out The Lights On Daniel Bryan
While Daniel Bryan was cleared to wrestle again this spring, as recently as this fall it still looked like a pipedream that WWE would allow him to physically engage with other wrestlers again. He was plugged into the position of SmackDown general manager, to keep the popular star featured and integral to storylines. Bryan himself has claimed in interviews that he wasn’t very happy with that position. For that period when he wasn’t medically cleared to go in the ring, he considered it even worse to have to sit so close to the action and not be able to participate.
One of the more awkward moments for Bryan as an authority figure came in the Survivor Series feud between the Raw and SmackDown brands. To build heat for the showdown between the two sides, Raw’s Kane attacked Bryan when he visited the Monday night show. Because of concern for Bryan’s head injuries, rather than staging a traditional attack, the scene saw the lights go out in the locker room, only for violent noises to ensue. When the lights came back on, Bryan was laid out with the implication Kane had destroyed him. Fortunately, Bryan would be allowed back into the fray months later, and the in ring beating he took from Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn on his first night back was far more compelling and believable.
5 Kurt Angle Directs Traffic For Brock Lesnar
While Kurt Angle may have walked into WrestleMania XIX working hurt, it was Brock Lesnar who came very close to ending his career in the late stages of the match. With world champion Angle down, Lesnar uncharacteristically climbed up to the top rope. When he was in developmental, he’d been known to unleash a hellacious shooting star press. Despite still being able to execute the move, he’d phased it out of his repertoire on the main roster.
Angle has taken the blame for suggesting the spot in order to make a WrestleMania moment. Lesnar was game and bounded up the ropes. Though Angle was a full three quarters of the way across the ring and Lesnar was worn down from a physical match, The Next Big Thing was nonetheless game to go for broke.
Lesnar's shooting star press not only fell short, but saw him under-rotate, resulting in him landing head and neck first against the mat. The bad landing easily could have broken his neck or given him a serious head injury, and it’s a testament to what a physical freak Lesnar is that he came out more or less unscathed.
Desperate, and a ring general, Angle kept his wits about him. He went for a pin attempt and then directed traffic, setting up Lesnar to give him one last F5. While it was a bit of an anticlimax after the shooting star press attempt, it was nonetheless a worthy finish to the eventful match, with Angle calling the action for Lesnar while he still got his wits about him.
4 The Undertaker Imitates The Phantom Of The Opera
Over the course of nearly three decades with WWE, The Undertaker has undergone his share of transformations. He’s ranged from his original zombie heel character, to the conscience of the company, to his sinister Ministry of Darkness persona, to playing a biker, to his more recent takes that edge toward his original gimmick while also feeling a bit more modern.
One era that tends to get overlooked for being unintentional, arguably ill-advised, and featuring so few memorable moments was when he wore a mask that made him look something like the Phantom of the Opera.
The idea of The Deadman donning a macabre mask that covered half of his face was not in and of itself such a bad one.
Rather than a choice, however, it came up when a leg drop from his 500 pound rival King Mabel missed the mark and legitimately shattered an orbital bone on The Undertaker. So it was that he came to wear his protective mask that loosely fit his character, but looks a bit silly, and feels a bit sad for the knowledge of him having worn it out of necessity on account of an accident by a less skilled colleague who got heat over it.
3 Terry Funk Storms Hell In A Cell
There’s no two ways about explaining Mick Foley’s condition by the late stages of his Hell in a Cell Match with The Undertaker—the Hardcore Legend was hurt. Regardless of whether he knew his first big bump off the top of the Cell was coming, and regardless of whether the second bump through the cage roof were planned or accidental (a more controversial point) the human body can’t withstand two falls of that magnitude without its share of suffering.
After the first bump, the Cell match was presumed over, affording plenty of time for Mankind to recover and then climb back up the cage. In the second case, the guys had just broached the ring and the inside of the Cell, and it was difficult to conceive of the Hardcore Legend getting stretchered out before the match had reached a proper conclusion at that point.
To kill time and cover for Foley really needing time to fully regain consciousness and confirm he could still go, officials filed into the ring. Terry Funk was there, too, which made sense from a character perspective as Foley’s tag team partner around that time. It set him up to come to blows with The Deadman too, only to wind up eating a Tombstone. This fight within a match entertained the crowd while Foley had time to recover take his own final bumps before finally taking the pin.
2 The Undertaker Pours Water Over Himself
The scene was Elimination Chamber 2010. The Undertaker made his typical entrance for the time, complete with pyro that saw flames shoot up from the ground. Unfortunately, a timing error on the part of technician meant that nothing went according to plan from that point forward.
The flames not only shot up at the wrong time, but caught The Undertaker’s coat. Fortunately, he had on a big, thick leather coat to protect, or else his body may well have been set ablaze. As it was, he did suffer burns, with his skin visibly beat red when he made it to the ring, but the accident was far less destructive than it otherwise might have been.
The benefit of working an Elimination Chamber Match was that, despite having made his entrance, The Undertaker actually had a fair bit of time waiting in his pod before he had to wrestle.
Some deft camera work kept attention off of him. But reports indicated that he stood to the side having to pour bottle after bottle of water over his burns to keep damage and the pain at bay before he finally got to wrestling.
Reportedly, The Undertaker told Vince McMahon that the pyro technician responsible should leave the building as soon as possible, because if The Phenom saw him, it wouldn't have been pretty.
1 Owen Hart Stalls
SummerSlam 1997 played host to one of the most infamous and serious injuries WWE has ever seen mid-match. While Owen Hart and Steve Austin were both highly skilled, highly experienced professionals, they demonstrated that accidents can nonetheless happen when Hart went for a sit down tombstone piledriver—a maneuver he used on a fairly regular basis—and accidentally slammed Stone Cold’s head to the mat.
Hart clearly realized his mistake right away. He did not go for a cover or any additional offense he might have, but rather awkwardly trash talked for a moment before turning his attention to the crowd to gloat. Hart’s stilted, stalling act was a bit transparent in and of itself. Austin laying motionless while the ref checked on him made the situation all the more obvious to those watching.
Nonetheless, the performers persevered, with Hart tripping backwards and allowing Austin to use all the strength he could muster to feebly pin Hart with a makeshift roll up. The whole final stretch looked awful for a match this high profile. It was also, however, a testament to both men’s professionalism, and particularly Austin’s toughness that they were able to continue to even that extent under the unusual and potentially catastrophic circumstances.