Professional wrestling is an inherently dangerous endeavor. Participation in the business means trusting one’s body to another human being to safely execute strikes, holds, and throws meant to look devastating, on the faith that nobody is actually going to get hurt. Bret Hart famously touted his career statistic of going two decades without seriously injuring a fellow worker. Astoundingly few wrestlers can claim a similar success rate, particularly for such an expansive period of time. Work long enough, and accidents are all but bound to happen.
Not all wrestlers are equally skilled or equally careful. The platonic ideal of a wrestler might look stiff and snug while actually working light as a feather. There are, however, those wresters who cannot or choose not to work with such care.
We can’t hold every individual wrestler responsible for every accident. For example, for as well liked and widely respected as he was, Bret’s own brother Owen Hart wasn’t beyond reproach. He botched his inverted piledriver on Steve Austin at SummerSlam 1997, inadvertently causing an injury that haunted Austin for the rest of his career, and contributed to an early retirement. There are, however, those wrestlers with more than an isolated few instances of hurting someone else to their names. Additionally, there are those talents—even big names—who come across as remarkably lucky not to have not hurt their colleagues more often or more severely.
This article takes a look at fifteen big time wrestlers, past and present, who could be dangerous for other wrestlers to work with.
15. Brock Lesnar
Make no mistake about it—Lesnar’s sheer strength, athleticism, and real fighting credentials make him a dangerous man for anyone to engage with physically. While Lesnar is skilled and responsible enough not to have badly injured many opponents, he does have a reputation for working stiff. In interviews, Triple H has commented on their 2012 to 2013 program, and how he left every match feeling like he’d been hit with a bus. WWE cashed in on some of Lesnar’s mystique and unique talents for an unconventional finish to his SummerSlam 2016 main event with Randy Orton, seeing him bloody The Viper with elbow shots into the referee stopping the match.
So, while Lesnar isn’t dangerous for an absence of skill or experience, he’s the kind of guy whose incomparable power and hard nosed style makie him a punishing opponent whether he means to be or not. He’s also a star of a high enough caliber that no one can really tell him to change.
14. Sid Vicious
Few wrestlers have ever had a look that could compare with Sid Vicious. He was tall and jacked to the gills in an era when his body type was even harder to find. Add on his signature crazed look, and he looked like a monster who could legitimately destroy any man who might dare to stand up to him. The reality of the situation, however, is that Vicious was not a dependable worker in the ring.
Vicious was never the smoothest technician on the mat. One of his lowest moments—emblematic of his limitations—was his work in the 1991 WrestleWar War Games Match. As part of the Horsemen team, Vicious powerbombed Brian Pillman from the opposing squad. Vicious used the powerbomb as a finisher for most of his career, so the spot may have seemed straightforward enough. However, Vicious was tall enough and failed to plan carefully enough, such that he couldn’t get Pillman’s body up in proper fashion for the spot. Rather than shift directions after Pillman took a nasty bump, Vicious actually went for a second. While the botched spot actually worked for the story of Pillman’s friend El Gigante coming out to surrender on his behalf, there would have been much safer ways—or execution of the same way—to reach the same goal.
13. Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins is popular and widely regarded as one of the best workers and all around performers on the WWE roster today. His fast paced, intense style does, however, have its critics. In particular, Bret Hart vocalized concerns that Rollins simply not a safe performer in the ring.
Hart did have some provocation. He cited, first, that Rollins was reckless in delivering a stiff knee to the face of John Cena. Later, the criticism came up again upon Rollins delivering a variation on his buckle bomb offensive maneuver to Finn Balor at SummerSlam 2016. The move typically sees The Architect deliver a power bomb in to the turnbuckles for a stiff, interesting looking move. In this case, he fired Balor into the barricade at ringside and, in so doing, cause a labrum tear. Balor himself went on the record to say it was an accident and he didn’t blame Rollins. Hart persisted that Rollins’s style didn’t protect his colleagues enough.
12. Sexy Star
Sexy Star emerged as one of the most decorated female performers not to work for WWE, in particular when she became the first woman to win the Lucha Underground Championship. The fanfare around her was short lived, though. At AAA’s TripleMania event, summer 2017, she’d go from an indie favorite to one of the most universally hated wrestlers in the world.
Star made the misstep of shooting with another wrestler in her fourway match—a choice that ultimately lured in Rosemary, with whom Star had no known prior beef. Star won the match, as planned, via submission with an arm bar, but cranked the hold afterward in a shoot style to legitimately injure her opponent. Not only being careless, but consciously hurting someone who has trusted you with her body is about as unsafe, and untrustworthy as it gets in the pro wrestling business.
After a false start in his gimmick as cowboy Skip Sheffield, and a forgettable period as the muscle of the Nexus stable, Ryback exploded onto the WWE main roster in his best known gimmick. The guy felt like a bit of a throwback, as the business started skewing more toward indie bred talent and smaller workers. Ryback went by the moniker The Big Guy, and looked the part as a jacked up, straightforward power wrestler. His ring style consisted mostly of clotheslines and slams.
Ryback’s ring work could look ugly at times. He was rumored to have caused injuries to other wrestlers, including a concussion inducing clothesline to Dolph Ziggler that happened live on an episode of Raw. CM Punk specifically cited Ryback’s lack of skill as one of his grievances against WWE when spoke on Colt Cobana’s podcast after leaving WWE in 2014. In his defense, Ryback claims no one ever brought these concerns to him and that, in particular, he was blindsided by Punk’s comments.
10. Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy is a veteran performer who got started very young, working in a backyard promotion he and his brother started, before working indies and getting spots as job guys for WWE and WCW by fudging their ages as teenagers. In terms of his skills, he’s beyond reproach. Despite his signature dare devil style, he doesn’t have much of a track record of hurting himself or others.
Hardy does have a big black mark next to his name, however, for once reporting for a TNA PPV main event match impaired. The show was Victory Road 2011, where he was to have a world title match with Sting. The general consensus is that he didn’t seem to be in too bad a shape until minutes before the match, which caused TNA to continue the show as planned. However, by the time he hit the ring, it was clear he was under the influence. Eric Bischoff and Sting called an audible, having Sting drop him quickly and pin him to end the match as safely as possible.
9. The Great Khali
The Great Khali was a big enough, strong enough specimen of humanity that there was little question WWE should sign him. Add on that he was a native of India—a country WWE hasn’t had much representation from—and it made sense that he would become a star despite never impressing anyone with his talents in the ring or his talking game.
Khali wasn’t necessarily reckless per se, but at 7’1” at 350 pounds, the stakes rose instantly higher any time he did make mistake with someone else’s body. Khali most infamously contributed to the death of fellow wrestling trainee Brian Ong, by delivering a flapjack to him. Ong had already suffered from a previous concussion and the sheer size and power of Khali delivering that move didn’t leave much margin for error. While Khali would grow and improve as a performer, he still wasn’t the first wrestler many of his colleagues would have wanted to trust their bodies to.
8. Shane McMahon
When Shane McMahon faced Kevin Owens at Hell in a Cell in the fall of 2017, the question quickly became just what sort of life threatening spot Shane would subject himself and Owens to. Back in the days of the Attitude Era, Shane-O-Mac gained the respect of the wrestling community through his willingness to absorb intense physical punishment despite, as the boss’s son, having no need to do so. This drive carried through to his comeback over more recent years which has included not one, but now two leaps off the top of the Cell toward an opponent.
That Shane was planned to miss both big elbow drops suggests he’s more a danger to himself than his opponents. Just the same, the guy seems not only willing to engage in, but intent on these huge, incredibly high risk bumps. It only takes a bit of poor timing or a small misstep for things to go very wrong, and at the heights he prefers, a minor error could result in careers ending.
7. Rick Steiner
Rick Steiner and his brother Scott formed a wildly popular tag team. They thrived internationally and across both WWE and WCW in the 1990s, ultimately setting up Scott’s singles push as Big Poppa Pump. Throughout this era, the Steiners were known to be backstage bullies, taking liberties with their very real strength, and real amateur wrestling pedigrees to manhandle other guys.
While Scott was the higher profile Steiner, it was Rick was generally perceived to be a bit more reckless in the ring. Most memorably, his top rope bulldog caused a serious neck injury for Buff Bagwell during the Monday Night War era. Accidents happen, but guys as strong and free flowing as The Dog Faced Gremlin upped the stakes for any error they might make in the ring with another man’s body.
6. Ahmed Johnson
Ahmed Johnson looked as though he may well have ben headed to the top of WWE in the mid-1990s. The guy looked like a million bucks, was super strong, and got showcase spots like becoming just the second man after Lex Luger to successfully body slam Yokozuna. As the Attitude Era started up, Johnson was positioned squarely at odds with Faarooq and the Nation of Domination faction.
Johnson lost momentum, however. Blame it on injury. Blame it on his attitude. Blame it on racism. Different parties will suggest different factors that led to his fall from grace. One of the prevailing theories, though, has to do with a perception of him being stiff and unsafe to work with, and that members of the Kliq in particular pushed that narrative. The reputation followed him to WCW, where his run with Harlem Heat was reportedly cut short based on similar concerns.
5. Big Van Vader
It’s a popular bit of wrestling folklore that when enhancement talent in WCW saw they were lined up to work against Big Van Vader, they opted to quite rather than subject their bodies to the punishment. While Vader is widely respected for his in ring talent, power, and athleticism for a super heavyweight, no one denies that the man worked very, very stiff.
Whether Vader was just a Brock Lesnar style brute who hit hard and expected the same in return, or more of a bully is up for debate. Regardless, the guy’s ring work from his prime does look down right brutal. He has on his resume the dubious honor of having removed Mick Foley’s ear from his head, and that alone offers a pretty clear suggestion that he wasn’t the safest guy to work with.
4. New Jack
New Jack is a pretty major name on the hardcore wrestling scene, and one of the better known talents from ECW to have never gotten a shot with WWE or WCW. The guy was known to have attitude problems, including picking fights with and threatening other wrestlers. He also had a bad reputation for taking hardcore violence a little too far, and a little too literally, using plunder and weapons with reckless abandon in his matches.
Most infamously of all, New Jack was a key party in the Mass Transit Incident. The instance saw New Jack work a heavy set young man who fudged his wrestling credentials, and wind up cutting him badly enough that he faced life threatening. While some of the responsibility surely falls on the victim for lying and not knowing what he was doing in a wrestling ring, New Jack took little care and expressed minimal remorse for the nearly deadly results.
JBL’s rise to the top of WWE was an unlikely one, going from blue chip prospect to what looked like a career tag guy, before spring boarding to the late stages of his career, suddenly recast as a main event, or at least upper card guy. From an in ring perspective, he was never a technical virtuoso. He was, however, a big, strong guy who could work a convincingly stiff style that functioned well both as a barroom brawling face and big bully of a heel.
Rumor has it that the bully persona wasn’t so far off from reality. JBL would purportedly both serve as an enforcer for management to punish, toughen up, or test guys the powers that be were uncertain of, and occasionally go into business for himself. Some of his exploits included wailing on The Blue Meanie and The Public Enemy early in their short WWE runs. Bubba Ray Dudley has spoken openly about Bradshaw and Faarooq testing the Dudley Boyz in similar fashion when they first came from ECW to WWE. In taking the beating without complaint, the Dudleys won the locker room’s respect.
2. The Road Warriors
The Road Warriors are widely regarded as one of, if not the single greatest tag team in professional wrestling history. Rarely has the business seen a team as imposing or as popular with fans (whether they were working face or heel). Animal and Hawk were colorful, impressively muscular, and worked a smash mouth style that was irresistible to onlookers.
The Road Warriors looked devastating and violent. The uncomfortable truth is that it was relatively easy to look like monsters when trhey actually worked like monsters. Animal and Hawk had a reputation for playing fast and loose with other men’s bodies. Bret Hart specifically cited their signature Doomsday Device finisher as unsafe for giving an unprotected flying clothesline to an opponent already elevated on animal’s burly shoulders, with no real concern for how he landed. Hart contrasted it with the Hart Foundation’s Hart Attack. The latter was a similar move with a more measured bump for Hart giving a running rather than flying clothesline, and Jim Neidhart only lifting the victim to hip level.
Goldberg rose to the top in WCW based on his fast paced, powerhouse style. He’d mow through opponents with intensity, rarely taking much physical punishment himself. Goldberg could be a lot of fun to watch based on this style, but was not always as much fun for other wrestlers to get in the ring with. His stiff slams and striking offense could be rough. To make matters worse, he was pushed to the top of the wrestling at lightning speed, never developing the experience commensurate with his place on the card, and thus posing a risk to more established stars.
Things came to a head when Goldberg gave Bret Hart a mule kick to the head. The blow as the biggest factor in ending The Hitman’s full time wrestling career. As such, it may be for the best that Goldberg’s career in pro wrestling ran as short as it did—les than a year cumulatively.
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