Before we even begin with this article let us stipulate one thing: professional wrestling is inherently unsafe. Even the safest workers are risking their health every time they step between those ropes to entertain us fans. I myself, and I suspect the vast majority of you reading this, have never stepped inside the squared circle. I’m far too cowardly and sane to try my hand at professional wrestling, but I do thank every individual who has risked their health to entertain me and my fellow fans. If you’ve watched professional wrestling for any length of time, you’ll have picked up on which wrestlers are safer and which take more risks. The ideal wrestler is somebody who can perform moves that look dangerous and devastating, but are actually relatively safe for all performers involved.
Wrestling has changed a lot over the decades. Before he had his cardiac episode live on Raw, Jerry “The King” Lawler was involved in a tag match against Dolph Ziggler in which Ziggler dropped repeated elbows on Lawler. Lawler recalls thinking that there was a time when wrestlers didn’t have to go so hard at each other in the ring. But for better or worse, the average wrestling match is for more “stiff” or “snug” than it was in Memphis in the 1970s and ‘80s. Some wrestlers tend to take this new, riskier style too far and pose a threat to the health of their fellow performers, or themselves. Others always work safe...sometimes maybe too safe with regards to entertainment value. Here are 10 WWE stars who could stand to be a midge safer, and ten who always work safe.
20 Should Be Safer: Alexa Bliss
It would not be fair to call Alexa Bliss an unsafe worker. So, why is she on this list? Well, for the past few months, Bliss has been sidelined. She has been since before the Evolution event back in October. The suspected cause? A concussion(s). That's no laughing matter. They are serious and the WWE takes them very seriously. Since she is full of charisma and looks like a star, Bliss has filled out an on-screen authority role quite well these past few months.
So well, that some have thought she maybe she should hang up her boots and become a non-wrestling character full time. When she does come back, Bliss better be very careful not to hit her head from now on.
19 Always Safe: Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey had her very first professional wrestling match a scant nine months ago. We tend to forget that. She’s still a rookie at this. Kurt Angle remains the standard for somebody coming from high-level combat sports into pro wrestling and taking to it like a duck to water. And Angle has said that his Olympic wrestling background was of little help to him in the WWE because he had to transition from working against somebody to working with somebody.
And yet, Rousey has never injured an opponent by working too stiff (as far as we know). Her matches have clearly been laid out very well beforehand, but nevertheless, Rousey’s dependability and safeness in the ring should be commended.
18 Should Be Safer: Shane McMahon
“Shane O’ Mac” is a polarizing character. Some fans love his candid, easy demeanor on the mic and his willingness to perform daredevil feats in the ring (or on a cell, or on the Titantron, etc.). Other fans detest his big, sweaty, orange presence on TV and contest he’s only popular because, as the boss’s son, he’s permitted to perform stunts that other wrestlers are not.
But there’s one thing on which we all have to agree – Shane’s strikes need work. His punches and kicks are perhaps the worst looking in professional wrestling today. No matter how much he trains with Phil Nurse, his punches still look weak. And yet? He’s actually hitting guys! He broke Chris Jericho’s nose with a punch. So, Shane, maybe just lay off the strikes and work on your grappling.
17 Always Safe: The Miz
The Miz has gained such a reputation for having a safe style of work that it’s actually become part of his character. Back in 2016 during a now-famous segment on the short-lived Talking Smack program, The Miz berated an obviously upset Daniel Bryan for Bryan’s criticism of The Miz’s conservative, less-than-thrilling in-ring style. But The Miz pointed out that it was Bryan’s reckless style that led to his early (temporary) retirement. And with some validity.
It’s true that Miz will never go down as one of the in-ring greats and he’s unlikely to ever have a five-star match. But he’s avoided major injury his whole career, and apart from failing miserably to catch R-Truth from a jump to the floor, he’s never really hurt anybody.
16 Should Be Safer: The Undertaker
Some fans will think it bordering on sacrilegious to criticize the legendary Undertaker at all. But let’s be honest, he has to be safer in the ring. Actually, if we’re really being honest, he should be retired, shouldn’t he? He turns 54 this year, he’s barely mobile, and in-ring, he’s plodding and boring. At the Crown Jewel event in Riyadh, ‘Taker (and Kane) both failed to catch Shawn Michaels in a dive to the floor. That could not have been a fun return match for HBK.
Furthermore, at WrestleMania 33, ‘Taker failed to reverse into a Tombstone Piledriver against Roman Reigns that could have ended very badly. If there’s any value in ‘Taker continuing to wrestle at all, it should be with long entrances and quick matches, à la against John Cena at ‘Mania 34.
15 Always Safe: AJ Styles
AJ Styles is a consummate professional who had nearly two decades of experience before he ever even came to the WWE. Two decades of experience and at least two opponents with broken necks. The Styles Clash is something of a paradox. If the wrestler taking the maneuver simply does nothing, he’ll be fine. However, if the wrestler makes the counter-intuitive but second-nature move for most wrestlers of tucking his chin, it could end very badly
Styles’s expertise and care in the ring is perhaps best exemplified by his match with James Ellsworth. Ellsworth made the mistake of tucking his chin for the Styles Clash, but AJ caught this. He maneuvered in mid-air to land on his foot rather than his knee, thus saving Ellsworth’s career. Pretty darned impressive.
14 Should Be Safer: Nia Jax
Nia Jax is literally twice the size of some of her compatriots in the WWE women’s division. She is also still relatively new to professional wrestling. Add those two factors together and you get somebody who can be a pretty unsafe wrestler. Sometimes Jax doesn’t know her own strength. She runs into wrestlers and tosses them around with a bit too much vigor at times.
And then there are her punches. As Michael Cole has repeatedly and odiously called her, she is the “#FaceBreaker”. Ugh. It might be a good gimmick, but the truth is that Jax ruined the main event of Survivor Series with her overzealous punch. Jax is at the point where she has to start improving.
13 Always Safe: Becky Lynch
The victim of “#FaceBreaker” was Becky Lynch. In 2018, Becky Lynch went from respected and well-liked mid-card wrestler to the white-hot, biggest star in the whole company. Almost overnight, too. But while Lynch’s on-screen attitude and demeanor have changed for the better, her in-ring work is as solid as ever. Lynch was a veteran before even getting to NXT and it shows in her work.
Even when she’s bringing “straight fiya,” she never takes liberties with her opponents or gets overzealous. She wrestled what was perhaps her most physical match against Charlotte Flair at Evolution and while the match was certainly stiff, it was relatively safe. Plus, Lynch appears to have fully recovered from her “broken face”, so that’s good.
12 Should Be Safer: Jeff Hardy
Oh, Jeff Hardy. If there is a poster boy for recklessness both in and outside of the ring, it’s got to be Jeff Hardy. Since Hardy’s return to the WWE, he has appeared to be landing more on his opponents during his Swanton Bombs rather than on his backside. While this can’t feel great for his opponents, it’s not particularly risky. No, the danger Jeff poses is to himself.
The maddening thing is he knows this. In the recent 24-7 episode on the Hardys and all their journeys, Jeff makes the very candid statement that he realizes he is now 41 years old, he has a bad back, and he needs to take better care of himself. The very same week that episode aired, Jeff delivered a Swanton Bomb on to the apron --which, if you haven’t heard, is the hardest part of the ring-- missing his opponent. Ugh! Jeff, stop that!
11 Always Safe: Drew McIntyre
Drew McIntyre had to make it big outside of the WWE before they could see him as a star again. But he’s still very much a “WWE” performer. This is both and good and bad. While he was a star in Impact Wrestling, Drew never garnered a reputation as a great worker on the independent scene like many of his compatriots have. But McIntyre is a solid, capable worker. He’s big, tall, muscular, good looking, and is a decent promo, too, so there’s a lot that the WWE (i.e.: Vince McMahon) loves about him. And even though he had a significant injury in NXT, he’s a pretty safe worker. He’s especially safe considering his size.
10 Should Be Safer: Hanson
One big man who could be safer is Hanson of War Raiders (aka War Machine). While most big men are dangerous to their opponents because they don’t know their own strength, Hanson is more of a danger to himself. He’s a super-heavyweight who likes to do cruiserweight moves. It sounds impressive, and it is, but it’s also mad. A man Hanson’s size should not be jumping headfirst and diving off of cages. And it shows. Hanson is currently out for a long time with what WWE.com reported as broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, and torn ligaments. Hanson is believed to have sustained these injuries at NXT: WarGames.
9 Always Safe: R-Truth
R-Truth turns 47 years old this year and he has been with the WWE for over a decade. He’s still athletic, he looks to be in great shape, and he clearly takes care of himself despite once having his share of outside-the-ring habits. Truth has been a background character for years but made a resurgence in 2018. What has worked for Truth time and again is his comedic timing and his outlandish character. Truth doesn’t have to go out and do inverted-450 splashes or throw stiff punches. His character work is what keeps him employed so his competent ring work is more than enough to keep people entertained.
8 Should Be Safer: Tegan Nox
Spare a thought for poor Tegan Nox. There is never a good time to get injured. But Nox has gotten injured at the seemingly worst possible time – twice. Nox was slated to perform in the first ever Mae Young Classic but unfortunately sustained a tear in her ACL before the tournament even began and had to be replaced. But Nox vowed to be back better than ever and she had recovered in time for the 2018 Mae Young Classic. Nox advanced to the quarterfinals for a match against Rhea Ripley.
In that match, Nox attempted a topé suicida and her knee, essentially, “exploded”. It was an unfortunate injury and Nox had to forfeit the match. When she does recover, she may want to retire the topés from her repertoire.
7 Always Safe: Natalya
Natalya has been wrestling for nearly two decades. There aren’t many veterans in the women’s locker room with as much experience as Nattie (only Mickie James, in fact) so she clearly serves an important role. Nattie is a leader both in the ring and in the dressing room. She is one of the most dependable workers in the company, has seemingly never injured anybody, and it’s not often that she has a bad match with anybody.
Nattie is so reliable and trusted that she has even helped to train younger female wrestlers over the years. There’s a big legacy to live up to when you’re part of the Hart Family but Nattie always does her family proud.
6 Should Be Safer: Brie Bella
Brie Bella has been wrestling for over a decade. And she’s never really gotten good at it. When Brie debuted, the WWE was still presenting the nadir that was the “Divas Division,” so Brie didn’t have to do much but look pretty. As the WWE began to take women’s wrestling more seriously and started bringing in excellent female wrestlers, however, Brie has struggled to keep up.
While Nikki Bella has upped her game, Brie hasn’t really managed to do so. But she’s tried! And therein lies the problem. Brie has clearly been influenced Daniel Bryan’s working style. But when Brie tries to throw stiff strikes, she just ends up hurting people, most notably knocking out Liv Morgan in a tag match on RAW this past autumn.
5 Always Safe: Kyle O’Reilly
Adam Cole is seen as the star of the Undisputed Era, but when you look at what Kyle O’Reilly has to offer, the sky’s the limit for this guy. He’s probably the best in-ring worker of the group but more importantly, he’s emblematic of a new style. Professional wrestling has been trying to incorporate facets of mixed martial arts for years, but this usually amounts to a Sonya Deville style of character who basically just says, “Look at me, I do MMA!”
O’Reilly much more subtly incorporates grappling and jiu-jitsu into his work. It looks great and it’s safe. When he does strike, O’Reilly uses palm strikes, which must hurt like heck, but are ultimately safe.
4 Should Be Safer: Big E
Speaking of stars in a group, people have been saying for years that Big E has all the potential to be a world champion someday. Whether Big E will do that as part of the New Day or not, or at all, remains to be seen. But it won’t happen if he injures himself first. Overall, Big E’s style is pretty safe and he can rely on his comedy and character work to get over. But there’s just one move that gets him on this list.
Big E has to stop doing that spear through the ring ropes to the outside. Every time he does it he seems to land worse and worse. On his knees. On his back. On his head. The dude needs to cool it with that move.
3 Always Safe: Kofi Kingston
Big E’s New Day teammate Kofi Kingston is the high-flyer of the group. Aerial wrestling is inherently dangerous, but if you actually look at the moves Kofi has done over his decade-plus in the WWE, he’s actually very safe. He has a reputation as a high flier, but he rarely comes off the top rope except for the Midnight Hour, which is safe, and the trust fall, which is safe as long as the guys catching him do their job. Kingston has cracked the code of how to be a high-flyer but also be a relatively safe worker.
2 Should Be Safer: Daniel Bryan
As far as we know, Daniel Bryan has to undergo precautions that no other WWE wrestler must. It’s been reported that Bryan goes through concussion protocol after every single match. Bryan had to see a slew of neurologists before he could convince the WWE’s doctor that he could wrestle again. He talked a lot about how he’d change his style if he could come out of retirement, but has he actually changed it?
He no longer falls on his head when he does his running dropkicks, but he still does his missile dropkick from the top turnbuckle. And against Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series, Bryan took a suplex right on the back of his head and neck. Now, as a heel, he might be able to change his style a bit. For his sake, he should.
1 Always Safe: Randy Orton
We couldn’t possibly end this list without mentioning Randy Orton. Orton is the epitome of a “WWE style" wrestler. Or, at least the WWE style of 10 years ago. Orton takes pride in his style of work. It’s a classic, slower, safer style than what many of the WWE wrestlers learned on the indies. Orton has gone so far as to trolling fans and proponents of more high-flying styles online. The fans have countered by coining Orton “Randy Boreton” for his tendency of using rest holds.
Orton’s punt was rather risky, but he’s eliminated that. He has found ways to get reactions with safe moves, such as pulling at Jeff Hardy’s earlobe holes (eww). So that’s to his credit.