The feuds, fights and final outcomes may not be 100 percent real, but the physical injuries that professional wrestlers often endure most certainly are. Here’s a look at 20 wince-inducing moments where those in the ring pushed their bodies to the absolute limit.
20. Jesse Sorensen
Jesse Sorensen’s TNA career was cut short in the most painful way during an Against All Odds bout against Zema Ion in 2012. Wrestling for the X Division top spot, Sorensen broke his neck after his opponent’s knees made contact with his head following a second rope springboard moonsault.
19. Hardcore Holly
A broken neck is actually one of the most common serious injuries in wrestling, as Bob “Hardcore” Holly knows all too well. Yes, the WWE star was kept out of the ring for over a year when he hurt himself in this extreme way after being dropped unexpectedly during a misjudged powerbomb by Brock Lesnar in 2002.
18. Bruno Sammartino
Incredibly, Bruno Sammartino somehow managed to continue competing for another 15 minutes after breaking his neck in a 1976 WWE matchup. The seemingly indestructible wrestler suffered the injury following a misjudged body slam at the hands of Stan Hansen but carried on regardless. What’s more, he even took a plane journey home before seeking proper medical attention. Hardcore!
17. Shawn Michaels
Doctors thought Shawn Michaels would never wrestle again following a devastating injury suffered during his 1998 Royal Rumble encounter with The Undertaker. You see, the wrestler crushed a disc in his back and herniated two more after taking a backdrop onto a wooden casket via the top rope. Five years later, though, Michaels made a miraculous return to the sport at the 2003 SummerSlam.
16. Sid Vicious
It’s virtually impossible not to wince when watching the horrific injury that Sid Vicious suffered during a 2001 WCW Four Corners bout. The wrestler snapped his left leg in sickening fashion after vaulting from the second rope in what looked to have been a straightforward move. Unfortunately for Vicious, he suffered two compound fractures in the process. In fact, the incident was deemed so graphic that the WCW agreed never to air footage of it again.
15. Jim Cornette
It’s not just the wrestlers themselves who have succumbed to horrendous injuries while gracing the arena. During a 1986 bout between The Road Warriors and The Midnight Express, villainous manager Jim Cornette became the victim of a misfired stunt. Specifically, instead of being caught from the 20-foot fall that transpired, he dropped onto the mat, painfully injuring leg ligaments in his leg. Ouch.
14. Vince McMahon
During an appearance at 2005’s Royal Rumble, Vince McMahon likewise proved that no one is safe when it comes to professional wrestling. The franchise owner was tasked with storming into the ring to announce a match restart between John Cena and Batiste; however, he ended up ripping both quads while doing just that.
13. Cactus Jack
Thought the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield incident was the most gruesome ear injury ever to have occurred inside a sports ring? Think again. In the middle of a 1994 match against Vader in Germany, Cactus Jack, a.k.a. Mick Foley, ripped off part of his ear after getting his head wrapped up in the top two ropes. Luckily, he was later operated on and had the cartilage successfully reattached.
12. Mick Foley
Mick Foley justified his “King of Hardcore” reputation when he suffered another painful injury, this time while competing under his real name. The wrestler was left with not only a dislocated jaw and a dislocated shoulder, but also a bruised kidney, concussion and more after dropping from a metal cage in a 1998 match with The Undertaker. And, to add insult to injury, despite bravely carrying on, he still ended up losing the bout.
11. Bret Hart
Bret Hart tragically lost his brother Owen in the ring following a horrific accident in 1999, and he also suffered his own trauma while competing that same year. The wrestler was left with a bad case of post-concussion syndrome after being kicked in the head by Bill Goldberg. As a result, he then let go of both his WCW world title and his professional career.
Darren A. Drozdov, a.k.a. Droz, was the victim of perhaps the most serious non-fatal injury ever to have occurred in the ring. To wit, he was left permanently paralyzed after being dropped head first while competing in a 1999 match against D’Lo Brown. The accident happened during what was supposed to be a fairly routine powerbomb move. And, despite doctors’ best efforts to stop his spinal swelling, Droz never regained full movement below his neck.
In perhaps the most bizarre wrestling injury ever to have come about, in 2013 X-Pac tore his anus during an Independent Circuit match. The unusual incident happened when the wrestler attempted a move named the bronco buster. And, incredibly, X-Pac’s girlfriend later revealed that it wasn’t the first time he had suffered such an injury. Yikes.
8. Tyson Kidd
In 2015 Tyson Kidd sustained serious damage to his neck and spine courtesy of a signature muscle buster from Samoa Joe. It happened during a so-called “dark match” – a bout staged during a televised show but not actually screened itself. Following the incident, the wrestler was kept out of action for over 12 months. What’s more, Kidd later took to Twitter to reveal that just 5 percent of people have ever survived a similar injury.
7. Steve Austin
Steve Austin proved that he was a man of steel by completing a 1997 SummerSlam bout despite landing on his neck and skull. The misjudged piledriver move from Owen Hart in fact resulted in the man nicknamed “Stone Cold” suffering temporary paralysis. And although he somehow managed to still end up defeating his opponent in the ring, Austin did take a number of months off in order to fully recuperate.
6. Masahiro Chono
Conversely, five years previously, Austin had been responsible for inflicting a potentially devastating injury on a fellow wrestler while competing in the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. The unfortunate victim was Masahiro Chono, who was knocked out in head-crunching style. Miraculously, though, Chono made a quick and full recovery.
5. Beth Phoenix
The women’s side of professional wrestling has also had its fair share of horrific injuries, with Beth Phoenix fracturing her jaw being perhaps the most famous. Incredibly, the former WWE Divas Champion managed to finish and win the 2006 Raw bout against Victoria, but she spent 12 months undergoing surgery to recuperate fully.
4. Joey Mercury
During a four-way encounter in 2006, Joey Mercury came unstuck in the ring – although not at the hands of a fellow wrestler but thanks to a ladder. Yes, the WWE star busted his nose in three different places and needed 30 stitches after being struck by the piece of equipment. Yet following just a few weeks out of action, he made a full return to the sport.
3. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar was no doubt left regretting his sense of ambition in 2003 when his attempt to pull off the famously complicated Shooting Star Press move backfired spectacularly. Competing in WrestleMania against Kurt Angle, the wrestler landed on his head after jumping from the top rope and suffered a serious concussion. That said, he still got up to finish and win the bout.
2. Marty Garner
After suffering a severe neck injury during a WWE Superstars event in 1997, Marty Garner ended up suing the franchise. His opponent, Triple H, initially looked to have been at fault for throwing Garner down head first. However, it was later revealed that Garner had mistakenly shifted his body in a different direction, believing that another maneuver was being carried out.
1. The Undertaker
Still competing in his late 40s, the imposing Undertaker showed he wasn’t entirely invincible while starring in a 2009 qualifying match against Rey Mysterio. The WWE’s longest-serving in-ring performer busted his orbital bone after being struck directly in the face. And, despite technically winning the bout, he was forced to surrender his place in the subsequent Fatal 4-Way.