As a form of sanctioned violence, professional wrestling blends the storytelling predetermination of theater with the physicality of sport. Both parties are in agreement to inflict pain in an effort to provide entertainment to fans in attendance. Since the rise of weapons-laden brawls in Memphis in the 1980s, extreme violence has attracted audiences for its spectacle. As the hardcore style evolved, so has the fans’ demand for blood and danger. Thumbtacks, glass, barbed wire — all of these tools of craftsmen and homemakers become weapons for wrestling’s toughest competitors. With this push for contests with greater physicality comes a concurrent risk of injury and bodily harm.
The unspoken agreement between two wrestlers is that if they walk into the ring, they should walk out afterwards. As a live performance art, accidents happen leading to improvisation from the competitors. Even in the most rehearsed of spots, a miscue or bad timing can result in a botch in front of a live crowd. As said in theater, "The show must go on" even if the competitor has to fight through unbelievable blood loss or broken bones. Years of training and seasoning is put to the test when something goes wrong in the ring, and these professionals are able to pull through to put on a good show for the fans. They deserve all the commendation for the sacrifice they put themselves through for their craft.
Here are some of the most severe injuries seen in the wrestling industry.
The Mass Transit Incident
With a penchant for violence, New Jack’s bloody affairs captivated audiences with their liberal use of weaponry, bloodshed, and looping soundtrack of Natural Born Killaz.
On November 23, 1996, the Gangstas were set to defend the ECW World Tag Team Championships against D-Von Dudley and Axl Rotten at a house show. Due to Rotten’s absence, booker Paul Heyman scrambled for a replacement. Erich Kulas, a heavy-set 17-year-old approached Heyman claiming to be 21-years-old with more experience than he actually had. Heyman relented and booked Kulas in the match. On an episode of "Dark Side of the Ring," Jack claims he rejected Kulas’ requests for offense in the ring. To Jack, a rookie like Kulas shaping the match was "one of the most disrespectful things you could do as a wrestler." Jack beat Kulas down and used a surgical scalpel to slice Kulas’ forehead but nicked two arteries. Kulas’ father demanded the match be stopped and he was sent to the hospital for treatment of his injuries and blood loss.
The fallout resulted in a smear campaign, with "Inside Edition" victimizing Kulas and vilifying ECW. Jack was charged with assault, but never served time for the incident. Kulas died at 22 from gastric bypass surgery complications. Jack has long owned up to and defended the incident, tweeting "I don’t feel bad at all… He also asked me to cut him so I did" one day before he died.
Sycho Sid Snaps His Leg
Bouncing between WCW and WWF throughout his career, Sid served as a main event talent for both companies. At an imposing 317 pounds and standing at 6’9", he captivated audiences with his intense presence. After winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in January 2000, the belt was hot-potatoed across the roster.
At Sin, Scott Steiner defended the title against Sid, Jeff Jarrett, and Road Warrior Animal in a Four Corners match. In a rarely seen attempt at aerial offense, Sid hit a flying big boot from the second rope. Upon landing, he broke his tibia and fibula and was left helpless in the ring while his leg dangled. Eric Bischoff, who was watching backstage, revisited the moment on his podcast "83 Weeks" stating "That was horrible, horrible … It wasn’t scary, just grotesque." Sid was hauled off backstage and not seen on WCW television again, with a replay of the brutal accident shown the next night on "Nitro."
The injury marked the end of Sid’s career for a spell, with doctors saying he’d never run again. Through years of physical therapy and mental tribulation, Sid recovered and regained mobility. Discussing the injury and rehab in a 2007 shoot interview with Title Match Wrestling, Sid recalled "I was never to walk or run again, I’m doing all that now."
Eddie Guerrero Bleeds Buckets
Winning the WWE Championship and closing off WrestleMania XX in a bittersweet celebration, Eddie Guerrero’s reign was the apex of years of hard work for the second-generation star. Entering a feud with a newly rechristened John Bradshaw Layfield, Guerrero’s pride was put to the test by the prejudiced Wall Street trader.
Defending his championship against JBL at Judgment Day 2004, a chair shot from the challenger caused Guerrero to bleed early in the match to the crowd’s agasp. A botched blade job nicked an artery and blood gushed profusely from Guerrero’s forehead. As to why the bleeding got so bad, ex-WWE agent Bruce Prichard chalked it up to human error, stating on his "Something to Wrestle" podcast that "It was just an accident. I don’t think that anybody thought it was going to be as bad as it was, including Eddie." JBL bladed as well, staining the canvas and ropes in crimson. Guerrero retained via disqualification.
Due to the amount of blood shed between the two, the WWE Network rates the event as TV-MA. On his blog the Layfield Report, JBL remembered the toll Guerrero took from the blood loss, writing "Eddie was out of it … He wasn’t right for a couple of weeks."
Mick Foley Severes an Ear
Traveling the world and leaving blood spilt on six continents, Mick Foley is remembered as one of the toughest and most sadistic wrestlers to have donned a pair of boots. Under the pseudonym Cactus Jack, he had garnered a reputation for unhinged violence, as he terrorized whoever crossed him.
Touring Europe as a part of the WCW roster in 1994, Foley wrestled Big Van Vader in Munich. Foley flung himself into the ropes for his signature hangman spot, a common sight in his matches. Due to the ring ropes being tightened, Foley recalled in his book "Have A Nice Day" not feeling the "pain that I had long ago accepted … I felt as if my neck was in a vice." Foley panicked and wriggled his way out the ropes, crashing ringside. Foley’s right ear was badly split but he still carried through the match. Camcorder footage revealed that the mangled ear was accidentally ripped off by Vader. In a shoot interview for Hannibal TV, Vader recalled that "Whatever was left of that ear just flew" as he whacked Cactus with clubbing forearm blows. The referee picked up Foley’s ear and he was taken to the hospital. Foley was sent home to recuperate from the incident.
Goldberg Nearly Loses His Arm
Bill Goldberg experienced unprecedented popularity thanks to his intensity and undefeated streak that saw him become a double champion. Constantly a fixture of the main event scene, Goldberg feuded with a newly reformed New World Order after Starrcade 1999.
On the December 23, 1999 episode of "WCW Thunder" Goldberg chased down an nWo limousine and smashed its windows. Hitting two windows with a metal pipe, he destroyed the windshield by punching through it with his fist. The glass slashed Goldberg’s arm, cutting through an artery and causing severe bleeding. Blood splattered all over the white vehicle as Goldberg hammered its hood to close off the taping. During a Q&A at Fan Expo Dallas in 2015, Goldberg noted that he "came within a centimeter of losing use of my right arm," not feeling the pain of the cut until cameras stopped rolling.
Goldberg was sent to the hospital and required emergency treatment due to copious blood loss, nearly having his arm amputated. Jeff Jarrett, who caught wind of the accident as Goldberg was carted to the hospital, summed up the incident on his "My World" podcast with "It got real there, pal." Recovering from surgery, Goldberg returned in May 2000 to interfere in a handicap match and aligned himself with Kevin Nash.
New Jack Lives Dangerously
Gaining exposure in the WWF as the drug-dealer Key, Vic Grimes was released in 1999. Later that year, Grimes signed to ECW where he aligned with Tony DeVito and Spanish Angel, joining Da Baldies. At Living Dangerously 2000, Da Baldies dished a post-match beatdown to Balls Mahoney. In an impromptu challenge, Jack made the save and took on Grimes.
Climbing an elevated fixture, Grimes and Jack were supposed to fall through a pair of tables below. A failure in communication between the two resulted in a mistimed fall off the balcony. Jack pulled Grimes off the edge, landing vertically through both tables onto the concrete floor. Grimes followed suit, plummeting back-first onto Jack’s face. Both men were stretchered out, ruling the match a no contest. IGN reported that New Jack was "rushed to a nearby hospital and was diagnosed with a severe concussion." Further evaluation revealed a laundry list of other injuries: a broken leg, fractured skull, blinding nerve damage to his right eye, and brain damage. In a shoot with Hollymood Entertainment, Grimes spoke highly of Jack and admitted "That night, s**t went wrong."
The infamous Danbury Fall was one of the most dangerous spots captured on ECW cameras. The accident left Jack with lifelong health complications, such as insomnia. He lamented in a shoot interview that "When I ain’t gotta feel this s**t no more I’ll be glad… that night, it changed me." The heat between Jack and Grimes carried into XPW.
Joey Mercury’s Smashed Face
Joey Mercury competed in several promotions including ECW, ROH, and TNA before landing a WWE contract in 2004. Training in OVW, Mercury aligned himself with Johnny Nitro and Melina to form MNM. Debuting on "SmackDown" in April 2005, they would win their first of what would be three WWE Tag Team Championship reigns from Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio in their first match.
At Armageddon 2006, MNM were booked in a fatal four way ladder match for the titles. Both members of MNM were hit in the face by a ladder set up by the Hardyz. While Nitro completed the spot just fine, Mercury immediately bled profusely on the apron and ringside area. Revisiting the accident in a shoot interview, Mercury described the injury: "I broke four bones in my face. I got a cut down to the bone. I took between twenty-five and thirty stitches." Mercury was sent to the emergency room while Nitro completed the match. On "Cafe de Rene with Rene Dupree," Paul London recalls the aftermath of the injury, saying "Even if you don’t like somebody you never wanna see somebody nearly lose their eye, or … suffer an injury for the rest of their life."
Taz Breaks His Neck
Before he was named the Human Suplex Machine, Taz made a name for himself in ECW as The Tazmaniac. Working the midcard with two Tag Team Championship runs and a flash-in-the-pan reign with the Television Championship, Taz had established a solid presence in the company going into 1995.
On July 20, 1995, the Tazmaniac teamed with Eddie Guerrero to take on 2 Cold Scorpio and Dean Malenko in a tag team match. During the match, an assisted spike piledriver from Scorpio and Malenko resulted in Taz landing on his heading and breaking his neck. As a result of the injury, the match had to be shortened, with Guerrero and Tazmaniac taking the victory. In "The Rise and Fall of ECW" documentary, Tommy Dreamer recalled helping the injured Taz to the hospital and being told by staff "There’s no way you walked in here … you have a broken neck."
The injury led to Taz missing most of 1995, returning December with a new gimmick and in-ring style. Taz has taken accountability for the botch, stating on the "Steve Austin Show" that "I didn’t get a chance to protect myself, it was all my fault. I just took the bump bad." Neck problems were a key factor in Taz transitioning into a commentator role during the 2001 Invasion angle.
Nick Gage Bleeds Out
Nick Gage cut his teeth in Combat Zone Wrestling, being crowned the first CZW World Heavyweight Champion. To date, he is the only man to have won the triple crown of American deathmatch tournaments: CZW Tournament of Death, IWA-MS King of the Deathmatch, and GCW Tournament of Survival.
At the Tournament of Death, Gage reached the finals where he met German import Thumbtack Jack. Diving through a bundle of vertical light tubes, Gage landed on the grass ringside and blood gushed from a severed artery in his underarm. Unable to finish the match, Jon Moxley took Gage’s place. Being attended to by medics, Gage begs to finish the match and cut a promo as he bled out claiming that "I am the f*****g king … tape this s**t I’ll go out there." As he was airlifted away from the event, Gage was declared legally dead for seven minutes. Miraculously, Gage survived and wrestled at CZW Best of the Best a week later. Reflecting on the incident in a sit-down with Chris Van Vliet, Gage says "You gotta love this business, and if you don’t love it you’ll find out real quick."
Rey Fenix’s Dislocated Elbow
On the January 5, 2022 episode of "AEW Dynamite," Rey Fenix and Penta were booked to defend the AEW World Tag Team Championship titles against Jurassic Express. Leaping on the top rope, Fenix would get caught by Luchasaurus for a chokeslam through a table. Fenix’s arm landed at an awkward angle, seemingly breaking and was out of action for the rest of the match. The Lucha Bros would lose the match, dropping the titles to Jurassic Express to cap off their reign at 122 days. On replays of the spot online, Fenix’s arm would be censored.
Fenix was diagnosed with a dislocated elbow by doctors. Tweeting "thanks to God, your prayers and good vibes THERE ARE NO BROKEN BONES" he thanked his fans for their support. Fenix took time off to rehabilitate the injury. Jungle Boy sent a tweet in support for "One of the very best in the world, and one of the greaest [sic] people." While Fenix was on the shelf, Penta introduced his Oscuro persona and feuded with the House of Black alongside PAC. Fenix made his return to AEW television on the May 4, 2022 episode of Dynamite, beating Dante Martin to advance in the Owen Hart Cup tournament.
Hardcore Holly’s Sliced Back
Throughout his career, Bob Holly has garnered a reputation for being amongst the toughest men to step into the ring. Known for his no-nonsense attitude and work ethic, Holly served as a reliable midcard worker from the Attitude Era into the twilight years of Ruthless Aggression. Holly was drafted to the rebooted ECW brand in 2006, intended to complement the budding roster of newcomers and resurging veterans.
Wrestling Rob Van Dam in an extreme rules match that aired on the September 26, 2006 episode of "WWE ECW," Holly performed a vertical suplex on the apron with the two landing on a table laid out ringside. The table’s sharp remains would slash Holly, who sustained a horizontal laceration that ran across his left shoulder blade. The cut reached all the way to Holly’s fatty tissue, causing blood to run down his back. Fighting through the pain and blood loss, Holly finished the match in defeat after taking a Five Star Frog Splash from RVD.
After cameras stopped rolling, Holly was escorted backstage and treated for his injury. WWE reported physician Ferdinand Rios treated Holly with "24 stitches to close the wound" with antibiotics to avoid infection. Holly fondly remembers the match, stating on Insider’s Edge Podcast that "The table just didn’t do what it was supposed to do… s**t goes wrong sometimes."
Footage of the injury would be used in WWE’s video packages warning fans of the risks of imitating the stunts seen in the ring.
Vader’s Gouged Eye
Garnering infamy after his controversial victory over NJPW founder Antonio Inoki in front of a frenzied Ryōgoku Sumo Hall crowd, Big Van Vader became the first gaijin to hold the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in 1987. By 1990, Vader was a two-time champion and set to defend the title at the NJPW-AJPW Super-Fight in Tokyo Dome crossover show against Stan Hansen.
During the Lariat’s entrance, Hansen flailed his bullrope at Vader and broke his nose. With an already heated Vader, the two hosses pulled out their repertoires of stiff strikes and deceptive agility in a wild brawl between two of Japan’s most dangerous foreigners. In a 1998 shoot, Vader recalled taking a punch from Hansen and "turned around and felt my eye on my cheek" as his eyeball popped out its socket. In spite of the dated video quality, the severity of the injury leaps from the screen. The contest halted as Vader and the official scrambled trying to mend the injury, forcing the eye back into place. They were able to finish the match, with Vader retaining in a no contest. Hansen described the match by saying the two "pounded the dog out each other."
Years later, the legacy of the incident has mystified the two’s careers in the east. Vader inducted Hansen into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016. He spoke highly of Hansen after the ceremony, claiming in an interview "Stan’s pretty special and in his prime, he was more than special."
Vic Grimes’ Free Fall
After the demise of ECW in 2001, several promotions rose from its ashes to satiate the bloodlust of hardcore wrestling fans. XPW, a former rival for Heyman’s turf, took center stage and featured ex-ECW talent including New Jack and Vic Grimes. At the February 2002 Freefall event, the two were set for a scaffolding match — a relic of Southern wrasslin’ lore.
As they prepared for the match, Jack confronted Grimes for not checking in on him after the Danbury Fall. Looking to exact his revenge, Jack snuck a stun gun into the match. Grimes was tased and tossed off the scaffold through a pile of tables below. Jack’s murderous intent has been well documented — in an episode of "Dark Side of the Ring," he admits "I wanted him to hit the floor, I just didn’t throw him hard enough." The fall left Grimes with a dislocated ankle after hitting the top rope, among other injuries. A veteran of Memphis scaffold matches in the 1980s, Dutch Mantell commented on his "Story Times" podcast that "If it hadn’t been for that rope, Vic Grimes would be dead."
Grimes recovered and continued wrestling independently, even appearing on the short-lived MTV series "Wrestling Society X." Grimes’ last match was in 2015, per Cagematch. In a shoot discussing the scaffold match, Grimes issued an apology to Jack after two decades stating "If I left a mark and if you’re damaged … I’m sorry, I did not mean to ever hurt you."