In sports of any kind, injuries are part of the gig. In professional wrestling, it could be argued that it’s almost expected. Being a wrestler is a very risky job. A wrestling match, despite being pre-determined, is a dangerous athletic dance. It becomes a greater risk when the wrestlers are taking crazy chances. Put another way, there isn’t really a safe way to put someone through a table, even if the table is "gimmicked."

One of the other things to consider is the schedule. Historically, professional wrestlers who work for companies like WWE are on the road, a lot. There is no off season. Outside of the television and PPV commitments, performers are expected to do house shows. Mix this schedule in with a culture of working hurt and it can be a recipe for disaster. Doing something athletic repeatedly while nursing an injury is just asking for trouble. Even more so if the performer works in an environment that celebrates being "tough."

Finally, there is the element of chance. Sometimes a wrestler does everything right and gets hurt anyways. Sometimes these injuries are mild, sometimes they are career altering or even career ending. This piece will examine career destroying injuries — how they happen, why they happened and what happened as a result. Unsurprisingly, the results are usually bad.

Shinjiro Otani

Shinjiro Otani has one of the most interesting careers in the history of wrestling. He has been in main events over four different decades. Otani has competed against men like Kurt Angle, Sakuraba, Jushin Thunder Liger, Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit), Eddie Kingston, and Shinsuke Nakamura. Shinjiro’s move set was years ahead of its time. His patented springboard spinning kick is clean and beautiful. He also travelled around the world and had amazing matches with whomever he was paired with.

Otani began his career in the early ’90s in New Japan. He competed in the Top of the Super Juniors (now called Best of the Super Juniors) and showed his skillset early on. At NJPW Hyper Battle 1996, Otani defeated Wild Pegasus to become the first ever WCW Cruiserweight champion. Otani won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag titles twice before moving to heavyweight. He eventually left NJPW to help found Pro Wrestling Zero where he won the Heavyweight title.

On April 10th of 2022, Otani was booked to face Takashi Sugiura at the Zero1 anniversary show. What happened in that match will unfortunately live forever in the mind of Japanese wrestling fans. Otani took a German Suplex into the turnbuckle and was unable to move afterwards. After going to the hospital he was diagnosed with a cervical spine injury. He could not move his limbs. He has since begun rehab, but his in-ring career is all but certainly done. A tragic end to the career of an innovative and fearless wrestler.

Rick Rude

"Ravishing" Rick Rude had an incredible run in professional wrestling. A gifted athlete and genetic marvel, Rick Rude parlayed these gifts into a career. Rude worked as a classic heel — he strutted to the ring, insulted the audience, and semi stripped for the "ladies." Some of his highlight insults include calling the crowd "Minnesota meatheads," "Rhode Island rednecks," and "Atlantic City sweat hogs."

Rick Rude had a distinguished run in the business. He wrestled for World Class Championship Wrestling and Jim Crockett Promotions before making his way to the WWF. He had a terrific feud with Jake Roberts, where Rude famously airbrushed a painting on his tights of Jake’s wife. Rude later won the Intercontinental title from the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania V. Rude is also the only wrestler to appear on "Raw" and "Nitro" in the same evening, having prerecorded the "Raw" episode before leaving for WCW.

Rick Rude’s career in-ring was effectively ended at Wrestling Dontaku 1994 in Japan. Rude was facing Sting for the International Heavyweight Championship. During the match, Sting hit Rude with a suicide dive outside of the ring. Rude hit his back on a small stage that was elevating the ring. Amazingly, he finished (and won) the match. His injury was serious and forced him to retire. Rude worked in wrestling as an "enforcer" and manager, however his in-ring career was finished.

Richie Steamboat

The son of Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Richie Steamboat grew up around professional wrestling. He had his father’s quick feet and timing, coupled with mat wrestling skills. This blend gave Steamboat the ability to work a variety of different styles. No matter who the opponent, Richie Steamboat could have a good match.

Steamboat decided at a young age to pursue a career in the family business. Richie was trained by Harley Race and wrestled for Harley’s WLW before heading overseas to Pro Wrestling NOAH. During Steamboat’s time in NOAH, he wrestled with and against Japanese stars like Taiji Ishimori and Yoshinobu Kanemaru. Richie Steamboat eventually signed with WWE and was sent to FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling) to develop. While in FCW, Richie would develop a special chemistry with Seth Rollins. As tag team partners or opponents, Seth and Steamboat always put on a good show. Steamboat seemed destined for great things — however, that would all come to an abrupt end.

Steamboat was booked to face Kassius Ohno at an NXT on November 12th, 2012. During the match, Steamboat performed a Moonsault that ended his career. Richie landed wrong and later described "losing all feeling" in his body during an interview on "Pancakes and Powerbombs" (h/t Prowrestling.net). Incredibly, he finished the match and even managed to work for a few more weeks. Eventually, a doctor told Richie Steamboat he couldn’t wrestle anymore. Steamboat was talented, clearly dedicated, and on the rise. It is sad to consider what might have been.

Bret Hart

Bret "The Hitman" Hart is quite possibly the best in-ring wrestler of all time. He has to be in any conversation about the greatest all around talent ever. A member of the famous Hart family, Bret grew up around professional wrestling in Canada. He showed an early aptitude for wrestling and went on to become one of the top stars in the history of WWE. He was also famous for "taking care" of his opponents. In wrestling terms this means he was safe to work with. Wrestlers knew that if they wrestled Bret, they were safe.

The Hitman left WWF (WWE) under a cloud of controversy after the Montreal Screwjob. After being betrayed by Vince McMahon (captured in the documentary "Wrestling With Shadows") Bret left for WCW. About two years after arriving in WCW, The Hitman was paired with Goldberg. Bill Goldberg as a wrestler was not even on the same planet as Bret. Despite this Goldberg was over with fans and the WCW office. He was being positioned to become the top guy in the company.

Bret and Goldberg competed at the main event of WCW Starrcade 1999. In what should have been a fairly routine spot, Bret came off the ropes to take a kick from Goldberg. What happened next ended his career: Goldberg absolutely stapled Bret with a kick to the right side of his head, promptly concussing him. It wasn’t a "stiff" kick, it was a dangerous move. Bret started having headaches and eventually his doctor told him his career was over.

Sid Vicious

Sid Vicious has the awful distinction of one of the most visually stomach churning injuries ever. Vicious is a legitimately decorated star. A multi time champion in WWF (WWE) and WCW, Sid also main-evented two WrestleMania shows (WrestleMania VII and WrestleMania 13).

Sid Vicious was big and scary. One of his early trademarks was repeatedly delivering finishers to opponents he had already beaten. His opponent would then be wheeled out on a stretcher only for Sid to promptly attack them again. Always at his best when working with a smaller technically sound talent, Sid shone under the bright lights. He won the title vs. Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series 1996 and put on a great big man performance in the process. Sid vs. Bret Hart at In Your House 12: It’s Time is another classic. Sid was on a path to be a consistent draw and solid PPV main event performer. Bad luck and bad advice took that all away.

At WCW Sin in 2001, Sid faced Scott Steiner, Jeff Jarrett, and Animal in a Four Corners match. Sid was asked by WCW management to perform a "Big Boot" off of the second turnbuckle. Sid was a traditional big man wrestler and had very little experience with high flying. During the match he attempted the spot and the results were disastrous. Vicious essentially snapped his leg in half, breaking his tibia and fibula. Sid later sued WCW for being pressured into attempting the move. Sid returned to the ring sporadically years later but he was clearly compromised. His career never recovered.

Droz

Darren Drozdov had just about the worst experience possible in his brief time in professional wrestling. A legitimate high school sports star, Drozdov eventually landed himself in the NFL. His NFL career lasted three seasons and saw him play for the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, and Denver Broncos. During his pro football career, he earned the moniker "Puke" after he vomited live on the field during Monday Night Football.

Drozdov started wrestling on the independents. After a stint in ECW, Drozov signed with WWE. There is a famous and very depressing clip in "Beyond the Mat" of Darren Drozdov meeting Vince McMahon for the first time, where McMahon implores him to vomit. From that moment "Puke" — or, mercifully, just Droz — was born. His gimmick was that he could throw up on command.

At a "SmackDown" taping on October 5th 1999, Droz’s career came to a sudden and tragic end. Drozdov and D’Lo Brown were matched up in a singles contest. During D’Lo’s signature Running Powerbomb, disaster struck. A combination of Brown not securing a firm grip and Droz not being able to jump resulted in a horrific outcome. Droz landed squarely on his head and neck, fracturing two discs in his neck. Darren Drozdov was left a quadriplegic.

Hayabusa

When examining the history of injuries in professional wrestling, it’s impossible to not include Hayabusa. He was an innovator and a risk taker. Hayabusa was also one of the first wrestlers to seamlessly blend the Mexican Lucha Libre style with traditional Japanese wrestling. He was trained in Lucha Libre by none other than Rey Misterio Sr. Hayabusa was beyond talented. His ability to soar coupled with his clean technique and hard hitting moves made him one of one.

Hayabusa got his start in FMW in the early ’90s and eventually ascended to the top of the promotion. During his career there, he won numerous titles and headlined the FMW anniversary show six times.

Hayabusa was matched up with Mammoth Sasaki on Oct 22nd 2001. Hayabusa attempted a Lionsault off of the middle rope, slipped and landed squarely on his head. He cracked two vertebrae and very nearly died . The end result was that his in-ring career was finished. Hayabusa stayed involved in wrestling as a sort of figurehead and occasional promoter. When watching Hayabusa clips, it breaks the heart to think that this incredibly talented wrestler had his career ended in the blink of an eye.

Chuck Austin

It is entirely likely that most fans of professional wrestling have never heard of Chuck Austin. It’s also fair to say Chuck Austin had one of the shortest and saddest careers in the history of the business. Chuck Austin was one of many former college athletes who decided post college to pursue a career in the wrestling business. Six weeks into this career, Austin travelled to a WWF show and managed to get on the card.

On December 11th, 1990, Austin teamed with Lanny Poffo against Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels AKA The Rockers. The Rockers were one of the hottest teams on the planet. Poffo and Austin were there to "do a job" — or, in non wrestling speak, lose. At the end of the match, Austin was going to take "The Rocker Dropper," a move is also known as the "Famouser" to modern fans. Austin landed wrong, broke his neck, and was paralyzed. Jannetty has always claimed that reason Chuck Austin got injured was due to his lack of experience. Given his lack of training, it certainly wasn’t safe for Chuck to be in the ring.

Austin decided to sue the WWF (WWE). He was awarded $10 million in an out of court settlement. Chuck’s injury had a long lasting impact as WWF (WWE) no longer books talent with that little experience. Austin would never fully recover.

Tyson Kidd

Tyson Kidd is an incredible example that there is in fact a life for wrestlers after a horrific injury. Tyson grew up in Calgary, Alberta and he holds the distinct honour of being the last wrestler trained in The Hart Dungeon. Kidd cut his teeth in Stampede Wrestling before heading to Japan to compete in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Tyson entered the Best of the Super Juniors tournament numerous times having limited success but building his resume as a legitimate in-ring talent.

Kidd eventually made his way to the WWE. His most notable work was with Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Natalya (his real world partner). Smith, Natalya, and Kidd called themselves the Hart Dynasty. Davey Boy is the real world son of The British Bulldog and Diana Hart, and Natalya is the daughter of Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart. Their gimmick was centered on representing the Hart legacy.

On June 1st 2015, Kidd was scheduled to work a "Raw" dark match against Samoa Joe. Tyson took Joe’s "Muscle Buster" finish and injured his spine. Kidd describes losing feeling in his body for five seconds and being airlifted to different hospitals. This injury ended Tyson’s career — however, it has not ended him, as he has moved on to become a producer with WWE.

Chris Nowinski

Chris Nowinski is a Harvard graduate who competed on the first season of "Tough Enough." Despite losing out to Maven and not earning a contract, Chris eventually landed in WWF. Chris debuted on "Raw" on June 10th, 2002, working a traditional arrogant heel gimmick.

Nowinski was never really able to rise above the mid card in WWF (WWE). He feuded with likes of Tommy Dreamer, Al Snow, and Maven. But to be entirely fair to Chris, his injuries cut his career very short. In June of 2003 at a WWE "Raw" house show, Nowinski was teamed with Rodney Mack against the Dudley Boyz. Nowinski took a kick to the head from Bubba Ray Dudley and was instantly concussed. Compounding the problem by continuing to work, Nowinski was concussed numerous times. He developed Post Concussion Syndrome and could no longer compete.

Nowinski’s wrestling career was over, his mission wasn’t. Chris became an expert on concussions and head injuries. He is now Dr. Chris Nowinski. He wrote a book called "Head Games" about concussions and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). He is an expert speaker and gives talks all over the world. He is the head of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Chris Nowinski has taken his pain and turned it into hope for other athletes. It is hard to find a better second act than that.