Professional wrestling might have predetermined results, but those results only matter if the wrestlers in the ring agree to actually follow the script. As you are about to learn, that isn’t always the case. Whether it ends up being a stiff shot to remind a rival wrestler about the behind the scenes pecking order, an overly enthusiastic chair shot to the head, or a downright attempt on another wrestler’s life. Anything can happen once the script goes out the window, and the results can be disastrous.
This list depicts some pretty extreme and graphic violence against both male and female wrestlers. If you are uncomfortable with that, now would be the time to look away.
Known as the ghastly match in Japan, Act Yasukawa vs. Yoshiko was supposed to be a main event title match for the Japanese women’s wrestling brand Stardom. Instead, it ended up making national news and costing one of the wrestler’s their career. Early on in the match the much smaller Act seemingly catches Yoshiko with a real punch to the face, to which Yoshiko then responds with a series of very serious punches to Act. Then it pretty much devolves into a horror show as Act gets her face smashed up.
When the fight was finally broken up, Act had suffered a broken cheekbone, fractured orbital bone, and a smashed nose which required immediate surgery. Her injuries ultimately forced her into retirement, and it became mandatory for medical personnel to be present at every match following it. For her role in the fight, Yoshiko was banned indefinitely from Stardom but has had virtually no issue getting work with the country’s other wrestling brands.
In 2010 the WWE completely banned the use of direct chair shots to the head in an effort to lessen the chance of their performers receiving concussions and possible brain damage. Unfortunately for Mick Foley, he was about eleven years too early for this rule to affect him, which is kind of funny in a horrible way as that is the exact number of unprotected chair shots to the head he took in a row in a single match with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Foley had originally agreed to take five shots to the head while the two wrestlers went from one area of the arena to another, but it took eleven blows in total as the pair struggled to make it to the agreed upon spot. Mick Foley suffered a horrible gash on the top of his head that bled profusely, all while his wife and young children sat in the audience and watched on in horror. After the show, Mick Foley only needed stitches, but it was the beginning of the end for the hardcore wrestler as he started to have noticeable issues with his memory.
In an attempt to catch the reality TV audience that was so popular in the early 2000s, the WWE launched their Tough Enough project where a group of would-be wrestlers competed in different challenges live on TV in the hopes of getting a million dollar contract. One such challenge saw the contestants facing Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle in a shoot-style wrestling match. Unfortunately for Kurt, one of the contestants was Daniel Pruder, a trained MMA fighter.
Pruder got Kurt into a kimura lock, bending his arm painfully backward. Seeing that things clearly were not going the way they expected, and knowing they could not let their star lose on live television, WWE officials quickly called the match in Kurt’s favor, claiming he had pinned Pruder during the lock. Both wrestlers tell wildly different stories of what really happened that night, but even the official who called the pin claims that it was done to save Kurt Angle’s arm and pride.
Big Van Vader was a wrestler of massive proportions who had a tendency to strike his opponents with real punches every once in a while. It just so happened his opponent Stan Hansen was also a giant man who had a habit of doing the exact same thing. When they faced each other in 1990, the two men started out swinging at each other with all they had in them with Vader seemingly getting the upper hand until suddenly reeling back in shock and pulling off his mask, revealing to the horrified world that his eye had fallen out.
While you would assume the match would end there, Vader instead decided to push his own eye back into his head and went right back to swinging like a madman, only pausing every once in a while to push his eye back in as it kept popping out while he was being hit. This continued on for an agonizing twelve minutes until the match finally came to a natural finish. Vader required surgery to save his eye.
For some wrestlers, there is nothing more sacred than their mask. One such wrestler by the name of El Santo was so serious about his mask that he had to travel from country to country in secret and had special arraignments with different countries just to keep his coworkers from seeing his face when going through customs. Only once in his career did he remove his mask on television, and it happened just days before his death from a heart attack. With that in mind, let’s talk about Dirtbike Kid.
Facing the Great Sasuke in a loser takes off his mask match, the Dirtbike Kid decided to remove his main mask before the match even started, completely ruining any stakes the show had built up. He then refused to react to any of Sasuke’s fake attacks until finally, his already frustrated opponent began assaulting him for real. By the time Dirtbike Kid realized what was happening, Sasuke had locked him in a neck wrench choke that was so violent you can hear Dirtbike Kid screaming in pain as it was applied. Sasuke was quickly declared the winner as Dirtbike Kid faded into retirement.
Shawn Michaels may be an iconic name in wrestling nowadays, but back in the 90s he was considered a bit of a primadonna. It was the lead up to Wrestlemania 14, and Shawn Michaels was scheduled to lose the title belt to Steve Austin, a decision he did not like in the least. The showrunners were so worried that Shawn would refuse to work the match that the veteran wrestler The Undertaker was said to have been on call to “convince” him to do his job.
While Shawn did eventually agree to lose the title, it almost all came crashing down during the filming of a promotional video when a fan in the audience chucked a nine-volt battery into the ring, and it hit Shawn square on his forehead. Shawn, already upset about having to lose, simply got out of the ring and walked out of the arena leaving everyone to wonder if that was the end. When the time came to finally do the job, Shawn Michaels delivered, but a battery almost ruined a multi-million dollar budget show.
It was a mixed tag team match featuring Asuka and Naomichi going up against Meiko and Suzuki, and everything was seemingly going as planned until the female wrestler Asuka got into the ring with her longtime idol, the male wrestler Minoru Suzuki. Suzuki opened up with a horrible sounding headbutt and then immediately set to work punching and kicking Asuka in ways that did not look fake in any way. The other wrestlers in the match, including Suzuki’s partner, tried multiple times to get him to stop, but he just kept going until finally pinning Asuka to end the match.
While it all seemed pointlessly brutal and unprovoked, Asuka was actually the one who set up the beating with Suzuki in the first place. Suzuki was well known for working stiff with people, and Asuka loved his style, so much so that she incorporated his fighting style into her own when she was first starting out. Asuka personally asked him not to hold back in their match and to give it his all, no matter how bad it might have been. To Asuka’s delight, and to the horror of the viewers, he didn’t.
Wendi Richter might not be as well remembered as the likes of Hulk Hogan or the Fabulous Moolah, but back in the 1980s she was one of the top female wrestlers in the business, and as the women’s champion, she was practically assured a good pay increase during contract renewal negotiations. That was until she was booked to wrestle a match against a mysterious newcomer named the Spider Lady that she had never met or heard of previously.
Even the announcers were confused when the Spider Lady finally arrived as it was clearly the Fabulous Moolah just wearing a mask. Despite this odd scenario, Wendi Richter was told she would win the match and not to worry. To her surprise, Moolah rolled her up into a pin and was immediately declared the winner and new champion despite Wendi kicking out and trying to continue the match. Realizing what had happened, Wendi tried to keep the show going by taking the belt and refusing to hand it over. Wendi did not get her new contract. In fact, she never wrestled for the WWE again, only appearing decades later to be inducted into the WWE hall of fame.
Nobody wins with a headbutt, and unfortunately, Katsuyori Shibata had to learn that the hard way. Like a lot of Japanese wrestlers, Shibata was a hard-hitting madman who performed his signature headbutt multiple times without issue, despite the horrible sound the hit made each time. All of that changed on the night he faced Kazuchika Okada for the NJPW promotion. As the two men hit each other with real blow after real blow, Shibata leaned back and cracked Okada with a headbutt, busting open his own head and unknowingly giving himself a subdural hematoma in the process.
As the minutes passed by and Shibata’s brain bled he slowly became paralyzed on his right side, losing the ability to walk. The match continued on as Shibata lost more motor functions and the ability to speak until Okada finally gave him one last huge hit and pinned him. Shibata, being ever the showman, attempted to walk out of the arena after his loss but collapsed before he could make it out. After multiple emergency surgeries and months of work to save his life, Shibata eventually learned to walk and speak again. He later appeared at an NJPW show to announce he was somehow still alive.
Considering the dangers that wrestlers put themselves through day in and day out for years on end, it is actually quite surprising that so few performers die while doing it. As rare as it is, unfortunately, it does happen though, and on the night of the WWE’s Over the Edge pay-per-view in 1999, Owen Hart paid the ultimate price for his career in a stunt that went horribly awry.
At the time of the incident, Owen Hart was playing a character known as the Blue Blazer, a superhero type character that was played up for laughs in his appearances. Owen was supposed to be lowered from the rafters in a harness that he would detach from so he could face plant into the ring, similar to a stunt he had pulled previously. But something went wrong, and Owen was prematurely detached from his safety equipment while still nearly 80 feet in the air.
He reportedly fell chest first into the ropes which launched him into the ring in front of everyone in attendance. He was quickly removed and rushed away by medical personnel as the show continued on without him as the audience looked on in shocked silence. It was announced shortly after to those watching that Owen had died from the fall. The Hart family sued the WWE for Owen’s death and settled out of court. The pay-per-view was not shown again until fifteen years later. It was heavily edited to remove the moments where Owen fell.