Pro Wrestling

15 Wrestling Injuries That Changed Everything Source:

Injuries are a part of professional wrestling, just like any sport. Even the biggest stars are not immune to the injury bug. And when the big stars go down, that creates an opportunity for other, healthy people to step up and make the most of the opportunity. In wrestling, injuries have changed match outcomes, career paths, and even the entire direction of a promotion. Don’t believe us? Here’s a list some injuries that might have completely changed the course of pro wrestling forever.

15. Finn Balor

When WWE introduced the Universal Championship as part of their new Brand Extension in 2016, they had big plans to elevate a new star as the first champion. The plan was to take Finn Balor, a former indy star with an insanely marketable “Demon” gimmick, who had spent most of the past year carrying the main event of their NXT developmental brand, make him a top draft pick for Raw, put him over several of the brand’s biggest stars (including, shockingly, company “golden boy” Roman Reigns), and win the Universal Title at SummerSlam. Beyond that, the plan was to phase some over-exposed stars such as Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns out of the title picture for a while, and give Balor an honest chance to carry the Raw brand. Everything went swimmingly, right up until Balor dislocated his shoulder during the match in which he won the title. He finished the match and got the win, but after tests revealed serious damage requiring surgery, Balor was forced to vacate the Universal Title not 24 hours after winning it. WWE, justifiably, went into panic mode, and while they eventually settled on another relatively new talent to carry the title in Kevin Owens, it was clear most of their next few months of planning had gone out the window, as Owens was treated as little more than a placeholder champion and booked to be incredibly weak after months of being a dominant, arrogant heel, Reigns and Rollins were thrust back into the title picture out of necessity, and the rest of the year featured a lot of directionless, poorly-planned ideas as WWE was forced to scramble and come up with a Plan B on the fly. Source:

14. Seth Rollins

After basically stealing the WWE World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania 31 by cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase, many saw it as only a matter of time before Seth Rollins dropped the title, either back to the former champion Brock Lesnar, or to the man who many had expected to win the title at Mania in the first place, Roman Reigns. And after a summer spent rebuilding Reigns while Seth escaped a multitude of challenges with the belt still in hand, it looked like the two were destined to clash at Survivor Series, with Reigns expected to topple his former friend and finally win the title that he was supposedly destined to carry. However, two weeks before Survivor Series, during a live event in the UK, Rollins tore roughly all the muscles in his knee (we’re not kidding, the full extent of his injuries was a torn ACL, MCL, and medial meniscus), and was expected to be out for at least 6 months. The WWE Title was instantly vacated, and a tournament was hastily constructed. Ultimately, Reigns still emerged victorious, but rather than taking the title from a despicable heel in a showcase match that could have established Reigns as a true main eventer, he fairly easily defeated his best friend (and the fairly popular) Dean Ambrose in a decision that the fans did not particularly take kindly to. In addition, literally five minutes after winning the title, Reigns lost it again, this time after Sheamus cashed in his Money in the Bank title shot, which served the dual purpose of making Reigns look incompetent, and also dooming fans to future main event matches featuring Sheamus, who had been struggling to remain relevant and was seen as a poor choice of both briefcase holder and WWE Champion. These circumstances also conspired to dig Reigns into a hole with the fans that he would never really recover from, giving them another reason to reject a man perceived as Vince McMahon’s “Chosen One”. Source:

13. The Rock

Following his debut, Rocky Maivia was quickly going from blue-chip prospect to massive disappointment. His massive push as WWE’s first third generation Superstar had fallen flat, and the likable Maivia was being showered with everything from boos to chants of “Die Rocky, Die”. It seemed like the fans had no patience for Rocky’s bland babyface character, and he had yet to show any particularly good wrestling ability up to that point. In fact, more than one source had suggested that several people in authority in WWE were very close to giving up on Maivia, who was not panning out as they had hoped. Fortunately, Rocky suffered a knee injury during a match and had to be taken off TV for a short period while he rehabbed. During that time, Rocky somehow convinced those in power to let him turn heel as a last-ditch effort to save his fledgling wrestling career. Upon his return to Raw, Maivia aligned with the heel Nation of Domination stable, turning his back on the fans and becoming supremely arrogant, even referring to himself in the third person. The turnaround was nearly instantaneous, and within months, the man formerly known as Maivia was firmly ensconced as The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment. Source: thesportster.comm

12. Randy Orton

Randy Orton was actually brought in similarly to the way Rocky Maivia debuted, touted as a sure-fire third generation Superstar, playing the role of a fiery young babyface to the hilt. In fact, Orton’s debut was so much like The Rock’s that some people began to suspect that WWE had a similar career path in mind for him. Unfortunately, while still stuck in his face run, Orton suffered a massive shoulder injury (which would eventually become a chronic condition that would sideline Orton several times over his career) that put him out of action for months. During his rehabilitation, Orton continued to appear in a series of vignettes, called “Randy News Network Updates”, where he would talk to his “adoring fans” about his road to recovery. The segments evolved over time, as Orton’s character became more self-involved and arrogant, and when he was finally ready to return to the ring, it was as a heel, associated with Triple H and Ric Flair, as part of the group that would eventually come to be known as Evolution. Source:

11. Batista

Batista would suffer several ill-timed injuries in his WWE career, but none caused more problems for WWE than the bicep tear which sidelined him during his very first reign as World Heavyweight Champion. Batista had won the title at WrestleMania 21 earlier in the year, kicking off his main event push for real, and leading to a series of matches with Triple H that would serve to establish Batista as one of the company’s top acts. And Batista was excelling as one of WWE’s biggest stars, even though his quality of opponents grew steadily worse due to a combination of the thinner rosters thanks to the Brand Extension, as well as the tragic death of Eddie Guerrero, who had been teaming and feuding with Batista through the fall, which likely would have involved an extended program. When Batista went down very late in 2005, however, there were no immediate options to take the vacant title, and WWE was forced to call a quick audible, having Kurt Angle make a surprise jump from Raw to win a battle royal for the title. Angle was certainly a fine choice as champion, but Batista’s injury exposed cracks in the foundation of the brand split, as WWE would grow less and less reliant on keeping Raw and Smackdown separate (and basically stopped trying to justify jumps between the two shows), which often went worse for Smackdown, who saw their top stars begin appearing on Raw, while none of Raw’s big stars would show up on the blue brand. Source:

10. Billy Gunn

As one half of the New Age Outlaws and a member of D-Generation X, Billy Gunn was an important linchpin of the Attitude Era, as his team with Road Dogg was basically the cornerstone of the tag team division, surrounded by comedy acts and thrown-together pairings. So when he went down with a serious shoulder injury in early 2000, ending the New Age Outlaws for good (until the nostalgia appearances years later) the door was opened for new tag teams to rise in their absence. The end result was the ascension of three teams in particular: Edge and Christian, The Hardy Boyz, and The Dudley Boyz, who would become three of the greatest tag teams in WWE history, carry the division through the next few years, set the standard for TLC matches, and all have varying amounts of success as singles stars in the future. They may have still succeeded with the Outlaws around, but it’s almost certain that Gunn and Road Dogg would never have fit in with the high-octane style all three teams employed in their big matches. Source:

9. The Undertaker

In the grand scheme of things, the broken foot suffered by The Undertaker in 1998 was a minor injury that didn’t slow his career down at all. In fact, he even worked through the injury, and indirectly, that led to one of the most memorable moments in WWE history. As detailed in his autobiography, Mick Foley was stressed out about his match at King of the Ring with the injured Undertaker. It was going to be the second Hell in a Cell match in history, and Foley felt he needed to raise the incredibly high bar set by the first match, which was going to be complicated by the fact that his opponent would be partially incapacitated by his injured foot. After running through a bunch of options, Foley settled on the craziest and most dangerous idea: start the match on top of the cage and let Undertaker throw him off. The rest, as they say, is history. Foley’s swan dive off the cage would be replayed on WWE television for years after the fact, and the match itself is remembered fondly not for the quality of the wrestling, but for the chaos that erupted around Foley’s attempts to make it as great as the first Hell in a Cell. Source:

8. Bret Hart

Even near the end, WCW still had hope. While they had misused Bret Hart as badly as one could over his short tenure since leaving WWE, he was still out there, one of the few true main event talents left in WCW able to prop up shows by having good matches in the face of bad booking, and also one of the only ones willing to work with talent lower down the card in an attempt to elevate them. Then, in a match will Bill Goldberg, an errant kick gave Hart a serious concussion. Although he attempted to work through it, the swelling on his brain was so serious that doctors immediately ordered him to retire, ending a Hall of Fame career in its prime. Hart’s departure was another massive blow to WCW, especially since he’d been WCW Champion at the time. As a result, WCW vacated the title, and when Chris Benoit came to them about getting out of his contract (in one of his stupider decisions, Eric Bischoff held a talent meeting and said that if anyone didn’t want to be there, they could go), they tried putting the title on him to convince him to stick around. Benoit walked out, taking Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko with him. They would debut on WWE TV shortly afterwards as The Radicals, instantly strengthening WWE’s roster while seriously depleting WCW’s. Source:

7. Johnny Valentine

Young fans will have no idea who Johnny Valentine is, but all you need to know is that back in the territory days, before WWE started taking over as the face of North American pro wrestling, Valentine was one of the big stars for the National Wrestling Alliance. The NWA was the governing body of all the various wrestling organizations at the time, especially in the Southern territories which were the precursor for what would eventually become WCW. In 1975, there was an infamous plane crash involving Valentine and several other wrestlers, including a 24-year old phenom named Ric Flair. Valentine’s back was broken in the crash, and the injury forced him to retire from wrestling. Flair also suffered a broken back in the crash, and was told he’d never wrestle again, but managed a miraculous recovery and went on to become one of the biggest stars in the history of wrestling. However, the story takes an interesting twist, as it turned out that Flair and Valentine had switched seats during the flight, and while there’s no way to say for sure, it’s an interesting thought that if they had not, we might have been denied the entire wrestling career of Ric Flair. Source:

6. Magnum TA

The man with more than a passing resemblance to Tom Sellick’s famous private eye, Magnum TA was being groomed as one of the big stars of the future in Jim Crockett Promotions (which would become WCW). His feuds with Tully Blanchard and Nikita Koloff were legendary, and it seemed certain that he would be a World Champion at some point. Then, in late 1986, Magnum was in a tragic car accident that left him temporarily partially paralyzed, and caused severe damage to the vertebrae in his back. He was told he’d never walk again, and only the fact that he was in such incredible physical shape saved his life. Magnum was forced to retire from wrestling at the young age of 28. As a result of the tragedy, Dusty Rhodes, who was booking JCP at the time, decided to turn Nikita Koloff, who was playing an evil Russian character in the height of The Cold War and was one of Magnum’s biggest rivals, into a face, out of sympathy for his greatest foe. However, it’s impossible to estimate how big of a star Magnum TA could have been, if not for that accident. Source:

5. Daniel Bryan

The story of Daniel Bryan is as inspirational as it is heartbreaking. Despite being one of the best wrestlers on the planet, his shorter size meant he was never viewed as a true main event player in WWE, even though fan support for his strangely charismatic persona grew by leaps and bounds. In the end, facing significant fan backlash for denying him a main event spot at WrestleMania, WWE completely altered their booking plans and had Bryan not only defeat Triple H in the opening match, but win a Triple Threat match against Randy Orton and Batista in the main event to win the WWE World Heavyweight title. Audiences were overjoyed to see an underdog earn a victory once thought impossible, and all seemed well. Unfortunately, weeks later, Bryan was forced to forfeit the title and went on the shelf for the rest of the year with an injury. A brief return in early 2015 might as well have been a carbon copy of the previous year, as Bryan won the Intercontinental title at WrestleMania, then forfeited it days later due to suffering a concussion. Despite the opinions of doctors not associated with WWE, the company refused to clear him for competition (possibly spurred by an ongoing concussion lawsuit being brought upon them by former wrestlers), and sadly, turned out to be correct, as further tests revealed serious brain-related issues that forced Bryan’s immediate retirement. Source:

4. Goldberg

With the nWo growing staler by the day, WCW somehow managed to stumble upon a guy who could have legitimately been the savior of the company in Bill Goldberg. His undefeated streak rocketed him to the top of the company, and despite the bad booking, he was by far the most popular star in WCW. Then, in a backstage vignette that was supposed to involve him smashing the windows on a limousine, Goldberg made a fateful decision. Having accidentally dropped the pipe he was supposed to use to break the window, Goldberg decided to use his fist instead. The broken glass that resulted from the stunt tore open his forearm and almost resulted in him legitimately bleeding to death. Goldberg went onto the injured list for a year, and with one of their biggest draws no longer available to prop up the increasing poor creative decisions of the company, things spiraled even further out of control. By the time Goldberg made his triumphant return, the company was basically beyond help, and even his presence wasn’t enough to stop the slide into oblivion. Source:

3. Shawn Michaels

At the 1998 Royal Rumble, during a casket match against The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels took a bad bump onto the casket itself, and the edge of the lid drove into his back. Michaels’ career was basically over at that point, but he managed to hang around until WrestleMania, where he put over Steve Austin and immediately disappeared, his back ruined, spinal fusion surgery his only option if he wanted to live a normal life. Of course, he would make a miraculous return four years later, his back inexplicably fully healed (no, really, doctors are still baffled), but because of his original retirement, there were no opponents to Steve Austin’s rise to the top of the wrestling world. Shawn himself has admitted that at the time, he was an arrogant jerk and a backstage cancer, and it’s likely that he could have been a stumbling block to Austin, had he decided to pitch a fit at some point. But with retirement staring him in the face, he did the clean job to Austin at WrestleMania and vanished. As a secondary effect, Shawn’s disappearance also allowed Triple H to re-form D-Generation X into what would become a pillar of the Attitude Era, starting Triple H himself on the path to becoming a huge star. Source:

2. Triple H

When Triple H tore his quadriceps in a tag match in 2001, he set into motion several events which drastically changed WWE. Most importantly, WWE was forced to abandon the planned Triple H-Austin feud which was going to cover the summer months. Initially, they attempted to plug Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho into the main event, but that got screwed up when Benoit also got injured, and had to have neck surgery. As a result, WWE panicked, and the end result was the horribly botched WCW Invasion angle, which originally had not been planned to kick off quite so soon. In fact, there was initially no firm plan for what was going to happen, which led to a huge mess and basically tanked the entire thing right out of the gate. Meanwhile, Triple H was completely absent from the entire thing, and when he returned to a hero’s welcome in early 2002, the landscape of WWE had changed vastly from when he left. In addition, Triple H’s injury combined with him bulking up significantly during his rehab, had slowed him in the ring, and he never fully regained the abilities he’d had before, when he was legitimately one of the best wrestlers in the world. Source:

1. Steve Austin

The broken neck suffered by Steve Austin in 1997, and the subsequent surgery he was forced to have in 1999 which put him out for a year, had an effect on pro wrestling which is still felt to this day. The initial neck injury eventually forced Austin to change his wrestling style, from a highly technical moveset to one that relied on brawling to prevent aggravating his injury. Austin’s evolution and rise to prominence led to WWE fundamentally changing its overall wrestling style, one would come to be known as “WWE Main Event style”, which they still use to this day, and has become the signature of North American pro wrestling. In addition, when the neck injury put Austin on the sidelines, it also forced WWE to rely heavily on elevating new stars to fill the void, which led to even more exposure for their remaining massive star, The Rock, and allowed Triple H to assume a spot as the top heel in WWE, playing Rock’s foil. More obviously, Austin’s injury almost certainly severely shortened his in-ring career, and has prevented him from even doing one-off matches since retirement, depriving fans of more than a few “dream” matches in the process. Source:
Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.