For years, professional wrestling did the best that they could to protect the business. So much so, that if you would ask a wrestler back in the day if wrestling wasn’t real, you’d probably get beaten up. However, times have most definitely changed. It’s pretty common knowledge these days that wrestling is mostly a “work” aka staged, or is it a “shoot” aka real?
One thing that has stayed consistent in wrestling over the years is it’s goal to suspend disbelief with it’s audience. The goal is to make the fans say to themselves “Oh yeah, the rest of that stuff isnt real, but this wasn’t supposed to happen.” That’s the magic of professional wrestling.
There have been many times, however when reality was so obvious that even the casual fan was able to tell that something wasn’t right. Here are 15 such incidents when you could tell that something went horribly wrong.
Triple H Tears His Quad
On the May 21st 2001 Raw, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H defended their WWF World Tag Team Titles against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit.
After Steve Austin’s long babyface, or good guy run where he became arguably the most popular wrestler in the history of wrestling, and his several year long feud with Mr. McMahon, he turned heel, aka a bad guy at WrestleMania 17 and joined forces with his rival, Mr. McMahon. As a way to cement him as a heel, he teamed up with another long time rival, and evil heel, Triple H. They quickly became an unstoppable force, and won the World Tag Team Titles from Undertaker and Kane.
During this match against Jericho and Benoit, Jericho put Austin in his finishing move, “The Walls Of Jericho”, which is a Boston Crab. Triple H came from behind Jericho and hit him, but something went wrong when he put his foot on the ground and his quadracep muscle in his leg was torn.
Amazingly, Triple H somehow finished the match. You could tell something was wrong because he was limping heavily. Jericho even put the “Walls of Jericho” on him, on the announcers table outside of the ring. The pain Triple H was in had to be excruciating. After the match, he rolled outside of the ring and clutched his leg.
He would be out of action for 8 months. However, he would return in January and defeat Chris Jericho at WrestleMania 18 for the Undisputed Title.
Hardcore Holly’s Broken Neck
Bob Holly came to the WWF in 1994 and after a few years, he found his niche as Hardcore Holly. He’d often wrestle in Hardcore matches, which were anything goes, no disqualification matches. He even won the Hardcore Title on 6 different occasions.
In 2002, he was wrestling on Smackdown and starting to get a main event push. He was wrestling a then rookie Brock Lesnar. During the match, Lesnar attempted to give Holly a powerbomb, which has injured many wrestlers over the years. Unfortunately, during the move, Lesnar accidentally dropped Holly on his head, which ruptured a disc in his neck.
Understandably, there had been talk over the years of dislike between them because of the accident, but Holly has publicly stated that he didn’t rotate enough on the move and Lesnar continued trying to do it. Holly has said it was an accident caused by inexperience.
Holly would recover and return to wrestling for the WWE until 2009.
Shawn Michaels Breaks His Back
Shawn Michaels had been a babyface and the most popular wrestler in the WWF for a few years. However, at SummerSlam 1997, he was the guest referee in a match between then World Champion, The Undertaker and Michaels’ hated rival, Bret Hart. During the match, Hart spat in Michaels’ face, and Michaels tried to hit Hart with a chair, but missed and hit The Undertaker in the head. Bret then pinned The Undertaker to win the World Title.
After this incident, Michaels’ popularity quickly faded and he joined with heels Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Chyna to form the faction, Degeneration X, also known as DX. Michaels would defeat Hart at The Survivor Series in an incident known as “The Montreal Screwjob”, which we’ll talk about later in this article.
At the Royal Rumble 1998, Michaels defended the World Title against The Undertaker, in a coffin match. The rules of the match were simple, the first man to put his opponent in the coffin and close the lid would win the match.
During the match, Michaels took a backdrop over the top rope and the small of his back would clip the corner of the coffin, which was at ringside. He finished the match with no problem. However, the next morning he was in so much pain, he said that he couldn’t even get out of bed. He herniated two discs, one of which was crushed completely.
He wrestled one more match at WrestleMania 14 when he lost the World Title to Steve Austin. Michaels ended up getting back surgery and retiring from wrestling. He would return four years later, in 2002 and go on to wrestle for another 8 more years. He’d lose a retirement match at WrestleMania 26 in 2010, ironically against the man he was in the ring with when he got hurt in the coffin match, The Undertaker.
Darren Drozdov Suffers A Broken Neck
Darren Drozdov was always a great athlete. He played football throughout his young life and even made it to the highest level, the NFL. He played for the Denver Broncos, New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles.
He decided to become a professional wrestler. He started off wrestling in the independents, and then he made his way to ECW in 1997. In 1998, he went to the WWF. He wrestled as “Droz” and even became a member of the legendary tag team, The Legion of Doom.
On October 5th, at a Smackdown taping at the Nassau Coliseum, in Long Island, he was wrestling D-Lo Brown. Brown went for a running powerbomb, but unfortunately when they were trying to execute the move, Brown couldn’t get a good grip on Droz, and he landed on his head and broke his neck.
Droz has said over the years that he doesn’t hold Brown responsible. He mentions that he was wearing a loose fitting shirt, which played a role in the accident. Droz has regained use of his arms, but he still requires the use of a wheelchair.
Butterbean Knocks Out Bart Gunn
Bart Gunn came to the WWF in 1993 as apart of the tag team, The Smoking Gunns. They would win the tag team titles 3 times, before splitting up. His partner, Billy Gunn would go on to find huge success with his tag team partner, The Road Dog as “The New Age Outlaws”, and they would also be apart of DX. Bart wouldn’t find such success as he was in the mid cards for awhile, then he was in the short-lived team, “The New Midnight Express” with his partner, Bob Holly.
In the summer of 1998, a new tournament concept happened when “The Brawl For All” was born. The matches were a mixture of boxing and amateur wrestling. The wrestlers wore boxing gloves, and score points for punches landed and takedowns. Unlike professional wrestling where the matches are “worked”, or staged, “The Brawl For All” matches were all “shoots”, or real fights.
Most wrestling insiders predicted that newcomer, Dr. Death Steve Williams was going to easily win the tournament, and possibly go on to challenge then WWF World Champion, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Whose real name ironically was also Steve Williams, before he legally changed it to Steve Austin.
However, things didn’t go as planned. Bart Gunn ended up defeating Bob Holly, and knocking out Steve Williams, The Godfather, and Bradshaw to win “The Brawl For All” tournament.
The WWF decided to reward Gunn for winning the tournament by putting him into a real boxing match at WrestleMania 15 against professional boxer, Butterbean. Butterbean brutally knocked out Bart Gunn in 35 seconds. Bart Gunn was released from the WWF a few months later.
Brock Lesnar Does A Shooting Star Press
After an impressive amateur wrestling career, Brock Lesnar decided to try the world of professional wrestling. He made his WWF debut on Raw in 2002, the night after WrestleMania 18.
Brock quickly rose to the top, winning of the King of The Ring Tournament in June, thus earning himself an Undisputed Title shot at SummerSlam 2002. On that night, Lesnar defeated The Rock to become the then youngest champion in WWE history.
Lesnar lost the title at The Survivor Series to The Big Show. However, Lesnar won the 2003 Royal Rumble match, and earned himself another shot at the title, at WrestleMania 19. Brock Lesnar challenged Kurt Angle for the WWE Title at a stacked WrestleMania 19.
WrestleMania 19 featured several huge matches, Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock, which was Austin’s last match, Shawn Michaels vs Chris Jericho and Hulk Hogan vs Mr. McMahon, to name a few. Being in the main event of that card, Lesnar might’ve felt pressure to do something memorable, so he decided to do a shooting star press, off of the top rope.
At 6’3” 295 lbs, Lesnar is an amazing athlete. He did the move successfully many times in OVW, before he went to the WWF. However, on this night, Kurt Angle might’ve been out a little too far, and Lesnar landed on his head. Fortunately, he was able to finish the match and he won the WWE Title.
Steve Austin Suffers A Broken Neck
In the Summer of 1997, Stone Cold Steve Austin was quickly becoming the most popular and hottest rising star in the WWF. He was previously a heel and in a several month long feud with popular babyface Bret Hart. The feud turned Bret into a heel and Austin into a babyface. It also ignited the famous USA vs Canada feud, which lasted throughout the summer of 1997.
At SummerSlam, Austin challenged Intercontinental Champion, Owen Hart for the title. They had an awesome match and the fans were very into it. Owen went for a tombstone piledriver, but unfortunately Austin’s head a little too far past Owen’s thighs and when Owen executed the move, Austin’s head jammed into the mat, causing him to be temporarily paralyzed.
After a few minutes, Austin regained some use of his arms and legs, and rolled Owen up to win the match. However, Austin was seriously injured and he was out of action for a few months.
Austin would go on to be one of the biggest stars in wrestling history. However, he never fully recovered from the neck injury, and retired from wrestling in 2003.
The Rock vs Mankind – Royal Rumble 1999
In late 1998 and early 1999, The Rock and Mankind had several different kinds of matches for the WWF World Title. At The Royal Rumble 1999, they wrestled in an “I Quit” match. The only to win the match, was to make your opponent say “I Quit”.
Mick Foley, also known as Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love is famous for taking a lot of punishment in his career, but things went too far on this night. Rock handcuffed Mankind’s hands behind him and in total, hit him in the head with 11 chair shots.
Mick revealed that he harbored some bad feelings towards Rock because of this incident. They would go to form The Rock n Sock Connection, and win the World Tag Team Titles.They seem to be good friends today, but there’s denying that The Rock put Mick in a lot of danger that night.
Unfortunately, concussions have always been apart of wrestling. However, we know a lot more today about the severity of them, than we did in 1999, and that knowledge makes this match extremely hard to watch.
WrestleMania VIII (8) Main Event Ending
There was a lot of excitement in the months leading up to WrestleMania 8. The long awaited dream match between Hulk Hogan and then WWF World Champion Ric Flair was what many fans had waited many years to see. However, we wouldn’t get that match. Instead, at WrestleMania 8, Ric Flair defended, and lost the World Title to Randy Savage, and Hulk Hogan faced Sid Justice.
Even though Savage and Flair wrestled for the World Title and traditionally, the World Title match would be the last match on the show. However, on this night, Hulk and Sid would be the last match on the show.
As is tradition in Hulk Hogan matches, he would eventually hit Sid with his patented leg drop finishing move but Sid kicked out, which never happened back in 1992 or before then. Right after that, Papa Shango ran out and attacked Hogan. He was supposed to run out and break up the pinfall attempt on Sid after the legdrop, but he was too late.
The Ultimate Warrior would make his surprise return to the WWF and run to the ring and help Hogan fight off Sid and Papa Shango. Warrior and Hulk posed together to end WrestleMania 8.
Kurt Angle vs Shane McMahon – King Of The Ring 2001
Today, Kurt Angle is the general manager of Raw, and Shane McMahon is the general maanger of Smackdown and they are battling against each other for brand supremecy. However, in 2001, they were battling each other inside of the ring.
At The King of the Ring 2001 pay per view, they wrestled each other in a brutal street fight. Shane was famous for his wrestling style of taking very high risks in his matches, and this match was no exception.
They fought up to the entrance area, and Angle attempted to belly-to-belly suplex Shane through a panel of glass. However, the panel didn’t break as they had believed that it would. It ended up taking multiple suplex attempts, which resulted in Shane landed on his head before the glass did break. It was revealed years later that Kurt wanted to stop and do something else, but Shane told him to keep doing it.
Angle eventually won the match when he pinned Shane, with an Angle Slam off of the top rope.
Hell In A Cell – King Of The Ring 1998
Undertaker vs Mankind in the Hell in a Cell at King of the Ring 1998 is a famous match, but for the wrong reasons. First, Undertaker threw Mankind off of the top of the cage, and Mankind landed on the Spanish announcers table.
As he was being wheeled down the aisle on a stretcher, somehow Mankind got off, and climbed back to the top of the cage. They fought some more on the top of the cage, and then Undertaker choke slammed Mankind on the top of the cage, but unfortunately, the cage broke and Mankind fell and brutally landed in the ring. To make matters worse, chair that was on top with them, also fell through and hit Mankind in the face.
Somehow, Mankind finished the match and even came out later in the night, and took a stunner from Steve Austin! Unfortunately, Mankind suffered many internal injuries that night, including one of his teeth was lodged in his nose. I was in attendance that night in Pittsburgh, PA and Mick Foley proved that he is one of, if not the toughest man in wrestling history.
The Montreal Screwjob
The Montreal Screwjob has gone down in infamy as one of the most famous, and most talked about incidents in wrestling history.
Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were involved in an extremely heated rivalry both in front of the camera and behind it, in 1996-1997 in the WWF. Bret had signed a 20 year contract with the WWF in late 1996, but about a year later, WWF owner Vince McMahon told him that he couldn’t honor the contract, and gave Bret permission to negotiate with rival promotion, WCW.
Bret ended up signing with WCW. However, he was still the WWF World Champion, which caused big problems heading into his match with Shawn Michaels at the Survivor Series in Montreal, Canada. Neither man wanted to do the job, aka lose to the other one. On Bret’s documentary, Wrestling With Shadows you hear Bret wore a wire into his meeting with Vince earlier in the day at the Survivor Series, and they agreed to a double disqualification finish to the match, which would result in Bret keeping the title.
However, during the actual match, Shawn put Bret in the “sharpshooter”, which was Bret’s submission finishing move. While Bret was in the move, the referee was ordered by Vince McMahon, who was at ringside to ring the bell.
Shawn Michaels quickly got out the ring, took the belt and left and Bret Hart spat in Vince McMahon’s face, and destroyed monitors at ringside. Later in the dressing room, Bret punched Vince in the face and blackened his eye. Bret then left the WWF and went to WCW.
Was it a shoot? Was it a work? Those are two questions that have been asked by both fans, and people inside of the wrestling business since it happened at The Survivor Series, in 1997.
Jerry Lawler Suffers Heart Attack
On the September 10th, 2012, wrestling legend and long time commentator Jerry Lawler suffered a heart attack on a live episode of Raw.
Earlier in the show, Lawler left the announcers table and teamed with Randy Orton to take on Dolph Ziggler and CM Punk. After the match was over, Lawler returned to the announcers table to resume his regular commentary duties. During The Prime Time Players vs Kane and Daniel Bryan tag team match, Lawler slumped down and collapsed. Snoring was heard through Lawler’s mic. Fortunately, there was a Doctor sitting next to Lawler and he immediately begun working on him. EMTs then carried him out of the arena to the back.
Lawler has said that he was techincally deceased for 22 minutes before his heart started to beat again, they had to shock his heart seven times.
Lawler had to undergo an angioplasty to improve the blood flow to his heart. Fortunately, Jerry Lawler made a full recovery.
Raw Tribute To Chris Benoit
On Monday, June 25th, 2007, the WWE decided to air a tribute episode to Chris Benoit for their Raw broadcast. Benoit, his wife, Nancy and their 7 year old son, Daniel had all been found dead earlier in the day.
WWE has said that the reports were not made known until the show was almost over that Benoit had murdered them and killed himself.
However, it has sense been rumored that maybe other wrestlers knew, or had an idea that Benoit was responsible for the murders before it was made known to the public.
The Death Of Owen Hart
Owen Hart tragically passed away on May 23rd 1999, during the Over The Edge pay per view. He was wrestling as “The Blue Blazer”, and he was scheduled to be lowered to the ring from the ceiling.
While it’s still unknown what exactly happened, Owen was wearing a cape, and it’s believed that the cape might’ve been too tight around his neck and he moved his arms out to adjust it, and that movement caused the quick release mechanism to open, causing Owen to fall 78 ft. He landed chest first on the top rope, and flipped into the ring, landing on his back.
He was still alive for a few minutes after the fall, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital. Owen’s aorta was severed from his heart upon impact. He died from the shock of internal blood loss. The official cause of death was blunt chest trauma.
Owen was just 34 years old when he passed away. Owen was beloved by all of his colleagues and fans. He is terribly missed, and lovingly talked about to this day.