Wrestling is scripted–except, of course, when it isn’t.
Most times, when one wrestler injures another wrestler, it’s an accident. An errant knee breaks a nose. A botched piledriver sprains a neck. A stiff kick fractures a rib. All it takes is a small miscommunication to send someone to the ER.
But every now and then, it isn’t an accident. Maybe it’s a hazing ritual. Maybe it’s a punishment for backstage drama. Maybe it’s a “receipt” for a wrestler who works dangerously or hurts his opponents. Regardless, the injury is purposeful, and the beatdown happens on national television, in front of a live audience.
Because the point of professional wrestling is to look real, it can be hard to distinguish a real beatdown from a staged one. It’s only years later, via shoot interviews, that fans can confirm the truth. Here are 12 times unlucky WWE wrestlers got mauled in the ring for real, and why.
12. Ken Shamrock Breaks Vader’s Nose
Vader had a notorious reputation for working stiff. He made contact with his opponents, for real, in order to sell the matches. But he could also take it as well as he gave it; during his time in Japan, wrestling legend Stan Hansen broke his eye socket and then gouged his eye out; Vader simply stuck it back into his head and finished the match.
And when Vader faced Ken Shamrock in 1997 at an In Your House PPV, things got real in a hurry. Shamrock was from the world of MMA. He was green in the ring, and he had something to prove. So he started laying his shots in deeply–so deeply that he broke Vader’s nose and bruised his legs. Vader reminded him multiple times to ease up. And when Shamrock ignored these directives, Vader clocked him with one of the hardest lariats on record.
11. The Rock Delivers 11 Unprotected Chair Shots To Mick Foley
In 1999, The Rock was WWE’s newest top guy–an angry, preening heel with a cruel streak. He was booked in an “I Quit” WWE championship match with Mankind, aka Mick Foley. So obviously, things were going to get ugly and bloody. And the two men planned out the finish beforehand; Foley would take five chair shots from the Rock before collapsing to the ground.
Unfortunately for Foley, The Rock got carried away. And during the actual match, The Rock delivered 11 unprotected chair shots to his handcuffed opponent. Foley carried resentment over the incident for some time, and he felt The Rock did not show him enough concern afterwards.
To make matters worse for WWE, the entire incident was recorded for a behind-the scenes wrestling documentary called “Beyond the Mat.” Watch it, and you can see Foley’s family (his wife and kids) crying in the front row as all this drama unfolds.
10. Bob Holly Makes Sure Matt Cappotelli Is “Tough Enough”
In 2002, Matt Capotelli was a contestant on the MTV/WWE reality show Tough Enough, where contestants competed for a WWE contract.
Holly (yes, we’re talking about this guy again) was brought in as a special guest. And according to Holly, he didn’t like what he saw in the training ring. The contestants were laughing, giggling, and not taking things seriously. Angry and fuming, he decided to do something about it.
He got in the ring and absolutely pummelled Cappotelli, kicking him and chopping him until the kid was bruised and bloody with a black eye. In the intervening years, Holly has adjusted his story about the incident several times. One time, he said that the hard kicks were an accident. Another time, he said that he took it easy on Cappotelli, and could have done much worse. But whatever the case, it was one in a long line of abuses.
9. Bob Holly Takes Revenge on Renee Dupree
One more Holly story. If that last slide wasn’t enough to make you dislike the man, try this one on for size.
Twenty-year-old WWE superstar Renee Dupree was driving a car registered in Holly’s name, and while driving that car, he got a ticket. In some accounts, it was a parking ticket. In other accounts, it was a speeding ticket. But what really matters here is that Bob Holly was stuck with the bill. And because he didn’t find out about the ticket until some time later (wrestlers are often away from their homes for months at a time), he had to appear in court and jump through legal hoops to fix the problem.
It’s a bad situation, to be sure. And most people in Holly’s shoes would have yelled at the kid, or complained to management, or demanded reimbursement. Dupree offered to not only reimburse the bill but also pay Holly for his trouble. But of course, that wasn’t good enough.
In November 2004, at a house show in Syracuse, NY, Holly and Charlie Haas were booked against Rene Dupree and Kenzo Suzuki . And during the match, Holly unleashed on Dupree. He punched him. He kicked him. He bashed him in the head with a steel chair so hard that it dented the chair. And Dupree ran to the back, with Holly chasing after him. Holly received a slap on the wrist for this, but in WWE’s current, more corporate culture, he would likely have been fired.
8. Brock Lesnar Splits Randy Orton’s Head Open
In the old days, when they wanted to ‘add a little color’ to their matches, wrestlers would take a razor blade and quickly cut their foreheads open when the audience wasn’t looking. But times have changed. The WWE currently has a ‘no deliberate bleeding’ policy. Of course, someone might start bleeding if they got opened up “the hard way.” But no more razor blades. And this policy ended up backfiring on Randy Orton.
When Orton fought Brock Lesnar at the 2016 SummerSlam, and there was going to be a KO finish. The safest option was to let Orton blade rather than risk a concussion. But apparently, since that was no longer permitted (ostensibly to keep the wrestlers safe), Lesnar elbowed Orton in the brow until he opened up a legit wound, and ironically put his opponent in even more danger.
It was so brutal that Chris Jericho got in Lesnar’s face backstage. Vince McMahon had to intervene to tell Jericho the whole incident was planned–as planned as a legit elbow to the head can be, anyway.
7. Daniel Puder Gets Knife Chopped Into Next Week
Daniel Puder was a contestant on Tough Enough, the reality show where hopeful WWE Superstars compete for a developmental contract. As part of the show, the contestants had the opportunity to wrestle Kurt Angle in the ring on SmackDown–for real. WWE didn’t bother to script this, because Angle is a legitimate Olympic gold medalist in wrestling; everyone assumed that he would dominate anyone he faced.
But Puder decided to make this impromptu match his moment. He put Angle into a legitimate Kimura Lock. Angle was in a hard place. He couldn’t tap to this rookie in front of a live audience, but he also couldn’t not tap; his arm could have easily snapped. Fortunately, the referee saw what was happening and did a quick three-count to end the match early.
Two months later, Puder competed in the Royal Rumble (2005), and when he got into the ring with Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero, things got ugly. As apparent payback for his disrespect, they stuck Puder in a corner, and knife edge chopped him across the chest until it turned red and started to swell.
Then Bob Holly, a notorious bully and hazer in the locker room, entered the match, and he started chopping Puder too. That was the last time Puder appeared on WWE television; he was fired later that year.
6. Perry Saturn Dumps Mike Bell On His Head
Mike Bell was an enhancement talent (whose job is to lose, to make everyone else look good). And during a fight against Saturn in 2001, Bell mistimed his arm drags, causing Saturn to land on his head. Twice. And in retaliation, Saturn broke character. He punched Mike Bell several times, legitimately, and then threw him out of the ring, where he landed directly on his head. It could have killed or paralyzed Bell, but fortunately, it didn’t.
In interviews since the infamous match, Perry Saturn has expressed regret at his behavior.
5. Umaga Concusses Steve-O
Steve-O isn’t quite a wrestler, but if WWE had its way, he would have been. The original plan for SummerSlam 2007 was to have the whole Jackass crew–Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera included–fight Umaga in a handicap match. As a prelude to this, Steve-O and Chris Pontius got into the ring with Umaga on Raw, and Umaga destroyed both of them. He concluded his scripted beatdown by performing a top-rope splash on Steve-O.
Afterwards, things went off the rails. Steve-O, not knowing he was supposed to lie down and stay still, theatrically flailed about. And Umaga, who felt like he wasn’t being shown proper respect, struck Steve-O with several legitimate blows to make sure he stayed down.
As for the SummerSlam plans, they never worked out. The Chris Benoit tragedy spooked the Jackass cast and the angle was nixed, although you can still find old advertisements and promotional posters if you snoop around online.
4. Butterbean KOs Bart Gunn at WrestleMania
This was the logical conclusion to a much larger screw-up. In 1998, WWE decided to host a Brawl-For-All–basically, a tough man contest where wrestlers would slug it out in the ring, for real, for a cash prize. This was terrible idea for several reasons. Even though it was real, none of the fans believed it anyway. It injured multiple wrestlers on the roster who were built for athletic performance and not for actual fighting. And it killed one wrestler’s career. WWE newcomer “Dr. Death” Steve Williams was widely favored to win the whole thing, but he was knocked out by Bart Gunn, and his reputation never recovered.
Meanwhile, Bart Gunn won the tournament, and as part of his “prize,” he was placed in a boxing match with professional boxer Butterbean. WWE sent him to a camp to learn how to box, which ironically caused him to unlearn the skills that had caused him to win the Brawl-for-All in the first place.
The match was a disaster. Butterbean knocked Gunn out in under 20 seconds with a highlight reel worthy punch; the man was unconscious before he hit the canvas.
3. The Acolytes Brutalize Public Enemy
When The Acolytes took on Public Enemy, the latter group was not well liked backstage; they were veterans of WCW, which back during the Monday Night Wars was equivalent to being The Enemy.
Public Enemy didn’t want to lose to The Acolytes. And right before the two teams went out to fight on Sunday Night Heat in 1999, PE attempted to change the planned finish, which would have sent them through a table. And The Acolytes–JBL and Ron Simmons–decided that the planned finish was going to happen, come hell or high water, even if they had to force it.
What followed was a brutal display of domination that had the audience gasping. Watch the clip, and see what you think. It wasn’t a completely unsanctioned beatdown. But clearly, JBL and Simmons meant serious business.
2. JBL Bloodies The Blue Meanie
The Blue Meanie was an ECW veteran from 1995 to 2000, and JBL had a problem with him from the moment he walked through the door. He would verbally taunt and bully the newcomer, trying to bait him into a fight; he knew there was little The Blue Meanie could do about it, given his outsider status.
Eventually, things reached a head at One Night Stand in 2005. JBL, reacting to trash talking he believed The Blue Meanie had done online, beat Blue Meanie up in the ring for real during a scripted brawl. The above screenshot speaks for itself—The Blue Meanie was immediately given medical treatment backstage, and WWE paid him double for the evening to placate him.
WWE reacted to the beatdown not by suspending or firing JBL, but by creating a storyline around the incident, where The Blue Meanie and JBL would settle their score on SmackDown. Fellow ECW alumnus Stevie Richards encouraged The Blue Meanie to reject the offer and sue WWE. The Blue Meanie declined, but Richards still had something planned for JBL…
1. Stevie Richards Takes Revenge On JBL With A Chair Shot
You think JBL walked away from this whole drama unscathed? Think again.
Stevie Richards did a run-in at the end of the SmackDown match between The Blue Meanie and JBL, and he hit JBL with one of the most sickening chair shots in WWE history, directly to the head. No glancing blow, no side swipe to take off some of the impact. He laid it right in.
Stevie Richards would later claim responsibility for the chairshot on WWE.com as payback for what JBL did to The Blue Meanie. Was it a work? Was it a shoot? One thing is for certain: Richards could have delivered it safer if he wanted to. And the end of the day, it was karmic comeuppance; even if The Blue Meanie didn’t get his receipt, Richards got it for him.