Those of you who watched WWE’s Crown Jewel last week will have noticed two important things during the main event. Firstly, all four of the competitors are officially old. As exciting as it must have been for the thousands of Saudi Arabian fans getting to see these legends live for the first time, there is no denying that the match struggled. Moreover, it is even harder to deny that only one member of DX can rock the shaved head look (and it certainly isn’t HBK).
Secondly, Triple H suffered a nasty injury to his right arm (later confirmed as a torn pec) early on, resulting in him completing the majority of the match with one upper limb – hence the left-handed chops being added to his arsenal. Regardless of how you might feel about Triple H, to steal a quote from ‘good ol’ JR’, he is undoubtedly as tough as a two dollar steak.
This latest example of a WWE Superstar putting the proverbial bit between their teeth and battling on through injury does beg the question: what other wrestlers have shown that while wrestling may be ‘fake’, it is still home to some of the most resilient athletes in the world?
9. John Cena – Raw 2007
Let’s kick things off with another member of ‘Team Torn Pec’. Prerequisites for joining said team include, but are not limited to: almost tearing your pectoral muscle clean off the bone, continuing to win your respective match despite injury, and sacrificing a crow to Thoth the God of Birds. Spoiler alert: one of the three prerequisites isn’t true.
The gruesome injury that sealed Cena’s inclusion into ‘Team Torn Pec’ occurred during the most innocuous of circumstances, when an arm drag from longtime nemesis, Randy Orton went awry. Despite what must have been excruciating pain, Cena never broke script; completing the bout, as well as receiving a post-match beat-down from Orton. Arguably, what was more impressive about his injury was his miraculous recovery time, where he managed to shave a cool two months off of the original prognosis – returning just in time to win the Royal Rumble.
hether you cringe every time you watch Cena begin his patented ‘five moves of doom’, or you have ‘Hustle Loyalty Respect’ tattooed across your chest, anyone who fights through that level of pain – and breaks some sort of rehab world record – deserves a bit of admiration.
8. Stone Cold Steve Austin – Summerslam 1997
From one face of the company to another: the glass smashing, mud-hole stomping, beer swilling “Texas Rattlesnake” makes the list, following one of the most memorable matches in WWE history. Steve Austin vs. Owen Hart, SummerSlam, Intercontinental title on the line – the match reeked of classic even before the iconic, yet tragic ending that saw Hart inadvertently spike Austin head-first into the mat, causing momentary paralysis and irreparable neck damage.
Following the injury, Austin was barely able to roll Hart up for a quick three-count that, in his own words, ‘looked like shit’, yet it’s a hell of a lot more than most people would have managed in that situation.
Bizarrely, Austin’s neck injury became a blessing in disguise in a lot of ways. No longer able to wrestle at the technical level he was at pre-injury, Austin was forced to adopt a slobber knocker style that was far more conducive with the Stone Cold character that would propel him to the upper echelons of the business. However, the long term effects of the injury were far more sobering, with Austin having to retire in 2003 at just 38 years of age. To put that into context, the average age of the four competitors in the Crown Jewel main event was 52.
7. Finn Bálor – SummerSlam 2016
Another SummerSlam, another title match, another tough bastard battling through a debilitating injury. The Summer of 2016 seemed to be Finn Bálor’s time in WWE. He was fresh off NXT stardom, had just beaten Roman Reigns clean, and followed this up by defeating Seth Rollins to become the inaugural Universal Champion. Unfortunately, during the match with Rollins, Finn dislocated his shoulder when he was bucklebombed against the barricade. Refusing to let this minor setback stop him winning Raw’s top prize, Bálor did what anyone with a blatant disregard for their own well-being would have done – popped the shoulder back in and finished the match.
However, despite these heroics, the dislocation came with a side of torn labrum, and surgery for dessert. This resulted in Bálor relinquishing his newly won title the very next day, ensuring he would be the proud owner of the shortest Universal Championship reign for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps the most melancholy part of Bálor’s story is the injury and subsequent surgery completely derailed all the momentum he had built over the past two years in WWE. While he has been a regular on Monday nights since returning, he has been the embodiment of ‘always the bridesmaid’: forever coming up just short, and yet to claim another championship since his one-day reign as Universal Champion.
6. The Rock – WrestleMania XXIX
From the biggest event of the Summer, to the biggest event of the year – WrestleMania XXIX saw the rematch between The Rock and John Cena in front of 80,000 people in the main event – not the sort of place you want anything to go wrong. “The Great One” and “The Doctor of Thuganomics” were already in the unenviable position of having to follow a classic between CM Punk and The Undertaker and a chaotic brawl between Triple H and Brock Lesnar; a task that was made immeasurably more difficult 15 minutes into the match, when “The People’s Champ” managed to tear his abductor and abdominal tendons completely off his pelvis.
Apparently, 80,000 people chanting ‘Rocky’ has miraculous healing powers, as “The Brahma Bull” managed to struggle through another ten minutes before giving Cena the victory, after what must have been an agonising Attitude Adjustment – an AAA, if you will.
For a rivalry built on Cena questioning The Rock’s passion for wrestling, his determination to finish the match clearly shows he was just as loyal to the WWE as he was to Hollywood. It also goes to show that it doesn’t matter how many videos you upload of yourself clanging and banging about the gym; being in a wrestling ring is a completely different test for the body.
5. Brock Lesnar – WrestleMania XIX
Ten years prior to ‘Mania XXIX, and Brock Lesnar found himself in a similar situation to The Rock. He was also in the main event, in a WWE Championship match with Kurt Angle, no less – once again not the sort of place you want something to go wrong. Whether you describe a 295 lb man attempting a shooting star press as brave or stupid is utterly subjective, yet few would argue ‘stupid’ to said man’s face. Lesnar went what might be officially described as ‘shit or bust’, and very nearly broke his neck when he didn’t rotate far enough and landed head-first.
Miraculously, Lesnar escaped with only a serious concussion and Angle was able to guide him through the remainder of the match. Whilst a concussion could be construed as a soft pick for this list given their frequency within professional wrestling; this was not a normal concussion. If there are doubters amongst you, YouTube the clip – unless you are squeamish. The only reason that Lesnar didn’t break his neck is because of those bowling balls he calls traps.
However uninterested and uncommitted to the WWE modern day Lesnar is, it’s enjoyable to remember that at one point he was willing to take such massive risks to steal the show.
4. Shawn Michaels – Royal Rumble 1998
Another of WWE’s big four pay-per-views was the scene for the next entrant on the list, when “The Showstopper” and “The Dead Man” faced off in a casket match at The Royal Rumble. Much to Michaels’ chagrin, the casket proved to be a far more significant contributor to the match than mere novelty, as is often the case in these stipulation-orientated encounters.
Michaels was taking a fairly routine back body drop to the outside when he collided with the casket, which saw fit to herniate two of his discs and completely crush another – bad casket! What is particularly impressive about this example is not only was HBK able to finish the casket match, he was also able to defend the title two months later at WrestleMania XIV, before bowing to the inevitable and retiring.
In retrospect, there is something quite eery about a casket match nearly causing the death of HBK’s wrestling career. A little dramatic? Maybe, but following this injury, HBK didn’t wrestle in WWE for four years, and the general consensus at the time was that he’d never wrestle again. Fortunately for fans of Mr. WrestleMania, he had the fairytale redemption story – returning to win multiple championships, and participate in a slew of five-star feuds and matches. A world in which there was no HBK vs. Taker at ‘Mania doesn’t bear thinking about.
3. Triple H – Raw 2001
From HBK to his longtime best friend and DX partner in pain, HHH. If “The Game’s” recent performance at Crown Jewel sans a functioning right pec was impressive, his showing back in 2001 was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Tagging with Steve Austin against Chrises Jericho and Benoit, Trips went to break up a submission hold when he ripped his quad clean off the bone.
Not only did “The Cerebral Assassin” manage to finish the match without being able to put any weight on his left leg; he insisted that Y2J put him in the Walls of Jericho in one of the single most resolute moments in WWE history.
Not that anyone would ever want to undergo an immensely painful, career-threatening injury, but eight months down the line when HHH rocked up to Madison Square Garden to one of the loudest and most exuberant ovations of all time – there was probably a small part of him that thought it might have been worth it. Fast-forward a couple of months later to Trips standing in the middle of the ring after winning the WWF Undisputed Championship at WrestleMania X8, and I’m sure that small part would have grown substantially.
2. The Undertaker – Elimination Chamber 2010
While The Undertaker may have escaped the casket match unscarred, he was not quite as fortunate over a decade later when he stepped inside, or rather, attempted to step inside the Elimination Chamber. Truth be told, ‘Taker could have appeared on this list a handful of times. When you’ve spent over 30 years in the wrestling business, you’re bound to have suffered your fair share of injuries. From a broken orbital bone at the surprising hands of Rey Mysterio, to a far more expected concussion at the hands of Brock Lesnar – that was so serious, Vince skipped out on half of ‘Mania XXX to accompany “The Phenom” to the hospital – “The Dead Man” knows a thing or two about battling through the pain.
However, his actions at the Elimination Chamber event in 2010 were undoubtedly his most admirable/insane: depending on your stance. During ‘Taker’s entrance, the pyro malfunctioned, shooting flames into his face and leaving him with second and third degree burns – the sort of injury one would usually associate with his fellow Brother of Destruction, Kane.
Naturally, “The Dead Man” discarded his flaming coat, locked himself in his pod for 20 minutes, managed not to be sick from the stench of his burning flesh, and finished the match. There’s being tough, and then there’s being burnt alive and receiving no medical treatment for 30 minutes tough.
1. Mankind – King of the Ring 1998
When you think of tough, slightly deranged wrestlers with an unimaginable pain threshold, Mick Foley would be right at the top of most people’s lists. For all the thumbtacks, barbed wire, and flaming tables – it was this Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker that truly took Foley to levels that very, very few wrestlers have ever been. The match has such a legendary status that it is actually compiled of multiple iconic moments in their own right: Mick being tossed from the cage, JR’s ‘Good God, they’ve killed him’, that shot of Mick’s tooth being somewhere a tooth should never be.
The actual extent of the injuries Foley suffered are frightening: a concussion, a dislocated shoulder, a dislocated jaw, internal bleeding, puncture wounds, a couple of lost teeth, and a partridge in a pear tree. It reads more like the victim of a car crash than a wrestling match. Yet despite all this, and already being on his way to the back on a stretcher after a job ‘well done’ – Foley refused medical attention and returned to ‘Taker’s loving embrace, where he was met with a chokeslam and a piledriver just for good measure.
Of all the remarkable displays of resilience and commitment to their matches in the face of severe pain and injury – Foley’s performance in Hell in a Cell is undoubtedly the most exceptional. Unfortunately, that accolade is accompanied with pain and debilitation that Mick still lives with to this day.
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