In pro wrestling, there are countless variables at work that can derail even the simplest of plans. After all, there’s a reason old wrestling event posters had the caveat “Card subject to change.” On top of last-minute booking decisions, no-shows, and other factors, one of the big things that can change plans is an injury.
Wrestlers always run the risk of getting hurt at any time, but there are some that really stick out in fans’ memories — ones that couldn’t have happened at a worse time in terms of forcing plans to change. Let’s take a look at 10 of these unfortunately times injuries from WWE and beyond.
10 Triple H Tears His Quads Before The Invasion
Following the legendary WrestleMania 17, Triple H and a newly heel Stone Cold Steve Austin were united with backing from Vince McMahon as The Two-Man Power Trip, and in the process captured all the major men’s titles in WWE. In late May 2001, Austin and Trips ended up dropping the belts to Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho in a barn-burner of a Raw main event, albeit one that ended with Triple H tearing his quad and staying out of action for eight months. This injury happened just before the big WCW invasion kicked off, meaning that one of WWE’s biggest stars missed the whole angle.
9 Rick Rude’s Career Ends At A Peak
“Ravishing” Rick Rude started his wrestling career in 1982, but a decade later Rude was on a hot streak in the early ‘90s, working as one of the top heels in WCW and even capturing the International World Heavyweight Championship three times. However, an unfortunate injury occurred in 1994, while wrestling Sting in Japan. Rude ended up severely hurting his back on a stage in the arena and forcing him to retire in his mid-30s in 1994. From there, Rude worked as on-screen manager and other non-combatant roles until his tragic demise in 1999.
8 Finn Balor Vacates The Universal Championship After Winning It
Upon arriving on the WWE main roster in 2016, Finn Balor seemed to have a rocket strapped to his back. By the end of the summer, Balor not only found himself as a finalist in the tournament to crown the inaugural Universal Champion, but also beat Roman Reigns to get there.
Balor ended up defeating Seth Rollins to capture the newly created belt, but a labrum tear during the match would throw everything awry. The next night on Raw fans saw the new champion with his arm in a sling, forced to vacate the title he had just won.
7 Sting Gets Injured Before He Can Beat Ric Flair
Sting’s infamous time limit draw with NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair at the first-ever Clash of the Champions in 1988 put the up-and-comer on the map, and by 1990 the Stinger was set to capture the title from Flair. It didn’t work out that way — at least not immediately — as Sting suffered a knee injury ahead of their big match in February. Lex Luger took Sting’s place to challenge Flair, but “The Nature Boy” was committed to doing right by Sting, thankfully, and ended up dropping the belt to his young rival in July of 1990.
6 Sami Zayn Hurts His Shoulder In His Main Roster Debut
Since his debut on NXT in 2013, Sami Zayn had quickly won over fans as a pure underdog babyface, and seemed destined for great things in WWE overall. As such, it was a delight when Zayn made his main roster debut as part of an open challenge for John Cena’s US Championship in 2015. Unfortunately, Zayn ended up tearing his rotator cuff during his entrance — before he even entered the ring. The match turned out great, but the injury kept Sami out of action for seven months.
5 Daniel Bryan Vacates The WWE Championship After Two Months
Over a year before Sami Zayn’s main roster debut, WWE had a big storyline featuring a different underdog babyface. Fan reactions had pretty much willed Daniel Bryan into the main event of WrestleMania 30, where he not main evented against Batista and Randy Orton for the WWE Championship, but also fought Triple H for the chance to even be in the main event. Bryan submitted Batista for a triumphant, inspirational ending to the storyline, but that big moment was ultimately undercut by an injury, forcing the new, beloved champion to vacate after two months.
4 Magnum TA’s Career Ends As It Begins Taking Off
One of pro wrestling’s most frustrating “what could have been” stories is that of Magnum TA. A wildly popular babyface in Jim Crockett Promotions (later known as WCW). By 1986, Magnum was already a two-time United States Champion, had a legendary I Quit match with Tully Blanchard, and was on a fast track to World Title contention.
That is, until tragedy struck. A horrific car wreck pretty much obliterated a couple of vertebrae in Magnum TA’s neck, decisively ending his career before he really reached anywhere near a peak.
3 Shawn Michaels Hurts His Back As The Attitude Era Pops Off
Part of the WWE roster since 1988, Shawn Michaels was already a two-time World Champion by the beginning of the Attitude Era in 1997, where he co-founded D-Generation X. But in January of 1998, a move gone wrong during a Casket Match with The Undertaker caused Michaels to sustain a back injury that forced him to put his career on hold. Michaels wrestled his last match two months later and took four years off of wrestling, returning to WWE just in time for the Ruthless Aggression Era to begin.
2 CM Punk Hurts Himself Before Forbidden Door
While Forbidden Door 2023 was generally a successful show, fans considered the previous year’s incarnation of the AEW/NJPW crossover show — the very first one — to be absolutely cursed thanks to various injuries affecting the card. In the weeks before the late June 2022 show, CM Punk was announced to defend his AEW World Title against Hiroshi Tanahashi in the main event. Unfortunately, the same night the bout was announced, Punk suffered a foot injury that took him out of action for two months. Jon Moxley replaced him in the match, which ended up being for an interim championship.
1 Dolph Ziggler Gets A Concussion After Winning The World Heavyweight Championship
In the first half of the 2010s, Dolph Ziggler was the smark favorite, an underrated midcarder that die-hard fans saw a lot of potential in. On the Raw after WrestleMania 29, it appeared fans were getting their wish, as Ziggler cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on Alberto Del Rio to win the World Heavyweight Championship. But about a month later, an errant kick from Jack Swagger gave Ziggler a concussion, resulting in Alberto Del Rio being booked to win the title back, not to mention Dolph never quite having such a big opportunity again.