Published on March 18th, 2017 | by Joey Finnegan0
Misfortunes and Miracle
When a professional wrestler goes into the squared circle, he or she puts their body on the line. There is absolutely no way around it. Call it “fake,” call it whatever you want. They are braver than most and have an almost unfathomable commitment to the craft they spent years of their life training for. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop terrible things from happening from time to time.
Injuries are a part of the job. Sadly, they often come at the worst time for a performer. Some have died in the ring, others have become paralyzed, or had their careers halted. It is a daunting job that comes with its set of risks, and rewards.
Many are able to leave scathed but not permanently damaged, though within, there are wrestlers who saw their lives irrevocably altered by injury. This leaves us with the stories of three individuals who risked their lives for a sport they loved so well, but were ultimately sidelined indefinitely for it.
We begin with Chuck Austin, a college football standout who developed an interest in wrestling after graduating. Due to this interest, he and some friends formed a small wrestling school and put on amateur shows. In December of 1990, three of those friends joined him and made their way to a WWF show in Tampa, Florida, where Chuck was hired as a jobber for $150, despite only having about six months experience under his belt. He was placed into a tag team match with Lanny Poffo, opposite Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, AKA The Rockers.
The match progressed well enough, until it neared the end. Marty Jannetty set Austin up for his finisher, The Rocker Dropper, but Austin did not take it properly. It was a fairly simply bump. Austin only needed to fall down and hit the floor with whatever body part he wanted, whether it be with the knees, elbows, arms, even belly or chest. But rather than take the move like that, Austin jumped forward, and his head struck the mat, paralyzing him immediately from the shoulders down. His fourth, fifth, and sixth vertebrae were all badly damaged.
“When I hit the mat, I knew my neck was broken and that I was paralyzed.” – Chuck Austin
“When I hit the mat, I knew my neck was broken and that I was paralyzed,” Chuck Austin recalls. This came at a time when injuries were not very well regulated in wrestling. If you were injured, you were expected to suck it up and carry on. There was no doctor at ringside. As such, Chuck Austin laid on the mat for upwards of twenty minutes, before he was helped out of the ring.
Chuck later sued WWF and Marty Jannetty. In 1994, a jury awarded him almost $27 million, which Jannetty had to pay a million of. The company appealed the ruling and wound up settling out of court for $10 million. They also began using only experienced and well-trained wrestlers as jobbers.
As you’ll see in the 1990 American Journal broadcast posted below, Austin would regain the use of some extremities, even being able to walk with the use of crutches. He also saw some grip strength return. He went from being able to bench over four hundred pounds at one point in his life, to needing his twelve year old son to spot him as he worked with thirty pounds.
Tragically, all that progress seemed to go by the wayside. In 2015, Chuck Austin was featured in a news report about pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions, regardless of doctor’s orders. Austin complained of significant pain and was seen confined to a motorized wheelchair.
There was no follow up on that piece. Chuck’s story, like others before and after him, shows the need for proper training before entering a bout against a highly trained wrestler. The physicality present in the business should never be underestimated.