Published on March 18th, 2017 | by Joey Finnegan0
Misfortune and Miracle: In-Ring Accidents That Ended Careers Too Soon
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.
See the footage of Marty Jannetty delivering the ill-fated Rocker Buster to Chuck Austin below (discretion, of course, is advised):
We move onto Darren Drozdov, AKA Puke (for his ability to vomit on command), AKA Droz, also a former football player. He is currently a quadriplegic due to a disastrous incident which took place during a SmackDown taping on October 5th, 1999 at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, New York. His opponent was D’Lo Brown.
As the best theory goes, Droz didn’t get the proper jump to aid in D’Lo’s running powerbomb, while Brown himself couldn’t get a good grip because of Drozdov’s loose shirt. This resulted in Droz crashing to the mat in a gruesome manner, leaving him paralyzed. It was a true accident. Footage of this injury currently sits inside the WWE vault, alongside the tape of Owen Hart’s fall at Over The Edge 1999. Instructions on both read: Never view, copy, or destroy.
These are the only two pieces of WWE footage with this guidance.
As Mick Foley tells it in his book “Foley Is Good: And the Real World Is Faker than Wrestling,” while on a stretcher, Droz made it a point to tell D’Lo Brown not to blame himself.
That must’ve been a tall order.
D’Lo, for his part, had this to say:
“Do you feel comfortable talking about Darren Drozdov’s injury?”
“Yeah, I do. Um, not one of my (pauses, a clear change happening as his mood turns blue) definitely not one of my brighter days. Probably the worst day of my life. Talking, in terms of wrestling and real life. Um (pauses) just, uh, that’s an instant downer for me.”
“When was the last time you spoke to him?”
“Probably about, um, six months ago. He and I, we were never close before the accident and, um, I don’t know how an accident can draw two people closer. And then, there’s heat with his wife and me for some reason, I don’t know. You know, she puts a lot of blame on things. Droz and I have talked about it on several occasions. We don’t know what went wrong.
Out of respect, we don’t watch the tape. I can clear up a few [misconceptions]. It wasn’t a fan throwing ice in the ring, throwing garbage in the ring, and I didn’t slip. It was just, and it could’ve been anybody in the ring with him that night. It just happened to be me. It happened to be my sad misfortune to be in the ring, and because of that, you know, a man’s paralyzed.
People ask me all the time, does that affect me? Hell yeah. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be human. For probably about a year, I wrestled differently. I second-guessed everything I did and that, that-that was probably- I should’ve just taken- I mean, I should’ve taken time off. And if it hadn’t been for Jim Ross really talking to me, I was gonna quit the business. I was done.
I was this close to saying, “The hell with it.” I couldn’t- ’cause, no one ever got hurt on my watch. No one has since. You know? And someone is trusting me to give me their body. I want them to walk out of the ring in the same condition they came in, and that’s one thing I prided myself on. Really, I was really close to quitting. Like I said, Jim Ross sat down with me.
We had a long, long, probably three-hour conversation full of football references and how we all know the risks going into the game. How it could’ve been anybody. He eventually turned me around and made me want to continue wrestling. But that accident not only affected me professionally but personally. I mean, I was a whole different person.
You know, I almost separated from my fiancé during that time. I’m not a party guy, but all of a sudden, I was just living life like there was no tomorrow. Ass wide open. Just gone. Because I didn’t know what to do and that was my way of- I was depressed and I didn’t know it. So my way of trying to get rid of my depression was to party.
That took about a year, where I didn’t know really what was going on.”
In an interview with Jim Ross for Fox Sports, Darren Drozdov spoke about the accident and his thoughts regarding Brown, “I have no hard feelings toward D’Lo because shit happens and everyone who gets involved in athletics, including WWE, knows the risks that exist. It was an accident.”
While Chuck Austin’s story shows us the importance of proper training, Droz and D’Lo’s stirs a much scarier thought: even the most technically sound wrestlers can suffer horrible misfortune. On any given night, a performer can get injured due to an accident.
Onto our final subject: Tyson Kidd. Born Theodore James Wilson, he is famously known as the final graduate of the infamous Hart Dungeon. He wrestled his first match at age fifteen in Stampede Wrestling. A year later, he teamed up with Andrew Picarnic to take on Teddy Hart and Harry Smith in the opening match of a WWE house show. The following year, he started training directly with Bret Hart.
Kidd wrestled for Stampede, Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and various European promotions before finding his way to the WWE in November of 2006. He was twenty-six years old. His girlfriend (now wife), Natalie Neidhart, was also signed. Together, they moved down to the WWE developmental territory OSW.
Tyson made his WWE television debut on the February 10th, 2009 episode of ECW, with Natalie by his side as Natalya, his manager. Throughout his tenure, Kidd saw the most success as a tag team wrestler. He won gold with David Hart Smith and Cesaro. He finally won acclaim as a single’s wrestler during his time in NXT. He main-evented the first TakeOver, challenging Adrian Neville for his NXT Championship.
He went on to main event the next TakeOver as well, again challenging for Neville’s title, along with Sami Zayn and Tyler Breeze in a highly acclaimed Fatal 4-Way.
On the December 1st, 2014 episode of Monday Night Raw, Tyson began his celebrated partnership with Cesaro. They started by working as heels, calling themselves The Brass Ring Club. After winning the gold from The Usos, Kidd and Cesaro began a feud with The New Day, a face team.
A double-turn soon took place, which was cemented at Extreme Rules 2015. Cesaro and Kidd, the Tag Team Champions, put on a fantastic performance, winning over the crowd, while New Day used dirty tactics to win and steal their titles. The Brass Ring Club got a few more opportunities from ther but ultimately failed to regain the gold.
Misfortune struck not long after. On June 7th, 2015, WWE announced that Tyson Kidd suffered a severe injury from Samoa Joe’s Musclebuster finisher. It happened during a dark match on Raw, six days prior. As it was described to Dave Meltzer, the odds were twenty to one that Kidd would even survive the injury. He wound up with sixteen staples, four screws, and a rod inserted in his neck. The closest comparable situation is Christopher Reeves, who was famously paralyzed.
In an October 4, 2016 post on Twitter, Tyson wrote, “I can’t feel my head or move my head the way I used to, but EVERY day I’m focused on my recovery.”
Tyson Kidd is a walking miracle. Not only is he alive, he’s not paralyzed. He may never wrestle again, but he’s here and we’re thankful for that.
See fan footage of Tyson Kidd sustaining a neck injury from Samoa Joe’s Musclebuster here (as before, discretion is advised)
Only three stories were told here, but there are countless more. Rick Rude, Sting, Daniel Bryan, Mick Foley, Vader, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Brock Lesnar, etc. The list of names is endless. Each of them have had their careers and lives changed by injury. It is an unavoidable part of the job. Some are less severe than others. While many performers have consistently been able to recover and return to their craft, there are others who haven’t had that luxury. Professional wrestling is a scarily physical world with life shattering consequences. Those who willingly venture into it are, without a shadow of a doubt, selfless heroes.