How Dangerous Is The Diving Headbutt?
Updated: Apr 27
In his now notorious autobiography, Ric Flair said about the diving headbutt; "The human body is not supposed to land that way."
Flair had the dubious honour of witnessing the diving headbutt first-hand on many occasions throughout his career, in countless bouts against another legend and the man who invented the move.
King Harley Race, a man who, to anyone with a passing interest in the history of wrestling, needs no introduction.
For the rest, Harley Race is an icon amongst icon’s in the squared circle. Race has the illustrious credit of 9 world titles to his name, held in every major North American promotion around at the time.
Upon becoming one of only 6 men to be inducted into each of the N.W.A, WWE WCW, Pro Wrestling & Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, Harley Race was also often credited with the invention and evolution of the diving headbutt.
A wrestling move that is now entangled in discussions of serious head injury in pro-wrestling, and even death, had a much simpler and more innocent genesis than it’s long and troubled history first suggests.
Somewhere in the early 1970’s Handsome Harley Race could be found defying the laws of big-men style wrestling of the time, by frequenting the top rope to perform a devastating splash onto his unfortunate victims.
In one match however, the otherwise dependable ring general had climbed the corner turnbuckle only to slip on the second rope.
Without time to consider, Race adjusted his body and slammed down hard with his head into his prone opponent, sealing the pin-fall and the interest from the crowd in attendance.
Although, before his death in 2019, Harley Race said that he regretted inventing the move due to all of the controversy it has created since its inception, the diving headbutt was used successfully throughout the second half of Harley Race’s illustrious career to great effect.
As is the way with anything innovative. Harley Race’s diving headbutt has since become copied and evolved in the squared circle.
One of those who picked up the mantle of the diving headbutt, was innovative high-flyer come ring-general. One half of the British Bulldogs, Tom Billington, the dynamite kid.
There aren’t enough superlatives to be able to describe the effect Dynamite Kid had on pro-wrestling throughout his time using the diving headbutt in Europe.
Japan where he had his famous matches against the original Tiger Mask and in the United states.
It wasn’t only his prevalent use of the diving headbutt which caused Dynamite Kid so many injuries, even suffering a stroke and paralysis, speculated heavily to be the result of compounded head injuries.
Like Harley Race before him, Dynamite kid himself influences those who came after him. A man who was said to idolise Dynamite kid, a man who repeatedly stated that he based his moves, his flying headbutt especially from Dynamite Kid. Unfortunately, his life and career are tarred in misery and evil - Chris Benoit.
A man who throughout his wrestling career was considered to be one of the all-time athletic greats of the squared circle. A man widely respected for his in-ring technique, strength an dedication. Chris Benoit took the diving headbutt to new heights.
At some times, literally, throwing himself from the top of a ladder, or plummeting from the dizzying heights atop a steel cage.
Chris Benoit also worked to show how smaller, talented wrestlers could main-event and won the WWE title using the diving headbutt and now infamous crippler cross-face submission.
I want to focus on the diving headbutt here and thus wont talk further on my opinion of the situation following Chris Benoit’s death.
However the elephant in the room is undeniable, how much did falling from such heights and slamming his head into the mat or opponents, damage Chris Benoit’s brain?
In an interview, Chris Benoit stated that in actuality he never got a concussion nor suffered any real injury from the diving attack, mentioning that it as his knees and wrists that showed the most signs of wear and tear after years of using them to soften the blow of his fast-paced landing.
However, In his book, A Fool for Old School...Wrestling, That is, Richard Berzer said; "Performing this manoeuvre for the length of his 22-year career, the resulting concussions appear to have been the primary cause of Benoit's descent into madness, murder and suicide."
Daniel Bryan’ style, to Bryan’s own admission is heavily influenced by Benoit and Dynamite kid. Seemingly Bryan has little fear for trying out new and ever more impressive feats in his career.
Something which his years of training and career of hard-work allows him to do with the upmost safety.
As with every wrestler who has ever stepped into the squared circle, Daniel Bryan puts his body on the line every time he climbs between the ropes.
No move in the American Dragon’s move-set signifies this more, than his use of the diving headbutt.
Every person listed in this video, has suffered serious head trauma. Daniel Bryan famously retired when not cleared to compete by WWE medical staff due to a chain of concussions which he suffered through his career.
Dynamite Kid died after having a stroke and serious health issues later in life. Chris Benoit’s situation has been well documented. How much the diving headbutt effected each of these cases is difficult to measure.
None the less, it says so much about a performer, when they are willing to traverse the turnbuckle, and dive head-first into the ground for us the fans’ pleasure. Wrestling.