• Matt Dod

Wrestlers Who Died In The Ring

Updated: Aug 14

For a video on this topic: 15 Wrestlers Who Died In The Ring (Documentary) - YouTube


In my opinion. Pro wrestling is an art form and the performers in the ring are artists. In the same way that a master painter picks up a passion for laying out imagery on a canvas with a brush. Pro wrestlers learn to master their chosen creative output whilst laying out matches on a canvas of their own.


Some artists are born with a natural gift. A skill for expressing themselves through their chosen endeavour to bring joy and insight to the world around them through their work. Most artists however, spend their lives learning the skills required to convey their artistic vision, and pro wrestlers are no different.


To be a top performer in the squared circle, it takes passion, dedication and time. Often, wrestlers will spend their entire working lives performing for the entertainment of us, the fans in order to supply us with memorable moments which will go down in the history of the pro wrestling business.


It’s hard work, a cut-throat industry, and most times, extremely dangerous. In this video, I want to look at, and honour the legacy of those who have not only spent a huge chunk of their life on this earth attempting to entertain us, but those who have given their lives to the ring.


I want to relive some of pro wrestling’s darkest days, through the harrowing stories of those who have died. A sad topic for sure, but ones which I think is important to recognise. I want to see just how these horrific incidents occurred and if they could have been prevented. I want to see if there is a correlation between the causes of these tragedies and most importantly pay respect to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.


I want to start by exploring my own memories. One of the worst days of my life. A dark cloud still fogs over me, when I think back to the day I witnessed the death of a beloved luchadore a few years ago. It’s still hard to talk about to this day and was the motivation for making this video. So let’s begin on this troubled path, let’s talk about Silver King.



SILVER KING




If you were a fan of pro wrestling in WCW then you will be familiar with Silver King. If not and you have ever seen the classic lucha film Nacho Libre then you will no doubt remember the movies legendary antagonist, Ramires who was played by real-life lucha legend Cesar Gonzalez.


A man who had a prestigious career in Mexico and around the world, following in his father Dr. Wagner’s footsteps as a powerhouse in the ring who could also fly around as well as a man half their size.


I watched one of my favourite pro wrestling movies again recently and even with 90 percent of his face covered, as soon as the character Ramires came on screen during Nacho Libre I knew that Silver King was the man under the mask. It immediately hit me with a sense of sadness and on a personal level, it made me really remember just how much of an excellent wrestler he was and what an unbelievably iconic persona.


For me, on a deeper level, the sadness comes from the fact that in 2019, I had convinced some friends who are not wrestling fans at all, to attend a lucha show with me in London.

They were varying degrees of sceptical but with the mariachi band ringing out around the arena, some comedy matches to get the crowd on their feet and a lot of margaritas in our bellies, we were all having such a great evening.


Until the match which I was most excited about took place. Two legends from my childhood, Juventud Guerrera versus Silver King, I’d been telling my friends about the two characters for days leading up to the event.


When they made their way to the ring, I felt like a little kid again and for me that is a huge part of why I love pro wrestling. What happened next was horrendous. As the match got into it’s groove, after a fall to the mat, Silver King seemingly could not regain his feet. He was laid out, heavily panting on his back, not 10 meters away from us.


Being the smark that I am, I grinned to myself as my friends turned to one another, saying “oh no, he’s injured, I hope he is okay” and words to that effect. But I knew, all these years of watching wrestling, I knew that any minute now Silver King would pop back to his feet and regain his momentum only to alight the crowd with his explosive power. I was waiting, longer and longer I waited. The referee was checking on Silver King and called Juventud over to the pair, he then pinned Silver King and was declared the winner.


This is when I began to suspect something had gone wrong. EMTs and trainers ran from the back and people started to try and resuscitate Silver King as the stewards in the arena hastily shepherd us out of the doors. It had taken them all so long to react, surely this must have been part of the show. But no.


The coroner investigating the incident explained, “In every way there was a failure properly to plan to ensure that everybody knew what they were doing, that procedures were in place so that first and foremost a person who became unwell in the ring would be identified immediately. Immediate effective defibrillator-assisted CPR would have given Mr Gonzalez Barron a significant greater likelihood of survival. It seems Mexican wrestling does not have the same procedures in place as other sports such as regular wrestling or other martial arts.”

The show was over so abruptly and as we headed for the underground tube station the sounds of ambulances and police sirens muffled the crowd’s questions about what we had all just witnessed.


Now I know that is miserable, but I wanted to highlight how Silver King died doing what he loved, entertaining the crowd and being the best showman, he could. I mean no disrespect when I say this – but what a fucking hero, the man finished the match as he was dying. And that speaks to just how much Silver King loved pro wrestling.


THE DEATH OF OWEN HART



The first time I ever considered that wrestling was scripted came on a Monday evening in 1999.


At school that day, I heard from a class-mate, of a tragedy that had occurred the night prior.


I didn’t believe of the horrific incident at first, especially being so young.

It was one of the first times I had encountered death in a direct manner.


Due to my lack of willingness to believe such a thing could happen in wrestling – my friend implored me to explore the internet for wrestling forums.


As soon as I got home I quickly discovered a dark hole of information I had previously never thought imaginable.


I found pages and pages of tributes, discussing the death of Owen Hart at the WWF, Over The Edge pay-per-view on the 23rd May 1999.


My tiny mind exploded as I read for hours about Owen Hart’s life, his family and his illustrious wrestling career.


I stumbled deeper and saw online commenters discussing Owen Hart’s character, his promo technique and his ability to make his opponents look great in the ring. I saw a transcript which explained Jim Ross’ explanation on live television only minutes after Owen’s fall.


Jim explained that “This is not a storyline, this is not part of the show”

Me at 8 years old, the veil of ignorance moves just a minuscule amount as I wondered what good ole JR Jim Ross meant. Storyline? What storyline?


I was so confused.


However, I was instantly distracted by the promise of what seemed liked infinite wrestling information on these forums.

I fell deeper in love with the history of Owen Hart and felt a real sense of sadness and remorse from the online community, for the tragedy that had happened not 24 hours before.


In Kansas City Missouri, the WWF were running through their usual smooth operation of what at the time seemed like another evening of hard-hitting action and over-the-top personalities.


But little more than what fans had come to expect at the time.


By the time the event was over, the fans in attendance and at home, the WWF staff and all of the wrestlers, were involved in a moment that none will soon forget.


One which will live in infamy for all of pro-wrestling’s existence.


As the night rolled on, time came for the Intercontinental title match between The Godfather and Owen Hart’s character The Blue Blazer.


To make an impactful entrance, Owen was set to glide down to the ring on a harness connected to a long grapple line. His cape flying in the wind as this comedic super-hero drew the attention of all in attendance.


The lights of uncountable camera flashes, reflect off of the glittering Blue Blazer outfit and alight the arena with fans capturing a moment in history.


As Owen Hart was lowering towards the ring, his harness catch released and he became unhooked from the supporting cable.


As fans watched on in horror, the unthinkable happened, Owen plummeting towards the top rope from almost 80 feet above the ring and springing back onto the canvas.

The atmosphere that fell over the arena as WWF cut the lights must have been sickening.


Fans at home watching live were still unaware of the incident, WWF playing a pre-taped vignette as the feed had enough of a time delay for the production team to hide the horrors which were unfolding in front of them. WWF then cut only to shots of the crowd to allow time for the situation to be dealt with, controversially so as to be able to continue the show. Controversial in hindsight perhaps, but at the time WWF had no idea what was happening and how things would play out over the next 30 minutes.


Fans in the arena however were left literally in the dark as WWF turned off the lights and played the television vignette on the large screens to try and draw attention away from Owen Hart.


Who was now laying prone in the ring, flat on his back with swarms of medical staff and other WWF employees rushing to Hart’s aid.


As Jim Ross continued to reiterate the magnitude of the incident to fans at home the real tragedy unfolded at nearby Truman Medical Center.


Where after several valiant attempts to resuscitate and revive Owen Hart, he sadly died due to internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma.


Truly one of the most hard-hitting and emotional moments of all of wrestling history for so many fans, and those employed in the business alike.


THE NEXT DAY


The next night, Raw Is Owen aired, a tribute episode of Monday Night Raw from the Kiel Center in St.Louis.


The broadcast began with all of the WWF staff, medical team, wrestlers and bookers out on the entrance ramp, with Howard Finkel calling for a ten-bell salute.


The traditional way in which wrestling has paid respect to fallen performers throughout it’s history.


As the last belled tolled on the life of Owen Hart, the screen cut to a video package of his career highlights, his two runs as intercontinental champion, one reign as European champion, his time as part of the tag-team champions and his victory of the king of the ring title.


One of the more heart-wrenching moments occurred when Mark Henry read aloud his poem in dedication to Owen Hart, visibly distraught as he held back floods of tears, Mark Henry conveying emotions so deeply felt by those around him.

All of the WWF staff were given the choice of continuing working that show, with Vince McMahon recognising the emotional toll Owen Hart’s death had taken on his employees.


Monday Night Raw continued in part as usual, with 10 matches on the night, but a less rehearsed, less scripted feel to the fights as all storylines were halted for the evening.

The programme features interviews that were not shot in the usual high energy fashion, with Mick Foley solemnly stepping out of character, visibly shattered by the loss of his friend Owen, explaining how Owen Hart was Mick Foley’s son’s favourite wrestler and how his son had been so proud to receive a haircut similar to that of his idol.


Bradshaw spoke openly about the locker room’s affection for their lost brother.


Bradshaw mentioned how Owen Hart was one the least flashy wrestlers outside of the ring, where Hart rarely afforded himself the luxuries that many others with similar bank accounts in wrestling would.


In order to save for his retirement and life with his wife and children.

This one really hits home, and humanises the incident further.


It’s so sad to think about what could have been for Owen and his family if things has played out in a less cruel manner.


Many others paid tribute to the iconic figure on that show including Val Venis, Test and The Rock.


When Jeff Jarrett defeated Godfather for the Intercontinental Title, the arena filled with claps and shouts of respect, with Jeff Jarrett screaming Owen Hart’s name whilst holding aloft the title.


Raw went off the air following a salute from then backstage leader Stone Cold Steve Austin who smashed a few cans of beers for Owen. And, in a cathartic moment for all involved left one last beer in the ring for Hart.


CONTROVERSY

In the weeks that followed, online forums and newsrooms were alight with controversy over the manner in which the events had unfolded leading up to Owen Hart’s death.

The speculation revolved around WWF’s use of a less safe version of the harness and cable which Hart was using.


As part of Owen’s Blue Blazer character, the performer wanted to move away from the ultra serious, straight faced Owen Hart and more towards the entertainment potential of a comedy-styled super-hero.


Prior to the event, Owen Hart had played with the formula of a wrestler being rappelled towards the ring from the rafters, when he would be a few feet from the ground releasing his safety catch and purposefully falling flat on his face, drawing laughs and applause from the crowd.


WWF and Hart had tried and tested the stunt and it had proven effective at garnering their required response from fans at house shows.


However, in order to facilitate the manoeuvre, a different, less safe latch had to be used for the quick release and without a secondary safety cable which was the standard at the time.


For a month the accusations flew at WWF and their backroom staff until the Hart family filed a formal lawsuit against the entertainment behemoth as well as the manufacturer of the harness and cable equipment.


Stating how dangerous and needless the stunt was, as well as arguing that the necessary safety checks and requirements were not in place, directly leading to Owen’s demise.


On November 2nd 2000, after a year and a half in and out of courtrooms, WWF settled with the Hart family being paid $18 million whilst also dropping the lawsuit against the equipment manufacturer.


FAMILY


Owen was the youngest of 12 siblings and evidently left and enormous hole in the Hart family. His most famous sibling was Bret Hart who on the DVD Bret Hitman Hart spoke about his regret in not being with Owen before he performed the stunt, stating that he would have tried his best to stop Owen making this ill-fated decision.


As is understandable with such a horrific event, the Hart family have held bitter feelings towards WWE since, disagreeing with the companies decision to continue the Over The Edge ppv in wake of what had happened.


Owen Hart’s widow is also a target for controversy as she has made the decision as owner of the right’s to Owen’s career – to sue WWE for it’s use of his televised performances.


Something which Bret Hart staunchly disagrees with, siding with WWE in his ideas on how Owen’s matches and screen-time should be available for all to watch and relive their fond memories, not held in an archive as Martha Hart would seemingly like.


In an interview with CBS Sports, Bret Hart exclaimed; “I think she has done more to erase my brother Owen’s memory than she ever did to remember him,” in reference to his brother’s widow. “It really bothers me,” Bret remarked, “that the fans that love Owen so much don’t get a chance to remember him.”

Martha used a large chunk of the money received from the lawsuit settlement with WWE to found a charity in Owen Hart’s name which aims to help students from low-income families with tuition fees, book purchases and other bills that are incurred.


In the modern day, Owen’s legacy lives on in numerous forms with WWE wrestler Kevin Owen’s not only styling his name as a homage to one of his idols, but also named his first son Owen in reference.


And of course the long-running and controversial debate of whether Owen Hart should be inducted into the prestigious WWE Hall Of Fame, with so many dark clouds hanging over the memory of Owen, you can perhaps understand to an extent why WWE would be hesitant to sift through those times again, in such a public manner.


Regardless of the way he died or who is at fault, in my opinion it is a disgrace to not have an icon such as Owen Hart, a man who literally spent his life entertaining and amazing us fans. He deserves better.


In researching for this video, I found it hard to find any dirt on Owen Hart. I couldn’t find a story that besmirched his character or a video of him saying or doing anything regrettable.


In the autobiography ‘Heartbreak and Triumph’, Shawn Michaels writes “Owen is the only guy you could have a two-hour show for, and no-one would say a bad word about him."

At the time, Owen Hart’s death led me to contemplate my existence in a small way, which I didn’t begin to comprehend.


It also led me on the path I am on today, so although for many a light was dimmed following the horrendous death of Owen Hart.


It ignited in me a passion to learn about the history of wrestling and pay much deserved tribute to industry icon’s who have given their lives to perform and entertain us fans, like Owen Hart.



Janet Wolfe



As women more commonly begun to make the transition from simply accompanying their male counter-parts to the ring in the wrestling world in the 1950’s a young protégé of the great Tony Stretcher began her training, with what industry insiders at the time were looking at as the potential next big thing in the world of women’s wrestling. Jeanette Wolfe, born Jeanette Boyer, was 5 foot 3 and weighed a little over 120 pounds, her size was clearly not the reason which she stood out amongst her class-mates of larger, more powerful wrestling trainees. However, Ms Wolfe is said to have possessed a combination of dedication to her craft and a charisma which even to this day, you seemingly cannot teach.


At the age of 17, Janet showed such great potential, that legendary promoters and wrestling icons Mildred Burke and her husband Billy Wolfe sought to adopt the young upstart and took her under their wing, legally changing her name from her birth of Boyer to what we now recognise today as Jeanette Wolfe. By 1951, the pair believed Jeanette to be ready to make the transition from training in the gym, to performing in front of a crowd, thus, by June Ms Wolfe had stepped between the ropes to make her long awaited debut.


By July, Jeanette had battled in two matches, but her third and fourth, would prove to be her undoing. On July 28th 1951 she fought in a match against Ella Waldek and was routinely beaten by the more experienced wrestler.


As Jeanette made her way backstage, she complained to the shows promoter that she was suffering from a severe headache, though not much attention was given to the young wrestler’s ailments. After all, Jeanette Wolfe was scheduled for a second fight later on in the card and nothing could stand in the way of the promoter’s promised fixtures.


An hour or so later, with her headache only worsening, Jeanette made her way to the ring with her partner Eva Lee to face off against Ella Waldek and Mae Young. Following a ferocious body slam administered by Waldek, Wolfe suffered a concussion and tagged out unexpectedly.


Making her way onto the ring apron where attendees of the show say she looked confused and off-balance. As the match ended, Wolfe knew something was wrong, she collapsed from the side of the ring apron and was carried to the back. A freak accident had caused a ruptured vein in her stomach to bleed profucely internally, she had also suffered a blood clot on her brain which ended her promising young life only 4 hours later.


After the tragedy, Ohia police arrested Eva Lee, Ella Waldek and Mae Young with a charge of manslaughter. A trial took place a while later where the judge ruled the incident to be accidental and all three were released.



Mike Dibiase

You’ve all probably heard of the 80s and 90s money splashing legend Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase.But did you know that before he played the role of a man who could have it all due to his enormous wealth and lavish lifestyle, his early life was struck with the most terrible of tragedies.


Like many who enter between the ropes of a pro wrestling ring, Ted DiBiase had a family lineage within the grappling business. His adoptive father, Iron Mike DiBiase was a vastly experienced performer, known for his in-ring technique and grappling prowess which saw his career ladened with many a title belt.


However, what Mike DiBiase is unfortunately best remembered for, was the unfortunate and saddening way in which his excellent career was brought to a sudden halt.


During a match on July 2nd 1969, Iron Mike faced off against one of the biggest wrestlers of his generation, the 600 pound Man Mountain Mike in a contest in Texas.


All was seemingly going as planned with the pair putting on a show which was expertly entertaining the crowd when the unimaginable happened. Mike DiBiase suffered an enormous heart attack moments into the bout and collapsed in a terrifying heap on the canvas.


Industry legend Harley Race rushed in to the aid of DiBiase and began to administer CPR, relentlessly pushing up and down on DeBiase’s chest awaiting the arrival of an ambulance. Race’s efforts were in vein however as the heart attack which had pulled the match to a shuddering halt was ferocious, taking the life of Mike DiBiase, who was sadly only 45 at the time, to the shock of the onlooking crowd.




LUTHER LINDSAY

When Luther Lindsay began his journey in the pro wrestling business in the 1940s, an arena full of white working-class grappling fans was not a friendly place for a large black man, especially as segregation was in full effect.


Lindsay however, never let the negativity interrupt his rise to stardom as he used his expert knowledge of wrestling techniques along with his naturally impressive physique to wow even the most die hard racist in the crowd.


Trained by legendary hard man Stu Hart, it is said that the stoic Canadian always kept a picture of Luther Lindsay in his wallet as an honour to the only man to have ever legitimately submitted him within a wrestling ring.


This toughness, alongside his ability to entertain the crowd saw Lindsay earn the respect of other industry icons such as Lou Thesz on his way to having the first interracial wrestling match to occur in the South of the states in the 1950s.


By 1972, Luther Lindsay had overcome every bigoted hurdle put in his way and cemented his legacy amongst the wrestling industries pioneers. A point that made one night on February 21st 1972 all the more regrettable.


During a match with a wrestler by the name of Bobby Paul, Lindsay delivered his classic diving belly flop, and as he had done so many times throughout his career, held his opponent down for the three count and the victory.


However, it was immediately discovered that Lindsay had suffered a powerful and life ending heart attack during his manoeuvre and died whilst the referee was still counting the pin.


Terrible for all involved and a real moment of horror for the participants in the ring, attempts to resuscitate Lindsay failed and he was pronounced dead where he laid, ending his career with a victory, one which a man such as Luther Lindsay and his many struggles within the industry deserved.


Since then, he has been named in multiple Hall Of Fames and given more credit for his hard work and dedication to making pro wrestling and the wider world of sports and entertaining a more accepting place for everyone.



Hijo del Perro Aguayo


We all remember those adverts which would play alongside our favourite wrestling shows when we were growing up. Don’t try this at home, is not just a simple slogan but one intended to prevent any real-life tragedy occurring if a person was to replicate the actions they had witnessed from their favourite wrestlers.


The moves we see these experts perform in the ring are designed to amaze and entertain us, whilst inflicting as little damage as possible to their opponent. However, in 2015 a freak accident occurred, when a move was performed, one that had been used hundreds if not thousands of times safely before and would end the life of a popular luchador, known as Perro Aguayo.


In a match on March 21st, the Mexican grappling star was taking part in tag team match alongside his partner Manik against Extreme Tiger and WWE legend Rey Mysterio.


With Perro Aguayo and Mysterio in the ring, Mysterio landed a picture-perfect drop kick on his opponent, which sent him hurtling towards the ropes. A move we have seen countless times from Mysterio, which for decades he had used to place his opponent in the perfect position, slumped over the second rope, facing out of the ring, to pull off his famed 619 finisher.


However, in this horrific incident, as Perro Aguayo fell towards the ropes, he landed awkwardly and fell unconscious. With the high paced lucha libre match in full flow, Rey Mysterio, the other wrestlers and even the fans failed to realise that Aguayo was not simply acting as if he had been injured as he slumped on one knee, he had in fact broken his neck.


The match continued for over 2 minutes before the proceedings were called to a stop. Before any medical aid could be successful, Perro Aguayo sadly died in the ring of a heart attack caused by a cervical stroke which occurred when his neck snapped off the middle rope. A truly horrific incident and one which left Rey Mysterio so stricken with guilt, he considered never stepping foot inside of a pro wrestling ring again.


Aguayo’s family knew that what had happened was simple a tragic accident and that Mysterio was in no way to blame, even going so far as to ask the masked luchador to help carry the coffin of his deceased opponent at his funeral.


Hit show lucha underground hosted a sombre and respectful tribute to their fallen comrade, with notable figures from the Mexican wrestling scene speaking about how much Perro meant to them aswell as the wider wrestling world. It’s clear to see the deep and profound impact that this man’s death had on those who were lucky enough to know him in the ring and out.





MITSUHARU "TIGER MASK" MISAWA

In the west, pro wrestling fans have Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and Hulk Hogan. In The east, there is Mitsuharu Misawa a Japanese wrestling icon who made his name as Tiger Mask. A name so recognisable, that it eventually spread from humble beginnings in the 1980s to become a well-recognised name around the wrestling world.


The founder of pro wrestling NOAH saw his abilities take him to the very top of the wrestling mountain, being named the best grappler on the planet on 3 separate occasions.


By 2009, Misawa was a legend of the business and when he did compete, drew hoards of fans to his events to get a glimpse of this slice of wrestling royalty.


In a match where Misawa teamed with Go Shiozaki against the partnership of Saito and Bison Smith on June 13th 2009, tragedy struck and fans in the Hiroshima based arena were left in shock and horror.


In Japan, wrestlers are lauded for their durability and intense brutality throughout their matches, often landing slams and throws on their heads and necks in order to deliver a visceral reaction from the fans. The wrestlers spend years in wrestling dojos, toughening their bodies through repeatedly taking suplexs and piledrivers, allowing for their bodies to absorb impact and protect them when the time comes to step in front of a crowd.

A back suplex, then, should be no problem for Misawa and his battled worn physique. However, during the match when Saito delivered what appeared to be a run of the mill back suplex to Misawa, the wrestling icon did not return to his feet.


Something had gone horrifically awry and the wrestlers in the ring realised this immediately as the match was called to an instant stoppage.


The companies medical team rushed to the fallen Misawa, as wrestlers surrounded his body to close off the view from the crowd. As they attempted to resuscitate Misawa, the fans in the arena chanted his name in a moment which will forever feel ominous and haunting.


It was clear that Misawa had suffered from heart failure and seemingly the medical team’s efforts were in vain, with their best attempts at CPR failing to revive the downed wrestler.


"He looked exhausted and even asked him three times if he felt good. He said yes, he was always a very strong and fierce fighter. Actually, even if he felt bad, I don't think he would have told me. I noticed it suffocated, but I assumed it could be because of the same heat of that day and that more than twenty minutes of fighting had already passed.” Ricky Marvin, who also fought at the event, “It was a very dramatic moment. The truth is the first time I find myself in such a situation. I do not remember very well since everything happened very fast and at the same time very slow. I just remember asking God to keep him alive and not take him yet since it was not in my hands to give him first aid. I couldn't do anything.”

Misawa’s body and face began to turn an alarming purple colour and he was carried off for further attention at a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, though judging by the sad way his limp body was removed from the ring, it is fair to assume he had passed away from his heart failure whilst still laying on the mat.


Hiroshima University Hospital issued this statement later in the evening: “The "emerald warrior" had died from a respiratory arrest generated by so many years of hard battles.”


MAL KING KONG KIRK


A legend of the local British wrestling scene, Mal King Kong Kirk took pride in his ability to use his 350-pound frame and grotesque appearance to scare the little children who dared to attend his matches. A former rugby player and all round powerhouse, it was said by Shirley Big Daddy Crabtree that Mal Kirk processed the strength of three men when he battled in-ring throughout the 70s and 80s.


On August 23rd 1987 at the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth, Kirk faced off against Big Daddy in a classic battle of good versus evil, portrayed by two of the fattest and most reveared wrestlers on the British scene at the time.


As was usually the case in these matches, Kirk had the advantage throughout the match, delivering his slow but powerful offence to the crowd favourite. In order to send fans home happy however, it was decided that Big Daddy would get the eventual comeback within the match and so it played out on that fateful day.


As Big Daddy hauled his enormous body into the air and came crashing down with his patented big splash finisher, it signalled the end of the match. Little did those in attendance realise, it also signalled the end of King Kong Kirk’s life.


The big man never lifted his arm to kick out of the big splash, neither did he move once the final bell had been rung, laying prone in the ring with fans making their way to the exit, imagining that the show had drawn to it’s natural conclusion.


However, a formal inquest showed that Kirk had suffered complications due to a pre-existing heart condition and died in the middle of the ring.


Big Daddy was released of all wrong doing by the same inquest and King Kong’s surviving wife consoled him explaining that she held no ill feeling towards Big Daddy and that nobody should hold him in anyway responsible for the tragedy which occurred.



BRIAN ONG


Brian Ong is a name which almost none of you would have heard of. The reason being that at the time of Ong’s death, he was still only a wrestler in training, learning the ropes at the All Pro Wrestling Boot Camp in 2001.


As is the case with many newcomers to the wrestling business, Brian Ong made an error in judgement whilst practising with several other trainees and suffered a concussion. Something which in hindsight, should have been the point at which he went home, rested and recuperated from what turned out to be a fatal head injury.


Although, Ong was known by his friends at family for his determination and dedication to making his dreams of becoming a pro wrestler a reality. Ong was allowed to continue on with the training session and was said to be particularly excited to be given the opportunity to step between the ropes with some more experienced wrestlers who were working for the CZW promotion at the time.


As the training session rolled on, Dalip Singh Rana, later known as The Great Khali in WWE, became Ongs training partner. The pair began to rehearse a simple flapjack move, where Rana would lift Ong above his head and drop him face first towards the mat.

However, due to his lack of experience and perhaps nerves of being held so high into the air, as Rana released him, Ong awkwardly clung onto Singh’s clothing, causing him to land at a terrible angle, crashing down onto his neck and head. Something which the following legal case said was a decision made because of the concussion Ong had suffered previously that day.


Ong’s dramatic decsent caused irrepearable damage to his brain and spine, which doctors tired to treat at a local hospital, to no avail, with Ong sadly passing away a few days later.


The whole incident was unprofessional and could have easily been avoided if APW and the more experienced team training Ong had taken proper action when he received his concussion. The whole case was taken to court by Ong’s family who were awarded a $1.5 million settlement from All Pro Wrestling who bore the entire blame for the accident.


MATT "RIOT" LOWRY



Another name from this list who you probably haven’t heard of is Matt Riot Lowry. Like Brian Ong, Lowry was a young up and comer who hadn’t had a chance to make a name for himself in the wrestling business before his untimely demise.


During what could be considered a completely routine training session Matt Lowry was doing what almost all new wrestling trainees would do on his first steps to wrestling infamy, learning how to fall to the mat correctly.


Taking a bump as it’s known in the industry, although painful with a good chance to knock the wind out of you, is something that these performers achieve thousands of times throughout their training, usually with little more consequence than a bruised back and soreness.


However, during said training session on September 15th 2009, Matt Lowry became extremely dizzy and confused, falling to his knees before eventually passing out. Some speculated that it was due to dehydration or general exhaustion.


Seeing that something was clearly wrong, the wrestlers and trainers called an ambulance and Lowry was taken to a local hospital in Ohio where he sadly never recovered.


The 21-year-old died due to what was discovered to be a deadly brain haemorrhage and his wrestling career and life ended before it even got a chance to get going.



PLUM MARIKO



In a match where Plum Mariko teamed with Commando Bolshoi to fight against Mayami Ozaki and Rieko Amano the four women used their expert grappling skills to kick the ever-living shit out of one another.


Forget Divas prancing around in WWF in 1997, their Japanese women’s wrestling counterparts were as tough as the men, and equally as skilled.


When Mariko was on the receiving end of a viciously delivered Ligerbomb from her opponent Mayami Ozaki, she hit her head on the landing and was rendered completely unconscious.


The remaining three wrestlers in the match continued the bout, and swiftly moved to draw the contest to a conclusion. By which time, Mariko had still not shown any signs of recovery, her breathing drawing louder and louder, which is a recognised sign of serious brain trauma and even internal bleeding from the skull.


The medical team in attendance clambered to deliver Mariko to a local medical facility where she underwent immediate surgery to her head where the doctors found a pre-existing abscess on her brain as well as internal bleeding.


They were unable to save the 29-year-old Mariko, who became the first ever wrestler to die in the ring in Japan and put out a statement explaining that the young wrestling star should never have been allowed to fight in her condition, imploring other wrestlers in Japan to get checked by a professional in order to prevent such a horrific, yet avoidable death.


Emiko Kado



2 years later in Japan, on March 31st, 1999, an up and coming Japanese wrestling trainee Emiko Kado got the chance of a lifetime, teaming up with Michiko Omukai to face off against the pairing of Mariko Yoshida and Mikiho Futagami and the legendary wrestling venue Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. A feat which considering she had only had 14 matches in her short career, all of which saw her suffering defeat, showed the potential which others must have seen in the young Emiko Kado.


During the match Kado was on the receiving end of a brutal headshot, which saw her falling to the mat in clear distress.


She was taken to hospital shortly after where the Japanese doctors did their best to save the 23-year-old Kado, however she had suffered an acute sprained membrane in her brain and died less than 2 weeks later due to a large amount of bleeding on her brain.


DAN "SPIDER" QUIRK



Every name on this list tells a sad story of tragedy and loss. However, when someone the likes of Dan Spider Quirk passes away, it leaves a hole in the hearts of those who knew him, that will never truly be filled.


Dan Quirk, by all accounts was a great guy to know.


A young wrestler with a bright future, who seemingly nobody in the industry had a single negative word to say about.


Up until his passing, Quirk worked for several smaller indie promotions, most notably Coastal Championship Wrestling where he was always ready to lend a hand in anyway needed backstage and was even responsible for running the companies website.

During a match for Universal Championship Wrestling is Massachusetts, on May 28th 2005, Dan Quirk attempted a moonsault which went about as wrong as it is possible for a move to go. He span out of control and landed outside of the ring, on the hard flooring head first.


The 22 year old suffered several serious injuries and died almost immediately.

The sad event caused huge sadness around the wrestling world and those who knew him best put on a show in his honour in the months that followed. At WrestleJam 2 the CCW company brought all of it’s wrestlers to ringside to honour the short yet impactful life of Dan Quirk, showing a highlight reel of his matches and doing their best to put on an event which did justice to such a well-respected and much beloved young wrestler.



LETHAL LARRY CAMERON



After making the transition from the Canadian Football League, to pro wrestling in the late 80s and early 90s, Lethal Larry Cameron begun to pick up speed as he earned notoriety as a supreme athlete inside of the ring, both in North America and Europe.


By 1993, Larry had made several appearances with World Championship Wrestling before focusing his wrestling attention to Germany where he had his most successful run. During a match against Tony St. Clair in Bremen, Larry Cameron was struck with a large heart attack which killed him almost instantly.


The referees and medical staff on call tried their best as they rushed to Larry’s aid, but nothing could be done to save him from a fate, seen far too often for wrestlers in the 90s. Larry Cameron was declared dead at the age of 41.


ORO


In pro wrestling, there are many moves which are designed to make it appear as if the performers have legitimately caused serious injury to one another. This can lead to more fan support for the supposed injured wrestler, as they fight through the pain on their way to capture victory.


However, after only 3 years as a professional wrestler, Jesús Javier Hernández Silva was still learning the ropes when he began to attempt these kinds of stunts in his matches. Known by his in-ring name of Oro, Silva was the son of a luchador, who seemingly had wrestling in his DNA.


In 1993 Oro performed a move in which he was supposed to appear to the crowd as if he had injured his neck, but cruel irony struck as during the performance, he landed awkwardly and in fact severely injured himself, collapsing in the ring.


It was clear something was wrong as wrestlers and medical staff attempted to help Oro towards an ambulance. The young wrestler dying of what is believed to be an aneurysm, before he could receive any medical help.


MOONDOG SPOT LARRY BOOKER




On a show laid out to pay tribute to Jerry The King Lawler on his birthday. During a match known as a concession stand brawl, on November 29th 2003 tragedy struck.

The Memphis fans at the Mid-South Coliseum went from jubilant, to confused to horrified as former WWWF Tag Team Champion Moondog Spot slumped down against the ropes and appeared to be injured.


He sat there clutching his chest before falling onto his back. This was clearly not a scripted part of the match and the medics in attendance quickly realised something was seriously wrong, making their way into the ring to provide CPR to the man whose real name was Larry Booker.


With evidence that he was suffering from a heart attack, CPR was administered before an ambulance took him to the local hospital, were only moments later Larry Booker was pronounced dead from a heart attack. Doctors said that the incident may have been brought on by the wrestlers diabetes, which caused his heart to fail under the stress of his last ever wrestling performance.


The Black Baron (Kevin Cawley)


A name which many American wrestling fans may not be familiar with, but those who enjoyed British wrestling in the 80s and early 90s will remember is The Black Baron. A hooded figure which concealed the identity of real life Kevin Cawley another sad name on our list.


During a battle royal in London the hooded wrestler slumped against the turnbuckle after suffering a lethal heart attack. The small crowd inside of the Lewisham Theatre had attended in the hopes of seeing the roster of All Star Wrestling put on an entertaining show. But were left instead with the haunting vision of this dark and ominous character in a black hood, his life fading away from him infront of their eyes.


The match continued on as the company attempted to distract the fans, but it was clear that The Black Baron was in serious trouble as he was helped to a backstage area where he died.


He was only 46 years old at the time.


Gary Albright


After being trained by Lou Thesz and Billy Robinson, Gary Albright and his enormous stature looked set to alight the wrestling landscape.


Through his travels in the United States and across Japan, Albright quickly gained a reputation which had fans and wrestling critics alike lauding his potential. However, all of that was soon to come to a crashing halt. During a match on 7th January 2000, he fell down in the ring after receiving an Ace Cutter from his opponent Lucifer Grimm.


The crowd in Pennsylvania were shocked to see the big man stay down and he was quickly pinned by his opponent. The story goes that Gary Albright was booked to win the match, but realising something had gone wrong, Lucifer pinned him to end the match so that he could immediately receive medical attention, which he did. Although this sadly had little effect.


Albright died in the ring before he could be examined by a doctor, the cause, a massive heart attack said to be from an enlarged heart and coronary blockages due to his enormous weight. The man with all the potential in the world died at the young age of 36.


Alberto Torres


One part of The Torres Brothers team, Alberto Torres was paired with Cowboy Bob Ellis and were facing off against Ox Baker and The Claw in June of 1971.


In Omaha Nebraska after receiving a punch to the chest from Baker, Torres screeched out in agony and slumped to the mat. His pancreas had ruptured and left him in need of immediate medical attention.


Promoters in pro wrestling will often times do anything to sell more tickets. And the promoter in charge of this match , Joe Dusek was no different. So, the story quickly became how Ox Baker’s finishing move, the heart punch had ended the career of Alberto Torres and that fans should pay to see who his next victim would be.


However, this is before only three days later, Torres’ life would be ended prematurely due to the organ failure he suffered in the ring.


RICHARD DELICIOUS WAYNE VAN DYKE


Richard Delicious, real name Wayne Van Dyke died at the terribly young age of just 29 in a horrifying manner. Whilst fighting on the Florida independent wrestling scene, during a tag team bout he began to complain to his tag mate that he was feeling rough, and quickly tagged himself out of the match.


Van Dyke felt pain in his chest and arm and collapsed to the ground, it was clear for all to see that he had suffered from a heart attack. The medical team and wrestlers surrounded the fallen Van Dyke, frantically delivering CPR in hopes of avoiding the worst. However, the CPR was delivered with such force that it broke Van Dyke’s ribs and punctured his lung.


Managers from the Ronin Pro Wrestling company decided that the medical team and first aid crew wouldn’t be enough to save Van Dyke so transported him to a hospital. Whilst in transit however, he suffered a second, larger heart attack as everyone began to panic.


By the time they arrived at the medical facility, Van Dyke was showing no signs of recovery and doctors put him into a medically induced coma, where he remained until his death shortly after.



PRINCIPE AEREO



In the Arena San Juan Pantitlan in Mexico City, tragedy struck in 2020 when the Aerial Prince, or Principe Aereo a 26 year old up and coming luchadore was overcome in the ring, when he suffered a ruptured middle cerebral artery, dropping him to the mat in front of the onlooking crowd.


During a match against rival Redmindo, Principe Aereo fell to the canvas after sustaining a number of hard chops across his torso.


After the man under the mask, Luis Angel Salazar collapsed, his fellow wrestlers quickly realised the magnitude of the situation and frantically called for assistance from the medical team in the arena.


Almost everyone present tried valiantly to give the aid to the fallen wrestler which was required, except for when a communication error occurred and another wrestler believed the stunt to be a part of the show, continuing to attack the others before quickly realising the realitity of what was unfolding before them.


Ricardo Rodriguez, prominent lucha libre commentator said of the incident; “We always risk our lives when we go in the ring. We throw a coin into the air. Sadly a young man has lost his life. I didn’t know him personally but I know he was very well thought of. Rest in peace Principe Aereo.”

With Rey Mysterio also sending out condolences at the time; "My sincere condolences to the family of Luis Ángel Salazar. I ask God our Lord to give you the strength to heal this great loss and to have our brother Principe Aereo in his glory"

What makes this tragedy even more sad, is that Principe Aereo’s mother and girlfriend were in the crowd that night to witness the whole ordeal, accompanying him to the medical facility across the road from the arena where he died from a brain aneurysm.


ERIC DENIS



Unlike the aforementioned performers, Eric Denis was a Canadian wrestler who had plied his trade around the grappling world for more than 2 decades before his death. An in-ring veteran, the 40 year old was a picture of fitness and health, using great shape and conditioning to full effect in his matches.


In October of 2017 however, during a charity event hosted by Insane Championship Wrestling, Denis’ heart gave out, leading him to suffer a fatal heart-attack.


As part of a 24 hour long tournament, part of the annual ICW wrestling charity event, Eric Denis was facing off against Bulldozer


He had given up his free time to take part in an event which sought to raise money for those less fortunate than himself and even though he showed no signs of health issues before the match, was struck suddenly and rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead, leaving behind a wife and 6 children one of which, his eldest 14 year old son, was present at the time of the horrific incident.


"Before our game, Eric told me he had a headache, pain everywhere," says Guy Gagné. I gave him two Tylenols. It was later found that he had told his wife before leaving that he was not doing very well. She had suggested that he stay at home. Despite everything, we had a super good game. When he covered me for the fall, he thanked me, a mark of respect that some have towards the person who puts them over. When he left, he had no pulse," confirms Gagné. “I was angry because in my job I have already revived strangers and there I was not able to save the life of a chum. We fought to resuscitate him, but as they say in my job, it's the guy at the top who decides.”

Nick Gage


In recent times, you may have learnt of Nick Gage’s existence, from his appearance on All Elite Wrestling’s Dynamite show, where he faced off against Chris Jericho, in what is possibly the goriest and most hardcore match ever seen on live television.


Where the pair brought a taste of the ultra-violent to mainstream audiences, through their use of exploding light tubes and a well-times slice from a pizza cutter, which coincidentally lined up with a picture in picture advertisement for Dominos. The match was much applauded for it’s risk taking and desire to push the boundaries of aggression within AEW, both men left battered, bruised and soaked in blood.


Long term fans of Gage wouldn’t have been shocked however, as the god of ultra-violence has been carving up his and his opponents’ bodies, in some of the most stomach churning and exhilarating hardcore style bouts in the history of wrestling, for decades, on local Indy shows and most notably Combat Zone Wrestling.


This leads us to a match in 2018, which has been described by fans in attendance as a “real-life horror show”. In Delaware, in the finals of the aptly named Tournament Of Death 6, Nick Gage had made it to the finals, and faced off against Thumbtack Jack in a ring, surrounded on all sides with barbed wire and skin splitting lights.


The fans at the show were baying for blood, cheering on their favourite gladiator in this arena of sadism and gratuitous violence. However, they are fans after all, and even with the tantalising title Death Match, nobody in the crowd literally wants to see their beloved performers meet a grizzly end.


So, when Nick Gage was thrown through a wall of light tubes, after the initial roar of the crowd, an unusual and unfamiliar concern fell over those who surrounded the ring.

The glass from several of the glass tubes had formed a razor like edge and cut through Gage’s flesh. He had severed an artery on the back of his arm during the stunt and blood was squirting through the air like a scene from Kill Bill.


The adrenaline rushing through his body implored Gage to continue, he staggered around before eventually laying on the ground for long enough for the medical aid on hand to attempt to analyse his injury and stop the blood flow.


However, due to the amount of blood Gage had already lost, he began to flick in and out of consciousness, all the while still remaining adamant that he was well enough to continue in the match. He was not.


An air ambulance took him to a local medical facility as fast as possible, but in the meantime, so much blood had been lost from Gage’s arm that he fell completely unconscious, with the emergency team in the helicopter attempting to resuscitate him, but failing.


Nick Gage was pronounced dead in the helicopter before they could arrive at the hospital.


But that’s not where the story ends. Being the baddest of bad motherfuckers, and with the expert attention of doctors at the hospital, after being pronounced dead for 8 minutes. Nick Gage was revived and lived to fight another day. Something which he did, just 7 days later when he fought in his next big match.


Call it reckless, call it toxic masculine ego or sheer determination to entertain hardcore wrestling fans. As the old saying goes, if you want to be dumb, you’ve got to be tough.


“I died in this helicopter I was gone for 8 minutes didn’t feel or see anything it was fade to black type shit I know when I die 4 good there’s nothing waiting for me so I’m going 200% until this shits over could be 5 days or 5 years”

"It was the finals and he went to throw me through the (light) tubes and I land through them. One stood up and jabbed into my armpit. You have major arteries in your armpit. It's dangerous there. That's why guys in prison like to shank in the armpit and that area. I sliced two arteries and was bleeding buckets, bleeding to death. Thank God I didn't puncture a main artery or we wouldn't be doing this interview. It's part of the gig. It's part of deathmatch wrestling, that's why (it's called) deathmatch wrestling. Anything can happen. That's why I loved that shit. I told them to tape it up. I knew the nurse very well, she's been doing CZW from day one. I called her a bitch and I feel bad, but at the time, I was fired up. She wasn't listening to me, and I just wanted her to tape it up. Thankfully she didn't listen to me or I'd be dead," he said.



There is no use in what-ifs when it comes to a subject as sensitive and deeply harrowing as the death of a professional wrestler. And nothing will change the amount of heartache and agony which the friends and loved-ones of these athletes who have made the ultimate sacrifice must have gone through.


However, their deaths have pushed the entire industry to be more aware of the signs of these injuries and changed the way in which wrestlers view concussions and early tell-tale signs of damage.


The amount of heart attacks and brain injuries on this list is staggering.


A real concern to all athletes in the modern day, science and medicine has led us to a point where doctors are able to identify the early warning signs of these often-fatal conditions and performers often have enough time to rectify the issue before the worst can occur.


Modern day WWE has strict guidelines in place which side-line anyone who has suffered from even a minor concussion, which in the long run means that less athletes will fall prey to this reoccurring nightmare.


And as the current industry leader in regard to medical treatment and healthcare, I would hope that the wrestling business will never go back to a time where a wrestler is forced to perform injured, only to later go on to incur a much more serious fate.


Every single wrestler on this list died doing what they love. They were pushing their bodies further than most can imagine, through brutal training regimes and hard stretches travelling from show to show. So, in my opinion, the very least we can do is remember the sacrifice which these men and women unwittingly made and hold up their legacy as we remember their names.


For a video on this topic: 15 Wrestlers Who Died In The Ring (Documentary) - YouTube