When Braun Strowman — undeniably the best thing about WWE Raw right now, and the man poised to be Brock Lesnar’s next challenger for the Universal Championship — went down with an elbow injury, it was a bummer. When WWE later announced that Strowman could be out for up to six months, it was nearly upgraded to a tragedy.
But Strowman’s injury is just the latest in a slew of them over the past three years or so that have affected high-profile Superstars, and have always seemed to arrive at the worst possible time. In case you needed a horrible reminder (we know you didn’t; we’re so sorry), here is a roundup of all of the most poorly-timed injuries since WrestleMania XXX.
(Please note that this is far, far, far from ALL of the injuries to happen in WWE in that time, nor is it a recap of the most serious or severe injuries. This is simply a rundown and refresher on the absolute rotten timing that WWE has experienced with its biggest stars suffering injury at the absolute most inopportune time.)
Honorable Mention: Braun Strowman
It’s still far too early, of course, to determine whether this is will end up being one of the most poorly-timed injuries in recent years, but it certainly seems that way at the moment, especially given how Strowman was setting the world on fire and was one of the most purely fun things to happen on Raw in some time.
For now, we’ll try to put a bit of faith in the conflicting reports that Strowman is still only expected to miss 4-8 weeks. And now, on to the rest of the sad, sad, sad list.
The injury so not-nice, it happened to him twice! Rollins was in the thick of his storyline with the Authority when he tore his knee to smithereens in late 2015. The injury kept him out of WrestleMania 32 and pushed his planned blowoff match against Triple H back another year. When he finally came back, WWE inexplicably continued to position him as a heel at first, even though every fan wanted to cheer their guts out for the guy.
When Rollins finally got his momentum back and was barreling headlong into that delayed match against Triple H at this year’s WrestleMania, his knee got re-injured during a storyline Samoa Joe attack. There was legitimate fear and concern that the injury was severe enough to cause him to miss his second straight WrestleMania, but luckily he managed to rehab enough to push through in the weeks between the injury and the show.
Still, what a rough couple of years for Crossfit Jesus. We’re glad all that is behind him now. (Still, double-wrap those knees, buddy.)
HEY SPEAKING OF SETH ROLLINS.
After Sting finally made his several-decades-in-the-making WWE debut (losing to Triple H at WrestleMania 31), he was a challenger for the world title one last time. He main evented Night of Champions in 2015, where he took on Seth Rollins for the WWE Championship. Unfortunately, he suffered a career-ending spinal injury in that match after taking a buckle bomb.
It was maybe the most disheartening way possible for Sting’s wrestling career to come to an end, but both he and Rollins have made peace with it at this point. It’s hard to imagine Sting was going to have a world title run before he finished up his career, but now, of course, we’ll never know.
After years of stop-and-start pushes and storylines for Bray Wyatt, he seemed poised to finally become a truly badass babyface in April of 2016, teaming with Roman Reigns and proving the WWE Universe was desperate to cheer for him. He even fired Roman Reigns as a human bullet. It was one of the coolest endings to Raw in a long time, and everyone got excited and thought, “Hey, maybe WWE is finally on to something with Bray.”
And then the very next day, Bray suffered a calf injury in Italy. He was out of action for several months, and when he returned, it was back to being the same spooky bad-guy leader of the Wyatt Family. Bray would eventually win his first WWE Championship, but then ring maggots happened. And the House of Horrors. And we’re all just over here still wondering what could have been.
When Seth Rollins went down with his first knee injury in November of 2015, there was a significant scramble as WWE tried to figure out how to shuffle everyone one rung up the ladder. Cesaro, possibly the wrestler fans have been clamoring the loudest for to finally make it to the main event for the love of god, was poised to be one of the people to benefit from the sudden gap at the top of the card. He was having spectacular matches every night, and crowds were going bananas for him.
Then he suffered a shoulder injury and was out of action for months. You’re probably already tired of reading that in this column, but we’ve got miles to go before we sleep. When Cesaro finally returned, he floundered for a bit before entering a best-of-infinity series against Sheamus, and then forming a semi-dominant tag team with Sheamus in which he remains to this very day. The dream of the main event for Cesaro as a singles competitor remains just that.
The Demon King and/or leader of the Bálor Club was clearly being groomed for big things, as he experienced one of the most dominant main roster debuts in some time. In his first night on Raw, the former NXT Champion won a Fatal 4-Way AND cleanly defeated Roman Reigns in a singles match. He went on to fight Seth Rollins at SummerSlam for the right to become the first-ever Universal Champion.
Bálor won that match, and the Universal Championship, but tore his arm’s entire everything during a powerbomb into the guardrail by Rollins. His finishing the match was a true feat of strength, especially given he was unable to even hold the belt up after he won it. The next night on Raw, he was forced to relinquish the title, and did not reappear on WWE television until after WrestleMania.
Bálor is now staking his claim to be the next challenger for Brock Lesnar’s title — the title he never lost. Bálor’s injury gave us Kevin Owens’ first world title reign, and Bálor is still being presented as a very big deal and a major player, but the sky was the limit for how things would have played out if he had been able to have an actual title run. Not to mention a WrestleMania match.
Hideo Itami is like the Deep Blue of getting injured right when he exhibits any bit of momentum. His first setback was a severe shoulder injury that kept him out of action for essentially a year, and came right on the heels of Sami Zayn’s own shoulder injury during his (momentary) WWE Raw debut. (Sami didn’t make our list, because he’ll always be Sami Zayn regardless of the timing of his injuries.)
When Itami finally, finally came back to NXT, he was inserted into an immediate feud with Austin Aries, got his Go 2 Sleep finisher back, and was positioned as the Big Damn Deal he was always meant to be. Then he fudged up his neck at an NXT Live Event and was out of action for another half-year. Now Itami is back AGAIN, and is the No. 1 contender for Bobby Roode’s NXT Championship at Saturday’s NXT TakeOver: Chicago. Fingers crossed they pack him in bubble wrap and foam peanuts before and after every show for the rest of his career.
This is the rare case from the past few years where a wrestler became a bigger deal after returning from an injury, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t really bad timing when Neville broke his leg in a match against Chris Jericho less than a month before WrestleMania 32. While Neville was recuperating, the cruiserweight classic and the cruiserweight division happened, and the world’s premier cruiserweight had to watch it all from home.
Of course, now Neville is King of the Cruiserweights and pulling an entire division up to his level, and is still viewed as a possible future main event player.
The tragedy of this injury is directly proportional to how much you like the Revival. We here at With Spandex, of course, are the internet’s leading Revival appreciators, so … you know. The Revival had just come up to Raw, looked dominant for two glorious weeks, “broke Kofi’s ankle” and driven The New Day the heck out of town.
And then Dash Wilder got his jaw broken by a Hideo Itami punch in some sort of Final Destination scenario. Wilder — and the Revival — will be back in a few more weeks, but momentum halted is momentum lost. We hope they continue to be a big deal when they return. God knows they’ll probably look better than The Club no matter what.
For a while there, Barrett was the poster child for unfortunately-timed wrestling injuries. He was rumored to win the Money in the Bank briefcase back at WrestleMania 28, had to vacate the Intercontinental title when he was Bad News Barrett, and as King Barrett, was injured one more time in the injury wasteland of late 2015 right as the League of Nations was founded.
Every time Barrett suffered an injury, he was made just a little less important when he returned. He lost one million non-title matches as Intercontinental Champion, and never quite lived up to the promise he showed as the leader of the Nexus, even though his ability or effort never waned. We miss you, Wade, and we hope for nothing but good things for you.
While Emma wasn’t necessarily in line for anything enormous both times she was injured in the past year, she was absolutely setting the world on fire as Evil Emma and seemingly poised for a Cesaro-like “the sky’s the limit” breakthrough.
Her first injury resulted in her sitting at home for months after being cleared to return, and was followed by the disastrous/infamous “Emmalina” makeover vignettes. When she finally appeared to announce she’d be going back to being Emma (without ever actually being Emmalina), she reminded everyone why she’s the absolute bee’s knees as Evil Emma … right before suffering another injury on WWE’s recent European tour. While we don’t know the extent of that injury, or how long she’ll be out of action, it’s a very unfortunate setback.
Yeah, no matter how popular and successful Bryan managed to get near the end of his run, he’ll always be remembered for getting injured right when he achieved everything. He was injured immediately after winning the world title in the main event of WrestleMania XXX, then was injured immediately after returning and capturing the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 31.
The injuries forced Bryan into retirement, and it was the worst thing ever. Bryan has found a second career as a reality show star and the general manager of Smackdown Live, but he continues to insinuate that he’ll go elsewhere to wrestle if WWE doesn’t clear him at the end of his current contract. It’s hard to say whether that will be a good idea, but from a fan’s viewpoint, it sure doesn’t seem like it.