WWE's Top 25 Gutsiest Performances of All Time
From wrestling against a childhood idol to being speared through a table lit on fire, every professional wrestler has a career-defining moment.
Whether its finishing matches through injuries, taking insane bumps or partaking in dangerous matches, the professional wrestlers on this list gave us everything they had for the sole purpose of entertainment.
These slides are in no particular order.
Enjoy the WWE's Top 25 Gutsiest Performances of All Time.
Triple H: Raw 5/21/2001
During a tag team match on Raw, Triple H went inside the ring to save his partner. Somehow, "The Game" planted his foot in an awkward position, which resulted in him tearing the quadriceps in his left leg.
Game over, right? Wrong!
Seconds after the injury, Triple H was back on his feet and determined to finish the match.
A normal man wouldn't have even stood up after suffering a severe injury like that, let alone be put in the Walls of Jericho.
Triple H earned a lot of respect from the WWE roster and the WWE Universe when he managed to finish the match with virtually one leg.
The amount of pain he was in must have been unbearable.
Hardy Boyz/Dudley Boyz/Edge and Christian: SummerSlam 2000
Nobody knew what to expect when Mick Foley booked the first ever TLC match at SummerSlam 2000.
Three young tag teams—the Hardy Boyz, the Dudley Boyz and Edge and Christian—put their bodies on the line and had one of the most entertaining matches in professional wrestling history.
Nowadays, TLC matches are more common, but back in 2000, the use of tables, ladders and chairs in one match was something that nobody had ever seen before.
There is no doubt that the things they did in that ring took an incredible amount of guts and passion. It is truly astonishing as to how far these Superstars went in order to entertain the fans.
All three teams endured an unimaginable amount of pain and set the bar for all TLC matches in the future.
Hardy Boyz/Dudley Boyz/Edge and Christian: WrestleMania 17
What's better than a TLC match at SummerSlam?
A TLC match at WrestleMania!
Wrestling fans around the world were still picking up their jaws off the floor after witnessing the first TLC match. They demanded to see another and the WWE obliged.
TLC II at WrestleMania 17 (2001) delivered even more bumps and bruises than the first.
In 2001, TLC II won the Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) Match of the Year award.
It took guts for these three teams to have the exact same match no more than than a year after the first.
We've seen other TLC matches over the years, but the quality hasn't lived up to the high expectations set by the Hardy Boyz, Dudley Boyz and Edge and Christian.
Matt Hardy vs. Edge Feud
Matt Hardy didn't have just one gutsy moment or match—he had an entire feud.
The rivalry he had with Edge in 2005 must have been one of the hardest things he's ever had to do.
In reality and on WWE TV, Hardy was dating a Diva named Lita. They quickly fell in love. Matt and Lita were going strong until Hardy suffered an injury.
While Matt was sitting on the sidelines recovering from his injury, Lita cheated on Matt and fell in love with Edge.
Obviously, Matt was very upset with Lita. Matt proceeded to post the disheartening news on the Internet for everyone to see. Within a matter of minutes, Edge became one of the biggest heels in the business.
The WWE took advantage of the real life love triangle and put it on television for everyone to see.
The Matt Hardy vs. Edge feud was incredible. It was entertaining because it had a sense of realism to it. Sometimes, it was hard to decide whether or not these two Superstars were gifted actors or actually arguing and fighting with one another.
In the end, Edge won the battle and the war. He got the girl and won a bunch of World Championships.
Although Edge reigned supreme, it took a lot of guts for Matt Hardy to go along with this storyline. It must have been hard on Edge and Lita as well, but Matt was the real victim.
Stone Cold Steve Austin: SummerSlam 1997
Stone Cold Steve Austin was commander and chief of the Attitude Era. He led the way as Vince McMahon and the WWE won the ratings war against WCW.
If there was no Stone Cold Steve Austin, would there have been an Attitude Era? Would the WWE have won the ratings war? Would WWE still be around?
At SummerSlam 1997, Stone Cold suffered a broken neck after the late great Owen Hart botched piledriver.
Clearly confused and out of it, Stone Cold somehow found the strength to grab Owen's shorts and rolled him up for the three-count.
Even though the pin looked bad and poorly executed, Austin had the will power and just enough awareness to successfully defend his Intercontinental Championship.
Austin was inches away from being permanently paralyzed.
He got the pin and walked out of the ring to the backstage area.
Mankind: Royal Rumble 1999
The match between Mankind and The Rock at Royal Rumble 1999 was shocking, brutal and, at times, disturbing.
It was an even match until Rock found some handcuffs and proceeded to handcuff Mankind's hands together. Once that happened, the brutality started.
Apparently, Rock was supposed to hit Mankind with a steel chair only a couple of times. Unfortunately for Mankind, things didn't go according to plan.
The Rock grabbed a steel chair and proceeded to hit a handcuffed and defenseless Mankind 11 times in the head.
The chair shots look and sound gruesome.
As you can see from the video above, Mrs. Foley and the couple's children were in disbelief. They could barely watch what the brutal beatdown.
Whether it was guts, or idiocy, Mankind put forth a memorable performance that is still talked about and praised to this day.
Mr. Perfect: SummerSlam 1991
From what I've read and seen, Mr. Perfect vs. Bret Hart stole the show at SummerSlam 1991.
I was able to watch some different clips of the match on other sites; the match was crisp, technical and hard-hitting.
Mr. Perfect was injured in a match a few months before his encounter with the Hitman.
As you watch Mr. Perfect vs. Bret Hart, you'd never guess that Perfect was performing while suffering a serious injury.
The physical pain was surely there, but Mr. Perfect had no intention of showing it. He sold all the moves just like he always does—perfectly.
He wrestled the match with a broken tailbone along with bulged discs in his spine.
Imagine enduring a suplex or a scoop slam with a broken tailbone. Ouch.
It is said that Mr. Perfect wrestled the match because he did not want to wait any longer to put Bret over.
What a guy!
Jeff Hardy: Raw 1/14/2008
Jeff Hardy is an enigma.
Maybe not a "charismatic enigma," but he's certainly an enigma. He is one of the gutsiest daredevils the WWE has ever seen.
This Jeff Hardy highlight happened on an episode of Raw. At the time, he was feuding with the Viper, Randy Orton.
After a nifty reversal, Hardy had Orton laid out in an area outside of the entrance stage. What followed was one of the most memorable scenes to ever take place on Monday Night Raw.
Hardy was about to give Orton a Swanton Bomb off the stage, but he suddenly stopped. He then climbed the titantron rail and gave us his signature "extreme" pose. The crowd was going nuts and were anticipating the 20-foot leap.
Hardy didn't stop there.
He proceeded to climb even higher. At this point, he was about 25-30 feet in the air.
Hardy leaped off the titantron rail and hit Orton with an emphatic Swanton Bomb.
I'm not sure if it was his initial plan to climb that high, but it took a lot of guts to attempt such a daring move.
Everyone has a different opinion as to what the greatest Jeff Hardy spot is. I think this tops them all. Including the spear he received at WrestleMania.
Shane McMahon: King of the Ring 2001
Shane McMahon was not a technical wrestler.
Technically, he wasn't a wrestler at all.
But wow, could he could take a bump or what?!
At King of the Ring 2001, McMahon had his highest-rated singles match against one of the all-time greats, Kurt Angle.
There were many high-risk maneuvers that took place in the match, and the video above shows one of the more infamous ones.
Shane was supposed to receive one belly-to-belly suplex from Angle through a sheet of glass that was set up as part of the King of the Ring stage.
Unfortunately for Shane, the glass didn't break. This resulted in Angle attempting the suplex on more than one occasion.
The first suplex attempt looked the most painful, as we saw Shane land on the top of his head with a thunderous thud.
He suffered a concussion from Angle's failed efforts
Once the match was over, Shane McMahon left the ring, bloodied and beaten, and was given a standing ovation by the loyal WWE fans.
It was a gutsy performance from the non-wrestling, millionaire playboy.
Kurt Angle: King of the Ring 2001
After watching their brawl at King of the Ring 2001, you wouldn't expect Kurt Angle to have a more severe injury than Shane McMahon.
Early on in the match, Shane and Angle made their way to the outside of the ring. Shane gave Angle a suplex on the unexposed floor which resulted in Angle breaking his tailbone.
Up until a few days ago, I knew Shane suffered a concussion during the match, but I had no idea Angle was performing with such a painful injury.
Not only are you slammed on your back/rear end all the time by your opponent, but a lot of the moves in Angle's repertoire are suplexes—moves that cause him to land on his back and tailbone area.
Angle persevered through the match and made Shane look like a top-notch star.
While Shane gets most of the praise for taking a lot of big bumps in the match, Angle deserves to be recognized as well.
Lita: New Year's Revolution 2005
Lita and Trish are two of the most popular, talented and entertaining Divas to ever compete in the WWE.
At the New Year's Revolution pay-per-view in 2005, Lita defended her Woman's Championship Belt against Trish Stratus, who was a heel at the time.
About halfway through the match, Lita executed a Lou Thesz Press on Trish from the apron out onto the floor. She landed awkwardly, buckled her knee and tore her ACL.
From what I've heard, a torn ACL is one of the most painful injuries an athlete can suffer. And from Lita's reaction and body language, she was finished.
What a great effort by Lita to continue through the match. She could have had Trish hit her finisher seconds after the injury, but she persevered and wanted to continue performing for the fans.
Despite losing the match, we must show Lita a great deal of respect for continuing through the pain and giving it her best effort.
Shawn Michaels: WrestleMania 14
Shawn Michaels vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14 is one of my favorite matches of all time.
Austin's victory over the WWE's No. 1 superstar signified the beginning of the Attitude Era. Unfortunately, this was Michaels' last match before his first retirement.
Two months prior to his epic match with Stone Cold, Michaels was injured in a Casket match against The Undertaker at Royal Rumble 1998.
During the match, Taker gave Michaels a back-body drop to the outside of the ring. On his way down, Michaels smashed his lower back into the side of the casket. This resulted in two herniated discs as well as a disc being completely crushed.
At WrestleMania 14, Michaels put on a 5-star match (in my opinion), despite his lingering back injuries.
Shortly after his match with Austin. Michaels needed time to heal his injuries. He was forced to retire but came back in 2002.
Michaels didn't wrestle from 1998-2002. He made appearances on Raw as a guest commentator and even became the commissioner at one time.
It's performances like WrestleMania 14 that makes Shawn Michaels one of the greatest performers in professional wrestling history.
Mankind: King of the Ring 1998
Mankind vs. The Undertaker at King of the Ring 1998 is one of the most famous WWE Hell in a Cell matches.
If you have one of those friends who says, "Wrestling is fake," or, "They know how to fall," just show them the video above. I'm curious as to what they would say.
Hands down, this match solidified Mankind/Mick Foley as one of the gutsiest professional wrestlers ever. You won't see another spot like this on WWE TV ever again.
Undertaker threw Mankind from the top of the cell through the Spanish announce table. Somehow, Mankind recovered from the nasty fall and proceeded to climb the cage once more.
Once he reached the top, Mankind suffered another dangerous fall. This time, the spot didn't go as planned.
Undertaker gave Mankind a Chokeslam on top of the cell. Part of the cell broke, and in a matter of seconds, he was laid out in the ring.
After receiving medical assistance, Mankind was back on his feet and finished the match.
Mankind suffered one-and-a-half missing teeth, 14 stitches below his lip, a concussion, a dislocated jaw, a bruised kidney and a dislocated shoulder.
I remind you, this was a wrestling match, not a car crash.
In an interview on Off the Record, Undertaker said that "time stood still" when he saw Mankind crash through the announce table. It was an eerie moment.
Fun fact: Apparently, Undertaker wrestled this match with a broken foot.
Daniel Puder: SmackDown 11/4/2004
For those of you who don't remember, Daniel Puder was the season four winner of WWE's reality television show, Tough Enough.
During an unscripted segment on SmackDown, Kurt Angle issued an open amateur wrestling challenge to any of the Tough Enough finalists.
As most of you know, Kurt Angle won an amateur wrestling gold medal (with a broken freaking neck) at the 1996 Olympic Games.
Daniel Puder accepted the challenge and got in the ring with Angle (see match above).
What happened next is best described by PWI's Dave Meltzer:
It was real. If you don't follow fighting, Puder had Angle locked in the Kimura, or keylock as Tazz called it, although Tazz didn't let on the move was fully executed. Not only was Angle not getting out of the move, but most MMA fighters would have tapped already. Angle couldn't tap for obvious reasons. The ref counted a three even though Puder's shoulders weren't fully down, trying to end the thing, because the reality was Angle would have been in surgery had it gone a few seconds longer or had Puder not given up the hold.
Puder said that if the referee didn't stop the match, he would have broken Angle's arm on live television.
Even though I don't agree with Daniel Puder's actions, it took a lot of guts to step in the ring and show up an Olympic gold medalist and one of WWE's most popular superstars.
John Cena: Raw 10/1/2007
Yes folks, John Cena is human.
During a match with Mr. Kennedy on Raw, John Cena suffered a torn pectoral muscle. It's a strange injury to watch because it happened out of nowhere.
Cena wrestled with the painful injury for a lengthy period of time.
At the 6:50 mark in the video above, you can see Cena struggling to put the STF on his opponent. He couldn't even wrap his arms around Kennedy's neck.
Thankfully, Kennedy tapped out in a couple of seconds.
To make things worse, Cena received even more punishment once the match was over.
I don't think Orton knew Cena suffered the injury before hitting him with the first RKO. The referee obviously told Orton what was going on, but Orton continued the beating.
I'm sure Orton would have been fine leaving Cena after that first RKO, but it seems like Cena gave the referee the OK to tell Orton to do more damage.
Despite having a horrible day, John Cena put on a memorable and gutsy performance.
Kurt Angle: WrestleMania 19
If Kurt Angle was Superman, broken necks would be his kryptonite.
About a month before WrestleMania 19, Kurt Angle found out that his neck was broken. He was informed that he needed surgery to repair his neck and therefore would not be able to compete for over a year.
Angle wasn't too fond of that idea.
He sucked it up and defended his WWE Championship in a memorable match against the "Next Big Thing" Brock Lesnar.
WrestleMania 19 got incredible reviews. In fact, a few critics rated Angle vs. Lesnar higher than The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin. That itself is a crowning achievement.
Angle wrestled the biggest match of his career with a broken neck and didn't miss a beat.
Brock Lesnar: WrestleMania 19
Kurt Angle wasn't the only one who had a gutsy performance at WrestleMania 19. His opponent, Brock Lesnar, did too.
Brock Lesnar defeated Kurt Angle and won the WWE Championship in his very first WrestleMania match.
This was the biggest match of Brock Lesnar's young and promising career.
Toward the end of the grueling match, Lesnar climbed the turnbuckle and attempted a Shooting Star Press (jumping back flip).
Lesnar missed his mark and landed square on his neck.
He was suffering from concussion-like symptoms after the failed Shooting Star Press, but Angle was there to help guide him to victory.
Once Angle and Lesnar got off the mat, Lesnar hit a devastating F-5 and picked up the win.
I honestly think if Lesnar didn't have such big neck muscles, he'd either be dead or paralyzed.
It looked like a fatal botch.
Once it was all over, Lesnar and Angle acknowledged each other in the ring and hugged it out.
It was an incredible match that saw both superstars barely walk out alive.
Edge: WrestleMania 22
Edge vs. Mick Foley at WrestleMania 22 was shocking, but in a good way.
Mick Foley is known for doing these types of hardcore matches. Edge is not.
Considering his success in TLC and ladder matches, I always knew that Edge took risks and did some extreme things, but nothing could prepare Edge for a match like this.
Edge's body had never taken a beating like it did at WrestleMania 22, and for that, he deserves to be on this list.
It took guts for Edge to go along with a match like this, and to really appreciate his performance, I suggest you watch the entire match from start to finish.
Edge walked away from his WrestleMania victory with a face full of blood, and a back full of thumbtacks.
Mick Foley: WrestleMania 22
Like Edge, Mick Foley also gave a gutsy performance at WrestleMania 22.
Leading up to the big event, Foley kept saying that he wanted to have a WrestleMania moment. A moment that would define his legacy.
Fortunately for Mick, he got that moment.
Toward the end of the match, Foley was on the apron on the outside of the ring. He was tired, hurt and beaten.
Directly behind him, Lita set up a table and lit it on fire. Edge went through the ropes and gave Foley a spear through the flaming table.
Once the move was complete, the crowd went nuts.
Joey Styles called the match, and his memorable "oh my God" statement made the moment even more special.
Mick Foley has been in a lot of hardcore matches over the years, but this particular one took place at WrestleMania. Plus, he went through a table that was set on fire.
Mick Foley and Edge stole the show.
Beth Phoenix: Raw 6/5/2006
Before she left, Beth Phoenix was one of the toughest, most dominant Divas to ever compete in the WWE.
Beth showed her toughness after finishing a tag team match with a broken jaw. I'm not positive when the injury happened, but you cam see Beth nursing her jaw once the match was over.
It doesn't even look like she was injured during the match. She played it off as if nothing happened, which is an impressive accomplishment considering her jaw was broken.
The match didn't last very long, so maybe you guys can help me out? I think the injury happened around the 3:15 mark. I thought I heard a pop.
When do you think the injury happened?
Shawn Michaels: WrestleMania 24
Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair at WresleMania 24 was inspiring, brilliant and epic.
This would be Flair's last competitive wrestling match in the WWE.
After suffering a broken rib (video above), Michaels continued to wrestle at an insanely high level for another 15 minutes.
I've never broken any ribs, but I heard it's a very painful experience and makes it difficult to breathe.
However, I have a feeling that the broken rib wasn't the most painful thing on Michaels' mind.
Growing up, Michaels idolized Flair.
It took a lot of guts for Michaels to end his hero's career, and no matter how badly he didn't want to, it needed to be done.
Like I said, the Heartbreak Kid's broken rib isn't that big of a deal, but retiring Ric Flair at WrestleMania is.
Michaels and Flair put on a performance worthy of winning PWI's Match of the Year award.
Shane McMahon: Backlash 2001
In my opinion, Shane McMahon was an underrated performer. He wasn't a wrestler, but he loved to take high risks and entertain the audience.
That's exactly what he did at Backlash 2001.
At Backlash, we saw Shane go one on one with the Big Show. Without a doubt, Shane was the underdog in the match. Basically, he was the underdog in every match.
Toward the end of the match, Shane climbed to the top of the titantron. When he was done climbing, he was about 50 feet in the air.
Directly below him was the Big Show, who was sprawled out near the entrance ramp.
Shane did the unimaginable and leaped off the titantron and gave Big Show a hellish elbow drop.
Shane got the upset victory and cemented his place as one of the WWE's top daredevils.
Randy Orton: Backlash 2004
In 2004, Randy Orton was the Intercontinental champion and was one of the hottest up-and-coming stars in the WWE. He was the self-proclaimed "Legend Killer."
Orton challenged Mick Foley, who is a hardcore legend, to a match. Foley didn't want just any ordinary match, he wanted a hardcore match for Randy's Intercontinental title.
Orton was hesitant, but he agreed for the match to happen at Backlash 2004.
After an extremely bloody match—filled with thumbtacks and barbed wire—Orton managed to execute the RKO and picked up the victory.
It was a big win for Orton considering it came so early in his career.
Despite losing the match, Mick Foley taught Randy Orton a lesson at Backlash 2004: Foley taught Orton how to be hardcore.
It took an incredible amount of guts for Randy Orton to square off with Mick Foley in a hardcore match.
Vince McMahon: WrestleMania 22
Vince McMahon vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 22 won the PWI Match of the Year award.
Yes, I know. Vince McMahon is responsible for having the best match of 2006. Oh, and Shawn Michaels is no scrub, either.
Like his son, Shane, Vince is not a wrestler.
He's a millionaire, possibly a billionaire, who owns the WWE. Vince doesn't need to get beat up in the ring, but he still does it anyway. He has a passion for the business like nobody else.
I have Vince McMahon on this list because, in my opinion, it took a lot of guts to get beat up as badly as he did.
Vince has been in a lot of other matches, but this is by far the most entertaining.
For those of you who don't remember, Zach Gowen is the one-legged wrestler who competed against guys like Brock Lesnar and the Big Show.
Zach Gowen was diagnosed with cancer at eight years old and as a result, he lost his left leg due to an amputation.
He has been a wrestling fan all his life and having one leg never stopped him from achieving his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.
Despite his very brief stint in the WWE, he had a memorable match with Brock Lesnar.
Lesnar dominated Gowen from start to finish, but Gowen never gave up. He kept fighting and put on an entertaining match against the top heel in the WWE.
I couldn't find highlights of his match with Brock Lesnar, but I came across this tribute video that shows off his wrestling skills.
This concludes the WWE's Top 25 Gutsiest Performances of All Time. Was there anything I missed? Which performances should have made the list? Leave me some suggestions in the comments box!
Adrian Fylonenko is an aspiring writer who plans to major in journalism. His interests include writing and debating about all things wrestling. Bleacher Report has given him the opportunity to improve and perfect his craft. Adrian is active on social media and if you have any questions or suggestions, you can do so on Twitter and Facebook. Word on the street is if you follow him, he will follow back.
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