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Ask 411 Wrestling: Is Undertaker The Only Guy to Never Sell Legit Injuries on TV?

September 9, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Undertaker WrestleMania 33 1

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Dylan wants to ask about wrestlers who stand by their McMahon:

How many wrestlers with a significant career (I’ll leave that definition to your discretion) have never wrestled for any company other than WWE (including their development territories)?

And of them who has had the most successful wrestling career?

The first names that sprung to mind were The Rock and Randy Orton, but I’m not really sure if either will qualify.

Randy Orton did actually have his first couple of matches outside of the WWE system, though they’ve been largely forgotten to time. On March 18 and April 22, 2000, he wrestled on two shows that were co-promoted by the Mid-Missouri Wrestling Alliance and Southern Illinois Championship Wrestling in St. Louis, Missouri. On the March 18 show, he lost to a man named Ace Strange, and on the April 22 show, he got his first career win against a man named Mark Bland. Neither of those men went on to have significant careers anywhere else in professional wrestling.

Whether the Rock never wrestled outside of WWE is more debatable. Many fans will be able to tell you that, before he was a regular competitor on the Fed’s TV, he had a several-month run in Jerry Jarrett’s USWA under the name Flex Kavana. The USWA was not a developmental territory in the vein of OVW or NXT, but the WWF and USWA had a working relationship at the time, and Rocky was definitely a WWF wrestler who was sent to the USWA for the express purpose of getting him some experience before he headed to the big leagues. If you consider that to be “developmental,” then the Rock would be disqualified, but, if you consider it to be a separate promotion, then Rock would almost certainly be the most successful wrestler to never have worked outside of the WWF/WWE, because he’s one of the four or five most successful U.S.-based wrestlers of all time, and the other guys in that category all had runs in other promotions.

One of the first people I thought of in answering this question was Mark Henry, who the WWF signed straight out of his 1996 Olympic run, but it turns out that he falls into the same trap that the Rock does, because he was also shipped down to the USWA for more seasoning during the mid-1990s.

Here are some wrestlers who truly, indisputably never wrestled outside of WWE.

There are actually quite a few on the current roster, in large part because, with the advent of the Performance Center and NXT, WWE is more easily able to pluck an athlete from another sport (or just a dude off the streets) and train him or her to be a wrestler from the ground up. Roman Reigns, Dolph Ziggler, Bray Wyatt, Bo Dallas, Carmella, Mojo Rawley, Dana Brooke, Alexa Bliss, both Authors of Pain, Naomi, Big E Langston, Sonya Deville, Baron Corbin, Mandy Rose, Liv Morgan, Nia Jax, Tucker Knight, Lars Sullivan, Charlotte Flair, Ronda Rousey, Titus O’Neil, Lacey Evans, and Braun Strowman all fit these criteria.

Once you get outside of the current roster, the list of wrestlers who spent their entire career with WWE gets much shorter, particularly when you talk about people who had a career of any substance.

One place where you find the most names who fit our criteria over the last twenty years would be in the women’s division, as WWF/WWE brought in plenty of women who had no prior wrestling experience and had no interest in being wrestlers once they departed the largest company in the world. I’m not going to list all of them, because we could likely be here all day doing that, but the two biggest stars of that lot would be Sable and Trish Stratus, neither of whom ever wrestled outside of a WWE ring.

. . . and, really, that’s everybody who I could find, with one exception that we’ll get to in a minute. It seems that just about everybody either started out someplace else other than WWE or, even if they started with WWE and wrestled with them exclusively until being released, attempted to have at least one post-WWE match, even if it didn’t lead to much afterwards. In all of the names that I searched, there was only one that didn’t fit this pattern, and it’s a name you probably didn’t expect to hear:

Nick Mitchell

That’s right, Nick Mitchell, the first man eliminated from the fourth “season” of Tough Enough (the one that was exclusively on Smackdown), who is best known for being the Spirit Squad’s Mitch . . . a.k.a. the Squad member who was greener than their uniforms, the guy who was almost always going to be on the outside of the ring if they were wrestling in anything smaller than a ten-man tag. For some reason he didn’t continue his sports entertaining career after he was released from the E, but he was also dating Torrie Wilson at the time, so he almost assuredly had better things to do.

Did I miss anyone? Was there a qualifying wrestler other than Mitch? If so, drop their name in the comments.

Live from New York, it’s . . . PAUL:

After attending WrestleMania XI in Hartford I kind of let my fandom drift a bit but I swear I saw this or it was a fever dream: There was program that aired probably 11pm on a Sat night that I swear to God had a wrestling ring on a subway platform or concourse area of the subway system. The Undertaker was riding an escalator down to the ring to face Triple H. What the hell was that? Was it real? Was this a one off show? How did this come about? I think its the only time I saw this, never recall other weird venues like this for a WWE show.

What you managed to catch was Shotgun Saturday Night, an experimental wrestling show of sorts that the WWF started up in 1997. The idea was the program would have a grittier feel, almost influenced by ECW (with better production values), and part of that grittier feel was holding tapings in nightclubs and other venues in New York that had a decidedly pre-Giuliani cleaning up Times Square vibe.

The format of the show lead to some rather memorable moments, including the Undertaker tombstoning Triple H on an escalator (which occurred in NYC’s Penn Station), Ahmed Johnson powerbombing D-Lo Brown on the hood of a car, and Terry Funk cutting a decidedly non-PG promo when the show went on the road to Texas prior to the 1997 Royal Rumble. Unfortunately, WWE was still attempting to work out some of the kinks in their more “adult” programming, so occasionally the company swung and missed, like when they debuted the Headbangers as the Flying Nuns or had Sunny air a sex tape in which she boinked a guy wearing a full-body Elmo costume.

Unfortunately, the original concept behind Shotgun only lasted a month or two, after which the show was transformed into your basic, run of the mill WWF syndicated c-show of the era. According to Jim Cornette in his Kayfabe Commentaries “Timeline: 1997” shoot interview, the change was merely due to Vince McMahon losing interest in the project, though he also mentioned that there were some logistic difficulties in pulling wrestlers off of ongoing house show tours in order to fly them back to NYC for the Shotgun broadcast.

Tyler from Winnipeg is shining a light on a famous shiner:

Why did Hulk Hogan have a legitimate black eye when he defeated Yokozuna at WM for the Eagle Belt?

There is a longstanding rumor that Randy Savage gave him the black eye due to Savage believing that Hogan was engaged in some sort of relationship with Miss Elizabeth. However, even though that has been the longstanding rumor, I have never once seen a credible source confirm that it’s true. The Hulkster’s explanation, which I find more believable even given Hogan’s penchant for stretching the truth, is that he was in a jet-ski accident shortly before the event. The man himself goes into more detail here:

Hogan claims in the interview clip above that, in order to be cleared to work at Wrestlemania IX, he told a physician that the black eye was just makeup that he had applied as part of an angle with the Macho Man. If that’s true, it could explain how some of the rumor regarding Savage’s involvement initially sprung to life.

We’re going all the way back to the first Royal Rumble with AJ:

At Rumble ’88, was the plan always for Jesse Ventura to help Dino Bravo with the final lift? Looks like Jesse saw him struggling and figured he better help. Also, do you think the weight announced was really what was on the bench?

The announced weights were well in excess of what was actually being lifted. The February 1, 1988 edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter covered this in a fair amount of detail. Apparently, the idea behind the segment (which is insufferably boring, by the way) was that Jim Crockett Promotions had announced there was going to be a bench press contest between the Road Warriors and the Powers of Pain on JCP television, and the word going around in the industry was that the Roadies and the POP were going to be using legitimate weights, as all four men could press over 500 pounds and the Warlord could potentially get to 600 under the right circumstances.

Because the WWF wanted to portray itself as being superior in all respects, they booked the Dino Bravo bench press angle using worked weights because they wanted their strong man on television lifting more weight than what the competition’s strong men would be lifting on their own television program. (Though if you watch the tape of the JCP bench press challenge, those weights do appear to be worked as well.)

Was Jesse always supposed to have assisted Dino Bravo with the final lift? That answer appears to have been lost to the ages, but my best educated guess is that, yes, he was. You have to keep in mind that Bravo was a heel, so having him set a world record under his own power wouldn’t make that much sense. Having him *claim* to set the world record when everybody saw that he actually had assistance from another man would result in him getting at least some heat . . . plus Vince McMahon was on commentary immediately putting over the idea that Ventura helped out after the last bench press.

It’s interesting to note that, though Bravo did get help with the “record breaking” lift, he wasn’t assisted on the couple of lifts that he did immediately before it, which were still weights, at least per the announcing, that were heavier than what the Road Warriors or Powers of Pain could likely do legitimately. This way, the WWF gets the best of both worlds. Their guy is still portrayed as being stronger than the competition, but he’s still a heel and cheats at the very end of the contest.

Looking back on this angle now has me excited for all of the weird, petty stuff that Vince McMahon will be doing when and if AEW becomes legitimate competition.

HBK’s Smile is the nameslayer:

Seth Rollins has made it to the top of the wrestling world as WWE Universal Champion and pinning Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. As you probably know, Seth’s real last name is Lopez, an obviously Latino surname. If he had used a Latino surname, would he have been able to portray the exact same character in the exact same manner, or would he have had to make himself more overtly “ethnic”, either due to orders from about or due to internal pressures (or a combination of both)? And do you think that had Seth had chosen to keep Lopez or use a similar Latino surname as his wrestling surname he would have had the same level of success in WWE?

Though Lopez is a name which is commonly associated with the Latinx community in the United States, Seth Rollins is not a Latino man. As he explained to the Chicago Tribune in 2015, he’s Caucasian but adopted the last name of his Mexican stepfather when he was a child, hence Lopez.

As a result, I have a hard time imaging WWE or any other company requiring him to play any sort of “ethnic” character, because, even though wrestling and other entertainment media have done it in the past, these days having somebody portray a character other than one based in the ethnicity that they come from is seen as pretty problematic.

Night Wolf the Wise is giving me some flak:

I was watching the Legends of JBL: Undertaker with Triple H, HBK, and Stone Cold. In the video, they talk about how Undertaker never sold anything ever. Triple H talked about when he first came to the WWE, Undertaker had broken ribs. He talked about how they duck taped a flak jacket to him, and he got into Undertaker mode and went to the ring. Is Undertaker the only wrestler to never sell an injury on T.V.? I know there was the time he wrestled with a mask on because Mabel had broken his eye socket. If Undertaker was injured both times, how would you go about protecting him in matches? I think it would be hard to protect someone who had broken ribs.

There are plenty of wrestlers who have worked through significant injuries while attempting to pretend that nothing was wrong. One of the most significant examples that I can think of offhand is Kurt Angle going into his WWE Championship match with Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XIX with a legitimately broken neck, a fact that many people now overlook because the match became more infamous for Lensar under-rotating on a shooting star press and almost breaking *his* neck in a gruesome spot.

Heck, even though he was the guy talking about the Undertaker never selling injuries, Triple H himself has a pretty strong track record for doing exactly the same thing, as most people reading this will remember him finishing a tag match with Steve Austin against Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho on May 21, 2001 despite tearing his quad. Just last year, he had a very similar incident when he tore his pectoral muscle while teaming with Shawn Michaels against Kane and the Undertaker at Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia. He finished that match as well.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Ryan Byers column if I didn’t also give an example from Japan, so I’ll give a shout out to the Great Sasuke. Sasuke has legitimately fractured his skull (yes, I said skull) in two different matches during the course of his career, finishing the match both times. The first incident took place in an August 25, 1995 match against lucha libre legend Dos Caras, where the fracture occurred when Caras powerbombed Sasuke off the apron. Sasuke then took two more powerbombs for the finish. Then, because Sasuke is a man COMPLETELY INCAPABLE OF LEARNING A LESSON, when he wrestled Ultimo Dragon in the finals of the J-Crown Tournament on August 5, 1996, he decided that it would be a good idea to do a spot where he performed a flip dive to the floor with Dragon turning it into a powerbomb. Needless to say, Sasuke’s skull met the concrete, and he cracked his noggin open for the second time in a year. He was, somehow, up and getting powerbombed on his freakin’ head again about a minute later.

I could go on with further examples of this for quite some time, but, needless to say, the Undertaker is not the only guy to refuse to ever sell an injury.

Moving on to the second part of the question, how do you protect these wild men when they decide that they’re going to go into the ring with a busted neck, skull, or quad?

The short answer is that you never fully do. You can attempt to not incorporate certain moves into a match that will risk impacting the injured body part, but there are no guarantees of safety in wrestling unless you’re going to stick to the extreme basics and just not bump. Particularly when you’re dealing with something like broken ribs, virtually any movement is going to bring some degree of pain with it, so these guys just gut it out. They’re significantly tougher than your average person.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].