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Wrestling and head trauma: More than just Chris Benoit and Test

While the Sports Legacy Institute has only examined the brains of 2 deceased pro wrestlers, there are a lot more who have suffered major problems, including death, from head injuries.  To supplement today's news, I'll look at various wrestlers who are known to have had major problems related to brain trauma.

Chris Benoit: Used the diving headbutt as a trademark move for most of his career, often legitimately landing on his head, as well as routinely using hard standing headbutts.  Was one of the few wrestlers to take chairshots to the back of the head.  Definitely had severe brain damage based on the well-known postmortem examination.  Interpreting it further always leads to arguments, but it's not a stretch to say that it was at least a contributing cause in his mental decline.

Test: Severe brain damage found in postmortem examination.  Behavior was similar to that of someone with bipolar disorder late in life.  Died of a painkiller overdose, though addiction and bipolar disorder are often concurrent.

Bret Hart: Suffered (at least) several concussions in succession at the end of December 1999 and beginning of January 2000, including a second concussion in the match where he suffered the first one.  Too foggy to realize how bad things were, he was not discouraged from wrestling by his direct superiors when he mentioned that he thought he had a concussion.  He had to retire due to the damage.  On June 24, 2002, he fell off his bicycle while attempting to get it out of a pothole, hit his head, and suffered a stroke.  He did a fine job recovering, to the point that a surprisingly large amount of fans would ask him if he would make a comeback.

Mick Foley: Notorious risk taker who took several hard chairshots to the head in a famous match with The Rock in 1999.  His wife would tell stories of him forgetting how to get home not long thereafter.

Mike Awesome: Wrestled a hard style and took as many chairshots to the head as anyone in the history of the wrestling business.  A physical wreck, he went into a severe depression and committed suicide by hanging himself in early 2007.  There's no direct proof that concussions were a contributing cause, but it's a forgone conclusion for most who discuss his death.

Devil Bhudakhan: As an independent wrestler who idolized Chris Benoit, the initial (baseless) speculation was that it was a copycat incident when he hang himself less than a month after Benoit.  That said, he had suffered numerous concussions during his career and had some personal problems before becoming the third wrestler to commit suicide in the same way in 2007.

Christopher Nowinski: The Harvard graduate/football player turned rookie independent wrestler turned WWF Tough Enough contestant turned WWE undercard heel suffering at least a few concussions in his football days before he turned to wrestling.  In WWE, he suffered several more in quick succession and retired after being told by his doctor that he could not think about wrestling until he went a month without headaches.  He was kept under contract and did work in their "Smackdown Your Vote" campaign, all while studying concussions in sports to the point that he's considered an expert in the field and wrote a book about the subject.  A founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, which researches Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, he has spread awareness about how to be as safe as possible in managing athletes with head injuries.  After the Institute examined Benoit's brain, WWE let his contract expire.

Kevin Von Erich: The oldest of the wrestling sons of Fritz Von Erich (and the only one who survives), he suffered many concussions throughout his career.  After one in 1987, made the mistake of flying home and wrestling the next night.  During that match, he suffered a seizure and had to be given CPR in the ring.  He still suffers from post-concussion syndrome and had been known to make many strange comments to the press over the years.

Brian Johnston: As an MMA fighter turned pro wrestler for New Japan Pro Wrestling, he suffered at many concussions, eventually leading to a stroke.  He made an impressive recovery, though not as miraculous as Bret Hart's.

Oro: At 5'10" with great high flying ability, especially for his build, this Mexican wrestler was seen as a potential superstar, compared by some to a larger Rey Mysterio.  He had a high work ethic, always wanting to have the best match on the card, and was an avid tape watcher looking for new ideas.  On October 26, 1993 at Arena Coliseo in Mexico CIty, he told the other wrestlers in his trios match that he was going to take a "Kobashi bump," referring to the high angle head/neck bump that Kenta Kobashi had recently taken for Steve Williams' "Dangerous Backdrop Driver" finishing move in All Japan Pro Wrestling.  After taking a clothesline, he took a similar bump, and he couldn't stand up.  His pulse dropped as his brother (Plata, his regular partner who was at the show) frantically pleaded for him not to lose consciousness as he was stretchered out of the ring.  He died at the arena.  At the request of the family, no autopsy was performed, but it's believed that he died of a brain aneurysm.  The match continued and aired in full on television.

Hiromitsu Gompei: A top level amateur wrestler in Japan, he was recruited into New Japan Pro Wrestling by top star and co-booker Hiroshi Hase, who assured his parents that he'd be taken care of.  Gompei died of head injuries in training.  It is a widely held belief that he was killed.

Giant Ochai: An MMA fighter who died from head trauma while training at the World Japan dojo.

Plum Mariko: A Japanese female wrestler for JWP, she suffered several concussions throughout her career.  On August 15, 1997, she took a normally executed powerbomb to end a match.  At first, she was believed to be selling the finishing move, but she wasn't moving and started to snore, a sign that her brain was bleeding.  She died a few hours later.  No autopsy was performed but it was believed that she had an abscess in her brain.

Emiko Kado: Another Japanese female wrestler, she was a rookie for the ARSION promotion.  After suffering a blow to the head in a 1999 match, causing a sprained acute membrane in her brain, she died from related complications.

Masakazu Fukuda: After passing out during a match for New Japan, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage

Naohiro Hoshikawa: While wrestling Tatsuhito Takaiwa in a cage match for Zero-One in Japan, he was powerbombed off the cage before taking a hard clothesline to end the match.  He immediately started snoring and was rushed to the hospital, where surgeons performed surgery to stop the bleeding in his brain.  It came out that he had also suffered several concussions a few weeks earlier.  He survived, but will be wheelchair bound for the rest of his life with severe brain damage.

Yoshihiro Takayama: The top wrestling star in Japan at the time, as well as an MMA fighter known for taking extreme punishment to the head in both venues (which paralyzed part of his face and changed his appearance) he suffered a cerebral thrombosis (rare form of a stroke) in a hard hitting match with Kensuke Sasaki in 2004 and had to take 2 years off.  He's been wrestling regularly since his return but isn't the same.

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