2018 has been quite a tragic year for pro wrestling. It's inevitable for any human being to pass away at some point, but this year has seen even more deaths in the wrestling world than usual.
Naturally, this comes as sad news as it's always tough to see our childhood heroes and other influential superstars eventually pass on.
We often take for granted how difficult life on the road is for pro wrestlers. They dedicate the prime years of their lives travelling and entertaining us, the fans and they sacrifice things such as family time and their own well-being. It was often tougher in the older days during the territory period.
Due to rough schedules, wrestlers were often forced to cope with things such as alcohol and pills. Nowadays, while the schedule is hectic, things have definitely changed when it comes to coping up. And that's an improvement not to be taken for granted.
With all that said, we dedicate this list in memory of not only the ten wrestlers who passed away but all the others who passed on and gave their lives for the wrestling business.
#10 Brian Christopher (January 10, 1972 – July 29, 2018)
This was an extremely tragic case. Brian Christopher, aka Brian Lawler, tragically passed away in what was deemed as "suicide".
Just for a little backstory here - In early July 2018, Brian Lawler was found guilty of DUI (Driving Under Influence) and evading the police. He was subsequently arrested, and later in the month, he was founded hanging in a jail cell. He was brain dead and his life support was soon taken away.
Jerry Lawler himself has spoken to the media and said that he doesn't buy the story of his suicide. It's all too convenient and he implied that Christopher was set up and murdered by someone in the jail cell.
#9 Masa Saito (February 1, 1942 – July 14, 2018)
Masa Saito is a legend of professional wrestling. He may not be talked about when looking back at Japanese legends, but his significance cannot be understated. Firstly, he wrestled for some of the biggest promotions in the world, including WWF, WCW, NJPW and AJPW (All Japan Pro Wrestling).
He was a great singles star and he famously wrestled Japanese icon Antonio Inoki in an island for two hours! They were placed on Ganryujima Island and wrestled in an island death match across the land.
He mainly found success in tag team wrestling, where he won the tag team titles in WWF with Mr. Fuji. In Japan, he found even more success in the tag team divisions, winning titles with the likes of legends such as Riki Choshu and Shinya Hashimoto.
He was battling Parkinsons disease since 2000 and unfortunately succumbed to the complications of the condition in 2018.
#8 Nikolai Volkoff (October 14, 1947 – July 29, 2018)
Nikolai Volkoff represented a breed of old-school heels in a time when anti-national gimmicks could get heels killed. Though he came from Croation descent, he played a villanous, anti-American Russian for most of his career and cemented his legacy as a legend of the business.
He had an extensive tenure with the WWF, but spent most of his time in AWA and Mid-South Wrestling. Later on in his life, he began to face issues with dehydration, amongst others. He was even hospitalized in 2018, but passed away days after being released at the age of 70.
#7 Matt Cappotelli (November 12, 1979 – June 29, 2018)
Matt Cappotelli won Tough Enough along with John Morrison/Johnny Nitro. He was offered a developmental contract but around 2007, complications with brain cancer began to appear. He underwent successful surgery, but soon after, his career had to end due to a malignant brain tumour.
He was released from his WWE contract in 2009. In mid-2017, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with grade IV glioblastoma multiforme. Unfortunately, it turned out too little too late and he tragically passed away mid-2018, aged just 38.
#6 Brickhouse Brown (August 11, 1960 – July 29, 2018)
Brickhouse Brown may not be well known on the wrestling circuit, but back in the 80s and 90s, he had quite an eventful career. He wrestled primarily in southern territories, such as Championship Wrestling Association, AWA,etc. He even competed as an enhancement talent on a couple of WWF matches, with one of them being against a young superstar named Hunter Hearst Helmsley, a man who you may know as Triple H.
In 2017, he revealed that he had stage 4 prostate cancer and it spread to his brain as well. He passed away on July 29th, 2018.
#5 Johnny Valiant ( November 25, 1946 – April 4, 2018)
Johnny Valiant was a part of the WWWF in a very significant period of time. He got his career off to a start thanks to help from Bruno Sammartino (who he didn't live too far from). He was a 2-time tag team champion and even had a managerial career.
He famously managed Hulk Hogan in the AWA and in the WWF, managed Hogan's best friend, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake. He was undoubtedly more successful as a manager.
He tragically passed away in April 2018 after being hit by a pick-up truck in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.
#4 Big Van Vader (May 14, 1955 – June 18, 2018)
This undoubtedly was a very personal passing for many wrestling fans. Vader had established himself as a monster heel in both Japan and the United States, finding success in All Japan Pro Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling and WCW.
He had a great run with the WWF as well but he wasn't as dominant. Either way, he became a huge draw in Japan and established himself as one of the greatest "big men" of all time.
Vader had genuinely struck fear in the younger audience watching and remains one of the all-time great heels. In 2016, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and revealed that doctors had told him he had only two years to live.
While he had shown steady improvement in health over the course of a year, including adapting DDP Yoga, it was a bit too late for him, as he passed away after a month-long battle with pneumonia.
Vader will forever be remembered and mourned.
#3 Dynamite Kid (5 December 1958 – 5 December 2018)
Dynamite Kid may be the most underrated legend in wrestling history. Long before the age of high-flyers, Dynamite Kid brought it in a way that had never been seen before. He was a wrestler who was far ahead of his time, but his style of wrestling caught up to him and by the end of his career, he had lost a leg and was partly paralyzed.
He had several health issues through the years ended up catching up to him and he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Though his exact cause of death isn't known, it likely was a culmination of all the issues put together.
#2 Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart (February 8, 1955 – August 13, 2018)
Jim Neidhart was an icon and an integral part of the Hart Foundation in both runs. It's hard to imagine the Golden Era and New Generation Era without him. He undoutbedly stands as one of the greatest tag team specialists of his generation and his contributions to the business will never be forgotten.
He had suffered a seizure on August 13th when adjusting the thermostat. He fell to the ground and that was reportedly what killed him. Though EMTs arrived on the spot quickly, it was too late to save him.
He has been honoured by his family, friends and peers.
#1 Bruno Sammartino
Bruno Sammartino was the first face of the WWE. An Italian immigrant, he was the living embodiment of the American dream. He scratched and clawed and found himself becoming the top star of the WWWF under Vince McMahon Sr.
Under his leadership, Sammartino sold out Madison Square Garden a whopping 188 times. Of course, he belonged to a very different era, but even then, his record WWE Championship reign lasted 2803 days, which is just shy of 8 straight years. He would later hold the title for over 3 years, making his combined reign 4040 days, which is over 11 years!
Sammartino was a hero inside the ring and outside of it. When Ivan Koloff pinned him for the title and beat him after 8 years, the entire MSG was stunned into silence. It was meant to be a transitional reign, as Pedro Morales was groomed as the next top star of the company.
He had suffered multiple organ failure issues due to prior heart problems. He was hospitalized for 2 months before passing away. He was rightfully inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2013 inside Madison Square Garden.