Brock Lesnar Broke Hardcore Holly’s Neck During Their 2002 Match

Hamish Woodward


During a match in 2002, Brock Lesnar broke Hardcore Holly’s next and kept him out of the ring for nearly a year In the wrestling world you have to be on the top of your game at all times, and the duo proved that even a single lapse of concentration can spell disaster for your opponent.

Pro-wrestling is a tandem sport – both men work together to put on a match and are on the same team, compared to boxing where the aim is to win. When things go right, they can be incredible. But when they go wrong, it can be one of the worst things that can happen to you.

Bob Holly – better known as “Hardcore Holly” – found that out better than most when he engaged in a rivalry with Brock Lesnar in 2002 that would ultimately define his run in the WWE, and do more for his career than arguably his entire run in the company before it.

Hardcore Holly wrestled in the WWE for over a decade, despite breaking his neck in 2002.

Hardcore Holly Broke His Neck In A Match Against Brock Lesnar

Hardcore Holly and Brock Lesnar faced a big issue when they wrestled on Smackdown in September 2002. Lesnar was the WWE Champion at the time (having beaten The Rock at Summerslam that year) so it was a huge opportunity for Holly to impress Vince McMahon by working in the main event.

The match was just meant to be a one-off match on Smackdown, but turned out to be a very significant bout in WWE history. It was a very physical bout, with both men laying into each other with some wild punches, as Paul Heyman stood and yelled at ringside, with Brock’s WWE Undisputed Championship in his hands.

The structure of the match was simple. The pair threw hands and Hardcore Holly managed to get the upper hand, but then Lesnar would hit him with a suplex and get right back on top of the match. Despite a few hope spots for Holly, Lesnar began to dominate the former tag team champion and almost made his pass out by locking him in a bear hug.

Brock Lesnar dominated Hardcore Holly throughout their match on Smackdown in 2002.

After Holly managed to escape from a series of backbreaker, Brock Lesnar kicked him in the stomach and hoisted him up in the air for a Powerbomb, dumping him onto the mat as Holly writhed in pain, grabbing his neck. Lesnar went for a second, bur Holly escaped, hitting a fantastic dropkick before rolling up the WWE Champion for a two count.

However, just seconds later, Lesnar managed to hit a (very sloppy looking) F5 on Hardcore Holly and pinned him for the victory. It was a tight 6:11 minute match, with Holly actually looking very good in his offence. However, something was clearly wrong about the powerbomb Lesnar hit him with during the match,

As he lifted Hardcore Holly up for the powerbomb, Lesnar could not get him all the way up into the right position. Holly’s body lingered in midair, threatening to drop onto the ground and out of the move, if not for the immense power of the WWE Champion. Not wanting to be outdone or made to look weak, Lesnar simply dropped Holly his head, his neck breaking as his head jackknifed off the canvas, in one disgusting motion.

Hardcore Holly broke his neck in this match, and faced 13 months out of the ring to recover from the injury (although he wrestled two more house shows before the severity of the injury came to light).

There have been many theories as to what happened in this match. Some claim that Brock Lesnar was ill that day, suffering from a bout of flu, but as the WWE was still needed to perform in the ring on Smackdown. This would explain the relative short match time, and give a reason for Lesnar to botch a move he did multiple times every match.

Others claim that it was all Hardcore Holly’s fault. He was known to be tough in the ring – especially on new talent – and went out of his way to test them in various ways to make sure they were suitable to work in the grueling world of professional wrestling.

Many have guessed that Holly “sandbagged” – which means ‘to not cooperate with a throw and to act as dead weight” – Lesnar, in order to make him look bag. The powerbomb is a move that required the man taking the move to use his ab muscles to sit up onto his opponents shoulders, and not doing so would make his opponent look week in the eyes of the fans.

It looks like Hardcore Holly sandbagged Brock Lesnar, but the WWE Champion was so so strong that he managed to get him half way up for the move, before giving up and dumping Holly on his head, breaking his neck.

Brock Lesnar broke Hardcore Holly’s neck with the botched powerbomb, in one of the very few botches The Beast has made in his career.The injury was horrible and left the former Hardcore Champion on the shelf for an astonishing 13 months.

When he returned he entered into a short feud with Lesnar, who would leave the company months later. Holly never beat him though and the WWE Championship remained just a pipe dream for him. They wrestled for the title at the 2004 Royal Rumble for the WWE title, with Holly allegedly asking to win the match backstage. When pressed for the storylines for him after winning the belt, he is said to have yelled “and then I beat everybody!“.

Think of a world where Hardcore Holly was the WWE Champion – what would have happened?

Hardcore Holly talked about Brock Lesnar breaking his neck in an interview with Diamond Joe. He played down any claims that he deliberately sandbagged Lesnar in order to make him look bad, and chalked the issue up with a simple botch between the pair.

Holly revealed that Brock Lesnar was sick during this time and it was simply a freak accident after wrestling for 5 minutes. He bears no ill-will toward The Beast, who called him multiple times in the hospital and apologized profusely to the 15-year veteran.

“And he went to pick me up to powerbomb me and I tried to come up. I tried to grab his head and I couldn’t quite reach it. And he ended up, you know, we ended up going back down and he tried to hold me and that was it.

Brock is Brock and I’m who I am. If Brock whipped my ass, more power to him, but I’m still going to wrestle him the same way I wrestle everybody else. I don’t give a f**k” 

Hardcore Holly also spoke about his broken neck from The Beast during an interview with  All Things Wrestling Radio. He once again refuted the claims of him sabotaging the match and reiterated the he and Lesnar and still good friends despite the incident.

“Things happen, and it just happened. The timing was off, and it wasn’t malicious, it wasn’t intended to happen, and Brock and I are good friends in and out of the ring,” said Holly.

“So, we had a good working relationship. I enjoyed working with him. After it happened, he felt bad, and he called me after my surgery and he’d check on me periodically and see how I was doing. So, for these people that think they know what happened, they don’t.”

After his return to the ring after 13 months out, Hardcore Holly challenged Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship at the 2004 Royal Rumble, following a return at Survivor Series on “Team Angle”, taking on a team led by Brock Lesnar.

He allegedly pitched to WWE management that he should beat Lesnar for the belt, and when asked what his plan was once he became the title holder, hilarious stated “And then I beat EVERYBODY!”

“I’ll never forget Bob Holly, the guys were asking talent for ideas. ‘If you have any ideas, write them down and tell us. Let us know what idea you may have.’ And Bob’s idea was, ‘Hey, I got an idea. How about you give me the belt!’ The follow-up question was, ‘Okay, then what?’ … ‘Then I beat everybody!’”

Bruce Pritchard on Hardcore Holly

Hardcore Holly wrestled for the WWE for three more years, before being released for allegedly stealing rolexes from the WWE locker room. This came at the end of a near-20-year run with the company, with his last match being a championship match at a huge pay per view event.

Hardcore Holly’s Last WWE Match

Hardcore Holly’s last match in the WWE was a tag team championship match against Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr at WWE Night of Champions 2008. The match was a handicap match, which would usually make no sense in a match for the tag titles, and this match would go down in history as one of the most bizarre WWE title match ever.

Holly had been a mentor to Cody Rhodes. Upon the latter’s debut, he wrestled Holly a number of times, earning the veteran’s respect. They began teaming together and soon became a top team in the tag division. They mixed Rhodes’ youthful energy with Holly’s veteran experience to create a formidable team which rarely tasted defeat.

They began teaming together in late 2007, when Holly turned face by saving Rhodes from an attack from “The World’s Greatest Tag Team” (Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas). The began teaming together and defeated a number of tag teams, like London & Kendrick, The Highlanders and the aforementioned duo.

Click here to keep reading about Hardcore Holly’s last match in WWE.

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