By Chuck Carroll
TK O’Ryan’s broken leg, as part of Kingdom, was one of those moments in Ring of Honor that every professional wrestler prays will never happen and one that every fan will never forget. The brutality and shock of such a severe mishap leaves an indelible imprint in your mind. It’s painful to watch and even more agonizing for the person you’re watching. Yet, we can never seem to look away.
That is how much of the wrestling world came to know O’Ryan. It’s not how he envisioned gaining notoriety in the business. Truth be told, the fact that he’s now known as the guy who broke his leg irks him to no end.
March 10, 2017. Las Vegas, Nevada. Worldwide audience.
Ring of Honor is holding its 15th Anniversary pay-per-view, and the capacity crowd at Sam’s Town Live Casino is red hot. The first three matches on the card go flawlessly. Fate has no plans to extend the same courtesy to the fourth.
O’Ryan, along with his partners in The Kingdom, Matt Taven and Vinny Marseglia, are defending the ROH World Six-Man Tag Team Championship against Dalton Castle and The Boys. All is going well until a little after seven minutes into the match.
The 27-year-old former Division I college baseball player springs off the second rope. His legs fly high above his head as becomes inverted mid-flight. It was at this point that O’Ryan knew something horrible was about to happen. He had been expecting to land on top of two competitors on the floor below, but instead … crack! His shins violently crash down on a steel guardrail separating fans and wrestlers at ringside. The powerful bone on metal collision echoes throughout the arena and plays sadistically through television and computer speakers at home. The announcer screams out “Jesus!” in disbelief. In another 30 seconds the match will be over.
The damage to his left leg is catastrophic, a fracture in two places. His fibula and tibia shaft are split in two. As O’Ryan lays on the floor, writhing in pain, one could assume that the worst of it would be over soon. But in reality, the clock had only just begun to tick on the worst 48 hours of his life.
He’s helped to the back and expects to be taken to the hospital shortly. He’s on the floor waiting for the ambulance. One match finishes. Then another. And another. He’s still on the floor. More than an hour passes before an EMT would arrive. The level of pain is so intense that O’Ryan, who is terrified of pills, had to “get all doped up” for the ride. And for the privilege of waiting more than 60 minutes in agony and relenting to his personal no-drug policy, he says he was given a bill of $1,600. An Uber ride would cost $40 and delivered him there in less than half the time.
Once at the hospital, the waiting game continues. As he awaits to be seen by a doctor, news of the injury begins to spread online. Grotesque accidents have a habit of doing that. He passes the time by scrolling through the outpouring of support on Twitter. Eventually, he is seen and receives the devastating news about the severity of the injury. The x-rays paint a powerful picture, revealing the force with which he connected with the guardrail.
Finally, he is able to leave Las Vegas. The clock on the worst 48 hours of his life would expire once his flight touched down back home. Although the worst was behind him, the next week and a half would be no picnic either. His left leg is now supported by a metal rod and four screws and the post-surgical pain is a “10 out of 10.”
The Vegas hospital bill, ambulance ride and surgery don’t come cheap. So, instead of relying on a GoFundMe page, the crafty O’Ryan lobbies for the Internet’s top independent wrestling store to begin selling t-shirts with his likeness. It isn’t long before “I Broke TK’s Leg” shirts are flying off the cyber-shelves of ProWrestlingTees.com. He says the proceeds help offset the medical expenses while his petition for relief from the hospital is reviewed. As of early June, O’Ryan has received only a call from a hospital administrator promising to review his bills immediately. They tell him that they don’t take the alleged mistreatment lightly. It remains to be seen what happens from here.
In the meantime, he continues to rehab the injury and make progress toward returning to the ring. It’s just unclear when that will be. But it’s also not as though O’Ryan is waiting idly by at home until the doctors give him the all-clear to return. He’s serving as the corner man for his tag partners and will make his way to the ring on crutches or with a cane. But the bottom line is that he’s still there. And he should be there again for the Ring of Honor Best in the World pay-per-view Friday in Lowell, Massachusetts. All things considered, it’s not too far from his Cape Cod home. Thankfully, we’re not in Vegas anymore.
Walk me through the injury.
It’s basically been the defining moment of my career, which is bizarre to me. It’s like, I can wrestle too, I don’t just get hurt! I’m usually pretty durable.
Vinny and I like to joke about just how quickly that trip sucked so bad. We flew out Wednesday, so we were there a bit early, because flights to Vegas at that time are a nightmare. They asked if we could fly out early and we were happy to oblige. We thought, ‘hey, we get a couple extra days in Vegas. No problem!’
We were having a great time, and then the show day happens. Everything was going smooth. We got to the arena early and had some nice food. We were energized and ready to go right up to the match. The second our music hit. we got a strong… pretty much booed-right-out-of-Las Vegas reaction. We felt like we were cooking and then in this one instant all of the sudden… For as cool as everything had been for the first 48 hours, the next 48 hours were probably the most miserable hours of my life. It was crazy.
It’s hard to explain, because when I bounced off the rope going for the moonsault, the last thing on my mind was that I was going to smash my leg on the guard rail. I was more concerned that I would slip and fall on my butt and look like an idiot.
So what happened in Vegas? Were the guardrails too close?
It’s easy to say that they were too close, but the reality is guys jump toward guardrails all the time. It sounds insane, but you know you’ve got it. I go by this motto that if I can visualize myself doing it, I know I can do it. I’ve done that move dozens of times. It’s easy to go back since it didn’t turn out well and say, ‘oh, well the guardrails are too close. You should have done it on the other side.’ Well, no kidding. But if I stuck that move then no one would have said a word about it.
People will talk all the time about having the heart and passion and desire for pro wrestling. But when it comes down to doing professional wrestling things, and you’re in that spotlight, and it’s time to do something and make it yours and it doesn’t go right, now you’re the idiot. It’s funny, one way or the other, you’re either a genius or a moron. It’s just a matter of having the guts to go for it and finding out which one you might be.
It reminds me of an injury Sid Vicious had a while back in WCW when he broke his leg.
I think every wrestler has this idea that if they’re going to get hurt, it’s going to be something like Sid Vicious jumping off the second rope. Look at Matt Taven, he blew out his knee just jumping off the apron. It wasn’t even anything crazy. But to have something actually catastrophic… look at Jeff Hardy and how many times you’ve seen him fall off of a ladder, and he’s fine. You wouldn’t expect to be injured in doing something like that. You’re almost resigned to the fact it’s going to happen doing something simple. It’s almost kind of shocking when it happens doing (a big move).
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How did it alter the finish of the match? I assume you guys were supposed to go longer than that.
Yeah. I felt bad because the match was really cooking. Dalton Castle and The Boys in Las Vegas… Dalton could have run for mayor. And The Kingdom being The Kingdom and doing what they do. Well, they don’t like us as much as Dalton Castle in Las Vegas. Everyone was working hard, and man it sucks. When something like that happens, as the wrestlers — if you’re Dalton or The Boys — it’s hard not to feel somewhat responsible just because you were in the match. I felt bad just to put that on their conscience.
But yeah, we were supposed to go a little longer. The minute that happened Vinny grabbed one of The Boys, I don’t even think he knew which Boy, and said that’s enough. That’s just how it goes.
How’s the rehab going?
The first 10 days after surgery was probably 10-out-of-10 pain. Constant throbbing relentless pain. But once that let up, I’ve been pretty pain-free other than moving around and being uncomfortable.
I’m still a bit of a way from being able to get back in the ring. For one, the bones aren’t completely healed yet. Secondly, once the bones are healed, my left leg is noticeably smaller than my right leg. I would be doing myself, Vinny, Taven, Ring of Honor, anyone in the ring with me a disservice if I was in there before I was able to do what I do at my best quality.
What’s the big takeaway from all of this?
To go from that to people acting like the only thing I’ve ever done is get hurt is a bit insulting. To be pigeonholed as this guy who the best thing he ever did is get hurt… when all you can do is sit at home and listen and watch, man it will wear you out. It’s definitely not something I’m happy with. It’s not something to let stick around. You can put it to print and mark my words that when I come back, the TK O’Ryan is going to be a man on a mission with something pretty serious to prove.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.