Wrestling Stars We've Lost In 2022

One of the toughest parts about following pro wrestling is taking account of the wrestlers lost on a year-to-year basis. As post-career wellness continues to improve for modern wrestlers, it never gets any easier saying goodbye to the brave and talented men and women who entertain the masses on a weekly basis.

The quantity and quality of performers who passed away in 2022 made for another tough year for the wrestling industry. The legends fans say goodbye to remain in the hearts and minds of everyone through the special moments they helped cultivate throughout their careers. While not every wrestler to pass away this year is considered a legend, all of them left their individual mark on the wrestling business in one way or another, no matter whether they portrayed a face or heel.

Here are personalities the wrestling world lost in 2022.

Katsuya Kitamura

Katsuya Kitamura was a former Young Lion Cup winner in New Japan Pro Wrestling and 2017 Wrestling Observer Rookie of the Year recipient. A graduate of the New Japan Dojo, Kitamura showed plenty of promise and potential as a professional wrestler at an early age, in large part due to his amateur background. Per The Daily Star, Kitamura won the All Japan Championship three times in the Greco-Roman 96-kg class (approximately 212 pounds) and could have gone on to represent his home nation at the 2012 London Olympics had he not received a two-year ban from the sport for anabolic steroid usage. From there, he doubled down on his size gain and became a professional wrestler, weighing as much as 265 pounds during his wrestling years.

The 36-year-old Kitamura struggled with health issues throughout the later points of his professional life. He suffered a bad concussion during a 2018 tag team match while wrestling for New Japan, then injured his leg in a scooter accident in 2019. He intended to return to the ring upon being cleared, but instead took up a second and third career in mixed martial arts and bodybuilding. He lost his MMA debut in Japanese promotion RIZIN to Bobby Ologun in November 2021. While his cause of death has not been publicly disclosed, Japanese website Tokyo Sport reported that Kitamura "felt an abnormality in his physical condition on the same day and called an ambulance himself to the hospital. After that, his condition changed suddenly."

Raziel

The wrestling world lost 49-year-old Raziel, a long-time member of the CMLL roster in April of 2022. Though he sustained a back injury in November 2021, reports from SuperLuchas and lucha libre blogger Miguel Redocino suggest that the veteran luchador's death stemmed from a car accident. Days after his passing, CMLL held a moment of applause for Raziel in both Arena Mexico and Arena Coliseo Guadalajara.

Under the tutelage of fellow wrestlers Skayade and Brazo Cibernetico, Raziel entered the wrestling business in 1996, initially working for AAA, the other major promotion in Mexico. He will perhaps be best remembered for his rudo tag team run with Cancerbero in CMLL after joining the promotion in 2003, though they initially portrayed Roman-themed characters. The duo joined Los Canceberos del Infierno in 2009, headed by stable leader Virus. However, Raziel's big break actually came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 with diehard fans making up most of the promotion's fanbase at this point and fan voting deciding the 2020 aniversario matches. From there, Raziel and Cancerbero parlayed their newfound popularity into winning the national trios titles in 2021 despite being presumably past their prime as in-ring talents.

Antonio Inoki

Few names have ever meant more to the marriage of combat sports and professional wrestling than Antonio Inoki, particularly in Inoki's native Japan. The 79-year-old legend died after a battle with amyloidosis, a rare organ disease, and had been relegated to a wheelchair in his later years as a result of the rare condition. 

Inoki founded NJPW in 1972, served as its marquee star for more than a decade, and went on to face American boxing legend Muhammad Ali in a mixed-rules bout in 1976 that served as the precursor to the sport of mixed martial arts in America. As a result, he is perhaps the most influential Japanese figure in wrestling history.

Later in life, Inoki began to leave his mark on the broader world as a diplomat and member of the Japanese House of Councilors in which he served two stints, first from 1989 to 1995 and then from 2013 to 2019. Some of his political achievements included smoothing Japanese relations in countries such as Pakistan, Iraq and North Korea and even organized a "Sports Music and Peace Festival" in Iraq. As for North Korea, Inoki visited the country many times between 1995 and 2017. The relationship began with Inoki helping to organize Collision in Korea, a wrestling event that saw him headline the show in a dream match with Ric Flair. Inoki finally called it a career in 2003, but continued to head NJPW until 2005 when he sold his 51.5% controlling share in the promotion to video game company Yuke's.

Starman

Starman, a tecnico wrestler and lower-card fixture for Mexican promotion CMLL for more than 20 years, passed away on September 22, 2022 at the age of 47. No cause of death has been given at this time. His final match for the promotion occurred in August 2021. Speaking in a YouTube vlog in April 2022, Starman hinted at one more brief run as an in-ring competitor and one more big match before bringing his career to a close.

According to LuchaBlog, Starman, originally known as Ultraman Jr., modeled his early character after the Japanese media franchise. He is also the son of a luchador who competed in the '70s, making him a second-generation wrestler. While wrestling as Ultraman Jr., the future Starman lost his mask in a match in 1996 that Japanese wrestler Mister Cacao complimented on Twitter. By 1996, Starman became a full-time member of the CMLL roster, with his Starman character bearing no physical resemblance to the character of the same name from "Pro Wrestling" on the Nintendo Entertainment System. During his final years, Starman also ran Gimnasio Starman, a training school for aspiring luchadores that also ran shows. The final Gimnasio Starman event occurred in August 2021, on which Starman himself did not wrestle.

Candi Devine

Candy Devine, a woman's wrestler who is perhaps best known for her time in the American Wrestling Alliance, passed away on February 9, 2022 in hospice care. According to Slam Wrestling, Devine's health problems began in April 2021, when she suffered from a seizure and collapsed lung. However, news broke in early February 2022, that Devine returned to the hospital with residual liver damage and brain damage from seizures. She also sustained back injuries from a previous fall months after her seizure. "It is with great sadness [that] Candi Divine passed away this morning," fellow women's wrestler and friend Bonnie Marie wrote on her Facebook page. "We've lost a great friend and Heaven gained a beautiful Angel."

Devine's career was born out of an intense fandom for the business, first entering the fold when she started Lanny Poffo's fan club. She went on to work as a ring girl for the Poffo family's ICW promotion in Kentucky and soon after transitioned to a career in the ring. While competing for the AWA, Devine feuded with women's wrestling legends Madusa and Sherri Martel, with Martel praising Devine for her work in the ring in a 2004 interview. A women's wrestling fixture for promoter Verne Gagne, Devine won the AWA World Women's Championship on four different occasions. Devine also won belts for Herb Abrams' UWF among other promotions. A respected wrestler and pioneer for today's women's wrestlers, Devine has accrued awards from organizations such as the Cauliflower Alley Club, and the PGWA promotion, which presented her with the Penny Banner Spirit of Excellence Award in 2008. Award-winning filmmaker Christopher Annino dedicated his documentary, "Circle of Champions the History of Women's Pro Wrestling" to Devine and intended to interview her for the movie prior to her passing.

Mickie Jay Henson

Former WCW and WWE referee and enhancement talent Mickie Jay Henson passed away on Valentine's Day 2022 at the age of 60 after being taken off life support. While COVID-19-related pneumonia ultimately led to Henson's death, the former referee and enhancement talent also battled cancer for nearly 15 years. The news of Henson's passing first came from Steve Keirn, his friend of nearly 40 years. "This was a great man, a friend who called me weekly to just say, 'Hey pal, just checking on you,'" Keirn wrote on Facebook. "I have lost so many friends in the last two years the pain is knowing they are gone."

Henson, who was also known as Mickie Jay, first broke into wrestling as the president of the Bobby Heenan fan club when he was just 14-years-old. He later linked up with Keirn and his Fabulous Ones tag team partner, Stan Lane. Keirn took a liking to Henson and laded him a gig refereeing matches on Professional Wrestling in Florida shows which Keirn, along with Gordon Solie and Mike Graham promoted. Henson went on to work for WCW, and served as the referee for David Arquette's infamous WCW World Championship win. Though the WWF did not pick up his contract after the WCW purchase in 2001, Keirn later got his old friend into the industry leader where he worked until he was diagnosed with Mantle cell lymphoma in 2008. The veteran referee received the Charlie Smith Referee Award from the Cauliflower Alley Club in May 2018.

Sara Lee

Sara Lee, one of the two most recent winners of "WWE Tough Enough," passed away on October 6 at just 30 years old. She is survived by her three children and her husband, former WWE superstar Wesley Blake, who currently wrestles under the name Westin Blake. While her cause of death is uncertain at this point, the former WWE superstar wrote about battling a sinus infection "for the first time ever" in her final Instagram post two days prior to her death.

Despite having no wrestling experience prior to entering the competition, Lee won the most recent edition of "Tough Enough" in 2015 over current WWE superstar Mandy Rose and caught the attention of WWE fans all over the world for her down-to-earth personality and can-do attitude. The Saginaw, Michigan native had a competitive powerlifting background prior to coming on the show and leaned on her athletic attributes in non-wrestling challenges. For winning the show, Lee received a WWE contract and a $250,000 starting salary, and reported to the WWE Performance Center along with some of her fellow contestants on October 28, 2015. While training at the Performance Center, Lee became pregnant. She was released by the WWE a year later. According to PWInsider, Lee's release had more to do with her lack of progression in the ring than the pregnancy itself.

Adam Windsor

"Royal Stud" Adam Windsor, the first-ever graduate of Dory Funk's Funkin' Conservatory wrestling school, died on April 21 earlier this year at the age of 41. Slam Wrestling reported heart issues to be the cause of Windsor's death. "I'm truly gutted by the news about Adam Windsor," WWE commentator Cory Graves, a fellow Funk trainee, wrote in a tweet. "We finally reconnected after many years, at WrestleMania in Dallas. See you down the road, my friend. Positive vibes to Adam's friends and family."

According to The Sun, the English-born Windsor studied to become a judoka during his teen years under Neil Adams, brother of former WCCW standout "Gentleman" Chris Adams. A knee injury brought an end to Windsor's judo career before it could begin, and the 15-year-old instead turned his attention to pro wrestling. Windsor married the oldest daughter of Chris Adams and relocated to Ocala, Florida to train under Funk. Windsor became acquainted with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, his wife's stepfather at the time, who got him a foot in the door with WWE, though he only wrestled in three dark matches against the likes of Paul London, Ricky Noble and Marcus Dillon on consecutive days in 2001. Windsor remained a mainstay in the local Florida area throughout the next decade, and served as Funk's top star in the Florida-based !BANG! promotion between 1999 and 2005. He also became champion for the NWA Florida promotion run by Howard Brody, who coincidentally also passed this year. Per CageMatch, Windsor wrestled his final match in 2011. He spent his final years as a paramedic.

Black Man

Álvaro Meléndez Tibanez, a Mexican luchador better known to fans as Black Man, passed away on February 28, 2022, nine days after his 73rd birthday. Black Man was previously reported to be in poor health back in September 2021 as he recovered from non-COVID-19-related pneumonia. It is not formally known whether or not the pneumonia directly led to his death.

Black Man is perhaps best known for his tag team with White Man, real name Alberto Muñoz. The tecnico tag team never won a title together, but Black Man did accrue a small handful of title runs in the Universal Wrestling Association, a promotion based in Naucalpan, Mexico State that operated from 1975 until 1995. Whilst competing for the UWA, Black Man joined Los Fantasticos alongside fellow luchadors Kung Fu and Kato Kung Lee. Together, the trio won the Cuatro Caminos Bullfighting Trios Championship, which later became the UWA World Trios Championship. He repackaged himself as El Celestial in the '90s, but could not escape his previous identity, something wrestlers continue to deal with at every level in the modern landscape. He will be remembered for the high flying style he helped cultivate throughout the '80s in his native Mexico.

Tim White

Tim White, a former WWE referee who handled a variety of different duties throughout his 24-year tenure with the company, died on June 19, 2022. He was 68. "Tim White brightened every room he walked into [and] the WWE locker room was especially lucky to have him," current WWE superstar Dolph Ziggler tweeted. "Being around Timmy on several PR tours was a joy! We would get our work done [and] meet after and he would tell old road stories [and] we'd laugh til the sun came up. Cheers, sir."

White's WWE tenure began in 1985, operating in a hybrid role as a personal assistant to the legendary Andre the Giant as well as a part-time referee. The WWE upgraded White to full-time referee in 1993 after Andre's passing, and he went on to officiate some of the most important matches in company history, including the infamous Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Mankind at King of the Ring 1998. White's officiating career came to a premature end, however, when he injured his shoulder while serving as referee during another Hell in a Cell match between Triple H and Chris Jericho at Judgment Day 2000. The WWE kept White on company payroll until 2009. When he wasn't working for the industry leader, the Rhode Island-native operated a bar called The Friendly Tap, which served as the backdrop for several storyline bar fight segments.

Masashi Aoyagi

The wrestling world lost Japanese wrestling legend Masashi Aoyagi, a veteran of Pro Wrestling NOAH and mentor to young wrestlers, on July 6, 2022. No cause of death or further details have been given for Aoyagi, who passed away at the age of 65.

Aoyagi entered the business in 1989 with a background in karate and served as the inspiration behind Atsushi Onita creating Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW), a Japanese promotion. The duo had a "Karate vs. Pro Wrestling" match for the World Karate Association at Korakuen Hall. After defeating Onita via disqualification, Onita demanded a rematch with his preferred setting and ruleset, which turned out to be the first-ever FMW show. Aoyagi made appearances for NJPW and other Japanese promotions throughout the early '90s and worked under the WWF on the company's Japanese tour in 1994. Per PWInsider, he wrestled the likes of Owen Hart, Bob Backlund, and Bam Bam Bigelow on the tour, then resumed working around Japan until settling into a full-time job with Pro Wrestling NOAH. Aoyagi worked for Noah between 2000 and 2015. While he retired in 2015, he came out of retirement to wrestle on special occasions and had his final match for Onita's FMW-E on August 15, 2021.

Gene LeBell

"Judo" Gene LeBell, an influential figure in pro wrestling, mixed martial arts, and Hollywood passed away on August 9, 2022 at the age of 89. Per the Los Angeles Daily News, LeBell had been in declining health for upwards of eight months and died in his sleep at his home in Sherman Oaks, California, with his wife at his side. A national Judo champion in his younger years, LeBell transitioned out of Judo to the more lucrative avenue of pro wrestling and later earned notoriety for his work as a stuntman and actor in Hollywood.

LeBell struggled to catch on strictly as a pro wrestler, as his legitimate Judo-rooted style did little to please crowds. However, LeBell does hold plenty of achievements elsewhere, including being part of one of the very first mixed martial arts bouts in North America, years before the sport came to be. He competed in a striker vs. grappler mixed rules match against middleweight boxer Milo Savage in a precursor to MMA. LeBell choked out Savage in the fourth round. LeBell would live to see the rise of MMA in his home country and became a mentor to Ronda Rousey prior to her rise to becoming the first-ever UFC women's champion. 

LeBell picked up his first movie credit in 1962 and went on to achieve 252 stunt credits and 155 acting credits throughout his distinguished career. He even had a memorable run in with fellow MMA pioneer Bruce Lee on the set of "The Green Hornet" in 1966. "Every star in Hollywood has beaten me up," LeBell told AARP Magazine in 2015. "The more you get hit in the nose, the richer you are. The man who enjoys his work never goes to work. So I've had a lot of fun doing stunts."

LeBell's influence in wrestling is felt in more ways than one. Bryan Danielson, while competing as Daniel Bryan in WWE, christened his seated crossface submission hold "The LeBell Lock" before renaming it to the "Yes Lock."

Dee Booher

Deanna "Dee" Booher, a women's wrestler best known for her time as Matilda the Hun on Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) passed away on January 7, 2022 at the age of 73. While a cause of death has not been given, Booher was confined to a motorized wheelchair in 2017 as a result of wrestling-related spinal deterioration. According to Greg Oliver of Slam Wrestling, Booher also suffered from lupus and peripheral neuropathy, and had to have two of her toes amputated. Booher remained active online in the years leading up to her death, connecting with fans through her website.

Booher forced her way into the wrestling business by organizing outlaw mud shows in her home state of California, wrestling men under a mask as "Queen Kong." When the California State Athletic Commission forbade her from wrestling men, Booher took to wrestling bears. Queen Kong got her big break in the mid-'80s when she helped pioneer GLOW, transforming into Matilda the Hun. In a 2013 interview with Vice, Booher said she wrote the theme song and music for the pilot episode. Booher also detailed a falling out she had with the producers of the show that led to her departure after just one season. However, her time on the show led to greater opportunities in Hollywood, as Booher went on to be featured in films such as "Spaceballs" and "In Living Color." She even appeared in Aerosmith's video for "Love in an Elevator" in 1989. Years after her wrestling career subsided, Booher was a featured interview in the documentary, "GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling" which recaps the story of how GLOW came to be.

Tarzan Goto

FMW lost another key figure in 2022 when Masaji "Tarzan" Goto passed on May 29 after battling liver cancer, according to F4W Online. He was 58. Retired FMW wrestler Mr. Gannosuke commented on the death of his trainer, Goto, in an interview with Tokyo Sports. "I still can't believe it, and I can't really feel it," Gannosuke said. "Thanks to Mr. Goto's strict teaching, what I've been able to do for many years is a fortune. I'm just grateful. I pray for [his] soul."

Goto, a former sumo wrestler, began his pro wrestling career in 1981 when he joined AJPW. Goto won Tokyo Sports' Rookie of the Year award in 1983 and his puroresu career took off from there. He is also a two-time winner of the Tokyo Sports Best Bout award. He first won the award in 1990 for his role in the first-ever no ropes exploding barbed wire death match against FMW founder Atsushi Onita, and achieved the honor a second time in 1994 for teaming with Onita against Ashura Hara and Genichiro Tenryu in Wrestle Association R (WAR). His association with Onita and FMW began after returning to his native Japan following an excursion throughout the United States. While stateside, he met his wife, Despina Montagas, a fellow professional wrestler. The couple had three children, all boys, before divorcing.

Dave Hebner

One of the most recognizable WWE referees of all time, Dave Hebner passed away on June 17, 2022. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, and twin brother Earl, the last of whom came into the company during the famed "evil twin" storyline also involving Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. "Yesterday I had to say my last goodbye to my other half, my partner in crime, my road buddy for years, my brother for 73 years," Earl Hebner wrote on his social media platforms. "I love you David, I'll never count you out." According to The Post & Courier, Dave Hebner's passing came after a lengthy bout with Parkinson's Disease.

Hebner debuted in the WWF in 1986 after nearly a decade serving as a pro wrestling referee throughout the local Richmond, Virginia area. As a distinguished referee throughout his 21 years in WWE, Hebner refereed some of the promotion's classic matches, including the WrestleMania III clash between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat over the WWF Intercontinental Championship. The "Saturday Night's Main Event" angle involving his brother Earl brought Dave Hebner to the forefront. According to Slam Wrestling, injuries to his knees and shoulders forced Hebner out of action, but WWE found a new role for him as a road agent until the company released the Hebner twins in 2005. While he went on to spend the next seven years in TNA, the WWE firing left a sour taste in Dave's mouth. "I enjoyed everywhere I went," Hebner told Slam Wrestling in 2009. "Canada, overseas, anywhere I went, I had a good time [in WWE], I really did. It broke my heart, you think we have depression now, I had depression over the last five years just thinking about what I lost and how they let me go for nothing." Hebner never reconciled with his former employer and in July 2016 was named in a class action lawsuit filed against WWE which alleged the company concealed the risks of neurological injuries to its performers.

Super Muñeco

Legendary AAA luchador Super Muñeco passed away on Feb. 9, 2022 at the age of 59 following a series of unconfirmed health issues. F4WOnline reported Muñeco had recently been hospitalized due to what was seemed to be a lung issue from COVID-19. He also battled diabetes throughout his life.

"Super Muñeco" translates to "Super Doll" in English, and according to Luchablog, the character was iconic for children of the '80s and early '90s. The character originally came to be in a rising Mexican promotion known as "Super Libres" but left for AAA during its inaugural year in 1992. Paired with Super Raton and Super Pinocho, Super Muñeco completed Trio Fantasma, a midcard comedy trio. Additionally, Muñeco's impact was particularly felt in the era he competed in, which rarely featured comedy characters. That is not to say, however, that Muñeco was an afterthought amongst these types of wrestlers. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter wrote in the February 7 edition of the newsletter that Muñeco retained his mask in apuestas matches more than 100 times, which is believed to be the second most in Mexican wrestling history. Muñeco never lost his mask and thus never publicly revealed his identity, though his real name, Herbert Palafox, would be confirmed after his death.

Toro Bill Jr.

The death of 35-year-old Toro Bill Jr. capped off a tough year for pro wrestling in Mexico, and particularly CMLL. The Puebla, Mexico native died as a result of a heart attack after collapsing minutes before his scheduled match against Asturiano and Millenium at the Arena Puebla on April 25, 2022. According to El Sol de Puebla, the luchador was stretchered from the arena but could not be resuscitated despite best efforts from the paramedics and doctors. The outlet reported his death was believed to have occurred during the main event, though according to a report from The Sun, CMLL never confirmed his actual cause of death.

Toro Bill Jr. was best known as one-half of the tag team "Batallon de la Muerte" -– which translates to English as the "Death Battalion" — alongside partner Rey Apocalipsis. He was the son of Toro Bill, a regular in Arena Puebla between 1987 and 2010. Toro Bill Jr. wrestled his final match on April 16 of this year, a Best Two Out Of Three Falls Six-Man Tag Team match alongside partners Dulce Gardenia, Suicida against El Coyote, Negro Casas and Stigma.

Scott Hall

The passing of Scott Hall during the spring of 2022 sent shockwaves through the wrestling world. Hall, who worked for WCW under his real name and for the WWF as Razor Ramon, passed away on March 14, 2022 at the age of 63. According to Pro Wrestling Torch editor Wade Keller, complications stemming from hip replacement surgery put Hall on life support. He suffered from a trio of heart attacks after a blood clot got loose. Later that day, longtime friend Kevin Nash wrote in an Instagram post that Hall's family made the difficult decision to take him off life support. "My life was enriched with his take on life," Nash wrote. "He wasn't perfect but as he always said, 'the last perfect person to walk the planet they nailed to a cross.' As we prepare for life without him just remember there goes a great guy you ain't going to see another one like him again. See ya down the road Scott. I couldn't love a human being any more than I do you."

Chronic alcoholism throughout Hall's family, as shown in an episode of "E:60," created a unique set of challenges for "The Bad Guy" to overcome in his life. He trained for a career in wrestling under Hiro Matsuda, the Florida trainer who helped similarly sized athletes such as Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff break into the business. Hall went on to cut his teeth in Verne Gagne's AWA for five years. Hall eventually joined the WWF as Razor Ramon, a Tony Montana-inspired Cuban-American character from Miami. He had a memorable five-year run in WWF before he and Nash, then known as Diesel, made the overnight jump to WCW, kickstarting one of the most memorable storylines in wrestling history with the NWO. 

WWF brought him back in 2002, though Hall's inability to control his addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol led to his departure less than six months into his second run. With the help of Diamond Dallas Page, Hall gained control over his demons later in life, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on March 24, 2014. When the COVID-19 pandemic came about, Hall began to relapse, according to close friend Sean Waltman. Waltman detailed Hall's struggles to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, mentioning how Hall's weight had dropped to 210 pounds prior to his death. Waltman also spoke on Hall's legacy in wrestling as one of the greatest wrestlers to never win a major world championship.

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