Wrestling legend Shawn Michaels recently revealed that, for the first time since his retirement seven years ago, the WWE had offered him an opponent for WrestleMania. AJ Styles at WrestleMania 33, to be specific. Of course, the Heartbreak Kid is as retired as it gets, but his refusal of the offer was intriguing: “I wish that young man was here ten years ago.”
Leaving aside the fact that the near forty-year-old Styles isn’t exactly aglow with the shimmer of youth… was Michaels saying he’d have loved to wrestle AJ Styles at WrestleMania 23 instead of putting over a young John Cena? Or was he indulging in a little daydreaming and wishing the Styles of today could time travel to wrestle the HBK of yesterday?
Two men with equal claim to being the best wrestler in the world, in their prime and bringing their A-game on the grandest stage of them all: it’s fantasy booking magic. And we knew it back then – in 2007, fans were building AJ Styles on Smackdown Vs. Raw’s create-a-wrestler mode… and let’s face it, whenever the newest WWE game is released, it’s still the first thing we all do. After checking out the tournament and career modes, it’s all Andre Vs. Show or Hart Vs. Punk. We play out our wrestling fantasies, inventing angles and epic matches between stars who’ll never face off against each other for real.
With that in mind, here they are: fifteen impossible wrestling feuds you’d kill to see.
15. CM Punk Vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
After looking at the lights for the Undertaker at WrestleMania 29, CM Punk returned after a brief hiatus as a fierce, individualistic babyface, looking forward to a long, bitter feud with former best friend Paul Heyman and his musclebound minions. But afterward? There was no program in place to replace it, and a frustrated, burned out Punk was reaching crisis point.
Everyone knows where that train derailed: Punk walked out on the company the night after 2014’s Royal Rumble and never went back. But what if, allowing him time to recuperate and recharge, WWE had moved heaven and earth to bring “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in as his opponent in at WrestleMania 31?
Punk and Austin had been circling each other for a few years. Austin had often admitted that it rankled that he’d never had the definitive “last fight” retirement angle his legacy deserved. Meanwhile, Punk only had one goal left in wrestling: main-eventing WrestleMania.
Two televised confrontations between the two in June 2011 and October 2012 had briefly showcased the chemistry between them, and their in-ring styles were complementary, with the emphasis on storytelling over high spots. If anyone could have protected Austin – his neck and his reputation – it’s the ring general CM Punk. What’s more, heel or babyface, the storylines wrote themselves: straight edge straight-talker vs beer-swilling pitbull; rebellious iconoclast vs rebel icon.
Punk/Austin would have been a powerhouse draw as the main event of WrestleMania 31; Reigns/Lesnar wouldn’t have been harmed in the slightest by going on second-to-last. Of course, it never happened… and now it never will.
14. Daniel Bryan Vs. Shawn Michaels
Taking a look at a second magical feud that could have been but wasn’t, there’s no question that Shawn Michaels and Daniel Bryan could have stolen any show they liked. The two men already had a history together: Michaels trained Bryan, but sided with his former D-Generation X partner Triple H and the Authority when push came to shove. Their October 2013 confrontation on RAW could have set the scene for a bulletproof main event feud.
Of course, back then, confirmed retiree Michaels had no intention of returning to wrestle anyone, and today WWE won’t even allow Bryan to lace up his boots. But had that 2013 face off turned into something, it would have been something truly special. Both crowd favourites, their styles would have meshed perfectly. Bryan’s short stature belied his intense physicality, and Michaels was never better than when he was fighting from underneath.
In terms of storyline potential, the reverse would have been true. Even babyface, the Heartbreak Kid had a heel’s penchant for cheating, and he’d have had the might of the WWE’s Horrible Bosses behind him. 2013 Daniel Bryan, on the other hand, was WWE’s weird version of the underdog archetype: a courageous, indomitable badass facing impossible odds.
Bryan/Michaels could easily have eclipsed Michaels/Undertaker, Michaels/Jericho and even Michaels/Hart as HBK’s career best one-on-one feud. Meanwhile, it’s arguable that Daniel Bryan never really had a classic one-on-one feud in the WWE – and Michaels would certainly have given him that, in spades.
13. Los Guerreros Vs. Team Hell No
Having tested the waters with barnstormers that could have been but weren’t, let’s dip our toes into the truly impossible: two fantastic tag teams with perfect comic timing and peerless chemistry, separated by ten years and a death in the family.
Los Guerreros were a team where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Eddie Guerrero lent his nephew Chavo the star quality he lacked, while Chavo gave the sometimes wobbly Latino Heat stability and support. They were a match made in heaven – especially once they found their feet as heels-with-hearts-of-gold – cheerfully lying, cheating and stealing their way to the top.
Daniel Bryan and Kane, on the other hand, were a different tag team archetype: the odd couple, big man bruiser and feisty little asskicker, thunder and lightning. Just like Los Guerreros, however, their secret weapon was their idiosyncratic flair for oddball comedy. Their backstage skits could be overlong and stretch the audience’s patience, but the little moments between them, in the ring and out, were where they truly nailed it.
More than any other comedy tag team (I’m looking at you, Enzo & Cass, Santino and… well, anyone) Los Guerreros and Team Hell No were capable of incredible in-ring action. Against one another? Eddie and Chavo’s impudent mischief would play hilarious havoc with Daniel Bryan’s indignant hyper-aggression and po-faced outrage, not to mention Kane’s exasperated belligerence. Killer wrestling and high (and low) comedy – it doesn’t get much more rewarding than that.
12. Bret “The Hitman” Hart Vs. Kevin Owens
Arguably Bret Hart was at his working best in 1992/1993, the year the WWF properly handed him the ball and told him to run with it. That was the year he pinned “Rowdy” Roddy Piper at WrestleMania VIII (a rare honour) to regain the Intercontinental Championship, retained it against Shawn Michaels in the company’s first ever ladder match and carried the British Bulldog to a career-defining classic to drop the title again, headlining SummerSlam at Wembley Stadium. Two months later he’d beat Ric Flair for his first WWF World Heavyweight Championship, a title he’d hold for nearly six months.
That’s the Hitman at his finest, a peerless worker playing the ultimate white meat babyface, before he became a mark for himself… and I can’t think of anyone better to face that Bret Hart than Kevin Owens.
Owens in 2017 is everything the 1993 Hitman character wasn’t: self-centred, bitter and mean-spirited, he’s the worst person in the world, a backstabber who justifies every misanthropic action as “providing for his family”. The two would actively despise one another, and Owens’ gift for sarcastic, inventive invective would heat things up nicely, playing off Hart’s noble refusal to fire back.
In those days Bret Hart could pull out a four star match against a crash test dummy. Fortunately, in Kevin Owens he’d be facing a veteran worker with an unpredictable, fast-paced style at odds with his slovenly appearance. This is a feud that would bring the best out of both men.
11. Cesaro Vs. Andre The Giant
In 1981, Andre The Giant wasn’t yet afflicted by the physical issues that so curtailed his movement in later years. A seven foot colossus capable of deceptively fast and athletic movement in the ring, he was, without exaggeration, the most famous and highly paid wrestler in the world: a featured attraction wherever he went.
Cesaro is another freakish specimen, but in an entirely different way. The man is tall, well-built, and one of the best wrestlers in the world… but his physical strength is astonishing. Cesaro can deadlift and then throw wrestlers as hefty as Big E, who packs a shade under 300lbs into a 5 foot 10 frame. The problem is that Cesaro can’t talk: he gabbles, having never learned to pace a promo or pack in any light and shade. When you factor in an accent that flattens out everything he tries to say, you’re left with a big, good-looking guy who can do anything and everything in the ring, but still can’t make himself a bona fide star.
In this glorious fantasy world of mine, Cesaro would look miniscule next to Andre at first, a proper underdog – until they started to work one another. It’s the perfect opportunity to showcase Cesaro’s superb technical ability, building to a Giant-sized neutralizer, a move he’s pulled off on the Great Khali and the Big Show. Naturally, Andre would kick out, but it’s a Hulk-like showing that could – ideally – finally get Cesaro over.
10. Ken Shamrock Vs. Brock Lesnar
There’s a case to be made that, in the late nineties, Ken Shamrock was the prototypical Brock Lesnar in the WWF. With real life UFC credibility, a flat-headed intensity that was, from all reports, legitimately a little unnerving, and a huge ripped physique, Shamrock came across like a beast incarnate before the Beast Incarnate was even the Next Big Thing.
Of course, these days (even post-Goldberg), Lesnar has the indestructible aura of a mythological creature, not a professional wrestler. He’s been booked as the unstoppable monster for too long now to be taken seriously as an opponent for anyone except, I dunno, a werewolf or Voltron or something.
However, take 1998 Ken Shamrock and place him against 2012 Brock Lesnar and now you’re talking: two big, nasty men in their prime with legit backgrounds as UFC champions, bristling with terrifying, brutal charisma. Their auras would carve sparks from the air before they even locked up.
9. Credgeley Vs. The New Day
You’ll all be familiar with the wild and wacky New Day, but Credgeley? You’d need to be au fait with WWF programming circa late 2000, and the bizarre but amazing comic teaming between Edge, Christian and the loveable-muppet-commissioner version of Mick Foley.
If Los Guerreros and Team Hell No are the perfectly balanced match-up between comic and physical styles, then together, Credgeley and The New Day are a true spectacle; a goofy feast of hilarity, all gurning poses, dodgy props, clownish heeling about and the most implausibly brilliant playing to the crowd you’ve ever seen, from six masters of in-ring foolishness. Paced correctly, the build could legitimately be the best thing on wrestling TV for weeks on end.
You don’t even need the matches to be six-man affairs – in fact, it’d actually be better to make them standard tags. The fragile, recently retired Foley and New Day’s secret weapon Xavier Woods would remain on the outside, lending moral support and the occasional comedy high spot to the workhorses in the ring. As ten minutes of midcard merriment, Credgeley and The New Day could steal any card out from under anyone, and come away with enough memorable moments to fuel a new season’s worth of catchphrases and merchandise.
8. Samoa Joe Vs. Bruiser Brody
Samoa Joe’s career renaissance in the last year or two has been hugely rewarding to his many fans, not least because we had begun to resign ourselves to having lost him to TNA’s godawful fart machine of a booking committee. Fast, athletic, and intense, Joe’s offence looks legit, like it’s designed to end things quickly and painfully, not to show off to the crowd. You know, like in a real fight.
Samoa Joe’s no-nonsense approach is the perfect foil for the incredible lost monster of pro wrestling, Bruiser Brody. One of the great wild man workers of his or any other generation, in 1987 Brody was at the top of his game; an awe-inspiring in-ring presence, huge and unpredictable, but a fiercely intelligent man outside of the ring and by no means a one-note performer or character.
Joe might be smaller and less uninhibited, but he’d match Brody’s brutal intensity glare for glare. With his current “Destroyer” character’s penchant for strategy, you can envision a match where an initially overwhelmed Samoa Joe weathers the initial onslaught from the giant lunatic only to gradually whittle away at his offence, slowly forcing the bigger man to work the match he wants him to until he can lure him in for the Coquina Clutch.
7. Vader Vs. Braun Strowman
Big, appallingly strong, faster than you’d expect for his size, with a monstrous, threatening aura. Braun Strowman or Vader? Both, of course. If Joe Vs. Brody is a great example of how a clash of styles could be worked into a gripping storyline, then Vader Vs. Strowman is an example of how sometimes what you see is not only what you get, but what you want to get.
If late nineties Ken Shamrock was Brock Lesnar before Brock Lesnar, then by 1994, Vader occupied a similar position in WCW: a near uncontrollable, terrifyingly violent presence at the top of the roster that projected a genuine air of menace. Braun Strowman is fast becoming that for today’s WWE, but it remains to be seen whether the company’s inconsistent booking strategies and obsessive focus on two or three main event stars at a time will allow him to flourish as WCW allowed Vader.
Whatever the case, Strowman and a Vader in his prime make for a compelling, hair-raising fantasy match-up: huge, hyper-aggressive hoss against huge, hyper-aggressive hoss. It’d be a rare and exciting thing to see Vader as the smaller man, forced to fight from underneath… but there are also things that Vader, as athletic as he was brutal, could do back in the day that Strowman simply can’t pull off – like that famous superheavyweight moonsault.
6. Eddie Guerrero Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
At the high water mark of his wrestling career in 2004, there were few men in the world that combined technical virtuosity, storytelling flair and unstoppable charisma like Eddie Guerrero. Bridging the gap between the old school and the new, ridiculously popular with fans of all stripes and persuasions, it’s easy to argue that Latino Heat had it all as a performer, babyface or heel.
Today, if you want effortless charisma combined with hard-hitting technical prowess, you want Shinsuke Nakamura. Like Guerrero, the King Of Strong Style has the “it” factor, that nebulous quality that can’t be taught or worked. Like Guerrero, Nakamura works an intense style with several gears, leaving plenty of space for storytelling and showboating. It’s a marriage made in heaven.
That’s even more true when you consider that the only caveat about Nakamura at this early stage of his WWE main roster career is whether he can carry a promo. Well, that wouldn’t be an issue here: Guerrero had a history in Japan under the Black Tiger hood, having taken over from the original, Mark “Rollerball” Rocco, between 1993 and 1996.
Although he was an excellent promo himself, with perfect timing and chutzpah to spare, Eddie Guerrero was used to making magic with people with whom he couldn’t necessarily exchange fiery promos with. Given the right storyline (bragging rights? professional jealousy?) the two could have had an on-off rivalry for the ages.
5. Lou Thesz Vs. Kurt Angle
Trained by the fearsome George Tragos, Ad Santell and of course Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Lou Thesz was the biggest star of the newborn National Wrestling Alliance. By 1952, four years after the establishment of the NWA’s little monopoly-in-the-making, Thesz had unified almost all of the various “world” heavyweight championships dotted around the USA to establish himself as the undisputed top man in professional wrestling: a tough, practical, immensely talented athlete capable of working or shooting at the highest level.
Five decades later, Kurt Angle played a similar role in the WWE. Nicknamed “the wrestling machine”, Angle had transitioned out of various lesser heel and babyface characters and left the goofy comedy far behind, his wrestling character now as intense as his in-ring work had always been (and as the Olympic gold medallist was in real life).
Getting the two men to face off would, of course, be impossible: but imagining how they would work together is tantalising in the extreme. There’s the change in style between the NWA of 1952 and the WWE of 2005, the ultra competitive nature of both men – how would they mesh? Would the feud devolve into a shoot?
4. Three Faces Of Foley Triple Threat
Although Mick Foley began his WWF/E career as the deranged cellar-dwelling Mankind, and first became known to the wider wrestling fanbase as the vicious lunatic Cactus Jack, his first ever wrestling character was Dude Love. The version that finally saw ring-time in the WWF wasn’t really the ultra-cool loverman Foley had in mind, of course. Played for laughs, the Dude was deliberately bad, designed more to get “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to break character and corpse than to get over.
They’ve been on screen before, via the magic of video trickery; even in a match, the 1998 Royal Rumble, where Cactus Jack, Mankind and Dude Love entered in the number 1, 16 and 28 positions, respectively. But wrestling a match against one another? How would that work?
This is where the whole “impossible feuds” concept kicks into overdrive. Cactus Jack and Mankind are actually perfectly matched: two unhinged wildmen, one infamous for dishing out punishment, the other for taking it. As a triple threat – preferably with a no DQ gimmick – you’d have Dude Love playing the loveable babyface spoiler, all testicular fortitude, hanging in there against the odds. The big Cactus elbow from the apron onto Mankind… sweet shin music and a double underhook from the Dude on both men… Cactus breaking up a three-way mandible claw with a double DDT…
3. Rikidozan Vs. El Santo
Not every stellar, unforgettable feud needs to result in a technical masterclass. Remember the crowd response to The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8? Well, Rikidozan vs. Santo would have made that look like an empty arena match.
The biggest names in puroresu and lucha libre history are both long gone but, in their day, Rikidozan and El Santo weren’t just the top men in the sport in their respective countries, but two of the biggest stars of any kind; each a pop culture phenomenon, each the star of dozens of hit movies. Rikidozan – despite being Korean – had captured the imagination of a Japanese public desperate for a rallying point after the beating their national pride had taken in the war. Santo, on the other hand, wasn’t just a national hero in Mexico: he was a national superhero. Think of a combination of Hogan, Elvis and Superman and you’ve got the right idea.
No, Rikidozan vs. Santo wouldn’t have been any great critical success, but neither was Hogan vs. Andre at WrestleMania III. No, neither man spoke the other’s language or a common tongue, but this is a match that would have transcended mere promos and traditional storytelling: the hype alone would sell it. The only question would have been literally where on earth to hold the match.
2. Triple H Vs. Triple H
Poor continuity is a perennial bugbear for the storytelling purists among us – and over the last few years, there’s been few bears that have bugged us more than the WWE’s inexplicable decision to cast Triple H as both the bullying tyrant and iron fist of the Authority heel stable, and the cuddly father figure and visionary shepherd of NXT.
After all, the developmental roster and the main roster have a narrative continuity in common: in modern day moviemaking parlance, they’re part of a shared universe. It made little sense to have the biggest heel on Monday Night RAW also the biggest hero of their upstart third brand. So when you have the same person playing two, diametrically opposed versions of the same character at the same time, what’s the best possible outcome?
If you read that and shouted “FOOD FIGHT!” then I like the way you think, but no. Try “SUPERMAN 3 JUNKYARD FIGHT”. In a pro wrestling equivalent of the greatest scene in cinema history, this would pit the eeevil version of Triple H against NXT’s Papa Bear.
Provided both men could be reined in from their natural tendency to turn promos into stagey, half-hour ego trips, the build for any feud between the ‘Aitches would be gold. As for the match itself, it would have to be WrestleMania to satisfy the dual Levesque ego, leaning into their tendency to turn marquee matches into melodrama by making it a Last Man Standing affair… for the soul of the WWE.
1. The Four Horsemen Vs. The Rock
Back in late 1985 when Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson and Ole Anderson formed the Four Horsemen, they were the epitome of the last-gang-in-town heel faction, living the gimmick – but the biggest part of their rep was for the ice-cold prison-beating.
The Horsemen would feud with your heroes and break them into little pieces. They broke the American Dream’s ankle, and later on, his hand. They busted the faces of the Rock N’ Roll Express and snatched the US title from rising sensation Magnum T.A. If there was a beloved babyface anywhere in the NWA, he was on borrowed time: the Horsemen would swagger into his line of sight, insult his mother, steal his girlfriend and leave him bleeding on the ring apron. That was their gig: but back then, the Horsemen had never seen a babyface like 1999’s iteration of The Rock.
Arrogant, aggressive and ultra-cool, dripping with disdain, The Rock was the least likely people’s champion you could imagine: but the people loved him, on a level few had seen since the heyday of Dusty Rhodes and the Hulkster. That would have painted a target on his back for the 1986 version of the Horsemen… but The Rock was cooler than Flair, meaner than Tully, tougher than either Anderson, and – what with the Corporation, the Ministry et al – more than used to being ganged up on.
No one but The Rock could have given the Horsemen a run for their money. Yes, it’s impossible (they were separated by fifteen years and working for a rival company), but that’s all part of the fun, right?