Professional wrestling, or “sports entertainment,” is notorious for creating some heated feuds in the ring. Yet sometimes, the best entertainment comes from what happens off-screen, in the locker rooms and beyond. The WWE has quite a lengthy list of real life, off-screen feuds throughout the decades, some more well-documented than others. From contract disputes to love affairs to general animosity outside the ring, we’ve seen our fair share of heat, some of which has even been captured and brought into wrestling matches and story lines.
The entertainment value of these feuds certainly adds an extra level when brought on screen, even though it sometimes comes at the expense of the superstars’ personal lives and relationships. Always the businessman, Vince McMahon tends to use every feud and every opportunity to his advantage to boost ratings and dollars. Let’s look at some of the greatest WWE feuds in the new millennium.
10. John Cena vs. The Rock
Around 2011, prior to WrestleMania 28, there was some very real tension between Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena. During an interview with Muscle and Fitness magazine, The Rock admitted that the feud in their storyline actually stemmed from real-life animosity between the two. The Rock was offended over some comments Cena made regarding Rock’s movie career being his only concern, not professional wrestling. The two eventually agreed to disagree, and decided to use their tension toward each other backstage in the ring – two years in a row. The storyline feud had many fans convinced that the pair truly did hate each other, however, in reality they both respect one another, and put their difference of opinions aside and worked cordially to put on a great show for their fans.
9. Stone Cold vs. Vince McMahon
In June of 2002, Steve Austin walked out and left the company due to mounting frustration regarding the utilization of his character, and other general business decisions. One day, Austin didn’t show up to a scheduled Raw performance, much to the dismay of fans, and Vince. This wasn’t the first time Austin disappointed spectators by not following through with a performance. A few months prior, although he didn’t leave the company at the time, he chose to be absent from Raw, where he was expected to perform. McMahon wanted Austin to publicly apologize, saying that he owed his fans an explanation and apology for the unprofessional manner in which he stepped out. Austin admits that he was just overall burnt out and left the WWE for a while, finally returning about eight months later.
8. Mick Foley vs. Ric Flair
One of the most notorious real-life feuds that also translated over into the wrestling ring was between Mick Foley and Ric Flair in 2005. Flair wrote in his autobiography that Foley will be “remembered as a glorified stuntman,” among other negative remarks regarding the hardcore wrestling star. As a result, Foley walked into a cafeteria backstage at a Raw show one night and tossed Flair’s book at him, sarcastically asking him to sign the book so that he could put it up on eBay for auction. Later, Foley took a few jabs aimed toward Flair in his own autobiography.
WWE took the opportunity to take the heat into the ring and created a storyline using the off-screen spat as a guide for the on-screen feud. These days, all is right in their world as Flair and Foley actually reconciled during a recent plane ride.
7. Big Show vs. Great Khali
According to Chris Jericho, this feud was bound to happen sooner or later. Big Show, already viewing The Great Khali as a competitor for the title of WWE’s largest athlete, became irate after watching Khali steal his signature move during a match. The move, in which Show hushes the crowd before delivering a harsh slap to his opponent’s chest, had been used by Khali a time or two prior to the incident. After witnessing Khali use his move yet again, even after Show warned him to refrain from doing so, Show lashed out. Harsh words were exchanged, and Show threw punches at Khali, before tripping and falling on a bag on the ground. The fight was eventually broken up, and Big Show recalls it as the worst fist fight he has ever been involved in.
6. Chris Jericho vs. Bill Goldberg
Jericho, a top draw in WWE, got wind that Goldberg had been talking trash about him to Kevin Nash. At Goldberg’s first Raw in Milwaukee, Jericho stormed into his locker room to confront him about the alleged insults. Once confronted, Goldberg denied ever having said anything about him, going on to call Jericho a “prima donna,” and telling him, “You never wanted to do the job for me in WCW.” When Jericho snapped back at him that his accusations were incorrect, Goldberg rushed at him, grabbing him by the throat. Jericho maneuvered Goldberg into a front facelock, taking him down onto the ground, and a full fledged brawl broke out, and was eventually broken up by fellow wrestlers. After some more jaw-jacking, Jericho walked over to Goldberg in an attempt to reconcile. The men shook hands and agreed to work cordially with each other from that point on. They succeeded, and have even almost formed a friendship after their behind-the-scenes ordeal.
5. Edge vs. Matt Hardy
While Matt Hardy was out of commission nursing a serious knee injury in 2004, a real-life love triangle sparked a feud between these two WWE superstars. Edge formed a bond with Hardy’s real-life girlfriend, Lita, in Hardy’s absence, eventually leading into a full-blown affair. Matt Hardy was fired from the WWE when his actions after his discovery of the betrayal from his long-time best friend and former lover were deemed inappropriate. With dollar signs in their eyes, the WWE agreed to reinstate Hardy after realizing what a money-maker this feud could be if brought into the ring. Edge, who was already a heel at this point, used the opportunity to boost his “bad guy” image, along with his career. Now known as one of the greatest WWE stars of all time, I’m sure Edge has made peace with his decision, as both men have since gone on to have successful wrestling careers.
4. Vince McMahon vs. CM Punk
Did he quit, or was he fired? After months and months of silence, CM Punk emerged to publicly clarify and explain his departure from the WWE. Punk cited inadequate medical care and the company’s disregard for his life and health as his main reasons (among others), for wanting out. In incident after incident, Punk had just about had it with the lack of concern for his health by the WWE.
After finally speaking up, Punk was unsuccessful in coming to a compromise with “The Authority,” and he left. Punk later publicly scolded McMahon and Triple H for how they treated the star after his departure. CM Punk’s contract was terminated, and the paperwork was given to him on the day of his wedding to WWE Diva A. J. Lee. Today, Punk denies that he is still bitter, and never plans to return to the WWE.
3. Curt Hennig vs. Brock Lesnar
The infamous Hennig-Lesnar fight happened during a seven-hour flight that has since been dubbed “The Plane Ride From Hell.” One of many incidents to happen aboard the flight, the brawl between the two wrestlers was ignited after they began taking jabs at each other over who was the better amateur wrestler. Already fed up from previous events on the same flight, several other professional wrestlers on board the plane had to separate the heated pair. The brawl took the men into the aisles, and it has been reported that they almost broke the exit door of the plane. Soon after the incident, Hennig was released from the WWE.
2. Booker T vs. Batista
In the wrestling world, sometimes having a big mouth can land you in some hot water. Such was the case when Batista decided to start flapping his gums in the locker room, much to the dismay of his fellow wrestlers. After listening to him go on about his false sense of entitlement, including saying that Smackdown! failed without him, Batista found himself in the middle of a brawl with Booker T, who did not take this disrespect lightly. After jaw-jacking for a few minutes, a quick fist fight broke out, ending with Batista leaving cut up and bruised by the beating. Booker T has credited his experience with street fighting as giving him the upper hand in the fight.
1. Stephanie McMahon vs. Chyna
Another love triangle in the WWE? Say it ain’t so! Stephanie McMahon certainly had some cojones to steal Chyna’s man away. I guess being the boss’s daughter gives you a sense of invincibility. After finding a love letter from Stephanie addressed to her then-boyfriend in his briefcase, Chyna’s fears about reality and fiction colliding turned out to be true. Going to Vince was futile, as he apparently seemed to already know about the affair, long before Chyna’s discovery. Stephanie clearly had no remorse for stealing the love of her co-worker’s beau, sending Chyna into a rage, hurling threats and insults at Stephanie. In the end, Chyna was released by the WWE, sending her career from sports entertainment to the adult entertainment industry.