Professional wrestling is an easy business to understand. Competitors are tossed into mock feuds over championships or simply because their characters are not fond of one another, and weeks of setting up an in-ring battle via verbal and sometimes physical encounters leads to two guys facing off in a match. Fans in attendance and watching on television cheer on the wrestler of their choice as the athletes engage in a staged contest. Sometimes, more than one match is required to determine the true winner of a feud. It is a business model that has worked all around the world, one that is not difficult to grasp.
While the performers involved in these feuds are playing roles, they are real people with real emotions. Just as at any place of business, those emotions can boil over and result in genuine disagreements that turn into actual feuds. Those feuds are, in some cases, either played out in or inserted into pro wrestling storylines. That is not always a bad thing, of course. World Wrestling Entertainment is just one of several companies to take two guys who aren’t getting along behind the curtain and throw them into what is hoped to be a marketable feud that makes the wrestlers and the company money.
The practice has, at times, worked well for WWE. The most-famous feud in the history of the company, one referenced during WWE television programing to this day, was as real as real gets in 1997. It also ultimately helped change the face of pro wrestling in the United States forever. Without that feud playing out as it did behind the curtain and in the ring, WWE may not even exist today. On the opposite end of the spectrum was a feud that actually didn’t exist outside of the mind of one individual, one that, because of pride and ego, cost WWE quite a lot of money over a decade ago.
10. WWF vs. The Alliance
Perhaps this should be renamed “Vince McMahon versus himself.” McMahon and the then-named World Wrestling Federation had won the so-called Monday Night War, gaining possession of World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling in the process. The hope at the time was that the WWF could run an “invasion” storyline involving wrestlers from the defunct companies taking on WWF superstars. McMahon and his staff never allowed the invading athletes who once competed for ratings and attention against the WWF to appear too strong during televised segments, however, and WWF superstars were eventually mixed into the faction known as “The Alliance.” The plot was abandoned in roughly half of a year, and it is seen as the most botched storyline in WWF/WWE history.
9. CM Punk vs. Vince McMahon/WWE
“I love the place I work, I just hate the people in charge” said CM Punk during a WWE Raw segment several years ago. How true those words would ring in 2014. The Straight Edge Superstar who had been in his share of on-air feuds with management over the years walked out on WWE in 2014, and he stated on multiple occasions that he is retired as an active wrestler. Punk took to the Art of Wrestling podcast in November 2014 to air his many grievances about WWE, including the fact that he was officially fired on his wedding day. McMahon has since publicly apologized for that action, leading some to believe that a Punk return to WWE may not, at some point, be out of the question.
8. Ric Flair vs. Mick Foley
The two icons of the ring had apparently feuded behind the scenes during the 1990s when they were employed by WCW. Both Flair and Foley took public shots at each other for how they conducted themselves in the business, the most famous being when Flair referred to the legend of hardcore wrestling as a “glorified stuntman.” Real animosity between the two played out on television in a variety of promos, and the two fought in WWE rings in 2006. They were also rivals as performers in TNA Wrestling. While they probably won’t be sending Christmas cards to each other anytime soon, it is believed that Flair and Foley are no longer enemies.
7. Booker T vs. Batista
Booker T and Batista feuded over more than a title in 2006. The two were at a SummerSlam photo shoot in ’06 when something happened to cause the five-time WCW champion to challenge the former Evolution member to a brawl. Batista was reportedly dominated in the brief struggle years before he would go on to dabble in mixed martial arts and in Hollywood acting, so much so that Batista “took a pretty good beating.” King Booker has quite the mean streak in him, something that The Animal found out about the hard way on a day when he was probably underestimating his competition.
6. Chris Jericho vs. Goldberg
What actually has happened between these two over the years remains at least somewhat of a mystery. The popular story is that Goldberg believed that he was too big of a star to feud with Chris Jericho when the two were in WCW. Goldberg and Jericho were again working for the same company, this time WWE, in 2003 when Jericho, still holding a grudge because of what happened behind the scenes at WCW, took it to Goldberg in a fight. Goldberg remembers their disagreements happening a bit differently. One thing that cannot be debated is that Goldberg was the winner of the in-ring WWE feud in ’03.
5. Matt Hardy vs. Edge/Lita
It is one of the well-known real-life WWE feuds among fans who were following the product in 2005. Lita, the long-time girlfriend of the older Hardy brother, entered into a relationship with Edge while Hardy was recovering from an injury. Hardy and the WWE would part ways with one another once he learned about the affair, but he was ultimately brought back for an in-ring feud with his rival. It was Edge and not Hardy who emerged as the true superstar of the feud, though, as it kick-started his “Rated-R Superstar” gimmick that led to him becoming a WWE Champion and one of the top performers in the company for many years.
4. Ric Flair vs. Bret Hart
They are two of the greatest in-ring workers in the history of North American professional wrestling, and yet they couldn’t stand each other when they were active workers. Flair has referred to Hart as a “p–sant in the history of wrestling” and “a legend in his own mind.” Hart, meanwhile, has stated during multiple personal appearances that he believes Flair to be an overrated wrestler. The Hitman and master of the “Sharpshooter” finishing hold even accused The Nature Boy of sabotaging matches involving the two Hall of Fame members. Sometimes, there really is only so much room for so much ego in one ring.
3. ECW vs. TNN
TNN, now Spike TV, was supposed to be a lifeline for ECW in 1999. That would prove to not be the case, as the two could not come together on which segments could and should air during weekly broadcasts. Paul Heyman, fed up due to feeling handcuffed by the television company, used those battles as fuel for an on-air heel stable known as “The Network.” The character Cyrus played the role of official TNN spokesperson, one who would criticize content that he felt was either too violent or overly crude and offensive for the national network. Neither that storyline nor anything else Heyman attempted could keep ECW from going bankrupt in 2001.
2. Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage
These two worked together as partners and as opponents for decades in the WWF and WCW. That the two larger-than-life personalities would not get along from time to time was inevitable. Part of the feud had to do with Savage being famously protective of valet Miss Elizabeth. Their rocky relationship went south following the demise of WCW, and Savage challenged Hogan to a legitimate fight in a rap song that became a cult classic. Seriously, look it up. Only Hogan knows for sure how much, if at all, they had reconciled when Savage tragically passed away after he suffered a heart attack while operating a vehicle in May 2011.
1. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
“The Montreal Screwjob” was real in that Bret Hart had no idea he was about to be ambushed at the 1997 Survivor Series. While Hart did not get along with the Heartbreak Kid, the Hitman was confident that he had come up with a solid exit strategy that benefited all parties before he departed for WCW. That, as is known, was not the case, and it is a night that changed wrestling history. There may not have been a Mr. McMahon character without this incident, after all, meaning that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin may not have gotten as hot as he did in the WWF. Say what you will about the decision, but McMahon unquestionably did what was best for business on that night.