Normally in the wrestling world, an on-screen rivalry may look heated, but behind the scenes, there’s no beef between the competitors. However, every so often, that on-screen beef could boil over backstage into a real life feud. Through means of backstage politics and egos colliding, it’s hard for wrestling personalities not to butt heads the more they spend time around each other. Take the infamous feud between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart for example. What many tend to forget is that the two started off as good friends when they first joined the WWF. Then, the more that they feuded on-screen and were gunning harder for the company’s top spot, life started to imitate art. One thing led to another, Bret said some things he shouldn’t have said (criticized Michaels for posing nude in Playgirl), Shawn said some things he shouldn’t have said (implied on TV that Bret was having an affair with WWF Diva, Sunny), the two fought behind and in front of the camera, the Montreal Screwjob happened…it just turned into a mess. While their real life issues with each other were never utilized into their on-screen feud in 1997, the tension between them on camera was clear as day and could have been cut with a knife.
Then, rarely, there are feuds that start before either parties get in the ring. Sometimes, when blood boils between two famous faces, it creates a lot of media buzz. When that happens, those involved have two options. One is to duke it out behind closed doors at risk of losing their job. The other is to integrate the legitimate feud into a storyline and make a profit that capitalizes on the publicity. If they choose the latter, they’d usually hash out their differences backstage for the most part. Then they get in front of the cameras and exaggerate their anger towards each other for the sake of entertainment. A lot of the feuds on this list went down like that.
With rumors that The Rock and Vin Diesel could bring their recent Fast 8 feud to WrestleMania, here’s a list of feuds that were so extreme behind the scenes that they led to wrestling matches.
15. Vince McMahon vs Bret Hart
Speaking of Shawn Michaels vs Bret Hart, remember the Montreal Screwjob? Of course you do! You know who else remembers the Montreal Screwjob? Bret Hart and it’s been the bane of his existence for almost 20 years. Not only because it must be irritating to be called in every couple years to take part in similar Screwjob angles, but because he burned bridges upon leaving WWE; especially with Vince McMahon, who Bret spat at on live TV. Bret’s fury wouldn’t end there as they had an altercation backstage that led to Bret punching out Vince. Vince’s grapefruits may have been intact, but his relationship with his friend, Bret, was severed.
It wouldn’t be until Bret’s 2002 stroke that the two would reconcile. Even then, Bret wasn’t interested in a WWE return. That is until Vince approached Bret about starting an angle that would lead to a match between the two at WrestleMania 26 to give the fans some payoff to what happened in Montreal. The match went as planned in 2010 to less than favorable reviews. On the plus side, it did give Bret the chance to mend broken bridges with guys like Shawn Michaels.
14. Vince McMahon vs Hulk Hogan
In a possible case of two massive egos not being able to co-exist, Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan have had an on and off feud for the past few decades. This is what really happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.
The two frenemies started leaning towards being enemies in 1994 when Hogan left WWF to join the company’s biggest competitor, WCW. Around the same time, Hogan would testify against McMahon in the scandalous steroid trial that almost put Vince in jail and nearly brought down the WWF. While Hogan did end up defending McMahon in his testimony–preventing McMahon from being found guilty–that and Hogan’s WCW stint were key points mentioned in the on-screen feud between them that led to their Street Fight at WrestleMania 19. Despite everything Hogan’s done against WWE, he and The Chairman always found a way to bury the hatchet for the sake of business.
Most recently, McMahon had to fire Hogan in 2015 after Hogan’s racist remarks from his sex tape were released. But if history is any indicator, these two will probably reconcile again in due time. But Vince and his rival in this next entry? Probably not.
13. Vince McMahon vs CM Punk
In case you haven’t noticed by now, Vince McMahon is pretty fond of letting his employees beat him up on-screen whenever they have an issue with him. CM Punk is his most recent example.
In 2011, when CM Punk was having issues with company management and was tempted to quit WWE, McMahon let Punk air out his grievances live on the air in an infamous “pipe bomb” promo. Among the many disparaging comments that Punk made about the company, he told the crowd that he believed that WWE would be better off if Vince McMahon was dead. Which I wouldn’t recommend saying about your boss in any environment.
Apparently, that wasn’t enough for Punk. While he did stay with the company, his morale would decline in the coming years. As Vince has proven in the past, he thinks it’s best for business to bring backstage issues to the light and in front of a camera for the sake of entertainment. McMahon did just that as he booked himself in a match with Punk on the October 8th, 2012 edition of Monday Night Raw. While having a match with McMahon usually cools down the bad blood he has with a wrestler, the same could not be said for Punk as he would end up leaving the company a little over a year later and publicly slander WWE on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast.
12. Triple H vs CM Punk
Hey look! Finally, an entry that doesn’t involve Vince McMahon! Well, actually, it kind of does still involve Vince as CM Punk’s aforementioned pipe bomb name-dropped Vince right alongside his (as Punk called him) “doofus son in law,” Triple H.
Given that Triple H was slowly being primed for a company position that could possibly get him the keys to the WWE kingdom once McMahon dies, Punk had just as much of a problem with Triple H as he did with McMahon. In all likelihood, Punk may have easily despised Triple H even more. Taking lessons from the Vince McMahon School of Hard Knocks, Triple H ended up wrestling Punk at the Night of Champions pay-per-view that took place not long after the pipe bomb. Much like with Vince, wrestling each other didn’t make their relationship any better. It probably didn’t help that Triple H made Punk lose to him. In fact, Punk said himself on Colt Cabana’s podcast that one of the last things he told Triple H before quitting in 2014 was “I seriously resent you for not putting me over 3 years ago when you should have. That would’ve been best for business.”
11. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Eric Bischoff
Speaking of best for business, you know what isn’t best for business? Firing one of the hottest talents in professional wrestling via a voicemail. That’s exactly what Eric Bischoff did to Stone Cold Steve Austin when the two were in WCW.
Back in 1995, when Stone Cold was just a young Stunning Steve Austin nursing a triceps injury at home, he received a message on his answering machine from the WCW Vice President. In it, Bischoff said that he and WCW decided to terminate Austin’s contract because no one in the company saw star potential in Austin. Austin would make Bischoff eat his words with his WWE run as Stone Cold. Before that, a pissed off Austin briefly joined ECW where he famously mocked Bischoff and WCW as “where the big boys play with each other.” The two wouldn’t cross paths again until Bischoff joined WWE in 2002 and a year later, the two faced off at No Way Out in Austin’s first match since his publicized walk out. Storyline wise, the match was made because Bischoff couldn’t resign Austin to Raw, but it’s not hard to imagine that Austin’s real animosity towards Bischoff is what inspired the match to be booked.
10. Brock Lesnar vs Hardcore Holly
In the old school days of wrestling, it was common practice for the veterans to haze the young new guys as a way for them to earn their stripes. If that young guy was a 300lb gorilla like Brock Lesnar, maybe that’s someone a veteran should think twice about hazing. Just ask Hardcore Holly.
The legend goes that allegedly, Holly would attempt to haze Lesnar backstage, which only fueled the beast’s rage. This would culminate on a September 12th, 2002 edition of SmackDown where Lesnar attempted a powerbomb on Holly, but Holly would apparently sandbag him; preventing Lesnar from lifting him. Lesnar’s response? Drop Holly on his neck and kick him while he was down. Holly has claimed that the sandbag attempt was a rumor and this was merely a freak accident, but either way, it’s hard not to be scorn with someone who broke your neck and put you on the shelf for 13 months. So when Holly returned from injury, the two brought whatever animosity they might have had for each other to the ring for a match at Royal Rumble 2004.
9. JBL vs Blue Meanie
If the Holly incident didn’t convince you it was a bad idea to haze people, maybe the altercation between JBL and The Blue Meanie will.
JBL has admitted to hazing people backstage and has a well documented reputation with bullying ECW alumni (including Joey Styles at a Tribute to the Troops event). Meanie admitted on Chris Jericho‘s podcast that in addition to other negative comments against JBL he made on the internet, he complained about JBL’s bully antics where he was “kind of an asshole.” When JBL caught wind of Meanie’s comments, JBL saw fit to bludgeon Meanie on live TV during the ECW One Night Stand 2005 pay-per-view. Talk about being a big meanie.
When Meanie considered suing JBL for leaving him a bloody mess, WWE decided to save face by booking Meanie and JBL in a match on the July 7th edition of SmackDown later that year. Meanie would go on to beat JBL in the match thanks to his friend Stevie Richards legitimately clobbering JBL with a chair. As the above picture suggests, that was all it took for the two to let bygones be bygones.
8. Ric Flair vs Shane Douglas
Despite Shane Douglas citing Ric Flair as the reason he joined the business, The Franchise has never seen eye to eye with The Nature Boy. Douglas actually gained notoriety in mid-90’s in ECW for cutting promos about Flair and professing him as one of the main reasons that Douglas was held down in WCW when Flair was booking the show. Even outside of the ring, Douglas criticizes Flair for taking part in unprofessional behavior. Flair rarely responds or retaliates in his own interviews, but when he does, he hits just as hard. In one interview, Flair shot down the idea of wrestling Douglas because to Flair, Douglas is nothing but “a clerk at KMart.” Funny that Flair said that given how they actually did wrestle each other after Douglas returned to WCW.
When Shane Douglas used the real life heat between them to fuel their on-screen fire leading into Slamboree 2000, WCW management feared the two wouldn’t be able to get along for the angle. Miraculously, the two managed to do business with each other without killing each other. While the heat hasn’t cooled down between them by now, they’ve at least been able to keep a safe distance from each other.
7. Ric Flair vs Mick Foley
His feud with Shane Douglas wasn’t his first rodeo and it definitely wasn’t his last.
Hardcore legend Mick Foley always thought that he and Flair were on good terms with each other. After all, they worked in WCW together and wrestled at WrestleMania 20 against each other; Foley teaming with The Rock against Flair, Batista, and Randy Orton. Foley was shocked in 2006 to read that Flair called Foley a “glorified stuntman” in his book, To Be The Man. Foley was furious enough to confront Flair about this and after refusing a handshake from the Nature Boy, Flair punched Foley in the face leading to a full blown fight.
They would later bring that fight to the ring for a 2 out of 3 Falls Match at Vengeance (a fitting name for a pay-per-view housing this feud) and an I Quit match at Summerslam. The rivalry brought in all the aspects of their real altercation and when it was all over, the two became good friends all over again.
6. Goldberg vs Chris Jericho
One of the main reasons Chris Jericho left WCW in 1999 was because of his failed program with Goldberg. At the time, Jericho had a running gag where he would come on-screen and challenge Goldberg to a match. Since Goldberg never showed up, Jericho would reward himself with forfeit victories. Jericho tried to convince WCW management to book a match between them on pay-per-view, but despite Jericho wanting to lose in a squash, no one (including Goldberg) wanted it to happen because no one backstage saw Jericho as someone on Goldberg’s level.
When they found themselves together in WWE in 2003, their heat was reignited after someone told Jericho that Goldberg was criticizing his wrestling and selling abilities in gorilla position. Refusing to have a repeat of their WCW days, Jericho confronted Goldberg. They had a verbal back and forth until Goldberg grabbed Jericho’s throat, leading to a scuffle that Jericho surprisingly won; keeping Goldberg down with a front facelock. Lesson of the story? Don’t mistake a 220lb ex-bouncer for a chump.
Later that year, the two finally had a match nearly 5 years in the making. The event that would house the bad blood between these two was, ironically, Bad Blood. Unlike their backstage encounter, Goldberg came out on top.
5. Vader vs Will Ospreay
This is the most recent entry on this list and, arguably, the most bizarre pairing. No one would’ve ever imagined that legendary mastodon, Big Van Vader, would ever get in the ring with rising star, Will Ospreay, but thanks to a heated Twitter exchange earlier this summer, that’s just what happened.
Will Ospreay wrestled Ricochet in a NJPW match that divided fans across the globe as to whether or not it was an innovative masterpiece or a senseless spotfest. Vader argued the latter stating that the match looked too “flippy” like choreographed gymnastics and lacked a proper story. For the most part, Ospreay laughed off the tweets and said that as a fan, he genuinely wanted a match with Vader. Vader took it personally by repeatedly calling Ospreay a “chickenshit” and threatening to legitimately hurt Ospreay if they were ever face to face. Vader’s wish came true when the two were booked in a match in a UK Revolution Pro Wrestling event on August 12th where Vader won. Seeing as their tweets against each other have stopped, it’s safe to say that the feud is over.
4. Daniel Bryan vs The Authority
While certainly not the most heated exchange on this list, it is the best example of art imitating life and vice versa.
One of the major angles of 2013 and 2014 was that of Daniel Bryan constantly getting held back by The Authority; represented on-screen by Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Despite the massive fan reaction Bryan received every week, The Authority would prevent him from winning the WWE Championship and say he couldn’t be a main eventer because he was a “B+ Player”. If a 2013 report by Figure Four Weekly is anything to go off, this was a true consensus behind the scenes as some backstage officials (Vince McMahon included) supposedly didn’t see “money” or “star potential” in Bryan. Given how well the storyline turned out with Bryan getting his comeuppance by leaving the WrestleMania 30 main event as WWE Champion, it’s easy for officials to claim it was a part of the plan all along. However, Bryan said himself in his book that it wasn’t. Originally, Bryan was slotted to face Sheamus at that year’s WrestleMania, but since the fans rejected Batista in the main event and CM Punk left, there were no other wrestlers that would send the fans home happy other than Daniel Bryan.
3. John Cena vs The Rock
We all remember the highly publicized Once in a Lifetime (well, Twice in a Lifetime; Thrice in a Lifetime probably coming soon) WrestleMania dream match between The People’s Champion and The Leader of the CeNation. We should also remember all of the verbal jabs they threw at each other before The Rock returned to WWE in 2011.
It all started in 2008 when Cena revealed in an interview with The Sun that he did not like that The Rock would say that he loved the wrestling business when he was busy acting. The way Cena saw it, either he loved wrestling or he didn’t. Cena didn’t like the idea of The Rock jerking people around that he could come back when, at that point, he wasn’t showing up. The two would trade retorts in respective interviews for years until The Rock finally returned in 2011 and then wrestled Cena at back-to-back Manias.
The real feud between the two must’ve settled by now as The Rock admitted in a recent ESPN interview that he “did not like [Cena], and [Cena] did not like [The Rock], and it was legitimate. But, since then, [they’ve] become really, really good buddies.”
2. Kurt Angle vs Jeff Jarrett
Boy, does it get messy from here.
In 2008, Kurt Angle finalized a divorce from his wife, Karen. For his reality show, The Real Angle, Kurt admitted that he was cheating on her for 2 1/2 years, but there’s also a possibility that Karen had an affair of her own. In a 2009 Howard Stern interview, Kurt claimed that Karen cheated on him and implied it was with a fellow wrestler. Not long afterwards, it was reported that Karen was dating Jeff Jarrett and in 2010, the two got married. TNA management had the bright idea of bringing this love triangle to the screen for a series of matches and one of the most uncomfortable, awkward rivalries fans had to sit through. At one point, Angle was legitimately furious because he thought aspects of Karen and Jeff’s on-screen relationship made Kurt look like a deadbeat dad. One segment involved Karen and Jeff renewing their vows with both Kurt and their children present. The whole thing just screamed awkward and it’s incredible that everyone involved were able to go through with the angle.
1. Matt Hardy vs Edge
This is easily the most well known real life incident that was turned into a wrestling angle. And with good reason.
Matt Hardy was friends with Edge and dating Lita for years, but Hardy and Lita were often separated from each other in 2005 given they were on separate brands at the time. Since Edge and Lita were contracted to Raw, both saw a lot of each other and eventually started an affair. Edge was married at the time, by the way. When Hardy learned about the affair, he went public by blasting them both on the internet. When WWE caught wind of all this, they fired Hardy for being unprofessional, but that only made things worst. Crowds would scream Hardy’s name at events as well as chants like “Whore!” at Lita and “You screwed Matt!” at Edge. When Hardy approached WWE about capitalizing on the buzz with a storyline, WWE re-hired Hardy and booked him against Edge at SummerSlam. Granted, it turned out to be a short and disappointing bout, but they made up for it the following month with a classic Cage match and later a Ladder match. While Matt didn’t exactly rekindle friendships with either party, the three did work out their issues before working together.