The WWE doesn’t really sell a tangible product. They don’t really care how many t-shirts people buy. They’re not extremely interested in the night’s attendance. They couldn’t give two squats about their pay-per-view numbers. The WWE’s best and most valuable product that keeps them up at night? Drama. The WWE has spent decades perfecting how to manage, package, and produce the business of drama for its fans. And boy, has business been good.
In the years before the Kardashians were fighting over who had the worst taste in men on TV, professional wrestlers had given the world intense conflict. Every other reality show has tried to follow in its footsteps ever since. For generations, the WWE understood that the only thing that really “moves the needle” is good guys and bad guys fighting against each other. By throwing in money and men built like superheroes, the WWE stirred a pot in the souls of wrestling fans that has yet to overcook.
Without drama, wrestling could have packed up their bags, partnered with that other WWF (the one with the animals) and faded into the sunset. But with rivalries like these, surviving changes in technology and threats to their business for years, the WWE’s future looks bright. Check out the 15 greatest WWE rivalries of all time. When it’s over, feel free to call this “The People’s List,” just like The Rock would. Okay, he may never read this article, but just pretend he did.
15. Triple H vs. The Undertaker
“I will face you at WrestleMania under one condition… Hell… in a Cell!”
These two wrestlers were fighting for more than glory between the ropes. They were fighting for more than just to protect their legacies. They were fighting for more than a spot in line at the nacho cart after the match. They were fighting for who had the longest hair in the WWE… wait, that’s not right. They were fighting for (say it out loud) The Streak!
Triple H couldn’t do it at Wrestlemania 28, but his efforts to make that happen were more than admirable. Eventually, Brock Lesnar would break the streak, but the grudge between these two was palpable, being only one of 2 feuds to ever have 3 matches at the Grandest Stage in professional wrestling.
14. Edge vs. John Cena
“You’ve got to be one with nature, you tree-hugging son of a b***h!”
Even the Air Canada Centre couldn’t hold in the anticipation of the match between John Cena and Edge. Cena, the face of the WWE, had some serious competition with Edge in previous matches and had some real hatred for him. Naturally, Edge couldn’t stand that the WWE was in the middle of a Cena-focused era and did everything he could to bring it down, going as far as attacking Cena’s dad.
Edge even threw Cena’s belt into the Long Island Sound, keeping Cena from ever being able to keep his cargo shorts up. Cena got the upper hand though and threw Edge into the Long Island Sound along with his belt. Through it all, Edge cemented his legacy as a main eventer and his equal to Cena.
13. Mr T. vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper
“…and I know who you are because your name’s written on the back of the chair and I’m assuming it’s there so you don’t get lost!”
Rowdy Roddy Piper was unquestionably skilled in the ring. But Piper’s best skill was antagonizing the crap out of everyone he came across. It’s the reason why he is one of the WWE’s top villains of all time. He had a bad habit of pissing off everyone, but one person whose skin he got under the most had to be Mr. T. Piper was furious that Mr. T. was hardly a “real” wrestler who came into the inaugural WrestleMania with Hulk Hogan to snatch victory away from him and Mr. Wonderful. It got so bad, even Muhammad Ali, who was refereeing the fight, took a swing at Piper for his antics.
Piper spent every free moment he could mocking Mr. T. and the rivalry went volcanic during WrestleMania 2 when Piper body slammed Mr. T. in a boxing match. A huge melee ensued and Piper was disqualified. Before Piper’s passing, the two managed to get along better, but for nearly 30 years, these two had nothing but beef.
12. Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage
“You made a lot of promises to The Macho Man, didn’t ya? Promises that you didn’t keep.”
Macho Man and the Hulkster weren’t always rivals; in fact, they were best of friends. The Macho Man had no problem running into the ring with a steel chair to defend Hogan from his foes. Things were all good, but the tension between Hulk, Savage, and Miss Elizabeth was undeniable and sparked an unforgettable rivalry.
Their issues came to a head when Miss Elizabeth got injured in a match and was carried off backstage by Hulk. Savage, feeling his blood pressure come to a boil, ran back to throw down with Hulk, setting the stage for the WrestleMania V marquee matchup. Hogan and Savage went toe-to-toe, with Hogan almost losing the match. But, in true Hulk fashion, he hulked up, pointed his finger and dropped the leg, finishing Savage off. Oh yeah, brother!
11. The Undertaker vs. Kane
“You are unworthy of being my brother.”
Only children, listen up. There are few people in the world who can be as annoying as a brother. Check that – there are few people in the world who probably deserve a beating like a brother. Wait, that’s inaccurate. There are few people in the world whose lives are spared only because spending a lifetime in prison seems terrible. Welcome to having a brother.
A lot of people have issues with their brother, but few are as awesome as the sibling rivalry between Kane and The Undertaker. Kane, a guy who gives the Boogeyman nightmares, was Undertaker’s long-dead brother. Or at least that’s what The Undertaker believed. Paul Bearer, The Undertaker’s manager, unleashed Kane onto the world; he turned out to be The Undertaker’s biggest threat to wrestling glory. In match after match, the two gave each other fits, sealing this rivalry in the annals of WWE history. Will these two wear matching sweaters in a holiday photo anytime soon? Probably not.
10. Edge and Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz
“To be perfectly honest, we can’t stand either team.”
-Edge and Christian
Picture a person one hundred years ago. They, like most people in their day, probably used tables, ladders, and chairs as they were meant. They ate or did projects on tables. They climbed on ladders. They sat on chairs. The thought of jumping off and/or slamming these things into people was an invention yet to be realized.
Enter the rivalry of Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz. This group of rivals used TLC like it was going out of style. The bright side is that it made for compelling tag team matchups. These three groups fought like cats and dogs and more cats in some epic battles. This rivalry was unlike any other because of the talent, characters, and of course, the weapons.
9. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels
“Shawn Michaels and I were never best friends. I used Shawn Michaels to get to the top, just like Shawn Michaels used me to stay at the top.”
Friendships end a dozen different ways. One friend may throw up on another’s bed. The other friend may eat the last slice of pizza. Maybe one friend does both in one night. Either way, those actions get people booted from the friend zone.
The absolute worst though is when someone decides to slam their friend’s head into a car window. The other problem comes up when a friend not only decides to do a nut-kick, but then body slams his friend onto the canvas in front of thousands of people. This is what Triple H did to Shawn Michaels that kicked off a stunning rivlary between two titans. Et tu, Triple H?
8. The Undertaker vs. Mankind
“That’s killed him. As God as my witness, he’s broken in half!”
-Announcer Jim Ross
June 28, 1998: For anyone old enough to remember, this is a day lives on in infamy for the WWE. For perspective, most of the drops that wrestlers make come from throwing someone outside of the ring or jumping on them from a turnbuckle. That twinge of excitement comes from knowing that the guy on the ground will probably get up because the falls aren’t that steep. For Mankind, there was a moment in this rivalry that became so intense that everyone held their breath. In the Hell in a Cell match in 1998, The Undertaker threw a dazed Mankind 16 feet onto a press table, nearly killing him. This kind of drama fanned the flames of a rivalry that lasted for years. But for anyone old enough to remember, they are probably still holding their breath, 17 years later.
7. John Cena vs. Randy Orton
“I’m going to force him to say the words, ‘I quit.’”
To understand the rivalry between Cena and Orton is to compare it to something else. Picture a basketball player whose grandad was Joe Bryant, his dad was Kobe Bryant, and his neighbor is Phil Jackson. Against anybody, that guy would have the genes, environment, and training to make him something special. This was Randy Orton. He comes from wrestling royalty with his dad and grandad being a part of wrestling lore.
For Cena, he’s the kid who shows up to the basketball court in jean shorts and work boots. He’s watched videos on how to play basketball, but he doesn’t ever go down to the park because one of the rims is missing and a family of racoons have made the other one a home. He’s just a natural talent who has made it big through grit and determination.
When these two went head to head, the arrogance of Orton and the pride of Cena made for some epic battles. Who remembers when Orton started beating up on Cena’s dad and Cena took the turnbuckle off and made him pay? For these two, things just got ugly every single time they met. For wrestling fans, they can only hope that future generations can remember the Five Moves of Doom against the RKO as fondly as they do today.
6. The Rock vs. Triple H
“Who is the Rock? Who is the Rock? The Rock is the guy who is going to tie his shoes, get in the ring, and whoop your ass!”
The biggest thing with this rivalry is that it could have gone on indefinitely, but died out when The Rock hit it big in Hollywood. On one hand, there was Triple H; one of the most legendary rock stars in wrestling history. On the other hand, there was The Rock. He was so good, fans could eventually smell what The Rock was cooking because he brought it big every time. Come to find out, he was cooking toast – The People’s Toast, probably.
Anyway, The Rock left wrestling and went on to make a ton of Hollywood movies. In most of his flicks, he beats up other muscle-bound guys who cause him or his friends trouble. Usually, he gets into some sort of physical altercation with them throughout the course of the film, but ends up victorious. Somehow, The Rock thought this was different than wrestling, and left his fans disappointed. Oh well, fans got their money’s worth every time these two went head to head.
5. Bret Hart vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
“If you put S in front of Hitman, then you got my thoughts on Bret Hart.”
After having their knee surgically repaired, most people couldn’t find the courage to walk to the fridge for a slice of pie (mmmm, pie). Bret Hart knew this and took advantage of Stone Cold’s bum knee at WrestleMania 13 by pummeling it the entire match. The battle got even nastier when Hart made Stone Cold’s head bleed like a stuck pig and Hart walked away with the controversial win. Hart’s actions only sharpened the edge to this legendary rivalry. Talk about getting no respect.
At the end of the match, Stone Cold refused treatment, because, well, Band-Aids are for chumps. Stone Cold’s hard nosed attitude made him a fan favorite and this fight is just one of the multiple storylines between these two that made it epic and twisted.
4. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant
“Wrestlemania 3 is not signed in ink. It’s signed in blood!“
This is one of the earliest, and most tantalizing feuds in wrestling history. Like most rivalries, it started really small, but grew into something even bigger than Andre. Andre apparently was jealous of Hogan’s adulation (as was everybody) and felt that he was the biggest star, literally and figuratively, in the sport.
The pair decided to duke it out in WrestleMania III in front of thousands and thousands of people. What makes this rivalry one of the best is because it took the WWE (then the WWF) to the next level of entertainment superiority. WrestleMania III had the largest indoor crowd in history up until the 2010 NBA All Star Game. This means the record stood for 23 years. It was probably helped by the fact that it was March in Detroit so people probably were just looking for a warm building, but even if they were, they witnessed the start of a storied battle.
3. The Rock vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
“We’ve been standing this close together for five minutes and The Rock can say, for some particular reason, that your breath smells like s**t!”
Two of the WWE’s biggest legends didn’t exactly have the rosiest of friendships. Even though The Rock was destined for stardom, he never really could get out of Stone Cold’s shadow. Stone Cold’s obsessive fan base, no frills style, and bad attitude won him the love and respect of everyone. To knock him down a peg, The Rock stole Stone Cold’s Smoking Skull Belt and threw it and Stone Cold into the water.
The Rock should never have worried though. With his signature moves and major trash talk, he infuriated Stone Cold, and everyone else, to no end. In fact, he’s so good, he ended up appearing twice on this list. Regardless, when these two titans fought, it was one for the ages.
2. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
“You better consider yourself a real, real lucky man that you didn’t face the sexiest man alive, Shawn Michaels.“
The rivalry between these two is fantastic, but the tipping point in this battle was the best. Hart, who was headed to the rival WCW in 1997, was the reigning WWF Champion, but lost his title in spectacular fashion to Shawn Michaels in front of his country’s fans. The problem was that it wasn’t a legitimate loss. In true sleazeball fashion, Vince McMahon masterminded the aptly named “Montreal Screwjob,” to have Hart lose the championship. This was all in an effort to crown a new WWF Champion that wasn’t leaving its ranks the next day for a rival. Done at the Molson Center in Montreal, there haven’t been that many pissed off Canadians since Wayne Gretzky left the Oilers. In the end, the drama here was one of the hottest things to ever show up on pay-per-view.
1. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon
“McMahon 3:16 says, ‘I just pissed my pants.””
-“Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Everyone has that one horrible boss. They’re slimy. They’re selfish. They’re mean. They’re greedy. But only a lucky few get to hit their boss over the head with a bedpan. Even fewer get them to fear for their lives on national TV. Only the blessed get to put a Stone Cold Stunner on them. Steve Austin was clearly touched by an angel because he got to do all of these things, and more, on the super villain Vince McMahon.
There are far too many interactions between these two over the years to fit into one list. But wrestling fans only need to access their memories (or YouTube) to remember how sweet it was.