Mother Brainâ€™s Top 10 Most Memorable WWE Rivalries
By Mother Brain
The upcoming main event match between The Rock and John Cena at Wrestlemania 28 is not only the most highly anticipated matchup in the WWE but wrestling in general. It represents a generation of fans who still hold on to the greatness of the attitude era against the more youth oriented direction of the current PG era. With Wrestlemania only a few weeks away, I look back at 10 of my most memorable rivalries in the WWE. I based my list on a criteria which including quality of the matches, the storylines that built up the matches, and the amount of heat between the two rivals. But first, I begin with my honorable mention:
Honorable Mention: Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Mr. T
Although the selling point of WWE in the mid-1980s was Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper, it was the Piper/Mr. T feud that caught widespread media attention. This wasnâ€™t just a gimmick to put asses in seats. These two guys genuinely disliked each other. But while fans sided with the megastar of Rocky III and the TV hit The A-Team, the wrestling community sided with Piper who was very protective of the business. So to save Mr. T of the embarrassment of facing Piper in a one on one wrestling match, they settled their beef in a lackluster boxing match at Wrestlemania 2 which marked Tâ€™s swan song from WWE and Piperâ€™s rising babyface turn.
10. The Undertaker vs. Mankind/Mick Foley
This rivalry initially started like most of the Dead Manâ€™s feuds with cartoon monster heels. But this one marked a serious transition for the careers of both Undertaker and Mick Foley. Their boiler room match at Summerslam â€™96 led to Undertakerâ€™s long time manager Paul Bearer turning on him in favor of managing Foley, thus making Foley a legit heel. They also had the first Buried Alive match that same year which Undertaker lost only to get revenge against Foley at Survivor Series. But it was their second program 2 years later that became the most memorable for one reason only: The Hell in a Cell match at King of the Ring. It was a night that made Foleyâ€™s career as the Dead Man threw him from the top of the cell, sending him crashing into the Spanish announce table, and continued to brawl back on top of the cell until Foley was choke slammed through the cage and into the ring. The brutality of that matchup helped to define the attitude era and proved both superstars to be more than just cartoon gimmicks.
9. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho
Y2J idolized HBK since his youth. He channeled his persona and in-ring style off Michaels. So putting the legend and the fan together in a match was a Wrestlemania moment in itself. Their initial rivalry was to see who was the better wrestler with HBK getting the win; yet, it was their 2nd feud in 2008 that would be named Feud of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Questioning Michaelsâ€™ dishonest actions after putting Ric Flair into retirement and faking injuries, Jericho turned heel by smashing his Jeritron 5000 into HBKâ€™s face and becoming a suit-wearing prick removed of his Y2J image. At a time when wrestling feuds were becoming increasingly phony, Michaels and Jericho were able to tell a great story while making the fans believe their rivalry was legit. It breathed new life into HBK as a character and made Jericho into fresh, despicable bad guy.
8. Hulk Hogan vs. Macho Man Randy Savage
They were two of the biggest icons of their day. While Hogan was riding high off his Wrestlemania III match with Andre the Giant, Randy Savage was living his own Rocky Balboa story with Miss Elizabeth at his side and a vacant WWE title in his sights. Savageâ€™s title win in the championship tournament at Wrestlemania IV should have made him the new #1 guy in the company; however, Hogan was still the man shadowing him by assisting in the title win and forming their tag team, the Mega Powers. But soap opera jealousy over Elizabethâ€™s presence led to dissension between the duo which would lead to a title match at Wrestlemania V and a year long feud between the two. Their feud in the ring mirrored the real life love-hate relationship between them thatâ€™s been highly speculated for many years even when they were forced to do business together in the ego driven WCW. Savage even went as far as recording a rap song dissing Hogan entitled â€œBe a Man.â€ Even for all the major legends and giants Hogan faced in his career, it was the Randy Savage feud that was truly icon vs. icon.
7. Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Jake The Snake Roberts
During the early 90s when WWE was still considered kid friendly, Jake Roberts brought a dark element to the product that innovative long before the attitude era. His brutal feud with Randy Savage in 1991 told the story of a fallen superstar seeking revenge no matter the cost. It had the suspense of a horror movie as Roberts and the Undertaker crashed Savage and Elizabethâ€™s wedding reception following Summerslam â€™91 with Roberts threatening the bride with a live cobra. Having previously lost a career ending match against Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VII, Savage pushed for on-TV president Jack Tunney to reinstate him to no avail. After a terrifying incident involving Roberts using his cobra to bite the arm of a helpless Savage in the ring, Tunney reinstated Savage and managed to get his hands on Roberts. The feud was significant because of a number of reasons: It reflected the dark nature of Roberts as a man (i.e. slapping Elizabeth), marked the resurgence of Savage into the WWE title picture, and eventually the babyface turn of the Undertaker.
6. Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin
Many wrestling historians point out that Steve Austinâ€™s rise to the top was in some ways accidental. He won the 1996 King of the Ring after Triple H, the original planned winner, garnered backstage heat. Then his thrown-together program with Bret Hart was designed to be the typical babyface vs. monster heel that would propel the Hitman to get his big Wrestlemania rematch with Shawn Michaels. But this matchup became more than just a throwaway storyline. Austin was a new kind of tough guy persona that fans grew to identify with as pop culture leaned towards the politically incorrect side of life (i.e. Jerry Springer, South Park, etc). The Hitman was seen as the old guard of wrestlingâ€™s tradition and as the attitude era was just beginning, his frustrations with the companyâ€™s direction made him perceived as a cry baby. Austin and Hart would brawl and cost each other their respective matches week in and week out. Finally, they would settle their beef in an unforgettable submission match at Wrestlemania 13 which was the night both menâ€™s career directions changed. Although Bret won the match, the bloody Austin who passed out in Hartâ€™s Sharpshooter without tapping out was carried away as the new hero. It marked the rise of Austin and the unfortunate downfall of the Hitman.
5. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock
These were two men who started out in 1996 with gimmicks that were given to them by the company only to fail miserably with fans. It wasnâ€™t long until Austin and Rock realized that in order to make it to the top, they had to be themselves. From 1997 until 2003, Austin and Rock battled multiple times, gave fans several memorable moments, and gave the WWE their most lucrative run in decades. It was a clash between Austinâ€™s bar brawling style and Rockâ€™s cocky jock attitude. Their three Wrestlemania matches felt more like one big power struggle over who was the bigger star of the attitude era and each match felt different because the roles of babyface and heel often changed over time. To me, this is the equivalent of Hogan vs. Savage as the two premiere superstars of their day fighting for bragging rights and the fans left as the real winners.
4. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart
If there were sibling rivalries played out in other wrestling organizations, they all paled in comparison to Bret and Owen. The latter appeared to be on his way out of the business by 1993 after years of having one failed gimmick after another. That was until Owenâ€™s frustrations being in Bretâ€™s shadow got the best of him and forced him to turn against hisÂ title-winning brother so he could make a name for himself. The brothers would face off for most of 1994 in one great match after another. But it was their bout at Wrestlemania X that people remember the most not only because of Owen winning the match but it also made fans pay attention to how highly skilled he was as a performer. This feud elevated Owen to main event status and several Intercontinental and Tag Team title victories.
3. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant
The match-up that drew 93,000 people at Wrestlemania III was by no means a fantastic wrestling match. But it was the story of these two men and the buildup to that match that set a new standard in telling a good story in wrestling. By 1987, Hogan was at the top of his game having held the WWE title for three years straight. Andre, however, was in the twilight of his career physically after years of going undefeated as a main attraction in many wrestling territories. People talk about Hogan body slamming Andre as a defining moment in Hoganâ€™s career. Yet, I like to think about the dramatic moment leading into the match when Andre went on Piperâ€™s Pit to challenge Hogan for the title and stripped off his chain, causing Hoganâ€™s chest to bleed. Moments like these get fans more invested into the match and make the feud feel legit as opposed to most feuds in wrestling today. On top of all of that, both men did not even touch each other in the time between the Piperâ€™s Pit and Wrestlemania. While they continued to face off and draw big money for WWE for over a year, Hogan and Andreâ€™s rivalry leading to Wrestlemania III remains legendary.
2. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
Like Austin and Rock, the Hitman and HBKâ€™s careers paralleled one other. Both started in successful tag teams before stepping out as mid-card superstars and ultimately the face of the WWE. Like Hogan and Savage, their rivalry in the ring was also just as heated outside of it as both menâ€™s egos clashed constantly for years. While Bret tried to carry the company as best as he could, HBK and his Kliq sought to control the entire show and put over no one but themselves. What started as a friendly rivalry that led to a spectacular Iron Man match at Wrestlemania 12 turned into pure hatred and disrespect. The end result was the Montreal Screwjob which needs no explanation. But time heals all wounds and for Bret and Shawn it would take personal tragedies and triumphs to eventually find reconciliation.
1. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Mr. McMahon
When WWE was on the losing end of the Monday Night Wars with WCW, Vince McMahon had to take drastic measures to lure audiences back to his product even at the risk of humiliating himself. After years behind the announce table trying not to come across as the company owner, a Stone Cold Stunner at Madison Square Garden marked the beginning of the ruthless billionaire character we know today as Mr. McMahon. It was an ideological war as much as it was a physical one. McMahon loved to have stars who fit his image as the company player. Steve Austin was the complete opposite of that image. Austin would antagonize McMahon enough to get him in the ring and it was that very moment that helped turn the tide in WWEâ€™s favor. Everyone in America and around the would related to the story of the hard worker rising up against their boss. It made Austin a mainstream superstar and McMahon into not only a real billionaire but also an entertainment genius. Their feud drove most of the lucrative attitude era run until the shark jumping moment in 2001 when they briefly reconciled their differences. But they would go at it again before Austinâ€™s retirement from active performing. Of any wrestling feud in WWE history, Austin vs. McMahon was gold standard not as far as match quality but as a great storyline in which we as fans believe thereâ€™s legitimate heat and the dial gets higher week after week.