For diehard pro wrestling fans, there's really nothing quite like a great feud. Two wrestlers (or maybe two warring teams or factions) become embroiled in conflict over a championship, a personal misunderstanding, or often both. When done right, the net result is a series of memorable matches that coalesce into one long, unforgettable rivalry. Simply put, it's storytelling at its finest and the reason so many fans keep tuning in week after week.
Of course, when a feud works well, there's always the temptation to try to recreate it in some way. With new wrestlers involved and just a few alterations, what was once old can quickly feel new again. Plus, Hollywood remakes and reworks old stories all the time, so why not wrestling?
But sometimes, there's no just no going back. For one thing, what worked well in the past is often no longer believable, with increasingly educated fans knowing so much about what happens behind the scenes. Other storylines, though popular in their time, were clearly not in good taste in hindsight. And while the fans of yesterday would simply jeer things they found offensive, today's discerning audience (who has many more options for entertainment) is far more likely to stop watching entirely.
Here are 15 classic feuds from the past that, for one reason or another, just wouldn't work today.
17 Jerry Lawler vs. Andy Kaufman
When legendary comedian Andy Kaufman decided to try his hand at wrestling, he proved pretty quickly that he understood how to be a great villain. After competing exclusively against women and declaring himself the "Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World," Kaufman decided to set his sights on the Memphis, Tennessee's Continental Wrestling Association (CWA).
id-sKaufman continued to wrestle women, while also shooting several vignettes where he belittled not just the intelligence, but also the hygiene of Memphis fans. In 1982, Jerry Lawler finally took the comedian to task by challenging him to a match at Memphis' heralded Mid-South Coliseum. Kaufman technically won the match, after Lawler leveled him with a pair of piledrivers (considered an illegal move at the time), but it was a pyrrhic victory.
In July of that year, the two rivals appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, in a segment that notoriously ended with Kaufman and Lawler getting into a profanity-laced argument – something that just didn't happen on network television in those days. Like Kaufman's act, and pro wrestling matches of old, viewers were unsure what was real and what was "part of the show," though it turns out the two men were good friends and it was a work.
More than three decades later, fans have seen so many storylines that try to look unscripted ("worked shoots," as they're commonly known) that, unfortunately, the incredibly nuanced Lawler vs. Kaufman feud would probably go unappreciated.
16 Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine
These days, when fans have long been exposed to all manner of violent, no holds barred bouts, some of the old matches can look slightly out of place. This is doubly true for contests with a slower, more methodical pace. Basically, today's over-reliance on special stipulations and gimmick matches has all but numbed audiences to the hardcore concepts of yesteryear.
The 1983 conflict between Greg Valentine and Roddy Piper was one of wrestling's hottest feuds. Piper, who was then a fan favorite, defeated Valentine for the NWA U.S. Heavyweight title on April 16, ending Valentine's 5-month reign as champ. In the rematch two weeks later, Valentine used the ringbell to give Piper a nasty gash above his left ear. The referee stopped the match, awarding the title to the challenger. Meanwhile, Piper reportedly lost most of his hearing in that ear.
To settle the score, a match was set for Starrcade '83: A Flair for the Gold, pitting the two rivals against each other in a dog collar match. The match was exactly the way it sounds – Piper and Valentine were connected by two collars affixed to their necks, with a length of steel chain between them. The match, which Piper won by pinfall, was a brutal and bloody affair. Dog collar matches always were. But the sight of two wrestlers chained up like dogs, pulling each other around the ring, would likely be greeted with laughter by today's fans. And it certainly wouldn't be the violent conclusion of choice for most major feuds.
15 André the Giant vs. Big John Studd
In the early 1980s, two men of such imposing stature as André and Big John Studd commanded the attention of fans, no matter what they were doing. So, with that in mind, there was no bad way for them to start their rivalry.
The monstrous Studd, who stood in at 6'10" and weighed nearly 400 pounds, began offering a large sum of money to any wrestler who could bodyslam him. Just when it seemed no one would be able to do so, none other than André the Giant answered the call. Standing several inches taller than Studd, and outweighing him by more than 100 pounds, it seemed André had Big John's number.
André slammed Studd several times over the next few months, only for his rival to repeatedly deny it had ever happened. Only at the first WrestleMania did one of these bodyslams take place in the official confines of Studd's "Bodyslam Challenge," netting André a cool $15,000.
Today, a bodyslam is such a routine maneuver that it's hard to imagine two wrestlers making such a fuss about it – even larger than life competitors like André the Giant and Big John Studd. Still, it was a pretty big deal at the time.
13 Jake Roberts vs. Randy Savage
In the two and a half decades since this memorable rivalry began, quite a bit has changed. For one thing, people are much more sensitive about how and when animals are used in entertainment. Also, it's highly unlikely that WWE would allow a live snake to bite a man's arm on its family friend programming.
By 1991, fans completely expected Jake Roberts to wield his omnipresent pet snake to taunt opponents. Even when he used it to startle the then-retired Savage and his new wife, Miss Elizabeth, after their wedding at SummerSlam, few observers batted an eye. It was another issue entirely when, during an episode of Superstars, Roberts tied Savage up in the ring ropes and unleashed the cobra on his arm.
Though this storyline is memorable for, among other reasons, allowing the Macho Man to once again compete in a WWE ring, the actual footage was pretty gruesome, especially considering WWE aired it unedited on multiple occasions. And, though Roberts knew how to handle his reptiles, he later admitted that the snake had latched on so tight he had a hard time removing it. Just TRY and picture this segment making it to air in the current era.
12 WCW vs. nWo
Unquestionably one of the most significant wrestling feuds ever, the years-long conflict between WCW and the "invading" nWo brand was arguably the real catalyst for the famed Monday Night War. In its early days, the nWo infused WCW's weekly television with an unpredictable element that has never been replicated. From the Hulk Hogan heel turn that shocked the world to the group's growing numbers making Sting's life a living hell, the storyline rejuvenated and revitalized the promotion. But though the company's creative team tried to keep the magic going (for example, through the introduction of the Wolfpac in 1998), the excitement gradually began to fade.
Of course, the "hostile takeover" storyline wasn't unique to the nWo, nor did it end there. After acquiring both WCW and ECW in 2001, WWE approximated the nWo takeover by staging an "invasion" by the two rival brands. It landed flat, to the say the least. And WWE's repackaging of the NWO's original lineup the following year definitely didn't have the same impact as the group's WCW debut.
11 Hulk Hogan vs. Big Boss Man
Sure, it's true that many of Hulk Hogan's 1980s feuds couldn't happen in this day and age. The Hulkster faced a great variety of cartoonish foes who simply wouldn't have thrived in any other era. But it's especially hard to picture this feud happening today for a number of reasons – which is truly a shame, because Hogan's famous cage match with the Big Boss Man on the May 27th, 1989 edition of Saturday Night's Main Event was a truly memorable bout in The Hulkster's oeuvre.
In 2016, especially considering current events, it's hard to imagine a major wrestling company so prominently featuring a villainous police officer. Today, it would simply be too controversial. And, if such a character did exist, it's even more difficult to picture the All-American, prayer-saying, vitamin-slinging face of the company going toe-to-toe with him.
10 Roddy Piper vs. Adrian Adonis
There are several of Roddy Piper's feuds that, so many years later, would be considered unfit for mainstream consumption. Sure, Piper was playing the part of the bad guy when he crushed a coconut over Jimmy Snuka's head, but it was still in poor taste. And let's not even get into his ill-advised 1990 feud with Bad News Brown – that one certainly would be off limits in 2016.
In addition to those controversial moments, we can be fairly sure that we won't be seeing many future homages to Piper's famous 1987 feud with Adrian Adonis. Adonis portrayed a campy, stereotypically gay character that, until too recently, was a popular villain archetype in promotions all over the country. The rivalry between the two men really heated up when "The Adorable One" took over Piper's Pit and turned it into "The Flower Shop"– vicariously, turning the longtime heel Piper into an instant fan favorite. In 1980s wrestling, a gay babyface was almost inconceivable.
Still, despite the problematic nature of the Piper vs. Adonis feud, both men performed admirably in the roles they were given. Plus, their Hair vs. Hair match at WrestleMania III is pretty hard to forget. Just don't look for WWE to go showing this footage in many Mania recap videos.
9 Ric Flair vs. Randy Savage
Unlike many of the other items on this list, the conflict between Ric Flair and Randy Savage doesn't make the cut because it was offensive or because fans now know too much about pro wrestling to be swept away by the storyline. No, this feud couldn't happen today because it simply couldn't never be done so well again.
Though the two men would meet again in a WCW ring, there's simply no beating the rivalry Ric Flair and Randy Savage had in WWE. It pushed the envelope in a gentle way, while still making very clear what the stakes were: Savage was defending the honor of his bride against a ruthless, shiftless opponent.
Flair, who was then WWE champion, told Savage that, prior to his marriage to Miss Elizabeth, she and Flair had been an item. The Nature Boy even provided photos of him and Elizabeth together, dining on strawberries beside a swimming pool. With The Macho Man incensed, the stage was set for WrestleMania VIII – where, Flair promised, he would unveil a more, ahem, revealing photo of Elizabeth.
Of course, Savage won both the match and Flair's title. The revealing photo was never unveiled and, later, it was proven that Flair's romantic photos with Elizabeth had been fake. Though Savage and Elizabeth were on the outs in real life, at least the storyline had a happy ending.
8 Raven vs. Tommy Dreamer
Today's fans are, in many ways, less patient than fans of yesteryear. This isn't so much an indictment against the audience as it is a commentary on the times. When an audience is used to storylines resolving themselves quickly – indeed, sometimes within a matter of a few weeks – there's little room for longterm feuds with legitimate, emotional investment.
The ongoing rivalry between Raven and Tommy Dreamer was a cornerstore of ECW throughout an important part of its history. The two faced off so many times, that surely even they have long lost count. Still, even the notoriously fickle ECW fanbase wasn't put off by the duration of the feud. In fact, they clamored for more. This was helped along by the fact that, year in and year out, Dreamer could never actually beat Raven – providing a reason for the rivalry to continue.
It was sometimes hard to watch, as Raven was such a cruel, manipulative foe for the everyman Dreamer to face. Surely, "The Innovator of Violence" was worthy of a win. Rather than rush things, though, Raven and Dreamer played the long game. Tommy didn't end up beating Raven until the last possible moment – at 1997's Wrestlepalooza, just as his arch-rival was departing for WCW.
Whether or not today's fans would have the patience to see such a feud through in today's fast-paced wrestling landscape, it's highly unlikely that the triumphant ending of this one could ever be duplicated. It was a once in a lifetime moment.
7 Ted DiBiase vs. Virgil
It should really go without saying that this feud couldn't happen today. The dynamics between "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase and Virgil were, even at the time, really pushing the limits of good taste. From 1987 through 1991, Virgil was a loyal servant to DiBiase, who carried his money, tangled with his rivals, and even rubbed his feet. Needless to say, the part of Virgil was a thankless role to play.
After years of quiet compliance, Virgil finally decided he'd had enough. He turned on his charge at 1991's Royal Rumble event, setting the stage for a series of matches between the two. Virgil beat DiBiase by count-out at WrestleMania VII, before finally pinning him to win his "Million Dollar Championship" at that year's SummerSlam.
In 2016, it's hard to imagine a pairing like Virgil and DiBiase's on television, even though it eventually resulted in a fairly memorable title victory.
6 Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter
When Sgt. Slaughter made his return to WWE in 1990 and pledged his allegiance to Iraq, the United States was just entering the Gulf War. Though most viewers knew that pro wrestling was entertainment, that didn't stop Slaughter from receiving a notable number of death threats or needing his own personal security. Even as he captured the WWE title at the 1991 Royal Rumble, he was walking a fine line by portraying the character.
Slaughter didn't reign atop the company for long, though. Defending the honor of the U.S.A was – you guessed it – Hulk Hogan, who promptly defeated Slaughter at WrestleMania VII to capture the WWE World Heavyweight title for the third time. After the match, Sarge threw a fireball into The Hulkster's face, setting the stage for the two to continue their heated rivalry into SummerSlam.
These days, as a publicly traded company, WWE is very reluctant to stage such controversial storylines. In 2005, in the midst of the second Iraq War, the company drew the ire of many for the Muhammad Hassan character and it's never attempted anything remotely similar to Slaughter's treasonous turn.
5 The Undertaker vs. Kane
It was very exciting at the time, but 1997's feud between The Undertaker and his "brother" Kane has not aged well, to say the least. Sure, following The Big Red Machine's first appearance in 1997, fans were hooked by this outrageous story, wherein the two brothers each accused the other of starting a horrific fire that killed their family. This was the era of Jerry Springer, after all.
But the rivalry was so over the top, even by Attitude Era standards, that it quickly ran out of places to go. Kane burns a casket containing Undertaker? Sure. Inferno match, which can only be won by setting your opponent on fire? Why not?
Yes, WWE storylines have historically been just a bit more unbelievable when these two are involved, but the fact that this feud wouldn't fly today can be proven by the fact that WWE hasn't tried. Even when the supremely creepy Bray Wyatt targeted Kane and Taker recently, things didn't get supernaturally weird (apart from a few lightning bolts). No one was burned to death or even maimed in any serious way. In 2016, those kinds of storylines just don't happen.
3 Junkyard Dog vs. The Fabulous Freebirds
Ask any fan of Mid-South Wrestling about the promotion's greatest feuds and they'll very likely mention the conflict between Junkyard Dog and the Fabulous Freebirds. In 1980, it was one of the hottest, most emotionally fraught feuds in all of wrestling.
The rivalry began when the Freebirds accidentally "blinded" JYD with hair removal cream. Subsequent vignettes showed the injured wrestler struggling to get around and lamenting that he couldn't see his own baby daughter. Mid-South Wrestling fans were so outraged by what the Freebirds had done that the team needed security to keep them safe. At one point, a fan reportedly charged the ring and threatened the team with a gun. That's how heated things got.
The Dog would have his revenge, though. On August 8th, in front of 31,000 fans, he defeated Michael Hayes in a dog collar match. Then, the following month, JYD and partner Terry Orndorff defeated Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts to win the Mid-South Tag Team championship.
When's the last time fans were so incensed by a wrestler's injury (real or imagined), that the police had to be called? Exactly.
2 Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty
To children who'd grown up cheering on The Rockers in WWE's tag division, it came as a complete shock that the man who'd soon become "The Heartbreak Kid" could turn his back on his loyal partner. But that's just what happened when, on a January 1992 episode of Superstars, when Michaels superkicked Marty Jannetty, then hurled him through the glass window of Brutus Beefcake's "Barber Shop" set.
For a show that aired prominently during daylight hours, it was a violent and ugly scene to behold. Jannetty writhed on the ground in pain, blood leaking from his forehead. The Rockers were clearly a team of the past.
Of course, WWE's props department has long been adept at creating set pieces that allow for such intense moments. As fans have become increasingly educated about this, shattered glass and broken furniture just don't make the same impact they once did. If a team broke up today and one member sent the other careening through a window, a flock of "smart" fans would quickly jump online to brag about how it was only sugar glass.
1 Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper
This is undoubtedly one of the bitterest, most famous feuds in wrestling history. And, in today's landscape, there is absolutely no way it could be replicated. For the better part of a decade, Hulk Hogan and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper had on ongoing rivalry. At any time, in any place, it felt right for the two to lock horns.
But, just as surely as the two could be assumed to be on the opposite of a conflict, it was just as safe to assume that their matches would have unsatisfactory endings. Piper and Hogan were the best, most established men in their respective roles for much of the 1980s, and, reportedly, neither wanted to cede much to the other. From the time Hulkamania began running wild, countless Hogan vs. Piper matches ended in disqualification, count-out, or submission. It wasn't until 1996, at WCW's Starrcade, that one of their bouts ended in a decisive way (Piper picked up the win, in that contest).
In this decade, fans crave actual endings to major match-ups. Simply put, they wouldn't stand for a big feud like Hogan-Piper being dragged on for so long – especially if at least a few of those matches didn't end with a clear pinfall or submission.