Nowadays, most fans recognize that professional wrestling isn’t rooted in reality. The guys who go to war in the ring with one another are often as not friends, or at least respectful colleagues working together to put on the best matches they can. Indeed, some of the greatest rivalries in wrestling history like Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair or Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon were rooted in performers partnering closely to create the illusion that they hated one another.
There are, however, those times when wrestling spills over into reality and a storyline beef matures into real life animosity. Other times, a pair of talents lock into professional jealousies or miscommunications, the net effect of which is a surprisingly real rivalry. Consider the now infamous case of Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels. By their own accounts in multiple interviews and each of their books, they rose up the ranks in WWE as friends, and even got along well when they worked their first singles matches together. Before long, it came apparent, however, that they were vying for the same spot as the top face in the company and a series of perceived slights added up to make them bitter enemies for a period of years.
There are other high profile personality clashes throughout wrestling history. This article takes a look at 15 less publicized instances in recent memory when WWE co-workers have not gotten along, and developed heat between one another. Whether they’re main event stars, authority figures, or announcers, their behind the scenes issues have become the subject of quiet rumblings beyond the locker room walls.
15 Brock Lesnar & Braun Strowman
Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman are, in some senses, cut from the same cloth as a pair big, athletic men with magnetic enough personalities to quickly make them top tier stars in WWE. It’s little wonder that WWE would pit them against one another, and over the past year they’ve been involved in three separate PPV world title matches with each other. It is noteworthy, however, that of those three, the two more recent ones were widely considered disappointing duds.
The seams began to show between the two at the Royal Rumble, where Lesnar delivered stiff punches to Strowman that didn’t exactly look worked. He audibly yelled at Strowman to slow down, and word is that he felt Strowman had stiffed him with a shot that gave way to the mid-match altercation, on account of trying to go to fast in the ring.
Strowman has subsequently brushed off the incident as the kind of thing that comes up with two men of their size working in their positions. Still, now that tensions between the two boiled over in front of a live PPV audience, you have to wonder if WWE will keep them apart.
14 Sasha Banks &. Ronda Rousey
Sasha Banks has spent most of her main roster tenure as one of the top female stars on the Raw roster. However, she seems perpetually on the cusp of losing her featured spot, and that’s never been more true than the current WWE picture as we approach WrestleMania 34.
Barring injury, Alexa Bliss and Charlotte Flair will in all likelihood walk into the show the champions, and Asuka has a title shot granted by her Royal Rumble win. Meanwhile, Ronda Rousey looms.
It would be understandable for Banks to have resentment toward Rousey for waltzing into the top of WWE’s women’s ranks with no real wrestling experience. Indeed, after the Royal Rumble, Banks openly alluded to having issues, stating in a radio interview that she wasn’t going to comment on Rousey’s appearance after the match, because she had nothing to say about it. Rousey hasn’t publicly commented on Banks, but if her MMA history is any indicator, she won’t back down from a war of words.
13 John Cena & Shinsuke Nakamura
John Cena is one of WWE’s biggest stars of all time, and has arrived as one of the company’s most respected legends inside the ring. It’s interesting to note that in the past year, he has twice been tasked with putting over Shinsuke Nakamura, each time helping to usher The Artist closer to his own WWE main event stardom.
The first time, Nakamura pinned Cena in a SmackDown number one contender’s match. The most memorable elements of the match were Nakamura dumping Cena on the back of his head on a bad suplex, and visibly apologizing afterward. Cena was a professional, still putting him over and even outwardly saying Nakamura had nothing to be sorry about. Their next collision, however, happened in the 2018 Royal Rumble match, where Cena came across less composed. While it was somewhat difficult to recognize in the moment, a number of critics on social media isolated footage of Cena audibly yelling at “Now Shinsuke!” to get the Japanese star in position after he missed a cue to jump Cena during a standoff with Roman Reigns.
To be fair, Nakamura-Cena comes across as something of a mentorship relationship, with Cena playing the stern elder statesmen. Still, particularly in the Rumble example, Cena seems to have gotten more than little frustrated with his colleague.
12 Seth Rollins & Terry Taylor
In a WWE Network special leading up to SummerSlam 2014, a documentary crew zeroed in on The Shield and their journey through WWE up to that point. The program featured a number of interesting insights regarding three of WWE’s top ascending stars, but one of the most captivating tidbits was the reveal of a real life feud between Seth Rollins and Terry Taylor.
A rivalry like this might seem like a strange clash given that they starred for WWE in very different eras—Taylor peaking for the company around WrestleMania V, over two decades before Rollins was even signed. As the documentary discussed, Taylor was a trainer while Rollins was a prospect in WWE’s developmental system. Taylor felt Rollins was arrogant, and refused to adjust to the WWE style, while Rollins felt Taylor was condescending.
Word is that Triple H played the middle man and helped guide Rollins to “play ball” and ultimately emerge from developmental to become one of WWE’s biggest stars. Still, at least from what the special showed us, it appeared there may be some lingering tensions between Rollins and Taylor.
11 Byron Saxton & Jerry Lawler
Jerry Lawler is one of the most iconic WWE color commentators of all time.
Byron Saxton, by contrast, doesn’t have much of a legacy behind him. To be fair, he didn’t have Lawler’s legacy as a promoter and wrestler when he headed into a featured commentary position. The general consensus seems to be that his work is vanilla and forgettable—more background noise than enjoyable part of the show, though opinions of him seem to have trended to marginally more favorable as he’s settled into his role.
Saxton’s most public failing came the night after WrestleMania 31, when WWE gave him a sink or swim opportunity. Brock Lesnar kayfabe destroyed the rest of the announce team, leaving Saxton on his own. His work to follow was bad enough that Vince McMahon was reportedly furious, and sent out Jerry Lawler to bail him out. In guest appearances since, the King has been less than kind toward Saxton. In particular, at the 2018 Royal Rumble, The King seemed pointed in his criticism of Saxton, insisting on referring to him as “BS,” and sounding genuinely cranky at other commentators talking over him.
10 Dean Ambrose & Brock Lesnar
It looked like a big vote of confidence when WWE booked Dean Ambrose against Brock Lesnar for WrestleMania 32. Up to that point, Ambrose wasn’t really regarded at the level of Lesnar and the types of main event level stars he typically feuded with. Despite a reasonable build, and the Street Fight rules that seemed to favor Ambrose’s off the whall style, the match was poorly received—a flat dud that offered very little to remember.
Ambrose spoke about the match on his visit to Steve Austin’s podcast. While he was reasonably, he was open indicating that he pitched far more exciting ideas for the match, with the suggestion that Lesnar had put the kibosh on the more ambitious ideas in favor of a more paint by numbers match with a predictable outcome. This interpretation of events shed light on the men’s respective personalities—Ambrose a committed wrestler out to break new ground, opposite Lesnar as a part-time megastar content to collect paychecks without really putting his body or reputation at risk.
9 Daniel Bryan & Triple H
Daniel Bryan and Triple H engaged in a featured on screen feud throughout late 2013 and early 2014 to culminate in a showdown at WrestleMania XXX. A part of the intrigue of that program was the subtext of reality. In kayfabe, Bryan was a hardworking underdog whom the powers that be screwed to keep away from the world title. In reality, what was Bryan but a hardworking underdog whom management seemed to pass over in favor of bigger guys and more established stars, like John Cena, Randy Orton, and Batista?
Times have changed and the issue at hand now is whether Bryan ought to be allowed to wrestle at all. Accumulated head injuries forced him into retirement in 2016, but Bryan since claims to have worked with other doctors to show that he is both recovering and can work a safe style to get back in the ring. Triple H is among those in management who seem less than convinced, harkening back to Triple H forcing Bryan to forfeit a match back in 2013 rather than risk injury. Triple H famously commented in more than one interview that he was protecting Bryan from himself, and the same dynamic seems to have emerged again. Meanwhile, Bryan has alluded to not re-signing with WWE.
8 The Big Show Vs. The Great Khali
Several wrestlers have spoken up about The Big Show and The Great Khali having “giant heat.” The central thrust seems to be that, given their size, the two were immediately vying for the same giant’s spot on the roster. To make matters worse, Khali reportedly got on Show’s bad side by stealing some of his signature spots—most notably shushing the crowd and delivering a chest chop that reverberated throughout the arena.
Things reportedly got physical between the two backstage once. While both men moved on and seemed to ultimately coexist, there’s little doubt that this was one of the most dangerous real life feuds in WWE based on the level carnage two men of this size might deliver onto each other and anyone who tried to get in their way.
7 The Bella Twins & Maria Kanellis
Maria Kanellis’s popularity as a WWE star peaked before the Bellas showed up in full force in WWE. Heat between the two sides reportedly came up when Nikki Bella was involved in a romantic relationship with Dolph Ziggler. The story goes that Nikki saw Kanellis dancing with Ziggler at a party and got protective over her man and the prospect of anyone trying to take him away. Kanellis’s side of the story was that Ziggler was a long time friend, and the Bellas misread and overreacted to the situation.
Rumors abounded that the Bellas were instrumental in blackballing Kanellis and her husband Mike over a period of years from returning to WWE, and the two sides traded occasional barbs over Twitter in the interim. It’s unclear if the animosities have settled down or if timing has kept Kanellis and the Bellas separated enough since the Kanellises debuted as a couple on SmackDown last summer. In any event they seem to be able to coexist under the same company banner at this point.
6 Chris Jericho & Brock Lesnar
At SummerSlam 2016, Brock Lesnar closed out the show by beating Randy Orton bloody until referees called the match. The scene was brutal and bloody enough to raise questions about whether it were really all planned, or if the truly unstoppable Lesnar had actually started shooting. Chris Jericho, who calls Orton a close friend, confronted first Vince McMahon, then Lesnar himself about it in the aftermath, and by all accounts didn’t back down an inch with Lesnar when he told Y2J to mind his own business.
We could chalk up the incident to a miscommunication, but Jericho also spoke about Lesnar on a more recent episode of his podcast. He cited that his WrestleMania 33 match with Kevin Owens was originally supposed to have the Universal Championship at stake, before Lesnar pushed to change plans and extend his feud with Goldberg.
According to Jericho, Lesnar agreed to put over Goldberg quickly and decisively at Survivor Series on the promise he’d not only win the return match at WrestleMania, but pick up a world title in the process. To be fair, Jericho acknowledged it was the better business move. He also suggested a hint of bitterness, though, because he was excited about the idea of his first world championship win as a face, let alone it happening at WrestleMania.
5 Bret Hart & Triple H
The animosities between Bret Hart and Triple H date back to the early stages of the Attitude Era, when Triple H was squarely behind Shawn Michaels during the backstage war between The Hitman and HBK. Hunter has gone so far as to take the credit/blame for originally suggesting the Montreal Screwjob, which effectively ruined Hart’s working relationship with WWE for a decade.
Hart formally returned to the WWE fold and even wrestled a few matches and worked as an authority figure in 2010. Given Triple H’s prominent position in company management by that time, you’d have to assume he and Hart had smoothed things over. However, Hart hasn’t pulled punches in discussing Hunter since, most notably commenting in multiple interviews that The Game was extremely overrated, and most famously evaluating him as a “four out of ten” as a wrestler, and not in his top 1,000 wrestlers of all time.
4 Sasha Banks & Alexa Bliss
Sasha and Alexa Bliss had quite a prolonged feud on RAW in 2017, which resulted in the Women's Championship being traded back and forth a couple of times, and the rivalry on-screen appears to have had a few wrinkles of real-life heat thrown in there. The rumors popped up throughout 2017. Some alluded to it possibly being some past barbs on social media that went too far. Others claim it dates back to their NXT days when Sasha accidentally broke Alexa's nose in a match. The two don't follow each other on social media, and while the argument can be made that it's a face/heel dynamic, most WWE Superstars follow each other, regardless of their on-screen personas. In a 2017 interview, Alexa commented on the rumored heat and didn't exactly deny it, saying: ”You know what? The way I see it, Sasha can think or say whatever she wants, as long as it fuels her fire for us to have a good match, I’m fine with it.”
3 Ryback Vs. John Cena
It can be difficult to remember it now, but there was a time when Ryback was quite arguably the hottest face in WWE, or second only to John Cena. Since leaving WWE, The Big Guy hasn’t been shy about talking about his time with the company and, in particular, denouncing Cena was overly protective of his spot to the detriment of anyone else who dared to gather momentum.
Ryback has been particularly vocal in suggesting Cena politicked Alex Riley out of a job. He’s also suggested a more direct beef between himself and Cena. He indicates Cena kept an eye on merchandise sales figures, and worried when The Big Guy was catching up on him. Moreover, he pointed to a time when he outdrank Cena as cause for Cena to campaign against him backstage.
To be fair, Cena hasn’t commented in response, and some will discmiss all of this as Ryback being bitter about not being more successful in his own WWE run.
2 CM Punk & Chris Jericho
CM Punk and Chris Jericho worked a memorable, heated feud in WWE leading up to and in the immediate aftermath of WrestleMania XVIII. There were no reports of heat between them then, and, if anything, they demonstrate da real chemistry on screen and Jericho seemed to put forth a concerted effort to get Punk over as WWE Champion.
After Punk left WWE, we saw another side of their relationship. Jericho commented about reaching out to Punk to be on his podcast and get some answers. When Punk finally was ready to speak out, he chose not Jericho’s podcast, but Colt Cabana’s to make his voice heard. Punk commented on wanting to appear on his friend’s show, and alluded to other vultures trying to get a scoop from him. Plenty of fans read that as a direct shot at Jericho angling for the interview.
Jericho commented briefly on his show to say there was no heat between him and Punk. It’s noteworthy, however, that in the aftermath he had Ryback on his show, whom Punk had singled out as an unsafe worker, and openly disagreed with Punk’s assessment, seeming to take The Big Guy’s side.
1 Lana & Paige
To the casual fan, Lana and Paige might not have much to do with each other. During Paige’s most featured time as an in ring performer, Lana was still in developmental and then called up purely as a manager for Rusev. For their brief time as wresters, Lana was still booked as (and was in reality) a novice and the most interaction they had was in large scale tag team matches (most notably the women’s match on the WrestleMania 32 pre-show).
The two had a war of words on Twitter, however, in which Lana called Paige a bully during their time in developmental, and Paige knocked Lana’s skills. The exchange never led anywhere in storylines, and made little sense given Paige was a face and Lana was a heel at the time, leading most fans to believe it was all a shoot. It wasn’t the only time Lana drew attention on social media in ways WWE wouldn’t like, as she also forced a change in storylines when she publicized her wedding with Rusev, just as the two were being booked as kayfabe enemies.