Backroom drama and politics have always helped fuel the WWE's progression from a cartoony, super-hero enterprise of the 1980s to the Attitude Era of the 1990s and the PG-era of today. The drama in the ring is often a microcosm of the theater that takes place backstage.
The WWE often does a great job of shielding its viewers from real arguments, quarrels and disputes that take place behind the curtain. When the wrestlers walk through it and down the ramp, the only rivalries that matter is whatever has been written for them. However, occasionally we have a chance to peel back and walk through the curtain from the other direction.
Wrestlers aren't always friendly with each other. In fact, some of have few, if any friends in the locker room. The wrestler we'll analyze today is actually an example of someone who has struggled to regain the wrestling empire he helped build and the respect he earned from those he worked with before he left for Hollywood.
Many of the wrestlers listed here are from WWE's current era of entertainment. These wrestlers have built the new brand of WWE and you'll be able to tell, through their statements, they furiously defend it. A star like The Rock, no matter what he helped the company accomplish years ago, is now seen as an outsider.
The interesting thing to note is that all of the stars listed here had one goal. They wanted to be the alpha male for a company always desperate to find their next Stone Cold Steve Austin...or The Rock.
10 Daniel Bryan
9 Dolph Ziggler
For years, people have wondered if and when Ziggler would finally get the big push and overtake Cena as "the face" of the franchise. Sure, in 2013, Ziggler won the World Heavyweight Championship, but less than a year later he was back in the mid-card and far away from the main event scene.
Frustration is one of the reasons Ziggler takes issue with guys like John Cena, Randy Orton and The Rock, which makes him "angrier than you can even imagine." However, his fustration with The Rock extends deeper. At least, Cena and Orton are featured weekly on WWE programming. The Rock is not. Ziggler who fights on a weekly basis wants a "full time guy to be there every single night doing what [WWE stars] do best, giving back to [the] the fans." While Ziggler understands having a part-timer like The Rock come back is good for business, the 34-year old sits patiently waiting and wondering if he'll ever be better for business.
8 City of Philadelphia
This might seem like a bit of a stretch, but it was the first time since he was Rocky Maivia that the fans genuinely booed him when he was acting as a face. Even when he wrestled Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8, they didn't necessarily boo him, but more that they were cheering for their idol Hulk Hogan. In this case, even though the WWE tried to trot The Rock out to the ring to curb the hatred towards Roman Reigns at the 2015 Royal Rumble, it sadly didn't work at all. The relentless Philadelphia crowd booed The Rock and Reigns for the duration of the segment together and The Rock was apparently quite put off by the WWE putting him in that position.
7 Mick Foley
For months, Foley had been battling The Corporation, while trying to claw and scrape his way to the top of sports entertainment. At Survivor Series 1998, The Rock and Mankind battled each other for the vacant WWE Championship. Foley would lose the match via a screw job by Vince McMahon, who had been standing ringside, but would later win the title against The Rock on a 1999 episode of RAW is War.
After multiple requests by The Rock for a WWE Championship rematch and as many refusals by Foley, both finally agreed to an "I Quit Match" at the 1999 Royal Rumble. During a documentary series called Beyond the Mat, Foley expressed his feelings on how the match went down:
"My son loves The Rock. He still loves The Rock. I don't quite love him anymore, but, it's funny because we had this little game plan [going into the "I Quit" match]. Five chair shots and things kind of got carried away...I actually thought he'd [The Rock] take his time more with the chair shots...I really did get pissed off. I was pissed off. I felt like I was being taking advantage of."
Foley said he was not only pissed he'd been beaten with a chair more than the two had rehearsed, but that he'd been given little time to recover between shots. When the match concluded, Foley revealed that a real rift finally grew between himself and The Rock when the latter didn't check up on him and his family.
6 Randy Orton
While Orton claims he's now laughed off any resentment he once had toward The Rock, it's hard to imagine there isn't lingering feelings. Orton's beef extends back to when The Rock came back from his seven-year hiatus from wrestling. Like other top superstars, namely CM Punk and John Cena, Orton felt The Rock had lost any privilege he had once earned to be in the company's spotlight week in and week out. In other words, because of the The Rock's long absence, he was now just like everyone else on the roster.
Orton even went out of his way during an ESPN interview to criticize The Rock's in-ring ability and microphone skills by comparing them to Cena's. "John Cena has about 2,000 matches in the last seven years. The Rock? A big, fat zero...I think Cena will own The Rock. I think Cena is wittier and can go off the cuff. Cena writes his own stuff while The Rock has stuff written for him...I think Cena is ten times the performer in the ring that The Rock is."
5 CM Punk
While Punk and the WWE had a bitter breakup, the company still recognizes him as "the longest-reigning WWE Champion of the modern era." In fact, Punk's long reign is one reason he feels so much bitterness toward The Rock. Punk, who fought hard on the independent circuit, in OVW and in WWE's ECW, appreciated the opportunity he had as the WWE's longest reigning WWE Champion. When Punk lost the title to The Rock, a now part-timer, at The Royal Rumble, a fire raged within, which you can see with these comments:
"I can't help it that I have so much old school engrained in me that the Champ works every show. So its 2013 and business has completely changed and I was just vocal about their not being a champ on 2-3 months' worth of house shows. I think the title is an attraction. Title fights should end the card....Anybody in the locker room that says it doesn't piss them off, that he works however many days a year he works when we're working 300 days a year...they're kidding themselves."
4 "Mr. Anonymous"
The Rock's return seven years after he departed for Hollywood irked not only some fans and critics, but also WWE wrestlers who saw his arrival as only a self-serving maneuver. Since The Rock left in 2004, the WWE had changed a great deal. Not only had its audience changed, but the company's roster talent had also . Many wrestlers coming up through the independent circuit saw The Rock's arrival as an unnecessary road block they had little control over. Well, one wrestler, who demanded to remain anonymous, had this to say about him coming back:
"[Dwayne Johnson] comes in to use WWE to get back the audience he lost doing Disney movies, which is fine, but he's been back over a year and name one person he helped make a bigger star since then? No one. He's here for himself, he keeps to himself, and he keeps someone who's actually touring here all year from making a bigger payday at the bigger shows."
3 Triple H
While their relationship is better, Triple H once loathed the talented Rock in the mid to late 1990s. The reason was simple: The Rock was a major obstacle in Triple H's way to becoming "the face" of the WWE. He was also the man who took Vince McMahon's advice to go to Hollywood, while McMahon's future son-in-law stayed behind to build the company. He had this to say about that:
"There's always been that kind of...you know, listen, I was there, it was Rock and I that Vince came to and said, 'Hey, I'd like you guys to sign with William Morris and think about going and making some movies in Hollywood'...Rock was like, 'Awesome' and I shook my head and I was like, 'What, you don't want me to wrestle anymore? I don't get it.'
2 Shawn Michaels
The Rock's bitterness toward Michaels is well justified. According to those close to The Rock and Michaels, their animosity toward each other began when The Rock was only a teenager. At the time, he felt Michaels disrespected his maternal grandmother at a wrestling event she had coordinated. Michaels' actions enraged The Rock and an altercation almost ensued at the event.
While they'd never square off in the ring, their storylines intertwined many times backstage. Best friends with Triple H, Michaels did everything he could to slow the progression of The Rock's career. In early 1997, according to Bret Hart, Michaels and Triple H tried to sabotage his "push" by altering the ending of a key match with Bret Hart.
Michaels proposed to Vince McMahon the idea of having The Rock lose the Intercontinental title to Hart on an episode of RAW. This would accomplish three things. First, it would halt The Rock's "push." Second, it would take Hart out of the world title picture and third, it would help propel Triple H to the top of the company before The Rock could get there.
Hart refused to cooperate and lost to The Rock by DQ. By 1999, The Rock had propelled himself past every superstar--besides Steve Austin--in the WWE.
1 John Cena
There came a point in The Rock and Cena's most recent rivalry that their resentment toward each other seemed too real for comfort. Their insults were pointed and felt sincere. And they were.
Cena's animosity toward The Rock extends back over 15 years when "The Great One" left the company to pursue a career in acting. It ended up being a smart choice for the man who reminds his fans he once had only seven dollars in his pocket. He is now worth $125 million and earned more in 2013 than Cena has made his entire life. Johnson earned roughly $44 million in 2013 from acting, wrestling and endorsement deals. Cena's net worth is around $35 million.
When the two finally met seven years after The Rock's initial departure to Hollywood, the stage was set for an explosive confrontation. For months after The Rock's return, Cena bashed him for abandoning the WWE, while The Rock keyed in on Cena's "fruity pebble" looking attire.
In an interview with Muscle and Fitness magazine, The Rock admitted the animosity was real. "John had said some things in an interview that I took exception," said The Rock. "He felt they were ok, I felt they weren't okay...It got really uncomfortable for a lot of people. And it gets uncomfortable for the fans--that they sense something. But then it gets uncomfortable for the wrestlers and to the executives and the company, then it's something special."
The Rock now admits to having both laughed off the incident at first and using it as a storyline, but it doesn't take a wrestling fan to see that two of the sport's greatest rivals did have a true distaste for each other.