I’ve always said the best gimmicks, promos, and storylines come from a place of truth. You take that little nugget of honesty, shine it up real nice, and expand it to epic proportions. However, you do have to know when to draw the line. If Hogan’s opponents cut a promo describing how old he was, how bad his hips were, how he could barely run, and how they’ve figured out a counter to his fives of doom, well the audience would be forced to agree and the tension would be lost. You can’t hit too close to home.
Wrestling is very competitive. There are only so many top spots, and those top spots make the most money. For example, Kevin Nash has spoken about how competitive Shawn Michaels was in their shared WWE days. Even though they were tight friends, Michaels was very open that he wanted Nash’s position at the top of the company. Knowing this background adds a lot of interest to their matches when watching them again.
With this internal competition and the amount of time spent together on the road, wrestlers will naturally develop tension with each other. Differing philosophies and ego naturally clash, and it can add greatly to a storyline or match if used properly. Too much bad blood however can be a detriment to a match. Wrestlers are responsible for each others lives in the ring and must trust each other. If their real-life feud has gone too far, their out-of-ring drama could ruin the potential in-ring story.
When Vince bought out his WCW and ECW competition, he thrust previous enemies into the same locker room. Soldiers that were on opposing sides of the Monday Night War were all of a sudden on the same side (pretending to be on opposing sides in the ring). This incredible amount of history and competition can be used to great effect (the Invasion storyline) or sometimes falls flat on it’s face (the Invasion storyline).
Knowing when to walk the line and when to cross it is a game Vince knows all too well, and one he almost always wins.
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10 The Mega Powers Explode!
Hogan was the unquestionable top dog of the WWE at the time. Wrestlers clamored to be on his shows to reap the benefits of his popularity. But Macho Man was not far behind. Even today, you could ask non-wrestling fans around the world, and Macho Man would be in the top two of recognizable wresting stars. To top it off, while Hogan was extremely limited in the ring, Randy Savage was one of the best. He walked the line of insanity and had the agility and strength of a panther.
The storyline between the two centered around Miss Elizabeth, Macho’s beautiful valet and real-life partner. Savage's jealousy is the part that was real. Savage was notoriously protective and paranoid over his beautiful gal. Bret Hart described Elizabeth as living like a bird in a cage. It’s no wonder their feud was so believable on screen. And with Elizabeth’s stunning beauty and innocence juxtaposed with Macho's Madness, the fans could easily believe it as well.
9 Vince McMahon vs. Hulk Hogan
Their match was booked as who made who. Did Vince make Hogan a star or did Hogan make wrestling mainstream? It was a chicken and the egg situation that made a lot of sense. Hogan was unquestionably popular, the Muhammad Ali of the sport. Yet Vince created WrestleMania and managed to grow the sport even after the Hulkster’s departure.
There was so much history between the two that this feud was inevitable. They were the two major players in the steroid scandal that signaled the end of their golden era. Hogan's eventual return to Vince's biggest rival WCW while the WWE was at it's lowest must have felt like a slap in the face. To see Hogan lead the nWo and WCW to it's rating's domination of the WWE must have felt even worse.
Of course they were on great terms, with Vince welcoming Hogan back to do great business where he belonged back in the WWE. But for this feud, they were able to relive all of the past drama, and combine once again to create incredibly compelling wrestling.
8 Steve Austin vs. Eric Bischoff
Long before he Stone Cold became the biggest superstar on the planet, he was toiling away in WCW. Management liked how he looked on camera, and he could definitely work in the ring. However his “Stunning” gimmick was stuck in the mid-card and he never really took off. You could see the arrogant attitude back then, but it was too pretty boy and not enough badass. When Austin was fired by Bischoff, he used it to fuel a hilarious gimmick in ECW. He held nothing back as he ripped into Bischoff, using his real-life circumstances as parody. In a legendary promo, Austin donned a Bischoff wig and coined lines such as “where the big boys play with each other.” It’s fantastic to history to witness Austin develop the persona that would later define his career and an entire era.
Vince had brought Bischoff back into the WWE, giving him a storyline in which he had a time limit to revitalize Raw, and sign Steve Austin. The storyline referenced the fact that Austin had bad blood with Bischoff and would never sign with him. The big payoff happened when it was announced Austin would sign, but Bischoff would be his first opponent!
Obviously there was no actual heat between them when this happened, but the WWE was clever to use the past that many fans were well aware of.
7 Mick Foley vs. Ric Flair
Flair is never afraid to bash other wrestlers. He’s said Kevin Nash had zero talent, and even called Bret Hart a “legend in his own mind” who couldn’t draw around the world (which is absolutely incorrect). He saved his worst for Foley. "I don't care how many thumbtacks Mick Foley has fallen on, how many ladders he's fallen off of, how many continents he's supposedly bled on, he'll always be known as a glorified stuntman”. He went on to say Mick Foley was not a great worker. He couldn't punch. He couldn't kick. In the World Wrestling Federation, he'd spend half the day sucking up to the writers -- because he's such a fan of himself.”
The brutal comments made for an awesome feud in the WWE, culminating in the “I Quit” match at Summerslam 2006, (just a year after Flair’s book release).
The two have since reconciled.
6 The Invasion
Vince's purchase of WCW and ECW was very public and he decided to use it as part of the storyline. He had his own son appear on the last ever Nitro to claim that he had bought it out from under his father. This kicked off a very exciting but ultimately disappointing angle. When you think WCW, Flair, Sting, Goldberg, and the three original members of the nWo come to mind. Unfortunately these icons weren't available at the time, so the fans got Hugh Morrus and others.
It did generate a lot of interest though and is still being fantasy booked in the minds of wrestling fans today.
5 The Rock vs. John Cena
These two had an interesting feud that blurred the lines of fact and fiction. For the first time, a wrestling feud would make incredible use of social media. Wrestling was proving again that it could stay on the cutting edge.
In a Muscle and Fitness interview, Dwayne Johnson discussed how comments Cena had made about The Rock caring more about acting than wrestling legitimately caused heat between them. "...it was very real...John had said some things in an interview that I took exception. He felt they were okay, I felt they weren't okay." The Rock mentioned how he was able to laugh it off later, but also that he realized he could use it as fuel for their fire.
The promos in their feud walked the line of shoot/work, and the fans could sense the excitement and reality of the situation. A huge amount of buzz was created and that's all the WWE can ask for.
4 Edge vs. Matt Hardy
This one has been covered extensively and become a swirling bath of truth and rumors. The story seems to go that Hardy and Amy Dumas had been involved in a real-life relationship. While Hardy had taken time off for an injury, Dumas had spent time with Edge on the road. Their friendship turned romantic and it caused a breakup between Hardy and her herself.
The WWE's storyline of Lita leaving Kane for Edge was an obvious art imitating life, and set the stage for Hardy's eventual comeback and feud with Edge.
Hardy has been very vocal on social media and speaks highly of his ex and their situation. In the end, the WWE wins (like they always do) and they produced another compelling feud that is still talked about today.
3 CM Punk/WWE
Punk's worked shoot promo felt like an internet forum come to life. Fans couldn't believe what they were hearing, and the vicious insults he hurled seemed way too close to the truth to be a work. Saying the WWE would be better off when Vince was dead, and then calling Stephanie an idiot and Triple H a doofus was brave television. Of course Vince had to have agreed with the promo. They eventually cut the mic off, but for dramatic effect only. If they really didn't like what he was saying they would have not only cut his mic off immediately, but the camera would be cut to commercial or anything else.
Vince and CM Punk made this work. It felt natural for Punk to say it, and Vince is notorious for going to any lengths whenever he "smells money". The whole storyline played up the fact that Punk's contract was coming to an end at Money in the Bank (which was true) and Punk only re-signed with the company the day of the event.
2 Roddy Piper vs. Mr. T
When Mr. T was booked to join Piper, Hogan, and Paul Orndorff in the first WrestleMania Piper already had his guard up. He was very protective of the business he loved. He would make it his mission to prevent a celebrity from coming in, having a laugh, and then moving on.
Piper recalled “At WrestleMania, he wanted to treat our match like a cartoon and bang the heels’ heads together. And I laid the law down that I would not let Mr. T pin my shoulders. I wasn’t being difficult. I’m not going to let someone come into my business and treat me like a clown.”
“There was a press conference at Rockefeller Center leading to the event. Out of nowhere, Mr. T just dove on me. No discussion about it beforehand. He didn’t have any respect.”
Piper obviously had his guard up. The tag match actually went pretty great. With three wrestlers to one Mr. T, the ratio allowed the talent to do the heavy lifting and for Mr T to add some excitement. All of this tension was used at the following WrestleMania, as the two faced off in a worked boxing match at one of the three main events.
Piper had trained like Rocky for months and management feared what he would do in the ring. They taped his hands beneath his gloves, which resulted in him taking a nasty tumble out of the ring. Piper eventually threw a corner stool viciously hard at T, and bodyslammed him for the noble DQ loss.
1 Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon
With Vince able to play God behind the scenes and his willingness to do anything for his business, it’s no surprise he appears frequently on this list. Hart is known as a straight arrow who values integrity above everything. During Hart's rise to the top of the wrestling world he formed a tumultuous relationship with McMahon. At times he was appreciated for his dedication and world-class skill, carrying the company through a tough transition period. At other times Vince would break promises, as he caved to the demands of the powerful and unpopular “Clique”. This infamously led to the Montreal Screwjob of course. Hart’s years of loyal, unparalleled service was rewarded with a middle finger.
They have since made amends, with Hart saying how much it meant for Vince to call him in the hospital after his stroke. Hart even returned to the WWE and they put all of their history into a storyline a WrestleMania match. While Hart himself admitted it wasn’t his greatest performance, there was a vindication to his victory and a joy to see him recover from his health issues to once again perform in the ring.
Now if only they could have held the match in Canada.
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