In mourning the death of Owen Hart, Jeff Jarrett famously said that in the wrestling business, you have a “lot of acquaintances, but very few friends.” What Jarrett said resonated for successful wrestlers, particularly from his generation and earlier, who traveled the globe and hopped between promotions, in a constant state of meeting people, working with people, and then as often as not burning bridges on the way out the door. It makes sense in such a competitive world in which the matches on screen may be predetermined, but the way in which guys jockey for top spots and big paydays is very real.
There are a number of stories of guys who came into the wrestling business as friends together, or who forged bonds through their training, working the indies, or traveling the roads. There are a handful of genuinely nice guys in the business—the Ricky Steamboats or Daniel Bryans of the world who don’t seem to have heat on them or anyone talking trash about them in shoot interviews. But for most wrestlers, those friendships seem to dwindle the longer guys hang around pro wrestling and the higher they climb the ladder of success, as professional jealousies, money problems, infidelities, and miscommunications can all contribute to a friendship turning sour.
This column looks at times when people in the wrestling business went from friends to enemies. While some of them have patched up their differences in the aftermath, after that falling out or betrayal, it’s hard to imagine these friendships are really the same.
15 Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake
Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake were well known to be close friends who trained together on their way into the wrestling business, and stayed close over the years. While Hogan enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom, Beefcake took up residence as a comfortable mid-card guy who was consistently employed by one of the national promotions—not so coincidentally, whichever promotion Hogan was working for.
Things took a turn in the spring of 2015 when Hogan caught wind that Beefcake was selling unauthorized Hogan merchandise—in particular, counterfeit autographed photos. Hogan took to Twitter to address the issue, posting a photo of him and Beefcake, with the caption “Back in the day when it was straight up brother.” He went to respond to a number of fan tweets to flesh out the situation and more explicitly call out Beefcake for making an illegitimate profit off of Hogan’s name.
Beefcake did stand up for Hogan in the media after tapes got out of him using racist language, perhaps as an olive branch or a sign that the two had mended fences in the aftermath.
14 Steve Austin and Owen Hart
All signs point to Steve Austin and Owen Hart having been friendly colleagues who respected one another when they were both working for WWE, but things took a turn at SummerSlam 1997 when Hart gave Austin an inverted piledriver. Austin has spoken in multiple WWE documentaries and in podcasts about hearing a gong-like sound in his ears and the name Christopher Reeve flashing through his mind as he temporarily felt paralyzed and feared the worst. Fortunately, Austin would recover, and though he suffered from neck issues throughout his remaining years in wrestling, he was able to work at full impact again for several years to follow.
In his memoir, Bret Hart discusses telling Owen to follow up with Austin and apologize, but reports that for whatever combination of reasons, Owen never did it and he sensed a tension from the two in the aftermath. Austin has said in his own interviews that Owen did call, but his comments had an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with Owen’s response.
Hart would pass away in a tragic accident a little less than two years later. As the years have gone by, Austin’s message about him has softened, with less emphasis on Owen’s wrongdoing and more about Austin feeling fortunate not to have ended up in worse shape than he did.
13 Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty
In the early days of both men’s careers, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty were tag team partners and real-life friends who traveled together and got signed together to work for different promotions, most prominently WWE and AWA. Eventually, though, it was time for them to go their separate ways, and particularly for Michaels to break out as a singles star. While the two did have a brief, heated on-screen rivalry, their feud never really reached its proper climax, purportedly on account of Jannetty’s drug issues at the time.
While no one would blame Jannetty for some sense of jealousy over Michaels’s success in wrestling relative to his own, the tensions have spilled from implicit to more overt here and there over the years. The most high profile instance of public tension between the two showed up in 2012 when Jannetty posted an accusatory post about Michaels on Facebook, claiming Michaels blew him off on social media and didn’t express concern, much less offer to assist when Jannetty suffered a severe ankle issue.
Given there respective paths, it’s little surprise Michaels and Jannetty didn’t stay close, but when Jannetty took to social media calling Michaels “Golden Boy” and a “lil b---h” it was clear that they he saw Michaels as not just a former friend, but an enemy.
12 Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty
After starting out with WWE as a Headshrinker and progressing through a number of gimmicks, Rikishi arrived at his most successful character as a dancing big man who worked alongside the Too Cool tag team of Scotty 2 Hotty and Grandmaster Sexay. By all accounts, the guys were friends on stage and off. In his final years with WWE, Rikishi even spent most of his time tagging with Scotty 2 Hotty in the midcard.
When Rikishi went into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015, he conspicuously failed to mention either member of Too Cool. In the aftermath, Scotty took to social media to blast that choice, tweeting, “Dec. 99, 3 guys that ere pretty much obsolete in the wrestling biz came together and made each other. 1 apparently doesn’t remember that.” He responded to fan tweets to explain he wasn’t bitter, but rather “hurt” by the omission. There are rumors that Rikishi had a falling out with his former running buddies over issues an independent show the three were supposed to work together, but there's no official word from anyone involved about what that issue was. Just the same, it seems clear that all is not well between the former buddies.
11 Scott Steiner and Hulk Hogan
Scott Steiner famously has an axe to grind with a lot of people in the pro wrestling business, but perhaps none more publicly or aggressively than Hulk Hogan.
The two worked concurrently in WWE and then WCW, and Hogan was purportedly among those who backed Steiner to get a main event push, which suggests they were on good terms in the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, in recent years, it has become clear that the two have issues, and in particular Steiner is not happy with Hogan.
Steiner spoke up in multiple interviews to condemn the creative and business work Hogan and Eric Bischoff had done in TNA. From there, spring 2015 saw a high profile incident in which TMZ and other media outlets reported claims that Steiner had accosted Hogan’s wife at an airport and allegedly threatened Hogan’s life. Most recently, when a tape of Hogan sharing racist comments surfaced, Steiner took to Twitter to say that it was karma and called Hogan “a piece of sh*t.”
10 Mick Foley and Madusa
In her visit to the Legends with JBL talk show on the WWE Network, Madusa delved into her disappointment with how some of her colleagues treated her after she infamously dropped the WWE Women’s Championship belt in the trash on WCW Monday Nitro.
In particular, Madusa made mention of Mick Foley, who she considered a close friend from their time back in WCW, and who she said came to her years later to apologize about jumping on the bandwagon to blast her for what she’d done in WCW. While Foley seems to have owned up to his part in this beef and tried to make amends, it was clear from Madusa’s emotion at the moment in the interview that she was not over it. The friendship between the two had been affected, if not ended because of what Foley said.
9 Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart
The real-life grudge between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart that culminated in the Montreal Screwjob and over a decade of not speaking to one another has been well documented from both parties. For most entries in this countdown, it’s a surprise to hear that people who were once close had a rift. In this case, it may be more surprising to learn that the two were, at one time good friends.
In their sit down interview with Jim Ross, released as a WWE DVD, the two discussed the old days when they were in a crew together that played stickball to pass the time at the arena before shows. Moreover, in Hart’s memoir he makes mention that Michaels actually approached him about combining political resources prior to Michaels’ infamous Kliq coming together. These signs point toward the two not only being colleagues, but friends in the early days, before a sense of competition and a series of misadventures led them down the path of real-life animosity.
8 Edge and Matt Hardy
Edge and Matt Hardy in many ways came up together in WWE, as their respective tag teams—The Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian—feuded on and off for years, starting when they were fresh faces in WWE, moving on to sharing the spotlight for back-to-back big time matches at WrestleMania.
Eventually, the two were singles wrestlers, and by all accounts good friends. Their personal relationship took a major turn however, on a well-documented night when Hardy looked at his real-life girlfriend Lita’s cell phone and discovered a number of messages with Edge that suggested the two were having an affair.
Hardy was understandably upset, and matters got even worse when WWE promptly released Hardy, purportedly because they didn’t trust him to be civil toward Edge and Edge was the more valuable commodity to WWE at the time.
Hardy did ultimately return to the fold months later, and even worked a memorable rivalry opposite Edge and Lita that heavily played off of real life events. They worked together professionally, and there haven’t been reports of further issues, but based on the wild series of events leading up to that time, one has to assume the friendship has never been the same.
7 Tommy Dreamer and Paul Heyman
Tommy Dreamer has spoken in multiple interviews about how close he once was to Paul Heyman, helping out in many aspects of ECW’s business, in addition to being a major on screen star for the small promotion. The two seemed to share a genuine affection for one another, in addition to getting along creatively as a booker and wrestler, and Dreamer even seems to have been fine with Heyman stiffing him on multiple paychecks when ECW ran into financial troubles.
The breaking point in the relationship, however, seems to have been when Dreamer discovered ECW had been accepting money from WWE, at which point he was livid with his employer and didn’t associate with him for years. While the two seemed to have made amends over time, they got into an argument over Twitter as recently as 2014 after the new WWE Network aired a special called ECW Exposed. Dreamer chided Heyman about money he was never paid, and Heyman fought back, needling Dreamer about accepting merchandise to cover his debt and accused Dreamer of jumping “on the ‘I got screwed’ bandwagon.”
6 Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon
Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon were each vital parts of WWE’s success in the 1980s, when the company went national with McMahon as its business and creative head, and Hogan as the face of the company. By all accounts, the two were very close, but the relationship hit more than its share of bumps in the years to follow.
First after Hogan left WWE, he wound up testifying in unflattering ways when WWE was put on trial for allegedly pushing steroid use. From there, Hogan was the top on-screen character for most of WCW’s run against WWE in the Monday Night War. Finally, after the two had reconciled and done business together again in the early 2000s, Hogan jumped ship again, signing as an on-air talent and backstage consultant with TNA when they made a pass at challenging WWE. Most recently, after another reconciliation, McMahon made the call for WWE to release Hogan after he had a racist tirade caught on tape, and subsequently went so far as to have Hogan removed from WWE’s Hall of Fame website.
McMahon and Hogan always seem to come back together, and the rumor mill suggests Hogan may be back with WWE sooner than later. Just the same, while the two know they can make each other money, after multiple periods of competing and actively working against one another, the friendship can’t be what it once was.
5 CM Punk and Colt Cabana
CM Punk and Colt Cabana were long known to be friends after they came up in the business together and worked a range of indies as opponents. When Punk delivered his most famous Pipebomb promo, he even gave his friend and WWE castoff Cabana an on-air shout out. From there, when Punk left WWE amidst a tidal wave of controversy, he chose Cabana’s podcast to ultimately air all of his grievances against WWE management.
Things took a turn last fall, however, when Cabana visited backstage at a WWE locker room and took pictures with WWE talent. A variety of sources have speculated that Punk felt Cabana was disloyal in doing so, and that it might even hurt Punk’s legal standing because he and Cabana were getting sued for defamation as a result of comments made on the podcast.
While neither Punk nor Cabana have commented publicly, the twosome are both known to be active on social media, and it's notable that they unfollowed one another Twitter as the rumors were gathering steam.
4 Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage
Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were two of WWE’s most iconic figures in the late 1980s when they formed an on-air tag team and then engaged in a rivalry. By most accounts, the two were good friends for most of this period, though there was an undercurrent of both professional and personal jealousy—Savage upset over Hogan’s greater star power and fiercely protective over his real-life romantic partner, Miss Elizabeth.
While the relationship between the two seemed to ebb and flow, including partnering up again at least for business purposes in WCW, things took a nasty turn in an incident Hulk Hogan discussed on Chris Jericho’s podcast, when Hogan and Savage exchanged words and nearly got into a physical altercation in 2004. While it may have been a matter of posturing, when The Macho Man released a rap album, he went so far as to directly call out Hogan and rap “I’m coming after you.”
After Savage had passed Hogan indicated in multiple interviews that he and Savage made up after running into one another at a doctor’s office, so perhaps the story of their personal relationship had a more peaceful ending, but it’s clear that their once close friendship gave way to at least one severe falling out.
3 Jim Duggan and Doink the Clown
Jim Duggan and Doink The Clown are both known for their colorful characters during WWE’s most cartoonish period, but first worked together in the Mid-South territory years earlier as noteworthy stars for the region (Doink then working under the name Matt Borne). They even buddied up, along with Ted DiBiase to form a heel stable known as The Rat Pack.
Decades after both men were out of the spotlight, tensions between the two boiled over at an independent show, when their match turned into an actual fight. Borne passed away shortly after the incident, reportedly due to a drug overdose, so we only have Duggan’s side of the story. According to a shoot interview with The Hannibal TV, Duggan said that they had a beef that dated back to Mid-South, and things started to take an ugly turn in their match at the indie show, so Duggan suggested they stop and settle their differences backstage. Duggan indicated that Doink never showed up for a backstage confrontation, instead grabbing his bags and quietly leaving the arena. Though his friend-turned-enemy had passed, Duggan still seemed to grow a little tense in recalling the incident, suggesting that they hadn’t had a chance to resolve their differences.
2 Kevin Nash and Bret Hart
In his book, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Bret Hart discussed working with Kevin Nash when he was known as Diesel. According to Hart, they got along, and young Nash looked up to Hart as a mentor and asked for his advice when he first won his lone world championship in WWE.
Nash would hold the title for nearly a full year, and by the time he lost the title to Hart, his attitude had changed. After Hart pinned Nash to finish their match, Nash, in character delivered two powerbombs to the new champ but then, in a moment that Hart took to transcend kayfabe, dropped the title belt on Hart’s chest and told him to “remember who did you the favor.”
While Hart and Nash didn’t have any high-profile run-ins thereafter, Hart has a well-documented real-life rivalry with Shawn Michaels, while Michaels was close real-life friends with Nash. Moreover, Hart has complained about WCW creative from his tenure there, and Nash was one of the bookers that be during that era. Similarly, Nash has alluded to issues with Hart, including discussing Hart wanting to protect himself in kayfabe at the expense of others and not always appreciating Hart’s style of plotting out matches.
1 Shane Douglas and Ric Flair
Shane Douglas has, on a variety of occasions, brought up that he used to look up to Ric Flair, and specifically cited that in his early years with WCW, he would ask Flair for advice and feedback on his matches, up until he caught Flair in a lie, and realized Flair was not watching his stuff and only paying him lip service. Douglas also purportedly took issue with Flair’s creative input during this era.
Later, Douglas would incorporate and amplify his resentment of Flair in his character work, particularly in ECW blasting Flair in promos. The shtick carried over when Douglas returned to WCW and used his well-known resentment as worked shoot fodder for a program with Flair. In shoot interviews years later, the two made it clear that their resentments have lived on. Flair dismissed Douglas, called him obnoxious, and suggested he was trying to get a rub off of Flair’s name. Douglas has persisted in his resentment of Flair, most recently claiming in a shoot for Kayfabe Commentaries that The Nature Boy was disrespectful to the people around him and made outrageous demands of his employers (notably, Dixie Carter, for Flair’s brief tenure with TNA).