Most of the time, wrestling feuds are just for show. In fact, there’s a long and storied history of good friends putting on great rivalries, whether it we’re talking about Shawn Michaels and Triple H, John Cena and Randy Orton, or today’s pairing of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Friends are familiar with each other’s moves, trust one another with their bodies, and have no problem working collaboratively on the creative end of the story they’re telling together.
Not all on-screen adversaries are friends, though, and in some cases, working together might lead to personal issues behind the scenes. Whether it’s a matter of something going wrong in the ring, personal jealousies, competing for fame and fortune, or any other combination of factors, there’s a history of wrestlers who perform at the highest level souring on one another after they’ve worked together.
In the modern pro wrestling world, there’s no bigger stage for a wrestling feud to reach its peak than WrestleMania. Even if guys aren’t in the main event, they’ve reached a high point in their craft just to get booked at the biggest show of the year for the most high profile wrestling company in the world.
This article looks back at fifteen times when guys worked together on wrestling’s biggest stage, only to develop real life personal issues in the aftermath. Ranging from all the way back to WrestleMania I, up to recent years this countdown encompasses a wide swath of history and explores the ways in which history has repeated itself, as well as ways in which wrestlers’ concerns have changed over time.
15 Matt Hardy And Edge
Matt Hardy and Edge clashed at WrestleMania on three separate occasions. In the first two instances, they were on opposing tag teams, first for the WrestleMania 2000 triangle ladder match, and then for WrestleMania 17’s TLC Match. Years later, they’d be on opposite ends of a ladder again at WrestleMania 23 in the Money in the Bank Match that opened the show.
Hardy and Edge were real life friends when they first wrestled, and reportedly spent time together, along with partners Jeff Hardy and Christian, painstakingly constructing shocking spots for their matches. The friendship quickly dissolved however, when Hardy read text messages from Edge to his real-life girlfriend Lita. While accounts vary as to whether, or to what extent Lita and Edge were actually involved in an affair, the development made Hardy very angry and led to him threatening Edge. WWE wound up firing Hardy to avoid the risk of backstage violence, and because Edge was seen as the star with more upside at the time. Though Hardy would return to the WWE fold, and he and Edge would work together as professionals again, the relationship between the two was never the same.
14 Hulk Hogan And Randy Savage
Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage went against each other in an iconic main event match at WrestleMania V. The storyline saw Savage grow jealous of Hogan for eyeing his on screen girlfriend (and real life wife) Miss Elizabeth, and for hogging the spotlight. Reality may not have been so far off, as Savage, who most agreed was the more talented athlete, was jealous of Hogan’s greater notoriety. The Macho Man was also, by a variety of accounts, fiercely protective of Miss Elizabeth. He was suspicious of other wrestlers trying to steal her away, and purportedly commanded her to stay in a private dressing room when he couldn’t immediately be with her in the locker room.
The real life tensions between Hogan and Savage may have simmered at this point, but grew more pronounced as Savage reportedly suspected Hogan of having an affair with Miss Elizabeth at one point. Later, he blamed Hogan and his wife for his marital problems after they let Liz stay with them at their home. The two would have an up and down relationship, working together again in WCW, though, in the aftermath, Savage didn’t have much positive to say about Hogan and even seemed to call him out for a fight in his 2003 rap album.
13 Mr. Kennedy And Randy Orton
Mr. Kennedy got the push of a lifetime at WrestleMania 23 when he won the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Besides earning a world title shot, he got an extra rub for going over a lot of more famous talents, and not least of all Randy Orton.
According to Kennedy, he and Orton were friends who spent time together traveling, and whose wives even struck up a close friendship. Over time, however, the friendship deteriorated. Kennedy has spoken in numerous shoot interviews about how Orton complained to management about him, claiming that he was reckless and unsafe in the ring after a bad back body drop spot.
While neither Orton nor any WWE higher ups have ever confirmed Kennedy’s story, the fact remains that the friendship came to a bitter end over it. Long after they duked it out at WrestleMania, Kennedy, at least, saw Orton as an enemy.
12 Bret Hart And Shawn Michaels
At WrestleMania XII, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels put on one of the best pure wrestling matches in the history of the show, in a sixty-minute Iron Man Match for the World Championship. Michaels would win and in doing so take home his first world title.
Hart and Michaels had been friends early in their career, coming up through the tag team ranks and transitioning into the mid-card in quick succession. Together, they represented a new generation of stars who were smaller in stature but more athletic and arguably harder working than their predecessors.
Professional jealousies abounded between Hart and Michaels as they vied for the top spot in the business. Things got personal through a series of perceived slights, like Hart going long on an interview spot so Raw went off air before Michaels had a chance to offer a rebuttal, or Michaels hinting on air that Hart was having an affair with Sunny. The issue between the two would culminate in the Montreal Screwjob as Michaels took the world title from Hart one last time, and Hart departed for WCW.
The two made amends later, but it took well over a decade before Hart was willing to bury the hatchet and the two patched things up upon Hart’s return to the WWE fold.
11 Ricky Steamboat And Randy Savage
Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage worked together at WrestleMania III. While Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant was the main event match, and the primary draw to bring 93,000 plus fans to the Pontiac Silverdome, fans and critics alike seemed to agree that Steamboat vs. Savage was the better match. Heck, there was plenty of argument that Steamboat-Savage was the best match WWE had ever put on up to that point.
Behind the scenes, though, Steamboat was not happy with the match. He’s spoken in a number of interviews about Savage’s insistence on planning matches meticulously. Steamboat preferred to work more organically, responding to the fans’ energy. He said that he hated working in Savage’s style. While many fans thought the tournament brackets may have been set up for them to have a dream rematch at WrestleMania IV, it seems clear Steamboat had no interest at all, wanting to steer clear of another bout when he’d have to memorize an elaborate sequence of moves.
10 Roddy Piper And Mr. T
There were a lot of elements that contributed to the success of the original WrestleMania. One important piece was Roddy Piper. The preeminent heel of the day had brought his rivalry with Hulk Hogan to a fever pitch and earned the wrath of the fans by picking on Cyndi Lauper. In addition to Piper, running buddy Paul Orndorff, and the top star of the day, Hogan, there was Mr. T.
Via Rocky III and The A-Team, Mr. T had developed into a cultural icon, and better yet for wrestling purposes, one who looked ready to go in a fight. So, he was natural fit to team up with Hogan and beat the bad guys. The only problem? At least according to Piper, Mr. T was a terror to work with, completely incompetent as a wrestler. To make matters worse, Piper and T were paired together again at WrestleMania II in a fixed boxing match.
Piper has said in many interviews that he was very near beating up Mr. T for real, and it was clear, even after decades had passed, the animosity lived on, at least from Piper’s side.
9 Bret Hart And Bob Backlund
At WrestleMania XI, Bret Hart and Bob Backlund squared off in an I Quit Match—a sequel to their brutal Survivor Series match from the preceding fall. At Survivor Series, Backlund had locked in a Crossface Chicken Wing to win the match. In his book, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Hart wrote about how Backlund’s signature move was a shooter’s hold—it really did hurt a lot and threatened injury and Backlund really hurt him at that show.
For the finish to the WrestleMania match, Hart reversed the Crossface Chicken Wing to give Backlund a taste of his own medicine. Rather than yelling, “I quit” clear and decisively as he was supposed to to put over Hart, in his pain, Backlund simply screamed yes. Hart was bitter enough about the mistake to cite it as a frustration in his book over a decade later, noting it as a bad ending to an overall disappointing match.
8 The Ultimate Warrior And Triple H
WrestleMania XII marked The Ultimate Warrior’s return to action in WWE after over three years away. His opponent was a young Triple H, still in his Connecticut blue blood gimmick. After absorbing Helmsley’s signature Pedigree, The Warrior took over and made short work of his heel rival.
A lot can change over time. While Warrior left WWE on bad terms and worked for WCW for a spell, Triple H saw his star rise in the company as he became not only a main event player, but married into the McMahon family. In the Self Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior documentary, Helmsley spoke about how reckless Warrior was and what a pain it was to work with him. Warrior lashed out at Helmsley on social media, including calling him “puffy man” to knock his physique.
Warrior and Triple H seemingly made amends as WWE welcomed Warrior back into the fold for WrestleMania XXX weekend. The WWE 24 special dedicated to Warrior shows the two talking cordially in Triple H's office. Nonetheless, the tensions were certainly real for a period of years.
7 Hulk Hogan And Vince McMahon
Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon have certainly had an up and down relationship over the years. McMahon built his business on Hogan’s back in the 1980s, though it could also be argued that McMahon created Hogan based on his creative and marketing genius. In the years to follow, Hogan would leave WWE, testify against McMahon and his company in the steroid trial, and help bring WCW to the height of its popularity. This real life history of both friendship and animosity was the backdrop for the WrestleMania XIX Street Fight between McMahon and Hogan.
Little could McMahon and Hogan have known that they hadn’t had their last falling out. Hogan would go on to work with TNA at a point when the company openly stated its intention to go to war with WWE. The two would make up again, and Hogan would even return, in a non-wrestling role, to McMahon’s company. However, when a recording got out of Hogan using racial slurs, McMahon and WWE denounced him, not only canceling his contract but going so far as to scrub The Hulkster from their Hall of Fame website, thus severing all ties when Hogan was at his lowest point.
6 Ric Flair And Mick Foley
WrestleMania XX featured a unique spectacle of a match. On one side of the ring stood three members of Evolution—young Randy Orton and Batista plus legend Ric Flair. On the other side, two of the most iconic stars from the Attitude Era, Mick Foley and The Rock.
The central rivalry at stake was about Orton vs. Foley. Fittingly, Orton would steal the pin on the Hardcore Legend in this match before blowing off their rivalry in a violent bout a month later. But while that story was being told—designed to elevate Orton to main event status—a real life feud was just getting started.
Flair called Foley “a glorified stunt man” and questioned his legacy as a hardcore wrestler, claiming he was overrated for his willingness to get hurt. The real life issue led to the two revisiting their on screen rivalry, by which point cooler heads seemed to prevail. However, as the years have gone by, the two have continued to show signs of animosity in interviews and social media. Most recently, they traded barbs in 2015 when Foley questioned WWE’s creative choices and Flair questioned who Foley was to criticize the company.
5 The Iron Sheik And B. Brian Blair
WrestleMania II featured a memorable battle royal including not only WWE Superstars, but also NFL players. While Andre the Giant would win, The Iron Sheik quietly had a nice outing for himself, eliminating four straight competitors. Among them was B. Brian Blair from The Killer Bees. The Iron Sheik and Blair would renew their rivalry a year later at WrestleMania III, when The Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff beat Blair and Jim Brunzell.
The Sheik was a much bigger star than Blair, and so their lopsided on-screen rivalry didn't turn many heads. The pairing would get more attention years later, however, as The Iron Sheik got on social media and began giving interviews. He used harsh language and put down a lot of his old colleagues. While the reasons were never entirely clear, Sheik singled out Blair time and again for his profanity riddled tirades. While Sheik has attacked all manner of people, he seems to have a specific beef against Blair.
4 John Cena And The Rock
WrestleMania XVIII saw a dream match take shape with John Cena, the biggest star of his generation, booked against The Rock, one of the biggest stars of the generation before, booked to go against each other one year out. There was a razor thin line between fact and fiction in this rivalry as Rock made harsh remarks against Cena while continuing to work a sporadic schedule. Cena knocked Rock’s commitment to wrestling. The two volleyed on air and on social media, before Cena called out Rock for delivering a promo from notes he had written on his hand. While accounts have varied, it seems that Rock did not appreciate Cena undercutting his talking game in that way.
So, jealousies and animosities took hold and the rivalry got real before Rock and Cena squared off. They were professionals for the match, and seemed more cordial with one another when they had their rematch at WrestleMania XXIX. Just the same, the tensions don’t seem to have gone away altogether. For example, The Rock recently took a shot at Cena’s acting skills in front of a live crowd in L.A. before filming a scene for a movie he was producing, citing that they hadn’t cast Cena because they wanted the movie to be good.
3 CM Punk And Chris Jericho
WrestleMania XXVIII had something for everyone, with The Rock and John Cena in the main event spot, Sheamus and Daniel Bryan essentially working a comedy match for the World Heavyweight Championship. CM Punk and Chris Jericho held down the fort for fans of more traditional wrestling putting on the best pure wrestling match of the bunch over the WWE Championship.
Punk and Jericho weren’t known to be particularly close, but Jericho also wasn’t on the sizeable list of Punk’s contemporaries whom he took issue with. That is, until the two had a falling out after Punk walked out on his former employer.
In his visit to Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast, Punk knocked Jericho. He claimed that Y2J tried to get Punk on his podcast. The implication was that Jericho was either trying to exploit him for more downloads, or that he might have been reaching out, subversively as a representative of WWE. Jericho tried to clear the air with a video in response, claiming he approached Punk about the podcast before he left WWE, and that Punk backed out of a recording session they had planned earlier.
2 John Cena And Alex Riley
Though Alex Riley and John Cena never had a proper WrestleMania match, they traded blows at ‘Mania as Riley played The Miz’s right man when he defended his WWE Championship against John Cena at WrestleMania 27.
A few months removed from WrestleMania, Riley had separated himself from Miz on screen and was getting a solid push a face, including a clean victory over his former mentor. That’s where things get murky. Riley has alluded to running afoul of Cena, and that being the reason why he was suddenly de-pushed—relegated to the lower card and then taken out of the ring altogether. Ryback has backed Riley since leaving WWE, claiming that when people hear the full story of what happened, they’ll be outraged at Cena.
From what has gotten out, the gist of the story seems to be that Cena ribbed Riley, Riley didn’t take the joke well, and Cena consequently used his political clout to bury Riley. While we don’t know the specifics, it’s clear Riley, at the least, has held a grudge against Cena.
1 Hulk Hogan And The Ultimate Warrior
Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior were two of WWE’s most definitive icons from the late 1980s and early 1990s. While it was unusual for WWE to book face-versus-face matches in that era, the two were so clearly the biggest stars when WrestleMania VI rolled around that WWE couldn’t resist cashing in on a dream match and putting the two up against one another. The match was one of the best of either man’s WWE career, and a huge victory for the Warrior as he took home the WWE Championship.
While the two got along by all accounts at the time, Hogan later participated in the Self Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior documentary project, tearing down his former colleague. Warrior took it personally and reportedly held a grudge against Hogan for years, before the two finally reconciled shortly before Warrior passed at WrestleMania XXX.
Sadly, remnants of their real life feud live on. Warrior’s widow Dana claimed after her husband passed that Hogan only made up with him because there were video cameras around. She noted bitterly on a Facebook post that Hogan hadn’t called, sent a card, or otherwise reached out to the family since.