Professional wrestling is built on colleagues working together in the ring to simulate violence. The matches hinge on feuds and storylines which are almost entirely fictional, designed to offer a reason for competitors to square off, and a reason for fans to care about them. One of the great ironies of the professional wrestling business is that great rivals are often real life friends behind the scenes. Logically speaking, this makes sense, because people working ongoing rivalries have to work together to plan matches and promo segments, have to trust their bodies to each other, and often develop a mutual respect based on what they accomplish together.
Despite how much sense it makes for kayfabe enemies to be real life friends, it can be difficult for fans to wrap their heads around, particularly when the rivalry is convincing on screen. Could Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat really get along? The Undertaker and Edge? Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho? In each case, the answer is a definitive yes. While they may not have close personal relationships they are far more cordial than their televised interactions would have you believe.
WrestleMania is the most watched, best attended, and most thoroughly documented annual wrestling event in the world. As such, guys who are rivals going into these shows tend to be remembered as enemies. Some of them were actually quite good friends behind the scenes—hence their ability to construct a WrestleMania worthy rivalry together. There are, however, those times when guys were booked against each other despite going into the match with animosity, or others for which the match itself created resentments.
This article takes a look at eight WrestleMania opponents who didn’t get along in real life and, by contrast, seven who were actually best friends.
15 Hated Each Other: Mr. T And Roddy Piper -WrestleMania 2
Roddy Piper was about as hot as any heel WWE has ever had going into the original two WrestleManias. The loud mouthed villain was a killer antagonist for Hulk Hogan, who contrasted Hogan’s muscle and wholesomeness with cowardly, big mouthed heel shtick. So it was that Piper was booked to feud with Mr. T. First, it was a special attraction with T teaming up with The Hulkster against Piper and Paul Orndorff. For WrestleMania II, Hot Rod and Mr. T went one on one in a worked boxing match.
The standards for work rate and in ring storytelling have changed over the years, but by any standard at all this match was awful.
In the years to follow, Piper pulled no punches in indicating that Mr. T was unprofessional, untrained, and had no business in a wrestling ring.
Rumor has it, Piper through in shoot wrestling moves in some of their confrontations just to rattle the celebrity, who didn’t take kindly to it.
As a silver lining, before he passed , Piper discussed burying the hatchet with T after he was inducted in to the WWE Hall of Fame, finding peace in the fact that they’d both grown up and become devoted fathers.
14 Friends: The Undertaker And Shane McMahon - WrestleMania 32
In one of the most shocking returns in WWE history, Shane McMahon returned WWE after over six years away pursuing other business ventures. In 2016, he showed up not as an executive, but rather strictly an on screen talent, and was immediately booked into a WrestleMania confrontation with The Undertaker.
These two big names were an instant draw for a WrestleMania that was struggling to come together with injuries to multiple top stars. Better yet, The Deadman and Shane O Mac were reportedly totally in sync. They’d been friends in preceding years, and had the common bond of both looking up to Vince McMahon as something of a father figure (much more literally in Shane’s case, of course). While their actual WrestleMania match had a mixed reception, by all accounts they worked hard together to plan around each other’s strengths and limitations to arrive at the best match they could come up with.
13 Hated Each Other: Dean Ambrose And Brock Lesnar - WrestleMania 32
Since returning to WWE from his main tour of UFC, Brock Lesnar has mainly worked against top tier guys and world champions along the lines of John Cena, Triple H, The Undertaker, and CM Punk. When Dean Ambrose was booked into a program with The Beast Incarnate, and with no less featured platform than WrestleMania, it seemed like a huge vote of confidence for the Lunatic Fringe.
The results were less than inspired. Not only did Lesnar win decisively, but the match didn’t do all that it might have to capitalize on the No Holds Barred Street Fight stipulation, Ambrose’s capacity for carnage, or even Lesnar’s awesome physical gifts. The match was too short to be epic, featured no signature moments, and largely felt like the flattest version of a match these two could have assembled.
Ambrose has implied in more than one interview that the fault for the blah match rests with Lesnar.
The implication is that Ambrose suggested creative ideas, and whether it was laziness, disinterest, or just a conflicting vision, Lesnar rejected them in favor of the straightforward, forgettable brawl that we ended up getting.
12 Good Friends: Eddie Guerrero And Rey Mysterio - WrestleMania 21
On air, Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio might be described as frenemies. They were both tremendous talents, relatively short of stature, and worked from the foundation of lucha libre. These overlapping elements led WCW and WWE alike to book them together quite a bit, sometimes as opponents, sometimes as tag team partners. In real life, the two were tight. Having risen from the same lucha libre circles, and overcome similar challenges on their way to the mainstream, they’d developed, camaraderie, mutual respect, and a close friendship with one another.
So, while they were cast as arch rivals come WrestleMania 21, the truth is that the two were very tight with one another. While their WrestleMania match was rock solid, it only offered an inkling of what the two were capable of, particularly when playing one another’s perfect complement in the squared circle.
11 Hated Each Other: Hulk Hogan And Randy Savage - WrestleMania V
Despite being icons from the same eras of wrestling history, and having worked together so often, it’s well documented that Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage didn’t always get along. Hogan was historically more diplomatic in describing their relationship. His criticisms, particularly of the personal nature, rarely went further than suggesting the Macho Man was overprotective of Miss Elizabeth backstage.
Savage had enough beef with Hogan to record a rap album anchored around their enmity when he was done with wrestling, daring Hogan to Be A Man and fight him. Savage purportedly harbored resentment about Hogan and his wife getting too close to Miss Elizabeth, but also accused Hogan of politicking.
The core issue between the two may have come down to professional jealousy. Savage was quite arguably the best pure talent WWE had in the late 1980s, while Hogan was always the bigger celebrity and booked by the company as the bigger star. These dynamics were called into sharp relief at WrestleMania V, where they clashed in the main event. As a credit to Hogan’s star power, it was probably the highest profile match Savage ever worked. As a credit to Savage’s skill, it’s on the short list of the best matches Hogan ever had.
10 Good Friends: Lita And Trish Stratus - WrestleMania X8
So excited to be joining my bestie @machetegirl this weekend at @ricomiccon! This is the first time in 2 years that we are getting together for a #TeamBestie appearance as I was away making a baby... speaking of babies - this is the first time I'll be leaving Madi overnight 😩 But she will be fine, she will be fine ... right??😳😬 - Last time Amy and I did the #TeamBestieTour - I just brought Max on the road with me so I literally never left him, but now with 2 kids logistics are a bit tougher ... am I looking forward to sleeping through the night, not getting up and jumping into the breakfast prep scene and not having a babe dangling off my boob all day/night... yes👆🏼yes 👆🏼yes! - We have 3 dates booked with @primetimeappearances, and we're looking at a few more ... SWIPE ⬅️ to see our next dates in 2018. - Don't see your hometown? Tell us! Tap the link in my bio and let us know where Team Bestie should go in 2018! . . . . . . . . #teambestie #teambestietour #primetimeappearances #rhodeislandcomiccon #lexingtoncomiccon #planetcomicon #wwe2k18
Female performers are getting the spotlight nowadays in WWE. Rivalries like Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte Flair and Naomi vs. Alexa Bliss get reasonable screen time. Women didn’t always get to engage in multi-match, let alone multi-year storylines, however. Lita vs. Trish Stratus was one of those special rivalries that WWE allowed to evolve over time and revisited a number of times from the early to mid 2000s. Whether Lita was the rough around the edges, plucky face chasing arrogant heel Stratus, or Stratus was the beloved veteran taking down the femme fatale, the two enjoyed a lengthy, competitive dynamic. Were it not for injuries and the specific timelines of stories, they probably would have clashed at WrestleMania more than once. As it stood, a Triple Threat at WrestleMania X8 was their only go-round.
The truth of the matter? Lita and Stratus are self professed “besties” who selected one another as their WWE Hall of Fame inductors and reportedly keep in touch to this day.
9 Hated Each Other: Bret Hart And Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania XII
At WrestleMania XII, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels put on a pretty iconic main event match with one another. While they didn’t pack the star power of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Steve Austin, or The Rock who’ come before and after them, Hart and Michaels did pack unparalleled in ring talent and chemistry as opponents. So, when they were entrusted with an over hour-long match, it provided one of the most remarkable pro wrestling exhibitions of all time.
In real life, Hart and Michaels had started their careers as friends, but grew apart as the years went by.
Particularly when Michaels was cast as a face, the two fell into direct competition for a position as the face of the company. Professional jealousies, perceive slights, and miscommunications turned things uglier and uglier between the two Hall of Famers until things reached a peak at the Montreal Screwjob. The animosities were already firmly taking shape come WrestleMania 12.
8 Good Friends: Dolph Ziggler And Zack Ryder - WrestleMania 32
Dolph Ziggler and Zack Ryder are a pair of veterans of the WWE mid-card scene. While Ziggler has broached main event status from time to time over the years, he more often gravitates back toward the center of WWE’s standings. Ryder, meanwhile, has often had to claw and tear to keep his TV spot, several timings slipping to a lower standing or down to developmental. Still, the two have clashed more than once, including feuding over the United States Championship.
In 2016, the two found themselves involved in a WrestleMania ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship, in which Ryder emerged as the unlikely champ. The two probably enjoyed the chance to hook up in the ring again, as they’re noted travel partners and buddies behind the scenes.
7 Hated Each Other: Owen Hart And Triple H - WrestleMania XIV
WrestleMania XIV saw Owen Hart and Triple H square off in the upper mid card, as a bit of a vestige of the old Hart Foundation versus D-Generation X issue. The match was a good platform for Triple H to continue his ascent toward the top of WWE, defeating a better established star.
In real life, Hart and Triple H were opposite ends of the bigger issue between Shawn Michaels (Triple H’s close friend) and Bret Hart (Owen’s brother).
It’s a testament to Owen’s professionalism that he saw through his WWE commitments even after his brother left the promotions on ugly terms following the Montreal Screwjob. Montreal was in part orchestrated by Michaels, and purportedly suggested by Triple H. In the end, Hunter and Owen put aside personal differences in favor of working responsibly, putting on a perfectly reasonable ‘Mania match together.
6 Good Friends: Chris Benoit And MVP - WrestleMania 22
WrestleMania 22 saw up and comer MVP challenge better established former world champion Chris Benoit for the United States title. It looked a lot like a traditional story of brash young lion rising up against a better established star to rise in the ranks at one of the biggest shows of the year. As such, fans generally expected MVP to take the title off of the Rabid Wolverine, and it was a minor surprise that year that Benoit retained, and wouldn’t lose the strap to his young challenger until later on.
Nowadays, it’s hard to find anyone willing to speak positively about Chris Benoit, after he tragically killed his family and himself. MVP, however, is among those colleagues who separates the man Benoit was from the monster he ended up being. He has consistently sung Benoit’s praises as a key mentor who taught him a lot about the business.
5 Hated Each Other: Matt Hardy And Edge, WrestleMania 23
In the history of WWE, few real life personal issues have become more publicized than the one between Matt Hardy and Edge. While some of the details remain fuzzy, the gist is that the two were good friends. When Hardy went off the road to rehabilitate from injury, Lita got closer to Edge. Ultimately, Edge sent a text message expressing romantic feelings, which Hardy intercepted. Accounts vary as to what Edge and Lita actually did together, but regardless the situation led to a messy breakup for Hardy and Lita, and an schism between former friends. Hardy was temporarily released from WWE, only for the company to bring him back for a worked shoot storyline.
By WrestleMania 23, the Hardy-Edge feud was more or less over, but they didn’t shy away from their history when the two were a part of the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. The bout included a key moment when Matt urged his brother Jeff to put The Rated R Superstar through a ladder, rather than trying to win the match. The moment paid homage to the worked and real life issues between Matt and Edge, in addition to the history of ladder match battles between the Hardys and Edge and Christian.
4 Good Friends: Bayley And Sasha Banks - WrestleMania 33
When fans look back on the short history of the best rivalries of the NXT developmental brand, Bayley vs. Sasha Banks quickly stands out from the pack. The two performers represented a clash of ideology, with Bayley as the ethical, hardworking, fan friendly everywoman, and Banks as the arrogant, egotistical, vicious heel. They’d feud on and off coming up before meeting at the top of the women’s division, putting on an instant classic at the original NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn before going on to work the first women’s PPV main event at NXT TakeOver: Respect, in an Iron Man Match.
It comes as little surprise to hardcore fans that the two would be friends who built their in ring rivalry out of real life mutual respect and admiration.
While rumors persist that Banks will eventually turn heel to reprise this rivalry properly on the main roster, the two have clashed on the main show, most memorably at WrestleMania 33 as two featured performers in a four way match. In this case, they played face friends, competing for championship glory, and the reality wasn’t far from the storyline as the two were genuinely close buddies, putting on a show and vying to further the women’s division and their own legacies.
3 Hated Each Other: Ricky Steamboat And Randy Savage - WrestleMania III
The match between Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage at WrestleMania III is widely regarded as one of the greatest matches in WWE history. In an interesting case, some would even go so far as to call it the first great WWE PPV match. It existed in an era when WWE was far less concerned with match quality than showmanship and drama, and thus stood out as a fast-paced, psychologically sound match by two ultra-skilled professionals. More than a few stars from future generations have talked about this match as an inspiration to them that helped shape what they thought wrestling could be.
Many fans were surprised when there wasn’t a Steamboat-Savage rematch at WrestleMania IV, particularly because the tournament bracket of the show was set up so they conveniently could have clashed in the second round. In addition to pushing Savage as a top babyface that following year, there’s another reality: Steamboat actually hated working with Savage.
Steamboat and colleagues have commented on this dynamic over the years with varying degrees of tact.
The central premise, though, was that Steamboat enjoyed improvising and playing off the crowd, while Savage wanted to plan every move of a match meticulously.
While it’s hard to argue with Savage in this case—their WrestleMania III bout was an instant classic—it made Steamboat never want to work a match with the Macho Man again.
2 Best Friends: Shawn Michaels And Diesel - WrestleMania XI
As 1994 rolled into 1995, a strange thing happened in WWE. After a year of working as Shawn Michaels’s kayfabe bodyguard, Diesel had a rocket strapped to his back. At Survivor Series, he went on a dominant run before a disagreement with Michaels saw him tentatively turn face. The next thing fans knew, Diesel pinned Bob Backlund at a Madison Square Garden house show to shoot from the mid card straight to the tip-top position in the company.
Fans could reasonably interpret the storyline to follow as kayfabe following reality. Michaels went on an epic run, wining the Royal Rumble from the first entry position, and capitalized on his steady rise through the mid card to challenge for the world title at WrestleMania. Diesel, meanwhile, was a supersized guy who seemed to have benefited from Vince McMahon’s whims to become the face of the company. So, here was Michaels coming at the big guy, as his kayfabe and real life mentor.
Michaels has subsequently commented in interviews about having a bit of a chip on his shoulder about not getting a world title push at this time. This does not, however, mean there was heat between HBK and Big Daddy Cool, as both sides have talked at length about the fact that they were close friends through the entire process.
1 Hated Each Other: Bret Hart And Vince McMahon - WrestleMania XXVI
WrestleMania XXVI saw WWE intertwine storyline and reality in booking a match between Hall of Famer Bret Hart and Chairman Vince McMahon. The kayfabe program rested on the foundation of the Montreal Screwjob—that Vince McMahon had taken the WWE Championship from Hart against his will, and against any plans shared in advance with him—on his way out the door to WCW. For years to follow, Hart made no bones about criticizing how WWE did business, and McMahon in particular. Hart seemed to have softened a bit by the time he wrote his book, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling. In the text, he could remember McMahon as a father figure, he nonetheless pulled no punches about McMahon playing him against Shawn Michaels, or doing an injustice at Survivor Series 1997.
By the time Hart properly returned to WWE in 2010, the relationship between him and McMahon had clearly improved. There was enough trust for Hart to come back to WWE television, bury the hatchet with Shawn Michaels, and even agree to work a match—all of which would have been out of the question a few years earlier. While Hart and McMahon cooperated to put on their WrestleMania match, and Hart was his usual consummate professional self, there’s little doubt that some of the old resentment about Montreal and McMahon squandering the Hitman brand still remained. For McMahon's part, he's never conceded he did anything wrong in the Screwjob.