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The best storylines in wrestling are the ones that blur the line between reality and fiction. It’s when the audience doesn’t know if the animosity in the ring is as a result of terrific acting or because the performers actually want to tear each other’s throats out. Then, there are the cases when wrestlers might not even have a rivalry on screen but absolutely loathe each other backstage, like regular co-workers.
Due to many wrestlers still believing in the principles of kayfabe, a lot of real-life grudges don’t always get spoken about or addressed. After all, they want the audiences to still maintain the belief that what they’re watching is real, so there’s no need to demystify it by revealing secrets. Yet, like that annoying co-worker who insists on whistling MJF’s theme song before every single meeting, there will be a breaking point and the hate will flow in the kind of way that delights Emperor Palpatine. So let’s take a look at pro wrestlers who would love nothing more than to smash a chair over the other’s head for real.
Bret Hart and Goldberg
Considering Bret "The Hitman" Hart’s history with another bald, goateed wrestler who wore simple black trunks, one would have expected him and Goldberg to make magic in WCW. Hart saw stars while wrestling Goldberg at "Starrcade 1999" all right, though they were all his as a stiff kick from his opponent gave him a stinging concussion. Unfortunately, this concussion compounded with other similar injuries that Hart suffered resulted in him having to retire from in-ring competition indefinitely.
During an episode of "Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Sessions" (via ComicBook.com), Hart revealed that he had spoken to Goldberg before their match and had asked him to not do anything dangerous in the ring. "Goldberg, to me, was one of the most unprofessional wrestlers there ever was in the business," he said. "For Bill Goldberg to be in the Hall of Fame, he hurt everybody he worked with. You might as well wrestle a real gorilla." Goldberg addressed Hart’s comments in an interview with Inside the Ropes, emphasizing the stray kick was an accident and if he had wanted to hurt his opponent for real, Hart wouldn’t be able to talk about it.
CM Punk and Ryback
CM Punk faced many opponents during his 434-day WWE Championship reign. Having stepped in the ring with the likes of Daniel Bryan, Chris Jericho, and The Rock, no one thought it would be his battles against Ryback that would become dirtsheet fodder. Appearing on Colt Cabana’s The Art of Wrestling podcast, Punk laid into Ryback, stating how working with the former Skip Sheffield took decades off his life.
"I’m already beat up and I have to wrestle ‘Steroid Guy’ and he’s very … I call it like I see it," Punk said. "He’s very hurty. Sometimes deliberate. There was one time he kicked me in the stomach as hard as he could and he broke my ribs, right at the tail end. And I never got an apology for that."
Ryback responded by taking digs at Punk on social media. He revealed on Ryback TV that he will continue to do this because Punk’s comments about him were inaccurate and hurt him from a professional standpoint. After Punk announced that he had to have surgery in the week in which he won the AEW World Championship, Ryback took to Twitter and posted: "Karma rules." It doesn’t appear like these two will be attending a Living Colour concert together in the immediate future, that’s for sure.
Hurricane Helms and Shawn Michaels
Hurricane Helms and Shawn Michaels experienced different careers in the WWE. While Helms certainly had some memorable moments with his superhero gimmick and teaming up with The Rock, he never had the title reigns or fanfare that turned "The Heartbreak Kid" into the showstopper, the main event, the icon. However, Helms didn’t think that HBK was quite as good as he made himself out to be, tweeting out in 2011: "[Ric] Flair got over people that absolutely SUCKED!! Shawn hadn’t gotten over anyone but himself in the last decade!!"
A fan took issue with Helms’ comment, asking him why he chose to come at Michaels so strongly. Helms replied that HBK had harmed his career simply because he could and added that Michaels loved to lie for his own benefit.
In 2019, Helms told 411 Wrestling Interviews Podcast that he didn’t have heat with Michaels anymore, since the two were working for WWE behind the scenes and getting on well with one another.
Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair
As part of the Four Horsewomen of NXT, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair established themselves as two of the biggest stars in sports entertainment. They broke the mold for women’s wrestling by headlining WrestleMania 35 along with Ronda Rousey. Lynch and Flair were good friends as they come up through the ranks — both on and off screen — however, none of them wanted to be the Marty Jannetty of the group. Their issues came to a head on live television during a championship exchange segment on "SmackDown," where Flair allegedly went off script to make Lynch look weaker. The incident resulted in the two having a heated backstage confrontation afterwards.
Lynch revealed to the SI Media Podcast that she and Flair used to be as thick as thieves, but that was no longer the case. She added, "We don’t talk anymore. We don’t talk. So all I’ll say is the locker room needs a hero sometimes. And sometimes somebody’s gotta be a hero. I’m all right being that hero." Lynch said that it was difficult working with someone where there is real-life tension, since the business of wrestling is built on trust and there’s concern someone might be out for revenge in the ring.
Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart
While Hulk Hogan might have been the face of wrestling in the ’80s, the Hulkster built up a reputation as being one of the greatest politicians backstage. There have been numerous stories about his legendary off-screen feuds due to his tendency to go into business for himself. One person who holds Hogan in the lowest regard is Bret "The Hitman" Hart. Calgary’s favorite son has never missed a beat when discussing Hogan, calling him every name in the book. It’s rumored that their initial heat started after Hogan refused to put Hart over at "WrestleMania IX."
Even when Hart was about to be inducted in the 2021 Canada Walk of Fame, he couldn’t help but send another parting shot to his rival. "I think if you look back at wrestling when it was the Hulk Hogan show," Hart told the Calgary Sun, "he was six-foot-eight and a one-out-of-three wrestler. He didn’t know a headlock from a headlamp. He didn’t know very much. He knew how to do a clothesline and maybe a body slam." The grudge between Hart and Hogan has been ongoing for decades, even outlasting the high-profile feud that Hart had with Shawn Michaels.
Will Ospreay and Seth Rollins
Seth "Freakin’" Rollins committed to becoming the ultimate heel by calling out AEW and other companies as "minor leagues" during a 2019 Q&A panel. Not satisfied with triggering the Internet Wrestling Community enough, Rollins took to his Twitter account, reiterating that WWE was where the big dogs played and no other wrestler on the planet was fit enough to lace his boots.
Someone who didn’t take too lightly to his comments was Will Ospreay, who replied in a now-deleted tweet: "I’m alive." Rollins immediately fired back that Ricochet was a better version of Ospreay, before adding that they should compare bank accounts. Rollins’ comments received a lot of backlash from the wrestling community, as many perceived that he was simply being a lickspittle for the WWE and undermining the importance of indies and healthy competition. However, it’s likely that Rollins implying that Ospreay was the Wish version of Ricochet was a calculated work that everyone fell for — including Ospreay.
Scott Steiner and Ric Flair
Whenever someone talks about WCW, there are two names that feature in most conversations: "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair and "Big Poppa Pump" Scott Steiner. Flair was part of the main event scene for most of his WCW run, while Steiner was a tag-team specialist until he reached the pinnacle and defeated Booker T for the WCW World Championship at Mayhem 2000. Despite being in the same company for so long, Steiner was no fan or friend of Flair’s.
Arn Anderson revealed on his ARN podcast that the issues between the two performers started in 1991. Reportedly, Steiner believed that Flair intentionally gave a bad performance because he didn’t want to put him over. After that, Steiner had no time for Flair. Eventually, the feud culminated in Steiner delivering a shoot promo about Flair on a 2000 episode of "Nitro."
Time doesn’t heal all wounds, though, since Steiner still holds a grudge when it comes to "The Nature Boy." Appearing on the Highspots Sign-It-Live stream (via Wrestling News), Steiner was told how his "old friend" Flair would be returning to in-ring action. In typical Big Poppa Pump fashion, he didn’t hold back, hollering: "He ain’t no old friend of mine. I would kill him. I’d destroy him. Yeah, everybody wants to see him get beat up."
Konnan and Joe Hennig
As children, we are taught to resolve any disputes we have with others in a private and civilized manner. However, that’s not particularly fun — especially in the Twittersphere, where public feuds provide a nice accompaniment to the morning tea. Deciding to give the fans what they wanted, Konnan and Joe Hennig engaged in a virtual bout of fisticuffs.
It all started in 2013 when Konnan responded to a tweet from a fan asking him which performers he’d pull from WWE TV if he had the chance to. The former WCW performer listed a few names including Hennig (then going by the name of Curtis Axel), adding that he had no charisma and questionable in-ring ability. Two years later, a fan tweeted to Hennig that Konnan was right about him. Konnan agreed and Hennig lashed out, calling them both "marks." There was some back and forth between Hennig and Konnan, with Hennig offering to squash the beef. Konnan didn’t accept the offer, so Hennig shot back and referred to him as "some washed up dude my dad [Curt Hennig] hated putting over."
Eddie Kingston and Claudio Castagnoli
Interviews with Eddie Kingston are a hoot. Much like his on-screen persona, he isn’t afraid to be honest about his thoughts on topics and other people, including his peers. He admitted to The Wrestling Perspective Podcast that his AEW feud with CM Punk was built on some real-world animosity and that they weren’t just putting on a story for the audience. There is also another former WWE superstar whom Kingston doesn’t seem to vibe with either.
"There’s certain people in wrestling I do not like," Kingston told NY News 12 Long Island. "Punk is one. Cesaro is another one, the big Swiss idiot in WWE. I know him as Claudio [Castagnoli]. I don’t like him, I don’t respect him. If he ever comes here, we’re going to have a problem." In a Q&A for Ad-Free Shows (via EWrestling News), Kingston claimed that Castagnoli was supposed to put him over before he left Chikara for WWE, but he didn’t do so — hence the source of the heat.
Batista and Bully Ray
Looking at the size of Dave Batista, it’s difficult to imagine anyone messing with him. Maybe a gorilla or Bigfoot, since those are the only two creatures that could smash him with their own Batista Bombs. Yet, Batista revealed that there was one fellow WWE alumni who decided to pick on him and Randy Orton when they were coming up in the company and part of the Evolution stable: Bully Ray, then known as Bubba Ray Dudley.
As recounted in "Ruthless Aggression" episode "Evolution" (via Fightful), the Dudley Boyz once faced off against Orton and Batista. Both teams walked out of the contest with multiple injuries and there were some hard feelings, believing that they’d stiffed each other. However, the version of events differed depending on who was asked. Batista thought that Bully Ray wasn’t a fan of him or Orton because of jealousy. "I think he was irritated with Randy and I to begin with," he said. "Just being that we were two big muscular guys who are now with Ric Flair and Triple H. I think he just hated it."
Hardcore Holly and the Kliq
Type "The Kliq" into YouTube’s search bar and countless shoot interviews will pop up. Most of them aren’t complimentary of the faction, as a multitude of wrestlers believed Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Triple H, and Sean Waltman tried to elevate themselves at the cost of others. Having been consistently around the WWE in the mid-’90s, at the peak of The Kliq’s powers, Hardcore Holly had his own encounters with them.
In a shoot interview, he didn’t hold back on his thoughts. "I hated them," he said. "Just because of the way they acted, they ran everything. Guys didn’t have a chance with them around." Holly added that he wasn’t sure of what they said about him backstage or if they actively tried to sabotage him, but he knew of their influence in ruining careers and it was something he didn’t like to see. In his autobiography, "The Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly Story," he further claimed that The Kliq wasn’t as unified as it presented itself, and that the members would backstab each other all the time as well.
CM Punk and Triple H
CM Punk wasn’t interested in playing The Game — in both senses of the word. Not only did he despise the backstage politics of the WWE, but he also wasn’t keen on wrestling Triple H again.
After Punk left WWE in 2014, he revealed on Colt Cabana’s The Art of Wrestling podcast how he held resentment over all the losses he had suffered at Triple H’s hands, questioning if they were really what was best for business. When Vince McMahon proposed that Punk wrestle The Game at "WrestleMania XXX," Punk looked at Triple H and said, "All due respect, I do not need to wrestle you, you need to wrestle me."
Appearing on The Steve Austin Show (via Sportskeeda), Triple H replied to Punk’s comments and denied being aware of any issues between them. While he expressed regret over how the Punk-WWE situation had unfolded, he also blamed Punk for not communicating his problems when he had them.