It’s a tried and tested storyline in pro wrestling: the friendship between the master and student evaporating and the two coming to vicious blows in the squared circle.
With Daniel Bryan and his old trainer Shawn Michaels potentially heading for a showdown somewhere down the line—at least if Bryan’s attack on Michaels on Monday’s Raw is anything to go by—now seems a pertinent time to look at some memorable student/mentor rivalries.
Alas, it seems like no friendship can ever last in WWE...
So, in terms of impact and entertainment value, here are my top five picks for greatest student/mentor rivalries in the company's history.
Appalled by Triple H’s terrible bullying of the innocent, childlike Eugene in 2004, William Regal brought the fight to the star.
Regal had mentored and been close friends with Triple H during their WCW days in the early '90s, something that was brought up on TV several times.
While this program wasn’t a game-changer, it did give the long underappreciated Regal something worthwhile to do on TV. Their first blood match on Raw in particular was a TV highlight of the year.
Of course, the feud's lack of any real importance in the overall scheme of things means it gets a lower placing on the list.
When former The Real World and all-round reality-show poster boy The Miz was named as indie darling Daniel Bryan’s pro on the first season of NXT in 2009, it seemed like WWE’s idea of a joke.
What could The Miz—a decent enough worker but certainly not anything special—teach Bryan, considered by many at that point to be one of the world’s best technical wrestlers?
Thankfully, this issue was raised in the storylines, with the obnoxious, arrogant Miz constantly belittling his “rookie” and trashing his accomplishments on the indie wrestling scene.
The two clashed several times over the next couple of years, the highlight of which was their superb match at Night of Champions for Miz’s United States Championship (Bryan won, by the way).
While it went on way too long and dragged at points—hence, why it’s not higher on the list—CM Punk’s feud with former mentor and best friend Paul Heyman nonetheless provided a ton of entertainment for fans.
Indeed, Punk took on Brock Lesnar (standing in for Heyman) in a terrific and astonishingly brutal match at the SummerSlam pay-per-view, widely regarded as one of the best wrestling bouts of the whole year.
Heyman’s promo work was also impeccable, most notably his absolutely mental promo on the October 21 Raw. This guy is almost certainly the best talker in the business right now.
In 2003, Triple H brought in the fearsome, muscle-bound Batista for his new heel stable, Evolution. For a couple of years, things went smoothly between the two, and Batista seemed content to play sidekick to “The Game.”
But, as tends to happen in wrestling, things started falling apart in late 2004 and early 2005. Batista grew tired of his mentor’s overbearing ego and increasingly callous behavior. Triple H, meanwhile, didn't seem too keen on his friend's newly found independence.
Following Batista’s Royal Rumble victory, Triple H, who was World Heavyweight champion at the time, got paranoid and tried to convince the star to switch brands—for his own good, of course.
Inevitably, things boiled over between the pair, and they faced off at WrestleMania, with “The Animal” managing to defeat his former boss for the title.
While Batista remained in main events for the rest of his WWE tenure, he never quite managed to shine again the way he did with this memorable storyline. His career arguably peaked with this angle.
Yes, Triple H makes this list again. Man, can this guy have any friendship that doesn’t go disastrously awry at some point?
When Shawn Michaels returned in 2002—he’d seemingly retired for good in 1998 following a serious back injury—his first major feud was, unsurprisingly, with former protégé and real-life best friend, Triple H.
Per the storyline, Triple H was resentful of Michaels’ insistence on returning to the ring, feeling his time was over. Triple H declared he wanted the spotlight for himself and was willing to destroy his best friend if that was what it took.
The two ended up facing each other in an “unsanctioned fight” at the SummerSlam pay-per-view in what is widely regarded as one of the best WWE matches ever. Despite his age and various ailments, Michaels clearly hadn’t missed a step.
More impressively, he continued to churn out one tremendous match after another in the years following. His program with Triple H was not only terrific, but it also got his return off to the best start possible.