WWE Rivalries: The Rock vs. John Cena and the 25 All-Time Greatest Feuds Wrestli
The Rock and John Cena have established a feud that could well go down in history as one the greatest ever.
With WrestleMania 28 featuring the big match a staggering year away, and the war of words starting officially this past February, we could be looking at a 14 month total ride.
That's not even including the planted seeds by Cena a few years ago when he first talked about the Rock's lack of passion for the business.Technically, that was the real genesis.
If everything is executed well, this feud will take its rightful place among the best ever, but it will have some mountains to climb to get there.
The greatest rivalries in wrestling history form an exclusive club. Many have remained part of the pro wrestling landscape for decades. Others had a profound effect not only on the wrestling business, but left an indelible mark on popular culture as well.
In this list of the 25 greatest rivalries in wrestling history (not between companies, but between performers), I look at the best of the best that this business has produced.
Will Rock/Cena deserve a place among them? Time will tell, but these are some of the heights this rivalry will have to match to be considered.
25. Sgt Slaughter vs. Pat Patterson
This rivalry often gets lost to time as fans generally remember the bigger names. But in 1981, Madison Square Garden was the sight for what turned into one of the best rivalries of the early 80s.
The chemistry between the two was insane. Patterson was working as the face against a brilliantly antagonistic Slaughter. While Patterson was transitioning out of the ring into other roles, this ended up being some of his best work.
Most memorably, this rivalry produced an early hardcore classic: the Ally Match at MSG on May 4th, 1981. These two got extreme far before extreme was cool (in North America anyway).
The two feuded through the summer in a series of matches that helped sell out the Garden. It ended up defining WWF throughout most of 1981.
24. Bret Hart vs Owen Hart
Owen and Bret really shinned in this classic feud from 1994.
Bret was on top and Owen had been languishing in the lower mid-card. With business down, and top heels in short supply, Owen was given a shot. He delivered.
The warring brothers were able to channel conflicting feelings of jealousy and family loyalty into emotionally palpable promos and matches resulting in one of the best story-lines of the dismal early-mid 90s.
The WrestleMania X match is often considered a classic, but this rivalry also produced a less talked about but equally fantastic encounter at SummerSlam '94. The WWF Championship was up for grabs in a cage match that easily blew away everything else on the awkward card.
23. Nick Bockwinkle vs. Curt Hennig
The AWA of the mid 80s had little going for it. After the debacle which fatefully sent Hogan and other talents to the the WWF, Gange's AWA had to rely on a thinning pool of talent.
Luckily, Nick Bockwinkle (at 52) was still able to perform at an incredibly high level and helped to elevate the young second generation ring-natural Curt Hennig. The two feuded over the AWA World Title in 1987 and produced a series of amazing matches.
It's well worth the effort to seek out the bloody time-limit draw from the ESPN broadcast taped at the Showboat in Las Vegas as well as the Superclash II contest. I can think of no finer example of a rivalry between one generation and another that gave us so much quality wrestling.
22. The Broscos vs the Funks
Jack and Jerry Brisco met Terry Funk and Dory Funk Jr. in countless tag team classics during one of the longest rivalries ever seen in the NWA territories of the 1970s.
It also spilled over into singles competition, especially between Jack and Dory who feuded over singles titles, first over regional Florida titles, then eventually over the NWA World title.
The two teams had their rivalry carry over from one territory to another throughout the NWA and set a standard for old-school in-ring storytelling.
The four men were actually very good friends and their chemistry as performers brought out their best. In my opinion, only Terry Funk was able create more magic with other rivals over the years.
21. Octagon & El Hijo Del Santo vs. Los Gringos Locos
While the intention was for Los Gringos Locos to be a stable, LGL was essentially a tag team consisting of Art Barr and Eddie Guerrero.
They were set against the popular Octagon and Hijo Del Santo in a quest to crown the first ever AAA/IWC Tag Team Champions in 1993. The result was a year-long politically charged rivalry and a series of fantastic matches in true Lucha Libre fashion.
Things came to a head in a hair vs mask two-out-of-three falls match at one of the greatest PPV events ever: When Worlds Collide, November 6th, 1994. The match itself is deserving of a place on anyone's list of all-time greats.
The rivalry overall is one of the most under-appreciated in wrestling history because of its lack of major exposure in the U.S. Thankfully, WCW produced the 1994 PPV allowing domestic outlets to carry it. The payoff match was seen by a larger American audience, but not as large as the national audience of any weekly WWF or WCW program.
20. Hulk Hogan vs Nick Bockwinkle
The AWA was the actual birthplace of Hulkamania.
The feud that set it off and was poised to take Hogan to the top was with AWA World Champ Nick Bockwinkle. While the matches weren't classics, they certainly display Hogan's ability to connect with a crowd and foreshadow his WWF dominance just a few years later.
The AWA had never been hotter and it was all due to Hogan's extraordinary charisma combined with Bockwinkle's in-ring genius. Together they were pretty damn magical. I can think of no other long term rivalry that made Hogan look this good.
19. Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels
These two brilliant performers worked together twice in memorable story-lines, but the best of them was only a few years ago in 2008.
This was the first rivalry showcasing Jericho's latest heel persona. The chemistry between the two was even better than it had been at Wrestlemania 19 and the feud instantly took off.
The rivalry saw numerous memorable moments that stick with fans today: not an easy feat considering the fast paced nature of the modern product.
From the smashing of HBK into the Jericho-tron, to Michael's legit detached retina and Jericho clocking Shawn's wife in the face, this was truly a great story from start to finish.
This was also one of the last great bloody feuds in WWE and produced a series of cringe inducing matches that were nothing short of amazing. I was privileged to be in the Rose Garden in Portland to watch their classic ladder match at No Mercy '08 in person.
18. Roddy Piper vs Greg Valentine
The feud between Piper and Valentine was as heated as any of the early 80s.
But what makes this one memorable was a single match. So rarely can a fan feel the build up of a months-long story in the physical intensity of a singular encounter. At the inaugural Starrcade in 1983, the two rivals put on one hell of a violent show.
This was a non-title match due to it being "non-sanctioned by the NWA," but the two continued their series of intense matches throughout the Mid-Atlantic region over the NWA U.S. Title in equally epic contests. Unfortunately, the rest were for the house only.
17. Hollywood Hogan vs Sting
For one year Sting never spoke a word. Genius.
It was the one of the most tense and well built rivalries of the era, and in my opinion, the best feud WCW presented on Monday nights.
Unfortunately, the brilliant build and fantastic character development of Sting led to a bomb of a match at Starrcade '97, but that doesn't detract from the unique and creative story that was Sting and Hollywood Hulk Hogan.
It was more than just a rivalry between two stars. It encapsulated the entire WCW vs NWO story-line as both men were the embodiment of their respective sides. This is the defining rivalry for Hogan during the Monday Night Wars and it was a major turning point for Sting's character and without a doubt the highpoint of Sting's career.
16. C.M. Punk vs Jeff Hardy
The slow heel turn of C.M. Punk was one of the best character developments executed on WWE TV.
What made it even more effective was the fact that Punk was getting under people's skin with the truth, and Hardy was the real-life embodiment of what C.M. Punk the performer, as well as Philip Brooks the man was against.
The elements of realism in this feud were all too noticeable. Bret Hart has said that the greatest rivalries are the ones based in reality. Punk and Hardy represent a fine example. Combine the back stage heat, politicking and lifestyle differences with fantastic matches and you have the makings of one of the best rivalries ever.
15. Taz vs Sabu
If you have never checked out this period of ECW, I cannot recommend it enough.
For about a year, Taz had called out Sabu all stemming from an incident in which Sabu was legitimately fired from ECW. The story simmered and built with Sabu refusing to acknowledge the challenge until things came to an explosive head and they met at the first ever ECW PPV: Barely Legal '97.
The feud would continue off and on for the remainder of the original ECW's run and even spill over into WWE during the ECW invasion angle of late 1996.
14. Undertaker vs Mankind
Mankind being thrown from the top of the Cell at King of the Ring 1998 will forever be the highlight of this rivalry, but the story was so much more than this one amazing night.
The rivalry actually began in 1996 when Mick Foley first debuted as Mankind and began interfering with the Undertaker's matches. The two had instant chemistry and the intense physicals battles led to numerous memorable encounters.
Among them was the SummerSlam Boiler Room Brawl, punctuated with the infamous Paul Bearer turn.
This feud also introduced the Buried Alive match concept (well, they can't all be gold) which sent Taker off onto one of his deserved sabbaticals. When he returned, the feud continued.
Undertaker focused on the WWF title for a while and then the Paul Bearer situation returned with the epic introduction of Kane in 1997, but the Mankind feud would be rekindled in 1998 leading to the famous Hell in a Cell match.
These two could pick up right where they left off and never miss a beat.
Also of note is that this feud is what really put Mick Foley on the map as a main event player. Cactus jack had indy credibility, but the development of Mankind as a character, and the respect for the man behind the mask was gained through this career defining rivalry.
13. Jerry Lawler vs Andy Kaufman
This was one of the strangest but most successful rivalries in wrestling.
Andy Kaufman and Jerry "The King" Lawler managed to penetrate pop culture in a way no other aspect of wrestling was able to do until Vince McMahon and Hulkamania years later.
Kaufman was a natural (except in the ring, but that doesn't matter) and his antics brought wrestling more attention from outside of its own confines than ever before.
The famous Dave Letterman spot can still rank as one of the most memorable television moments on lists as varied as Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide.
If you haven't seen what all the buzz was about, it's well worth the effort.
12. Tully Blanchard vs Magnum T.A.
The Four Horseman had many rivalries, but when it comes to intensity, ring work and story-telling, there are only two that really live on through the ages.
The other one will be addressed later, for now we'll deal with the epic feud between Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A.
Blanchard moved into a rivalry with Magnum after a run against Dusty Rhodes. Magnum was clearly on his way to the top and a feud with a member of the Horsemen over a title (in this case, the U.S. Championship) was certainly going to position him as a main player for years to come.
The rich and cocky against the humble common man was a time tested gold-mine blueprint in the NWA at the time. With Magnum and Tully, the result was heat that rivaled the crowd response from even the hot World Title picture.
There was a series of brutal matches over the U.S. belt throughout 1985 that eventually led to the classic Starrcade '85 "I Quit" cage match.
11. Carlos Colon vs Abdullah the Butcher
Colon and Abdullah is probably the most violent and bloody feud in wrestling history.
The epic nature of this rivalry made itself known throughout the world without the help of the Internet or even home video. What started in WWC in Puerto Rico eventually made its way to different territories and promotions worldwide and every single match was a bloodbath. Every one of them.
For over 20 years the two men fought in the ring, in the stands, in parking lots and television interview sets. It holds a permanent place in wrestling history as the standard of hardcore wrestling and is credited for shaping the extreme movement of the mid to late 90s.
10. The Undertaker vs Kane
Two sides of the same coin.
The on-and-off relationship of the Brothers of Destruction has really defined both of these iconic characters over the years. Starting in late 1997, the rivalry has seen everything from Paul Bearer turns, men catching on fire, Buried Alive matches, Streak matches, reconciliations, tag-team titles, and even managed to produce a somewhat dull but still significant rekindling in 2010.
13 years from inception and it's likely not over.
Longevity alone makes this a worthy addition to any list of the all-time greatest rivalries.
9. Randy Savage vs Ricky Steamboat
The injury angle in which Savage "crushed" The Dragon's larynx was incredibly effective.
Both of these in-ring masters had lots of time to let the crowd's sympathy and rage build to what is largely considered one of the greatest matches of all time at WrestleMania 3. The match itself would probably not have been such a classic had there not been the brilliant build between the two.
It's too bad it didn't last just a little longer, but Savage was on his way to the world title picture by WrestleMania 4.
8. Midnight Express vs the Rock N' Roll Express
No tag team rivalry evens come close to touching RnR vs the Midnight Express.
With Jim Cornette stoking the fires and raising the blood pressure of fans all over the country, the four men put on tag team clinics night in and night out.
There was something about this pairing that brought out the best in each team. While they were certainly capable of having great matches with anyone, both teams were always at their best against each other.
In their prime they could main event any Crocket event and sell out Greensboro, Atlanta, Charlotte or any other NWA stronghold in the mid 80s with ease.
7. Steve Austin vs the Rock
Two icons in wrestling's hottest era to date.
Two household names.
Two best talkers of the 90s
6. Hulk Hogan vs Roddy Piper
The two legends headed factions in a cartoon for crying out loud!
They were the Optimus Prime and Megatron of wrestling. In the boom of the 80s, no wrestlers better personified good and evil like Hogan and Piper.
For lots of various reasons, Piper and Hogan had only one high profile WWF title match which took place at The War to Settle the Score on MTV Feb 18th, 1985. But they crossed paths every other way possible over the next year and half. House shows, tag matches, the occasional TV scuffle, but it's no exaggeration to say that these two defined an era without every really matching up in a series of PPV or major televised bouts.
They do, however, hold the distinction of leading their respective tag teams against each other in the main event of the very first WrestleMania.
Piper was the perfect antagonist against the new pop culture phenomenon until Piper's popularity exploded in late 86 and early 87 turning him face. The two picked up again in WCW during the Monday Night Wars and proved the old rivalry still had legs.
5. Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat
These two put on a series of matches in 1989 that may very well be the best matches in the history of the business.
But the rivalry goes back much further than '89.
It all started in 1977 when Flair held the Mid-Atlantic TV title and goaded the young newcomer Steamboat, who was getting some attention from Flair's precious ladies, into testing his skills against the brash champ. Flair lost the title to Steamboat in what turned out to be a star-making moment.
Steamboat never looked back and went on to win many titles over the next 8 years with Jim Crockett's NWA property.
The two met again when Steamboat came back to work for the newly Turner acquired NWA territory after a successful run with the WWF. He chased Flair for the NWA World title and tore the house down night after night in singles matches and tag matches with various partners..
They wrestled countless times across the country and overseas, but three of the matches were high profile legendary bouts which are arguably still the best matches ever caught on film.
The two men continued to cross paths through the 90s in the re-branded WCW.
4. The Fabulous Freebirds vs the Von Erichs
This six-man rivalry ruled an entire territory throughout the early 1980s.
The rock-star status of the Von Erichs was off the charts. They needed a Texas-sized feud to keep the fire going and a trio of obnoxious redneck badasses from Bad Street, Atlanta, GA were the perfect choice.
For nearly a decade, these two teams tore each other apart in countless tag team, singles, cage and street fight matches.
The result was a series of unprecedented weekly arena sell-outs. All of the pieces were there for national expansion on the back of this intense feud, but the business moxie just wasn't there for Fritz Von Erich.
3. Ric Flair vs Dusty Rhodes
What Piper and Hogan were to the WWF, Flair and Rhodes were to the NWA.
The major difference is that Flair and Rhodes delivered in the ring in ways that Hogan and Piper could never do.
The common man vs the rich man was the order of the day, and no one played the parts better than Flair and Rhodes. Their years long rivalry always seemed to keep Flair on top, but this only made Rhodes' chase all the more compelling.
Night after night the two rivals would wrestle to hour long draws that were instant classics, and they were punctuated with some of the best promos the industry has ever seen.
Most importantly, this rivalry defined the NWA from 1985 to 1987, and with the Four Horsemen never far behind, there was never a shortage of intrigue and creative off-shoots.
2. Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels
Is there really anything to say here?
The two best performers of their generation were not only amazing in the ring together, but their backstage relationship added unimaginable tension.
From their first matches in the late 80s as part of famous tag teams all the way until they buried the hatchet in January 2010, there is no more storied and historically important rivalry in the business.
If you don't know about the Rockers and the Hart Foundation, their simultaneous 1992 singles break-out, the Iron-Man match, the Kliq, the backstage fight, DX, the screwjob, the autobiographies, etc etc...then come out from under your rock.
So what could beat this for the number one spot?
1. Steve Austin vs Mr. McMahon
This rivalry saved the business. I mean that quite literally.
Financially, WWF was on the ropes for much of the mid 90s. With WCW coming on strong and ratings hitting a glass ceiling, the company needed a catalyst. The Montreal Screwjob had inadvertently turned Vince McMahon into a heel, and with Stone Cold Steve Austin breaking out as a major star, the new Mr. McMahon was the perfect foil.
McMahon has said quite plainly that Steve Austin single-handedly saved the company from bankruptcy. But what Austin needed to really be successful was a major heel off of which to feed. Rhodes needed a Flair, Hogan needed a Piper, and Austin needed Mr. McMahon.
The renegade and the overbearing boss was a fresh concept that a late 90s audience was ready to embrace. The rivalry fueled the company for the next few years as future main event talent such as the Rock, Mick Foley, and Triple H found their niche.
The wrestling landscape would be very different if this rivalry had not struck a nerve with the fans. This was the engine behind the WWF's must-see Monday night philosophy and its return to dominance over an ill-fated WCW.
With so much riding on its success or failure, the tense business climate of the time, and the home-run these two managed to hit every time they were on screen, there is no doubt that Austin vs McMahon is the greatest rivalry in the history of wrestling.