Ranking the Greatest Rivalries in Recent WWE HistoryMay 5, 2020
Ranking the Greatest Rivalries in Recent WWE History
The best rivalries in wrestling are those that see the lines blurred between storyline and reality, and WWE has excelled at that in recent years.
With all the programming the company produces, quality wrestling in WWE can be found on virtually any night of the week. Great feuds, however, are much harder to come by unless the story comes together organically and the right pieces are in place.
Amazing wrestling rivalries aren't solely defined by the chemistry two or more individuals have in the ring. Promos, fans investing in the characters and the reason for the rivalry to be happening in the first place are also important.
When the bad blood reaches a boiling point, the excellence that ensues makes for must-see television. The better the feud is, the more likely it is that it will be revisited down the line and fans will still be clamoring for more.
Regardless of whether it's WrestleMania season or NXT, an engaging rivalry can occur anywhere, at any time. WWE has proved over and over again that it is fully capable of creating magic and crafting some spectacular stories whenever its back is up against the wall, and the following feuds are proof of that.
Since 2010, a number of rivalries have left an indelible mark in the WWE history books, but these seven lead the list.
Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose: Having come up in the WWE ranks together as part of The Shield, Rollins and Ambrose were obviously thicker than thieves whenever they were aligned and the worst of enemies whenever they were feuding. They contested countless matches against each other from 2014 through 2016, and every one of their encounters felt more intense than the last.
Daniel Bryan vs. Kofi Kingston: The simple story of Kingston having to overcome every obstacle in front of him en route to winning the WWE Championship was exciting enough to hook fans. Bryan was the perfect person for that role considering he was in a similar spot five years earlier. This wasn't as long as some of the other rivalries on this list, but it was easily among the highlights of last year's Road to WrestleMania. Plus, the payoff could not have been better.
The Usos vs. The New Day: Tag team wrestling hasn't been a priority for WWE in many years, yet The Usos and New Day managed to raise the bar with their fantastic feud over the SmackDown Tag Team Championship in the summer of 2017. Although the titles changed hands far too often, fans could expect a war whenever these two tandems shared the ring together.
John Cena vs. AJ Styles: Styles wasted no time in targeting "the face that runs the place" mere months into his WWE tenure back in 2016. It was a rivalry WWE fans never thought they'd see, but once it finally came to fruition, it did not disappoint. Cena and Styles constantly brought the best out of each other, and Styles winning their first two matches was what solidified him as a star early on.
Becky Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey: It's a crime Rousey and Lynch didn't headline WrestleMania 35 on their own, if only because of how heated their feud was heading into the event. Rousey successfully turned the crowd against her, Lynch was hitting her stride as The Man and their exchanges online were never anything short of captivating.
7. The Rock vs. John Cena
Few rivalries in the last decade in WWE have felt more real than The Rock vs. John Cena.
Dream matches in WWE are nearly nonexistent nowadays, but this was one of the last of its kind. Rock and Cena long had beef in the entertainment world and had taken shots at each other in various forums, but it wasn't until early 2011 that they interacted on WWE TV for the first time.
Their war of words was the talk of the town on The Road to WrestleMania 27, not Cena challenging The Miz for the WWE Championship. Rock laying out Cena at The Show of Shows set the stage for them to do battle at the next year's installment, which was confirmed a night later on Raw.
It would have been easy for fans to lose interest in their rivalry in that one year, but to their credit, both icons did an exceptional job of keeping their bad blood alive. When it came time for them to heat things up again at the onset of 2012 right before their bout at WrestleMania 28, they had no problem doing so, and everything they said hitting home merely intensified matters.
That first Rock vs. Cena match was far from a technical masterpiece, but because the build was so good, it had the same big fight feel Rock vs. Hulk Hogan did a decade earlier. In other words, it was everything it needed to be and more.
Rock's shocking victory sent Cena's career into a tailspin, and the only way he could redeem himself was if he avenged that loss at WrestleMania 29. Sure enough, he knocked off The Great One and had the torch officially passed to him, even if their original encounter was noticeably better.
At the rate WWE is pumping out once-in-a-lifetime Superstars like Rock and Cena, it may be a while before we see a matchup of this magnitude again.
6. Edge vs. Randy Orton
Ideally, the time to do an Edge vs. Randy Orton feud would have been in the late 2000s when both men were still at their physical peak, but no one could have ever anticipated them doing some of the best work of their respective careers just this year.
Edge had been retired from the ring for almost nine years when he made his triumphant return at the Royal Rumble back in January. It took all of one night for his grand comeback to be ruined at the dastardly hands of Orton, who obliterated his former friend with a sickening con-chair-to.
The Rated-R Superstar was then kept off TV for the next six weeks while Orton cut great promo after great promo, sometimes letting his actions do the talking for him. It was the most range he had shown as a performer in years.
Meanwhile, Edge held up his end of the bargain quite well when he resurfaced in early March. The passion he incorporated into his promos was powerful, especially in the empty-arena setting at the Performance Center.
The only thing preventing this feud from ranking higher on the list is that their Last Man Standing match at WrestleMania 36 fell well below fans' expectations. Granted, Edge got the redemption he was looking for, but the bout itself could have been handled a bit better.
We may soon see the next chapter of this rivalry based on recent advertising for their upcoming returns to Raw next week, but even if not, the stuff they accomplished earlier this year was enough to leave fans satisfied.
5. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
Whether it's been in Ring of Honor, NXT or on WWE's main roster, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn have always been the bane of the other's existence, and WWE fans wouldn't have it any other way.
Literally the same night Owens debuted in NXT at TakeOver: R Evolution, he betrayed Zayn moments removed from Zayn's NXT Championship victory. They went on to feud for the next five months on the black-and-yellow brand, and it was their promos more so than their matches that really exposed them for the exceptional talents that they are.
The best part of their program in NXT was that Zayn's injury left the door open for them to revisit it down the road on the main roster. Less than a year later, Zayn rekindled his rivalry with Owens the first night he resurfaced on Raw, and it was off to the races from there.
The main crux of their feud was that Owens despised everything Zayn did and that he was envious of his former friend signing with WWE before him. That inspired him to do unimaginable things to Zayn and others, but when he finally got his comeuppance at the hands of Zayn at Battleground 2016, it was a thing of beauty.
They've crossed paths countless times over the years, and their careers will forever be intertwined, for better or for worse. However, their best work was from 2014 through 2016 and spawned many top-notch matches and moments.
4. Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H
After CM Punk's meteoric rise to superstardom in 2011, it was unknown who would be next to follow in his footsteps and break out as WWE's most popular commodity. Daniel Bryan was already a man of the people with his signature "Yes!" chant in 2012, but it was his WWE Championship win over John Cena at SummerSlam 2013 that truly elevated him to main event status.
Minutes later, he had his moment stolen from him by Randy Orton courtesy of an opportunistic Money in the Bank cash-in as well as some assistance from Triple H. That kicked off one of the hottest feuds fans had seen in years up to that point.
Technically, the story pitted Bryan against the entire Authority, but that would also include Bryan's matches with Randy Orton in late 2013, and none of those were remotely memorable. Bryan was away from the title picture for a few months before resetting his sights on Triple H after CM Punk pulled out of WrestleMania 30.
The dynamic Triple H and Bryan had was exceptional because of how they were polar opposites. The Game had just moved into a full-time corporate position with WWE, whereas Bryan was the ultimate underdog who fans desperately wanted to see succeed.
The brawls they had leading up to their anticipated clash at WrestleMania were almost uncomfortable to watch at times because of how brutally Triple H would beat down Bryan. However, those attacks only endeared Bryan to the audience that much more and led him to prevail over the COO of WWE on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
Needless to say, the sheer thought of Bryan beating Triple H a year or two earlier would have been laughable, but it was now a believable reality after all the hard work Bryan and Triple H put into making their story so enthralling.
3. Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks
Trish Stratus vs. Lita was the first and only women's rivalry for a long time that fans could latch onto because of how it broke barriers and ushered in a new era of women's wrestling in WWE. Unfortunately, it felt like everything they built went to waste following their respective retirements, as the "Divas division" was largely slept on for the better part of a decade.
Through no fault of their own, the women constantly busted their butts yet weren't getting the same opportunities as the men. That changed once women's wrestling experienced a resurgence in NXT thanks to the emerging foursome of Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch.
Flair and Banks had their first high-profile match at TakeOver: R Evolution where Flair successfully retained her NXT Women's Championship. They went on to wrestle in the main event of NXT TV months later with the gold up for grabs before being called up to Raw on the same night (along with Lynch).
The Divas Revolution wasn't as important as the eventual feud between Banks and Flair the subsequent summer. Their chemistry was already undeniable in NXT, but the big stage gave them the platform they deserved to show the world just how amazing women's wrestling could be.
Not only were their matches some of the best in the main roster's history, but they were also always one-upping each other in every stipulation imaginable. They fought in the first-ever women's Hell in a Cell match, a Falls Count Anywhere match and even an Iron Man match.
It was also during this period that they became the first women to main-event a pay-per-view and the first women in many years to main-event an episode of Raw. Banks vs. Bayley and Becky Lynch vs. Flair were fun feuds as well, but this one in particular was revolutionary in many ways.
2. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa
The seemingly never-ending Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa rivalry bares a lot of similarities to that of Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens, except that it's been a tad bit better for a few different reasons.
The two former independent standouts have crafted a beautifully told story over the last five years, starting with them coming into WWE together as teammates in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Within a year, they became a top tandem in NXT, captured the NXT Tag Team Championship in what was the Match of the Year for WWE in 2016 and went their separate ways mere months later upon Ciampa betraying Gargano.
Ciampa getting seriously injured the same night he stabbed his best friend in the back ended up being the best thing for their feud. It allowed Gargano to emerge as the brand's lead babyface in the months that followed, and by the time they finally clashed at TakeOver: New Orleans, fans were ready to see them rip each other apart.
Little did the audience know that their 5-star clash on that show would only be the beginning of something much bigger between them.
Their next two matches that summer (the Street Fight and Last Man Standing match, respectively) were equally entertaining but didn't have definitive conclusions. That was because NXT planned on revisiting their rivalry in time for WrestleMania weekend in 2019 before Ciampa went down with an unforeseen neck injury.
Despite that, their story went full circle with Ciampa congratulating Gargano following his NXT Championship victory at TakeOver: New York. They feuded one final time earlier this year, only with the roles reversed.
The quality of their matches is one thing, but their ability to thrive regardless of whether they're positioned as faces or heels will always be the most impressive part of their rivalry. It's all about personal vendettas with the former DIY partners, and that's why their wars will never lose their luster.
1. John Cena vs. CM Punk
Monday Night Raw was perhaps at its most must-see (at least in the last decade) when John Cena and CM Punk were feuding over the WWE Championship in the summer of 2011.
Every week leading up to the Money in the Bank pay-per-view was something fresh and exciting. It had been years since the show had been so suspenseful with fans anxiously awaiting what would happen next.
Whenever Punk had a mic in his hand, fans listened. Cena also held his own during all of their exchanges and was the perfect company-man foil for the anti-authority Punk.
Punk's "pipe bomb" promo and the ripple effect it had on WWE at the time is well-documented, as is their outstanding encounter in Chicago. Punk promised to leave the company after he won the title, which made his hard-fought victory that night that much more memorable.
Although Punk should have legitimately taken time off after that and returned down the road, WWE wanted to quickly capitalize on his momentum and opted to bring him back sooner than expected to resume his rivalry with Cena. The two faced off in a rematch at SummerSlam where The Voice of the Voiceless again emerged victorious.
Had that been the end of their feud, it would have been an all-timer. What made it better was how they picked up right where they left off one year later with Punk turning heel on Cena and the two contesting another series of stellar matches for the top title.
Their final match on the February 25, 2013, edition of Raw was perhaps their best ever and saw Cena score the win. With their chemistry never ceasing to translate to marquee main events and phenomenal promos, it's hard to argue against Punk vs. Cena being the greatest rivalry in recent memory.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.