1. Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan (1980-1988)
2. Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes/Ricky Steamboat/Terry Funk (1985-89)
3. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (1989-1997)
4. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Mr. McMahon (1997-1999)
5. Kane vs. Undertaker (1997-)
6. The Rock vs. Triple H (1996-)
7. Diamond Dallas Page vs. Macho Man Randy Savage (1997)
8. Trish Stratus vs. Lita (2000-2006)
9. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. (1997-2005)
10. Edge & Christian vs. Hardy Boyz vs. Dudley Boyz (1999-2009)
Hey Brand members, I am starting a new five part series focusing on professional wrestling’s most influential, memorable rivalries spanning from 1980-2009. Longtime fans can appreciate the long stroll down memory lane and new fans can be informed and entertained by the overview of arguably the top ten feuds that shaped the entire format of what entertaining showmanship and pure athletic diligence can bring into the world of grappling.
1. The Unstoppable Force meets the Immovable Object
From the moment wrestling was created back in the days of ancient Greece, it was designed to
showcase the strong & exploit the perception of weakness. We’ve all heard the tales; during much of history giants reigned supreme, crushing anyone or thing standing in its path leaving destruction and devastation in their wake until one day a brave warrior contends against the monster’s campaign of terror, then tramples him victoriously sending the defeated monster away never to be heard from again. This is not that tale…
From all the stories ever told, Andre was a gentle giant; he loved children, had great integrity, a huge personality to match his gigantic physique and an even bigger understanding of what a spectacle he himself came to be. Weighing in at around 600 pounds and standing at well over seven feet, Andre was the one true giant of wrestling. From the 1970s until the mid-80s, Andre was the “people’s giant”, everywhere he went people would flock toward him, taking pictures until their cameras exploded. Then along came a muscular, tanned, blonde-haired Adonis who threatened to eclipse Andre’s spotlight. Andre went on to vanquish this new foe early in his young career but the charismatic Hogan would re-emerge as the All-American, baby-kissing hero with the launch of “Hulkamania”. As the popularity of Hogan’s red & yellow shirt-ripping, leg dropping, arm flexing vitamin-taking trend continued to grow into capturing the WWF Championship, Andre was initially asked if he would like to challenge for the prestigious strap of gold. In a gracious manner, Andre smiled and simply stated he is satisfied just being “the giant” and even celebrated Hogan’s inaugural championship victory by pouring champagne over his golden-haired ally.
As time went on, one could see the resentment in Andre’s eyes when Hulk was near. The “new kid” Hogan barging into Andre’s already marked territory and furthermore taking credit for all the newfound mainstream publicity and bringing in celebrities who one can imagine Andre thinking they don’t belong in their realm of entertainment must’ve been slowly eating away at the original “big man on campus”. Andre was old school to the core, and all these new ideals Hogan represented couldn’t have rubbed the “Giant from the French Alps” the right way in any regard as what happened next came as a shock to most everyone.
On an episode of “Piper’s Pit” in early 1987, Hogan stood face to face with his greatest challenge as Andre stepped foot onto the stage alongside Hogan’s archrival; famed evil manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. “The Weasel”, as he was often referred, had spent years verbally bashing Hogan as well as put together a group of spectacular athletes Bobby adoringly called his “family” in an attempt to topple “Hulkamania” and the entire World Wrestling Federation as a whole. On the stage, almost frozen in time; Andre stood looking down at Hogan as the “Real American” blatantly refused to fight someone he respected/cared for so deeply. Irritated and disgusted, Andre challenged the current champion to a one on one encounter, to determine who truly was the man to lead the company (and society) into the next decade at the third annual installment of wrestling’s “Super Bowl”, named after the popularity of Hogan…WrestleMania. The apathetic giant reached out for Hogan’s golden cross and ripped the chain from the “Hulkster’s” neck (making his chest bleed) then threw it down on the ground. Hulk drops to one knee in disbelief while his new archrival walks off, throwing away their bonded friendship over three conniving culprits of any professional relationship: greed, jealousy & notoriety.
As WrestleMania 3 quickly approached, the tension was at a fever pitch. The only arena big enough to hold all the animosity and to contain all the incredibly intoxicating energy of the 80s era, was the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, Michigan. On March 29, 1987 the indoor attendance record was set at over 93,000 people. This, in many circles, is still widely regarded as the biggest match, at the largest venue, with the two most gigantic names which might be the only pairing in history to ever have to stretch their awe-inspiring physiques to match up with their equally imposing, enormously infectious personalities. Andre the Giant was the quintessential stonewall mountain of a monster, which naturally made Hulk Hogan the big-hearted, iron-willed, underdog superpower designed to use his unbelievable resilience and indomitable momentum to move the cold, heartless mountain and lead his “Hulkamaniacs” into the next era at any cost.
Fun fact: Hogan tore his bicep when lifting Andre’s huge frame delivering the timeless body slam which sealed the victory and symbolically passed the torch of dominance from the hands of the one true giant into the firm grasp of the Hulkster’s twenty-four inch “pythons” as wrestling officially procured its spot in pop culture under the umbrella of “sports entertainment”. Their once-in-a-lifetime feud lasted far beyond that fateful day in Detroit; lasting another year and a half before Andre saw the error of his ways and severed his ties from the devious Bobby Heenan mental manipulation. These two behemoths will undoubtedly go down in history as two of the top transitioning pioneers who lead wrestling from the background to the forefront, so to speak, in terms of mainstream media attention, fan adoration, promo style, and live crowd reaction/attendance. Unarguably this pairing became the benchmark for every rivalry to follow in their legendary oversized footsteps.
2. A Certain Flair
While WWE(F) was enjoying the meteoric boom of “Hulkamania” in the mid to late 80s, the NWA (WCW) had their limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, kiss-stealin’, wheelin’ dealin’ World’s Heavyweight Champion who styled and profiled down every major aisle all over the globe, defeating all of the local top talent in all the top territories and shamelessly claimed he was indeed “the man” and challenged anybody to outperform, outwit, or outclass him…which in this remarkable era, was not meant to be. After Flair won the Heavyweight championship from Harley Race in 1983 many men would try and fail to relieve “Slick Ric” of his gold. A handful succeeded in knocking the custom-made king off of his mountain; although being the persistent, brilliant worker he was, it never took long for the “champ” to recapture his title. The “son-of-a-plumber” common man hero Dusty Rhodes was one who succeeded but then was decimated at the hands of Flair’s destructively dominant, overbearing force known as The Four Horsemen.
Consisting of champions from every available division; the horsemen eradicated every threat who entered their path. The group was formed of necessity and intelligence; the tag team champions were Flair’s cousins, Ole and Arn Anderson who would initiate unspeakable violence, alongside the United States Champion Tully Blanchard, they unleashed pure havoc upon their opposition in and out of the ring. They once went so far to legitimately break Dusty Rhodes’ leg outside of an arena before a show to ensure they held a distinct advantage and to send a clear message to all who dared challenge their reign that they are not to be taken lightly. Dusty would return and fight off the horsemen for a short time but was eventually vanquished by the dastardly group.
Another vaunted foe to step up to Flair’s braggadocios tyranny of monetary egotism was Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Ricky is best known for his much celebrated WrestleMania 3 match with Randy Savage for the Intercontinental Championship in 1987. Later that year he left WWE(F) and went to NWA to defeat Ric Flair, capturing the World Heavyweight Championship in 1988. Not to be upstaged by his self-professed favorite rival, Flair won the title back in their controversial rematch which set up the final encounter in 1989 which offered numerous wrestling legends sitting ringside to act as impartial judges, ensuring a clean and decisive outcome, one of the judges being the “Hardcore Icon” and former NWA Champion Terry Funk.
As Flair barely attained victory over Steamboat, closing the book on their classic rivalry, another book is written as Terry Funk enters the ring to congratulate the exhausted Flair amongst a sea of fans who have gained a mass amount of respect for Flair’s tenacity and endurance over the past number of years. Funk, being a wily veteran, challenges Flair then says he was kidding in the heat of the moment and they shake hands. Funk waits for Flair to drop his guard, then like a buzzard picking the pieces of his prey, viciously attacks the physically spent “Nature Boy”, battering him until the future 16-time champion’s blood was spilled everywhere at ringside. To add an exclamation mark, Funk shockingly drives Flair head first through the announce table onto the concrete floor, setting up a small series of violently graphic matches between the two; which in the end found Ric Flair standing tall upon the throne of professional wrestling with a loud “WOOOOOO” as the “real” World Champion marched full force into the 90s.