Top 10 Backstage Rivalries that Rocked the WWE Ring
Bill Goldberg vs. Chris Jericho
For 173 consecutive matches, Goldberg was unbeatable inside a WCW ring. But backstage against an irate Chris Jericho in 2003, the powerhouse was all but humbled in a showdown.
Y2J chronicled the scene in-depth in his second book, the New York Times best-selling “Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps.” According to The Ayatollah of Pen-and-Scroll-ah, Goldberg criticized Jericho’s performance behind his back, and when Jericho confronted him with the accusation, Goldberg growled and grabbed Y2J’s throat.
The self-described “wiry kid from Winnipeg” shoved off Goldberg, the book states, and when the former NFL nose tackle charged for a takedown, Jericho snapped on a front facelock with a leg scissors. After fellow Superstars finally separated the two and cooler heads prevailed, Jericho and Goldberg — whose uneasiness dated back years earlier to WCW, when a brash Jericho mocked the pomp and circumstance of Goldberg’s security-escorted entrance — shook hands and decided they’d keep their fighting to the ring.
Booker T vs. Batista
While at a SummerSlam commercial shoot in May 2006, former World Champions Booker T and Batista got into a widely reported fistfight. It was a “brutal, bloody, vicious affair” that lasted at least five minutes, according to a day-of WWE.com report quoting WWE’s then-director of TV promotions. Even though the question of who got the upper hand appears to be open for debate, the prevailing belief is that Booker got the better of the exchange.
What can be said with more certainty is that the impetus for the fight had to do with a certain “r” word — respect. In his 2007 autobiography, “Batista Unleashed,” The Animal admitted the commercial-shoot fight involved a breached etiquette on his part: He hadn’t greeted Booker.
“… no matter how I felt, I should have at least been respectful and said ‘hello,’ not acted as if he didn’t exist,” he wrote. “He’s earned respect in this business. I didn’t show it, and I was wrong.”
An interview published by WWE.com days after the fight quoted Booker as saying he harbored no ill will toward Batista, but that he believed the hulking Superstar lacked an appreciation for wrestling’s past.
“There’s a lot of us who paved the way in this business for men like Batista,” Booker said, adding later in the interview, “Respect isn’t a right. It’s a privilege.”
Big Show vs. The Great Khali
The conversation between Chris Jericho and Big Show on the June 26, 2015, edition of Jericho’s “Talk is Jericho” podcast had already been fascinating before the former WWE Tag Team Champions dropped this bombshell: The World’s Largest Athlete once traded locker room fisticuffs with none other than The Great Khali.
Way back in 2006 when Khali first debuted with WWE, things were tense between Big Show and the new colossus in town. The veteran was unsure of the rookie’s commitment to the squared circle, and it all came to a boil one night behind the curtain.
“I just got frustrated with him and we got in an argument,” Big Show said, “and it was the worst fight on the planet.”
“For you,” Jericho said. “For me, it was like Godzilla versus King Kong … you guys were literally punching each other in the face.”
Big Show’s negative memories of the fight stem from the fact that he was trying to hit Khali from the other side of a table while stumbling over all the bags Superstars had scattered across the locker room floor. On top of that, the giant was practically in his birthday suit (“Leave it to me to pick a fight barefoot in my underwear,” he said), and ended the scrap with somebody (possibly William Regal) sitting on his head.
Still, despite frustrations over his inability to put Khali in the hospital, Big Show admitted that he held no resentment toward The Punjabi Playboy and the two were better friends for it.
“It blew off a lot of tension and frustration,” he said. “Khali is a great guy.”
Vader vs. Paul Orndorff
Minds were blown in late August 1995 when news broke that Vader had gotten into a backstage scuffle with Paul Orndorff … and come out on the losing end. The reports were stunning not least of all because of the seven-year age difference and 200-pound size disparity between The Mastodon and the veteran Orndorff, who was nearing retirement and spending less time in the ring and more time behind the scenes.
Stories vary as far as what exactly precipitated the brawl, although several versions — including the one Vader told on a radio show — claim Orndorff was miffed that the three-time WCW Champion had arrived late to a TV taping at Atlanta’s Center Stage. Certain commonalities can be ascertained from various accounts: Vader struck first and “Mr. Wonderful” retaliated in a big way, although the precise number of punches and kicks thrown has been debated.
Vader has since suggested that concern for his job caused him to ease up on Orndorff after the first knockdown. Regardless, it wasn’t long afterward that Vader was removed from WCW’s pay-per-view that September, and by the end of the season, he and WCW parted ways.
John Cena vs. The Rock
Though the rivalry between The Rock and John Cena never came to blows backstage, theirs was a beef that originated far away from the bright lights of WrestleMania. Most trace the bad feelings back to comments Cena made about The Rock in a podcast interview in 2007 that were later printed by U.K. publication The Sun.
“Associating with sports-entertainment doesn’t do much for his acting career,” Cena said. “It only helps out the sports-entertainment audience, so I get why he doesn’t come back. Just don’t [mess] me around and tell me that you love this. That’s the only thing that gets me really [ticked] off.”
The Cenation leader further criticized The Rock for appearing infrequently at WWE events. Never one to be left speechless, The Great One responded with an online video in which he accused Cena of competing night in and night out “for the paycheck,” primarily.
Whatever harsh feelings existed between the two subsided by the close of their two-year in-ring rivalry, which culminated at WrestleMania 29. After Cena regained the WWE Title from The Rock, The Great One graciously held The Champ’s hand high, for all to see.
Edge vs. Matt Hardy
Matt Hardy and WWE Hall of Famer Edge brought sports-entertainment to new heights when they, along with tag partners Jeff Hardy and Christian, respectively, reinvented the Ladder Match in WWE. Yet, the Hardy-Edge relationship is probably best remembered for the deeply personal overtones of their rivalry that transfixed the WWE Universe in 2005.
As detailed on the 2012 DVD release “You Think You Know Me? The Story of Edge,” the backstage hostility began when Hardy was injured and his then-girlfriend, the groundbreaking Diva Lita, began traveling on the road with Edge. As Lita and The Rated-R Superstar’s relationship went from platonic to romantic, the bad feelings between Hardy and Edge grew and eventually fell into the public eye.
Around this time, Hardy was released from WWE, only to return months later with a heated grudge against Edge. In a scenario that had the WWE Universe wondering if sports-entertainment was imitating life, or vice-versa, Hardy and Edge embarked on an explosive in-ring rivalry, which The Rated-R Superstar would later describe as a “cathartic” experience.
ECW vs. XPW
In 2000, one minor league’s misguided attempt to spread word about its exploits spiraled out of control. The conflict occurred between Extreme Championship Wrestling and Xtreme Pro Wrestling, a fledgling California-based group that gained notoriety by knocking off ECW’s hardcore style.
The inter-promotional showdown occurred at Los Angeles’ Grand Olympic Auditorium, the site of Heat Wave 2000, ECW’s first pay-per-view on the West Coast. Several XPW personalities bought ringside seats for the event with the stated purpose of innocently wanting to grow brand awareness, not interrupt the card. As the show unfolded, however, the local competitors’ presence served to distract fans and irritate individuals in ECW’s double-tough locker room, many of whom perceived the outsiders’ arrival as a sign of disrespect.
Just prior to Heat Wave’s main event, the XPW wrestlers caused a ruckus and were ejected from the building. Assisting in their removal was the bulk of the ECW locker room, including the 500-pound-plus Sal E. Graziano. The ECW Originals, evidently, had grown weary of the minor leaguers’ tactics and saw to it that the invaders would disrupt the pay-per-view no more.
Mr. McMahon vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
The rivalry between “Stone Cold” and Mr. McMahon was a key ingredient in The Attitude Era’s success, but behind the scenes, a professional disagreement between The Texas Rattlesnake and the WWE CEO led to Austin walking out on WWE on June 10, 2002.
On the 2011 DVD “‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on the Most Popular Superstar of All Time,” Austin owed the self-imposed exile to a combination of “fatigue and frustration,” and longtime friend Jim Ross noted “Stone Cold” was “burning the candle at both ends” during the period in question. Chief among Austin’s concerns was disappointment over how WWE was utilizing him. Austin’s match against Scott Hall at that spring’s WrestleMania X-8, for example, was treated as “just some match on the card,” according to an essay “Stone Cold” penned for the February 2003 edition of Raw Magazine.
Following Austin’s departure in June 2002, WWE and Mr. McMahon publicly acknowledged the situation in what Austin described as “the famous WWE smear campaign.” During an episode of Raw, Mr. McMahon told WWE fans that Austin “owe[d] an apology for walking out on every Superstar in that locker room … to the company he helped build … to each and every one of you, for walking out on you.”
Thankfully, time heals all wounds, and a meeting brokered by J.R. later that year allowed Austin and Mr. McMahon to resolve the matter.
Ric Flair vs. Eric Bischoff
One of the most intriguing rivalries to play out both on- and off-camera during the Monday Night War was the beef between Ric Flair and Eric Bischoff. In his New York Times best-selling “To Be the Man,” “Nature Boy” contended that Bischoff used him to lure big names from WWE in the mid-1990s and that once the WWE expats were in the fold, Flair was relegated to “bit player” status. Subsequent backstage blow-ups between the two only further supported Flair’s theory that Bischoff “seemed to take pleasure in demeaning me,” he wrote.
The rivalry boiled over in April 1998 when Flair opted to attend a family event rather than appearing at WCW Thunder, setting in motion the wheels of litigation. WCW suddenly found itself entangled in legal issues with, arguably, its most enduring Superstar.
By no-showing Thunder, Flair abandoned WCW just as the organization’s war with WWE was kicking into high gear, Bischoff argued in his autobiography, “Controversy Creates Cash.” “He drew a line in the sand, and I felt I had no choice but maintain my position,” Bischoff wrote.
Flair remained off WCW TV until his contract was sorted out later that year. On Sept. 14, after re-signing with WCW, “Nature Boy” returned to Nitro in Greenville, S.C., where he famously aired much of the dirty laundry between him and Bischoff.
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
By mid-1997, the relationship between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels was known to be tense, but WWE fans attending Raw in Hartford, Conn., on June 9 likely had no clue that tempers between the two had flared so much that “Hit Man” and HBK would exchange blows off-camera, as ended up happening that night.
Weeks prior, Michaels stoked Hart’s ire with the infamous “Sunny days” comment on Raw, a thinly veiled implication that Hart had an extramarital relationship with the Diva named Sunny. Although a Hart-Michaels match scheduled for that year’s King of the Ring on June 8 had to be cancelled — “Hit Man” pulled out, in part, due to the nagging aftereffects of a knee surgery — the two ended up tangling backstage the very next night.
In his 2007 autobiography “Hit Man,” Hart wrote that he had sought out Michaels in Hartford in order to “straighten him out once and for all,” and upon finding HBK backstage, provoked him with the words, “You got something to say to me?” According to Hart’s account, HBK swung and missed, and “The Excellence of Execution” connected with a punch on the chin.
The fray was broken up quickly, and Hart summed up the brawl as “nothing but a scritch-fight really.” The supposed mild nature of the exchange, however, didn’t stop the WWE hotline from enticing Raw viewers to call in to hear the inside scoop.
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