Some of the most legendary feuds in professional wrestling involved wrestlers who had real-life animosity outside of the ring. Here are five such examples of that.
1. CM Punk and Jeff Hardy
The dispute between CM Punk and Jeff Hardy involved some strong words and hurt feelings. That was seemingly inevitable when Vince McMahon decided to base their wrestling feud on reality.
CM Punk is a man who legitimately believed in the straight edge lifestyle he espoused on television. On the flip side, Jeff Hardy wasn’t afraid to party. This was a combustible mix from jump street, and they put it all on display for a worldwide audience to see.
Some of Punk’s words were especially cutting and blurred the lines between storyline and reality.
“I want to show you something, Jeff,” CM Punk said in a promo on Jeff Hardy on a July 2009 edition of SmackDown. “This is Polymyxin B Sulfate. I have to apply this to my eye three times a day. The only way you obtain this is with a prescription from a doctor.”
CM Punk continued. “Now, I know you know a thing or two about prescription medication. What I don’t think you realize is that you have to go to a doctor to obtain some legally. Unlike you, Jeff, this is the only foreign substance I will allow in my body. So, if you want to imitate me, why don’t you try living a clean lifestyle? Why don’t you try living a straight edge lifestyle?”
This whole angle clearly wasn’t sitting well with Jeff Hardy throughout. About a year after he left WWE, a 2010 video surfaced of Jeff and Matt Hardy making it clear how they felt about CM Punk.
A slurring Jeff Hardy got out, “What the hell does straight edge mean again? The first-ever straight edge World Heavyweight Champion, I think Christian, said it best. CM Punk, I think you’re a nerd. I’ll get cocky every now and then. I’ll say, ‘You paid to see me, you paid to see me,’ but I made CM Punk a motherfuckin’ superstar, and that’s a fact, Jack. And I’ll end it like this, BAM!" [raises both middle fingers]
Jeff Hardy would carry on from there, but this was obviously not Jeff Hardy at his best.
A couple of years later, a much more positive Jeff Hardy spoke about CM Punk, saying, "CM Punk is crazy talented. We don’t stay in touch or have contact, but I have nothing bad to say about the guy. We’re just different."
CM Punk himself was asked about this storyline in 2020, in response to WWE again using Jeff Hardy’s sobriety as a plot point in a storyline with Sheamus and Elias. Punk had this to say:
"I’m speaking from experience because I worked extensively with Jeff. He, at that point, was not in a great place mentally and physically. My thing with this story is that somebody’s sobriety is very fragile and important. We talk about how Jeff is okay with it, and he greenlit. To me, it is the responsibility to get in front of that, whether it be the company or a writer, and be like, ‘No, we ‘re not doing that.’ Cleaning your life up and getting sober, we can champion that in many ways. You don’t put him in front of a moving car."
It’s always great to see positivity win out. This may have been a real-life feud at one time, maybe even a one-sided one, but that’s not the case anymore. Now it’s mutual respect between two great performers.
2. Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart
This is a tale well told by this point. The two top stars of the New Generation Era. They had come up together, almost side by side. Shawn Michaels had to watch Bret Hart get to the top first. When HBK got there, too, things got tense. The competition got real. Both of them made choices they surely regret, having aged and evolved. Among the many regrettable ones are the Sunny days incident, the backstage fight, and of course, the now-infamous Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997.
There’s no point retreading that material here. You can find everything there is to know about that here. Instead, we’ll take a quick look at how both men feel about each other in retrospect.
Shawn Michaels was asked if he believed Bret Hart was his greatest opponent on a 2019 episode of The Two Man Power Trip of Wrestling podcast, and he responded, “I think everyone would certainly say on paper, and you look at Bret, I guess it is no stretch that they had chemistry. But still, every now and then, you run into somebody that does have as much talent but isn’t quite there. Fortunately, Bret and I knew that the first time we ever got in the ring together, I think, in a tag team.
Michaels continued, “It is one of those things that you do, and it only takes a couple of touches of one another, and you know that, ‘Okay, there is something special here.’ You find little ways to know that it is going to come to fruition in an even better way and a more positive way in the future, and again that is something that Bret and I had. I also had that with Jericho, and I was fortunate enough to have that with a decent amount of guys. But when you put together certainly the ability of a Bret Hart, and you know, I certainly feel like I had the capability too. Then you have that chemistry with each other. It is a pretty tough combination to beat.”
The notoriously crabby Bret Hart hasn’t been shy about being negative toward his time in WWE with Shawn Michaels. However, Bret did commend Shawn on overcoming his addictions during a 2020 interview, where he spoke about Davey Boy Smith’s issues, saying, “Davey had his issues and his drug problems. It’s hard to say whether he would have overcome those. If you know anything about that kind of drug addiction, people can’t control it. Some people have the ability to overcome it, and there’s a lot of guys, Test is a good example, where you go to rehab, and you got it under control, and a week later, you’re back on. You don’t have the control to stop yourself from getting back on that cycle of drugs again.
“There’s a lot of guys that have the ability to get off,” continued Bret Hart. “And it’s a credit to Shawn Michaels, really, that he survived, that he’s alive today. He was one of the guys, and he’d probably be the first one to tell you, I’m sure he has, that he had a really bad problem. There are a few wrestlers from those days that had serious drug problems that overcame them and are alive today that and are living prosperous and happy lives. It just shows you that if nothing is impossible. It would be nice to think that Davey would have been like one of them, but, unfortunately, he’s not with us.”
That’s progress. There was a time when things were a lot tenser between the two of them. It’s always good to see healing. Who could ever forget when they shook hands on Monday Night Raw?
3. Ric Flair and Mick Foley
This one got kicked off when Ric Flair took to his 2004 book to absolutely torch Mick Foley.
Flair wrote, “Foley has a cult following because of his contribution to hardcore wrestling, but hardcore is such a small part of the history of this business. When I was training, falling off a ladder was not a prerequisite to making it as a professional wrestler. I don’t care how many thumbtacks Mick Foley has fallen on, how many ladders he’s fallen off of, how many continents he’s supposedly bled on, he’ll always be known as a glorified stuntman.”
Flair continued, “Verne Gagne didn’t fall off a ladder. Dory Funk Jr. didn’t fall off a ladder. Neither did Wahoo (McDaniel), (Ricky) Steamboat, or Steve Austin. Terry Funk was a great worker before he started doing that. Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels, and Chris Jericho can do it and maintain their reputations because they’re already respected as athletes.”
Flair didn’t let up from there, tearing into hardcore wrestling as a whole with, “What about people who never did anything else, like the Sandman? He’s no wrestler. Hardcore became a niche for many guys who couldn’t do (anything) in the ring.
“I’m not saying that Mick Foley wasn’t a star, that he wasn’t a great attraction,” Flair went on. “But in my estimation, Mick Foley was not a great worker. He couldn’t punch. He couldn’t kick. In the World Wrestling Federation, he’d spend half the day sucking up to the writers — because he’s such a fan of himself.”
Things did not cool off from there. Mick Foley, ever the wordsmith, took his shot during a Ring of Honor promo to torch Flair back, saying, “I’m no Ric Flair because I’ve never carried Batista’s bags. I’m no Ric Flair because every once in a while, I actually say something different. I’m no Ric Flair because I actually put my body on the line. I don’t do stupid things like this (face-first flop). I am no Ric Flair; thank God for that. I’m no Ric Flair because I don’t draw comparisons between my genitals and a Disney theme park ride. And most of all, Steamboat, I’m no Ric Flair because when my time was up, I knew it was time to step aside for the sake of younger, hungrier, better wrestlers.”
These two did not hold back on each other. Things only got dicier from here. There was a backstage confrontation that led to the threat of a lawsuit after Flair discovered someone leaked the original manuscript of his book to Foley, which was even harsher. It was a mess of egos between two greats that would play itself out in both a WWE ring and over in TNA.
Mick Foley and Ric Flair took the only route they could and turned the whole ordeal into a feud in WWE.
Nowadays, the two are said to be friends after working out their differences while sitting next to each other on a plane.
4. Matt Hardy and Edge
Matt and Jeff Hardy made wrestling their life at a young age. It only makes sense that some of their beefs spilled over into real life. It’s harder to distinguish real from kayfabe when you live the wrestling life professionally, starting as early as your teen years. Of course, this particular rivalry was even harder to separate.
Here’s the long and short of it: Matt Hardy was with Lita. Matt Hardy was off the road, and Lita traveled with Edge. Edge and Lita then got together while she was still with Matt. It was a powder keg of epic proportions. Throw in Matt Hardy being released during it and then using that to fuel a surprise return.
This was the absolute worst kind of story to take and use for wrestling. This was intensely personal, and it played out in front of the entire world. The night in MSG where the entire crowd sl*t shamed Lita is a horrifying example of a line crossed far over by the fanbase.
Matt Hardy spoke about the storyline on a 2019 episode of The Cheap Heat Podcast, saying, “For me, it’s where I first started learning to separate personal life from professional life. Now I am extremely comfortable in being able to differentiate the two.”
“I mean, at first, it was a little intense,” Hardy continued. “A little strange, knowing that we were all on the same page; everyone was okay. Everybody had to keep their emotions in check. As long as we did that, we knew that everything was going to be good. As time went on, it got a little easier and a little bit better.
“The most fascinating part about 2005 in my career was that you couldn’t tell the lines between what was real and what wasn’t real and where that line lies. It’s the most important thing about professional wrestling, especially in this day and age. You need to blur the lines where you are not sure about what is real and what is scripted.”
On the other side of it, there was Edge. Talking with Peter Rosenberg, The Rated R Superstar went into how everyone was able to keep it professional and focus on the work at hand.
“You gotta be pros,” said Edge, “And also, back to my point of finding positives when it doesn’t seem like there are any on the surface, you gotta dig underneath the surface. This was one of those. And you go, okay, we’re here, now what do we do? Well, let’s try to make some money together, and let’s try to further both of our careers out of this. Hopefully, out of this, we can not only be stronger performers, but stronger people too, and that usually doesn’t happen within the context of a wrestling storyline. So it’s a little bit more because of that.”
In retrospect, Edge feels the whole ordeal helped the careers of all three involved by being one of the first rivalries deeply rooted in realism.
He would go on, saying to Rosenberg, “I think that’s maybe the first instance of people going, ‘Oh wait, there is reality in this, too,’ and that’s why it’s remembered.
“In terms of us splitting off from Edge and Christian and The Hardys, respectively, I think that one was what set everything in motion going forward. For Lita as well, because that flipped her entire character on its head. She was able to adapt and take it and run with it when if you had said two years earlier, probably the most popular female in the industry could end up being the most despised, that’s not possible.”
There’s no denying the ugliness of how Lita was treated during this angle. By the crowd and the company. She even spoke about feeling forced to do the Live Sex Celebration. Character-wise, however, it did elevate all three. Matt got sympathy and tons of new fans. Edge was turned to his most effective character variation ever: the evil and straight-up dastardly Rated R Superstar. Lita was right there with him.
All parties involved have moved far past this, finding individual happiness in their lives.
5. Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage
“Be a man, Hogan. Come on, don’t be scared. You’re runnin’ from Macho, that’s what I heard.”
– “Be a Man” by Randy Savage.
This rivalry comes with its own diss track. Not one of the other four feuds on this list can say that.
The beef between Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage is legendary and dates back to issues regarding Miss Elizabeth and the filming of Mr. Nanny. She went and stayed with the Hogans during the filming of that movie, seemingly using that time to come to terms with her relationship with Randy Savage and move on. This did not sit well with Macho Man Randy Savage, who blamed Hulk Hogan for interfering in his marriage. The tale is covered in-depth here.
Hulk Hogan and Macho Man had a tumultuous friendship from there. They worked together through their time at WCW, and that seemed to be the end of it. Until Randy Savage made it clear he was biting his tongue with the track “Be A Man” on his hip hop album. Yes, you read that right. Macho Man had a hip-hop album, and one of the tracks was him laying into The Hulkster for 3 minutes.
This rivalry continued for decades until they ran into each other not long before Macho Man’s death. Hulk Hogan talked about it, saying, “We ran into each other at a doctor’s office. I was on my seventh or eighth back surgery, and I couldn’t pass an EKG because I was getting just jammed up with anesthesia every three or four months. They couldn’t get my back right. My back was collapsing, and they were telling my new wife, Jennifer, I’d never walk again and all of this craziness. Jennifer and I were sitting on those little seats in the doctor’s office in Tampa, and all of a sudden, the door opens, and in comes Randy. ‘Yeeeah! Ooooh yeah! What’s up?’ I went, ‘[Gasp].’
“It freaked me out, scared me to death,” continued Hogan. “And he goes, ‘Hey, brother. What’s up, Hogan?’
“He had that gleam in his eye and looked really healthy. He gained his weight back, and he had a wedding ring on. I said, ‘Hey, Mach, what’s up with the ring?’ He said, ‘Hey, just married my childhood sweetheart.'”
That’s the thing about personal feuds. You miss a lot of chances. Whatever we know about the men, Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage missed years worth of friendship, thanks to ego. Thankfully, they got to catch up before Macho Man passed away.
Hogan also spoke about that and the timeline of their reconciliation, saying, “Probably three or four months. We talked on the phone a couple of times. I invited him over to have a barbeque and really got back on track, which was cool.”
Hogan continued, “Later, I was with Lanny, his brother, at an independent wrestling show. He told me their mom wasn’t doing so well with [Randy’s father] Angelo passing away. So we had planned on having a barbeque at her house — because I got along well with Randy’s mom — and try to cheer her up. So, Lanny and I called Randy from the arena. Three days later, he had a heart attack. It was crazy.”
Death waits for no man, real-life personal rivalries be damned. That’s why it’s always good to see progress. Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage had found their way back to being friends after all those years.
Each of these stories listed had decent endings. Resentment is corrosive. You grow and evolve past it.
It’s great to see men like Jeff Hardy, CM Punk, Ric Flair, Mick Foley, and others put old grudges behind them and move on with their lives.
Here are more stories about wrestlers who didn’t get along outside of the ring:
- Dynamite Kid and Jacques Rougeau Fight, Why Vince Stepped In
- Batista and Booker T – Their Real-Life Fight Over Wrestlers’ Court
- Kevin Nash and Roddy Piper | Heated Backstage Fight at Slamboree ’97
- Paul Orndorff and Vader | The Messy Fight That Led to WCW Departure