The issues between Edge and Randy Orton and The Undertaker and AJ Styles heading into WrestleMania 36 transcend mere competition for competition’s sake, forged instead by deep-rooted animosity. But they’ll be far from the first to take their bitter grudges to The Grandest Stage of Them All — look back at the most personal rivalries to ever be settled at WrestleMania.
Bret Hart vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin — Submission Match: WrestleMania 13
In the mid ’90s, WWE ushered in a New Generation, launching the careers of Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon and Lex Luger. But the leader of this movement was no doubt Bret Hart. The Excellence of Execution not only was a multi-time WWE Champion, but he was a role model for the WWE Universe, standing for everything that was good and wholesome in sports-entertainment. Then came “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. A foul-mouthed, arrogant Superstar who broke all the rules with blatant disregard for authority. Despite all this, the WWE Universe showed their overwhelming support to the Texas Rattlesnake, much to the dismay of The Hitman. Hart challenged “Stone Cold” to a Submission Match at WrestleMania 13 with the hopes of putting an end to Austin’s reign of terror, but the once beloved champion was now showered with a chorus of boos. The Hitman may have won the battle, but his once honored legacy took a downward spiral as “Stone Cold’s” stock skyrocketed, ringing in the Attitude Era and bringing WWE to new heights in which it had never seen before. — MATT ZIMMER
Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James — WWE Women’s Championship: WrestleMania 22
Mickie James was first introduced to the WWE Universe as a HUGE Trish Stratus fan. But what started out as genuine admiration for the trailblazing Superstar quickly became obsession, as James took on more attributes of Stratus then her hero was comfortable with, including dressing up as Stratus for Halloween and adopting the WWE Hall of Famer’s moves as her own.
James’ uncomfortable fixation on Stratus led the then-Women’s Champion to suggest that maybe they needed some space. That sent James over the edge, turning on her hero and setting out to make Stratus’ life a living hell. She did just that when they clashed on The Grandest Stage of Them All at WrestleMania 22. In what the WWE Universe still regards as a classic battle, James emerged victorious, defeating Stratus with her own trademark Chick Kick to win her first Women’s Championship. — BOBBY MELOK
Triple H vs. Randy Orton — WWE Championship: WrestleMania XXV
When does the future become the present? For Randy Orton, his early success in WWE came from standing by Triple H’s side as a member of Evolution, watching The Game reign as the World Heavyweight Champion. When Orton finally held Raw’s top prize for himself in 2004, he was unceremoniously booted from the group, and soon after lost the title too. Five years later, The Viper was ready to strike back. Rather than targeting The Cerebral Assassin directly, Orton went after Triple H’s family, attacking the McMahons and even planting an RKO — and a sinister kiss – on The Game’s wife Stephanie. Involving his in-laws ignited Triple H’s rage, causing him to focus more on attacking Orton in his home than defending his WWE Championship. With Orton’s recent Royal Rumble victory taking him to WrestleMania’s main event and Triple H’s title reign in need of a challenger, this rivalry of epic proportions boiled over onto WWE’s Grandest Stage. — BRYAN MERCER
Batista vs. John Cena — WWE Championship: WrestleMania XXVI
When John Cena and Batista warred over the WWE Championship in 2010, it wasn’t just about the top prize in sports-entertainment — it was also about crowning the definitive face of The Ruthless Aggression Era. After previously being on friendly terms, The Animal revealed a more egotistical, spotlight-obsessed side of himself, and he didn’t hide his envy and contempt for Cena. Both had enjoyed meteoric rises to the top on opposite brands, but Batista took issue with what he saw as WWE labeling Cena as “The Man” instead of him, insisting that he was in fact the bigger star. Batista also maintained that Cena knew he couldn’t beat him. Given their encounter two years earlier at SummerSlam — which saw The Animal not only win, but put Cena on the shelf for months with a herniated disc in his neck — it was a convincing argument. But Cena rose to the occasion, slaying Batista to capture the WWE Title for the seventh time. — JORDAN GARRETSON
“Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat — WWE Intercontinental Championship: WrestleMania III
If you’re gonna make it personal with someone, forcing them to re-learn how to speak will get you there in a hurry. At least that’s what “Macho Man” Randy Savage did, elbow-dropping Ricky Steamboat’s larynx into a guardrail to kick off one of the more infamous rivalries in WrestleMania history — one that’s more remembered for its singular endpoint than the wild twists and turns it took to get there.
Truth be told, the whole story deserves more respect. 1980s WWE was all about larger-than-life rivalries and personalities, and the plight of Steamboat — a folk hero who was forced to literally learn to re-connect with the people around him — was a pretty intimate, devastating handicap to be handed from someone for whom connection with the crowd was as innate as his signature rasp. It all culminated in the original show-stealer: a balletic match for the Intercontinental Title at WrestleMania III that snatched the rug right out from under Hogan and Andre and set a standard that Superstars still chase today. It was as perfect an ending as can be imagined, but you can’t have the destination without the journey. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart: WrestleMania X
There is no rivalry more personal than a sibling rivalry, and no family more entrenched in competitive spirit that the Harts. In 1994, two of Canada’s favorite sons were headed in seemingly opposite directions. Bret Hart was a former WWE Champion, the reigning King of the Ring, the newest Royal Rumble Match winner and was on track for another world title opportunity at WrestleMania. Owen, on the other hand, had yet to secure any championship gold around his waist in WWE and found little success in both the singles and tag divisions. The two formed an in-ring alliance, but it was short lived due to their inability to get on the same page. Frustration, jealousy and the desire to emerge from the shadow of his older brother led Owen to snap and attack Bret. This sparked a collision course for WrestleMania and a rivalry more intense than Bret’s quest for gold: the need to determine the true “King of Harts.” — BRYAN MERCER
Shawn Michaels vs. Mr. McMahon — No Holds Barred Match: WrestleMania 22
Mr. McMahon sent shockwaves through WWE in June 2002 when he stood in the center of the Raw ring at the beginning of a new era and demanded to see “Ruthless Aggression.” The Chairman clearly took his own advice when he found himself at odds with Shawn Michaels prior to their grisly melee at WrestleMania 22.
But how did we get here? To put it mildly, Mr. McMahon doesn’t like to be questioned. So, when HBK merely suggested on an episode of Raw that The Chairman “grow up,” that was all the motivation that The Chairman needed to make it his mission to turn Michaels’ life into a living hell.
Mr. McMahon and Shane conspired to eliminate Michaels from the Royal Rumble, then forcibly introduced the former WWE Champion to join a certain… club. Michaels fired back with some rather foul, non-PG tactics of his own.
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By the time WrestleMania arrived, animosity was at a fever pitch, and the two predictably battered one another in an unforgettable No Holds Barred Match. – JON CHIK
Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H: WrestleMania XXX
Few things are as personal as being told you’re not good enough. In Daniel Bryan’s case, it was Triple H, who wielded his power as WWE COO to make that declaration a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bryan thought he reached the top of the mountain by defeating John Cena for the WWE Title at SummerSlam 2013 — only to have The Game facilitate Randy Orton’s Money in the Bank cash-in on the new champion immediately afterward. Though Triple H dubbed him a “B-plus player” who “just wasn’t good enough to succeed,” Bryan eventually prodded The Cerebral Assassin into a match at WrestleMania XXX with the winner advancing to the World Heavyweight Championship main event. He not only overcame Triple H in an unforgettable encounter, he went on to win the title, ensuring that the “Yes!” movement would live on in WWE lore forever. — JORDAN GARRETSON
The Miz vs. Shane McMahon — Falls Count Anywhere Match: WrestleMania 35
Admit it. From the moment The Miz and Shane McMahon formed a partnership, you were waiting for The A-Lister to stab The Prodigal Son in the back. How ironic, then, that Miz proved to be the most loyal tag team partner a WWE Superstar could ever want, and Shane was the one to betray his supposed pal with an uncomfortable, prolonged assault on The Awesome One in front of his father in Miz’s hometown of Cleveland.
Prior to that curtain-closing moment on the brief but fun alliance between Miz and Shane, the odd couple tandem jelled better than anyone could have predicted, celebrating Shane’s birthday in spectacular fashion and becoming SmackDown Tag Team Champions by scoring a jaw-dropping upset victory against The Bar.
Though he had a contentious relationship with the WWE Universe for most of his career, Miz quickly won over the masses by deriding his turncoat former partner as a spoiled, entitled brat who has had everything handed to him, while Shane fired back by repeatedly insulting and attacking his foe’s father.
Knowing full well that a 10’x10’ ring could never contain the animosity, Miz and Shane agreed to a Falls Count Anywhere Match, a harrowing bout that saw The A-Lister and Shane brutalize each other all over MetLife Stadium. – JON CHIK
The Undertaker vs. Kane: WrestleMania XIV
So many personal rivalries have spilled onto The Grandest Stage of Them All, but nothing comes close to the combustible elements that scorched WrestleMania XIV quite like The Undertaker vs. Kane. It was truly hell on earth when these two imposing forces faced off in a cataclysmic battle that was spurred by decades of turmoil. As legend had it, both siblings had been tormented by a troubled past that consisted of Undertaker allegedly starting a funeral fire that left his half-brother Kane physically and emotionally scarred. Seeking retribution, The Big Red Machine unleashed a rude awakening on his kin at Badd Blood: In Your House 1997, vehemently thrusting himself in The Deadman’s Hell in a Cell Match against Shawn Michaels. Following that fateful night, Undertaker refused to retaliate against his younger brother, while Kane carried on with a series of unrelenting attacks. When The Big Red Machine locked his foe inside a casket and set it ablaze, it was all fire and brimstone when they came head to head on The Deadman’s playing ground. — RALPH BRISTOUT
“Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Hulk Hogan — WWE Championship: WrestleMania V
The Mega Powers had it all. Randy Savage was WWE Champion and Hulk Hogan was running wild as the biggest draw in sports-entertainment.
Not even Andre the Giant’s enormous size, Ted DiBiase’s money or Hercules’ power could take them down. Together, they were unstoppable. But jealously reared its ugly head. The Macho Man couldn’t help thinking he was second fiddle in the team, despite being the champ, and even accused the Hulkster of having eyes for the lovely Elizabeth. It brought out the madness in Savage that led to The Mega Powers exploding. The only way to settle it was a one-on-one match for the WWE Title in the same place, at the same event their friendship formed one year earlier… WrestleMania. — MATT ZIMMER
Triple H vs. Batista — No Holds Barred Match: WrestleMania 35
The ostensible reasoning behind this rivalry was that Batista beat up Ric Flair on his birthday, but The Nature Boy’s vicious mauling wasn’t so much the first note of this saga as the match that lit 10 years’ worth of tinder. The Animal told anyone who would listen he wanted to retire himself against Triple H at WrestleMania, and made it clear for years that it was a bet he’d be willing to take. After all, The Game had never beaten him.
This rivalry quickly moved past its inception (sorry, Ric) and delved into the personal and professional histories of both men, from the manipulative streak of The Game’s heyday to Batista’s halted first comeback in 2014. It’s not unusual to get “real” when the stakes are raised, but friends always seem to know the quickest way to cut to the bone. It was also great from an entertainment standpoint, from Batista challenging Triple H by screaming “Give me what I want!” for 10 straight minutes to Triple H forcibly removing Drax’s nose ring stud with needle-nose pliers. The whole thing was a macho measuring contest from two men who always seemed of a different, more primal era, all bodily fluids, tattoos and raspy threats of physical harm. If this was the end for Batista, he went out like a champ; it wouldn’t be the worst swan song for Triple H, either. We are very, very sports-entertained. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
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