Welcome to Seven Things, a list that will run weekly and consist of very eclectic topics. These are of my opinions and doesn’t express the views of others on WrestlingOnEarth.
First things first, let me explain the premise of this list. I view “feuds” and “rivalries” as completely different things in wrestling. A feud is something I think of that is personal and heated, think Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart where the lines were blurred of what was reality and what was a portrayal of entertainment. A sports comparison would be the New York Knicks and Miami Heat basketball games in the late 1990’s postseason. There would often be fights on the court due to the volatile nature of humans genuinely despising each other. This is what I consider to be a “feud” when portrayed correctly in pro wrestling.
On the other side and for the sake of this list, rivalries are more of a competition based structure. In another sports comparison, currently the two best basketball players by far on the planet right now are LeBron James and Kevin Durant. When they face off, every game is must see yet they are friends. They don’t show a dose of dislike towards each other but bring their best because it’s a rivalry where you want to show you are better than the other guy. In wrestling, I consider rivalries to be a series of great matches that encompass many things but mostly always deliver special matches. That’s what I looked for when making this list of my favorite rivalries in wrestling.
Reminder: If you have any suggestions for future lists, feel free to share them in the comments or send them to me on Twitter: @typicalROHfan.
7. CM Punk vs. John Cena
The only rivalry that was still going on, well until a few weeks ago. Two polar opposites in their personality, look, wrestling style and fan base but two of the greatest wrestlers from the current era. It always had the makings for a good rivalry and when they had their first big match, it sure did deliver.
CM Punk’s massive storyline with the infamous “pipe bomb” and the entire “Summer of Punk” was full of incredible television but the anchor for the legacy of that summer was made at Money In The Bank 2011. Punk on his “last night” in the company defeated John Cena in Punk’s hometown of Chicago to win the WWE Championship in an absolutely perfect match. From the intros to the 30 minutes of action to the moment Punk hit the GTS in sync with an matched roar of celebration from the crowd.
Cena and Punk would go on to have excellent matches at Summerslam 2011, Night of Champions 2012 and a RAW in 2013. The RAW match was a #1 contenders match before Wrestlemania 29 where the winner would go on to face The Rock for the title. Many “in the know” claim Punk went into that match with a chip on his shoulder to prove that he belonged in the WM main event despite losing. Even in the differences of storylines between these matches, it always feels like the finals of a playoff where the best two survive and have a classic slugfest. Hopefully we get more matches in this rivalry someday…
Favorite match: Money In The Bank 2011
6. Rey Mysterio Jr. vs. Eddie Guerrero
In the last week or two, I’ve been re-watching lots of old wrestling from my childhood, particularly from WCW aiming for some gems I didn’t properly understand the greatness of at the time. The legendary mask vs. title match between Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio at Halloween Havoc 1997 was probably the most noteworthy. Whenever there’s a match list released about Rey, Eddie, WCW or cruiserweights, this is always towards the top but the match never really sank in until this week. The villainous aggression of Eddie and underdog never say die attitude of Rey were portrayed so beautifully and the match lives up to the high praise and still holds up today.
They’d have many, many great matches together. In their WWE tenure, they’d go on to have the best of both worlds in teaming and then eventually feuding. My favorite WWE matches of their many were on Wrestlemania 21 and Summerslam 2005. Wrestlemania 21 is rightfully remembered for Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels having an all time classic Wrestlemania match but Eddie and Rey had the second best on the show and what would have been the best match on most WWE shows.
At Summerslam, they’d have a ladder match with one of the most polarizing storylines at the time. Quite frankly, I thought the angle was absolutely idiotic. Rey’s young son Dominick was brought onto television with the story being that Eddie was his real father and they would fight for custody in a ladder match. Of course, in the shittiest of storylines, they would have another awesome match in what was one of my favorite ladder matches.
Favorite match: Halloween Havoc 1997
5. Samoa Joe vs. Christopher Daniels vs. AJ Styles
The first and only multi-rivals rivalry on the list. The positive aspect of TNA’s legacy lays with these three gentlemen. TNA made a reputation for itself with its new division of wrestler in the X Division. While many other greats like Jerry Lynn, Amazing Red, Low Ki and Chris Sabin played a large role in the early growth of the X Division, it was made by these three.
Unbreakable was the PPV where they had the classic triple threat match that many if not most consider the greatest TNA match of all time. At the time, AJ was arguably the best high flying wrestler in the world, Samoa Joe may have been the most intimidating badass in pro wrestling and Daniels was one of the most complete in ring performers known for his technical wrestling style and they all clashed (wordplay boner) for special matches.
In singles, they would have fantastic matches as AJ and Daniels have had thousands (okay MAYBE not that much but it feels like it) of great matches together and Joe had some classics with them during that time frame after the triple threat. A few years later in 2009, they had a rematch of the triple threat at the Turning Point PPV event that showed the trio still held their magic. The match was full of “Screw Hulk Hogan” chants from the fans as they felt optimism for TNA before Hulkster came around.
Note: Shortly after this match ended and the Hogan era began, things fell apart for the three. AJ got blonde highlights, Daniels jobbed to Val Venis and Samoa Joe was kidnapped by ninjas.
Favorite match: Unbreakable 2005
4. Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar
Friends before WWE, Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar would be intertwined in multiple feuds and many matches in their rivalry. Stellar amateur wrestlers who could shoot can take anyone out, it was only fitting that most of their matches would be based around who would be the better wrestler. The first noteworthy singles match would take place at Wrestlemania 19 as Brock challenged for and won his second WWE Championship. It’s one of my favorite Wrestlemania main events especially because of the ending. Lesnar attempted a Shooting Star Press and missed landing on his head in turn getting knocked out. It may not have worked out perfectly but how cool is it that a beast of a man did a SSP?!
After this match and a short absence, Angle returned as a face and would feud with the once again heel Lesnar. The great matches would continue as the two had a really fun bout at Summerslam 2003 PPV but an even better one on Smackdown. Yes, Smackdown once had must see moments and matches! In an iron man match, Brock defeated Kurt to regain the title after Angle’s Summerslam victory. The Iron Man Match is probably the most difficult of gimmick matches to pull off but these two did it better than anyone. No matter the surroundings, the roles or the outcome, I was always left satisfied by Angle vs. Lesnar. I’m hoping we get it one more time before Kurt’s career is over, assuming he has the health to perform.
Favorite match: Wrestlemania 19
3. Steve Austin vs. The Rock
The epitome of a perfect rivalry. The two biggest stars of their era and possibly the two biggest stars in the history of wrestling. It started when Steve Austin was Intercontinental Champion as he was starting to ascend into his eventual role as the face of the WWF. His feud was with a young, brash leader of heel faction The Nation of Domination, The Rock. When looking back today, that’s a really cool facet of their rivalry. Seeing them square off before either was ever the WWF Champion and seeing how much bigger they’d become.
Intensity grew in the rivalry as Austin and Rock would have their first high profile match main eventing Wrestlemania 15. As time passed, The Rock elevated himself as the 1A to Steve Austin in WWF and some would say passed him, especially when Austin had to miss almost a year of action due to injuries. The two would face off at Wrestlemania X7 again in the main event, this time both equal in star power and both beloved babyfaces. The match would end with the controversial idea of Austin turning heel and siding with Vince McMahon to win. The event is remembered as one of the best wrestling shows ever and I doubt the overall appeal of the show could have been better if any other two main evented it. WWE’s decline and switch in eras started around this time so it was cool that the match was basically the last moment of the last wrestling boom.
Another Wrestlemania match at Wrestlemania 19 with The Rock finally winning in Steve Austin’s last match before retirement ended the rivalry. While it’s happened on smaller scales with CM Punk and Ultimate Warrior reaching a shorter plateau vs. the generation’s face of the company, The Rock and Steve Austin gave us the only rivalry featuring two true “franchise players.”
Favorite match: Wrestlemania X7 or Backlash 1999
2. Nigel McGuinness vs. Bryan Danielson
As you can tell, I have an infatuation with Ring of Honor. For a few years, it was my favorite thing to watch. Not just favorite wrestling product but favorite thing in general counting movies, television shows, professional sports, etc. The two wrestlers most responsible for that has to be (Daniel) Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness.
A few matches interested me in the product when I first got introduced to it. Danielson vs. KENTA, a tag match involving Bryan and Samoa Joe vs. KENTA and Marufuji but the one that made me fall in love with this kind of wrestling was Danielson vs. McGuinness at ROH Unified. The match was perfection. Two great talents. Two titles being unified. Two dudes the fans absolutely are invested in going all out. The match felt like Wrestlemania to me or whatever the notion is in our minds to think Wrestlemania is. I still look back on it today and compare it with KENTA/Bryan to decide on my favorite ROH match of all time and it wins out. KENTA/Bryan was a little better in a vacuum but Bryan/Nigel made the ROH product feel like something I’ve never seen before despite watching literally from the age of 3.
They’d have MANY matches for the rest of their tenure in ROH. One that sticks out as well is the 6th Anniversary Show. Danielson was now the respected babyface and Nigel was the heel champion starting to define the legacy of his title reign. I’d have never seen a place that electric for a wrestling show to that point. I don’t think I’d ever been as invested in a match and it may have been a peak for me attending shows. Bryan was my guy. I recall losing my voice cheering for him and absolute booing and chanting mean things at Nigel.
Every time I’d watch these two have a match down to their final ROH matches, fitting to be against each other, it felt like something special.
Favorite match: ROH Unified
1. Psychosis vs. Rey Mysterio Jr.
I’m sure many didn’t expect this to be one of the choices, let alone the #1 choice. Never in the main event like the other feuds on this list, I recently watched many matches in the series of Rey Mysterio Jr. vs. Psychosis and it left me in absolute awe.
I started off with some ECW bouts. They didn’t have a long stay in South Philadelphia but hot dog, did they leave a mark. (Yes, I said “hot dog.”) The two matches that stood out most from ECW both had gimmick stipulations. One was a 2 out of 3 falls match and the other was a Mexican Death Match. The most memorable spot was Rey jumping off the hood of a car to do a hurricanrana in a parking lot. I wish I could explain these matches to give them their right due but you have to just watch them. Google search it or wait until the WWE Network. Their ECW work is just special and I have to wonder how their legacies would have been if they never went to WCW. I think Rey would have been an equal to RVD and Psicosis could have been in the upper tier. Obviously the WCW move worked out for well them as……
Their best overall match in my eyes was at Bash At The Beach 1996. The event was important historical for the NWO formation with Hulk Hogan turning heel for the first time since becoming the face of pro wrestling but every time I’ve attempted to rewatch this PPV, this is all I’m left thinking about. It’s likely my favorite Rey match in general, which is saying a lot. The ending was one we’d see a few times but Rey reversing the Splash Mountain finisher (basically a top rope Razor’s Edge) into another hurricanrana for the win. Matches like this are what made WCW’s legacy and progressed the business of pro wrestling for many of our favorite TV wrestlers to succeed and favorite wrestling promotions like a PWG. The entire rivalry of Rey and Psychosis represents this list perfectly. Despite not being given a high profile, they provided an amazing series of matches that portrayed two competitors trying to get the better of the other and it never getting old.
Favorite match: WCW Bash at the Beach 1996