So, on the most recent episode of OTTB, Ricardo and I had a discussion about Randy Orton’s recent comments making fun of today’s style of independent wrestling. Given that WWE has pulled in so many indie guys into their company over the past five to ten years, it’s clear that the company values indie talent even if some of their old-school wrestlers love to make fun of the style. That being said, it led us to a discussion about social media and this age of WWE both taking advantage of social media to begin completely fabricated stories for on-screen use or taking real world issues that arise on social media between wrestlers and then turning them into on-screen feuds. This is nothing new, the only thing that is different is the advancement of technology and the addition of new media for wrestlers to engage not only the fans, but other wrestlers.
Just to clarify, a work in wrestling is something that is planned – it could be scripted dialogue, the finish of a match, an “injury” etc. Basically anything that happens, that is supposed to happen is a work. A shoot is just the opposite. A shoot is something that happens that isn’t planned or off script – it could be dialogue, it could be the finish of a match or it could be a legitimate injury. Finally you have worked shoots. This can happen a number of ways. A worked shoot is either something that is planned to look like it goes off-script or something that actually goes off script but is woven back into the script. Roman Reigns taped up shoulder and ribs, a work. Finn’s dislocated shoulder, a shoot. Braun Strowman’s “shattered elbow”, probably a worked shoot – i.e. he has an injury, but they are working us on how long he will be out for.
Given all of that, let’s take a look at some of the best instances of off-screen feuds boiling over to the wrestling ring and our TV screens.
Matt Hardy – Lita – Edge Love Triangle
Bahamians know, there isn’t anything dudes go to war over the way they go to war over women. The Matt Hardy, Edge and Lita love triangle is proof positive of the same. Matt and Edge were friends backstage for a long time, partially due to the series of matches between their respective tag teams. But in 2005, amidst the original brand split, Matt and his girlfriend, Lita were drafted to two different shows. Lita was on Raw and Matt was on Smackdown. Due to this separation, an affair eventually began between Edge and Lita. When Matt caught wind of it, he went off online, bashing both Edge and Lita. The WWE fired Matt in response saying that he was unprofessional, but then found their remaining contracted wrestlers, Edge and Lita, at the mercy of audiences chanting “You screwed Matt” and “Whore” at them respectively. According to legend, Matt approached the company about capitalizing on the attention and making an on-screen feud out of it (maybe WWE should make Matt the head of booking…), which they did. Edge vs. Matt Hardy turned into a trilogy of matches and in some ways helped to launch the main event singles run for Edge. Oh, I can’t mention Edge, Lita and his main event run without remembering the Rated-R Superstar and this Raw moment…
All-in-all this situation worked out and the WWE was able to transform a really hot and messy off-screen story into good business on our TV screens.
The Rock vs John Cena
Nowadays, talking about off-screen start of this feud seems like the pot calling the kettle black, but just a few short years ago, this made sense. Arguably two of the most popular wrestlers of all-time, The Rock and John Cena didn’t really abide by the mutual admiration society that can sometimes happen among the all-time greats. Don’t believe this exists, watch this and then tell me I am wrong. I’ll wait.
Anyways, let’s rewind to 2008. John Cena while giving an interview says he doesn’t see how The Rock can say he loves wrestling when he abandoned the WWE for Hollywood. In a lot of ways, and even moreso now, this seemed like a relatively fair jab lobbed at the people’s champ. The Rock, however, did not take kindly to the comments and both men traded barbs back and forth in interviews for a couple of years after Cena’s first salvo. The Rock has stated in interviews since that there was legitimate beef between the two over Cena’s comments. In any event, this off-screen feud eventually spilled onto the screen as the WWE was able to bring in The Rock for not one, but two Wrestlemania matches with Cena in 2012 and 2013. The promos between the two quite often blurred the lines between what was a work and what was a shoot, but when it was all said and done they put on two memorable matches and showed fans that dream matches can still come true.
I couldn’t decide whether to start or end with this, but either way, here goes. Back in August of 1997, Bret Hart won the WWE championship from The Undertaker at Summerslam due to an accidental chair shot by special guest referee Shawn Michaels to The Undertaker. By this stage of their careers, Michaels and Hart had had a long history both inside and outside of the WWE. In front of the screen this included multiple WWE title matches, feuds between the Hart Foundation and D-Generation X and more. Behind the scenes, however, there was a legitimate dislike between the two, particularly because Bret felt Shawn Michaels and his backstage crew known as the Kliq, had too much control and sway over the stories that played out on television and also because Shawn accused Bret of having an affair with Sunny. So both professionally and personally, there was a lot to be mined from for the ongoing feud between the two. We fast forward to a week before Survivor Series 1997, when Bret Hart signs a deal to jump to WCW. Given the events a few years prior of Madusa tossing the WWE Women’s Championship belt in the trash on Monday Nitro, Vince McMahon wanted to ensure that no such thing would happen with the WWE Championship. Bret, however, was unwilling to lose the title to Shawn Michaels in Bret’s home country of Canada, which is where Survivor Series was being held. It was agreed upon that the match would end in a DQ and Hart would then drop or forfeit the title at a later date. Vince decided that this was too untenable a situation for his liking and concocted the plan of having Shawn win, by calling for the bell during a planned spot of Shawn putting Bret in Bret’s own submission hold, The Sharpshooter. Here is how it happened:
So just like that, Bret was gone. Shawn became champion, Vince eventually became the evil “Mr. McMahon” that we all know and love and thus began the Attitude Era. One of the most talked about matches in wrestling history came about all because of the backstage personal beef between Bret and Shawn.
Now, being that wrestling is often referred to a soap opera for men (or in this day and age reality TV for men) there are a number of other examples out there. Here are a few others worth tracking down –
Goldberg vs. Jericho – a feud which spanned from WCW to WWE
Ric Flair vs Mick Foley – all because Flair basically called Mick a spot monkey
Kurt Angle vs Jeff Jarrett (I would do a deep dive on this, but those were married folks, so I’ma leave that be)
CM Punk vs the WWE – maybe we will get on-screen resolution to this one day
As you can see from the list, some of the most intriguing wrestling storylines and some of the most memorable moments in wrestling history can stem from a real-world issue being brought into the wrestling ring. I am almost certain there will be more to come. Until then, don’t be looking at me with those jealous eyes. Oh and remember to like, comment, subscribe and share.