Showdowns: The 20 Greatest Wrestling Rivalries of the Last Two Decades

Showdowns: The 20 Greatest Wrestling Rivalries of the Last Two Decades

by Jeremy Roberts


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Two decades of the top twenty fan favorites and the matches that made them famous.

It starts with an insult...then comes a push, a shove...a betrayal. Before you know it, the two wrestlers are at each other's throats. It's a rivalry, it's's a showdown.

Some showdowns are straightforward: John Cena wants to prove himself by taking on JBL; Randy Orton knows that if he can slay Undertaker, it will prove that he is the legend killer. Others are grudge matches — The Rock is finally going to put Stone Cold Steve Austin, the bionic redneck, in his place.

There are conflicts we can all identify with: Steve Austin doing to Mr. McMahon what we dream of doing to our boss every Monday morning. There are the epic showdowns that evoke the eternal struggle: Undertaker versus Kane. And the truly bizarre: Mankind against Shawn Michaels.

Here for the first time ever, Jeremy Roberts (co-author of Controversy Creates Cash and Batista Unleashed) examines the top twenty rivalries of the past twenty years. Roberts takes us on a veritable tour of recent wrestling history, from Hulk Hogan's showdowns with Randy Savage to the gargantuan struggles between Undertaker and Batista. The high-flying action of the Hardy Boyz, the Dudleys, Edge & Christian — all are examined in what amounts to a brief for the wrestlers' inclusion in the hall of fame. From the Monday Night Wars between nWo and D-Generation X to the real-life conflict that spawned Matt Hardy's memorable bloodfest with Edge, Roberts takes you into the ring so vividly you'll come away with bruises.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416591733
Publisher: World Wrestling Entertainment
Publication date: 12/09/2008
Series: WWE
Edition description: Original
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 597,172
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Jeremy Roberts (cowriter) has written on a variety of subjects. His nonfiction work includes biographies of Mussolini and Joan of Arc for A&E Books.

Read an Excerpt


The 1980s were a golden era for wrestling, though few realized it at the time. Thanks largely to World Wrestling Federation, wrestling not only became a national entertainment phenomenon but also gained cultural significance transcending the sport. This was the rock star era, when one of the biggest pop stars of the moment — Cyndi Lauper — joined with wrestling greats to reach a mass audience inconceivable to earlier generations of wrestling fanatics.

And the man at the center of the ring for most of this era was Hulk Hogan.


Like the Great Depression and Woodstock, Hulkamania was an event you had to live through to completely understand. Made possible by the ascendance of World Wrestling Federation, it was very much a product of its time and place.

Today, it's not uncommon to see entire movies built around a prominent wrestler. But in the 1980s, Hogan's appearances as a star in movies and TV were radical developments. That exposure, along with the WrestleMania extravaganzas featuring stars from other entertainment fields, brought new audiences to wrestling.

Hulkamania was much more than Hulk Hogan and his fans. But as the most visible wrestler of his time, Hogan not only leant his name to the phenomenon, he popularized and symbolized a certain type of wrestling. Big men, big muscles, over-the-top story lines, heels as popular as good guys — all existed before Hulk Hogan. But none were mainstays of the industry until Hogan. Google some wrestling stars from the 1950s or '60s or '70s if you need to be convinced.


Hogan began wrestling professionally in 1977 when he was twenty-four. His peak years began with his return to World Wrestling Federation in 1983 and lasted until 1993. After that, he joined WCW, helping to transform it from a struggling operation to (briefly) the number-one wrestling franchise in the world. After WCW's collapse, he returned to WWE as popular as ever.

He continues to enjoy a successful career in the public eye as an entertainer and (often bedeviled) reality TV star; his name is synonymous with wrestling even today.

Hogan's opponents are a Who's Who of great wrestlers. Hogan had memorable encounters with everyone from Nick Bockwinkel to the Iron Sheik to Roddy Piper, Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, Sting, and The Rock. Picking one or two story lines from his long career is like trying to determine which grain of sand on the beach is better than the others.

Some of his most memorable confrontations at the height of his fame came with Randy Savage, and their long and slightly twisted feud was as entertaining as any.


"Macho Man" Randy Savage joined World Wrestling Federation in 1985. Almost immediately, he became one of the top heels in the promotion. Somewhat pompous and full of himself, Savage was managed by Miss Elizabeth, soon to be a star in her own right.

Before meeting Hogan in 1987, he had several great matches, the best of which was the epic encounter with Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III. Late in 1987, toward the end of a feud with the Honky Tonk Man, Savage found himself outnumbered in the ring by a group of wrestlers that included the Hart Foundation. Miss Elizabeth managed to get Hulk Hogan to help bail Savage out. A new alliance was formed among the three, who called themselves the Mega Powers.

Some sexual tension was evident to fans, as the beautiful Miss Elizabeth seemed to sparkle not only for Savage but for Hogan as well. The sexual innuendos added a tantalizing element to the rivalry.


At WrestleMania IV, Hogan helped Savage win the title from Ted DiBiase by hitting him with a chair. The friendship between Hogan and Savage continued after the match; wrestling as the tag team Mega Powers, they dominated their opponents over the next year or so. Then jealousy over Miss Elizabeth ended the alliance.

At the Saturday Night's Main Event in February 1989, Savage accidentally knocked Miss Elizabeth out during a Tag Team match against the Twin Towers. With Savage busy in the ring, Hogan picked up Miss Elizabeth and carried her into the dressing room for medical attention. This left Savage to take the brunt of the Towers' onslaught.

Savage wasn't particularly pleased when Hogan returned, and he gave his partner a taste of his own medicine, declining to intervene when the Towers had Hogan on the ropes. Hogan received a substantial beating before managing to finish off the Towers on his own.

The match was over, but the rift between the two friends had just begun. Savage attacked Hogan following the match, and it was soon clear that the dispute had more to do with Hogan's attentions toward Miss Elizabeth than with what had happened in the ring.

Bad blood boiled. Hogan challenged Savage to a championship showdown. Savage accepted. The tension built, right up to WrestleMania V (April 2, 1989).

Then Savage got hurt. An arm injury led to a swollen bursa sac at his elbow. When this got infected, his entire arm swelled up. Days before the match, Savage was in bed with a serious fever and blood poisoning, in no shape to compete.

Not that he was willing to admit that.

"Don't worry about the Macho Man," Savage told friends. "I'll be there."


Savage showed up at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City with a wrap on his right elbow big enough to preserve a well-fed mummy. The infection had been drained, but he was still suffering the effects of the ailment. No matter. He and Hogan went out and tussled in one of the great matches of both men's storied careers.

Taller than Savage by several inches, Hogan chased him from the ring soon after the bell. Buff and in his prime, Hogan nonetheless had a hard time keeping up with Savage as the smaller man literally ran him around the ring. Savage had little reason to stop — whenever he got close enough, Hogan used his superior size to great advantage, either by giving him a closed-fist jab or overpowering him in a hold.

Savage absorbed an enormous beating in the middle of the match but kept getting up for more. Flinging his body across the narrow confines of the ring again and again, he rallied the crowd. They seemed grudging at first, but gradually the cheers grew louder and louder.

Miss Elizabeth saved Savage at one point, then kept things balanced by nursing Hogan while he was out of the ring. Savage reacted strongly, pushing her out of the arena before returning to attack Hogan.

A cut opened over Hogan's left eye, negating Hogan's size advantage. Savage moved in for the kill. Hogan countered with a monstrous kickout that sent Savage high into the air.

Hogan began to get his adrenaline as the crowd became frenetic. A tremendous flurry of slaps, punches, a kick and legdrop — Savage was pinned, momentarily unconscious.

A tremendous roar went up. The champion had reclaimed what was rightfully his.


The Savage-Hogan feud continued for a few months, fueled by sexual and professional jealousy. Both wrestlers formed new partnerships for a tag team showdown. Savage dumped Miss Elizabeth for a new manager — Sensational Sherri — and partnered with Zeus.

Not to be outdone, Hogan called on Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake to man his corner. Miss Elizabeth also made a cameo to support him.

Before a filled Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Hogan and The Barber prevailed over Savage and Zeus. The match was the end of a story that had run well over a year, but it was not the final time in their history that the two would face off.


Hogan went to WCW in 1994, becoming the focus of the franchise the moment he signed his contract. Savage followed, just in time for Starcade, the promotion's late December Pay-Per-View.

There was a great deal of speculation about whether Savage would be Hogan's friend or enemy. At the event, he saved Hogan from a pile-on by the 3 Faces of Fear, one of whom was the Butcher. Hogan defeated Butcher to keep the Championship belt, and he and Savage were friends again. For a while, at least.

Savage feuded with Ric Flair, reprising their earlier clashes in the World Wrestling Federation. He teamed with Hogan at Clash of the Champions XXX, where they beat Kevin Sullivan and the Butcher, and was generally his ally.

Then came 1996 and the New World Order (nWo). Joining the stable of very cool heels, Hulk Hogan became Savage's archenemy.

Savage, now representing the traditional WCW, feuded ferociously with Hogan and his cohorts week after week. At Halloween Havoc in 1996, he and Hogan faced off in a fight where Miss Elizabeth was once again a main motivator.

Though older, Savage still displayed his trademark athleticism. As Hogan strutted in his sunglasses and golden wig — he'd "gone Hollywood" — Savage ran, raining blows on his old adversary. Hogan staggered, helpless as Savage stole his glasses and wig.

The crowd roared in delight.

Hogan finally dropped his mugging. Picking up a chair, he knocked Savage senseless during an exchange outside the ring.

Miss Elizabeth couldn't decide who to help. She loved Savage, but Hogan had offered to make her a film star. She went back and forth for a while, distracting both wrestlers and teasing the crowd with peeks at her charms.

Then the match became a Free-For-All. The ref was knocked out. Hogan was knocked out. Savage decided to chase Ted DiBiase around for kicks. The Giant appeared, grabbed Savage, and chokeslammed him into unconsciousness.

The match ended with The Giant carrying Savage into the ring, where he placed Hogan's arm over him for the countout.


After the match, Savage disappeared for several months. When he came back in January 1998, he was Hogan's friend, aiding him against Roddy Piper with the timely pass of a pair of brass knuckles.

Over the course of the next year, Hogan and Savage remained allies. But anyone who knew their history realized the arrangement was fragile.

Hogan, sensing that Savage was a threat to the leadership of nWo, tried to sabotage him at Spring Stampede 1998, where Savage fought Sting for the championship. Savage won, setting up a grudge match the next night with Hogan on Nitro, WCW's prime-time TV show.


The Nitro match turned out to be one of their best. Despite their age, Hogan and Savage flung themselves around with abandon.

Hogan repeatedly slapped Savage's face, jawing for the camera as he pushed Savage against a turnbuckle and demanded, "Who's head of the nWo? Who? Who?"

Savage had severely injured his knee and wore a brace for the match. The knee took a ferocious beating through the first ten minutes or so of the contest, as Hogan and his sidekick the Disciple battered the knee again and again.

With the crowd chanting his name, Savage rallied. He managed to throw Hogan over his shoulder, dazing him. Savage climbed the ropes and dove on Hogan, nearly covering for the pin.

Hogan rebounded. He put Savage into a figure-four (a leglock that applies tremendous pressure to the knees) and threatened to break his leg. Summoning all of his strength, Savage crawled to the ropes and won a reprieve. He regained his momentum if not his footing; hopping on one knee, he managed a finger-choke on Hogan.

But just as it looked as if Hogan would pass out, the Disciple jumped into the ring. The match became a donnybrook. The ref was knocked out. Savage went down as well. Hogan and the Disciple dragged him to the ring post and took turns slamming his injured knee against it.

Kevin Nash ran in to stop the beating. Eric Bischoff tried grabbing Nash, who promptly threw him off and flattened the Disciple. Nash then gave a jackknife to Hogan and put the prostrate Savage on Hogan. Bret Hart ran in, nailed Nash, rearranged the bodies, and dragged the ref over to demand he count out Savage. The ref complied. Chaos ensued.


The Hogan-Savage Nitro match marked the splitting of nWo into rival factions. It was also the end of one phase of Savage's career, as he needed to take time off for surgery on his knees. When he returned roughly a year later, it was clear he was going to face off against Hogan as soon as possible.

Savage won the WCW championship at Bash at the Beach in July 1999, using an array of underhanded tactics to defeat Kevin Nash. (This was actually a Four-Way Team match, with Savage and Sid Vicious teaming up against Nash and Sting; the first man to get a pin or submission got the title, which was held by Nash.)

Hogan challenged Savage after the win; the two went at it on Nitro the following night.

Savage — heavier than in their first match and with his once untamed hair slicked back and tied in a ponytail — dominated the early going. Hogan rallied. When Madusa and Mona tried to interfere, Hogan clinked their heads together and sent them packing. Then he began pummeling Savage. Hogan bent a chair over Savage's head, then bashed him into an announcer's table.

Savage managed to get his breath back and climbed inside the ring. Regaining his footing, he rallied and took control of the match. Even so, the audience chanted Hogan's name. Savage grabbed a strap. He whipped Hogan unmercifully, until finally Hogan could stand no more. Jumping from the canvas, Hogan unleashed a fury of punches on Savage that ended only when Savage kneed him in the groin.

That just made Hogan angrier. He turned to the crowd and began hulking up — the same tactic he'd used in his early years. The fans loved it.

Hogan decked Savage, then turned to the audience. He held his hand to his ear.

What do you want me to do? he asked wordlessly.

"Finish him!" they shouted.

He held his hand to his ear again.

I can't hear you.

The fans roared louder.

But before Hogan could turn Savage into tiny human bread crumbs, the ring action was interrupted by Sid Vicious, who interfered on Savage's behalf. Sting jumped to Hogan's defense, pounding Vicious and pulling him out of the ring — but not before Vicious passed off a chain to Savage.

Swinging his chain, Savage took Hogan down. But before he could get a pin, Kevin Nash came in and laid him flat, revenge for his stealing the bout the night before. With Savage stunned, Hogan crawled over and got an easy pin.

It was the last time the two titans faced each other in the ring.


The Hogan-Savage showdown ran the whole arc from Hulkamania to the Monday Night Wars and the dawn of The Attitude Era of wrestling. Sex, outside distractions, run-ins, and other mayhem characterized their encounters over the years.

At its heart, though, the story was simple: two champions fighting for the title and the attention of a pretty girl. It was a conflict every fan could identify with, which is why it was so memorable.

Copyright © 2008 by World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.

Table of Contents


1.Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage

2.Mr. Perfect vs. Ric Flair

3.Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin

4.nWo vs. DGeneration X

5.Mankind vs. Shawn Michaels

6.Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart

7.Undertaker vs. Kane

8.Steve Austin vs. Mr. McMaho

9.Triple H vs. The Rock

10.The Rock vs. Steve Austin

11.Edge & Christian vs. Hardys vs. Dudleys

12.Chris Jericho vs. Stephanie McMahon vs. Triple H

13.John Cena vs. JBL

14.Randy Orton vs. Undertaker

15.Matt Hardy vs. Edge

16.Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero

17.Batista vs. Triple H

18.Edge vs. Cena

19.DX vs. the McMahons

20.Undertaker vs. Batista

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