Each feud here gets an advocate, not the usual series of nobodies or fringe performers who had nothing to do the day they were filming. Instead, just one person provides the analysis and narration. And it’s fantastic. It really works. (Much of the fun of this set came from trying to predict who would cover the feuds.)
Renee Young (Paquette if you're in Canada and watched her on The Score) makes her debut as host on a WWE DVD collection and carries us through the list. She brings a certain amount of grace to the screen but has a style that may grate after a while. For a start, her material is woeful and you would be wise to fast forward through her interludes. For reasons that are loosely explained by Young, this list has been linked to science: graphics show molecular bonds; the green screen behind Renee shows floating tiles of chemical elements such as 'rubidium' and 'nickel'; the chyrons show odd letters of star's names as elements from the periodic table; Renee wears a white coat and the list is split according to the amount of 'chemistry' that the two engaged in rivalry commanded. I bet it was a fun day at the office the day they came up with that one...
#25 - Triple H vs. Mick Foley
Road Dogg covers this one and he's a good starting point. "Mick was Hunter's proverbial paper bag" he says as we're shown a montage of pure physicality. This was a rivalry that showed the hardcore side of HHH and the lengths that he was prepared to go to in the ring. There was a lot of hardway blood in these matches but I'd guess plenty of juicing too. These two had a real contrast in styles but the feud produced some good matches. I'd say top 25 might be high but there are far worse in this collection.
#24 - Tazz vs. Sabu
An extremely articulate Shane Douglas takes us through this rivalry; his second appearance on a WWE DVD in as many months - his appearance on Foley's latest release was very welcome. Shane puts over how this feud started in the dressing room and had some legit elements: Tazz was the badass, Sabu the high-flying, risk-taker. This feud was built properly over time and culminated at ECW Barely Legal 1997 where the fans clearly invested in it as it was billed as legacy v legacy. "It was everything that ECW was meant to be" Douglas says "Sabu brought his brand of organised chaos." At this point, this DVD is starting to become full of horrible extended scientific metaphors that are quite irritating and unnecessary.
#23 - Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero
It is great to see Vickie Guerrero here out of character. She rarely does this sort of thing and talks engagingly over early footage of Eddie and Rey using their Lucha style in WCW. The feud picks up during the LWO days in WCW where Rey rejects the approach from Eddie whose promos are great even then. Fast forward 7 years and they win the tag championships in the WWE on SmackDown. There's a lovely glimpse of them coming to the ring as babyfaces at Tribute to the Troops before we're shown their WrestleMania 21 match which is a fantastic contest. The custody ladder match ends the rivalry at SummerSlam 2005 where Rey's son Dominic is involved, "their work at this point was untouchable," Vickie remembers.
#22 - Bruiser Brody vs. Abdullah the Butcher
Mick Foley is the perfect advocate for this segment. "I tried to mimic Brody: think of me but with more athleticism and a meaner streak" he says, "this is the feud that you would show to your cynical friends." Even today, it still feels like they brought a level of realism to this rivalry but they always juiced in their matches, "it has to be the best blood feud of all time" Mick reckons. There's an incredibly iconic image that is repeated a few times during this segment of Abdullah bleeding and biting the middle rope, looking insatiable and Mick tells the story about he used to work people in college, telling them that Abdullah the Butcher was his dad. A born worker! There's no need for stupid scientific metaphors here, Mick is extremely erudite.
#21 - Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper
Oddly, Ted DiBiase jr talks this one up. He essentially comes across as a simple guy without a great deal of insight into this rivalry but the coverage is short and quite poor on this feud. Mean Gene sound bites really tell the story here as we see footage of the birth of Hulkamania - Hogan the virtuous hero v Piper, his antithesis, the narrow-minded antagonist. The MSG tapes are always great to see but I couldn't get over how DiBiase actually finishes this segment saying "that's what I want to do for the fans one day" in reference to Hogan's appeal at this point. Surely, he can't believe that that's even remotely possible?
#20 - CM Punk vs. John Cena
WWE does a great job packaging this feud into a bite-sized chunk and who better than Paul Heyman to put this one over. They show Punk in Chicago at WrestleMania 22 and claim that this feud started there. Of course that's poetic licence on their part but this is still tremendous in the way that it's put together. We see the 'pipe bomb' promo, Money in the Bank 2011, SummerSlam, Punk in Yankee pin stripes all woven together by Heyman's narration. Punk looks 10 years younger even just 2 years ago, it’s crazy how much being the top guy has aged his face. There are some great lines here from Heyman who describes Punk's appearance in Chicago as "the villain in his hometown, loved beyond all description". This gets cut short but is awesome. Arguably this was more about Punk's character developing than it was his rivalry with Cena but it belongs in this set.
#19 - Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar
Interestingly, Bret Hart describes this rivalry about two men that he never had the chance to work with. He's always welcome but does have a tendency to generalise or be slightly vague at times. He describes Brock as "a refrigerator with a flat top" which is somehow crudely beautiful and he really puts over how amazing it was that these two as "two of the top amateur wrestlers in the US" were able to make the "tough transformation". Brock never gives you a so-so match and their WrestleMania 19 match was wonderful; Bret loved the "amateur flavour" that the match had says that it elevated both of them. He mentions Brock's move to UFC directly and says that matches like theirs are what he misses about wrestling.
#18 - Randy Orton vs. Triple H
Cody Rhodes. With moustache. Wearing moustache t-shirt. Yet speaking out of character. Brilliant. "There was a genuine discord between Randy and HHH" he says, remembering that when he was with Orton in Legacy the heat on Orton was "nuclear" and people would shout some pretty horrendous abuse at him. This all built to the WrestleMania 25 crescendo which was a real fight and brawl. The family of course were all involved, as we're shown Orton punting Vince and Shane and RKO'ing Stephanie. Unfortunately, Orton's promos are extremely wooden here but the student vs the teacher gimmick worked well in this one.
#17 - Verne Gagne vs. Nick Bockwinkel
Gene Okerlund describes this, the biggest rivalry in AWA. These two were really different characters: Verne was the professional with amateur flare who made great comebacks, while Bockwinkel was flashy and extremely articulate in his promos. Gagne, as Okerlund points out, was "really rough in his promos. He was naïve and really fumbled his way through them". They drew really well in places like Denver, Milwaukee and Chicago and Mean Gene says that there was a real trust between the two of them in the ring. There's some great footage in use here of what was a 20 year rivalry, all told. This deserves to be this high.
#16 - Mankind vs. The Undertaker
"This was a battle of other-worldly creatures" Jerry Lawler beams, "who had out of the ordinary matches that were somehow fitting, yet ground-breaking". Lawler talks us through Hell in a Cell mostly and is full of praise for this match. Interestingly, Jerry claims that for the infamous Hell in a Cell match Undertaker was working on a fractured ankle and thought that it was a needless match for a feud that he thought had already run its course. "It is the most astounding thing I've ever seen and is the most memorable night I've ever had as a commentator". We are shown snippets from the Burried Alive match from In Your House and brief glimpses of the Boiler Room Brawl but this was a feud that kept people guessing and deserves its place here in the top 25.
Renee cuts back in here but I literally zoned out. Her material is utterly BRUTAL and completely tiresome at this point.
#15 - Tommy Dreamer vs. Raven
Serial talking head and ECW-survivor, Joey Styles starts this one at the Singapore cane match between Dreamer and Sandman where is character was changed from the pretty boy to the sympathetic hero. Raven was the outcast; the tortured, twisted villain and Styles explains the summer camp backstory with Beulah McGillicutty (Trisa Hayes) who turns on Dreamer. This feud went on for 2 years, in which time Tommy continually lost via unfair means. Raven's promos are great in the build up to their last ever match, before he moved to WCW, at Wrestlepalooza 1997. Heyman never wanted Tommy to win but it really was the right call. This "exemplified ECW".
#14 - Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker
Given the quality of their last two matches, I'm shocked that this is as low as it is. Cena and Edge is somehow higher than this. Michael Hayes gives some great insight into this one, "one the greatest achievements of my career was being part of the Shawn v Undertaker matches at WrestleMania" and you can see why. He discusses his role as a producer (which he refers to as more of a 'coach' role) and slates that the "build to that match [WrestleMania 25] may have been the greatest ever." This is all so well put together. The footage is awesome and it comes across as such a huge deal in this montage form. Hayes comments on those wonderful crowd reactions where people believed that Undertaker may lose the streak to Shawn. There's some lovely backstage footage of the retirement angle between them at WrestleMania 26 here as well. This is just a great piece of editing.
#13 - Triple H vs. The Rock
A very excitable Billy Gunn talks us through this one, "it’s difficult because I knew who they were then and I know what they've become now". And he's right. Looking back at Rocky Maivia and the blue blood, Hunter Hurst Helmsley, is quite a far cry from where they are now. We see the Rocky beat HHH for the IC and then we're shown lots of The Nation v DX segments from Raw. Little is made of their Iron Man match at Judgment Day 2000 and this feels like it’s too high up the list - possibly this was more about who rather than what.
#12 - John Cena vs. Edge
Edge's first main event spots with Cena in 2006 were nothing to write home about but if anyone is going to then Lita is the person to put them over. She says that their best work in this period was at the house shows where they were let off the leash a little and not under pressure from cameras. Cena always describes Edge as the "Einstein of this business" and I suppose this feud shows more of Edge's adaptability as a performer as fans are made to choose sides given that they dislike the babyface, Cena, even at this stage. The New Year's Revolution 2006 cash in by Edge is fun to see again, as is seeing Edge being thrown into the Long Island Sound after he has slapped John Cena sr. in the face. A feud that elevated Edge but is ultimately way too high up this list.
#11 - Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage
Clearly a huge Randy Savage fan, CM Punk is a fantastic choice to discuss this rivalry. Punk tells it as if it was Hogan that was the problem here, calling him "the most despicable man ever". The use of Elizabeth in the pre-WrestleMania 5 build was fantastic and they show footage of Hogan helping Savage to win the pervious year "even though he didn't need his help". Biased Punk is great. Promos from both are awesome and their natural chemistry with Gene Okerlund made the build far stronger than it might have been, he really gets the best out of these two. The briefly touch upon their "less magical" feud in WCW, showing Hogan's chair shot on Savage which mirrored Honky Tonk Man's guitar smash from over 10 years before. A great choice, articulated by a wholly suitable advocate.
Jim Ross makes an excellent point right off the bat here: Undertaker in 1998 was a fan favourite, who is 7ft tall, 300lbs. In order for him to be a fan favourite, you have to put him jeopardy. How do you put a 7ft tall, 300lbs man in jeopardy? The answer was Kane. 6ft 10, legit, 325ilbs, lean, extremely intelligent and hungry. Ross said this feud worked because Kane had a huge amount of respect and deference towards Undertaker and followed his lead. It also worked, he says, because of "long-term planning" - there's a term we don't hear much these days in WWE. This was a well-told story that built the anticipation between two wrestlers who enjoyed competing, culminating at WrestleMania 14. Ross says what was more impressive was how athletic their matches were from "two super-heavyweights" because people didn't expect that; "Undertaker made Kane what he is today" Ross argues. Is that reason enough to put this rivalry so high? They didn't give this enough time and they briefly showed the latter day matches in 2009-10 that weren't nearly as good, but didn't reference them in Ross' narration.
#8 - Edge & Christian vs. Hardy Boyz vs. Dudley Boyz
I can't help but feel that this was a great set of matches, rather than a great feud. Rivalry in the ring, yes. A personal rivalry, not so much. I was delighted to see it on the list and so high and the ever-dulcet tones of William Regal take us through this one. In these three-way tag matches, you had great athletes, all prepared to put their careers on the line for the purposes of entertainment. Regal says that he knows for a fact that they went into "WrestleMania 2000 not knowing whether this might be their last in this industry". The three matches took place around a special time for tag teams and at each match they tried to top the last. I don't think tag wrestling has been as strong since and some of the spots here are now infamous. Regal says he takes "no pleasure in watching Edge's spear on Jeff" because it was watching a friend doing something far too dangerous. Good rivalry with ground-breaking results.
#7 - Dusty Rhodes vs. Ric Flair
Shawn Michaels is a perfect advocate to this feud. He spent a lot of time in Flair's company in the last decade and got to hear a many stories about his time feuding with Dusty in AWA. Ric was treated as the new guy by Dusty when he first started, he had to carry his bags, learn the ropes and Shawn remembers how Dusty once shaved Ric's head on the road as a rib. But these two had a fantastic relationship and were two of the best promos ever. Ric was the rich success-story who bullied you with it; Dusty was the common "thon of a plummer" and "this was Stone Cold and Mr McMahon 25 years before". In the ring, the really delivered and frequently. Their experience meant that matches were awesome and this deserves to be top 10.
#6 - Von Erichs vs. The Fabulous Freebirds
Surprised to see this one so high and in all honesty after watching this segment I still wasn't convinced. Ric Flair is a delight on commentary here but remembers how sad it was when the Von Erichs, one-by-one, died tragically because they had so much talent. The feud, Ric says, "was awesome": for the Freebirds you had Michael Hayes in his prime as the mouth piece with Gordy as the enforcer and "Buddy who was lucky to be there!" They would face hugely talented athletes in the Von Erichs, with Kerry "the one blessed genetically", and they would sell out every night. Footage is good here and there are some great Michael Hayes promos interwoven amongst some fairly dull, babyface Von Erich verbiage. Not convinced but a well-produced segment.
#5 - Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock
Of all the people to put this one over: The Miz. The footage and the promos from these two does the storytelling for him, so he gets off lightly. The Slammys from 1997 where Stone Cold rips Rock a new one is tremendous and their feud for the IC title really makes you long for when those mid-card titles had some relevance. Beyond these early exchanges, much of this feud was between the Coperate Champ, The Rock, and Stone Cold, the anti-hero. We have footage of the monster truck, the beer truck, the zamboni, the belt being thrown off the bridge and WrestleMania matches from 17 and 19. "Rock was more Hollywood, while Stone Cold was more Texas rattle snack" states Miz. Jesus. Anyway, of course this was a big deal that took place when the company was at its peak and deserves to be top 5.
#4 - Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan
I was delighted to see this rivalry so high and we're thrown a curve ball in Tommy Young, who delivers the narration on this. He's fantastic, speaking with real passion and insight into this feud as both a referee and as a fan. Young says people queued up to ref them but he was lucky enough to be picked more often than not. These two men were in such fantastic shape during these years and Tommy remembers how Ric would try to blow Steamboat up but that he would give him a little wink to show him that he was more than a match for him. "Their timing, fluidity and smoothness were a sight to behold in the ring" Young remembers, "after 25/30 minutes they'd only just be getting going." The New Orleans Super Dome match was a rarity at this point because it was a 2 out of 3 falls match which was pretty uncommon in 1989 so footage here is great. The crowd were 50/50 because Flair's ability was getting him over despite being a heel. A great feud that is beautifully analysed by Tommy Young.
#2 - Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart
A great honour for Dolph Ziggler to be given this one. He's an articulate guy and should be trusted with this sort of thing more often. We start back at The Hart Foundation v The Rockers in the 1990s where totally different styles produced "some classic tag team wrestling". Dolph points out how it was the subsequent IC title feud that was the "stepping stone" for both at a time when WWE would put emerging up-and-comers on that program. Interestingly, we get footage of their 'lost' ladder match which Bret always says was better than Shawn and Hall's match at WrestleMania 10. Dolph says, though, that he "studies to this day" their Iron Man match from WrestleMania 12 because "you can feel their animosity". The footage of Shawn breaking kayfabe and their shoot exchanges about "Sunny days" that leads into Survivor Series 1997 is well used here and Dolph explains that "the finish felt real" to him at the time. He wasn't sure as a youngster whether this was all a work and part of the planned entertainment or not. This great feud ends in reconciliation 12 years later, of course, on Raw and we see Shawn and Bret embrace before we're shown what was awarded number 1...
#1 - Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Mr. McMahon