First encounters: How 5 of WWE’s most legendary rivalries began
Every rivalry has to start somewhere. Just as “Batman: Arkham Origins” tracks a young Dark Knight’s early encounters with infamous villains like Deathstroke and The Joker, WWEClassics.com has traced some of the ring's greatest rivalries back to their beginnings.
From the initial meeting of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock to the first night John Cena took on Randy Orton, these rarely seen matches uncover the origins of sports-entertainment’s most captivating sagas. Read on to find out how you start a war.
The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge & Christian — April 17, 1999 (Shotgun Saturday Night)
Architects of The Attitude Era’s tag team resurgence, The Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian were responsible for some of the most gravity-defying feats ever witnessed in (or above) a WWE ring. Yet, before they were diving off ladders or crashing through tables, they were clashing in smaller-scale bouts, the first of which occurred on the April 17, 1999, edition of Shotgun Saturday Night.
As members of the vampiric Brood, Edge & Christian had the benefit of having the snarling Gangrel at ringside, who turned the bout a three-on-two affair. Ever resilient against these odds, Matt & Jeff showcased the unity that would make them six-time World Tag Team Champions. However, the ever-opportunistic Canadians were able to isolate Matt and score a pinfall on the elder Hardy.
That early defeat to Edge & Christian would only drive The Hardys to reach greater heights. Just as steel sharpens steel, both teams went on to benefit from an intensely competitive series of matches that transformed them into true sports-entertainment innovators. — JAMES WORTMAN
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. The Rock — Dec. 17, 1997 (D-Generation X: In Your House)
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin faced rivals like The Undertaker and Mr. McMahon throughout his WWE Hall of Fame career, but The Texas Rattlesnake’s most enduring nemesis came in the form of The Rock. Austin and The People’s Champ battled on The Grandest Stage of Them All on three separate occasions, and they were at odds over the Intercontinental Championship before either man won the WWE Title.
One week after defeating Owen Hart for the Intercontinental Championship at Survivor Series 1997, “Stone Cold” was attacked by The Rock’s Nation of Domination cohorts and the title was pinched by The Great One himself. This ultimately led to the first encounter between the future WWE Champions at In Your House: D-Generation X on Dec. 7, 1997. The contest was an all-out brawl as The Texas Rattlesnake drove to the ring in his skull-emblazoned pickup truck, fending off The Nation before locking up with The Rock.
Austin emerged victorious and reclaimed his stolen Intercontinental Title. However, because “Stone Cold” used a truck to his advantage, Mr. McMahon forced him to face The Rock for the title the next night on Raw. In protest, Austin forfeited the championship by throwing it into the New Hampshire River. — KEVIN POWERS
John Cena vs. Randy Orton — Jan. 19, 2002 (Ohio Valley Wrestling)
By the time John Cena and Randy Orton clashed over the WWE Championship in the main event of SummerSlam 2007, it was clear that these two men represented a new era of WWE Superstars. That fact was less apparent in winter 2002 when the budding competitors collided for the first time in the former WWE developmental territory of Ohio Valley Wrestling.
Advertised as Orton’s farewell match before he moved onto a main event WWE career, this impromptu bout saw Cena — then competing under the moniker of The Prototype — challenging the exiting Viper in a bid to become OVW’s alpha male. Both of these future WWE Champions may have lacked the in-ring polish they would glean over time, but there was no doubting the fire and tenacity they displayed before a small audience in Louisville, Ky.
That night, Cena beat Orton after WWE’s Apex Predator botched an uncharacteristic high cross body and got nailed by a “Protoplex.” The men did not know it at the time, but they would meet again in rough stipulation brawls and big-time title bouts as the marquee WWE Superstars of their generation. — RYAN MURPHY
Bret “Hit Man” Hart vs. Shawn Michaels — Feb. 11, 1990 (Wrestling Challenge)
Long before personal and professional differences made them bitter enemies, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were young tag team warriors hungry to cement themselves as singles competitors. On Feb. 11, 1990, Hart and Michaels tested their mettle against one another on Wrestling Challenge, colliding one-on-one for the first time.
Accompanied by their tag team cohorts — Michaels flanked by fellow Rocker Marty Jannetty and The Excellence of Execution by his Hart Foundation associate Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart — these future WWE Hall of Famers battled to an apparent stalemate. Ultimately, though, it was neither Hart’s technical mastery nor Michaels’ speed that would decide a victor. When emotions bubbled over, Neidhart and Jannetty incited a brawl that forced the referee to end the bout in a double disqualification.
Over the next seven years, Hart and Michaels waged incredible wars over the Intercontinental and WWE Championships, with their rivalry culminating in controversy at Survivor Series 1997. — J.W.
The Undertaker vs. Kane — March 29, 1998 (WrestleMania XIV)
There is no rivalry quite like a family feud and there is no family feud in WWE more enduring than the one between Kane and The Undertaker.
After The Big Red Monster first appeared during a Hell in a Cell match between The Deadman and Shawn Michaels at Badd Blood: In Your House on Oct. 5, 1997, Paul Bearer revealed that Kane was the half-brother of The Undertaker. As the story went, Kane had survived a fire — allegedly started by The Phenom — that burned down the funeral home the two siblings grew up in.
The demonic Kane came to WWE seeking revenge and came excruciatingly close to getting it at WrestleMania XIV, With The Big Red Monster dominating the entire match, it looked like Undertaker’s own blood would be the one to destroy his WrestleMania undefeated Streak. But, at the very end of the match, The Phenom finally felled his seemingly unstoppable brother with a third Tombstone Piledriver. For a moment, The Undertaker may have believed it was the end of this sibling rivalry. In truth, it was just the beginning. — ZACH SPEED