When heroes became rivals: Austin Theory, Bayley and 5 WWE Superstars who faced their idol at WrestleMania
Austin Theory defeated John Cena in the opening match of WrestleMania 39 Night 1 to retain the WWE United States Championship. "The Forever Champ" took everything Cena threw at him and overcame it, showing some of that self-belief The Champ accused him of lacking. After a 10-minute battle, Theory sent The Cenation Leader A-Town Down to claim the win.
Later in the night, Bayley faced not one but two of her childhood heroes in an amazing six-woman tag team match. She ended up on the losing side, taking the pin from Trish Stratus for the three-count after an avalanche manhandle slam.
Theory and Bayley have made no secret of the fact that they were huge fans of their opponents growing up. It will no doubt have been an honor to have not only faced but also defeated their childhood heroes.
The United States Champion and The Role Model are not the first WWE Superstars to face their idols on The Grandest Stage of Them All, though.
Here are five more superstars who had the honor of facing their idol at The Showcase of Immortals
#5. Chris Jericho had a heated feud with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 19
In late 2002, Shawn Michaels returned to the ring after four years on the sidelines, starting off the second leg of his career. A few months into his second run, he was confronted by Chris Jericho, who claimed to have idolized him in his youth.
Y2J claimed HBK was his inspiration to join the business, but the latter was now "washed up."
Hostilities between the two men escalated until they eliminated each other from the 2003 Royal Rumble. This started with a feud that culminated in a dream match at WrestleMania 19, which Michaels won. This helped continue The Showstopper's career resurgence and is one of Jericho's best WrestleMania matches ever.
#4. Kevin Owens headlined WrestleMania 38 against Stone Cold Steve Austin
It's safe to say Stone Cold Steve Austin was nearly every teenage boy's hero during the Attitude Era. The Texas Rattlesnake's anti-authority, the no-nonsense character was so cool that every young male fan dreamt of either teaming with, fighting, or having a beer with him.
Stone Cold fan Kevin Owens would get the unique chance to face the Hell Raiser at WrestleMania no less than 19 years after The Rock retired him. To sweeten the deal, it was a Stunner vs. Stunner affair, Owens having taken on Austin's iconic finisher and the main event!
The Prizefighter later called the match a dream come true, even if he did lose to the older man.
#3. Batista faced Triple H twice at The Show of Shows
This is now a bit of a curious case, as Batista is six months older than Triple H. However, The Animal joined the business quite late and has stated multiple times that The Game was his inspiration to do so.
It is, therefore, a curious twist of fate that the six-time WWE World Champion's WrestleMania resume was bookended by The King of Kings.
Batista's first WrestleMania match came at the 21st edition when, as Royal Rumble winner, he chose to face his Evolution teammate instead of JBL. This brought the slow-burning unraveling of the iconic faction to a head and catapulted The Animal into superstardom. Years later, The Cerebral Assassin would retire his former protege-turned-Hollywood star at The Show of Shows.
Unbeknownst to anyone, that would be HHH's final WrestleMania match before retiring due to a cardiac event. It's the kind of story you can't make up.
#2. Shawn Michaels retired Ric Flair at WWE WrestleMania XXIV
Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair are two of the greatest to ever step into a WWE ring. Both men combined impeccable in-ring abilities with premium showmanship and a sprinkle of arrogance that fans hated to love. Not by coincidence, since Michaels was a self-professed fan of The Nature Boy.
By the time the 24th edition of WrestleMania rolled around, though, the two all-time greats were at loggerheads. HBK felt Flair's time was up and he was in danger of becoming a parody of himself, but the 16-time World Champion believed he had more left in the tank.
Thus, the former felt it was his responsibility to put his idol out of his misery, while the latter sought to prove he was still a top player.
What followed was an emotional story told over a match with one of the most gut-wrenching finishes in WWE history. Michaels mouthing "I'm sorry, I love you" before delivering Sweet Chin Music for the 1-2-3 still makes grown men cry.
#1. The Rock and Hulk Hogan had an iconic match at WrestleMania X-8
Many WWE fans who grew up in the '80s idolized Hulk Hogan, the company's biggest star by some distance for that decade.
Few had the chance to meet him, and fewer had the chance to share a ring with him, including John Cena and Edge. Yet one young fan who idolized The Hulkster grew up to defeat the latter at WrestleMania; that young fan was The Rock.
The Brahma Bull faced The Immortal One at WrestleMania X-8 after the nWo took WWE by storm. The match was a masterclass in selling, storytelling, and listening to the crowd, with Hogan turning face due to the love showered on him by the SkyDome.
The result put the icing on the cake, with The Rock going over The Hulkster in a pass-the-torch moment he would later replicate with John Cena.
Who knows, one day, we might even see him do the honors for Roman Reigns!