Over the weekend, John Cena and Nikki Bella made the announcement that they were ending their six-plus year relationship (and year-long engagement) via a set of press releases and social media posts.
Cena and the real-life Stephanie Nicole Garcia-Colace seemed to have an up-and-down romance; viewers of Total Divas and its Bella-centric spinoff Total Bellas are familiar with the often-awkward conversations between WWE's power couple and their disagreements over children and a long-term future that made last year's WrestleMania proposal seem like it might never happen.
Cena may have been notoriously noncommittal throughout the pair's relationship (onscreen and off), but Bella, obviously, hoped for the couple to go the distance. Here are ten wrestling romances Nikki Bella surely saw as inspiration and #RelationshipGoals.
#10. Brie Bella and Daniel Bryan
Lots of fan speculation circles around the idea that the biggest impetus for the Cena-Nikki split was the happiness on display in the other Bella relationship: sister Brie's marriage to Bryan Danielson, a.k.a. Daniel Bryan.
The couple began their flirtations when Bryan was involved in a SmackDown storyline with Brie and Nikki, who were still teaming up as The Bella Twins; the sisters overheard Bryan making reference to being a vegan but, either through mishearing or misunderstanding the word "vegan," assumed this meant the American Dragon was a virgin.
Bryan details in his autobiography how all three felt that the story was pretty silly but wanted to make the most of their screen time; as most couples whose relationships grew out of storylines can attest, the amount of time spent together let Bryan and Brie get to know each other far better, and Bryan was able to see in her the same laid-back hippie type of attitudes he cultivated in himself.
Bryan and Brie married in the spring of 2014; in the span of a month Bryan won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the WrestleMania main event, married his wife, and lost both his biggest fan, Connor "The Crusher" Michalek, and his father; this was all before Bryan learned that he would have to relinquish his new top spot due to injuries after his only pay-per-view defense against Kane at Extreme Rules.
The marriage would play a significant role in Bryan's choices in regards to his career as his injuries intensified a year later; during his tearjerker retirement speech, the former indie star mentioned his desire to be a coherent and present husband and father, which repeated concussion issues might one day prevent. The Danielsons welcomed their first child, Birdie Joe, into the world in May of 2017.
At WrestleMania this year, Bryan got to fulfill a dream he was denied at his main event celebration in 2014: he was able to embrace the love of his life after a hard-fought win in a high-profile matchup.
#9 Rusev and Lana
Before "Lana is the best, Lana number one!", CJ Perry and Miroslav Barnyashev were two prospects at the NXT Performance Center in Orlando; the couple met in a promo class taught by none other than "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes.
Perry would don a business suit, a Russian accent, and a severe hairstyle to become The Ravishing Russian, Barnyashev's (now renamed Alexander Rusev, before being shortened to just his surname) manager and spokesperson, communicating with NXT (and, later, WWE) crowds for the Bulgarian Brute because of the disdain Rusev felt for the American fans.
During an interview on Chris Jericho's Talk is Jericho podcast, the couple detailed how their courtship followed the same path as Brie and Daniel (and numerous others, including at least two other couples on this list). The sheer amount of time spent in close contact working on their act fostered sparks that turned into a full relationship before Rusev's main roster call-up in 2014.
Onscreen, the pair's kayfabe relationship was seemingly just a professional one, although Lana's promos often focused on Rusev's qualities which made him more appealing to the women in the building; a storyline starting with Rusev's loss of the United States Championship to John Cena at WrestleMania 31 set in motion the storyline split of the Bulgarian Brute and the Ravishing Russian.
Lana gravitated toward Dolph Ziggler that summer, even taking on some of his "1980s Whitesnake video" manner of dress, before a late summer Instagram post revealed that Perry and Barnyashev had gotten engaged in real life, with mainstream media outlets picking up the story using the pair's kayfabe names.
The split storyline was immediately dropped, and Lana and Rusev reunited on television; the couple was added to E!'s Total Divas and became an instant sensation thanks to Barnyashev's real-life goofball charm and the pair's easygoing warmth with each other, which comes across in Twitter and Instagram videos the couple posts in character (as well as the Rusev Day gimmick which took the wrestling world by storm in late 2017 and early 2018).
The pair married in 2016, their engagement, bachelor/bachelorette parties, and wedding being major parts of season six of Total Divas.
#8. The Miz and Maryse
Another Total Divas power couple, The Miz and Maryse seem like the standard head cheerleader and starting quarterback couple from everyone's high school at a distance, and their WWE in-ring characters reinforce that notion.
A deeper dive, however, shows the couple to be united by silly jokes, affable chemistry, and some of the most genuine affection for each other viewers will ever see in sports entertainment or reality television.
Maryse began with WWE in 2006, having been part of the Diva Search competition; her run was mostly unspectacular, and featured her mostly in a managerial role, though it did also let Maryse become the first two-time Divas Champion in the company's history. She was released in late 2011 after injuries kept her from wrestling anymore, but maintained a connection to the company through her boyfriend, Mike "The Miz" Mizanin.
When the Real World veteran was knocked off a ladder at WrestleMania 32, allowing Zack Ryder to capture his first high-profile WrestleMania win, Miz challenged Long Island Iced Z to a rematch on the WrestleMania Monday edition of RAW; Ryder's father made another appearance at ringside, having been in the front row for his son's win at AT&T Stadium the night before, and a Maryse slap to the senior Long Islander distracted Ryder just long enough for Miz to claim the midcard belt (and bring Maryse back to WWE television on a full-time basis).
Acknowledging the pair's relationship in storyline for the first time, the couple (who got engaged in 2013 and married the following year) became the hottest "it" heel couple since the McMahon-Helmsley Era in 2000; between Miz dominating as Intercontinental Champion and the bump Maryse's presence gave Miz's character, the onscreen pairing brought The A-Lister to his best work in a decade-plus career.
Like Rusev and Lana, the couple's affable chemistry made them a natural fit for Total Divas, where they were an instant hit; Miz and Maryse announced their first pregnancy in September of 2017, with their daughter Monroe Skye making her debut just before WrestleMania 34.
Miz, for his part, took to parenting like he took to wrestling, proclaiming himself the swaddling champion of the world for his skills in caring for his infant daughter.
#7. CM Punk and AJ Lee
Before becoming the calling card chant for every bored crowd in a smark town like New York or Chicago, CM Punk was a hugely successful WWE superstar, having captured a WWE Triple Crown, two Money in the Bank briefcases, a record-setting championship reign (record-setting for the post-Hogan era, at least), and the hearts of numerous female WWE performers backstage.
While nearly all of those ended in heartbreak, the last of these, with AJ Lee, seems to have gone the distance; beginning (yet again) with a storyline relationship, Punk's "thing" for "crazy chicks" blossomed into an actual relationship, which became official in June of 2014 when the couple exchanged vows, ironically on the day Punk's WWE release became official.
While Punk has been absent from WWE television since January of 2014, Lee made an appearance alongside Paige to face the Bellas at WrestleMania 31; unfortunately, that run is far more remembered for a series of vulgar chants during post-Mania clashes directed at the women involved and concerning their male partners than it is for amazing in-ring action.
Punk, real name Phillip Jack Brooks, seems to be thriving in his married life; no matter how much WWE audiences clamor for his return, Punk credits the comfort and security he gets from his marriage to Lee, real name April Jeanette Mendez, with helping him avoid the spotlight he used to crave as a professional wrestler.
#6. Tommy Dreamer and Beulah McGillicutty
Regular listeners to E&C's Pod of Awesomeness are familiar with their Tommy Dreamer's frequent feature segment, Tales from the Indies, wherein Dreamer recounts the trials and travails he experiences keeping the wrestling dream alive in smaller venues nationwide; one mainstay of these segments is Dreamer's frequent mentions of his suburban-sitcom-dad life with fellow ECW alumni Beulah McGillicutty.
The strangest thing about these segments is the fact that Dreamer, who took more hard hits than anyone in Philadelphia not named Rocky Balboa, and McGillicutty, who once drew nearly enough blood from Bill Alfonso to kill the former referee, seem like any other middle-aged couple next door.
Yet another couple connected by kayfabe, Dreamer was McGillicutty's storyline high school crush, but Dreamer (the babyface here, because this is ECW, after all) rejected her because she was overweight; now in athletic shape, McGillicutty got her "revenge" on Dreamer by sleeping with Tommy's arch-nemesis, Raven.
A 2006 One Night Stand mixed tag-team match excepted (where Edge pinned her in as suggestive a manner as one can pin an opponent), Beulah's in-ring career ended in the late 1990s, her neck broken in storyline by the Dudley Boyz.
The First Couple of Extreme have twin daughters who had their own IMDB pages in infancy, having played Tony Soprano's baby niece in a sixth season episode of The Sopranos.
#5. Matt Hardy and Reby Sky
In an alternate timeline, Matt Hardy is on this list with Amy "Lita" Dumas but, during a real-life injury hiatus, Lita became very emotionally close to Hardy's close friend Adam "Edge" Copeland; that intimacy spawned a real-life affair which, when incorporated into Edge's onscreen character, helped make the Rated R Superstar into the Hall of Famer he is today.
Within a few years, Hardy would find himself on the outs with WWE yet again, and his tour through the independent wrestling scene and TNA brought him in contact with model, belly dance instructor, and independent wrestling superstar Rebecca "Reby" Sky (real name Rebecca Ruby Reyes, now Reyes-Hardy).
Sky and Hardy began a courtship which also included onscreen pairings; Sky accompanied Hardy to the ring for numerous independent bookings, and became a crucial part of Hardy's Broken, and subsequent Woken, character arcs. Much of what fans love about the gimmick, from the absurdist vibe, to the avant-garde artistic direction, to the classical-inspired soundtrack, comes directly from Sky's brain, and many of the TNA vignettes featuring the Hardy Compound had Sky as the artistic vision behind them.
Hardy and Sky married in 2013, and so far have two children, King Maxel and Lord Wolfgang, who both feature prominently in the Broken Universe; Sky's influence over the gimmick continued into WWE, where she famously provided a brooding piano cover of Bray Wyatt's theme song during the Ultimate Deletion segment.
#4. Jimmy Uso and Naomi
Jimmy Uso and Naomi are one of the two couples on this list whose marriage was able to transcend kayfabe, earning the duo a spot in WWE's Mixed Match Challenge (the other being Rusev and Lana); also like the Eastern European power couple, Uso and Naomi (real names Jonathan Solofa Fatu and Trinity McCray Fatu) can trace their relationship back to WWE developmental, although in this couple's case they met in the days when the territory was Florida Championship Wrestling.
Jimmy and Naomi married in 2014 in Hawaii, Jimmy bringing with him two children into the marriage; famously, Jimmy's father, WWE veteran Rikishi, was shown on Total Divas missing the nuptials, which the Hall of Famer tweeted was as much a storyline as anything fans would see in the ring.
Since then, the high-flyer and the flashy dancer have saved their drama for the ring; their Mixed Match Challenge pairing came as each superstar was experiencing a career high point, with the Usos' heel personas and Naomi's SmackDown Live women's division push bringing gold to each member of the couple's waist.
The difference in heel/face alignment might have seemed a bit strange in the Mixed Match Challenge at first, but the program brought its own unique kayfabe universe where traditional stories received a tweak in the Facebook Live broadcast. Uso and Naomi seemed to be simply having fun finally getting the opportunity to work together after years of traveling the road and through life with one another offscreen.
#3. Edge and Beth Phoenix
Adam "Edge" Copeland's marriage with fellow Hall of Fame superstar Beth Phoenix is his third walk down the aisle, having previously divorced Alannah Morley, sister of WWE superstar Val Venis, and Lisa Ortiz (a relationship ended by his affair with Lita). Phoenix, for her part, had a divorce under her belt as well, divorcing her first husband in 2010 after a nine-year marriage.
It's easy to see, then, why the now-Copelands would have been hesitant to marry, and waited until 2016 (and after the birth of their two children) to officially tie the knot.
The couple's courtship didn't begin until after Edge's in-ring career ended; because of his past with Lita and rumors about his involvement with other industry women, Copeland was understandably reticent about getting involved with another fellow performer while on the active roster. Not long after Copeland's 2011 retirement due to medical issues stemming from his repeatedly injured neck, Phoenix retired to, as she explains it, spend more time with family; it was during her early retirement in 2012 that the couple began dating seriously.
Though officially retired from in-ring competition, the pair are no strangers to modern WWE; Edge and his former tag team partner Christian produced an absurd backstage curtain-destroying program on the WWE Network (now preparing to air a new season in 2018) as well as a hugely popular podcast featuring current and former WWE superstars discussing their work and the business. Phoenix, too, provided color commentary for the Mixed Match Challenge, and made a brief appearance in January's Women's Royal Rumble Match, spending roughly two minutes in the ring before being tossed by Natalya.
The Rated R Superstar and the Glamazon welcomed their first daughter, Lyric (for whom Edge made an appearance on the Canadian children's program Bookaboo, reading the children's book Aliens Love Underpants), in 2013; in 2016, the couple added another daughter, Ruby, then officially married later that year.
#2. The Undertaker and Michelle McCool
Michelle McCool, real name Michelle McCool, which sadly is only the second coolest thing about her, is the third wife of Mark "The Undertaker" Calaway, having married The Deadman towards the end of her WWE run.
Taker had famously brought his second wife, Sara, to work with him in the summer of 2001, when she became the focal point of a stalker storyline featuring former WCW champion Diamond Dallas Page; when the couple divorced in 2007, Undertaker and McCool began their courtship not long afterward, marrying in 2010.
Besides being a WWE power couple, the spouses are famously conservative in their political and religious beliefs, making regular social media posts in support of right-wing stances on American political and social issues; McCool's faith featured prominently in her WWE run as well, with numerous crosses adorning her ring gear. The couple welcomed their first child, Kaia Faith, in 2012.
McCool has made sporadic appearances on WWE television since retiring after her marriage to Calaway, including being at ringside for his WrestleMania 33 contest with Roman Reigns and a RAW 25 segment honoring women's wrestling. McCool made her brief in-ring return to WWE in January of 2018, appearing in the Women's Royal Rumble and garnering the most eliminations in the match with five before, like Beth Phoenix, getting tossed by Natalya.
The pair has also battled their way through numerous health scares, including Undertaker's recent string of hip surgeries and, more importantly, McCool's ongoing bout with skin cancer, a diagnosis she received in 2016.
#1. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon
The gold standard for successful wrestling couples is also the business's most prominent, and one of the most improbable.
Triple H and Stephanie McMahon first connected onscreen with a less-than-tasteful story that seems to be left out of the couple's history during the PG era. On the night Stephanie was to wed Test on a 1999 edition of Monday Night RAW, Helmsley interrupted the ceremony to show footage of Stephanie's bachelor party; after losing consciousness thanks to a suspicious drink, Stephanie was next shown in the passenger seat of Triple H's car at a drive-thru wedding chapel in Las Vegas. Helmsley in the video provided Stephanie's part of the wedding vow in a falsetto voice, while Helmsley in the arena bragged about wedding night activities that would land him on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
Those videos turned out to be a storyline ruse as, either due to the long-term plan or due to pressure over Stephanie's implied lack of consent, it was revealed that she was in on the scheme the whole time, turning on her dad in December to turn heel with her kayfabe husband.
Real-life Paul Levesque was still romantically involved with Chyna at this point, but eagle-eyed viewers might have noticed a sharp decline in Joanie Laurer's screen time over the coming year and a half as Levesque and McMahon's onscreen relationship increased their offscreen quality time (the fact that Levesque was already heavily involved in the company's creative process at the time did not hurt his opportunities to spend more time with the Billion Dollar Princess).
The onscreen marriage has ebbed and flowed, but in recent years has morphed to match the real-life marriage, which became official in October of 2003 (ironically in the same week that McMahon fought her father in an "I Quit" match, which was less-than-welcome wedding prep for the bride-to-be). Fans have long crowed about the effects that this relationship and marriage might have had on The Game's career opportunities, but far more good has resulted from this union than bad, especially for wrestling fans.
A deeper connection with the McMahon family helped Levesque sharpen his business acumen, earning him a spot as WWE's Chief Operating Officer and, most importantly, the mastermind behind WWE's revamped developmental system, which has been nothing but a gift for fans, especially in the WWE Network era.
The couple has three daughters, and regularly make non-kayfabe posts about their family on social media (although the revamped storyline history of their relationship might call into question what is and is not a part of the show); further, Levesque and McMahon share a love of physical fitness, and make their workout routines a significant part of their public image.
For fans, though, the most successful wrestling romance of all time gives longtime followers of the product hope for the future, as it seems to have set up a line of succession should WWE's longtime creative force, Vince McMahon, ever have to step away.