Unlike most of the on-screen feuds in wrestling, the feud between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels was very personal. In addition to great matches, it also had backstage fights, legitimate insults hurled at each other and their families in the ring, and the most controversial match ever.
Hart Foundation vs Rockers
These two men first faced each other as tag team opponents. In November 1990, the Hart Foundation lost the tag team titles to the Rockers in a match taped for Saturday Night's Main Event. During the match, the top rope broke. The Rockers defended the belt for a week before Vince McMahon made the decision not to air the match due to it being poor due to the ring problems. Since the match was never aired, the Rockers title reign was never mentioned on TV and is not officially recognized as a title reign.
When the Rockers first entered the WWF, they were fired after a few days. Shawn felt they were set up to look bad outside the ring. When Shawn became a singles wrestler, he started friendships with the new superstars of the era. They became known as the Kliq. The members of this backstage group were Shawn, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, and Triple H. This group was notorious for hurting other careers and not losing matches. When Kevin and Scott left for WCW, Shawn became WWF Champ. The best example of the hatred for this group was when Scott Hall entered ECW in 2000. He was thrown out of the locker room by the wrestlers because many of them blamed the Kliq for ruining their WWF careers many years earlier.
Even though they had fought in the past, WrestleMania XII is where the issues between the men became personal. This match was a 60-minute Iron Man Match. Bret had just won the title a few months earlier and spent the months prior to the match traveling and wrestling. Shawn was given a very light schedule so he could train for this match. In videos promoting the match, Shawn looked like Rocky about to gain glory yet Bret was shown being beaten up by his elderly father. Shawn won the match and Bret took some time off.
WCW Calls and I Lost My Smile
When Bret was gone, WCW offered him a major deal. Bret was loyal to the WWF and signed a 20 year deal to stay with the company. It has long been rumored that Shawn was scheduled to lose the title to Bret at WrestleMania 13. A few months before the match, Shawn vacated the title in the infamous "I lost my smile speech". He claims a doctor told him that his knee injury would be career ending. It is worth noting that Shawn lost all the three major titles of the era (World, Tag Team, and Intercontinental) by vacating them and not doing the job in the ring.
The Feud is Personal
Shawn returned from his career ending injury a few months later. Inside the ring, both men were making very bad comments about each other even though they never fought each other. Bret made several comments questioning Shawn's sexual preference because he appeared in Playgirl. Shawn made a comment about Bret having Sunny Days. This was in reference to a possible relationship between Bret and Sunny. Shortly after that comment, Bret and Shawn had a major fight in the locker room.