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Back in the early 1990s, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal were on their way to becoming Hollywood’s next iconic action stars. But while the pair struggled to reach those lofty heights in the end, they stumbled into a bitter rivalry with one another instead. So, we’ve got a question for you: are you Team Van Damme or Team Seagal? Revisiting the truth of their bad blood may help you decide.

Now, feuds between famous action stars aren’t anything new. For instance, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had their own friction in years gone by. Here’s the thing, though: that quarrel was purely based around outdoing the other with their films. It wasn’t particularly malicious. Yet the same can’t be said about Van Damme and Seagal.

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In fact, Seagal and Van Damme’s rivalry has come close to exploding on multiple occasions throughout the years. It isn’t a case of friendly one-upmanship! But no one could have predicted this as the pair started to rise up the Hollywood ranks in the past. After all, their paths seemed pretty similar. Yes, Van Damme and Seagal made their respective breakthroughs in the same year. The Muscles from Brussels did have a couple of credits to his name prior to this, but be honest with us. Have you ever seen 1986’s No Retreat, No Surrender? It’s not a classic, let’s put it that way!

Anyway, Van Damme’s big break came with Bloodsport in 1988. In the pantheon of martial arts films from that period, it’s up there with the best of them. And it was a sizable box office hit too. The movie earned over $11.8 million across the world from a supposed budget of $1.1 million. With that, a new mainstream action star was seemingly born. So, what about Seagal?

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Well, unlike Van Damme, he had no previous credits before his breakthrough moment. He jumped right in as a lead. The film in question is 1988’s Above the Law: another martial arts classic for fans of the genre to enjoy. Much like Bloodsport, Seagal’s big-screen debut made decent money at the box office. You see, Above the Law brought in more than $18.8 million worldwide off an adjudged $7.5 million budget. Not bad at all.

After that, both he and Van Damme started to capitalize on their respective popularity. Yes, just as Stallone and Schwarzenegger did before them, Van Damme and Seagal starred in a slew of action movies that played to their strengths. They dominated the genre in the early 1990s, with efforts such as Hard to Kill, Double Impact, Out for Justice and Universal Soldier hitting the big screen. Audiences couldn’t get enough of them. And that became abundantly clear with the box office earnings of some of those movies. For instance 1992’s Under Siege which starred Seagal, brought in over $156.5 million across the world. As for Van Damme, 1994’s Timecop accumulated a gross of more than $101.6 million at the time. Keeping that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine that Van Damme and Seagal could have had a rivalry of sorts in the vein of Arnie and Sly. But as we’ve already established, their infamous friction isn’t centered on bettering the other’s box office returns. It’s far more serious than that.

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How could Van Damme and Seagal dislike each other so intensely, though?

Their personal interests intertwine just as their movies did in the 80s and 90s. The Belgian star is an expert in Kickboxing and Karate, while his counterpart has a similar passion for Aikido. And we can’t forget about their recent political stances either. You see, Seagal and Van Damme both have very positive things to say about Russia.

On The Ringer website, the latter once noted, “All the rest are weak countries, except America is strong, and Russia is strong. So they have to shake hands.” He even joined Vladimir Putin to watch a bare-knuckle brawl one time! As for Seagal, he’s actually a Russian citizen now. The action star came to the defense of Putin after the Crimea seizure, which eventually led to his national switch in 2016. He also stated that it was “astronomical propaganda” to suggest that elections in the United States were tampered with by Russia during a TV interview too.

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So Van Damme and Seagal clearly have a few things in common. Then again, one of their pet hates in the past was when people made comparisons between them. That became incredibly clear when the Under Siege actor sat down for a chat with Arsenio Hall on his talk show in 1991. During their conversation, Hall asked Seagal if he was personally acquainted with Van Damme. “No,” was the unceremonious response. Undeterred, the host then tweaked the question. Was he familiar with the Muscles from Russell’s work? That drew a nod. From there, things took a turn. And it was all sparked once the subject switched to martial arts.

You see, during Van Damme’s teenage years, he was a member of Belgium’s national Karate team. He even helped them to secure 1979’s European Karate Championship. Yet Seagal had his doubts about that. On that note, those feelings bubbled to the surface when Hall dropped it into their conversation on the show. Seagal snapped back, “I just promised all my mentors I was going to be a good boy. I think that’s a matter of opinion that Van Damme was champion anywhere. I’m not being catty or anything. I wish the guy all the best. But there are an awful lot of people who say that’s not true.” Despite Seagal’s disparaging words, though Van Damme claimed that he very nearly worked with him during that period. That would have been something, right? Two of the biggest names in action cinema clashing on the big screen.

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To shed a bit more light on that, the Bloodsport star spoke to the MTV News website in 2008. Van Damme said, “Years ago it was proposed that I would do a film with Steven Seagal. I was supposed to be in Demolition Man with him. It was a great project. The script I read was a lot different than the one Sly did with Wesley Snipes. I was the bad guy. Seagal was the good guy because he was the Warner Bros guy.”

Demolition Man is a fun movie as it is, but imagine what Van Damme and Seagal might have done with it instead. A real “what if” moment for action film fans. Mind you, did the Belgian have an opinion of his counterpart at that time? Especially after the interview with Hall in 1991? Surprisingly, Van Damme was quite cool about it when 1994 rolled around. If anything, it seemed like he was more puzzled why this feud had even started in the first place. That led the actor to recall a conversation he had with Seagal, in which he brought up their simmering rivalry.




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According to the Daily Star’s website, Van Damme told an interviewer in 1994, “Well, Seagal is a good guy, but he’s too tense. I saw him in Planet Hollywood, and I said, ‘Hey, Steven you speak bad about me on TV. Why?’ I said, ‘Come on, look, I’m a nice guy. Am I a bad guy?'” “I shook Seagal’s hand; he relaxed,” Van Damme added. “Hey, it’s okay if he wants to say things. It’s not my problem.” All things considered, that’s a pretty level-headed response wouldn’t you say? It could have been worse.

Then again, the Hollywood star changed his tune some 12 months later in another interview. On that occasion, Van Damme spoke with Jo Soares on the latter’s television program in 1995. Seagal’s name came up in conversation, prompting his rival to label him as “boring”. Ouch! Anyway, at that stage of the feud it was merely verbal jabs getting fired back and forth – but what really sparked it?

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Well, Van Damme opened up when he appeared on Howard Stern’s broadcast in 2012. In his mind, the rivalry kicked off after Seagal went on a high-profile program in America. And no, he wasn’t referring to Arsenio Hall’s talk show in this instance. It was another heavy-hitter on the small screen. Van Damme informed Stern and the audience, “It all started on The Jay Leno Show years ago when Jay asked steven Seagal ‘You know Van Damme?’ And he said, ‘He is not good in martial arts,’ but he never met me though. And also it’s like… that’s when it started I guess.”

So there you have it: one innocuous comment was apparently the catalyst behind this entire thing. But hey, it only led to a verbal feud, right? Well, not quite. As we hinted earlier, Van Damme and Seagal’s rivalry had come close to erupting into full-blown violence in the past. Specifically in 1997. Yes, a couple of years after Van Damme called Seagal “boring,” they both attended a get-together at Sylvester Stallone’s home in Florida. Apparently it was a real star-studded affair, jam-packed with celebrities. Madonna, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Shaquille O’Neal and Bruce Willis to name a few. Yet all eyes soon turned to the feuding action stars.

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To explain what supposedly happened next that night, Stallone sat down to talk with FHM magazine. The action movie icon said, “At a party in my home in Miami in 1997, Van Damme was tired of Seagal claiming he could kick his ass. So he offered Seagal outside into my backyard.” Stallone continued, “Seagal made his excuses and left. But Van Damme, who was berserk, tracked him down at a nightclub and offered him out again. And again, Seagal pulled a Houdini. Van Damme was too strong. Seagal wanted none of it.” Oh to have been a fly on the wall for this!

What did Van Damme and Seagal have to say about it, though? Let’s start with the latter. You see, the story cropped up in an episode of Steven Seagal: Lawman. Yes, the reality television program where the performer shone a light on what it’s like to be a “reserve deputy sheriff.” Anyway, Seagal was questioned if he and Van Damme got physical on that occasion. He responded, “No. It would be like me squashing an ant. If he sees me, he runs.” As you can probably tell, that’s a little different from Stallone’s view of events. But he went into some further detail with Hustler magazine too. Seagal told the publication, “There was this one time when Van Damme approached me. He was drooling, foaming at the mouth, and he said something to me. I just said back to him, “When you’re sober, if that day ever comes, come and talk to me. I don’t care how small you are or how girly you are. It won’t matter.”

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As for Van Damme, he shared his side of the story in an interview from 2010 on a television show in France. Surprisingly, the Universal Soldier star did agree with Seagal on one point, but that was about it. The rest was very different, following the outline of Stallone’s recap. Van Damme told the Daily Star. “No fight was made, just a little pushing. Because it was a beautiful house. Had beautiful furniture. I was upset a little and said to Steven come outside. I waited two hours, but he never came. Steven was very disrespectful that night.” And the subject came up again when Van Damme spoke to Stern in 2012. He added, “That evening I think Steven was kind of tipsy, tipsy happy, like I was sometimes and I don’t know maybe.”

Something tells us that a definitive description of this infamous encounter will never be agreed upon. One thing is for sure though: Seagal seems to have no intention of letting the rivalry rest. For instance, he spoke ill of Van Damme once more in a chat from 2015, with a Daily Star sharing his words on its website. This time, the actor was requested to list any Hollywood stars that could fight alongside him in a legitimate brawl. Of Course, Van Damme’s name came up via the interviewer, only for Seagal to brush it off. He said, “Can I laugh in your face?” Oof.

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So given what we’ve heard, it’d be amazing if this feud was ever resolved. There just appears to be too much bad blood here. But while Van Damme and Seagal are unlikely to be on each other’s Christmas card lists, they do have something else in common. Yes, the pair are still keeping themselves busy with film work. In 2016 alone, the action stars appeared in eight different movies between them. That’s not a typo. Meanwhile, Seagal and Van Damme have some intriguing projects on the horizon as well. Above the Law 2 has been announced, with the original star set to return. As for the Muscles from Brussels, he’ll be appearing in 2021’s Minions: The Rise of Gru. Aptly, he’s voicing a character named Jean Clawed. So the big screen isn’t done with them just yet.




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