The Rumored Feud Between Steven Seagal And Jean-Claude Van Damme

The testosterone ran wild in the action film genre throughout the 1980s. Superstars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone wrestled for supremacy, seeing who would have the best roles, biggest muscles, and highest kill counts in their respective blockbusters. Yet, the next generation of action stars was also starting to materialize as Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme attracted mainstream attention toward the turn of the decade.

Seagal and Van Damme were two different kinds of action stars, though. The former brooded in his performances, using quick and efficient martial arts techniques to take down his opponents. The latter was far more flamboyant, utilizing splits, high kicks, and witty one-liners to disarm his foes. Surely, common sense would tell you they were each suited for different parts and there would be no need for any rivalry to develop between them. Well, Hollywood is a strange place, and people have feuded over far less than what Seagal and Van Damme ultimately did.

It all kicked off — pardon the pun — when Seagal questioned the legitimacy of JCVD's credentials on a live television show. Van Damme doesn't seem to be a fan of "Frozen," however, failing to follow Elsa's advice to let it go, so he swiped back with his own retorts. This resulted in a decades-long mudslinging contest that peaked with an incident at Stallone's house, of all places. With that in mind, let's take a look back at the rumored feud between Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Steven Seagal questioned Jean-Claude Van Damme's championship background

There was a weird rumor that circulated among fans that Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris had fought each other before, and Seagal had defeated Norris in combat. It isn't true, though this bit of fake news likely gained traction because both Seagal and Norris are accomplished martial artists. Seagal is a seventh-dan black belt in aikido, proving he is more than capable of handling himself in a real-life tussle if a situation gets out of hand.

Jean-Claude Van Damme is also well-versed in martial arts. He trained in both karate and kickboxing when he was younger, and even participated as part of the Belgium team at the La Coupe François Persoons Tournament in 1979. That didn't stop Seagal from questioning the legitimacy of JCVD's achievements.

Appearing on "The Arsenio Hall Show" in 1991, Seagal initially didn't want to answer when asked what he thought of JCVD's martial arts ability and how he was a champion before becoming an actor. When pressed by host Arsenio Hall, he said: "I just promised all my mentors that I was going to be a good boy. I think that it's a matter of opinion that he was a 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 that's not true."

The two nearly starred in a famous movie together

After Steven Seagal's comments on "The Arsenio Hall Show," an opportunity presented itself for the two to put up their fists and sort out their differences — on screen, that is. In a 2008 interview with MTV, Jean-Claude Van Damme revealed that a popular 1993 action film almost featured him and Seagal in the lead roles.

"Years ago it was proposed that I would do a film with Steven Seagal," he said. "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."

Directed by Marco Brambilla, the sci-fi action film "Demolition Man" is the story of police officer John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) and criminal Simon Phoenix (Snipes) who are cryogenically frozen. After Phoenix is meant to be paroled but goes on a crime spree, Spartan is awoken to catch his nemesis. Van Damme's comment about the film's script being altered is true, as the screenplay underwent several rewrites before it entered production. Even so, it would be interesting to imagine Seagal as Spartan and Van Damme as Phoenix in an alternate universe. More importantly, being on set together would have posed an interesting question: Would the two have been able to work together after Seagal's earlier comments?

JCVD was a little catty in his retort years later

Time heals all wounds — except if it involves action stars calling each other out in public. Years after Steven Seagal questioned Jean-Claude Van Damme's legitimacy as a fighter, the Muscles from Brussels had a good chinwag about his rival to Movieline in 1994.

According to JCVD, he bumped into Seagal at Planet Hollywood and asked him why he had made his previous disparaging remarks. Van Damme didn't really elaborate on what Seagal said to him, but he explained that they had shaken hands and there was no beef between them, chalking the incident up to Seagal being "a good guy, but he's too tense."

That being said, JCVD couldn't resist the opportunity to get a jab of his own in with a snide remark. "He's not in good physical shape, absolutely not," he said about Seagal. "He came on the screen playing a macho guy who fights in a suit. Women love that. Warner Bros. really promoted him in 'Above the Law' and the movie didn't do that much, but he became a star on video. I believe he's got some charisma." He added that Seagal would need to reinvent himself to have a sustainable career in showbiz, but questioned if it would be possible.

Jean-Claude Van Damme called Steven Seagal boring

By 1995, Jean-Claude Van Damme's career was in full swing, and one could argue that he had surpassed Steven Seagal as the bigger draw in the action genre. In a few short years, JCVD had starred in the likes of "Universal Soldier," "Hard Target," "Timecop," and "Street Fighter," while Seagal's output had been less notable, with the "Under Siege" film series being his major claim to fame around this time.

With Van Damme on top of the world, he traveled across the globe and did a lot of press to promote his movies. While appearing on the Brazilian talk show "Jô Soares Onze e Meia," he couldn't help but take another shot at Seagal. JCVD referred to Seagal as "very boring." The conversation shifted to Seagal's wife, who was actor Kelly LeBrock at the time. Van Damme quickly pointed out they were divorced before host Jô Soares mocked Seagal's demeanor and his way of walking in his films. Van Damme followed suit with his own exaggerated impression of Seagal.

To be fair, JCVD made fun of Sylvester Stallone on the show as well, so it wasn't as if he only targeted Seagal here.

The reported fight that took place at Sylvester Stallone's home

There's a crude saying: "F*** around and find out." Reportedly, that's exactly what went down between Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal in 1997. After all the barbs and passive-aggressive behavior exchanged in the press, they eventually had their showdown — mano a mano — at Sylvester Stallone's home. Fortunately, Sly was on hand to witness it firsthand and provide a blow-by-blow account of what went down in his humble abode.

"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 told FHM (via Digital Spy). "Seagal made his excuses and left but Van Damme, who was berserk, tracked him down at a nightclub and offered him out again." Sly added that Seagal didn't want to tussle with JCVD because the latter "was too strong" at the time.

In a French interview, Van Damme addressed the incident. He claimed neither he nor Seagal came to physical blows, as they only shoved each other. JCVD felt that Seagal had disrespected him and offered to sort out their issues outside — out of respect for their host's home. According to Van Damme, Seagal didn't take him up on the offer, even though the "Bloodsport" star waited outside for two hours.

Steven Seagal said he'd squash JCVD

In the late 2000s, Steven Seagal received his own reality show called "Steven Seagal: Lawman," which saw the action hero — who was also a reserve deputy sheriff — head out with other cops on patrol. The show aired for three seasons, and even featured Seagal making special mention of Jean-Claude Van Damme in Season 1, Episode 11, titled "Street Justice," which aired in early 2010.

In the episode, roughly around the 12-minute mark, one of the officers brings up a motorcycle accident that Van Damme was involved in and asks Seagal if it's true they got into a fight — undoubtedly referencing the alleged exchange at Sylvester Stallone's house from more than a decade earlier. Seagal replies: "No. It would be like me squashing an ant." The officers describe accounts they'd read about the incident, which Seagal reiterates never happened. He adds: "If he sees me, he runs."

Seagal's recollection of events are the opposite of what Stallone and Van Damme claimed happened that evening in Sly's Miami home.

JCVD had kind words for Steven Seagal, but still got in a swipe

Sylvester Stallone revived the magic of '80s action with the release of "The Expendables," which sees many favorites from the genre team up on screen for the first time ever. While Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger all showed up in the 2010 film, the absence of Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme was hard to miss. According to Stallone's comments to The Times, both men turned down the offer to appear in the first film.

However, Van Damme did make his "Expendables" bow, as he starred as the antagonistic mercenary Vilain in the second installment of the series. To date, Seagal hasn't appeared in any of the "Expendables" films. During the press tour for the 2012 sequel, the topic of Seagal once again came up during JCVD's interview with Yahoo! Movies. "I would love to see Steven Seagal in part three [of 'The Expendables']," Van Damme said. "He should lose some weight ... No, no joke on the side, so he can be a little more fast. I met the guy a few times. Nice guy — doesn't like me much. I like him a lot. Good charisma, he has got something special on screen, and I would love to see him there, yeah."

When pressed by the interviewer about why Seagal might not be a fan of his, JCVD simply replied: "Because maybe I'm good." 

Steven Seagal didn't think JCVD was tough

At the end of the day, actors are paid to play pretend on screen. Just because Will Smith's Captain Steven Hiller saved the Earth from an alien invasion in "Independence Day" doesn't mean the real-life person is prepared to fight off extraterrestrials if they attack tomorrow. Yet, with action stars, there is this mystique surrounding them where they want people to know they are legitimately tough and able to take down anyone. It's part of their aura, and it's unlikely anyone will find one of them who will openly admit they aren't able to kick a Coke can off a table.

For Steven Seagal, he simply doesn't see a lot of his peers as being able to handle themselves in the real world if they found themselves in a pickle. When asked by AXS about any actor he would want in his corner if he got into trouble on the streets, he struggled to think of a name. The interviewer mentioned two possibilities: Michael Jai White and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

In both instances, Seagal replied in the same manner: "Can I laugh in your face?" According to him, neither of them are serious tough guys or martial artists.

JCVD complimented his adversary's fighting style

After back-and-forth exchanges through the media for almost a quarter of a century, something different and unexpected happened in 2015: Jean-Claude Van Damme praised Steven Seagal in an interview, and didn't throw any shade whatsoever at his rival. In all fairness, he had been complimentary of Seagal's abilities in the past; however, this time, it didn't feature any additional spice or below-the-belt shots. Seriously, nada.

Speaking to Combat Press, Van Damme delved into the theme of reinvention in the action genre, and how the differences in and merging of fighting styles can offer something new to the viewers and performers. In the conversation, he specifically pointed out Seagal and his important contribution to action cinema when he arrived on the scene in the late '80s.

"Fighting and inventing or creating new techniques, it's like Steven Seagal, when he came out with 'Above the Law.' He was kind of new with hapkido," he said of Seagal's on-screen style. "It was great. I like his style. It was very different than my style at the time. So, if you can combine those two styles, plus a new one coming soon, it's going to be very dangerous."

The internet has kept the feud alive in a hilarious manner

Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme's feud went silent until June 2023 when it was "reborn" in the wildest way. A bizarre online rumor started to spread that Russian president Vladimir Putin was considering replacing his defense minister with Seagal. Look, stranger things have happened in this world, and it wouldn't be totally outside the realm of possibility since Seagal and Putin are friends, but it still proved to be an unlikely and head-scratching piece of news that came out of nowhere. Ultimately, Newsweek found no evidence of it being true.

Nonetheless, this didn't stop Twitter, Reddit, and the rest of social media from having fun with this what-if scenario. Users made jokes about it, asking if it would be the plot for "The Expendables 5." Some commentators took it even further and suggested that Ukraine would enlist Jean-Claude Van Damme in retaliation to allow Seagal and the Muscles from Brussels another chance to reignite their legendary feud.

Naturally, the argument turned into who would come out on top in a battle, with fans being divided about the winner in a serious Seagal and Van Damme fight. Other users simply upped the ante by suggesting only Chuck Norris would be able to enter the equation and stop everyone.