Looking back at the Historic rivalry between The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin
A true rivalry needs to have two things: history and competition. History is key because without it there isn’t a long term vesting interest for the fans or the opponents themselves. Competition is obviously important as well because even if the history part is there if it’s one-sided, there won’t be a vesting interest in the outcomes.
Feuds in WWE are certainly different than in the real sports world due to the fact that things are scripted, but in this instance, The Rock vs Steve Austin felt as real as anything else. It had history, and it certainly had competition but more than that, this feud defined and carried an era of pro wrestling all by itself and is without a doubt the greatest feud that the wrestling business has ever seen.
You could argue that the seeds were planted long ago for a Stone Cold/Rock feud based on how they each broke into the business and the WWE. Stone Cold Steve Austin was the longtime veteran. Austin spent time in various territorial promotions before getting a break and joining WCW. From there he went on to have a nice run as Stunning Steve Austin and as a member of The Hollywood Blondes with Brian Pillman.
After getting unceremoniously fired by WCW over the phone, Austin joined ECW with Paul Heyman where he was able to hone his speaking skills and truly be a character that was an extension of himself. After the brief stint in ECW, Austin went to the WWE as The Ringmaster which failed just about as miserably as the XFL. From there, Austin developed a new gimmick in Stone Cold Steve Austin that would end up changing the face of wrestling. Typically, that path is how it goes for pro wrestlers. It’s a long, hard road to get to the top and that’s how Steve Austin did it.
The Rock was embroiled in a completely different situation. He was a standout football player and NCAA champion from the University Of Miami that had NFL aspirations since he was a kid. After injuries got in the way, football was moved to the side, and The Rock was left wondering what was next. His famous quote is “In 1995 I had $7 in my pocket and knew two things: I’m broke as hell and one day I won’t be”.
It was at that time that The Rock decided to enter the world of pro wrestling and proceeded to train with his father. After that, there weren’t long roads on the independent scenes, but a quick phone call to Vince McMahon that got is a foot in the door. The Rock was signed by the WWE almost on the spot, because of his overall look and oozing charisma. The rest is history.
Once both superstars were in the WWE it was gold pretty much every time they stepped into the ring together. Their real feud started over the Intercontinental Championship with Austin and Rock trading the belt back and forth and having great matches and epic in-ring promos in 1997. Because that feud was so great, it catapulted both of them to a new level of stardom within the company.
In 1998 Stone Cold won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship for the first time, and a collision with The Rock was the obvious choice heading into 1999 and WrestleMania 15. The Rock joined Vince McMahon’s Corporation stable and was the active in-ring face of the Austin/McMahon feud that was going on simultaneously. WrestleMania 15 was the first of three Mania main events that the two would headline and it was awesome. The action in the ring was pristine and the story told was that of a constantly screwed over challenger in Austin finally overcoming the odds of the deck being stacked against him and winning the title over The Rock.
After WrestleMania 15, the Rock was just getting much too popular to continue his run as a heel. He soon turned babyface by clashing with the Corporation and then went his own way to have mini-feuds with the likes of Billy Gunn and The Undertaker. Austin continued on as well by finishing up his feud with McMahon and having a summer run through 1999 with HHH. Toward the end of 1999, injuries piled up for Stone Cold, and he took over a year off to have major neck surgery. It was during this time specifically that The Rock became the man in the WWE. Austin left the torch lying about, and The Rock picked it up and ran with it quickly.
Throughout 2000 The Rock became champion on his own and had amazing matches with HHH, Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, Chris Jericho, and many more. More than that though, his stock soared outside of the WWE ring with appearances in movies like the Scorpion King and a first-time stint hosting Saturday Night Live. Stone Cold Steve Austin was always a little more popular than The Rock in terms of pops and merchandise, but at this particular point in history, they were as close as ever.
Both The Rock and Austin put on a tremendous wrestling match with near-fall after near-fall leaving the crowd gasping for air. Stone Cold turned heel at the end of the match, and though the debate on that subject can go forever, the match itself proved to live up to the hype with Austin beating The Rock once again for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. At the end of 2000, Stone Cold Steve Austin made his comeback, and with The Rock and his popularity being what it was, the stage was set for an absolute epic encounter at the greatest Mania of all time in WrestleMania 17. Sixty thousand strong packed the Reliant Astrodome in Houston, Texas for this showdown and it didn’t disappoint.
From there, both men went their separate ways again. The Rock worked a longer period of time in Hollywood before returning, and Stone Cold had his run as a heel, created the “What” chant, and ultimately walked out of the company before the two would cross paths again. Stone Cold would come back for his final match and what better way to have a send-off but to have the third and final encounter with The Rock on another WrestleMania, WrestleMania 19.
Unlike the last two matches, this one had a different feel. It was an end of an era match in many ways because Stone Cold would retire afterwards and The Rock would be taking almost all of his talents to the stages of Hollywood. In this match, The Rock finally closed the rivalry up by defeating Stone Cold at a WrestleMania; the one thing he had not done throughout his illustrious career.
This rivalry and the feud between The Rock and Stone Cold defined a generation and an era of wrestling. If you just look at the matches themselves for the IC title and the WWE title, they are some of the greatest in-ring performances in the history of the company.
Not necessarily from a technical standpoint, but for the reaction that they received from the audience, how engaged fans were with their programs, and the overall drama involved in each of them. The mic work in these feuds is probably the best ever for a feud in the wrestling business. The consistently good promos that the Rock and Austin delivered on a weekly basis not only moved storylines along in a flawless fashion, but they were presented in a genuine way that made the rivalry feel real.
Another element of this feud that is paramount in making it what it was is the fact that both guys were polarizing opposites. From a character standpoint, on one hand, you had the beer-swilling Texas redneck, and on the other, you had a silk shirt sharp-dressed smooth talker in Dwayne Johnson. You don’t get more polarizing than that but in this case, that polarization and those differences made it great.
Fans were able to choose if they were a Stone Cold fan or a Rock fan while all the while knowing that their number two was probably the other guy. In the ring, those differences helped tell the stories of their matches and helped carry the feud that ended up lasting about 5 years. From a real-life point of view, both men were opposites as well. Austin the travelled veteran and Rock the cocky rookie certainly created real-life animosity, competitiveness, and the will to be the best over the other.
We had two guys, break into the business together, and through the work that they did together, kept moving up and up and up to heights never seen before in the wrestling business. The age-old line that wrestlers constantly say is that when you make your opponent look good, you look good as well. Nothing can showcase that notion more than the feud between The Rock and Stone Cold.
Yes, they each wanted to be the best, and the top guy for the company but both guys understood that the only way they could do that was if their opponent looked as good, if not better than they did. It truly made for remarkable moments, and in the end, both ended up carrying the WWE on their shoulders and being “the guy” for significant periods of time.
Personally and professionally. Great matches for the Intercontinental title, epic and legendary main event matches at WrestleMania for the WWE Title and countless TV moments that defined the history of Raw. Overall though, this feud defined a generation and an era of wrestling. The Attitude Era is heralded by most as the greatest era of wrestling, and the reason it exists is because of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Their feud created mainstream attention and created new fans of pro wrestling that until this day are still watching Monday Night Raw each and every week. No other rivalry in wrestling has had that lasting of an impact. It truly was a rivalry that existed because the stars aligned perfectly with the right guys at the right time.
And for that reason, it certainly won’t be duplicated and will go down as the best ever.Published 15 Feb 2019, 15:00 IST