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The Complete History of the WWE Championship - Part 8

The Rock won three WWE Championships between November 1998 and February 1999
The Rock won three WWE Championships between November 1998 and February 1999
Paul Benson

Vince McMahon had found the next generation's Hulk Hogan in the shape of Stone Cold Steve Austin. However, in another stroke of good luck for the WWE Chairman, he found another diamond on his own roster, in The Rock.

The Rock had debuted for the company at Survivor Series 1996 as Rocky Maivia. He was WWE's first ever third generation superstar. Rock's father, Rocky Johnson, had been a Tag Team Champion (in fact, the first ever African-American champion - along with his partner, Tony Atlas - of any kind in WWE) and his grandfather, High Chief Peter Maivia, was a bonafide legend.

WWE recognized Rock's potential early on, furnishing him with the Intercontinental Title just three months after his debut. Just two years later, he was WWE Champion.

Rock entered WrestleMania XV as the WWE Champion opposite Stone Cold. That event was a washout as a spectacle, aside from the Rock/Austin headliner, but owing to Rock and Austin's star power, pulled a then pro-wrestling record 800,000 buys.

When Stone Cold's knackered neck finally benched him in November 1999, Rock emerged as the top star in the company.

Rock's popularity exceeded that of Stone Cold's during the Texan's absence, and WWE would become even more popular and profitable with Rock as it's figurehead.

Today, we cover five months of 1999, through the spring to the summer. Incidentally, there were a mammoth twelve - yes, twelve! - WWE title reigns during that year.

Previously in part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6 and part 7 (phew!), we covered the reigns from 1963 through to the early part of 1999.

Our next chapter is coming soon, which will finally cover the last few title runs of 1999, including the first title reigns of Triple H, Vince McMahon and The Big Show as well as the first few Championship reigns of the new millennium.

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Mankind (January 26, 1999 - February 15, 1999)

Mankind traps The Rock and earns his second WWE Championship
Mankind traps The Rock and earns his second WWE Championship

The feud between The Rock and Mankind was far from over following the 1999 Royal Rumble I Quit Match.

It was revealed that Rock had taped Mankind saying "I Quit" on a previous episode of Raw and instructed an accomplice to play the audio over the sound system while Mankind was unconscious.

When Rock's scheme was uncovered on the January 25, 1999 Raw, a re-match was arranged for the following night during half time of the Super Bowl.

That bout is infamous in WWE history but in truth it was a pretty lackluster brawl, not a patch on their 'Rumble collision.

Mankind was victorious when he trapped The Rock under a palette, utilizing a forklift and earned the pin and his second WWE Championship.

Mankind was WWE Champion once again and he would defend the title successfully versus Rock once more at St. Valentine's Day Massacre in a Last Man Standing Match after both men knocked each other out for a 10 count.

However, Mankind's dream of headlining WrestleMania would be delayed for a year as Rock would regain the strap from him, the next night on Raw.

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The Rock (February 15, 1999 - March 28, 1999)

The Rock: Defended the WWE Championship versus Stone Cold at WrestleMania XV
The Rock: Defended the WWE Championship versus Stone Cold at WrestleMania XV

The Rock clashed with Mankind one final time with the WWE Championship at stake on the February 15, Raw. That bout was a Ladder Match for some reason; WWE never explained why.

In a humdrum match-up, Rock would prove victorious, with a big assist from The Big Show, making him a three time WWE Champion; an incredible feat for the then 26 year old year old.

As Corporate champion, The Rock electrified audiences with his excellent microphone and believable ring work. He was equally at home in straight wrestling bouts and super charged brawls.

The Federation title still had incredible value and Rock was emerging as a very credible champion and rival for Stone Cold Steve Austin as company figurehead.

The company's two biggest stars collided in the headliner of a woeful WrestleMania XV event and contested the finest match on the show. Stone Cold finally earned the victory with a Stone Cold Stunner.

Rock's reign was over but he had contributed heavily to that 'Mania card becoming the highest grossing in wrestling history with an incredible 800,000 pay per view orders.

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Stone Cold Steve Austin (March 28, 1999 - May 23, 1999)

Stone Cold holds the WWE and Smoking Skull Championship belts aloft
Stone Cold holds the WWE and Smoking Skull Championship belts aloft

WrestleMania XV: The Rock versus Stone Cold Steve Austin.

That was a marquee match like no other and became the most financially successfully headline attraction in WWE history.

After Stone Cold won his third WWE Championship, he would meet The Rock again in a re-match at Backlash 1999, on April 25, 1999. That contest was superior to their WrestleMania collision. Fought under No Holds Barred rules, the pair engaged in a terrific all round the arena brawl.

The Austin/Rock magic was still there at the box office, with the B show pulling in a massive 398,000 orders on pay per view.

With Rock vanquished, Stone Cold moved on to face old foe, The Undertaker in the main event of Over The Edge held on May 23, 1999.

That card will forever be remembered for the tragic demise of Owen Hart, who was tragically killed when he fell 90 feet from the ceiling after his safety harness opened prematurely.

For that reason, this Stone Cold/Undertaker match is barely remembered or discussed. In truth, the pair contested a pedestrian bout by their standards under the shadow of the tragedy. They would contest much improved encounters the following month on Raw and at Fully Loaded in July.

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The Undertaker (May 23, 1999 - June 28, 1999)

The Undertaker: Defeated Stone Cold to win his third WWE Championship
The Undertaker: Defeated Stone Cold to win his third WWE Championship

Stone Cold's third reign as WWE Champion did not last long. After defeating The Rock at WrestleMania XV and Backlash 1999, he dropped the strap to The Undertaker at Over The Edge 1999.

With help from the McMahon's, The Undertaker lifted the strap for a third time. Like Stone Cold, 'Taker's reign would also be short lived.

The Undertaker was suffering from a multitude of injuries, most notably his groin which inhibited his in ring performances. He, therefore was not a suitable choice for champion, even on a short term basis.

The Phenom would successfully defend the strap versus The Rock in an entertaining, albeit protracted contest at the 1999 King of the Ring event. However, his reign would last just one more day as he was pitted against Stone Cold once more on Raw.

That is where his title run would end as Austin would stunner his way to a fourth World crown and 'Taker would slide down the card until he departed WWE in September.

He would be sidelined until May 2000, after suffering a pectoral injury as he returned from his groin surgery on a December house show.

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Stone Cold Steve Austin (June 28, 1999 - August 22, 1999)

Stone Cold continued his feud with Vince McMahon over the WWE Championship
Stone Cold continued his feud with Vince McMahon over the WWE Championship

The night after King of the Ring was the charm for Stone Cold Steve Austin for the second year in a row.

In a super heated battle, Stone Cold regained the belt from the man he lost it to in controversial circumstances at Over The Edge 1999.

In the highest rating segment in Raw history, Stone Cold became a four time WWE Champion, only the third man in history to do so, after Hulk Hogan and Bret "The Hitman" Hart.

The match pulled in a phenomenal 9.5 rating for the quarter hour in which it featured, proving the Stone Cold magic was still going strong.

However, injuries for the champion were mounting up and his in-ring contributions were reduced.

He would clash with Undertaker one more time in another re-match at Fully Loaded, which took place on July 25, 1999.

That contest, fought under First Blood rules was a typically entertaining Attitude Era brawl with the added stipulation that if Austin lost, he could never again compete for the WWE Championship whereas if Undertaker lost, Vince McMahon would be banished from the company forever.

Stone Cold would be victorious after 'Taker was busted open by X-Pac who kicked a television camera into the Deadman's face. McMahon would take a (temporary, not permanent) hiatus from television and Austin would move on to a new challenge.

On the Fully Loaded under-card his next challenger would be decided in a number one contenders bout.

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Mankind (August 22, 1999 - August 23, 1999)

Mankind wins his third and final WWE Championship at SummerSlam 1999
Mankind wins his third and final WWE Championship at SummerSlam 1999

SummerSlam 1999 was supposed to be Triple H's big moment. However politics delayed his coronation by 24 hours. Ironic that the man who would become a master politician at preserving his spot at the expense of others in WWE, would first have to contend with the machinations of Stone Cold Steve Austin.

In 1999, Austin was a paranoid presence backstage. A combination of mounting injuries to his knees as well as his neck and spinal cord, which had been on borrowed time ever since the Owen Driver incident at SummerSlam 1997, had led the champion to veto feuds with Dr Death Steve Williams and Jeff Jarrett who he both felt were beneath him.

Later in the year, he felt threatened by Triple H, a performer who could out wrestle him and match him on the microphone. Although "The Game" was yet to catch fire as a headliner, Stone Cold viewed him as a threat to his position.

At Fully Loaded 1999, Triple H defeated The Rock to become number one contender to the WWE Championship at SummerSlam.

The original plan was that he would defeat Austin one on one to win his first WWE Championship. However, Austin point blank refused to lose to Triple H.

In a fix, WWE were forced to rush back Mankind back from injury and a visibly in pain Mick Foley had to defeat Stone Cold instead, in a triple threat bout which included Triple H.

Post-match "The Game" was permitted to assault Stone Cold with a steel chair which was the story line excuse to write Austin out of in-ring duty for two months as he attempted to convalesce his nagging injuries.

Mankind's reign was nothing more than a single day transition as Foley was more than happy to look at the lights for Triple H.

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Edited by Vikshith R

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