Back in the early 1990s, the WWE (back then it was the WWF) had just recovered from practically one superstar carrying the company in Hulk Hogan, and there was a dynamic shift towards multiple young, talented superstars such as Shawn Micheals, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart and The Undertaker, with a vision towards the future. The WWF did not have to rely on a single superstar to become the face of the company primarily because of the talent in its roster. This, coupled with the beginning of the Monday Night Wars with WCW, meant that the WWF had to reinvent its ‘product’ offering pretty regularly.
Towards the mid-nineties, there were two superstars who the WWE backed in a big way. One was a former WCW and ECW superstar who entered the WWF with the name – The Ringmaster. But his big breakthrough was after a promo he cut at the King of the Ring pay per view in 1996, when he gave the wrestling world the catch phrase ‘Austin 3:16’. The passing of the baton of superstardom began when Austin had a long feud with Bret Hart and subsequently with Owen Hart for the Intercontinental Championship all through 1997.
The other superstar was a third generation wrestler, who made his debut at Survivor Series in 1996. Even though he won the Intercontinental Championship beating Triple H at the start of 1997, his big break came when he joined the Nation of Domination in early 1997. This was also the beginning of ‘The Attitude Era’.
The end of 1997 saw these two young superstars collide for the first time – over the Intercontinental Championship. Austin used his bad mouth Texas image while the Rock was a classic entertainer on the mic. Promos included The Rock tossing the belt into a river on an episode of RAW.
After this brief feud, Austin spent the next year ‘defying’ the authority of Mr. McMahon, while The Rock took over as the leader of the Nation of Domination, overthrowing Faarooq and feuding with D-Generation X.
The year 1999 saw these two tussle again, not only for the WWF Championship, but also for the ‘unofficial’ No.1 wrestler in the WWF. Austin , who won that year’s Royal Rumble, beat The Rock at Wrestlemania 15. In a edge of your seat match between the two superstars created magic that nobody ever though would happen again.
In the subsequent Royal Rumble, Stone Cold eliminated a dominant Kane to become the No.1 contender for the title¸while The Rock beat Kurt Angle to become the WWF Champion. The next night on RAW was the first of a series of amazing promos, with both not backing down and staring into each other’s’ eyes. Another time on Smackdown, after Austin’s match, The Rock gets into a position for the Rock Bottom, but it is only for intimidation. On a subsequent edition of RAW, Vince McMahon throws a cat amongst the pigeons when he names Austin’s wife Debra as The Rock’s manager “in the interest of fairness”.
In a one on one interview with Jim Ross, just days before their epic clash, The Rock said that Debra is not his responsibility, while Austin told him to make sure that nothing happened to his wife. In a match against Kurt Angle on RAW, The Rock couldn’t save Debra from the Angle lock. Austin then saved Debra and stunned The Rock. For the first time in this latest rivalry, they ‘made contact’ with each other. On the next episode of Smackdown, The Rock wanted revenge and had Austin in position for the Rock Bottom, Angle interfered and The Rock received another stunner for his troubles. A visibly livid Rock called out Austin on RAW and at the end of the show, used the stunner on him.
The match began with Howard Finkel announcing that it would be a No Disqualification match. As Austin made his long walk towards the ring, the crowd was in raptures. There was no real face or heel at the start of the match, and there were cheers for Austin and boos for The Rock, only because this match was taking place at Texas.
At the end of the match with both athletes spent beating the hell out of each other, Vince McMahon distracted the referee and The Rock, already seething, threw him in the ring and landed punches on the Chairman. That allowed Austin to nail The Rock with a stunner and just when everyone thought that was it, The Rock kicked out …again. Another chair shot to the skull and as Austin went for the pinfall, The Rock kicked out once more. It seemed that The Rock would just not stay down. Austin then went berserk, pounding The Rock with several shots of the steel chair, and pinned him to finally pick up the win.
On the February 20 episode of SmackDown!, The Rock returned to WWE after a six-month hiatus from wrestling (since SummerSlam). On that evening, he was in a confrontation with Hulk Hogan before their WrestleMania X8 rematch at No Way Out. At the No Way Out event, The Rock defeated Hogan with the help of Vince McMahon. On the following night’s episode of Raw, The Rock returned to the Raw brand in a 20-man Battle royal that would determine the opponent for the World Heavyweight Championship. Rock however, was unable to win after he was eliminated by Booker T; after the match, Rock criticized Steve Austin for being chosen as the Superstar of the Decade by the WWE fans in January, beginning the feud between Rock and Austin.
The following week on Raw, Austin, who was on a long hiatus before returning that previous Sunday at No Way Out, made his WWE television return, as he cut a promo about the WWE fans, before he was interrupted by Rock, who challenged him to a match at WrestleMania because The Rock, himself, was obsessed of not beating Austin at a WrestleMania event by the time they fought at WrestleMania XV and X-Seven during a four-year span. As soon as the challenge was made, Raw General manager, Eric Bischoff, announced that the following week on Raw, Rock would face Booker T in a match, and if he won, he would have the choice to face either Austin or Triple H at WrestleMania.
On the March 10 episode of Raw, Rock, with Bischoff’s approval, announced that he would pick his own opponent for later that night, which turned out to be The Hurricane, in hopes for Rock to gain an easy victory. However, Austin made his way down the entrance ramp, which distracted Rock and allowed Hurricane to Roll up Rock into a successful pinfall, which made the Austin-Rock match at WrestleMania official. On the March 24, and final episode of Raw leading into WrestleMania, Austin was banned from entering the arena that night. He managed to enter the arena and attack Rock, however, before Rock fled the ring.
I could literally break down the match, but this highlight video shows some essentials to the end of this rivalry.
With The Rock finally defeating his arch-rival at WrestleMania, this ended one of the greatest rivalries in the WWE ever! What happens when the The Bionic Redneck and The Brahma Bull collide in an explosive epic rivalry for the ages. Well lets say we would be shutting our mouths and knowing our roles as we watch in amazement when every punch that is thrown has taken our breaths away. The crowd chanting The Rock’s name for five seconds or a chorus of “What!?,What!?,What!?” echo through out the stadium.
All future rivalries will have to strive for reaching the level of an Austin/Rock rivalry and and quite frankly it’ll be a very and I mean VERY long time before any rivalry even close to being better then this one.