This week, WWE dropped the bombshell that The Rock would be returning to the ring at November’s Survivor Series PPV event for his first match since 2004. Not since the “Rock and Sock Connection” put over “Evolution” at Wrestlemania XX has The Rock been in a competitive match. And not since then has he sported that questionable goatee.
At next year’s Wrestlemania, The Rock will step in the ring with John Cena as his opponent in what has been dubbed a ‘dream match’. Come November however, the two will be partners as early WWE advertising points towards them teaming up in a 5 on 5 Survivor Series Elimination Match. So what better time than now to examine the best matches “The People’s Champion” has ever had.
Here’s ten of the best from The Rock’s wrestling career.
10. The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin III – Wrestlemania 19
The Rock of early 2003 might be my favourite incarnation of the character. After being booed heavily while appearing via pre-taped videos at the Raw 10th Anniversary show, Vince McMahon decided it would be best for The Rock to return after a long hiatus in Hollywood as a bad guy. And how right they were. Whether he was doing his final job putting over Goldberg or being accused of being a “Scorpion King with a Tiny Ding a Ling,” he was at his most entertaining. The highlight of this run however, had to be his final feud with Steve Austin.
The story was simple. Having failed at his two previous attempts, The Rock wanted to beat Austin at Wrestlemania. The match (which ended up being Austin’s last) was one of the many highlights of Mania 19. The night before, Austin had a very real scare that his neck was in such a bad shape he may not be able to compete, but compete they did and they tore the house down. Rock was on fire that night, even putting on Austin’s vest as doing a hammed up impersonation of the “Bionic Redneck.” Austin kicked out of a Stunner and the People’s Elbow. It took THREE Rock Bottoms, but the Rock finally got the win he so desired and pinned Austin at Wrestlemania.
9. The Rock vs. Triple H – WWE Championship Iron Man Match – Judgment Day 2000
A month previous at Backlash, the storyline went that Steve Austin returned after half a year out and cost Triple H the title against The Rock. At the time, Triple H and the McMahon-Helmsley Regime had all the power in WWE so they went ahead and booked Triple H a rematch against The Rock under Iron Man Rules. To make matters even more interesting Shawn Michaels made a surprise return as guest referee for the hour long title match.
At that point there had only been one Iron Man Match in the history of the WWE and it had involved HBK and Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 12 where no pinfalls would take place in the sixty minutes (HBK would win in overtime) and it was questioned whether HHH and Rock could keep the fans hooked for an hour the way those greats had. But to differ the booking, on this night they were given plenty of falls to work with.
Every fall was something different and the in-ring psychology was booked to perfection. With two minutes to go, The Rock took control with a People’s Elbow and tied the match at 5 falls each. At this point, the ENTIRE McMahon Helmsley faction ran in to beat down The Rock. But as the clock ran down, Kid Rock’s American Bad Ass hit the speakers and the returning Undertaker came out. And on a motorbike!
I remember the crowd going absolutely bananas for Undertaker’s return as he stepped into the ring and floored everyone in sight. Unfortunately for The Rock, Undertaker’s choke slam on Triple H was caught by referee Shawn Michaels who disqualified the Rock and awarded the final fall to Triple H by DQ. Great Iron Man match, which was my favourite until Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar.
8. The Rock vs. The Undertaker – WWE Championship – King of the Ring 1999
After The Rock left his storyline with Stone Cold in 1999, he went on to become one of the most loved stars in WWE history. (I toyed with including his SummerSlam 1999 match against Billy Gunn here instead of this one but this is better to me. And it didn‘t feel right involving a “Kiss My Ass“ match!)
I love the start of this one. Almost as soon as the match started, Undertaker turned and knocked out the referee. The crowd (and me) ate it up. The Rock gave him an early Rock Bottom, but of course there was no one to count. So instead they went on a wild brawl around the arena. Even Paul Bearer got involved, taking a shot at The Rock with his smelly shoe!
Towards the end, Bearer poured a “substance” on a cloth which the Rock managed to get a hold of and use on the Undertaker to knock him out. Just as it looked like Rock had the upper hand, Triple H stormed the ring and flattened Rocky. Undertaker gave him a Tombstone and the referee awoke from his twenty minute nap just in time to count the pin. I should also note that JR was on typical hilariously over the top form towards the end of this match. Particularly with Triple H getting involved.
7. The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan – Icon vs. Icon – Wrestlemania 18
So, everyone kind of knows this one wasn’t exactly a great match from a technical point of view. But in terms of in ring quality, Wrestlemania 18 wasn’t really a great one anyway. And when you chronicle the career of The Rock, this match cant be ignored. HHH vs. Jericho was the main event on the night, but looking back its easy to see that Rock vs. Hogan should have been.
The fans were unbelievable for this one and went nuts from the opening bell with nostalgia for an old hero. So much so that they were spent by the time HHH pinned Jericho later in the night. The match itself was not much to talk about. The fans were solidly behind heel Hogan. They kicked out of each others finishes. Rock pinned Hogan following 2 Rock Bottoms and a Peoples Elbow. After the bell, Rock and Hogan shook hands in what’s become an iconic WWE image.
6. The Rock vs. Kurt Angle – WWE Championship – No Way Out 2001
Kurt Angle had held the WWE Title since he won it for the first time in October 2000 at No Mercy. When Stone Cold won the Royal Rumble in 2001 however, it looked unlikely he would face Angle at Wrestlemania. Most people had figured out long before the match that the long term booking plan was for The Rock vs. Austin at Wrestlemania and nobody was surprised to see Rock would emerge victorious, but it didn’t spoil the match itself.
Angle went on to become one of the best in ring competitors ever and he was really hitting his stride here. The exchange of near falls and reversals at the end built the crowd to a fever pitch. Rock sent Angle into an exposed turnbuckle and gave him a Rock Bottom. That should have been it, but the pin fall was slightly botched. One more Rock Bottom later and the Rock won back the title for a 6th time.
5. The Rock vs. Undertaker vs. Kurt Angle – WWE Championship – Vengeance 2002
In the Summer of 2002, the WWE had a fast rising monster in the form of Brock Lesnar headed for a World Title. They needed someone massive to put Brock over in a title match, and The Rock, whose time with the company was shrinking due to film commitments, was the man for the job. This Triple Threat Match from Vengeance existed only to get the strap back on the Rock, but the match turned out to be a great one. It started with
The Rock and Undertaker staring each other out completely ignoring Angle. This led to all three men stealing each others finishers for a while. As with anything involving Angle, there were reversals, false finishes and beautiful submission transitions. And it was Angle who looked to be walking away with the belt after he floored Undertaker with an Angle Slam. He took his foot off the gas for a few seconds too many though, which allowed the Rock to grab him and beat him with a Rock Bottom to win the title and go on to drop it to Brock Lesnar.
4. The Rock vs. Chris Jericho – WCW Championship – No Mercy 2001
Despite both being members of the WWE against The Alliance, Jericho and The Rock were not getting along. Even though they were both part of the same team, it was the WCW title that came between them. That and The Rock accidentally blasting Jericho with a chair in a tag match a few weeks earlier. Some people prefer their match at the 2002 Royal Rumble, which is also great, but this one is my pick.
In the middle of it, Jericho even hit a Rock Bottom, followed by a Lionsault. Rock fought back with a Sharpshooter but Jericho escaped. What he couldn’t escape however was a Rock Bottom through the announce table. After Stephanie McMahon got involved, Jericho took the opportunity to hit the short lived finisher “The Breakdown” and pin the Rock for the WCW Title. Chris Jericho has some great stories about matches between he and the Rock in his second book. Particularly one involving Bruce Willis.
3. The Rock vs. Stone Cold – WWE Championship – Wrestlemania 17
I couldn’t possibly leave this one out. Out of the three Rock vs. Austin matches at Wrestlemania, this one is probably the best. It was a struggle to leave Wrestlemania 15 off the list but there’s something big about this one that makes it stand out. Being the main event of the most loved Wrestlemania in history helped, as did the hot crowd. Austin came to the ring to one of the loudest reactions I’d ever heard at the time, which only served to make the outcome even more shocking. Right from the bell, Austin and Rock beat the snot out of each other both in the ring and all around ringside.
The underlying story on commentary was who made the match no DQ at the last minute. And it became apparent late in the match. After a hard fought, bloody battle in which Austin even busted out his old Million Dollar Dream, Vince McMahon made his way to the ring. Austin couldn’t put Rock away and grew increasingly frustrated. The Rock used this to come back but Vince got involved to stop the count. It was then that everyone realised that the fix was in and the impossible had happened. Stone Cold had aligned with Vince McMahon. After a near half hour battle, Vince handed Austin a chair and he completely destroyed the Rock with it. Post match, Austin shook hands with Vince as JR made one of the calls of his life regarding Stone Cold selling his soul and shaking hands with the devil himself.
2. The Rock vs. Triple H – WWE Intercontinental Title Ladder Match – SummerSlam 1998
Arguably the match that put both men on the map. Both were stand out leaders from their factions, the Rock of the Nation and Triple H of DX. And both hated each other. Taking place in Madison Square Garden, this ladder match stole the show on the night. Rock and Hunter worked in some really innovative spots with the big yellow ladder, including some things that you’d never see them do later in their career.
The Rock gave Triple H a Peoples Elbow on the ladder and even managed to briefly get the MSG crowd on his side. Mark Henry was at ringside with the Rock and threw powder into Triple H eyes. It was Chyna, in the corner of HHH though that proved to be the ultimate difference. As Rock and HHH both climbed the ladder, Chyna entered the ring and knocked Rocky down with a low blow. This allowed Triple H to reach high and claim the belt.
1. The Rock vs. Mankind – WWE Title “I Quit Match” – Royal Rumble 1999
For better or for worse, one of the most famous matches in WWE history. Featured heavily in documentary “Beyond the Mat,” and the biography “Have a Nice Day” by Mick Foley, this is as brutal as brutal gets. Rock and Mick Foley had some amazing matches. A last man standing match, a ladder match and my personal favourite an “Empty Arena” match included. But this one is career defining. Rock and Mankind brought the pain, starting with Mick being knocked from a balcony onto a stack of speakers, which were rigged to explode on impact. Not one to ever do a half assed job, Mankind didn’t quit. Even Shane McMahon wanted it to end here. Instead, the Rock handcuffed Foley and struck him in the head with a chair. And again. And again. And again.
Finally, after a few more brutal, UNPROTECTED head shots, Foley passed out in the aisle. The match made the Rock look like a bad ass inside one match and if you’ve never seen the documentary footage of before and after this match, it is must see. The images of Foley’s wife and children being horrified at what they were seeing is startling and unsettling to see. Now regarded as a classic title match, this match was the match that ushered in the superstardom of the most electrifying man in sports entertainment.