The 15 Greatest Moments of The Rock's Career

Erik BeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2013

The 15 Greatest Moments of The Rock's Career

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    The Rock is one of professional wrestling's most enduring Superstars. His charisma alone has captivated audiences for nearly 17 years. He has competed in some of the industry's most memorable matches, won its top prizes, and headlined its most prestigious pay-per-view events.

    As he prepares to challenge CM Punk for the WWE Championship at Sunday's Royal Rumble, it is important to remember some of "The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment's" greatest moments. They are the matches that made him a champion, the promos that made him a star, and the sounds and images that made him an icon.

    These are The Rock's 15 greatest moments.

Survivor Series 1996: Rocky Maivia Debuts

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    When Rocky Maivia stepped foot inside Madison Square Garden on Nov. 17, making his debut for the World Wrestling Federation at the 1996 Survivor Series, he did so with the weight of the world on his shoulders. There were great expectations set for him as the company wasted little time hyping him as the industry’s next breakout star.

    The business’ first third-generation Superstar, he not only had the marketing machine of Vince McMahon’s empire behind him, he also had the legacies of his father and grandfather to live up to.

    In his first televised bout, he took several steps towards meeting those expectations. The sole survivor of his team, he overcame a two-on-one disadvantage, eliminating both Goldust and Crush to capture the win for Team Mero.

    That night, on the grand stage of one of the company’s signature pay-per-view events, and in the “Mecca” of sports-entertainment, he excelled.

    It would not be the only time he lived up to the moment.

Thursday Raw Thursday: Rocky's First Title

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    Thursday Raw Thursday will go down in history as the night Shawn Michaels “lost his smile” but perhaps it should be remembered more for the night Rocky Maivia captured his first World Wrestling Federation gold.

    Taking on Hunter Hearst Helmsley for the Intercontinental Championship, the Jim Ross-proclaimed “blue chipper” stunned the world by upsetting the Greenwich blue blood and picking up his first major title.

    He would go on to defend the title at WrestleMania 13 against The Sultan and compete in a memorable Monday Night Raw bout against Bret “Hitman” Hart before losing the strap to Bret’s brother, Owen.

    A knee injury would soon sideline Maivia. When he returned, he would recall the jeers and the “Rocky Sucks” chants and take his character, and career, in a new direction.

    A direction that would result in many more championship victories.

WrestleMania XIV: "If Ya Smell What I'm Cookin'"

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    By the time WrestleMania XIV rolled around, Rocky Maivia was now “The Rock”, he was a member of the hated Nation of Domination, and he was once again the Intercontinental Champion.

    He was also scheduled to defend his title against “the World’s Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock but the match ultimately played second fiddle to a pre-taped interview that would go on to define “The Great One.”

    The interview was conducted by the infamous Gennifer Flowers, who had been a part of a White House scandal, and was responsible for the coining of a catchphrase that would become The Rock’s calling card. Rather than try to transcribe or quote the entire thing, it has been embedded above.

    The interview proved that The Rock could not only play the role of cocky, arrogant young ass, he could also be witty, funny, and smart. Above all else, he created a catchphrase that could be repeated by fans everywhere and could be plastered on the front of t-shirts for merchandise purposes.

    Definitely one of the more underrated moments of the Hall of Fame career of “The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment.”

SummerSlam 1998: Climbing the Ladder to Greatness

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    The 1998 SummerSlam pay-per-view was dubbed “The Highway to Hell.” With Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker set to do battle in one of the most anticipated title bouts ever, it was sure to be a major success.

    As entertaining as that main event would be, however, two young talents, hungry for a main-event opportunity, would steal the show in a ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship.

    The Rock had held the title for nearly eight months by the time he arrived to Madison Square Garden, despite stiff opposition from Triple H.

    The leader of D-Generation X, the future “Game” had targeted the champion and the rest of the Nation of Domination in a war of factions that dominated World Wrestling Federation television throughout the spring and summer of 1998.

    The two all-time great performers utilized the ladder as a weapon, brutalizing one another with it rather than setting up death-defying spots. And as the match wore on, something unexpected happened. Rather than cheering the babyface Triple H, the die-hard New York crowd voiced their support for The Rock.

    As they had with D-Generation X and Stone Cold before him, the fans were dictating to Vince McMahon and the rest of WWF management what they wanted to see and who they wanted to cheer.

    Coming out of the event, The Rock was gaining in popularity and appeared poised to take that next step into the main event.

Survivor Series 1998: The Rock...The Great One...The Champion

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    Heading into the 1998 Survivor Series, The Rock had been on a tremendous roll. A full-fledged babyface, even a nonsensical loss to Mark Henry could not derail the momentum he had entering the annual November extravaganza.

    One of the favorites to win the tournament, The Rock rolled over his competition, easily advancing to the finals. His opponent? Mankind, the deranged Superstar who had been a pawn in Mr. McMahon’s game to keep Steve Austin from winning the title.

    The two Superstars battered one another until the finish, which saw The Rock uncharacteristically apply the Sharpshooter, a submission made famous by Bret Hart and a submission that was at the center of the “Montreal Screw Job” incident the year prior.

    Vince McMahon immediately called for the bell and ring announcer Howard Finkel announced Rock as the winner, and NEW World Wrestling Federation Champion. The fans were in shock as it was clear Mankind never submitted.

    When the new champion embraced both Vince and Shane McMahon, it became clear that he had turned his back on the very fans that had been so ready to accept him and, instead, embraced money and the guarantee of the World Wrestling Federation title.

    As 1998 came to a close, The Rock was the top heel in the sport and one of the brightest stars in a major reason the company had begun to take control of the Monday Night Wars.

WrestleMania XV: Rock-Austin I

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    WrestleMania XV featured the two top stars in the industry meeting for the sport’s top prize in one of the great sports cities in the country.

    When Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock entered the First Union Center in Philadelphia, the rabid fans of the World Wrestling Federation knew that their title clash would send them home happy, even if the rest of the show failed to live up to expectations.

    The Rock was everything the fans hated. He was the Corporate Champion, a man who sold out and turned his back on the people in exchange for rewards he may-or may not-have been able to achieve on his own.

    Austin, on the other hand, was the blue collar, beer-swigging, ass-kicking anti-hero the fans loved to cheer. It was a tremendous dynamic that made their first WrestleMania encounter a thing of beauty.

    They brawled all around the arena before settling into the squared circle for the latter portion of the bout. Several referee bumps led to interference from both Mr. McMahon and Mankind before Stone Cold delivered the Stunner and pinned The Rock’s shoulders to the mat.

    The match, Rock’s first ‘Mania main event, proved that he could not only sell pay-per-views, he could also hang in big-match situations with the unquestioned top star in the industry. By the time they met again, on the sport’s grandest stage, the top star in the industry would be far less clear.

Monday Night Raw: This Is Your Life

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    The highest rated segment in the history of Monday Night Raw, “This is Your Life” was a piece of sports-entertainment gold that, had it involved any two less-talented performers, could easily have been sports-entertainment crap.

    For 20-plus minutes, Mankind trotted out important people from The Rock’s past, only to have “the Great One” insult them and send them packing.

    The wit displayed by Mankind and Rock won over an audience that easily could have become bored by the elongated promo. It was not until this segment that the company truly understood what it had in the mismatched duo that affectionately became known as The Rock and Sock Connection.

    It was also around this time that the real-life Dwayne Johnson began to assume the role of the business’ top babyface due to an untimely neck injury suffered by Steve Austin. By the time the new Millennium kicked off, The Rock would be in demand by both wrestling fans and the titans of entertainment.

Judgment Day 2000: Iron Men

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    There comes a time in every entertainment art form where even the most talented and successful have something new to prove to their audiences. At Judgment Day 2000, The Rock and Triple H would have to step up and succeed in a match type that only two men had ever competed in on a World Wrestling Federation pay-per-view.

    They would compete in a one-hour “Iron Man” match and, unbeknown to fans across the globe, they would set the bar for every “Iron Man” match to follow.

    Proving they could keep the audience’s attention for 60 minutes, Rock and Triple H proved to be elite sports-entertainment by utilizing different aspects of professional wrestling to craft a masterpiece. They brawled, exchanged technical wrestling holds, and manipulated traditional wrestling rules to tell the story they wanted.

    With less-than a minute remaining, the two Superstars were tied. Shawn Michaels, the match’s special referee, had been taken down on the outside of the squared circle and D-Generation X and the McMahon family had hit the ring in an attempt to halt The Rock’s flurry of offense. 

    Then, “are you scared” sounded throughout the arena, Kid Rock’s “American Bad Ass” erupted over the PA system, and the Undertaker made his return, clearing the ring of DX and assaulting Triple H.

    The chokeslam had been witnessed by a recovering Michaels and ultimately led to a victory for Triple H.

    The Rock would leave Judgment Day without his World Wrestling Federation Championship but he would not leave with his head down. In one night, he proved that he had become the absolute, unquestioned top star in the industry.

    For one hour, he had fans eating out of the palm of his hand. He held their attention and proved he was capable of participating in a match of that length.

    With the summer of 2000 approaching, there may have been no single entertainer, period, as hot as The Rock. By the fall, however, his greatest professional rival would be back and a showdown between “The Great One” and "The Texas Rattlesnake” was looming large.

WrestleMania X-7: Rock-Austin II

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    The Attitude Era ended on April 1, 2001, inside the Houston Astrodome, in the main event of Wrestlemania X-7 when Steve Austin and The Rock took to the ring for their World Wrestling Federation Championship bout.

    The two Superstars so synonymous with the era that took professional wrestling to new heights tore the roof off of the Astrodome with a match befitting the end of an era.

    Austin was a desperate man, willing to do whatever it took to win the WWF Championship he had not held since August 1999.

    The Rock was the Superstar who rose to prominence during Stone Cold’s absence and wanted to prove he was every bit the star Austin was and, more importantly, wanted to retain the title he had worked so hard to win.

    The story was one any fan could invest themselves in and the company had two performers they knew could live up to the hype and expectations.

    The finish of the match saw Stone Cold Steve Austin resort to aligning himself with Mr. McMahon to defeat the resilient champion. When Rock kicked out of multiple Stone Cold Stunners, Austin used a chair to beat about his opponent’s body before pinning him and picking up the victory.

    For the second time, Steve Austin defeated The Rock in the main event of sports-entertainment’s premiere event.

    Unlike their first meeting, where Austin was the top draw and Rock was merely along for the ride, the sport’s most electrifying character was every bit the equal of his “dance partner” and, in many ways, may very well have eclipsed him.

WrestleMania X-8: Icon vs. Icon

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    In February  2002, the wrestling world was stunned when Vince McMahon signed Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash.

    As members of the nWo during the heyday of the Monday Night Wars, those three men were responsible for nearly putting McMahon’s company out of business. They were also notoriously selfish, putting their ego and well-being ahead of what was best for the business.

    Few knew what to expect when they returned to World Wrestling Federation but what they did know, however, was that their arrival would bring with it potential for any number of dream matches.

    At WrestleMania X-8, fans bore witness to one of the business’ all-time great dream matches when The Rock met Hulk Hogan.

    There are few instances when two icons of any industry share the stage in a legitimate high-pressure situation. That was what awaited Rock and Hogan as they met in the center of the squared circle, the fans inside the Sky Dome in Toronto at a near fever pitch.

    The Rock and Hollywood Hogan delivered one of the finest displays of sports-entertainment of all-time. Utilizing very few actual hold but still managing to play the audience like a fiddle, they had every one of the 68,000+ inside the dome on their feet, counting along with the pinfall attempts and popping for every major spot.

    The were masters of their craft and the audience rewarded them accordingly. The Rock had arrived, cementing himself as the top star in the industry and earning the respect of even the “Immortal” Hulk Hogan.

SummerSlam 2002: The Rock Runs into the 'Next Big Thing'

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    By the time the much-anticipated bout between The Rock and Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2002, the WWE’s Undisputed Champion was in the middle of a transition from in-ring competitor to Hollywood star.

    He had already starred in The Scorpion King and had The Rundown and Walking Tall preparing for release. It was became more clear that his days as a full-time performer for World Wrestling Entertainment were coming to an end.

    The fans in Long Island for the SummerSlam pay-per-view knew this and reacted accordingly, showering Rock with boos as he squared off against the massive young challenger to his title, Brock Lesnar.

    The match was a high-impact, hard-hitting affair with Rock using his veteran wiles to counter the pure strength and raw fury of Lesnar but, in the end, he met the same fate all of Lesnar’s prior opponents did: he fell in defeat at the hands of the F5 finisher.

    The Rock did something for Brock that others in his position may not have done: he put him over clean in the center of the ring, without any outside interference or shenanigans to cloud the result.

    He made Brock Lesnar a legitimate star in one night and left the company with a performer they could depend on while he returned to Hollywood.

    It was the biggest match of the summer, the most hyped of the year outside of Rock's epic clash with Hulk Hogan, and it more than lived up to the hype.

    Rock did not have to put Lesnar over in the manner he did but, because of his respect for those that came before him, he did business the right way. It was a selfless act at a time when the business did not see many of them.

WrestleMania XIX: Rock-Austin III

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    “If Hollywood has taught The Rock anything, it’s that Act One and Act Two...they don’t matter. The only thing that matters, everyone remembers, is Act Three.”

    One of the greatest rivalries in the history of professional wrestling came to a close in Seattle at Safeco Field at Wrestlemania XIX. Stone Cold Steve Austin met for a history-making third time in a main event at the biggest spectacle in sports-entertainment. This time, they did not close the show but they did provide a fitting end to their years-long feud.

    Rock and Austin exchanged finishers, stole each other’s signature holds, and thrilled a crowd of 54,000-plus, despite the fact that a medical emergency nearly prevented Stone Cold from performing. The match would go 17:55 and would conclude when The Rock executed a third consecutive Rock Bottom and pinned his greatest rival’s shoulders to the mat.

    Now an international mega-star in multiple forms of entertainment, WrestleMania XIX featured The Rock doing the one thing he had yet to do: beat Stone Cold at Wrestlemania.

    With nothing else to accomplish, “the Jabroni beating, pie eating, trail blazing, eyebrow raising People’s Champ” would compete in only two more matches before disappearing from the industry that made him a household name.

FINALLY...THE ROCK HAS COME BACK...HOME!

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    When it was announced that WrestleMania 27 would have a very special guest host, fans wasted little time wondering which major Hollywood celebrity would fill that role. Little could they have known that said celebrity would be one of pro wrestling’s own.

    On Feb. 14, 2011, “If Ya Smell...” exploded over the PA system and the WWE Universe erupted as The Rock made his first in-person appearance for the company in seven years. He saluted the audience, promised he would never leave World Wrestling Entertainment, and then he turned his attention to John Cena.

    He mocked the leader of the Cenation’s choice in T-shirt colors and his signature “you can’t see me” motto. In one night, he not only hyped his appearance at WrestleMania, he also planted the seeds for interaction between he and Cena and, perhaps, a match between the two at a later date.

    It was a moment wrestling fans had begun to doubt would ever happen again. After all, Dwayne Johnson had become a legitimate Hollywood star, the savior of several popular franchises and one of the film industry’s most profitable. Who could have imagined that he would return to the wrestling business?

WrestleMania 27: Hosting the Big One

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    The Rock electrified WrestleMania in Atlanta, kicking off the show and injecting an energy into the event that was unmatched by anything else on the card, sans Triple H vs. The Undertaker.

    In a memorable, if under-appreciated moment, he interacted with Stone Cold Steve Austin for the first time in years.

    More importantly than anything else he did on the show, however, was his inevitable involvement in the evening's main event. His Rock Bottom to John Cena, costing him the WWE Championship in a match against The Miz, sent the largely anti-Cena crowd home happy.

    As financially success as his return to WrestleMania proved to be, however, it would the consequences of his action, the challenge by Cena the following night on Raw for a match at WrestleMania 28, that would have fans and industry insiders as excited for a single bout than they had been in years.

WrestleMania 28: Once in a Lifetime...Maybe

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    The Rock.

    John Cena.

    One of the Attitude Era’s biggest stars taking on the biggest star of the “PG Era.” It was a match few could have imagined but one that would captivate even the harshest of wrestling critics.

    In fact, their headlining match resulted in WrestleMania 28 becoming the most successful pay-per-view event in wrestling history, eclipsing the previous record held by WrestleMania 23.

    The match brought together fans of today’s product and fans from yesteryear, those fans that had stopped watching at the conclusion of the Attitude Era. It sparked interest across the Internet and had die-hard fans picking sides in a show of loyalty usually reserved for the God-awful Twilight films.

    Most importantly, the rivalry between The Rock and John Cena made wrestling fun again. Fans wanted to watch Monday Night Raw, either live or via DVR, to see just what would happen next.

    Those same fans would then debate who won that week’s face-to-face confrontation. It was the first time in years that fans felt so passionately, one way or the other, about a program on WWE television.

    As most know by now, The Rock would win the WrestleMania match and, as a result, be granted a WWE Championship match nearly a year later at the Royal Rumble.

    After eight years away from the ring, the man once known as Rocky Maivia proved that he was still one of the industry’s all-time great performers and a talent the likes of which the sports is unlikely to ever see again.

Another 15?

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    At 40 years of age and in the middle of a highly successful Hollywood career, The Rock continues to make moments that will live on in the annals of World Wrestling Entertainment’s long and illustrious history.

    Sunday night, at the Royal Rumble, he will look to add yet another championship to his already-impressive resume when he challenges CM Punk in what may be his most physically-taxing match since returning to the ring.

    Then, in just over two months, he will roll into MetLife Stadium for WrestleMania 29 where he will likely add to his list of accomplishments and magical moments.

    Who knows, when all is said and done, perhaps a second list of his greatest moments will be necessary.

    Until then, enjoy Sunday’s event as WWE and The Rock embark on the “Road to WrestleMania.”