Steve Austin vs. The Rock is not only the greatest feud in WrestleMania history, it is also arguably the greatest in WWE history.
The Rock captured the WWE Championship for the first time at the 1998 Survivor Series when he conspired with Vince and Shane McMahon to defeat Mankind in the finals of a one-night tournament. The win solidified him as both a main event player in the industry and the ideal representative of McMahon's company. As the "corporate champion," Rock brashly and arrogantly insulted opponents with his humorous catchphrases and backed up his words with actions, thanks to a nearly unmatched athletic background.
Austin, on the other hand, found himself screwed out of the championship by the McMahons at the same Survivor Series event and was forced to work his way back into contention by defeating Undertaker in a Buried Alive match at Rock Bottom: In Your House and by beating Vince in a steel cage match at St. Valentine's Day Massacre, despite interference from the debuting Paul Wight (Big Show).
The main event of WrestleMania XV would see Rock defend his title against Austin in Philadelphia, the so-called City of Brotherly Love.
The match was a wild and chaotic Attitude Era brawl that saw action spill out of the ring, up the aisle way and back down to ringside before settling inside the squared circle. An appearance by Mankind, who would officiate the remaining minutes of the match, ensured that Austin would not be screwed again. After delivering a Stone Cold Stunner to The Rock, the deranged Superstar slapped the mat three times and declared Austin the new WWE champion.
In the two years that followed that match, Austin underwent neck surgery and returned to action while Rock capitalized on the Texas Rattlesnake's year-long absence to become a mainstream media star. He was slated to appear in The Mummy Returns and had filled the role of "most popular sports entertainer" that Austin had called his own.
With Stone Cold back and ready to reclaim that throne, as well as the WWE title, there was only one match WWE could produce that would fill the historic AstroDome in Houston and headline an event of the magnitude of WrestleMania X-Seven.
Austin entered the arena, square in the heart of his home state of Texas, to a deafening ovation, while The Rock's reception was nowhere near as warm as one may have expected.
The two Superstars tore at one another in a violent, vicious, hard-fought No Disqualification match. Austin pulled out moves he had not utilized in years, including the Million Dollar Dream, while Rock showed tremendous guts and resiliency as he took every bit of offense Austin dished out and never quit.
The interference from Mr. McMahon late in the match, as well as his shocking alliance with Austin, ultimately spelled the end of The Rock's WWE Championship reign, not to the mention the conclusion of the Attitude Era as fans had known it.
In 2003, Rock returned to WWE following a successful stint in Hollywood and did so as a villain. The bright lights and celebrity had clearly gotten to him, and the man who once prided himself on being the "People's Champ" suddenly cared nothing about the people.
Austin returned to the company after walking out on it eight months earlier and was ready to get back to work. With both men stepping back inside the squared circle around the same time, it was a natural fit to have the two biggest stars of all time meet for a third match at WrestleMania XIX.
Few knew at the time, however, that it would be Austin's final match and the end of wrestling's most storied rivalry.
Austin and Rock entertained the audience as only they can, stealing one another's finishing maneuvers and creating drama with near-falls and false finishes. In the end, Austin did the honors for Rock, as the Great One defeated Stone Cold for the first time at WrestleMania.
The emotion of the match was excellently captured in the 2004 documentary The Mania of WrestleMania.
Rarely does a Superstar come along that transcends the industry. Even rarer, nearly impossible is it, for a company to spin off two of those Superstars at once. It is so hard to capture magic in a bottle, and for WWE to be the lucky recipients of said magic twice, during the same era, was unheard of.
Rock and Austin had such chemistry and produced such memorable matches with one another that it's no wonder why WWE continued to go to that well. By doing so, it created the greatest trilogy in wrestling history and provided its fans with memories that will last a lifetime thanks to the extraordinary talents of the men involved.