WWE Legacies Series: The Rock And The Superstars He Helped To Establish
This series is aimed at discussing the impact that wrestlers have left on the business, regardless of their personal achievements. The impact I am aiming to discuss is the way they have improved the product or careers of other superstars.
Due to my age and when I started to follow the WWF/WWE, I am solely focusing this series on individuals whose careers date from around 1997 onwards and, more specifically, on less active or retired wrestlers.
In this installment, I am focusing on The Rock. Without a doubt, one of the greatest wrestlers to have cut a promo, he was a cornerstone of the Attitude Era. Credit should be given to the creative team, who laid the foundations for his legendary feuds with HHH and Stone Cold; however, The Rock's in-ring and mic abilities elevated his feuds to greatness.
During such a short yet successful career, The Rock earned his moniker as The Great One and gave us a list of red-hot wrestling catchphrases. Smackdown itself was named after one of the Rock's most famous phrases. During the main seven years of his career, he became arguably the hottest property in wrestling, only perhaps second to Stone Cold otherwise. He could wrestle, talk and just entertain in a way that nobody before or after have been able to. He was one of the most complete all round entertainers the business has ever produced.
Still one of the most loved wrestlers in the business, when his music hits, the ovation will blow the roof off any venue. He has been criticised for not appearing on WWE programming often enough, despite what many believe he owes the company. I would argue that he is doing his own thing, and too many nostalgic appearances lose their appeal after a while.
Now I want to make it blatantly clear that I am NOT stating that The Rock made HHH. Neither would I say that HHH made The Rock. Their legendary feud was a great example of the kind of attitude and determination that is missing from pretty much each and every mid carder in the current pro-wrestling products of WWE and TNA. They were mid-card talents in 1998, who initially feuded over the Intercontinental title. The run of matches that peaked in a ladder at Summerslam 1998 were a great series that allowed both wrestlers to develop their characters with the audience, and work on their promo skills.
The ladder match at Summerslam 1998 was a rare feat in which the mid-card talents were given more match time than the Austin vs Taker main event. And it paid off dividends for the future of the WWE product. The Rock and HHH will without a doubt be considered amongst the Top 10 Superstars to ever compete within the WWE, and this match really solidifed their future within the company.
The rivalry continued throughout their careers, including the slightly chaotic main event at Wrestlemania 2000 also featuring Cactus Jack and The Big Show, the Judgement Day 2000 Ironman Match as well as several others. I would personally argue that their rivalry could quite easily go down amongst the great feuds of Hart-Michaels, Austin-McMahon and Undertaker-Kane.
The initial feud should be utilised as a blueprint for mid-card talents who the WWE want to push, as clearly, both The Rock and Triple H have each respectively left a lasting legacy within the WWE.
In 2002, Brock Lesnar made maybe the biggest debut of any superstar since The Undertaker's in 1991. He was touted as The Next Big Thing, and the creative team pushed him to the top of the product within a matter of months. What was impressive about Lesnar was his wrestling abilities. He fit the traditional WWE mould of having a ripper bodybuilders physique, being tall and an attitude. However he is one of the few examples of a guy of his size being an incredibly skilled technical wrestler, who also could hit a shooting star press (at least in OVW).
His sudden rise through the ranks led to the controversial exit of Stone Cold, who was not happy to job to such a young and fresh talent. The Rock, however, was willing to drop the Undisputed Championship to Lesnar, and it was a push like no other for Lesnar. During his initial title reign, he engaged in a fantastic feud with The Undertaker, including one of the finest Hell in a Cell matches ever, before dropping the title to The Big Show at Madison Square Gardens.
That three-month title reign was the catapult for Lesnar into becoming arguably one of the biggest stars of the decade, and in turn led to an outstanding feud with Kurt Angle which featured some of the finest pure wrestling of their generation. Currently, UFC is quickly becoming the next big thing in terms of male-orientated sports entertainment internationally, and the product has been largely publicised because of Brock Lesnar's position on their roster. Whether we will see him again in the WWE is yet to be determined; however, the two years that he spent in the company have left a strong legacy in the product that has yet to be replaced.
Chris Jericho in 1999 jumped ship from the failing WCW product to the WWE, being the first of many from his generation of wrestlers, including the likes of Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and Perry Saturn. He had few chances within the WCW to be a title holder, or to show off his excellent promo abilities.
So when he debuted in the WWE, they put him up against the best mic worker in the history of the WWE. What followed is still fondly remembered by many older fans as one of the finest mic exchanges ever.
Though they didn't actually feud for over a year, their exchange was an ideal platform for Jericho to be launched firmly into the mid-card scene. He feuded with the likes of Chyna, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit and HHH. In particular, alongside The Rock, he had memorable feuds involving Stephanie McMahon, who to her credit took a huge amount of personal abuse in front of huge audiences.
During the Invasion storyline between the WWE and WCW/ECW, Jericho became a major player within the storyline. It was great to see Jericho get a more serious and main event role within the WWE. Upon The Rock's return towards the end of the storyline, a subplot began in which Jericho was portrayed as the jealous team-member.
Their rivalry almost cost the WWE the final match of the Invasion storyline when Jericho attacked The Rock during the match. The feud came to a head when Jericho defeated both The Rock and Stone Cold on the same night at Vengence to become the first ever Undisputed Champion of the world. The rest is written in history, as Jericho is widely regarded as one of the best wrestlers of his generation and has had several memorable feuds including those against HBK and Rey Mysterio, as well as one of the greatest mic workers in the business.
When Booker T became a member of the WWE roster, he was one of the bigger aquisitions from the WCW roster, as the likes of Sting, Hogan and co were not signed for the Invasion storyline. In WCW, he oozed charisma, had a unique moveset and was hugely popular with the audience. A cheaper version of The Rock some may say, though Booker was perhaps more talented in the ring. When The Rock returned during the Invasion storyline, the two were instantly embroiled in a comical feud.
The reason for their feud was quite simple really; their gimmicks were too similar. Whilst Booker T was at a loss on the mic in comparison to The Great One, he was possibly more exciting in the ring, and he had a great charisma and attitude that got a crowd reaction, whether heel or face. They were respectively World Title calibre wrestlers, and they were all-around entertainers. This feud can't really be regarded as a classic, yet it helped establish one of the most entertaining superstars of the last decade.
Why this feud made sense was their similarities, but also because whilst Booker T was effectively buried to the mid-card, he was up against the top WWE guy (Stone Cold was a member of The Alliance). That type of rub off helped Booker T establish a WWE career following the Invasion storyline, which few other member of the Alliance were able to do for long after the storyline died off.
Booker T went on to have a fun and creative feud with Stone Cold, including the classic supermarket brawl. When he was in the sink or swim phase of his WWE career, his brief feud with The Rock kept him floating.