The battle between The Rock and Steve Austin at Wrestlemania XIX was, in many ways, the fitting conclusion to a trilogy of matches that will forever be etched in the memories of wrestling fans. Like the original Star Wars saga and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Rock-Austin was theatre at its most epic.
For a feud that spanned six years and three Wrestlemania main events, the final chapter was a piece of storytelling brilliance. Whereas the first two encounters were for the WWE Championship, the third encounter was a personal one.
In two previous Wrestlemania battles, Stone Cold had defeated The Rock. At Wrestlemania XV, he was the anti-establishment hero that defeated Vince McMahon's hand-picked "Corporate Champion." At Wrestlemania X-7, Austin was desperate to win the title after a year on the shelf, thanks to a neck injury. He aligned himself with McMahon and brutally beat Rock with a steel chair before pinning him and capturing the gold.
By the time Wrestlemania XIX rolled around, The Rock was a major motion picture star. He was a celebrity, a wrestler that had transcended the sport. But all of the movies, the glitz, the glamour, and the fame could not make up for the fact that he had never beaten Steve Austin at Wrestlemania.
It ate away at him. It damaged his ego.
Austin, on the other hand, had a lot to prove to himself. He had walked out on WWE in the summer of 2002 over a creative dispute with Vince McMahon. After eight months away, he returned, clearly no longer in the shape he had once been in. Could he still go at a high level, in a high-profile match, on the biggest stage the organization had to offer?
The match was everything professional wrestling should be. It was a piece of art in which each man, so familiar with the other, was able to counter the other's attack. They traded finishing moves and stole each other's finishing moves, but neither could keep the other down.
In the end, The Rock landed three Rock Bottoms to finally put Austin away, exorcising his demons. In a touching moment, and one that would be relived in the 2004 short film The Mania of Wrestlemania, The Rock and Stone Cold shared an intimate and emotional moment immediately after the conclusion of the match.
The match would be the last Steve Austin ever wrestled—and The Rock's final contest until the following year's Wrestlemania. In many ways, it served as the final nail in the coffin of the Attitude Era, as its two top stars rode off into the sunset.
Both would later return, with Austin serving as commissioner/sherrif/general manager of Raw and Rock returning for one last tag match and several other cameos before heading off to Hollywood for good.