WWE Survivor Series 2011: Ranking the Rock's Ten Best Matches

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2011

WWE Survivor Series 2011: Ranking the Rock's Ten Best Matches

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    On Sunday, November 20, The Rock will make his long-awaited return to in-ring action when he teams with John Cena to meet The Miz and R-Truth in what will likely be the main event of the Survivor Series pay-per-view.

    Fittingly Madison Square Garden, home of this year's event, is the same venue in which Rock competed in his final match, teaming with Mick Foley in a losing effort against Randy Orton, Batista, and Ric Flair at Wrestlemania XX.

    The Rock is one of the most beloved WWE Superstars of all-time, largely due to the electricity he brought with each of his performances, be it in-ring or on the microphone.

    The question, however, is whether the self-proclaimed "Great One" is able to live up to his previous in-ring performances. Will he still be "the Most Electrifying Man in Sports-Entertainment?" Most importantly, will his work in the match excite fans heading into his monumental showdown at Wrestlemania with Cena, or will fans question whether he can still deliver the goods between the ropes?

    In preparation for this huge tag team contest, join me as I take a look back at the The Rock's 10 greatest matches.

Honorable Mention: The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan, Wrestlemania X-8

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    Perhaps the most memorable—and one of the most beloved—matches in Wrestlemania X-8 barely missed out on a spot in these rankings.

    That's because actual wrestling took a backseat to spectacle, as two of the biggest names in wrestling history squared off in the very definition of a dream match.

    Throughout the bout, The Rock and Hogan had the crowd in the palms of their hands, as masters of their craft. The crowd inside Toronto's SkyDome furiously booed The Rock, "The People's Champion," and cheered the Hulkster. The crowd's reaction to these professional wrestling icons was a thing of beauty, the type of reaction every wrestler dreams of attaining, at the biggest event in the industry.

    The wrestling was fairly subpar, with each man exchanging signature holds and the crowd reacting appropriately.

    The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania X-8 may very well be the most important match on this list. It was a meeting of generations, a match that will always stand the test of time.

    Unfortunately, the matches that made this list are, quite simply, better.

Honorable Mention: The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Wrestlemania XV

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    The Rock's first Wrestlemania main event was part of the Wrestlemania XV, a show occurring at the height of the Attitude Era—a show that many consider one of the worst in the history of Wrestlemania.

    As a matter of fact, many have claimed that, without Rock and Austin on top, the show quite possibly would have been remembered as the single worst pay-per-view event in WWE history.

    But it wasn't, thanks to the main event in which two of the top Superstars in the history of the sport—and two very different personalities—clashed with the World Wrestling Federation (at the time) Championship on the line.

    The first of the duo's three Wrestlemania encounters was easily the weakest. With that said, an average Rock-Austin match is equal to, or better than, a phenomenal Bob Holly-Steve Blackman match.

    After a 1998 that saw Austin headlining every major WWF event and making hundreds of media apperances, he was undoubtedly the biggest star in the sport. Austin 3:16 tee-shirts were the norm among the 18-35 demographic, and Stone Cold had become a household name.

    The Rock, on the other hand, was relatively new to the main event scene. After a fall and winter that had seen The Rock amass three WWF title reigns, making him the hottest young star in the industry, Vince McMahon trusted the third-generation star to headline his baby, his creation—the most important show in professional wrestling.

    Rock and Austin brawled all over the First Union Arena in Philadelphia in an excellent example of the Attitude Era-style main event. Various attempts at interference from Vince McMahon proved useless as Stone Cold flattened The Rock with the Stunner and, with Rock-rival Mankind counting the pin, picked up the WWF Championship for a third time.

    More important than any result, however, was the fact The Rock proved to the wrestling world that even the main event of Wrestlemania was not too big for him. He thrived in the high-pressure situation and even excelled.

    It was a sign of things to come and a big reason he remained atop of the WWF mountain for years after.

10. The Rock vs. Triple H, Intercontinental Title Ladder Match, SummerSlam 1998

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    In one match, The Rock was elevated from entertaining mid-card heel to bona-fide main event Superstar.

    In the summer of 1998, two wrestlers (who would go on to become two of the sports' most important and enduring performers) feuded over the prestigious Intercontinental Championship. Their rivalry was the centerpiece of the D-Generation X vs. Nation of Domination program that stretched from May until SummerSlam 1998.

    On that night in August, Triple H and Rock would not only have of the one the most underrated, under-appreciated ladder matches in WWE history, they would prove to the world that they were capable of headlining future pay-per-view events for the company.

    Both men took a beating, with The Rock focusing on Triple H's previously-injured knee and the future "Game" bloodying Rock's forehead following a shot with the ladder. The leader of D-X would leave with the Intercontinental title, ending Rock's nine-month title reign, but it would be the Miami native that would come out of the match the real victor.

    As he made his way backstage, the fans inside Madison Square Garden no longer chanted "Rocky sucks," but rather the very same "Rocky" that would become synonomous with "The People's Champion."

9. The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar, WWE Championship Match, SummerSlam 2002

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    There are few main event stars willing to put over a young, up-and-coming Superstar as thoroughly as The Rock did for Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2002.

    The summer of 2002 was a transitional one for WWE. Ratings were in a free-fall and the company had unofficially launched a youth movement within the company. Stars such as John Cena and Randy Orton were brought up from Ohio Valley Wrestling and the exciting Rey Mysterio had recently debuted.

    But no new star made the impact that Brock Lesnar did in his first few months with the company.

    Lesnar was an animalistic beast of a wrestler, chewing his opponent up and spitting him out before moving onto the next unfortunate soul. He was a hybrid: a large and muscle-bound big man with the wrestling abilities of the much smaller Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit. Brock Lesnar was, perhaps, the most impressive physical specimen to ever step foot in a WWE ring.

    Meanwhile, The Rock was on top of the world.

    The star of The Scorpion King and The Mummy Returns, The Rock was in high demand in Hollywood. But he still returned to the company that had made him a Superstar in entertainment. 

    When Stone Cold Steve Austin walked out in the summer, Rock returned weeks ahead of schedule and filled the void. In July of 2002, he defeated Kurt Angle and The Undertaker in a phenomenal triple threat match to win the WWE Undisputed Championship.

    It was apparent that Brock Lesnar and The Rock were on a collison course. Throughout the build-up to the monumental clash, WWE made the match seem as important as any championship bout it had ever promoted.

    For weeks, video of Rock and Brock furiously training for the match were shown on Smackdown and Raw. Better yet, in all the weeks leading to SummerSlam, at not one time did the two stars touch each other, further creating intrigue with the WWE fan base. As August 25, 2002 approached, anticipation was at its height.

    The match was everything a fan would want from two giants in the sport. It was hard hitting, exciting, fast-paced, with a crowd befitting of a high-profile WWE Championship match.

    The fans booed Rock and his new-found Hollywood fame, electing to cheer the new, appropriately-billed "Next Big Thing."

    In the end, all of The Rock's experience and laundry list of WWE Championships were no match for Brock Lesnar's power and motivation. Rock became another victim of the fury of the F5, laying down clean and passing the torch to Brock in one of the great SummerSlam main events of all time.

8. The Rock vs. Mankind, I Quit Match, Royal Rumble 1999

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    The "I Quit" Match at Royal Rumble 1999 for the WWE Championship may very well be the most important match in The Rock's Hall of Fame career.

    Heading into January of 1999 and the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, The Rock was on top of the world. For the first time since debuting a little over two years earlier, it appeared as though the third-generation Superstar was living up to his potential. But, as the "I Quit" match approached, the newly-cemented main event star still had plenty to prove.

    Up until the contest, Rock was the cocky and arrogant heel who spouted off clever one-liners and often needed the help of the Nation or the Corporation to pick up a victory. This match changed all of that.

    Mankind was the loveable loser who finally accomplished his goal of winning the WWE Championship. He was the hardcore legend, the man willing to ravage his own body out of love for the sport. He was, more so than The Rock at this point, the "people's champion."

    In order to wrest the WWE title from Mick Foley, The Rock would have to show a different side of himself. He would have to wrestle Mankind's type of match.

    The "I Quit" match was the match in which the Rock evolved from a cocky and arrogant heel to a performer who could be as vicious and cold-hearted as any on the roster. As he handcuffed Foley's arms behind his back and proceeded to unapologetically bash his head in with twelve consecutive steel chair shots, making even the most hardcore wrestling fan cringe, it became apparent that The Rock was capable of playing the ruthless S.O.B. when necessary.

    The Rock would win the match via less-than-honest means, but the result was not what mattered.

    The match, in one night, established two characters in just the manner WWE needed. The Rock was the cocky-yet-sadistic asshole—Mankind was the never-say-die, loveable babyface that never really figured out when to stay down.

    It was a contrast of styles, a contrast of characters and it made for one of the most memorable matches in WWE history, one that was immortalized in the documentary Beyond the Mat.

7. The Rock vs. Triple H, WWE Championship Match, Backlash 2000

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    After a lackluster Fatal Four Way Elimination Match headlined Wrestlemania 2000, the showdown that should have happened at the year's biggest event, was instead the featured bout at the Backlash show.

    As the calendar turned from 1999 to 2000, there were no two bigger stars in the sport of professional wrestling than The Rock and Triple H. Both men had risen from the ranks of the mid-card to become two of the most interesting and exciting main event performers of all time—surely future Hall of Fame inductees.

    Backlash was one of the best wrestling shows, from opener to closer, that WWE has ever produced. And on top of the card was the showdown between the "People's Champion" and "The Game." It was a clash between the lone wolf Rock and Triple H, who had surrounded himself with the McMahon-Helmsley Regime and rarely retained his title cleanly.

    A classic Atittude Era main event ensued, with both men fighting around ringside before settling down in the squared circle. From there, everyone interfered, from Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, to Shane McMahon, to Vince himself, to Jerry Brisco, Pat Patterson, Linda McMahon, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. 

    In the end, The Rock was able to end the Regime's reign of terror and capture the WWE title, even if it was only to last one month.

6. The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Wrestlemania XIX

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    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.

5. The Rock vs. Kurt Angle, WWE Championship Match, No Way out 2001

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    In October of 2000, Kurt Angle defeated The Rock to win the WWE Championship at No Mercy. It would be months, however, before Angle was treated like a real, viable champion. He was still the dorky, All-American geek that won the gold and bragged about it to whoever would listen.

    In February of 2001, after plenty of mocking from The Rock, however, Kurt's character become more serious, edgy, and intense. By the time No Way Out rolled around, the Kurt Angle that most wrestling fans have come to know was unleashed on the world of sports-entertainment.

    The match was an intense affair, with Angle proving his capabilities in a one-on-one, no-frills-attached main event wrestling match. The two masters of their craft kept the audience engrossed in everything they did, using near-falls, counter maneuvers, and false finishes to create excitement. The finish saw Rock flatten Angle with the Rock Bottom for the win.

    The match was spectacular, a four-star effort to be certain. But more importantly, it reminded fans of just how underrated a wrestler The Rock really was. He kept up, step-for-step, against the likes of Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle and never appeared overmatched.

    It is a testament to The Rock's greatness that he was able to adapt to any number of different opponents—all types, sizes, and styles.

4. The Rock vs Chris Benoit, WWE Championship Match, Fully Loaded 2000

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    On one night, The Rock MADE Chris Benoit a viable main event commodity.

    Much as he would do for Brock Lesnar in 2002, The Rock allowed Benoit to star in their Fully Loaded 2000 WWE Championship match, in the interest of injecting the main event scene with new blood.

    It was a professional wrestling match, one that even the most technically-gifted could appreciate. The Rock held up his part of the bargain, and Benoit was his normal, excellent self. For the first time since ascending to the main events, The Rock was challenged with perhaps the best in-ring performer the industry had to offer at the time.

    And he passed with flying colors.

    It appeared as though Benoit had won the title on a screwy finish, but Commissioner Mick Foley would appear and re-start the match, which was ultimately won by The Rock.

    Despite coming out on the losing end of the bout, Benoit was accepted by the fans and his peers as a gifted wrestler who could hang in the main events and could be relied upon to deliver.

    The Rock earned the respect of his strictest doubters, proving to the world that he was a multi-faceted in-ring performer and maybe the most complete wrestler since Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart.

3. The Rock vs. Chris Jericho, WCW Championship, No Mercy 2001

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    The entire series between Chris Jericho and The Rock could be on this list, as every match was equally brilliant. But for the purposes of this article, we will include the one that started it all—the No Mercy 2001, WCW Championship match.

    Chris Jericho has always been among the most gifted figures, in terms of in-ring and microphone skills, the sport of professional wrestling has ever seen. He is respected by just about everyone and is a favorite, especially, of the 18-35 male demographic.

    But heading into No Mercy, there were doubts about his ability to win the big one. He had been in the same position previously and was unable to take that last leap to the upper echelon of the sport. Many believed that this would be the show where Vince McMahon and his company went "all-in" with Y2J.

    The Rock served as the mega-star in the contest, the established main event attraction that was at the top of his game. It would take someone truly special to knock Rock off the mountain top.

    Chris Jericho defeated The Rock to win the WCW Championship after interference from Stephanie McMahon, who was attempting to aid "The Great One" in defeating Stephanie's hated rival Jericho.

    The interference was really the only dark spot in an otherwise perfectly-wrestled contest. Rock continued his roll of extraordinary matches against former WCW employees, and Jericho gained the trust of WWE higher-ups with his performance against the top star they had to offer.

    It was a win-win situation for all.

2. The Rock vs. Triple H, Iron Man Match for the WWE Title, Judgment Day 2000

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    In April of 1996, Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart revolutionized the sport with an Iron Man Match for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania XII.

    But it was two unlikely stars that set the bar for what a truly great Iron Man Match should be when they competed at the Judgment Day 2000 pay-per-view.

    The Rock and Triple H were in the middle of their rivalry over the WWE Championship. Rock, fresh off his victory at Backlash, was the titleholder, and Triple H and the rest of the McMahon-Helmsley Regime would do whatever necessary to wrest the title away from the "Brahma Bull."

    The match was drama personified. The two icons used brawling and technical wrestling, and visited just about every rule in the wrestling handbook to craft a truly great story.

    The biggest story of all, however, was the unexpected ability of The Rock and Triple H to go one full hour and deliver the quality of match that they did. Both men, in peak shape, gave up themselves for their craft and it showed.

    Triple H would take back the title at the end of the night, but no one seemed to care. Instead, all of the focus was on the match's greatness—and how lucky fans were to be watching Rock and Triple H perform at the level they had for all of 2000.

1. The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, WWE Title Match, Wrestlemania X-7

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    Wrestlemania X-7. The greatest wrestling pay-per-view of all-time. Bar none.

    The Rock had spent most of 2000 as the top act in the sport. He was the biggest babyface and, easily, the most recognized sports-entertainer in the world.

    Steve Austin spent the majority of that year at home, on his couch, recovering from serious neck surgery.

    In that time, it is arguable that The Rock had eclipsed Austin as the sport's biggest and most popular star.

    When Austin returned, he again set his sights on the WWE Championship and, with the exception of a four-month period in which Kurt Angle was champion, that title belonged to "The Great One."

    As the weeks passed, and we inched closer and closer to Wrestlemania, it became clear that Austin didn't just want the gold—he needed it. He was obsessed with recapturing the gold. The entire story leading to the monumental showdown can be summed up in one quote from Austin prior to the show:

    I need to beat you, Rock. I need it more than anything that you could ever imagine. There can be only one World Wrestling Federation Champion and that will be, Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin. With all due respect.

    Rarely can a match be described as the end of an era, but Rock vs. Austin at Wrestlemania X-7 was just that. It is the match that encompassed every characteristic of the Attitude Era—and brought that exciting and electrifying period of professional wrestling to a close.

    It was our Hogan vs. Andre.

    The story-telling in the match was superb, with Austin hitting Rock with just about every maneuver in his repertoire, including the Million Dollar Dream (not used since his time as the Ringmaster), but he still could not put the "Great One" away.

    Eventually, Vince McMahon made his way to ringside and slid Austin a chair. Stone Cold, his desperation now apparent, beat, battered and bruised Rock with the weapon a dozen or more times. Austin would pin a lifeless Rock and shock the world by shaking hands with his former hated rival McMahon.

    Not only is the Wrestlemania X-7 encounter between Rock and Austin the best in the former's career, it is one of the best in Wrestlemania history—and one of the best pieces of story-telling in professional wrestling history. It is very much a must-see for new and old wrestling fans alike—the very definition of what makes sports-entertainment special and so very important to its fans.