WWE's Greatest Feuds Vol. 3: The Rock vs Steve Austin
Welcome back for the third edition of an on-going series looking at some of the greatest rivalries in WWE history.
Both The Rock and Steve Austin made their WWF debuts in 1996, and went on to taste Intercontinental title glory shortly after, before moving into the main event picture. The two biggest stars of the Attitude Era, "The People's Champion" and "The Texas Rattlesnake," were also the greatest in-ring rivals of the time.
The two had a long-running rivalry that went on for over four years and took in three huge Wrestlemania matches. We have a lot of ground to cover, so let's take a look at what could very well be the greatest feud in company history.
The two future superstars first crossed paths in late 1997, when both were involved in the Intercontinental title scene.
After Austin captured the strap for a second time from Owen Hart at Survivor Series 1997, The Rock stole the title belt from "The Rattlesnake" eight days later after Stone Cold was beaten down by the Nation of Domination.
This led to the first pay-per-view collision between the two on December 7 at D-Generation X: In Your House where Austin emerged victorious, reclaiming his Intercontinental title.
During this time, Austin's legendary feud with Vince McMahon was in its infancy. Sensing he had bigger fish to fry, "The Rattlesnake" threw the championship belt in the New Hampshire River in a memorable segment on the following episode of Raw, forfeiting the title and focusing on his rivalry with the boss.
Becoming Intercontinental champion for the second time, "The Great One" would go on to enjoy the longest run with the belt for nearly a decade, holding the title for over eight months while "The Bionic Redneck" went on to become the biggest star in the industry.
As the two rising stars ascended to main event status, it was inevitable that they would meet again...
Gunning for the Corporate Champion
After Austin captured the WWF Championship for the first time at Wrestlemania XIV, McMahon tried to thwart "The Rattlesnake" at every turn.
Things came to a head after the title was declared vacant following a triple-threat match in the main event of Breakdown in September 1998, when both The Undertaker and Kane pinned Stone Cold simultaneously.
Holding a tournament for the vacant strap at Survivor Series 1998, Austin was eliminated at the semi-final stage by Mankind after Shane McMahon refused to complete the three-count, screwing "The Rattlesnake" out of a place in the finals.
In the final, Mankind found himself up against The Rock. Mimicking the ending to the previous year's event, McMahon called for the bell as "The Great One" held his opponent in the Sharpshooter, despite Mankind not tapping out.
In siding with Vince and Shane, The Rock had captured his first WWF Championship, whilst also turning heel and aligning with the Corporation.
As Vince McMahon's "Corporate Champion," The Rock became the company's top heel and went on to trade the belt back-and-forth in a memorable feud with Mankind.
Meanwhile, "The Rattlesnake" had the Corporation in his sights, and the seeds were sown for an eventual clash with "The Great One," the stable's crown jewel.
Attempting to reclaim the WWF Championship, Austin attempted to guarantee a title shot by winning the 1999 Royal Rumble. However, McMahon had other ideas.
McMahon and Austin found themselves as the final two men in the match, and a distraction from The Rock allowed the boss to eliminate "The Rattlesnake" and claim the upset victory.
Announcing that he would not compete in the title match at Wrestlemania, WWF Commissioner Shawn Michaels informed McMahon that if this was the case, the runner-up would take his place.
Putting the opportunity for a WWF Championship match at Wrestlemania on the line, Austin and McMahon faced off on February 14, 1999 inside a steel cage.
However, a debuting Paul "The Big Show" Wight interfered, throwing Austin through the cage wall and inadvertently winning the match for "The Bionic Redneck."
At Wrestlemania XV on March 28, The Rock and Austin faced off in the main event with the WWF Championship on the line in a no-disqualification match. After almost seventeen minutes of hard-hitting action, Stone Cold emerged victorious and claimed his third WWF Championship.
"The Great One" was unsuccessful in a rematch the following month at Backlash, even with Corporation ally Shane McMahon as special guest referee. This would ultimately be the last time the two men would clash over the WWF Championship for nigh on two years.
Things Get Personal
Winning the Royal Rumble match for an unprecedented third time in January 2001, Stone Cold was guaranteed a shot at the WWF Champion, who at the time was Kurt Angle.
However, the following month at No Way Out, The Rock defeated "The Olympic Hero" to win the belt for a record sixth time, and set up a mouthwatering Wrestlemania rematch with "The Rattlesnake."
Adding an extra dimension to the rivalry, McMahon named Austin's wife Debra as The Rock's manager in the lead up to "The Showcase of the Immortals," with Stone Cold promising to hold "The Great One" personally responsible if anything happened to her.
On the March 12 episode of Raw, The Rock found himself trapped in Angle's ankle lock during a rematch between the two, and Debra entered the ring to tend to "The People's Champion."Angle then placed her in the ankle lock for her troubles, drawing the ire of her husband.
Austin stormed the ring, and levelled Angle before keeping his word and dishing out a Stunner to The Rock.
"'The Great One" retaliated the following week, when Austin made his way to the ring during The Rock's match, only to find himself on the receiving end of a Rock Bottom.
On the final Raw before Wrestlemania, Debra was rescinded of her managerial duties by McMahon after failing to prevent a wild pull-apart brawl between the two archrivals.
With the stakes more personal than ever and the WWF Championship on the line, anticipation was at fever pitch leading up to the April 1 rematch on "'The Grandest Stage of Them All."
In front of a record-setting attendance 67,952 at the Reliant Astrodome, the two biggest stars in the business faced off with the richest prize in the company at stake.
The two archrivals took the no-disqualification stipulation and ran with it. Often regarded as their best contest, for almost thirty minutes "The Rattlesnake" and "The Great One" went toe-to-toe.
Trading huge moves as the momentum swung back and forth, audiences were unsure as to who would emerge as world champion. And then the finish took everyone by surprise.
Vince McMahon came down to the ringside area during the match, eventually handing Stone Cold a steel chair after The Rock had survived a Stunner.
Turning heel and siding with his ultimate nemesis, Austin battered "The Great One" with no less than sixteen steel chair shots as the fans looked on disbelief.
Capturing the WWF Championship for the sixth time, longtime enemies Austin and McMahon shocked the wrestling world and shook hands.
The event went off-air to scenes we never thought we'd see as the two men shared a beer in the middle of the ring. (The following night, the two had a rematch inside a steel cage. Triple H would interfere and join Austin in attacking "The People's Champion," thus kicking off the "Two-Man Power Trip" angle.)
Wrestlemania X-Seven went on to become the highest-grossing pay-per-view in WWE history and as the main event and most hyped match on the card, the heated rivalry between Austin and The Rock was directly responsible for the event's massive success.
The Final Showdown
In February 2003 both Steve Austin and The Rock returned to WWE television after six months off-screen, which was the catalyst for their third and final Wrestlemania encounter.
"'The Great One" has disappeared after dropping the WWE Championship to Brock Lesnar at Summerslam 2002 in order to film a movie, while "'The Rattlesnake" had left the company the same month after a disagreement with Vince McMahon.
On the March 3 episode of Raw, "The People's Champion" cut a promo saying he had accomplished everything in the WWE except for beating Austin at Wrestlemania, setting up the rubber match. The challenge was officially accepted the following week, when "The Bionic Redneck" cost The Rock a match against The Hurricane.
The final Raw before "The Showcase of the Immortals" saw Stone Cold banned from the arena, yet he somehow still managed to sneak in and interrupt The Rock's impromptu concert, even going so far as to smash his guitar.
Possibly the most entertaining feud of the three, The Rock was absolutely superb in his role as the cocky heel that was more than willing to run away from a fight.
"The Rattlesnake" found himself in almost a mirror of their 1999 conflict, as he was simultaneously feuding with an authority figure (this time Eric Bischoff). And much like four years previously, he played the anti-authority rebel to perfection.
It speaks volumes about the talent these to stars possessed that only a month after their return to television, they managed to engage the audience in their most entertaining feud yet.
But would the match live up to expectations?
The Rock finally scored his long-awaited Wrestlemania victory over Steve Austin after three Rock Bottoms, in front of 54,097 fans in Seattle.
Despite lasting less than eighteen minutes, the match was just as intense as their previous encounters on "The Grandest Stage of Them All." The best period came when "The Great One" wore Austin's jacket as a way of taunting him, before "The Rattlesnake" responded with a Rock Bottom.
In retaliation, The Rock then hit Stone Cold with a Stunner. The crowd went wild for this segment.
In a poignant moment after the match, "'The People's Champion" leapt over the barrier to celebrate with his family after the score-settling victory, before quickly disappearing up the ramp.
Austin then made his way up the aisle to a great ovation, before giving the fans a signature one-finger salute as the event came to a close.
In an interesting aside, instead of the usual "S.O.B'"emblazoned on his jacket Austin instead opted for "O.M.R." This stood for "one more round," signifying the importance of the match to both competitors.
Never mind The Undertaker vs Triple H at Wrestlemania 28, this was the "'end of an era" match.
The following night on Raw, Austin was 'fired' by Eric Bischoff on medical grounds. In reality, the serious injuries accumulated over a tough career meant 'The Rattlesnake' was forced into retirement. He was rehired by Linda McMahon and named Co-General Manager of Raw on April 29, before appearing less and less frequently on WWE television in recent years. Stone Cold was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009, and now works as an actor and television personality.
The Rock spent the next month feuding with the debuting Goldberg, before putting him over at Backlash. Following the loss, 'The People's Champion' announced he would be taking a sabbatical from the WWE. Continuing to make sporadic appearances over the next year. The Rock became focused on his acting career and now finds himself one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood. Returning to the company last year, his series of appearances culminated in a hugely-successful clash with John Cena at Wrestlemania 28. Currently pencilled in for a shot at the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble in January, every appearance by The Rock is now a big deal for the company.
Mere months after the third and final Wrestlemania match between them, both Austin and 'The Great One' had virtually retired from the wrestling industry, making the final match between the two all the more important in hindsight.
Easily one of the greatest feuds in the history of the business, the four-year rivalry saw two of the biggest stars have one of the most heated feuds when both were in their prime.
What began at Wrestlemania XV as two newcomers to the main event battling over the WWF Championship, ended four years later as two archrivals finally closed the book on a storied personal history.
It was a fortunate coincidence for the WWE that these two rose to prominence at the same period in late 1996. It was a case of the right performers at the right time, and it paid huge dividends for both the company and the individuals.
"The Great One" and "The Rattlesnake" were almost two sides of the same coin, and the chemistry between them both in the ring and the microphone made them the perfect foil for each other.
Do you have fond memories of this feud?
Is it the greatest rivalry of all time?
As always, sound off in the comments below.