WWE Classic of the Week: Steve Austin vs. the Rock, WrestleMania X-SevenMarch 18, 2014
Fourteen years after promoting the biggest main event that professional wrestling had ever seen in Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III, Vince McMahon and WWE brought together the two biggest stars of the Attitude Era for an epic title clash at the event's seventeenth installment.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock led the highly successful Attitude Era and took professional wrestling to heights it had never seen before. They were the top two babyfaces in the industry and both helped the sport cross over into mainstream media.
Their match at WrestleMania X-Seven was the culmination of both WWE's ascension to the top of the wrestling business and the individual journeys of Austin and Rock to true, undisputed Superstardom.
AstroDome in Houston, Texas
Jim Ross and Paul Heyman
April 1, 2001
At 1998's WrestleMania XIV, Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels to win the WWE Championship and jump start the unprecedented run the company would go on during the Monday Night Wars.
His feud with the evil billionaire owner of WWE, Vince McMahon, captured the attention and imagination of fans across the country and made Monday Night Raw destination viewing.
As Austin led the company and thrilled audiences from coast-to-coast, The Rock was evolving as a performer before those same fans' eyes with every match. He improved as a worker in the ring and proved his worth on the mic.
Leaning heavily on audience-friendly catchphrases, Rock made a connection with the people that few can ever equal. Despite his status as a heel through most of 1998 and early-1999, Rock's popularity was exceeded only by one man: Steve Austin.
In 1999, Austin suffered a neck injury that would sideline him for the better part of a year. The Rock, determined to be the number one guy in all of professional wrestling, picked up the ball and carried the company as its top face.
His wars with Triple H helped cement him in that spot and—by the time Austin returned in September of 2000—WWE was in an enviable position of having two legitimate game-changers on their roster at the very same time.
With WrestleMania X-Seven in a dome for the first time since the number eight emanated from the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, WWE needed a gigantic main event to fill the building and sell pay-per-views.
Stone Cold vs. The Rock for the WWE title was that main event.
Austin won the Royal Rumble, securing himself a shot at the heavyweight championship. The Rock defeated Kurt Angle to regain the WWE Championship at February's No Way Out pay-per-view.
The Superstars would trade Rock Bottoms and Stone Cold Stunners in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania. Vince McMahon—sworn enemy to both competitors—toyed with their personal lives, assigning Austin's wife Debra to manage Rock.
When Debra ended up in the ankle lock at the hands of Kurt Angle, not only did the former Olympian end up on the receiving end of a Stone Cold butt kicking, but Rock did as well.
A sit-down interview between the two would reveal the simple, easy-to-understand nucleus of the feud: Austin wanted, no, needed the WWE title and Rock had it. There could be only one WWE champion and at WrestleMania X-Seven, the world would find out who that was.
Prior to the match, WWE aired one of their production crew's finest achievements: A video package recapping the rivalry and hyping the match set to Limp Bizkit's "My Way."
The match between The Rock and Steve Austin at WrestleMania X-Seven is not only the best of their many bouts, it is one of the best main events in WWE history.
Combining the wild and chaotic style prevalent in most Attitude Era main events with some very good ring work, storytelling and twists, the match perfectly captured everything that made that time in wrestling special.
Some believe the chair shots from Austin to Rock at the end of the match made for a disappointing or lackluster finish, but the Texas Rattlesnake made it clear in his sit-down interview with Jim Ross a week prior to the match that he needed to beat The Rock—needed it more than anything anyone could imagine. It made sense, then, that he would choose to bludgeon the champion with a weapon after repeated kick outs of his finishing move.
The interference from Vince McMahon made sense, too. Vince and Austin alliance necessitated the latter's heel turn and handshake at the end of the night—an image burned forever in the minds of those who witnessed the bout.
The WrestleMania X-Seven main event brought an end to the Attitude Era.
Some will argue it continued well into 2002. But the fact of the matter is that the Attitude Era was based on the anti-authority approach taken by Steve Austin; the moment he shook hands with McMahon to close out the event, that chapter of WWE history closed.
The company continued integrating edgy and controversial content into their programming, but the nature of the shows changed—especially once the Alliance angle started and WCW stars began filtering in.
Austin would be a heel for most of 2001 but never really succeeded in the role the same way he did as a babyface. His matches with Kurt Angle that summer and fall reinforced that he had regained his confidence in the ring and his "What!" chants took the wrestling world by storm but there was still something missing intangibly.
After a frustrating start to 2002 and in the midst of creative differences with the company, Austin left WWE in June. He returned in February of 2003 and retired from the ring for good following a third match with The Rock at WrestleMania XIX.
Speaking of the Great One, he would leave to take his chances in Hollywood. As history tells it, the Rock achieved great success in film and, by 2010, had become one of the biggest stars on the planet.
The Rock has since returned to WWE in brief stints—including the aforementioned match against Austin at WrestleMania XIX—but his status as a full-time performer for WWE ended in 2002.