WWE Classic of the Week: The Rock vs. Mankind, Survivor Series '98

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistNovember 4, 2014

Credit: WWE.com

Survivor Series 1998 was a show guaranteed to deliver a moment or two that would keep audiences talking about World Wrestling Entertainment's unprecedented hot streak. After all, with Vince McMahon feuding with both Steve Austin and The Rock and finding himself in the heart of an odd-couple pairing with Mankind, the entire main event scene was a powder keg waiting to explode.

With so many different stories weaving in and out of one another and the WWE Championship at stake in a tournament featuring the top stars in the industry, the show was guaranteed to be one of the most memorable in the long and illustrious history of the Survivor Series.

It was, and by night's end, The Rock and Mankind would battle for the right to stand atop the WWE mountain, the top prize in the industry in reach.

How did they get there? Who ensured that they did, and where did Austin and McMahon fit in the entire ordeal?

Let's take a look back at one of the most controversial matches in Survivor Series history and the events that got us there.

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The Background

The Rock entered Survivor Series riding a wave of momentum. After a star-making performance in a loss to Triple H in a Ladder match at SummerSlam, he began exhibiting signs of a babyface turn. The fans sang along to his catchphrases and cheered him on as he battled some of the more reprehensible heels in the company.

At Breakdown: In Your House in September 1998, he even scored a huge victory over Ken Shamrock and Mankind in a Steel Cage match that even now, some 16 years later, resonates with audiences and stands out as one of the most underrated bouts of the entire Attitude Era.

In October, though, the surging People's Champion earned the attention of the evil Mr. McMahon, who did not approve of the third-generation star and wanted nothing more than to halt his momentum before it got out of control.

He attempted to keep The Rock out of the Deadly Game tournament for the WWE Championship at Survivor Series and nearly succeeded. Unfortunately for the boss, however, Rock was able to defeat Mark Henry on the final Raw before the annual November event and earn his place in the tournament. 

At the same time that sports-entertainment's most electrifying star was gaining momentum, Mankind was climbing his way up the ladder in WWE thanks to a unique pairing between him and the Chairman of the Board.

The deranged Superstar considered McMahon a father figure of sorts and looked up to him. Everything he did on television was to appease or satisfy the boss. With that in mind, the evil owner of WWE never hesitated to manipulate Mankind and get him to do whatever he wanted.

In doing so, he had to put up with some ridiculous scenarios, including Mankind's visiting him in the hospital and debuting Mr. Socko during one of the most memorable moments in the history of Monday Night Raw.

Still, McMahon was flippant in his response to the Superstar and earned further disdain from audiences. Still, with seemingly no other option at his disposal, McMahon attempted to mold Mankind into the champion he would be proud of and positioned him as the favorite to win the tournament.

Playing A Deadly Game

When Triple H was unable to compete in the first round of the WWE Championship Tournament at Survivor Series, McMahon promised The Rock that he would still have to compete. He sent Big Boss Man to the ring to square of with The People's Champion, then was dismayed as he watched the former correctional officer lose in embarrassing fashion, his shoulders pinned to the mat in a mere three seconds.

Mankind would have the luxury of sleepwalking his way through a match against a mystery opponent of his own, this one being legendary enhancement talent Duane Gill. Not quite the phenomenon known as Gillberg at that point, Gill was hardly competition for the most unstable and sadistic star in the industry.

The Rock would defeat Ken Shamrock and The Undertaker to advance to the finals, in both cases capitalizing on interference or miscues to pick up the win. Mankind, conversely, ran through friend Al Snow to score a spot in the semifinals, then benefited from a shocking betrayal by Shane McMahon to defeat Steve Austin and eliminate The Texas Rattlesnake from competition.

It was against that backdrop that The Rock and Mankind would ignite their rivalry in the finals of the WWE title tournament, each fighting for the right to cement himself as the top guy in the biggest pro wrestling company on the planet.

The Match

The Aftermath

Coming out of their match at Survivor Series, which was nowhere near the level of quality of their later bouts, The Rock and Mankind engaged in a rivalry over the WWE title that subsequently established The Great One as the top heel in the business while also creating such tremendous sympathy for Mankind that he would become one of the most beloved stars in the 50 years of WWE.

At Rock Bottom in December, after being screwed over by McMahon and The Rock in what was one of the most shocking and unexpected moments in Survivor Series history, Mankind appeared to have captured the title, but the dastardly Mr. McMahon reversed the decision and ensured that The Rock left with his title intact.

Weeks later, on the January 4 episode of Raw, a vengeful Steve Austin and a defiant D-Generation X fended off The Corporation, allowing Mankind to pin The Rock and capture the WWE Championship in one of the legitimate feel-good moments in company history.

Unfortunately, Mankind's reign as champion would be cut short, as Rock and the McMahons conspired to take the title away from him at the Royal Rumble in January 1999.

The two would trade the title back and forth, competing in the memorable Empty Arena match during halftime of the Super Bowl and a Last Man Standing match at the St. Valentine's Day Massacre that February.

Eventually, Rock would win the rivalry and head to WrestleMania XV to face Steve Austin, but it was not the last time the two would share a ring in 1999.

Right, Mr. Rocko?