Rivalries are the lifeblood of WrestleMania. Throughout the show’s history, rivalries have helped turn the event into a global phenomenon. From Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper to Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar, the Showcase of the Immortals is where rivalries truly shine. With all the rivalries that have taken center stage at WrestleMania, one trumps them all. The story of the Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock trilogy of WrestleMania matches.
Their WrestleMania trilogy took WWE to new heights during the company’s most popular period and cemented their status as legends. Each match brings a unique element to the story that is, Rock versus Austin. Today, we look at part one and their WrestleMania 15 encounter.
At WrestleMania 14 Stone Cold Steve Austin became The Man of professional wrestling. As he defeated Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship. His popularity soared to new heights as his bad attitude resonated with the fans. The WWE audience was looking for an anti-hero and Austin was the perfect man for the job.
Meanwhile, at the same time, The Rock was beginning to stand out from the Nation of Domination. His overall presence and charisma began to overshadow the rest of the group. Eventually, The Rock started gaining popularity with the audience. His electric promos began winning the fans over and it was only a matter of time before they were fully behind him.
As 1998 progressed, Austin found himself in a continuing war with WWE owner Vince McMahon. It was a feud with many twists and turns. At one-point Austin even lost the WWE Championship to Kane only to win it back 24 hours later. His reign came to an end at the Breakdown: In Your House pay per view event.
But, like most title changes during the Attitude Era, it came with a bit of controversy. Austin was pinned by The Undertaker and Kane simultaneously, causing the evil Mr. McMahon to vacate the championship. The WWE was left without a champion, but that wouldn’t be the case for very long.
Survivor Series 1998
A 14-man tournament was set up for the annual November event to crown a new WWE Champion. The 14 wrestlers were: Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane, Mankind, Goldust, Ken Shamrock, The Big Boss Man, Steven Regal, X-Pac, Jeff Jarrett, Al Snow and Duane Gill.
The latter sticking out like a sore thumb in this group of contenders will be explained shortly. Heading into the event The Rock, the self-proclaimed people’s champion, joined Austin in the crosshairs of Mr. McMahon. Something that will come into play later.
The first round saw Corporation member Shamrock defeat Goldust and The Rock defeat another Corporation member the Big Boss Man. Originally The Rock was supposed to face HHH but an injury kept HHH from competing. The Big Boss Man also lost to Stone Cold Steve Austin after being disqualified for using his nightstick.
The match between X-Pac and Steven Regal ended in a double count-out affording Austin a bye into the semifinals. Al Snow defeated Jeff Jarrett in their first-round match setting up a quarterfinal match with Mankind.
Mankind, who on the surface was the Corporation’s chosen member to win the championship, advanced by easily dispatching his hand-picked opponent, Duane Gill.
In the quarterfinals The Undertaker defeated Kane. Both were given a bye to begin the tournament. The Rock bested Ken Shamrock and Mankind eliminated Al Snow. The semi-finals were set, on one side we had Austin versus Mankind and the other The Rock versus The Undertaker.
Mankind & Stone Cold Steve Austin
Mankind defeated Austin with help from Shane McMahon and the Corporation’s stooges. Continuing the narrative that he was the Corporation’s chosen champion. Shane McMahon decked out in referee gear giving Austin the finger is one of the numerous moments during the Austin-McMahon feud that ignited WWE’s rise in the rating’s war.
Kane caused a disqualification in the other semifinal match after attacking The Undertaker pushing The Rock into the tournament finals. In the finals, all signs pointed to Mankind becoming the Corporate Champion, but Vince McMahon and The Rock had other plans.
In a scene eerily similar to The Montreal Screwjob, The Rock locked Mankind in the sharpshooter and the bell was rung. The ultimate swerve had just taken place and The Rock went from the beloved People’s Champion to the despised Corporate Champion in one fell swoop.
Austin vs The Rock | The Royal Rumble 1999
After Survivor Series, The Rock and Mankind engaged in a trio of brutally physical matches. Highlighted by their infamous “I Quit” Match at the Royal Rumble. Knowing what we know now about concussions makes the handful of unprotected chair shots Mankind takes during said match hard to re-watch.
Meanwhile, the finish utilizing the pre-recorded audio of Mankind saying “I Quit” is pure Attitude Era genius booking.
Austin and McMahon continued their red-hot rivalry into the Royal Rumble with the entire match being built around them. The two entered the match as the first two contestants before McMahon escaped through the audience. Austin was quick to follow, with neither man being eliminated as they did not exit over the top rope.
Once Austin caught up to McMahon in an arena restroom he was ambushed by the Corporation. With Austin unconscious, McMahon made his way back to the ringside area, where despite still being a competitor in the match, he sat in on commentary.
Eventually, Austin made his triumphant return to the match, eliminating a handful of wrestlers before focusing on McMahon. On the verge of victory, Austin was distracted by The Rock allowing McMahon to eliminate him, securing the most controversial Rumble win of all time.
St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
During the final pay-per-view stop before WrestleMania 15, The Rock once again defeated Mankind with help from the Corporation. Also, Austin and McMahon met in a steel cage match. If Austin won, he would go on to WrestleMania to fight the Rock. If McMahon won, Austin would not be wrestling for the championship at the “Granddaddy Of Them All”.
An accidental assist by the debuting Big Show gave Austin the win. The wrestler formerly known as the Giant, threw Austin against the cage so hard it broke, allowing Austin to escape the cage for the win.
Austin vs The Rock | The Beer Bath
A look back on the build-up to the WrestleMania 15 main event wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of Monday Night Raw’s most iconic moments. During the final Raw before WrestleMania Corporation members, The Rock, Vince McMahon and Shane McMahon addressed the audience. They spoke about how Stone-Cold Steve Austin would not win the WWE Championship and how the Rock has always been the better man.
Much to the surprise of the Corporation and delight of the live audience, Austin entered the arena in a Coors Light truck. The truck is so big that it narrowly escaped pulling down the entire titan Tron.
Austin exited the truck, grabbed the hose on the side and began spraying the corporate champion and his benefactors in ice-cold Coors Light vs The Rock. Rock, Shane, and Vince selling the beer bath was comedic gold, highlighted by Vince at one point attempting to swim away while lying on the mat.
Stone Cold Steve Austin then vowed to take the WWE Championship from The Rock at WrestleMania. He ended the segment with a couple of beers of his own atop the truck.
It’s an iconic moment that will stand the test of time for WWE fans for generations to come.
Austin vs The Rock | The Match
The Rock entered first – confident and arrogant as ever, soaking in the hate from the fans – with his WWE Championship. Then, the glass breaks and the audience collectively loses their minds.
After Austin enters the ring he attempts his trademark turnbuckle salute to the audience. But is cut off by the Rock and the brawl begins. The match quickly spills to the ringside area before the two make their way into the audience.
Once there, the sea of humanity cheering on the top two wrestlers in the WWE makes it almost impossible for them to pull off any maneuvers. When they finally make it back to ringside the Rock chokes Austin with an electrical cord before the two make their way up their entrance ramp. Austin takes a nasty bump after his attempted pile driver is reversed into a back body drop on a steel light display.
The giant WrestleMania logo is brought into the action as Austin, Irish whips his rival into the steel structure. On their way back to the ring, the Rock suplexes Austin on to the concrete floor, something Jim Ross sells on commentary as only he can.
Back to the ringside area, the Rock takes a water break and spits a mouthful of water into Austin’s face. Something Austin reciprocates later in the match. It takes two attempts but Austin is able to elbow drop the Rock through the Spanish announce table before the match finally hits the ring. Once there, the Rock hits his first Rock Bottom, but much to the chagrin of the champion, Austin kicks out at two.
The Rock introduces a chair into the match which ends up getting inadvertently used on the referee by Austin before the Rock nails Austin with it for another close two count. With even more frustration setting in, the Rock gives a Rock Bottom to the second referee of the match and is immediately met with a Stone Cold Stunner.
Veteran official Earl Hebner makes his way to the ring to make the count. But The Rock shockingly kicks out at two! Amidst the chaos, Vince McMahon comes out to ringside and immediately involves himself in the match as J.R. puts it “Austin is getting mudhole stomped by McMahon and the Rock.”
Not allowing this injustice to stand, Mankind who earlier in the night defeated the Big Show to earn the right to be the special guest referee, emerges to a heroes welcome. He quickly takes out McMahon evening the odds for Austin.
The Rock eventually hits Rock Bottom number two. But instead of going for the cover he sets up the Corporate Elbow. After Austin avoids the elbow, he attempts a Stunner but is countered by The Rock into a Rock Bottom attempt only for Austin to make one more counter into a Stone Cold Stunner.
Make The Count
Mankind makes the three count and a new champion is crowned.
Austin goes on to celebrate as only he can, even sharing a beer with Earl Hebner. But before he makes his final exit he’s confronted by McMahon. This confrontation doesn’t end well for the owner of the WWE as he receives one final stunner and a beer bath.
The show ends with the iconic shot of Austin standing tall over the boss vs The Rock.
Join us tomorrow when we take a look at part two of the Austin-Rock trilogy.