The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin are arguably the two most popular wrestlers of all time. Their rise to phenomenal popularity coincided with each other and both became incredibly successful in the same period. Their rise to the top of WWE spanned 6 years with 3 Wrestlemania main event matches and many more memorable moments.
Both Austin and The Rock have separate, different journeys at the beginning of their careers. Stone Cold Steve Austin had started working in the late 80s before moving to WCW, working with Brian Pillman as the Hollywood Blondes.
After being released by WCW, he appeared briefly in ECW before signing for WWE. Introduced as the Ringmaster, it was a couple of years before Austin would morph into Stone Cold. Winning the 1996 king of the ring was a huge steppingstone for Austin, he moved into 1997 continuing his biggest feud against Bret Hart. Their match at WrestleMania 13, a classic.
While Austin was facing Hart, The Rock had become Intercontinental Champion, having only debuted months previously. Known as Rocky Maivia, he defeated The Sultan to retain the championship at the same Wrestlemania. However, The Rock’s start in wrestling was vastly different from Austin’s. After suffering a knee injury, his football career was over and with only $7 to his name, he began training to become a wrestler after signing a development contract with WWE.
The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin – Forever Tied Together
Their first clash in the long, record-setting rivalry between Austin and The Rock takes place at the 1997 in your house pay per view Degeneration X. Only four months earlier, Austin suffered a broken neck but still held on to the WWE Intercontinental Championship. Their match at the pay-per-view is an intense brawl involving other members of the Nation of Domination.
Austin retained his championship but the next night on RAW, Vince McMahon ordered a rematch between the pair. Austin and McMahon were just starting their famous and long feud. Stone Cold, refusing to compete, would be stripped of his championship and it was awarded to The Rock. Austin, seemed to accept the decision but when he gave the championship to The Rock, he would deliver a stunner and take the championship back from him.
The following week, Austin threw the WWE Intercontinental Championship in the river in a famous scene which WWE and Austin would use again in other storylines along with a call back in the future between the two.
Steve Austin and The Rock would evade each other for over a year as Austin went on to win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 14 whilst The Rock continued to gain popularity and work his way up the card. As Austin was full-blown into his feud with Mr. McMahon, The Rock would join McMahon’s corporation and win the WWE Championship himself.
As WrestleMania XV approached, Austin won the opportunity to face the corporate champion in the main event. Their rivalry continued to build as they headed to one of the biggest shows ever.
McMahon tried everything to help The Rock and keep Austin away from the WWE Championship, even Enlisting the help of the debuting Big Show. Austin went into Wrestlemania with his eyes set on defeating The Rock once again. Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated his rival and win the WWE Championship once again.The following night on RAW, Austin demanded his Smoking Skull WWE Championship back from Vince McMahon. Instructing his son Shane to give Austin’s championship back, Shane McMahon would instead give the Championship to The Rock. With Backlash weeks away, Austin and The Rock were scheduled to meet again for the WWE Championship.
Reminiscent to the Intercontinental Championship, with Austin throwing the title over the bridge. This time, The Rock gained some revenge when he threw Austin’s Smoking Skull Championship over the bridge into the river and, threw Austin too.
The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin – Forever Tied Together
The Rock held a funeral for Austin a week later in which he would reveal he never actually threw the real championship belt, He still had possession over it. The rattlesnake appeared in a monster truck and drove it over The Rock car before entering the arena and brawling with The Rock. Shane came to the rescue of The Great One and announced himself as the special guest referee at Backlash. At the pay per view, Austin successfully retained the WWE Championship and earn back his smoking skull championship.
After Backlash, The Rock become a babyface and in the summer of 1999, Steve Austin would begin to leave WWE television due to injured and be out of action for almost a year. Backlash in April 1999 would be the last time Austin and The Rock shared a ring opposite each other until December 2000. At Rebellion, a special pay per view taking place in the United Kingdom. Both competed in a four corners match for the WWE Championship against Kurt Angle and Rikishi.
Two weeks later, Kurt Angle defended the WWE Championship inside Hell in a Cell against Triple H, Rikishi, The Undertaker, and Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. Inside the match, there is a special moment where The Rock and Austin go face to face in the ring alone. At this point, both are at their peak in popularity and it’s a huge reaction from the crowd as the two biggest stars in wrestling go face to face.
Neither man would win the WWE Championship on that evening, but Austin won the Royal Rumble, and The Rock won the Championship at No Way Out to set up the biggest main event in wrestling history. The match, scheduled to take place at the biggest show in history, WrestleMania X7.
The lead-up to the match is one of the most memorable and highly regarded for wrestling fans of the era. Austin states that he needs the WWE championship and says that he wants The Rock to bring his very best because at the event, Austin is bringing everything he has. It’s built as Austin final hurdle in his comeback story.
A meddling Vince McMahon would give The Rock, Debra as his manager. This was a great way of adding drama as it gave Austin and The Rock reason to confront each other. Austin would tell The Rock he would be accountable if Debra gets hurt and Kurt Angle ended up being a great foil for both at this time.
Austin and Rock traded finishers at the end of shows, showing both that they could hit their move whenever they wanted to. But the masterpiece of the feud is the sit-down interview between the two 10 days before the match. It’s the one used in the promo package as both men clearly outline why they must win the match at WrestleMania.
Austin reveals a little bit of the end of the show when he mentions he will do anything to get that championship. In hindsight it’s a masterful interview as it continues to set the stage of Austin’s intensity that leads him to align with Vince McMahon before leading the Alliance in the Invasion angle, always trying to protect himself as champion.
A week before this interview, we do get a sit-down interview with just Stone Cold where Austin says some of the same things he says in the interview that includes the Rock. He does portray a man that will do anything for the WWE Championship which intensifies a week later. Even this interview is great, it feels as though they knew they had something much more significant if they put Austin and The Rock in the same interview, allowing The Rock to answer Austin and give his point of view.
The SmackDown before Wrestlemania sees Rock and Austin in the same ring. They both toast each other to a great match aggressively which leads to a brawl between both. Vince McMahon trying to protect his investment in the match calls everyone down and we get a great pull-apart brawl.
Their match at Wrestlemania 17 is a spectacular bout with back-and-forth action. Austin is ruthless in his attempts to win the championship and when Vince McMahon makes his way down to the ring, the crowd are shocked by the events. McMahon helps Austin to defeat The Rock and win the WWE Championship. After their match, Austin does the unthinkable, shaking hands with his arch-nemesis Vince McMahon as JR screams on commentary that Austin ‘Sold his soul to the devil himself’
The next night on RAW, the main event is a rematch for the WWE Championship between Austin and The Rock, this time taking place inside a steel cage. Austin is victorious once again, defeating The Rock, but this time thanks to the help of Triple H. For the remainder of the year, Austin is heel and helps the alliance in their battle with WWE as The Rock leaves to film some movies. On his return, he remains with Team WWE in the Invasion angle, but The Rock and Stone Cold are held apart.
At Survivor Series, The Rock and the rattlesnake lead each other’s teams against each other as Team WWE faces Team Alliance in a Winner Takes All match. The match comes down to the two of them. This time it is The Rock who picks up the victory. His first pinfall victory over his nemesis on pay per view.
After the Invasion angle, The Rock and Austin face Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle at Vengeance in a one-night tournament to determine the first WWE Undisputed Champion but neither face each other. At the beginning of 2002, The New World Order make their debuts in WWE and set their sight on the two biggest stars.
On an episode of Monday Night RAW, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock would unite for a dream handicap match against the three members of nWo. For the remainder of 2002, Rock would be in and out of WWE whilst Austin famously took his ball and went home. But on the road to Wrestlemania XIX, Austin and The Rock made their comeback to television and reignited their feud for one more match.
On the March 3rd episode of RAW in 2003, The Rock interrupted Austin and challenged him to a match at Wrestlemania. The Great One, now acting as a heel using his Hollywood status to portray himself as better than everyone else. Told Austin that he was obsessed with beating him at Wrestlemania as it’s the only thing he has left to accomplish in WWE.
The Rock and Stone Cold faced off at Wrestlemania in what turned out to be Austin final wrestling match. The Rock finally managed to defeat his nemesis at Wrestlemania after all these years. It was an epic end to their epic rivalry.Steve Austin spoke to Kelly Clarkson on her podcast about his friendship and rivalry with The Rock
“Rock and I had been great friends from the moment he came into the company, and we turned our relationship into a rivalry, And at many times, regardless of who was playing the good or bad guy, we always had a great friendship and a lot of respect and love for each other.”
“The Rock was always my favorite opponent because he brought out the best in me, and I brought out the best in him. When you put the two No. 1 guys in there together, magic happens.
Rock and I headlined three WrestleManias together, which nobody has ever done, he knew that after that match, I was going to retire and ride off into the sunset. He knew that I didn’t want to retire but I had some nerve and neck issues and I needed to get out of the business.”
The Rock spoke about briefly about their epic rivalry
“He was a HUGE INFLUENCE on my career and our legendary feud we went on to become the biggest box office draw pro wrestling has ever seen, and he went on to become the one-man to ignite and lead the greatest era in pro wrestling history.”
The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin are two of the biggest names in wrestling history and both hit their peak in the same period. Two huge megastars headlining three Wrestlemanias against each other. Their rivalry was an epic journey that begun as both were on the rise and ended at the very top of the industry. No rivalry will ever beat the Rock-Austin rivalry as there will never be another two the same.