1998 was a watershed year for the WWE (then WWF). It saw the emergence of Stone Cold Steve Austin after defeating New Era poster boy Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 14 for the WWE Championship. This effectively ushered in the highly acclaimed and often-talked about Attitude Era. This time in WWE was a particularly exciting time as it seemed new stars were being created monthly. This boom period led to the demise and eventual closure of WCW. It allowed WWE to declare themselves the winner of the Monday Night War. Along with Steve Austin, we saw the rise of Mankind, Triple H, The Big Show, Kane, Chris Jericho, and of course, The Rock. This is the story of the rivalry between The Rock & Ken Shamrock.
The Rock wasn’t always “the most electrifying man in sports entertainment.” He debuted in 1996 under the name Rocky Maivia and struggled to get over with the crowd. His generic blue-chipper, baby-face gimmick was stale to the fans who wanted a break away from typical heroes such as Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart. This all changed in August 1997, when the Rock turned heel for the first time and joined the Nation of Domination. This proved to be the missing ingredient in his career as he began going by The Rock and crafting the witty personality and mic skills he’s become synonymous with. Still, he hadn’t had a signature feud yet to really make his mark. That’s where the former UFC star, and fellow up-and-comer, Ken Shamrock comes in.
Enter The World’s Most Dangerous Man
Ken Shamrock had already carved out a following and successful career from his time in the UFC when he arrived to WWE. He was one of the first stars in the world of MMA and was known worldwide as “the World’s Most Dangerous Man.” However, in 1997 he decided he wanted a change of scenery and debuted on the February 24 episode of Monday Night Raw. Shamrock briefly began a non-wrestling role as he was the special referee for the classic Steve Austin vs Bret Hart submission match at Wrestlemania 13.
He started wrestling on the following episode of Raw, beginning a series of squash matches used as exhibitions to show Shamrock’s skill. Although never suffering from the chagrin of the fans the way The Rock did, Shamrock also was in need of a significant feud to solidify his position in the company. He put on some good matches with Vader, Bret Hart, and Shawn Michaels but nothing of great consequence. This all changed when he was inserted as the main rival for The Rock and the Nation of Domination.
Shamrock was introduced to the Nation by proxy, by teaming up with their rival Ahmed Johnson. Along with the Legion of Doom, he joined Ahmed for a victory in a traditional Survivor Series match against NOD members Farooq, D’Lo Brown, Kama Mustafa, and The Rock at the 1997 iteration of the event. Things started really heating up in January of 1998 when Shamrock entered a program for the Rock’s Intercontinental Championship. Shamrock teamed with Mark Henry on the January 12 episode of Raw against The Rock and D’Lo Brown in a tag match. Near the end of the match, Shamrock was applying his signature Ankle Lock to the Rock when Henry turned on him, aligning himself with the Nation.
One-on-One with The Great One
This leads us to the pairings first one-on-one encounter at Royal Rumble for the Intercontinental Championship. The two put on a very solid back and forth match that saw some great character work from The Rock. He was really starting to grow into his character as the clever, cocky, entertainer he’s now known as. However, near the end of the match, the Rock hit Shamrock with brass knuckles due to a referee distraction. He then hid the weapon in Shamrock’s tights and went for the cover.
However, Shamrock was able to kick out at two by the time the ref was back in position to count. Shamrock then mounted the comeback. He planted The Rock with a belly-to-belly suplex for the win. In the process, he became the new Intercontinental Champion. Or so it seemed. The Rock pleaded with referee Mike Chioda to check the new champion’s tights. Upon finding the brass knuckles, Chioda reversed his decision and granted the Rock the title.
Their rivalry continued on, with both men taking and receiving shots from each other. In a February 9 match between Farooq and the Rock against Ken Shamrock and Chainz, things escalated even further. The Rock blasted Shamrock square in the face with a steel chair for the win. That brutal chair shot remains most wrestling fan’s first thought when thinking of this rivalry and is still considered one of the most vicious ones in WWE’s history. Interestingly enough, this was actually Shamrock’s idea.
“I said, ‘You going to hit me in the back?’ And he said, ‘I want it to be a headshot,'” Shamrock says. “I said, ‘Dude, I would rather take it in the front than the back of the head. Just swing at my face.'”
“What?” Rock replied.
“Just swing at my face,” Shamrock said. “I’ll look up at you, and as I start getting up, just hit me right in the face. Make sure it’s the flat part of the chair.'”
“‘What are you talking about?'” Rock sensibly asked. “Hit you in the face?”
“‘Don’t worry about it,” Shamrock said. “I promise I’ll take care of myself. From that angle you can’t actually possibly hit me in the face unless you’re doing a golf swing. But it will look like you did. So swing it like a bat.”
“Are you sure?” Rock asked, giving him a chance to change his mind.
“Just bring it,” Shamrock said. “I’d rather get hit in the forehead than the back of the head. I’ve got a big old skull. You lay it in there. I mean it. I don’t want anyone saying it looked fake.”
via Bleacher Report
That led to a NOD victory and a video snippet. One that would be repeated over and over in the weeks to come in this feud. The two would continue to square off in various tag matches, and cross paths in the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania, where Shamrock once again challenged the Rock for his Intercontinental Championship.
Wrestlemania 14, as stated earlier, was something of a transition for the WWE. It is, by most people’s accounts, the exact event that ushered in the Attitude Era. This would end up being Shamrock’s only high-profile Wrestlemania match, and the first of many for The Rock. They put on a short, albeit hard-hitting match. The match started on the entrance ramp as Shamrock entered and quickly turned into a brawl all around ringside. After a back and forth fight, things entered the ring, where the match officially began. Shortly after, Shamrock left the ring to grab a chair.
The Rock & Ken Shamrock
Was a Chairshot Enough?
After a tug-of-war with the referee over it, Shamrock sent the referee tumbling into the turnbuckle. Using this opportunity, the Rock nailed Shamrock with another absolutely crushing chair shot, reminiscent of their earlier encounter. The Rock went for the cover but Shamrock kicked out emphatically. This seemed to snap Shamrock as he went on the offensive and applied the ankle lock to the Rock, while Farooq refused to help (something the Rock had done to Farooq shortly before).
The Rock was left with no choice but to submit, making “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” the new Intercontinental Champion. However, things once again didn’t play out his favor. After The Rock submitted and the bell rang, Shamrock refused to relinquish the hold. This led to the referees reversing their decision, and once again, rewarding The Rock with the title. However, Shamrock snapped a second time upon hearing the announcement and began giving out belly-to-bellies to anyone near him in a black-and-white pinstriped shirt.
The Raw after Wrestlemania saw a new incantation of the Nation of Domination, as tensions finally boiled over between Farooq and the Rock. Along with the Shamrock feud, the Nation had been dealing with an internal power struggle between the two, both vying for leadership. After refusing to help The Rock, the rest of the NOD attacked and kicked out Farooq, making The Rock the de facto leader. Ken Shamrock and the Nation would continue to cross each other’s paths, and even more, people got involved. Shamrock teamed with Owen Hart to defeat The Rock and D’Lo at Mayhem in Manchester on April 4. Then on April 26 at Unforgiven: In Your House, the team of Owen, Shamrock, and Farooq defeated The Rock, D’Lo, and Mark Henry in a 6-man tag match.
1998 King Of The Ring
Then came the 1998 King of the Ring pay-per-view on June 28. Both Ken Shamrock and the Rock were entered into the tournament. Shamrock had already defeated NOD members Kama and Mark Henry in the first and second rounds of the tournament respectively on the previous weeks’ Raw. The Rock defeated Vader and Triple H in the first two rounds, which set up for a potential familiar match-up in the finals. That’s exactly what happened as Shamrock defeated Jeff Jarrett, and The Rock defeated Dan Severn in the semifinals during the early portion of the event.
The match was hard-hitting as always, as Shamrock nursed an ankle injury that occurred in earlier rounds. Near the end of the match, Shamrock went for a hurricanrana, which The Rock countered by delivering a hotshot on the ropes. After a near fall, The Rock protested with the referee. He then turned his attention back to Shamrock, who utilized an imanari roll to transition to an ankle lock. Finally getting a measure of revenge on his rival, The Rock tapped out, crowning Ken Shamrock the new King of the Ring.
The Rock & Ken Shamrock
The End of Their Rivalry
The rivalry was over, with the Nation breaking up very shortly afterwards so The Rock could step out on his own as a main event-level singles competitor. Ken Shamrock went on to be a part of a few more marquee storylines in WWE before moving his attention back to MMA. He then had a very successful stint in the independent scene as well as TNA (later rebranded IMPACT! Wrestling). The Rock would go on to have one of the most successful professional wrestling careers of all time, being the top babyface in the company for several years and transitioning to Hollywood. The impact these guys’ feud had on each other’s career is immeasurable, as evidenced by this tweet from The Rock replying to a comment on Ken’s influence.
I’ll co-sign that. @ShamrockKen helped build “The Rock” character. Huge #AttitudeEra influence. We tore the houses down together. I’ll always be grateful and respectful. He’s a fucking machine. They don’t make em like that anymore. Thanks for the house brother Ken
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) August 29, 2019
Though Shamrock never had any doubts about the level Rock would reach in his sports entertainment career.
“I watched the Rock happen right in front of my eyes,” Shamrock says. “The minute they gave him the mic and stop trying to choreograph his personality, he was like a rocket. They took the reins off him, and he just ran. He was this funny character in real life and started being himself. Once that happened, nothing was going to stop him.”
Shamrock feels he owes a great deal of thanks to The Rock too. “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” had a career renaissance in 2019, returning to IMPACT! in September. He had a great feud with Sami Callihan that turned into an alliance. He was then selected to be inducted into the IMPACT! Wrestling Hall of Fame. He chose none other than “The People’s Champ” The Rock to induct him at Bound for Glory 2020 on October 24. To say the least, there is a gigantic level of respect from these two performers. Rightfully so, as both helped shape each other’s careers and an entire era of wrestling.