Today we finish the retrospective on the WrestleMania rivalry between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock with WrestleMania 19. While parts one and two, Austin and Rock were the top dogs in professional wrestling. Part three is their swan song.
Entering 2003, neither The Rock nor Austin were the focal points of WWE television. Rock had slowly begun transitioning into a full-time Hollywood star and Austin’s long-term effects from the neck injury he suffered in 1997 were slowing him down. However, even though they weren’t at the top of the mountain anymore, their WrestleMania 19 match was a major selling point for the WWE and rightfully so.
What fans didn’t realize was that not only was this the end of the trilogy, but it would be Stone Cold Steve Austin’s final match.
For The Rock, the build towards the culmination of his rivalry with Stone Cold Steve Austin began at SummerSlam 2002. That night he was defeated by “The Next Big Thing” Brock Lesnar for the Undisputed WWE Championship.
The loss alone wasn’t a big issue, it was the fan’s reaction to his loss that would provide The Rock with his spark for WrestleMania 19. Fully aware he was leaving wrestling again for Hollywood, the fans in the Nassau Coliseum responded as such. Booing the people’s champ before, during and after his match with Lesnar.
His post-match promo is completely overrun with boos from a fickle fan base who didn’t appreciate his decision to continue making movies. That resentment fueled The Rock when he returned in January of 2003. Embracing his Hollywood lifestyle, The Rock held the people in the palm of his hand, aggravating them with his Rock concerts and scathing promos.
His time as “Hollywood” Rock is some of the best heelwork of his entire career. While The Rock was embracing the ire of the fans, Stone Cold Steve Austin was beginning to wind down the in-ring portion of his career. Years of wear and tear along with issues on how his character was being used had him looking for the opportunity to ride off into the sunset.
The Texas Rattlesnake found that opportunity in his greatest rival and it was only fitting that it came at WrestleMania.
From their time feuding over the Intercontinental Championship all the way up to their final match, Austin and The Rock were perfect counterparts for one another. With his exuberant style and electric personality, The Rock was the perfect antithesis to Austin’s no-nonsense, Texas badass persona.
Their in ring-chemistry was one of a kind. Whether it was during matches or promos, the fans were captivated every time they shared the ring. A driving force for The Rock leading into WrestleMania 19 was the fact that he had never defeated Austin at the “Showcase of the Immortals”.
His two previous WrestleMania losses ate away at him as this was the one thing he hadn’t been able to accomplish as a professional wrestler. Their pre-Mania promos served as highlights of Monday Night Raw leading up to the event with both bringing an extra level of passion to the microphone.
Before the match begins, once again WWE shows the hype video for Austin-Rock 3 and once again they absolutely kill it.
The Rock enters first to his Hollywood Rock theme, one that is extremely underrated. Cocky as ever, he trash talks the fans during his entire entrance. Austin enters second and unlike their first two WrestleMania matches, there is no pre-match brawl to get everything going. Instead, after Austin salutes the fans from each corner, he and the Rock have an iconic stare down in the middle of the ring.
With the anticipation in the crowd hitting a fever pitch, the bell rings and the brawl begins. After some vintage Stone Cold Steve Austin brawling, The Rock escapes to the outside. Not one to wait for his opponent, Austin follows and the two brawl at ringside. Stone Cold controls the early portion of this match, throwing The Rock into the steel steps before they make their way back inside the ring. Rock finally gains the advantage after taking out Austin’s knee with a chop block.
Seeing that he wounded the Rattlesnake, The Rock continues to focus on Austin’s knee outside of the ring before eventually locking him in the Sharpshooter. This hold is a throwback to their second encounter at WrestleMania 17 and even further back to Austin’s iconic match with Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13. Something Jim Ross once again references on commentary.
After Austin breaks the hold by getting to the ropes, The Rock takes the time to put on Austin’s vest. The ultimate show of one-upmanship. This brief departure from the ring allows Austin to recover and the two take each other out with a beautiful double clothesline. Austin gains a brief advantage with his patented mudhole stomps in the corner. Made even better with the crowd chanting “What” with each kick. This was in the early stages of the “What” chant before it became increasingly annoying.
The Rock steals back the momentum with a flying clothesline. But his taunting of the crowd leads to him getting hit with a Rock Bottom by Austin.
When Austin attempts a Stunner, Rock is able to block it. Before hitting his own variation of the Stunner for a two count.
Eventually, The Rock hits a low blow on Austin, setting him up for the People’s Elbow. But Austin avoids “the most electrifying move in sports entertainment” before attempting another Stunner. The Rock counters the Stunner into a Spine Buster, putting Austin in the perfect position for the People’s Elbow once again. This time Rock hits his signature elbow, but amazingly Austin kicks out at two.
After failing to put Austin away, The Rock poises himself and connects with his first Rock Bottom. Once again though, Austin kicks out at two. With frustration setting in, Rock lines up for another Rock Bottom.
Austin slowly rises to his feet and attempts to fight off Rock’s attack. But the People’s Champion lands a second Rock Bottom. When Austin kicks out at two again, the Rock is left flabbergasted. With an extra sense of determination and motivation to end this epic contest. The Rock connects with a third Rock Bottom.
This time the referee makes the three count. Finally giving The Rock his long sought after victory over his greatest rival. In an especially heartwarming moment after the match, fans can see The Rock lean in and say a few words to Austin.
It is later confirmed by Austin that The Rock told him he loved him, appreciated him and how much he meant to him.
The Rock takes a moment to see his family at ringside before making his exit. Obviously emotional, Rock gives Austin one final nod of respect before getting backstage. Left alone in the ring Austin, slowly makes his way up the entrance ramp. Giving the fans a final Stone Cold salute.
It was a storybook ending for the old gunslinger to ride off into the sunset on his own terms. An ending that has stayed memorable all these years later because Austin has done what most wrestlers cannot after retiring. He’s stayed retired from in-ring competition.
There have been great rivalries throughout WrestleMania’s history. But none hold a candle to the trilogy that was Austin versus The Rock.