411’s Top 30 WrestleMania Matches of All Time: #8 - Steve Austin vs. The Rock (WM 17)
Posted by Larry Csonka on 03.29.2014
411 continues its look at the top 30 matches in the history of WrestleMania with Steve Austin vs. The Rock from WrestleMania 17!
Welcome back to 411Mania, and welcome to 411's official countdown to WrestleMania 30! Every year, the 411 staff comes together in some way to bring you, the fine readers of our site, a special countdown to WrestleMania. In past years we have done special countdown columns, ranking the shows, rating them overall, discussing special aspects of the big event, and even columns that have served as odes to the matches and moments that are etched into our minds.
To some fans, WrestleMania is the biggest show of the year, and the way that WWE has transformed the event into a near weeklong party, it may as well be a holiday to the fans that love our special brand of entertainment. Call it sport or call it a specially designed male soap opera, we love it and we love to talk about what makes things special. WrestleMania is an institution, and this year, as the WWE gets prepared to put on their 30th WrestleMania event, we decided to go big. Starting on March 7th, and running all the way to April 5th, 411 will present the top 30 matches in WrestleMania history.
Each writer on the 411 staff was given the opportunity to nominate 30 matches of their choosing. #1 on their list received 30 points, #2 received 29 points, and so on and so forth. Writers were asked to base their lists on both match quality and historical significance to create their nominations. The final list was created, and there was a ton of competition for the top spot. In fact, the voting was so tight that the top FOUR matches were separated by a mere 16-points.
Each day we will present a match from the list, which will include a full recap of the match from the 411 archives (from Scott Slimmer, JD Dunn, and Robert Leighty Jr.) as well as thoughts from the writers. Thank you for reading, and we hope that you enjoy our presentation…
The reaction Austin gets here is absolutely insane, and they should have just called off the heel turn based on this reaction alone, or at least delay it until they were out of Texas. The Rock gets booed out of the building, and the crazy thing is it only got worse for him a year later in Toronto. Unlike Hogan/Andre at WM III, we get no stare down here as Austin jumps the bell to a thunderous pop and fires away on the Rock. Austin tries to use the belt, but Rock ducks and starts laying the smack down. Austin counters a whip with the Thesz press, and he drops some FU elbows. The counter comes back with a swinging neck breaker and looks for the Rock Bottom. Austin elbows out and goes for the Stunner, but Rock shoves off and tries for a Stunner of his own. That gets countered, and Austin sends Rock flying over the top rope to the floor. They battle through the crowd and back to the ringside area. They trade shots with the announce table, and Austin seizes control once they head back in the ring. The Rock gets placed on the top rope and Austin brings him down the hard way with a superplex for a two count. Austin looks to take advantage of the no DQ rule and takes the cover off the buckle. This gives the Rock a chance to get back in the fight as he tosses Austin across the ring. He gets to his feet but staggers near the ropes and Rock sends him over the top to the floor with a clothesline. They head right back to the announce table, and Austin gets his heads bounced off it and the timekeeper's table as well. Hebner tries to restore order, and he gets shoved by the Rock. That gives Austin the opening he needs as he blasts Rock with the ring bell. The bell shot draws a few trickles of blood from Rock's forehead. That's apparently not enough blood for Austin as he does everything he can to open the cut up even more. Heyman and JR's announce table gets destroyed in the chaos, and back in the ring Austin starts firing off right hands. Austin goes to a blatant choke and for reason Hebner tries to stop him. The Rock tries to fight back as the crowd boos, but Austin remains in control as he hits his own swinging neck breaker. The Rock's carcass gets caught in the corner and we get some high quality mud-hole stomping. The ref keeps trying to enforce power that he really doesn't have in this match and it's only serving to piss off Austin. Scratch that as it gives the Rock another opening to get in some shots to regain some momentum. Rock lets Austin know he is #1 before sending him into the exposed buckle in the corner. With Austin a bloody mess The Rock heads to the floor to grab the same ring bell that split him open earlier. Austin, already a bloody mess from getting rammed into the exposed steel, gets creamed with the ring bell. Now he is pouring blood from his head as the crowd is on the verge of heart failure. They head right back to the floor, and Austin is back in his element. He makes his comeback and drops the Rock across the guard barrier. He follows that by catapulting the Rock head first into the ring post. The Rock took that like a champ, and it brings me joy seeing a man that dedicated to his art. More hatred and violence as Austin uses a nearby monitor to open the Rock up even more. This whole time Heyman and JR have been questioning who made the no DQ ruling. I'm sure we all knew at home, but most figured it may go a different way. They make their way back in the ring and Austin tries to Stunner, but Rock turns that into a sharpshooter. Now we get the deconstruction of the Stone Cold character. We hit WM 13 first where Austin would not submit, and instead passed out from the pain. Here in Houston, Austin takes the heel way out by crawling to the bottom rope to get a break (in a no DQ match?). It works though and Austin gets enough of an advantage to lock in his own sharpshooter. The Rock doesn't head for the ropes though at first though and powers out of the hold. Austin is a vindictive bastard though and reapplies the hold next to the ropes. That's an easy escape for the Rock though as the ropes are right there. Next we hit up Survivor Series 1996 as Austin breaks the Million Dollar Dream, and like in 96, the Rock uses Hart's counter to get a pinning sequence. Back in 1996 Austin didn't care about winning the match and maintained the hold to punish Hart. In this case the win is everything to Austin and he breaks the hold to make sure he still has a chance to win. The Rock damn near causes a riot as he gets a two count off his own version of the Stunner. Vince McMahon starts power walking to the ring as both men are a bloody mess in the ring. Both men stagger to their feet, and Rock charges, but gets planted with a spinebuster for two. With each two count Austin gets more and more pissed. That starts to become his downfall as it gives the Rock a chance to regroup and he hits his own spinebuster. The people's elbow follows, but McMahon pulls the Rock off of Austin to break the count. By the reaction of the folks in Houston, McMahon just turned face. The Rock chases Vince and runs right into a Rock Bottom from Austin, but it only gets a hot two count. Austin looks for the Stunner, but the Rock shoves off again, and Hebner gets knocked out of the ring. Austin takes that opening as a chance to kick Rock in his Brahma bulls. The shocking happens as McMahon and Austin team up to blast the Rock with a chair. Vince puts Hebner back in the ring, but Rock is able to kick out at two. Austin goes for the chair again, but the Rock catches him with the Rock Bottom. Once again McMahon detains the ref, so the Rock starts kicking his ass. He turns right around and Austin gives him the mother off all Stunners, but again it only gets two. The look on Austin's face was priceless after that one. McMahon hands Austin the chair, and the Rock gets absolutely creamed, but again he kicks out at two. The visuals and the reaction of the crowd during this stretch is absolutely amazing. Now Austin goes crazy with the McMahon endorsed chair and wails on the Rock until he is a quivering mass. Finally that's enough to get the pin and the WWF Title at 28:06. McMahon and Austin stare at each other and we get the handshake we thought we would never see. Jim Ross is having the worst day of his life as Austin and McMahon share some beers over the lifeless body of the Rock. Austin has since stated had he known how things would have turned out he would have called an audible right there and given McMahon the stunner. The Rock staggers to his feet, so Austin blasts him with one last belt shot just for the hell of it. I also want to mention that Heyman is spectacular as he rubs all this in JR's face.
- By Robert Leighty Jr.
Daniel Wilcox: At the time, this was arguably the biggest match in wrestling history, or at least the biggest match since Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III. On April 1st 2001, 67,925 fans packed the Houston Astrodome to witness the WrestleMania rematch of Rock and Austin, two out of three of the most popular professional wrestlers of all time. Two years earlier, they'd had a pretty good match with Austin taking the title off The Rock, but this match was different. The Rock was at the peak of his popularity, and Austin was still right up there having recently returned from a year off for neck surgery. And this was his opportunity and the title, and only The Rock was standing in his way. Of course, there was very little doubt about the outcome going in, but to the best of my knowledge, nobody predicted what was surely one of the most shocking heel turns of all time. After
over twenty-minutes of back and forth, Rock Bottoms, Stone Cold Stunners, People's Elbows and more, Vince McMahon marches to ringside before handing his arch nemesis a chair and assisting him in beating the holy hell out of The Rock. Steve Austin sold his soul to the devil, and his hometown crowd still popped like crazy when Rock's lifeless body was counted to the mat for the three. You can argue the decision to turn Austin heel to the cows come home, but you cannot take away from what was an incredible match with an unforgettable ending. Many people call this the end of the Attitude Era, whereas I'd call it the pinnacle. WWE caught lightning in a bottle by having two performers as charismatic as Rock and Austin peak at the same time, and that is why the product may never be as good as it was during this time period. The Rock and Stone Cold are once in a lifetime individuals, and this was each man's best performance.
Ryan Byers: Way back at entry number 27 on this list, I mentioned that there are very few "classic WrestleMania feuds," i.e. rivalries between the same two wrestlers that span more than two Mania shows. One of the only feuds that falls into the category of being a WrestleMania classic is Steve Austin vs. The Rock, and here's your proof to support that classification, as it now has not one but two of this three matches ranking on 411's list of the greatest WM bouts of all time, which is a distinction that only two other feuds can lay claim to. (If you've been keeping score at home, you know that one of those feuds is the three way dance between the Dudley Boys, the Hardy Boys, and Edge & Christian, while the other is . . . technically yet to be revealed.) Of the Rock/Austin three match series, it makes sense that this one is the most highly ranked. At the time of the WrestleMania XV encounter, the two men were unquestionably huge stars and had faced each other before, but it was apparent that they were still refining some aspects of their act against one another. They also faced off a third time at WrestleMania XIX, but that match in some ways felt like an afterthought since it was billed underneath both Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon and Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar, in addition to having the show stolen out from underneath it by Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho, which probably had something to do with the personal medical problems that Stone Cold was having before the show, as chronicled the documentary The Mania of WrestleMania. Yes, the quality of the Austin vs. Rock WrestleMania matches definitely followed a bell curve, and this match was the high point in the middle. Their chemistry had been perfected but they weren't yet at the point where their bodies were starting to give out, and the hype behind the match was such that it couldn't even be cooled off the bizarre inclusion of Debra Marshall-McMichael-Williams and her poorly baked cookies as a major part of the build. Let's face it, that Limp Bizkit "My Way" video package could overcome any questionable booking to make this the biggest match of the year, no matter what you think about Limp Bizkit's music in other contexts. The match delivered on just about every level, though there was thing that kept it from being an absolute classic: the finish. Yes, this is the infamous match in which Steve Austin teamed up with Vince McMahon after years of feuding, beginning Stone Cold's incredibly ill advised heel turn. (And it's no longer just me saying that it was ill-advised. Go listen to Steve Austin's podcasts where this subject comes up, and he now too admits that the turn was a huge mistake.) Yet, in an odd way, even the finish that nobody wanted to see made the match more historically significant, as the end of Stone Cold Steve Austin as the company's top babyface is also commonly seen as coinciding with the end of the vaunted Attitude Era . . . and what a capper on the Era it was.