Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wrestlemania: The Rock

The Rock (from WWE)
By Chad Smart
@chadsmart on Twitter

While Kevin is doing a Mania’s Memories series, I thought I’d supplement it with looking at the Wrestlemania careers of the wrestlers competing in high profile matches.

Rocky Miavia vs. The Sultan
The Rock made his Wrestlemania debut at Wrestlemania 13 defending the Intercontinental title against The Sultan. A still green Rocky Miavia vs. a lame gimmicked Rikishi is about as thrilling of a match as you’d expect. Rocky was being pushed as the blue chipper third generation star and the fans were starting to turn on him. There were a couple “Die Rocky Die” signs in the crowd. The match was essentially a backdrop for the post-match shenanigans of Rocky Johnson making a surprise appearance to help his son fight off Bob Backlund and the Iron Sheik who were in the Sultan’s corner.

After a transformative summer that saw Rocky join the Nation of Domination and become The Rock, Wrestlemania 14 saw The Rock defending the IC title again. This time his opponent was Ken Shamrock. If memory serves right, the Rock/Shamrock feud was like the Kofi Kingston/Dolph Ziggler feud in that it seemed to last for almost a year. Shamrock won the match making Rock tap out to an ankle lock, but then Shamrock wouldn’t release the hold so the referee reversed the decision. Pretty disappointing finish for a Wrestlemania match especially since it meant their feud would continue.

Austin vs. Rock (WWE)
Continuing his streak of defending titles at Wrestlemania, Wrestlemania 15 marked the first meeting of the two biggest stars of the Attitude Era as Rock defended the WWF World Title against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. While Wrestlemania 15 came along when the Attitude Era was really starting to take off, I think the show is the epitome of Russo-rific booking. That’s a rant for another time. Austin and Rock had a heated battle and once the smoke was clear, Austin stood tall with the title while Rock was counting the lights.

With Steve Austin on the shelf due to injury, Wrestlemania 2000 saw each member of the McMahon family pick a wrestler to back in a Fatal 4-Way match for the WWF Title. Stephanie McMahon was with WWF Champion Triple H. Linda McMahon brought Mick Foley out of retirement so he could try to have his Wrestlemania moment. Shane McMahon was certain The Big Show would be victorious in the match. Vince McMahon sided with The Rock hoping to get a measure of revenge against Triple H for beating Vince at Armageddon the previous December. During the match Vince turned on The Rock hitting Rock with a steel chair leading to Triple H retaining his title.

Wrestlemania 17 is highly regarded as one of the, if not the, best Wrestlemania ever. The show happened a week after WCW was bought by Shane McMahon and, in my opinion, signaled the end of the Attitude Era. If this was the end of an era then it made sense to see Steve Austin and The Rock battle it out for the WWF title once again. The outcome was the same as their previous Wrestlemania battle when Steve Austin turned heel in one of the most nonsensical heel turns not booked by Vince Russo.

Rock vs. Hogan (WWE)
While this year’s match against John Cena is being billed as the biggest match in Wrestlemania history, I tend to think The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 18 is the biggest match to ever take place at Wrestlemania. No offense to Cena, but he hasn’t had the mainstream appeal of Hulk or Rock. I don’t think anyone expected the crowd in Toronto to be as firmly behind the Hulkster as they were once the match started. I doubt we’ll ever see another match with this much crowd intensity. That night the torch was passed and Rock ended his Wrestlemania losing streak as well as his streak of appearing in title matches.

If you want to debate the idea of Wrestlemania 17 being the end of the Attitude Era, it would be hard to say Wrestlemania 19 didn’t nail one of the last nails in the Attitude coffin. Due to injuries, Steve Austin was facing an early retirement from the ring. At the same time Dwayne Johnson’s budding acting career was taking off so the writing was on the wall that The Rock’s wrestling days were coming to an end as well. There was no title on the line this time. The Rock and “Stone Cold” went out there, did their thing to the delight of the crowd. Third time was the charm as The Rock finally got the victory over his nemesis.

The Rock made his last wrestling appearance at Wrestlemania 20 reforming the Rock and Sock connection with Mick Foley to battle Evolution members Randy Orton, Ric Flair and Batista. Even though Rock and Sock ended up on the losing end of the battle, the match was a fitting end for what was thought to be Rock’s (and too a lesser extent Mick Foley’s) last match. Going out on an anniversary show of the grandest stage of all passing the torch to the next generation.

Gearing up for 28 (WWE)
The Rock has a .500 average at Wrestlemania with 4 wins and 4 losses. Will that average improve or decrease in four weeks when The Rock returns to Wrestlemania to battle Mr. Fruity Pebbles lady parts Kung Pow Bitch, John Cena? Kevin and I will be there to witness history in the making. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s possible to blow the roof off an open-air stadium.

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