wrestling / Columns

The Shimmy 03.16.09: I Need to Beat You, Rock…

March 16, 2009 | Posted by Andy Clark

The camera pans to Steve Austin and we see his intense stare, focused and determined to become WWE Champion. We then see him turn around and it is made apparent that it was not the camera Austin was fixated on but his own reflection. Austin was staring deep down inside himself, making sure he was prepared for the biggest night of his career.

Elsewhere the current WWE Champion The Rock was a bit calmer. He had arrived to the arena, changed into his wrestling gear, and hung his championship belt in the locker room. The Rock seemed prepared, cool and confident, a stark contrast to Austin’s frowning intensity. Both men were prepared for what would be an epic battle on the grandest stage in sports-entertainment, WrestleMania X-Seven.

It had already been a historic week as World Championship Wrestling had been sold to the then-World Wrestling Federation, airing their last episode of Monday Nitro just six days before this show. Now Austin and Rock would compete in only the second main event rematch in WrestleMania history, having already competed against one another in Philadelphia two years prior. Austin won that match, and the WWE Title, but both men had been through dramatic swings in their careers since then. Back then The Rock was a reviled villain, working alongside Mr. McMahon and his Corporation, a player in the infamous Austin-McMahon rivalry. Austin was at the top of his game, being in the midst of caring the flag for the company in the Attitude era, fans living vicariously through the bad ass Texas Rattlesnake. Austin was supposed to win that match, that’s just how things happened in 1999.

Now, two years later neither man was the same. Shortly after their first WrestleMania encounter The Rock turned his back on the Corporation and embraced the fans that were so desperate to cheer for him. The Rock finally became the “People’s Champion” but even then he still played second fiddle to Austin. That is, until Austin suffered a crippling neck injury that would keep him out of WWE action for a year. In his absence The Rock was able to become the top dog in WWE and the fans took to him in that role. There were times over the year that you could almost forget that Stone Cold was even going to come back. Not only did The Rock skyrocket to the top of the wrestling world but he also caught the eye of Hollywood, filming his breakout cameo role in “The Mummy Returns.” Although Austin had been a pretty big deal when he was on top, making the talk show circuit and even guest starring in episodes of “Walker Texas Ranger” there was no movie promotion for the Texas Rattlesnake. It seemed possible that The Rock had eclipsed Stone Cold, at least in the eyes of the general public.

The Rock’s run alone at the top couldn’t last forever though. Eleven months after he was taken out at the 1999 Survivor Series, Stone Cold returned to a WWE ring. He attacked the WWE with a vengeance, literally. Searching for his Survivor Series attacker Austin went after pretty much everyone in the locker room…except The Rock. Oddly enough it was The Rock’s rental car that was implicated in running down Austin in Detroit, and all signs pointed to the Brahma Bull as the likely assailant, and yet Austin was content with attacking the X-Pacs and Al Snows of the WWE. When we finally found out that Austin’s assailant was Rikishi, at first claiming to have done it for The Rock’s benefit, we were shocked. Then we found out Rikishi had actually been a hired gun for Triple H and it all started to make sense. Both The Rock and Austin sought payback on those two men and that search for payback would lead to them being in the Armageddon Hell in a Cell Match for Kurt Angle’s WWE Championship. This would be the first time since Austin’s return from injury that we’d really get the chance to see him and The Rock lock up in the ring. The encounter between the two was brief but intense as both men made it clear that they wanted that top spot. While neither one would walk away with Angle’s title they would have another opportunity the following month to face off.

Like many great WrestleMania match ups we saw The Rock and Stone Cold come face to face during the annual Royal Rumble Match. The audience hit a fever pitch as these two legends locked horns for a title opportunity at WrestleMania. The breath went out of that audience as The Rock was eliminated second from the top, allowing Austin to handle his business alone against Kane. Despite Austin’s previous successes the win was certainly improbable. He had come back from a career threatening injury. He had been blinded by anger and vengeance for months. He had come up short in three championship matches already under Kurt Angle’s reign, and even that night had suffered a brutal attack by Triple H before winning the 30-man Royal Rumble. Is it possible that WrestleMania could be the night Austin once again reclaimed his throne at the top of the wrestling world? Or was the effort he put into winning the Royal Rumble all he had left?

Even in the glow of his Royal Rumble victory that gnawing feeling of being passed by had to be eating away at the Rattlesnake. Sure he had overcome a lot to win the Rumble, but as noted it was Kane, a dominating but hardly legendary figure, that Austin had beaten at the Rumble, not The Rock. While the fans still reacted well to Austin it was almost more out of nostalgia than that vicarious emotion from years past. In order for Austin to truly feel like the Austin of old he would have to beat The Rock. As luck would have it The Rock won the WWE Championship from Kurt Angle, setting down the showdown of a lifetime.

Rock vs. Austin. The Ali vs. Frazier or the Hogan vs. Andre of the Attitude Era. Two years ago they had fought as polar opposites defending different ways of life. Now they were fighting for the same top spot. WCW and ECW ceasing formal operations within weeks of WrestleMania made the match even more meaningful. The World Wrestling Federation really was the only game in town now. WrestleMania had suddenly become an even bigger stage than ever before. While the WrestleMania opening montage may have been a bit hyperbolic by claiming WrestleMania X-Seven was a “celebration of life,” it was clear that WrestleMania X-Seven was indeed a celebration of wrestling. And at the end of this historic night capping off a historic week only one man’s image would be emblazoned in the minds of wrestling fans. For Austin’s legacy it had to be him.

The weeks leading up to WrestleMania provided their fair share of roadblocks and tense moments. Austin’s wife Debra picked the absolute worst time to decide to get back into managing and Mr. McMahon, the muddler that he is, decided to assign her to manage The Rock. After a few situations where Debra was put in harms way, with The Rock not caring one bit, (“She’s not my wife, she’s your wife” The Rock would tell Austin), that partnership was thankfully ended prematurely. Both Austin and The Rock still had to deal with former champion Kurt Angle as well. Angle had tried to get himself back into the title picture in time for WrestleMania by injuring one of the two scheduled participants hoping their injury would open up a spot for him. While Austin and The Rock escaped from Angle injury free it was still an annoyance distracting them from their true enemy: each other. Things remained surprisingly cordial between the two opponents for most of the build up to the big show. There would be staredowns and intimations made but not a lot of violence. One week they would each deliver their finishing maneuver to the other, the next week they would just let them know that they could. They even managed to sit down in the same room with Jim Ross to conduct an interview. It was that interview that Austin revealed his own insecurities:

“I need to beat you, Rock. I need it more than anything you could ever imagine.”

And there it was, revealed to the world. No macho bravado. No silly catchphrases to hid the fact. While Austin did guarantee victory at WrestleMania, he did so not because he wanted to, but because he had to. After a year away, a career threatening injury, and months and months of doubt Austin had to win the WWE Title from The Rock at WrestleMania. Nothing more, certainly nothing less. While The Rock did not seem quite as desperate you could sense the disrespect finally getting to him, particularly on the last SmackDown before WrestleMania. The two men met face to face in the ring, with Austin offering The Rock a pre-match beer. After a few aggressive toasts the fight was on and we had a preview of what was to come in three days.

The theme song to WrestleMania X-Seven stated that it was “my way or the highway.” This battle between two legends would indicate just whose way the wrestling world would head. Color commentator Paul Heyman said it best when he called it “The match both men need to win and neither man can afford to lose.” The entrances of the two men encapsulated their larger than life personas. The crowd reaction, the camera flashes, they all set the stage. The light that had been entering the Astrodome all evening had turned to nightfall and the in building lighting set the tone for this classic confrontation. Despite the psychological factor Austin clearly had the advantage: wrestling in front of his home state, with good friend Jim Ross calling the action, against a man he had defeated at WrestleMania before, and with the added bonus of a last minute No Disqualification stipulation. If Austin were to lose he’d have no excuses. In order to ensure victory Austin made sure to pull out all the stops, taking full advantage of the No DQ rules and even digging into his past to bring out the Million Dollar Dream. Desperate times call for desperate measures. To his credit The Rock pulled out all the stops as well, stealing a few moves from Bret Hart’s playbook, probably Austin’s number two rival next to only The Rock himself. When Austin locked in the Million Dollar Dream The Rock used the turnbuckles to kick himself over into a pinning predicament, just as Hart had done to Roddy Piper once upon a time. The Rock tapped into the anger that slowly started to rise within him due to being betrayed by the fans during the match and busted Austin wide open. Soon The Rock had a bloody Austin locked in the Sharpshooter, blood pouring down Austin’s face as he screamed in agony, shades of Austin’s star making Submission Match with Hart at WrestleMania 13. While Austin escaped that submission hold it was becoming apparent: he could not beat The Rock. No beneficial stipulation, no homefield advantage was going to overcome the evolution of the sport, of the sheer fact that The Rock was the better man. And then he made an appearance.

Mr. McMahon strolled down to ringside. This raised some eyebrows amongst the fans. In the words of Bobby Heenan at the 1996 Bash at the Beach “Whose side is he on?” After The Rock kicked out of a Stunner by Austin it was apparent. Austin barked at his hated nemesis to get him a steel chair. The crowd and the announcers looked on stunned as Austin lit into The Rock with chairshot after chairshot, not believing the alliance they were seeing formed before them. After a barrage of chairshots Austin went for the cover, and this time The Rock was unable to kick out. Stone Cold Steve Austin had done it, he had beaten The Rock at WrestleMania for the WWE Championship; but at what cost? Here were the two men that spent the better part of four years despising one another standing side by side, sharing a beer on the grandest stage of all. Now it all made sense: the accidental assist from Austin’s rival and McMahon’s son-in-law Triple H on Raw; The Rock’s Handicap Match against Rikishi & Haku on SmackDown; the last minute addition of the No Disqualification rule. The People’s Champion lied broken and battered in the ring. When he rose to his feet Austin was waiting, ready to deliver a shot with the championship belt that used to belong to The Rock. Austin’s own music seemed to even quite as the new champion snuck up on his prey. Heyman and Ross said it best on commentary: Stone Cold Steve Austin had sold his soul to the devil himself. How ironic it was that the two men that lead WWF in the Monday Night Wars by destroying one another were at long last on the same side the week the wars finally ended.

This match and this show marked the end of an era. Austin’s alliance with McMahon would be short lived as Stone Cold slowly gained his confidence back. This was no doubt related to the fact that The Rock was spending less and less time wrestling and more time in Hollywood. The Rock didn’t need the spot Austin clung to so desperately, so he ceded it back to him. There had been a similar situation between the two men as they were both heading up the ladder, with Austin allowing The Rock to have the Intercontinental Title because he had “bigger fish to fry.” Now on the tail end of their careers it was The Rock that was able to let go. Now, seven years later Austin has repaired his relationship with the fans and has seemingly moved into a more comfortable place in regards to stepping away from the ring. Having that forced upon you by Mother Nature doesn’t give you a lot of choice. In a few weeks Austin will return to Houston, Texas and be honored with a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame, his transgressions from eight years ago clearly forgotten. But fans and historians alike know the real story about WrestleMania X-Seven, and the greatest main event of them all.

The Shimmy Likes It Raw!

What’s on tap for tonight’s show?

  • Shawn Michaels & Undertaker vs. JBL & Vladimir Kozlov; The tension between Michaels and Undertaker is rising, and JBL still promises to do something historic at WrestleMania. Will we find out more tonight?
  • Will Ric Flair come out of retirement to face Chris Jericho tonight? Flair cost Jericho a spot in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match last week, might he be saving Jericho for a different match at WrestleMania?

    Well that does it for this week’s column, have a good week everybody. Until next time, don’t die. Clark…out.

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