The Rock will be returning to a WWE ring for the first time since WrestleMania 28. He is generally remembers for his entertaining promos, but in the ring he was one of the best during the Attitude Era. In celebration of the People’s Champion return to action, I will take a look back at his top 10 WWE matches…if you can smell what The Rock is cooking!
I took a look back at the meat of The Rock’s career, after he broke out and became an elite WWE superstar. These matches are in no particular order but if you think I missed one, please leave a comment below.
The Rock vs. Steve Austin WrestleMania 19 - If I was ranking this list in order this would be at the top. In my opinion, this was the best of the series and arguably the greatest WrestleMania main-event of all time. The Rock’s heel persona at this time was just at a level rarely seen in this era from pro wrestling heels. Steve Austin was of course, Steve Austin and at his usual best. Surprisingly the backstory here as Austin revealed in his book is that he went to the hospital the night before the match. For being at less than 100% healthy, Austin was arguably at his WrestleMania best (or at least since WrestleMania 13).
The Rock vs. Mick Foley Royal Rumble 1999 I-Quit Match - Most remember this match today for the moment in Beyond the Mat in which Mick Foley’s children are shown crying in the front row as their father got nailed over and over again with a steel chair. However, what is forgotten here was one of the most exciting championship matches in Royal Rumble history. The Rock was just starting to peak as a heel here where Foley had become the toast of the town as the “loveable loser” in the WWE. The action-packed match unfortunately ended with a cheap finish, but it accomplished what it needed to do by establishing The Rock as a tough heel and Foley as one of the toughest babyfaces to step into a WWE ring.
The Rock vs. Chris Jericho No Mercy 2001 - Going back and watching this match again, it was obvious that these two guys were tight outside of the ring. Their entire feud was one of the most underrated of the Attitude Era. To me, Jericho really broke out in this match. Once again, other than a screwy finish this one was just hands down fantastic. The Rock won the match but Jericho had established himself as one of the WWE elite by the time this feud was over.
The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar SummerSlam 2002 - This was a huge match at the time and a real passing of the guard. You had Brock Lesnar who was running through everyone including the legendary Hulk Hogan finally coming face to face with his toughest challenge, The Rock. The Rock starts the match by laying down the WWE championship and running to the ring in a moment that I find particularly memorable. The match will also be remembered as the first time the fans had turned on “Hollywood” Rock. A fun back and forth match ended with an F5 and a new WWE champion.
The Rock vs. Steve Austin, Backlash 1999 - A forgotten gem which was everything that their WrestleMania 15 main-event should have been. I remember being disappointed at the time with The Rock vs. Austin match from that year’s WrestleMania. I also remember this one blowing me away. I went back and watched it again and was just as entertained now as I was this. This was more action-packed and more of a back and forth than their previous match. This was more of a brawl than their previous match and the crowd just loved it. Even Shane McMahon as guest referee couldn’t distract from this great one. The Texas Rattlesnake retains the title and these two superstars pay back WWE fans for a lackluster WrestleMania a few weeks earlier.
The Rock vs. Chris Benoit Fully Loaded 2001 - This was one of the most anticipated matches of the Attitude Era and it lived up to expectations. Chris Benoit was always a favorite with the “hardcore” fans while The Rock was of course a favorite with just about everyone. The idea of seeing Benoit finally get that spot in the main-event was one that anyone that ever watched him work could sink their teeth into. This match was just great, a true back and forth battle with exceptional psychology to boot. The place came unglued when it appeared that Benoit won the title, however the match was re-started thanks to Commissioner Mick Foley. The Rock won but the job was done, Benoit was no longer just a hardcore favorite, he was mainstream.
The Rock vs. Kurt Angle No Way Out 2001 - These guys had quite a few great matches but this was probably my personal favorite. A great back and forth match between these two guys which saw Angle elevated to a new level when this one ended. That is a constant theme here if you notice. The Rock really helped elevate talent in his hey day. Kurt really established himself here as a more serious WWE star than the goofy character he had portrayed for awhile. The crowd ate this up as this was red hot from start to finish. The Rock wins his belt back in the end, but the job was done. Angle was now seen as a tougher WWE wrestler while The Rock was able to prove how good he could be in the ring with the right opponent.
The Rock vs. Triple H Backlash 2000 - This series in 2000 saw two WWE superstars on a collision course finally come to a head several years later, but with much different circumstances. A lot of people point to their Ladder Match or Iron Man Match as their best, but I loved this one. This battle of Attitude Era headliners saw one of the most fun matches you’ll ever see from the era. The match had tons of interference and near falls that had fans on their feet from start to finish. After a ton of “ga-ga”, The Rock hits the Rock Bottom and the People’s Elbow for the win and the WWE championship.