Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock, 4/1/01
Feedback from the last Electric Fusion: Ricky Steamboat vs. Rick Rude, 6/20/92:
I just finished reading your column on the Steamboat/Rude match. Between this column and the one Drop wrote about watching with an open mind I could just about remember why I love wrestling so much. - Angelbomb 12, from the ezBoard
Thanks, Angel. I tried with the last column to express the psychology involved in that Iron Man Match, and hoped to have others see it the way I saw it, 'cause I really did enjoy it, and I wanted others to enjoy it. :)
Damn good break down Shocker!!! That was one of my favorite Steamboat matches of all time, but I'm still a firm believer that the best of the best came from Steamboat and Flair in the Holy Trilogy Matches they put on. As far as Rick Rude is concerned, he never wrestled a match like this in the WWF and totally blew my mind with all his in ring psychology and taking Steamboat out of his game and then playing the game almost better then Steamboat when it came down to wrestling. This column, brought back some great memories of WCW. - Mgoose38, from the ezBoard
I know some veeery knowledgeable people who think that Mid-90's WCW wrestling was possibly the best time for wrestling ever. Thanks for the feedback.
Okay, this match. This match. My god, this match. I can't properly describe the sheer emotion that this match illicits from me, as it's probably another of my favorites- This match was, to me, the perfect Icon vs. Icon match, the kind of match that things like Rock/Hogan get compared to, as Steve Austin was (to the fans) on the top of his game, and the Rock was as popular as he has ever been. Most people called for a Rock/Austin rematch as soon as the Rock returned from filming the Scorpion King, and I would definitely not have been averse to something like that- I think this match was legendary, and the match itself was fueled by the storyline surrounding it.
In truth, it didn't have a STRONG storyline or anything particularly compelling, but it came from the mutual respect vein, but then Austin began showing flashes of craziness - to the point where he ranted off on Smackdown that he NEEDED the WWF title. That NEED, that perverse desire, was the fuel for what made THIS match click, and what made his entire heel character (which was spawned from this match) click - that the belt defined him, as opposed to the other way around. This fact got under Austin's skin, and made him less-than his challengers, though he usually was able to stick a win out, more and more he began to rely on other things, other people, more crutches until it finally ended.
This match was the genesis, the birth of all of that, possibly the best heel turn the WWF has ever seen, and was the last great (i.e. Not by-the-numbers) match the Rock had.
Let's go (I'm channeling DEAN like Rippa here, I know, here goes):
The stage is set, the crowd is quiet, and Finkel's in the middle of the ring. He announces to the fans that the next match is for the World Wrestling Federation title. He also mentions that the match will have the special stipulation, no disqualification, out of nowhere. The fans don't get it yet. Okay, first Austin comes out, walking like the cockiest son-of-a-bitch who you've ever seen; contempt in his eyes for all these fans who are cheering for him, but just don't get it. Austin has this look in his eyes like he's determined to show them what it's all about. The double raised fits are there, the fingers are given 8 times in four corners, but they just don't get it. The scowl is there, but they just don't get it.
And out comes the Rock, who is very much the paragon of the WWF.. The perfect fusion of sports-entertainment, the type of thing that really only happens once, because you can look at all the failed sports-entertainers who aren't here like Scotty 2 Hotty and Albert and say "Fuck, it was worth it, because this man is so good." The Rock, being the ultimate pinacle (at least so far) of the WWF attitude of the past 10 years, holds the WWF title belt and marches it proudly into the arena, chock full of 68,000, the people. But much like the fans in attendance, he just doesn't get it. He holds the title, and the fans take the pictures--
And there's Austin, laying a flurry of blows right out. He goes for the title belt quick, and tries to smack Rock with it. Ahh, symbolism. Austin's a house of fire, he's the heel, he's the face, and Rock is on the ground. Rock tries to end it early, Austin tries to end it early, but neither man can get it - not they that ever thought they could - and Austin decides to slow it down. Austin smacks Rock all over the outside, telling him that he wants his god damned belt back. Crowd fighting leads Rock onto offense, and now Rock is the heel, and Austin's the face in peril - and right back again. Austin takes it back to the ring, taking kicks to the Rock, choking the Rock, staying directly on him, allowing him no quarter. Appropriately, he goes for the first pin fall, but gets only two.
Austin doesn't care for pacing in this match- his pacing is full-bore, and Rock can barely do anything to stand against it. He gets superplexed around the ring, and tossed into everything. Austin exposes the turnbuckle, tossing the padding aside and saving this for later... He goes for the pin but gets nothing. When the Rock finally musters offense, out come the boo's. They just don't get it. Rock comes back with the offense, punches and suplexes, but the pin fall gets nothing. And Austin is caught completely unawares. Maybe Rock does want it. Maybe Rock does need it. Maybe Rock does crave it. Rock drags Austin around the ringside, smashing him into various objects... But unlike Austin, Rock assumes that Austin is down for the count from his offense. On the contrary, Rock eats the ring bell on the outside- and Austin rampages on the timekeeper and the ref while Rock wussy-blades himself :). Austin slams his head into the announce table for good measure, as Rock tries to find solace behind the announce table (collapsing the table and probably screwing a spot, but it doesn't show), but finds no shelter. Austin rolls Rock back in the ring, looks him straight in the motherfucking eyes and WHAM! delivers the right hands. He takes him to the BAH GAWD ground and RAVAGES Rock with the right hands as Hebner protests with futility. Austin tries to go for the exposed turnbuckle, but gets nothing, Rock finally tries to fight back, knowing he's on the verge of losing the WWF tile. He whips Austin into the ropes and ducks down, but Austin sees it, and goes for a spinning neckbreaker, pin fall gets nada.
Austin gets right back into the mount, punching Rock in the face, each punch ringing contempt.. The crowd begins counting, and Austin stops, looks at them and says "SHUT THE FUCK UP. THIS ISN'T ABOUT YOU, IT'S ABOUT ME. I WANT THAT GOD DAMNED TITLE. FUCK YOU ALL." and they JUST DON'T GET IT. Austin drags Rock into the corner, and begins stomping away at him, choking him with his boot, until Hebner gets all up in his area... And Austin won't have that, so he bitches at the ref... Rock sees daylight for the first time in this match, and he EXPLODES out of the corner with a fierce clothesline, and the crowd ASSAILS him. They don't get it, god dammit. Rock with another clothesline, and into the corner. Rock whips Austin into the OTHER corner, the exposed one, and slams his head into the turnbuckle. Rock goes outside to get the title belt as Austin shows Rock how to blade like a man. Rock slams Austin with the belt, and Austin is a bloody mess... Rock goes for the pin, but HELL NO. Austin kicks out at 2. Rock still is in control. He cracks Rock in the face with the right hands, and not the wussy-ass right hands where he slaps the guy to get the noise, it's the kind where he fucking slams his fist into the face. For the first time, the Rock shows that he too wants it, and he needs it... But he needs it the way that every other WWF star needs it, he needs it because he wants to be the best... Austin needs it because he wants to prove he still has it. Remember, Austin just came off of a potentially career-ending injury, and this is his journey back. But in the process, he got shown up by not only his arch rival, Triple H at No Way Out, but by up-and-comer Kurt Angle, who began HIS own meteoric rise after Austin's injury. Austin doesn't know if he can still compete with this younger crop; his feud with Angle would become legend, stretching out for 6 months of title defenses and changes and spectacular matches; His rampages show the blatant insecurity that lies right under the surface of a playground bully, but with shades of midlife crises that border on psychosis. All of this collides in something fantastically brutal, and horrible at the same time. The playground aspect was shown in fights with Rikishi and Triple H, where even the most casual fan would have to admit he took it too far. And I reiterate, the fans don't get it. But they will.
Austin brutalizes Rock on the outside and then rolls him back in the ring, hooking the leg in desperation. As the Rock kicks out, Austin gives the camera a look like "God DAMMIT. Get up, it's time for the stunner." HE gives him the F-U fingers, and there's the kick, but NO! Rock's not out of this yet, he catches the leg, and there's the Sharpshooter. Austin can FEEEL the ropes, but he can feel the desperation, and he can feel the title leaving his grasp. He finally makes it to the ropes. Rock is no Bret Hart, and for a brief second, Austin remembers that he's better than he was then. He's a bigger man... But that goes out of the window as Rock goes for another, but Austin thumbs Rock in the eyes. He turns history onto its head, putting Rock in the sharpshooter, trying to vindicate himself, in the match that made him, but in the match that he also lost. Rock powers out of the sharpshooter, and Austin has that "What the FUCK?" look on his face. He stomps Rock in the nuts and goes for the Sharpshooter again.. Rock makes it to the ropes, and the crowd BOOS again. Austin gives the ref the finger as he breaks the hold. JR tries to assign some sort of virtuous meaning to what Austin does, his every move being gushed over and praised in a way that makes the self-righteous downright evil at times.
Rock tries to get up, slowly, staggering... Obviously not prepared for this onslaught that Austin is bringing. Does he want it that bad? Rock knows he's good, dammit, he's a 7-time WWF champion. He's got the People... Or does he? The people begin booing his every move, his offense is stifled because his inspiration isn't there. There's little doubt that Rock would be where he is right now if he didn't have fan support. The fans were literally begging for him to turn face back when he was a heel, and they finally got him to do it. Both he AND Austin became something of slaves to the people, but whereas Rock is the young, inexperienced rookie, Austin is the wily veteran - and while it doesn't disqualify what Rock thinks, feels, or believes, (or make Austin right) - the fact that fans are booing Rock, have turned on him, shows that he isn't where he thought he was... That fans have chosen sides and have chosen against him. He staggers in part because of the beating he's suffered at the hands of the rabid Austin, but also because he (his character) can't comprehend the change here. Later, Rock would learn from this, and take this into Rock/Hogan, and win despite the boo's, but I don't think he's ever forgotten. When the WWF decides that they don't have anything they need the Rock to hock on TV, they'll turn him heel again, and if shit like this isn't the inspiration for it, then, Jesus, fuck the WWF. :P
Anyway, back to Austin - Rock staggers, getting up, and Austin is ready for him. He locks on the Million Dollar Dream, and suddenly, it's all becoming slightly clearer to those in attendance (at least I'd hope) that he wants this badly, and that he's willing to do anything to do it- even breaking kayfabe. I'd love to by a fly in the room when he hits that - many people coming in a couple years back, having no idea what the hell Austin is doing, or the significance of it- but the few who know, and who could inform... But this is where the desperation reaches art, and in truth, both men are desperate, but Rock just wants this over, whereas Austin wants the belt. Rock is surprised, ambushed, he goes down to one knee, the fans are equivocating: some for Rock, some for Austin.. Rock tries the Bret Hart reversal, but Austin is too wise for that one and kicks out at two. Rock has a desperate look on HIS face now, a look that can't believe he kicked out of it. The theme of this match is "What worked in the past won't work anymore", it's progression, and it's moving forward.
Austin is up first... and he looks down on the Rock, standing over him, he puts his hands gently under his opponents jaw, helping him up, simultaneously comforting and killing him, staring directly into his eyes, letting him know what the inevitable is. He assaults him with another series of right hands, and his contempt is almost at its peak. But the Rock, ever resilient comes out of NOWHERE with a stunner! He goes for the pin... 1.... 2... NO! Both men are down, and out comes the Devil, Vince McMahon, and the fans still don't get it. Though Vince suffered embarrassment previously in the night, he has a job to do here. Up go both men, Rock first, hitting Austin with a series of right hands, then running himself into the ropes, but Austin hits an out-of-nowhere spinebuster onto the Rock. He goes for the pin.. 1.. 2.. No! God dammit, what will it take? Austin picks Rock up again, this time, there is no remorse, his remorse got him stunned last time, this time, it's straight up, but Rock counters with a spinebuster of his own. Rock stares at the 68,000 assembled and staggers into position. The people boo, but he continues with his move, the People's elbow. Cheers resonate through the dome, but there's McMahon.. What the hell? He pulls Rock off of Austin. Rock is nearly out of it, but he stares McMahon in the eyes, then makes a dash for him. McMahon and Rock scurry into the ring, but Austin grabs the Rock and hits the Rock Bottom! 1...2... NO! Crowd chanted 3. They don't get it, by gawd they don't get it!! :)
Austin pulls Rock up again, kick-wham-NO! Ref bump, Hebner is out on the floor. Austin crawls around like a rattlesnake, and like a big dumbass wang, Rock walks right over to him, unsuspecting, and Austin low-blows the Rock with a passion. Austin then looks over to McMahon and the chair as JR undergoes his "Bah Gawd I don't believe it" sell. Austin goes for the pin, 1...2... GOD DAMMIT NO! Austin is FOAMING AT THE MOUTH literally, and he grabs the chair, livid at the Rock's refusal to stay down.. Rock comes with a Rock Bottom.. No! McMahon argues with the Ref, and Rock moves over to confront McMahon.. He grabs him from the apron and tosses him into the ring and wails on him, then turns around to finish off Austin, but Austin is waiting with the KICK-WHAM-STUNNER, BY GOD. He pins... HE GETS 2! Austin looks at McMahon, looks at Hebner, looks at the Rock.. He cannot, for the life of him, figure out what is keeping the Rock up. He can't understand his motivation, he can't understand his desire...
But the Rock's desire lies in his confidence, something that Austin sorely lacks; Rock finds confidence in the people, and in himself, whereas Austin, though he has the support of the people and he CAN physically do it, he is unable to see that, and renders it moot. Instead, Austin turns to the one man who can give him what he needs, who can give him that confidence, the man who would become so integral later - Vince McMahon. He tells Vince to give him the chair, as McMahon cheers him on, Austin smashes Rock's head with it, but Rock kicks out! Austin stares at Rock again, as Hebner tells him that he only got a two, Austin tells Heber "fuck you", and he gets the chair, and BRUTALIZES the Rock, smashing the chair into him five, ten, fifteen times... He goes for the pin.. 1...2...3. It's over.
Austin rolls off of Rock like a criminal fleeing the scene and immediately stares at the cheering fans for validation. He finds it, initially, but then he finds the majority of them sitting, standing, stunned, their eyes open. Now they fucking get it. NOW it's clear. He shakes hands with Vince McMahon, and they share a beer over the fallen corpse of the Rock. Austin gives the finger to the crowd, and now they get it. He gives them that cocky sneer, and now they get it. Austin stares around the crowd, prowling around the ring, he looks at them as if to say "What? Don't tell me you didn't get it. Don't tell me I didn't warn you. Don't look at me like that. My name is Stone Cold Steve Austin, and I am the WWF Champion."
This is two legends, two icons. Neither is past, only present and future. Rock knows that he has an out, for Austin, the WWF is it. The WWF is his life and by God, he's not going to let it go. Rock has movies, he has Hollywood, and Austin has McMahon. The dichotomy is beautiful and perfectly played out. Both men struggle, but who wants it more? Austin wants it- he needs it. Just like in Stinkfist, what does it the first time won't do the second - instead, we escalate, and move forward, and it's this sick progression, the mutation of it, that brings out the heel in Austin, that makes him say "Fuck you" to Texas, "Fuck you" to Austin 3:16, "Fuck you" to everything that ever made Austin "Austin", and instead, side with the enemy, the reviled Vince McMahon, the man who, by all respects, represents the ultimate prize. Austin knows there are two ways to get what you want - through the devil or from the devil, and in the past, though he chose to go through, this time, he chooses from.
This is Wrestlemania. THIS is how you do Icon vs. Icon.