It’s great timing for this list that just one week ago, The Rock returned to face John Cena in the main event of WrestleMania 28. It was Rock’s first WrestleMania since being in a handicapped tag match with Mick Foley against Evolution. The match was good, not great, but it did rekindle the memories of possibly Rock’s most famous match ever; the one in which he and Hulk Hogan wrestled in front of a huge crowd in Toronto at WrestleMania X8. That match was built as a battle of the ages. It was the 80s versus the 2000s. It was old school versus new school, an eventual passing of the torch.
In hindsight, the torch may have been passed to the wrong person. It was Rock’s seminal moment as a wrestling superstar. He’s had better matches for sure. In 1998, he and Triple H had a Ladder Match at SummerSlam that helped catapult him into superstardom. He would win wrestling’s highest honor at Survivor Series of that year. In 1999, he main evented his first WrestleMania against Stone Cold Steve Austin. In 2000, he was in the main event again at WrestleMania 2000. At WrestleMania X-7 just one year later, he and Stone Cold Steve Austin had one of the greatest money drawing matches in recent memory. While all of those matches helped The Rock achieve great status in the wrestling world, it wasn’t until his match with Hogan in Toronto that he was actually the biggest star in the business. In each of his matches with Austin, it was Austin who was the bigger star. But this time, it was Rock’s show.
Even though the torch was passed, Rock wouldn’t be around all that much until he simply wasn’t there at all anymore. He would be in and out because of his burgeoning movie career, wrestling Austin again at WrestleMania XIX and finally winning and then at the match I described above with Foley against Evolution. It took him eight years to get back into the ring against Cena and he’ll be gone again filming more movies.
And that’s really the only negative of his career. He reached the highest of highs at WrestleMania X8 and because he wasn’t around fulltime, he wasn’t able to extend his reach and become an even bigger star than he was. Part of the problem is that wrestling was on a downswing ever since Vince McMahon screwed up the WCW Invasion. And the other part was that Rock was more interested in making movies than wrestling, which was probably the right move for him. But since we talk wrestling here, we’ll be forced to wonder what could’ve been.
He’s come back to WWE recently, in 2011 building up his host spot at WrestleMania 27 and then his year long build for his 2012 match with John Cena at WrestleMania 28. In 2011, he made wrestling feel special again whenever he was on screen, but in his buildup to 2012, didn’t have the same success, even though his charisma was still off the charts. It sounds like he’ll be around for a decent part of the end of 2012 and at least until WrestleMania 29.
Rock was only a full timer in WWE from 1996 to mid-2001 and yet, he ranks highly on our list, so it shows how much of an impact performer he really was. I remember in 1998 feeling that he was going to become the next big thing and when Austin was hurt in 1999, he, Triple H, and Mick Foley carried the company. Out of the three, he felt like the one who would be the guy to replace Austin, but it didn’t really work out that way. In 2000, he should’ve been the biggest player, but Triple H was the chosen one even though he wasn’t really on Rock’s level (as you can tell by his 24th ranking on our list compared to Rock’s). By 2001, he was a big star, but he was among big stars like Austin, Triple H, The Undertaker, and Kurt Angle. WWE’s depth at that point was tremendous. But he was soon on his way out.
Rock will always be synonymous with wrestling, and while as a fan, I will never have any issues about him leaving for Hollywood because I enjoy his films and I think he’s become a legit movie star, but also as a fan, I do wonder what if. If he would’ve stayed, could he have been the biggest star of the current generation? It’s possible.
It does amaze me that Rock was able to make such a great impact in only five years of full-time superstardom. The fact that he can come back and immediately be the biggest star in the industry speaks volumes. But I’ll still wonder what if. He could’ve helped curtail the malaise of the WWE.
Defining Match Of The WrestleMania Era: The Rock vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8