We’re on episode 3 of the Rivals A&E special and episode 3 was a ‘slobber knocker’ for sure, to borrow a line from Jim Ross. It has been stated as being the greatest rivalry in pro wrestling let alone WWE and the special took a deeper look at that.
The panel of Freddie Prinze Jr., Kofi Kingston, Kevin Nash, Tamina and JBL: open by saying (specifically Prinze Jr.) that he had never seen any two people hate each other more, the feud having that longevity factor giving and giving until that final act.
The tone is set and the special goes directly into brief looks into each of the wrestler’s (Rock and Austin)’s rise in WWE in particular. Austin goes into his aggressiveness and his hunger at making a name for himself on that platform. Austin had had a horrible end run in WCW getting fired by Eric Bischoff while injured, and after a great showing in ECW he was called to the WWE platform and he was hell bent on making the most of that opportunity.
The Rock goes into exactly how he felt at the start of his time in WWE. We know that unfortunately he failed in football, and he really wanted to make a go of this pro wrestling thing, but as he said in the special, he didn’t know where he’d land at the start of their feud, or rather the start of his run in WWE, even after he turned heel joining the Nation of Domination, which was where the two men first tangled. I’ll get into that a little later.
Austin does state in the A&E interviews that Rock’s gimmick as Rocky Maivia, the clean cut baby face, was wrong. Undertaker goes as far to say that during that baby face run of Dwayne’s, he was ‘stereotypical’ in his delivery.
The interviews we see of Dwayne were recorded during his 2011/2012 run in WWE. The unfortunate thing about last night’s episode was that we didn’t get anything new from Dwayne, really. To see his take on this feud from now would have been nice for sure, but hey, the man is busy, and that dear readers, is an understatement.
Kevin Owens at one point provides insights stating that it was Austin that changed the direction of mannerisms and delivery in promos; this leads the viewer to believe that he was a trendsetter and promos had changed since the dawn of Austin. This is of course an accurate take if you ask this writer.
Rock states that Austin was authentic. As Steve Austin has often said, a wrestler’s personality in the ring should be that same wrestler’s personality in real life, just have the dial turned up quite a few notches (paraphrased). Rock even states this exact thing later in the episode, showing us that perhaps he learned that lesson from Steve himself, and in seeing how successful Steve was because of that mentality.
Rock had trouble resonating with fans that had jumped on the Steve Austin band wagon. They were finally seeing someone real and hard-hitting and the attitude factor resonated with them. If you had anybody else going up against that Austin momentum, it wouldn’t have worked, and it didn’t. Not even the legendary Bret Hart was able to compete with that hype once it got going.
The narrative of the episode then goes into how he turned heel. I mentioned this before. WWE Creative, as Bruce Prichard suggests in his testimonial, there were no other options for directions on where they could go with a poor guy that the WWE universe had booed out of the building and wished death on, so yeah, he turned heel with the Nation, letting the fans know just what he thought about what they had done; that authenticity finally hitting home.
And so The Rock was born and the two men would be brought together in 1997…the start to a beautiful tragedy in terms of an epic play written by WWE themselves but worthy of the praise received by the legend, William Shakespeare. And boy did they have chemistry.
As Triple H says in his testimonial during the show, he shines a light on how WWE worked back then, and perhaps will be working now that HHH is in charge of creative again: You put your time and energy into who the fans are interested in and at that time, WWE Creative saw just how invested the audience was in these two men and the story they had to tell together.
The episode then takes us down the path that was the incredible saga of Stone Cold and The Rock. The throwing of championship belts in rivers, the stalking of the Rock by Austin and when looked at like that the viewers, even those that weren’t present while it happened, really get a sense of how impactful it was.
Then we take an interesting turn and if you’ve seen documentaries produced by WWE you know about the whole autograph signing incident in which Steve signed an eight by ten for Dwayne, signing it #1. This bothered Dwayne Johnson the man, and we get a little more insight as to why in the episode.
Steve speaks on why he did that, essentially stating that he believed he deserved that number one spot and he’d fight to keep it. I believe it was that added stoking of the fire that made their feud so believable and so palpable by those in attendance at the arenas and those watching at home; there was something real there to build off of.
And so the stage was set for three epic WrestleMania matches at 15, 17 and of course 19, and as The Rock would say in a promo leading up to that event, WrestleMania 19 was the third and final act and “everybody remembers act 3.”
The antics involved in bringing those storylines and feuds are gone into quickly in the telecast and they do a good job of showing the impact the storyline had, as well as telling the story of Steve’s body giving up on him, leading to his early retirement and ultimate last match, the aforementioned act 3 at mania 19.
Austin did have a year off because he had to surgically repair an injury he had suffered to it back in 1997 in match with Owen Hart, and it was during that time that Rock had his best year in the business, rising to the occasion.
But when Austin returned, the stage was also now set to pit the two against one another again…the narrative in the story back then in 2001 essentially asking the question: Who is the top star? The outcome at WrestleMania 17 proved that Steve was still the main man, he beating Rock twice now on the grandest stage of them all. But could the Rock ever beat Steve at that level? Hence the need for Act 3.
Overall the episode showed some original footage that I hadn’t seen before and the insight from the men themselves, particularly Steve seeing that the interviews were of this time is very interesting to watch, so overall, yes, the episode delivered, as their entire feud did. We even got a shot of them reminiscing backstage in 2014, going over old times, which was nice to see. The two really do have a great relationship, as can be seen on their respective social media pages now and in the past.
A lot to live up to for the generations that followed, but these two men were trendsetters for sure and they changed the way the game was played, and in the end neither could have done it without the other.
- Stone Cold Steve Austin story archive
- Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and family story archive
- Slam Wrestling’s A&E/Biography archive