Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Holy Trilogy- Austin v. Rock

A while back here on NHO, fellow reviewer Didge did a piece on Samoa Joe v. CM Punk and their 3 epic encounters in Ring of Honor; well, that gave me a great idea to do the same thing with two of the premier superstars of all time, Steve Austin & Dwayne "Rock" Johnson, epsecially since i was watching the Legacy of Stone Cold and the Rock: Most Electrifying Man sets simultaneously. So, without further due:

1) The Rock (c) v. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin- WWF Championship No DQ Match Wrestlemania XV- March 28, 1999, Philly, PA Score: 5

This match pretty much goes to the outside immediately and they take the brawl in 3 different directions around the arena, including going through a sea of people where they both could literally do nothing but wade through and try to grab at each other. Austin's punches had fire behind them but his selling was so strange- he kept flailing around like he was being swarmed by an angry nest of bees. Austin took a nice garbage bump in the aisleway where his legs hit a spotlight and then Rock tried to outdo him by running into the WM logo sign but it just looked stupid. Speaking of stupid, Austin breaks Rock through a table with a pointed elbow drop in possibly the weakest table break of all time. Poor JR- you could hear the Bell's Palsy giving him trouble but he put over the shitty elbow like a good company man anyways.

They both arrive back in ring after nearly 12 minutes of outside brawling and Rock hits a Rock Bottom for a great near fall. We get 3! ref bumps incl. Vinnie Mac knocking out Earl Hebner because he's such a tough man. Rock's sell of the Stunner is about the biggest over-reaction displayed in a long time- I mean he looks like he's in one of those kids bouncy moon rooms when he springs against the ropes like a 25 cents bouncy ball from a gumball machine. Vince interferes liberally (of course!) until Foley comes out as the 4th and final ref and disposes of him and counts the pin for Austin's Stunner and Stone Cold wins his 3rd WWE title. Neither man was giving any aftersell on anything but this was largely an overbooked brawl, gaining a nostalgia point for being a big match, but not their best work by far.

2) The Rock (c) v. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin- WWF Championship No DQ WrestleMania XVII- April 1, 2001- Houston, TX Score: 7

This match starts identically as their first Mania encounter into a brawl right as the bell rings, luckily this time they spend only a few seconds outside after Rock takes a huge, manly bump over the top rope. They are really pushing Austin's comeback here and his punches are fast and furious but Rock's offense is high impact and he's not holding back at all against the Rattlesnake. Austin is selling the cumulative damage well, in a groggy state like back at home, leaving a bar in Victoria after too many Coors Light, then goes home and watches his old matches against Hacksaw Duggan and decides to call him at 4 in the morning just to say "your beard itched in headlocks."

The crowd is epic- loud and raucous like you want a Mania crowd and they love Austin and are anti-Rock. Both men take the blade and neither starts out well but they both end up dripping blood like perspiration and it culminates in a sharpshooter spot where both men's heads squeeze like sponges from straining and the blood pours as Austin fights out of it and Rock struggles to keep the hold. It's a very dramatic moment and the height of the intensity in this match. Then, you have what I like to call the "JR Factor." Jim Ross is at the announce booth and is a God-born Austin mark and can't help it. His emotion comes through in big matches like this and I don't think an announcer and a performer ever had a better relationship as far as getting the message across that they care about the end result of his match and it shows. It really kicks this thing up a notch and keeps it from going down the drain with more McMahon interference.

Vinnie Mac rears his ugly head for the slow, eventual Austin heel turn. Rock and Austin both do a phenomenal job at their roles- Rock as the never say die champion, taking loads and loads of abuse to keep his belt, and Austin, the desperate man looking for career rejuvanation, who will do anything or align with anyone to win the title. The crowd hates the turn and they largely boo McMahon out of the building, not because he's such a great heel but because he was so burned out at this point to the viewing audience but he wouldn't stop interjecting himself in angles. The finish is a lot of chair shots but it's not so offensive because so much of this match works and the story is deep and the selling is all there. I think Austin's audible cue that he needed to go over clean was right on the money, as he says on the DVD, but leave it to Vince to think he's the one bringing in the audiences and every major storyline has to revolve around someone in his family.

3) "Stone Cold" Steve Austin v. The Rock WrestleMania XIX- March 30, 2003- Seattle, WA Score: 6

This was Austin's final professional match, as far as I know. You could see he was moving at a much slower pace than their previous 2 encounters and even though Rock had been in Hollywood for most of the past 2 years, he was right on and carried Austin through a recommendable encounter. Austin can still punch though and he was landing big shot after big shot while Rock was just handing his body over to Austin and taking bumps into guardrails and stairs like he was in a street fight. A funny moment on commentary comes after many minutes of Jerry Lawler berating JR saying Austin was jealous of Rock's success in film to which Ross retorts, "Austin's a wrestler, not an actor, a wrestler and damn proud of it."

Rock works Austin's knee for a good 7 minutes in the middle of this but Austin only limps once or twice afterwards on his comeback, negating that whole section. Both men trade finishing moves, like in their last WM encounter, but it's not as crisp this time around especially the sloppy Stunner and Austin's flimsy subsequent selling of it. Rock's punches are at their most expert level here and he snaps them off like he's setting off firecrackers on Austin's cheeks. Both men kick out of each other's finishers and the other shows frustration as well as it's ever been portrayed, either in a ring, on celluloid, or on the face of any man or woman who's toiled with trying to find the condoms in their dresser drawer while their partner waits impatiently. Austin finally goes down, after 3 Rock Bottoms and he actually sells the move better than anyone I've ever seen, seizing the back of his neck after the 2nd and clutching his ribs after the 3rd. There were a lot of good moments where Rock was playing heel big time, especially an extra long sequence where he wore Austin's ring jacket for comic relief.

I'd say the match at Mania 17 was their best, as far as this series is concerned and while there's always a certain amount of storyline cooked into any main event on the biggest show of the year, the work and psychology of that match also shone through as the finest. As a side note, I could heavily recommend seeing the Legacy of Stone Cold DVD set as it's a fun watch and has loads of great matches and Austin's candid comments throughout, as far as the Rock: The Most Electrifying Man set, that's a purchase only if you are a huge Rock fan, if just a casual viewer, there's only a handful of matches or promos on the set that are required viewing.

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