(Here’s the link for the match on the WWE Network: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31524667/?contentId=31524667&contextType=wwe-show&contextId=wrestlemania)
Is the third and final WrestleMania battle between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock worthy of inclusion into the Best 100…List? Their second ‘Mania match at ‘Mania X-17 is placed at #12, but that is in a league of its own. Their first clash at ‘Mania XV suffered from clear nervousness from The Rock and a generic Attitude era brawl. This match lies somewhere between those two polar opposites. On the face of it, the match is nothing special. Yes, it’s good, even very good at times. But I feel it’s placed on the list purely because it’s Stone Cold’s last match. Without that, it would be consigned to history as another chapter in the epic Austin v Rock feud.
If you watch ‘The Mania Before WrestleMania,’ a documentary that was filmed during Mania XIX (with an awesome narration by Jesse Ventura!), then you’ll appreciate how much effort it took Austin to even show up for the match. The night prior to ‘Mania, he was rushed to hospital. His heart rate was near heart attack levels. In the words of Ventura, Austin thought he had gone to Seattle to die. Of course, he didn’t die, and he went on to compete in the match. But only he knew that it would be his last. Watching the documentary puts the match in a more favourable light.
The Rock and Austin were too experienced to put on an awful show. In the documentary, Austin says he doesn’t “want to stink the joint up.” Of course, he doesn’t. It’s far from awful. The first portion of a match is a typical Austin brawl. It takes a turn when The Rock focuses on Austin’s knee (a staple of Austin matches). However, the final stretch is simply a constant exchange of finishers. They uses each other’s finishers, and it ends after The Rock plants Austin with a third and final Rock Bottom. I understand Austin kicking out of two Rock Bottoms (and a People’s Elbow before that) is supposed to underline his ‘never give up’ spirit, but the overuse of finishers to create suspense becomes tiresome. The wrestlers rely more on their personalities, mannerisms and history to carry the match.
After the match, The Rock sits up and appears to talk to Austin. It feels out of place. But he quickly exits the ring after that. Austin’s music plays and he begins a long walk up the ramp. There’s a feeling in the air that this is just more than a simple walk; it’s a walk of retirement. And, sure enough, it was Austin’s last match. But does that simple fact make it worthy of inclusion of this list? The match itself isn’t great. The Rock is as entertaining as ever, especially as a heel. Until it descends into a morass of finishers, it is entertaining. Austin is one of the greatest wrestling performers of all time, measured in popularity and ratings. There’ll never be anyone like him in wrestling’s current position. But I don’t think that should increase the value of this match. Yes, it’s worth watching to see Austin’s last battle. But it’s not worthy of inclusion on this list. A good match is not one of the very best, is it?
(What would I replace it with? I’m not sure…another Austin vs Rock battle? Their only other match of note took place at Backlash 1999, and that was an improved version of their ‘Mania XV battle. So maybe that one? Possibly…)
VERDICT: 7/10. Austin and The Rock put on an entertaining match. But if it wasn’t Austin’s last battle, the match wouldn’t be on this list. It’s as simple as that!
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Click here for my review of#50 The Undertaker vs. Mankind (Hell in a Cell, WWE King of the Ring 1998)