Can you believe it? Twenty five years of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. WWE and Hollywood have never been the same…and, throughout Survivor Series 2021, we were teased with an appearance from ‘The Great One.’ Vince McMahon even had a golden egg, apparently from The Rock’s new Netflix film, ‘Red Notice.’ And when would The Rock grace the WWE Universe with his presence? Towards the end of the match between Roman Reigns and Big E? Would Rocky stand toe-to-toe with his cousin, Mr Reigns, and teach him a thing or two about respect? Would we see the start of a build-up for a ‘Mania match between the two?
Errr….no! Impact Wrestling managed to get a pre-taped presentation by The Rock to induct Ken Shamrock into the Impact Hall of Fame in 2020…but WWE could do no such thing! But now’s not the time to rant about that…now’s the time to celebrate twenty-years of The Rock. No disrespect to The Great One, but I always think of him as a great wrestling character, rather than a great wrestler. I think of his promos and the People’s Eyebrow, rather than his in-ring prowess. However, he has been involved in some fantastic matches. So here are The Rock’s Top 10 Greatest Matches…
Vs CM Punk (WWE Championship match, Royal Rumble 2013)
In The Rock’s third (or fourth? I lose count!) return to the WWE wrestling ring, his main feud was against John Cena. It was supposed to be a ‘Once in a Lifetime’ match at ‘Mania 27, but, surprise surprise, WWE lied to us. Although their feud didn’t need the WWE Championship, WWE thought it did, so decided to take the belt off CM Punk and give it to The Rock. Although Cena couldn’t drag a good match out of Rocky the year before (and didn’t at Mania 28, either), Punk left it all in the ring to drag a ring rusted Rocky to a very good, even sometimes great, match. It was proof, if WWE needed any, that Punk should have main evented that year’s ‘Mania. But alas, he didn’t…but he went out of his way to put on a cracking main event with The Rock. Unfortunately, he couldn’t (or didn’t want to?) recreate the magic in their rematch the following month. And this match only touches upon the great matches Punk put on during his epic title reign. But it’s still one of The Rock’s greatest matches.
Vs Chris Benoit (WWF Championship match, Fully Loaded 2000)
It’s hard to talk about Benoit’s legacy for obvious reasons, but there’s no doubt about his in-ring prowess. This was his first main event in the WWE, and boy, did he want to put his name on the map. Yes, it was doubtful that he would win (for an event all about up-and-coming wrestlers fighting veterans, the veterans came out on top), but this was a mini-feud to test Benoit (and fill in the main event void that Stone Cold had left due to injury). And he passed that test; this match is often forgotten/underrated (or both?), but The Rock had already proved he belonged in the main event, and helped elevate Benoit in the process. Fully Loaded 2000 was a cracking card, and the main event wasn’t the best match on the card (see the Last Man Standing match between Y2J and HHH for that one), but it was darned close.
Vs Mankind (Last Man Standing Match for the WWF Championship, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre 1999)
Last Man Standing matches…it’s a gimmick WWE rarely use (unlike, say, Hell in a Cell or Ladder matches). They promise brutality, big moves, big spots. The Rock and Mankind were coming to the end of their feud (you’ll see another match from their feud further up the list), but the match quality hadn’t deteriorated. They’d have a very good Ladder Match the following night…which is crazy, after all the punishment they put each other through here. There’s nothing as harrowing as the finale of their ‘I Quit’ match, but there’s a better story running through this match. And The Rock is on top form, even singing to the crowd whilst hoping Mankind stays down for the ten count. One of the best Last Man Standing matches out there.
Vs Kurt Angle (WWF Championship Match, No Way Out 2001)
These two always produced magic together. Earlier on in the No Way Out 2001 card, Austin and HHH exhausted themselves and everyone else with a never-ending 3 Stages of Hell match. The Rock and Angle put together a crisp, fast-paced main event, where the action never, ever let up. Even though the winner was obvious to anyone paying attention at the time (the winner would go on to face Stone Cold Steve Austin at the Mania 17 main event), the two made every pinfall attempt matter, made every pinfall attempt shock the crowd. They made us doubt the winner from beginning to end. It didn’t rely on false finish after false finish, or big spots; just two greats in the business (yes, Angle was a great barely a year and a half into his WWE career) going head to head.
Vs Kurt Angle vs The Undertaker (Triple Threat Match for the WWE Championship, Vengenace 2002)
Triple Threat matches are a hard sell for me. They usually consist sitting out for a period of time while the other two fight, and everyone takes their turn being on the outside/incapacitated. No doubt, they’ve produced some great matches in WWE history (HHH v Benoit v HBK, Mania XX, being probably the best), and this is one of the greatest Triple Threat match in WWE history. The Rock returned from a Hollywood Hiatus to be shoved promptly into the main event scene…a main event scene that ‘Taker had stunk up for a few months. Yes, he could be a great wrestler, but during this period, ‘Taker contested some awful bouts (watch his match against Hogan, Judgment Day 2002, for evidence). Here, against two of the best in the world, he puts on his wrestling socks, to produce a dramatic and thrilling main event. There’s innovation, heart-stopping near-falls, and the uncertainty pertaining to the winner. Watch this one, right now!
Vs Chris Jericho (Undisputed WWF Championship match, Royal Rumble 2002)
These had a long feud during and after the awful WCW/Alliance Invasion angle, where Y2J turned heel against The Rock. You could pick out any one of their matches from the feud as classics, but to me, this one stands out. It’s just twenty minutes of wrestling (and a little brawling, of course), but some of the best wrestling that 2002 had to offer. Even against Austin, Y2J could not pull off a classic, but The Rock and Jericho had cracking chemistry. I’d advise watched all of their matches in this lengthy feud, but if you only have time for one, check this one out immediately.
Vs Triple H (Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship, Summerslam 1998)
The Rock and HHH don’t seem like ideal candidates for a Ladder match…but in an era where ladder matches were few and far between, they managed to pull it off! Don’t expect high-flying moves or splashes from the top of the ladder…expect proper storytelling and psychology. The Rock focuses on HHH’s knee (which, if I remember correctly, had been injured in real life a few months before hand), and HHH plays the plucky babyface, overcoming all the odds. Although both are legends in the business now, back in 1998 they were in the mid-to-late 20s and were stuck in the mid-card. This was a breakout match for both of them, making them stand out among the crowd. Even in a card headlined by Taker and Austin, this was by far the match of the night, and one of the matches of 1998.
Vs Mankind (‘I Quit’ Match for the WWF Championship, Royal Rumble 1999)
Nowadays, the last five minutes are so hard to watch. Well, they were back then, but with the modern-day ban on chairshots to the head and knowledge of impact-related concussions, it’s even more horrifying to watch. But, they are just a brutal finish to a brutal and uncompromising match. You don’t get many I Quit matches now, and suffer from WWE’s self-enforced PG rating. Back in the day, they were a bloody affair. This is one of the best ‘I Quit’ matches in WWE history. They have a tendency to be oddly-paced, the stop-and-start nature of the gimmick opposed to a natural ebb-and-flow. But this was just another great match between Rock and Mankind, who engaged in a feud for about half a year. They had a ladder match, a Last Man Standing match, even an Empty Arena brawl. But this was the highlight, albeit one that was hard to watch even back in the day. They don’t make ‘em like they used to do, for good reason, but check this out: the best ‘I Quit’ match in WWE history (and before you say anything, Hart v Austin is a Submission Match…a very different thing!).
Vs Triple H (60 Minute Iron Man Match for the WWF Championship, Judgment Day 2000)
The greatest 60 Minute Iron Man match in WWE history? Angle vs Lesner comes close, but for me, this has the perfect layout. A well-told story that brought the years-long feud between HHH and The Rock to a temporary end, this was a match I watched over and over again (after recording it on VHS!!!) back in the day. HHH was my favourite wrestler (yeah, I loved the bad guy! Who doesn’t?), and I loved the character of The Rock. The only Iron Man match I had experience of was the borefest between Hart and HBK…but this one rarely slowed down to a halt like the latter did. Expertly paced, it gave the wrestlers and the audience time to breathe to prepare for the next wrestling sequence, included HHH intentionally getting DQ’d to help him later on in the match, and included a surprise at the end (which, admittedly, does drag the match down a little and causes confusion, but is forgivable). Oh, the promo package for this match is magical as well.
Vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (WWF Championship Match, WrestleMania X-7)
Could there be another contender for the top spot? The greatest ‘Mania main event on the greatest Mania’ event, the end of the Attitude Era (and the beginning of the WWE’s decline), the biggest clash in ‘Mania history (until The Rock returned to fight John Cena…but that match (and their rematch) doesn’t belong anywhere on this list)…this match exemplified the Attitude Era, a fitting end to the first/second most popular era in WWE history. For a while, this was the best ‘Mania match, until HBK/Taker came along seven years later and took that honour. Just think, this match is twenty years old…yet few ‘Mania main events (or any main events, for that matter) have come close to matching the quality or the crowd noise of this stone cold classic.
vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (WWF Championship Match, Backlash 1999)
vs Mankind (WWF Championship Match, Survivor Series 1998)
vs HHH (WWF Championship Match, Backlash 2000)
vs HHH vs Kurt Angle (WWF Championship Triple Threat Match, Summerslam 2000)
vs Chris Jericho (WCW Championship, Vengeance 2001)
vs Chris Jericho (WCW Championship, No Mercy 2001)