Date: February 24, 2003
Show: Monday Night Raw
Stipulation: #1 contender for World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania 19
Roster (20): Batista, Booker T, Christian, Tommy Dreamer, Jeff Hardy, the Hurricane, Jamal, Chris Jericho, Kane, Rodney Mack, Maven, Randy Orton, Steven Richards, Rosey, the Rock, Al Snow, Scott Steiner, Lance Storm, Test and Rob Van Dam
The Rock’s final years of wrestling, including this last year, are rather interesting when lumped together. It all started with the return of Hulk Hogan during the mostly ill-fated WWE/nWo angle. Hollywood Hogan grumbled about how the fans turned on him and Rock came out to confront him, telling him in one of his all-time best deliveries, “They LOVED you! They BELIEVED in you! And damn it, THE ROCK BELIEVED IN YOU!” Then he explained that Hulk got extremely stale and everyone got sick of him, which is accurate.
Their match at Wrestlemania 18 showed how absence makes the heart grow fonder. The crowd loved Hogan and jeered the hell out of the Rock. Hogan was fresh nostalgia. Rock was the same stuff they’ve been tuning into for years. He had one last title run months later that culminated in a Summerslam match against super-heel Brock Lesnar. Lesnar was the new hotness and Rock was the same old shit. Rock vanished for a time and came back in a new persona: Hollywood Rock.
Disgusted at the People for turning their backs on him, the Rock went on to follow Hogan’s footsteps. Just like Hogan, it worked in the meta sense too. By turning heel, he became completely reinvented and more entertaining than he had been for years. He was cool again and remained just as funny as ever, just with the ability to garner boos when necessary. He also knew that this was his last hurrah in the company and did the honorable thing of using his status to put people over.
With Brock Lesnar winning the Royal Rumble and choosing to go after Kurt Angle’s WWE Championship, that put it up in the air over who would face Triple H at Wrestlemania for the World Heavyweight Championship. Rock had just cut a promo about how he was gone from the Smackdown roster and was all about Raw, announcing his spot in the big battle royal that would crown the #1 contender. They had been laying the seeds for a Rock/Austin battle, but what nobody expected was who would visit the Rock backstage.
Referring to the Hurricane as the Hamburglar, Rock gets into it with the WWE’s resident superhero in one of my all-time favorite promos. Such topics discussed include Aquaman and Brendan Frasier. The two proceed to get under each other’s skin and Hurricane warns the Great One that during that night’s battle royal, Rock would be doing some flying of his own – right over the top rope.
The battle royal itself is very dull. Probably the dullest one on my list for this series. The beginning has Jericho eliminate Test, then eliminate himself and run off out of fear, but outside of that, there’s not a lot that goes on. Having Orton and Batista in there raises questions, since they weren’t at the point of hinting that either would want a title shot against their Evolution boss Triple H. They wouldn’t be on that track for almost two years, but it’s not like them having roles of spoilers makes sense either since SOMEBODY had to win.
It would have been kind of funny if they had someone like Scotty 2 Hotty in there and Batista and Orton’s job was to protect him at all costs so he’d win the match and give Triple H an easy Wrestlemania.
Hurricane does have his promised confrontation with the Rock, but despite his flurry of offense, Hurricane doesn’t do as well as he had hoped.
The match doesn’t really kick into gear until Rock and Booker T brawl to the outside without getting eliminated. Rock beats him down, then decides to walk off. He goes up the ramp, making it look like he wants no more of this battle royal, but instead joins Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on commentary. As more and more wrestlers are eliminated, Rock talks up how smart he is in letting them do the dirty work. Soon the ring is down to Kane, Booker T and Christian. Once Rock sees Kane chokeslam Booker T, he leaves the commentary table and rushes the ring. He eliminates Kane and Christian at the same time, then sees that the hurt Booker is all that’s left.
Booker fights back, but it doesn’t do him all that well. Rock dominates the fight, but at the last second, Rock shifts the momentum and sends him flying.
Rock is left sitting on the ramp, bewildered. He shows some begrudging respect to Booker by clapping and gesturing as if to say, “Well, there you have it,” but he’s taken aback by his inability to understand how he lost.
Rock went over Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 19, which made sense because it was Austin’s final match. Otherwise, Rock spent his last month in the company putting over the Hurricane and newcomer Bill Goldberg.
Despite what Rock did for them, Booker T, Hurricane and Goldberg all got their pushes derailed in one way or another by Triple H, which many would say was the biggest flaw of the era. Booker got it the worst, setting up his title shot by having Triple H act outright racist to him and dress him down, then beating him so decisively that it was a complete burial.
Since then, Rock’s appearances had become sporadic at best and he’s reached the point of being over as a face no matter what he does. And yet he would return to tell Cena exactly what he told Hogan: the fans loved you, but then you got so stale that all that’s left is to boo your tired act.
Tomorrow is about flippy guys.