SC Remembers: The Rise of The Rock
It's November 15, 1998, in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s the 12th annual Survivor Series. A tournament to crown the next WWE champion took place, and it was also the night that a young Dwayne Johnson became a bonafide superstar.
Dwayne Johnson's family has a long history in wrestling. His grandfather Peter Maivia, fought in the WWWF and his dad, the late Rocky Johnson, garnered success in the WWE. Young Rocky played college football at the University of Miami, and even tried out in the CFL. While this football career didn’t pan out, wrestling became his calling. Two years prior to winning his first world title, the “Great One” debuted at the ‘96 Survivor Series in New York City as Rocky Maivia, which combined both his grandfather and father's name.
A highly touted prospect coming in, the fans weren’t buying his happy-go-lucky, good guy shtick. It was so bad chants of "die rocky die" or "Rocky sucks" would enuse. After a knee injury, the Rock would come back in the summer of ‘97. However, this time he wasn’t the vanilla babyface, but instead a heel joining Farooq and the Nation of the Domination. Out went Rocky Maivia, in was the Rock!
The following year in 1998, he had a great showing in the Royal Rumble finishing second last before Austin eliminated him. The Rock would feud with Ken Shamrock for the IC belt leading up to Wrestlemania 14. But for months the tension between Farooq and the Rock was a building storyline, and it would eventually reach a breaking point.
After his first Wrestlemania victory, the Rock and the Nation turned on Farooq the following night. Under the Rock, the Nation had more swag and their characters flourished with the Rock becoming their outspoken leader.
In the spring and summer the Nation began an all-time classic feud with DX, which was fronted by the Rock and HHH’s hatred for each other. The two would have a classic 2 out of 3 falls for the Intercontinental championship at Fully Loaded, which saw the Rock retain the title thanks to the time limit expiring. It would set up a championship ladder match at Summerslam against HHH. Which became one of the most underrated ladder matches of all-time.
The Rock would drop the title to HHH at Summerslam, but with his popularity growing and his catchphrases becoming fan favourites, he would go his own way leaving the Nation behind. It was then the Rock would turn babyface after being targeted by Vince McMahon, bringing us back full circle.
The Rock would face the Big Bossman in the first round after HHH got injured. The Rock would make quick work of the former correctional officer and advance to the quarterfinals. There he would face another corporate chroney in Ken Shamrock, and after the Bossman failed to help Shamrock, the Rock then would have to face the Deadman himself in semis.
On paper, this was almost a title match onto itself, however, Kane would interfere and hit Rock causing a disqualification and costing his brother the match.
In the finals it wasn’t Austin Rocky would face, but instead the deranged Mankind. Interestingly, Vince McMahon was backing up Mankind, acting like a father figure and caring for the masked man. Neither man at this point had held the WWE's richest prize, but after the corporation screwed Stone Cold and was clearly backing Mankind, the Rock had the cards stacked against him.
The bell rings and both men lock up. Rock would take control early, but Mankind would bring some pain the Rock’s way as well in what turned to be a brutal affair. Predictably, Vince and Shane both made their way to ring side. JR kept making mention of the Montreal Screwjob throughout the buildup to this matchup. Of course, with what happens next the foreshadowing was no accident.
With the crowd on the Rocks side he hits the Rock bottom after getting out of the mandible claw. Rock covers Foley but there is a kick out at 2. Rock then decides to hit Mankind with the sharpshooter, this is where Vince calls for the bell. A year after Vince screwed Bret, he was now screwing Mankind. But in another twist, the McMahons and Rock embrace each other and the swerve is complete. The Rock went back as a heel and now siding with the McMahons.
With the crowd in utter shock, Austin would come out looking equally as stunned, but that wouldn’t prevent the RattleSnake from making his presence known delivering stunners to both the Rock and Mankind, giving the fans something to cling to despite the rollercoaster ride the McMahon’s had put them through.
The following night, the “People’s Champ” was officially the “Corporate Champ” as the Rock broke down the reasoning for turning on the fans. It was almost the same promo he gave a year earlier.
The Rock would feud with Mankind for many months, and would face Austin in the main event at Wrestlemania 15. Eventually, the Rock would become one of the biggest stars in WWE history, but Survivor Series 1998 was the crowning moment for him. It was a rocking ride for the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment, but the Rock would stamp his name in history.