Almost 11 years ago at the 1996 Survivor Series, wrestling fans around the world were introduced to a man who would go on to become one of, if not the, biggest names in the history of professional wrestling. On this night, Rocky Maivia teamed with Marc Mero, Jake the Snake, and Barry Windham in a traditional Survivor Series match, and was the sole survivor for his winning team. This night started Dwayne Johnson on an incredible 8 year ride that saw him win seven WWE World Championships, two WCW World Championships, two Intercontinental Championships, and five Tag Team Championships.
We saw the metamorphosis from Rocky Maivia, to The Rock. We heard the chants of "Rocky, Rocky...", and "Die Rocky Die." We saw him change from face to heel and back again. Talking in the third-person became cool. We learned what The Rock was cooking, and that it didn't matter what our name was. We saw The Rock tear the roof off in main event after main event, including one of the biggest matches in the history of the sport at WrestleMania X-8. In a relatively short amount of time, The Rock accomplished more than most wrestlers could dream to accomplish in a career that lasted 20 years longer. However, we must all sit here almost 11 years after his debut, and more than 3 years after his last match, and wonder what could have been?
Let's start this journey back where it began, at the end of 1996. I can remember how everyone was talking about this new guy with the fluffy hair Rocky Maivia, and how he was a third generation superstar, and how he was the future of professional wrestling. I remember the goofy entrance costumes he would wear, and that stupid smile that seemed to always be on his face. I was happy when he won the Intercontinental Title, but soon became rather annoyed with the character he was portraying. I was happy to see Owen Hart defeat him for the title, but yet I remember feeling betrayed when he joined the Nation of Domination. The feeling of being betrayed soon faded as the cocky and conceded side of The Rock began to shine. The Rock would regain the Intercontinental Title and feud with Ken Shamrock, and HHH culminating in a great ladder match at SummerSlam '98 that saw HHH successfully defeat The Rock for the Intercontinental Title. As history would show, The Rock joining the Nation of Domination would serve as the springboard to the success that he would enjoy for the rest of his career.
Most people would agree that the success of the "Attitude Era" and the eventual demise of WCW were both attributed to the rise of three wrestlers, Steve Austin, Mankind, and The Rock. The feud between The Rock and Mankind that lasted from November 1998 to February 1999 included some of the most entertaining, intense, and visceral matches that were unlike any seen before in WWE. It started at the 1998 Survivor Series which saw a remake of the "Montreal Screwjob" where The Rock used the Sharpshooter to defeat Mankind for the vacant WWE Title. Anyone who ordered the 1999 Royal Rumble will never forget the I-Quit match that took place. The sight of Rock hitting Mankind in the head with a steel chair close to 10 times, while Mankind was handcuffed and couldn't defend himself is an image that not many will ever forget. The Rock would then go on to renew his rivalry with the Rattlesnake at WrestleMania 15 and for the subsequent months after the event. Do you remember how The Rock bounced around the ring after getting hit with the Stunner at WM15? I swear he almost bounced from one side of the ring to the other. I can remember cheering so hard for Austin, but not being able to keep myself from laughing at how Rock sold the stunner. Then there was the feud with the Undertaker and the Corporate Ministry, the Kiss My Ass match at SummerSlam, and the formation of the Rock n' Sock Connection. The feud with Billy Gunn also brought us one of the most memorable promos of all time, at least in my mind. "But my name's Billy...IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT YOUR NAME IS!!" Classic. That was another reason why The Rock was so great; he could make any opponent look good in the ring. I mean, his match with Billy at SummerSlam was a pretty good match, and not because Billy was in there. Rock could even make Billy Gunn look like a legitimate singles competitor.
Over the next few years, The Rock seemed to always be either holding the WWE title or chasing it as the No. 1 contender. The Rock had his rivalry with HHH renewed, and also feuded with Austin, the McMahons, Kurt Angle, the Undertaker, Chris Jericho, Hogan, and passed the torch to Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam '02 and Goldberg at Backlash '03. As stated earlier, The Rock seemed to accomplish it all in his short career, but we did miss out on some great match-ups when he decided to leave the squared-circle for the bright lights of Hollywood.
Many fans, myself included, felt like The Rock had sold-out by leaving for Hollywood in the middle of '03. We were left with only a return of the Rock n' Sock Connection at WrestleMania XX and several cameo appearances on Raw over the last 3 ½ years. The last time that we saw The Rock was in a taped segment on Raw before WrestleMania this year when he said that Lashley would beat Umaga, and that Umaga meant "shrivelled-up-monkey-bleep" in Samoan. While the segment was hilarious, I found it sad as I saw what was in the background of the camera shot that night. To the left of the screen, in a glass case, were the WWE Championships that he had won in his career. They were a reminder for me of what could have been if The Rock had kept his career in the ring, instead of outside it.
As I begin to start thinking about WrestleMania 24, I find myself doing the same thing that I did the last two years, hoping for at least one more match from The Great One. One dream match to make all WWE fans dreams come true. Just picture it, one night only, The Rock vs. Shawn Michaels, or The Rock vs. John Cena. I hate it that the only way these matches will probably ever take place is in my imagination. I look around at the WWE roster as it stands now and I see all the potential opponents and storylines that seem perfect for The Rock. Rock versus a fellow Samoan in Umaga. The best talker ever in The Rock versus the up and coming Ken Kennedy, can you imagine the promos in this rivalry? The Peoples' Champ The Rock versus The Champ John Cena. Two legends collide, The Rock versus HBK Shawn Michaels. A rivalry renewed in The Rock versus The Game HHH. The list can go on and on...
The thing that really got me thinking about this was a column I saw a few weeks ago about who had the chance to break Flair's record. While this is all hypothetical of course, I think it is very safe to say that The Rock would be knocking on Flair's door if he didn't leave the WWE for good 3 ½ years ago. Put it this way, Rock is currently sitting at 9 World Championship reigns, with his last coming in the summer of '02. Let's be conservative and say that Rocky would have won one World Title each year since he left. This is highly possible, and in my opinion, very probable also. That puts The Rock at 12 or 13 World Championship reigns by his current age of 35, when he would still be right in the prime of his career. Wouldn't wrestling be a lot more interesting, and fun right now if this were the case? Over the next few years, The Rock would make that climb all the way to that magical number of 16. WWE could do what MLB should have done more of with Hank Aaron this year as Barry Bonds approached, and broke his record. They could introduce a whole new legion of young WWE fans to just how great a career the Nature Boy has had. Instead, I am left with just one thought in my mind when I think about the career of The Rock.
What could have been....
by Kevin W. (View/Submit your feedback here)..