FOLLOW Mr. Tito on Twitter: @titowrestling
On This Day in Pro Wrestling History... 14 Years Ago, The Rock Wins His FIRST WWE Title at Survivor Series 1998
By Mr. Tito
Nov 15, 2012 - 6:57:26 AM
Please excuse what appears to be excessive posting of these... The Eddie Guerrero one was unplanned but prepared on his 7 year passing anniversary. I'll space these out better with time...
ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... 14 years ago, the WWF held its annual Survivor Series show in 1998. All eyes were on this show, provided that it was the 1 year anniversary of the Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997. With the Vince McMahon "heel boss" character in full swing, it was expected that something controversial could happen at this event. But what?
Survivor Series 1998 actually featured a WWE Title Tournament. The WWE Title was vacated after a series of controversial finishes during the previous 2 Pay Per Views. At In Your House: Breakdown (yes, they were still called "In Your House" back then) during September 1998, both Kane and the Undertaker were booked in a Triple Threat match with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in which the EVIL Vince McMahon added a stipulation where Kane and the Undertaker could NOT pin each other. Thus, it was essentially 2 on 1 against Steve Austin and Kane/Undertaker were successful when both guys pinned Steve Austin at the same time after a double chokeslam.
Both Kane and the Undertaker had a share of the WWE Championship and the next Pay Per View event, In Your House: Judgment Day, Kane vs. Undertaker was arranged to declare a new WWE Champion and Steve Austin was set-up as the special guest referee. If Austin didn't call the match as intended, he would be FIRED according to Vince. Of course, Steve Austin would interfere with the match... Austin would be "fired", but not after he held Vince at gunpoint with a toy gun that read "Austin 3:16" and revealing that he was given a new 5 year contract by Shane McMahon. Shane was feuding with his father Vince at the time, but this was the beginning of what everyone THOUGHT was the "SCREWJOB" of Survivor Series 1998. Especially with Shane McMahon being demoted to a referee...
Survivor Series 1998 boiled down to a Semi-Final consisting of Steve Austin vs. Mick Foley and the Rock vs. Undertaker. Foley turned heel during 1998 to be the corporate suck-up to Vince when Austin refused and immediately went after Steve Austin. It gave Steve Austin a punching bag as wrestling a non-wrestler like Vince McMahon didn't make sense at the time. Austin would feud with Foley and then transition into Kane/Undertaker to give Austin credible opponents for 1998. For Austin vs. Mick Foley at Survivor Series 1998, it boiled down to a knocked out referee and then substitute referee, Shane McMahon ran down for the final count... 1, 2... And then he flipped off Steve Austin in a CLASSIC Attitude Era moment! McMahon stooges hit the ring to pound Austin with a chair and Foley defeated Austin with Shane now counting 1, 2, 3. Again, everyone thought THAT was the screwjob and Mick Foley was the "McMahon guy" to win the WWE Title tournament.
Rock vs. Undertaker was one of those matches that you didn't quite know about, as back during November 1998, you weren't so sure about the Rock's status in the main event hierarchy. He was still technically a heel but the fans were getting him over. It was becoming evident at the SummerSlam 1998 event where Rocky was supposed to be the heel and Triple H was the face. "Rocky, Rocky" chants were growing and growing... Yet, the WWF had a ONE MAIN EVENT FACE policy that remains to this day or at least what Vince McMahon has implemented over the years for marketing purposes. Hulk Hogan during the 1980's, Bret Hart mostly during 1993-1995, Shawn Michaels during 1996, Steve Austin during 1997-1999, The Rock during 2000-2002, and John Cena from 2005 to present. Seems to be Vince's style to have one dominant face wrestler in the main event at a time. For some strange reason, the Rock won the match via Disqualification when Kane interfered in the match and attacked the Rock. Should have known something was up by that blatant finish...
The Rock vs. Mick Foley was the Main Event of Survivor Series 1998 and it was to crown a first-time WWF Champion. The expectation, again, was that Mick Foley was the McMahon selected guy to win this match while the Rock was a possible babyface in the making. In my opinion, it felt just like Wrestlemania 4 where a new babyface was to be made with Macho Man Randy Savage defeating Ted Dibiase in the finals of that WWF Title tournament. Seemed like we were about a new babyface Champion crowned in the Rock. The Rock won, but he was NOT a babyface champion. The Rock slapped on the Sharpshooter and Vince McMahon ordered the referee to call the match, just like the year before. Funny thing is that the Rock was actually close with Bret Hart, yet he still participated in this finish.
The Rock was the "Corporate Champion" and now the WWF's top HEEL main eventer. This was a HUGE gamble at the time. The Rock was getting over with fans naturally to become a babyface and this could have backfired but the WWF had TWO things going for it:
(1) Vince McMahon was crazy over as a heel. Anybody who belonged to his "Corporation" stable got heat because Vince was masterful as a heel during 1998-1999.
(2) After King of the Ring 1998, fans were sympathetic towards Mick Foley and it gave the WWF a perfect transitional babyface to prepare the Rock for the bigtime against Steve Austin later in 1999.
Without Mick Foley, wrestling as Mankind during this feud, the Rock's heel turn might not have worked. The Rock's battles with Foley were INTENSE and drew crazy ratings and buyrates during their feud. The WWF Title switched multiple times between the two but it was credible because both guys were slugging at each other like old time boxers. Who can forget the first RAW of 1999 where Mankind first won his WWF Title and the match increased its ratings when Tony Shiavone tried to reveal spoilers on WCW Nitro? How about the "I Quit" match from Royal Rumble 1999? How about the Superbowl empty arena brawl where Mankind won the title back? The Mankind feud toughened up the Rock as a main eventer and by Wrestlemania 15, the Rock was ready to draw HUGE with Steve Austin. And for early 2000, the WWF would go to the Mick Foley "well" again when Triple H needed a punching bag to get him over.
Survivor Series 1998 gave the Rock his first WWF Title and put him on track to becoming one of the biggest WWF/WWE Superstars of all time, being only behind Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and Andre "the Giant" as the WWWF/WWF/WWE's all time great superstars. The Rock would get stronger with Mick Foley, draw crazy money at Wrestlemania 15 with Steve Austin, and then awaited his turn to become the #1 babyface through late 1999. Steve Austin required neck surgery during late 1999 and it gave the Rock his shot at becoming the #1 babyface. WWF's top peak year, 2000, saw the Rock as its top drawing babyface and the Rock remained a babyface during 2001 and 2002, even with his growing movie career. He turned heel during 2003 (quite a refreshing turn, too), and soon went away with one last match at Wrestlemania 20 ironically teaming up with the guy who helped prepare him early for the bigtime, Mick Foley.
As you've seen recently, the Rock has returned to the WWE as the "host" of Wrestlemania 27, wrestling and defeating John Cena at Wrestlemania 28, and is actually set to probably win the WWE Title at Royal Rumble 2013 with a guaranteed title shot. Chances are, he'll wrestle John Cena again at Wrestlemania 29 for the WWE Title.
But who knows what could have happened if Survivor Series 1998's booking went wrong. Careful writing and preparation by Vince McMahon and Vince Russo made Survivor Series 1998 a great show with a satisfying finish. Having the Rock work for Vince, the ultimate heel, and then immediately placing him in a feud with Mick Foley was perfect booking to get the Rock over as a heel main eventer. It allowed the Rock to grow as a main eventer on the darkside while Steve Austin could remain strong as a good guy. Without the careful booking of Survivor Series 1998, the fans could have crapped on his heel turn as they did Steve Austin's heel turn a few years later at Wrestlemania 17. If this heel turn failed, it could have adversely harmed the superstar that the Rock would eventually become. Think about it, in terms of how popular he would become by late 1999 when he was allowed to become a babyface and draw as such. Many wrestling fans who have called for John Cena to "turn heel" for the past few years should consider the preparation and long-term plan of said turn.
HOWEVER - The Rock was getting quite over during 1998 before Survivor Series 1998. Chances are that the Rock would eventually become the WWF/WWE Superstar that he'd eventually become. I'd argue that by becoming a Main Event Heel first, it allowed him to expedite himself to superstardom. Some of the best babyfaces of all time were heels first... Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, John Cena, to name a few... The greatness of the Rock was inevitable, but the catapult from Survivor Series 1998 delivered us the People's Champ probably a year early and possibly made him into an even bigger star than intended.
On this day in Pro Wrestling history, 14 years ago... The Rock officially joined the main event scene by winning his first WWE Champion.
I'm Mr. Tito and I approve this message...
Comments and Tweets are welcome.
FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER: @titowrestling