ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... The December 8th, 1997 edition of Monday Night RAW had a forfeit of the Intercontinental Title Championship. The current champion opted not to wrestle the Rock and forfeit the title instead.
That Intercontinental Champion who forfeited the Intercontinental Title on 12/8/97 was none other than Stone Cold Steve Austin. With WWF Champion Shawn Michaels occupied with the Undertaker and the Hart Foundation obviously broken up after Survivor Series 1997... Steve Austin needed something to occupy his time until Royal Rumble 1998 where Steve would win the Rumble and then go onto Wrestlemania 14 to defeat Shawn Michaels for the WWE title. After Survivor Series 1997, the WWF roster was thin and was in need of a new superstar to elevate.
Thus, the WWF gave someone an up and comer a shot at Steve Austin. On the Monday Night RAW following Survivor Series 1997, Steve Austin came out for an interview with Michael Cole (he's been around for a while now!) to celebrate his Survivor Series 1997 Intercontinental Title victory over the late Owen Hart. His interview was rudely interrupted by a guy now calling himself "the Rock". Rock professed that when he was Intercontinental Champion earlier in 1997, he was the "best damn Intercontinental Champion ever".
The guy calling himself "The Rock" was used to be named Rocky Maivia, a forced babyface by the WWE during late 1996 and the first half of 1997 who actually defended and retained the Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania 13. The WWF attempted to get Rocky over by repeatedly mentioning what generation wrestler he was and used the 1980's template on babyface pushes. It wasn't working and fans booed Rocky heavily while holding up signs that said "Die Rocky Die!". This was certainly not the best start for a wrestler's career, but it goes to show you that good booking matters.
Rocky Maivia might have been saved by a knee injury after Wrestlemania 13, for upon his return, he immediately joined the Nation of Domination heel stable. If you didn't endure the multi-racial stable wars of 1997, the WWF repackaged the Farooq Asad, who had a stupid modern day gladiator gimmick, as something that resembeled the outspoken former NFL football player Jim Brown to form a new stable called the "Nation of Domination". The initial group included multiple races but Farooq would fire them all in favor of created a 4-person all African American stable (Farooq, D'Lo Brown, Kama Mustafa, and Ahmed Johnson turning heel). Former members of the Nation of Domination, Crush and Savio Vega, would create their own 4 person stables to combat the Nation with the all white Biker Gang called Disciples of Apocalypse and a Latino foursome called Los Boricuas.
Ahmed Johnson would get injured, however, and thus the Nation needed a 4th person. Timing is everything, as the Rock would join the Nation of Domination and became a very outspoken character. He initially ripped the fans for how he was treated, but soon a cocky persona emerged that even caused tension within the Nation of Domination. "The Rock" was created and simply by speaking on the mic, he was getting over quickly as a heel. The WWF Creative Team soon noticed and opted to use the Nation, and the Rock, as a time filler program for Steve Austin between Survivor Series 1997 and Royal Rumble 1998. Little did the WWF realize that they would possibly be planting seeds for one of the greatest main event feuds ever years later.
1 week after the Rock proclaimed himself as the "best Intercontinental Champion ever" to Steve Austin on the RAW following Survivor Series, Steve Austin called out the Rock and the rest of the Nation of Domination. However, it was just Farooq, Kama, and D'Lo... After brawling with those 3 members, the Rock would run in and steal the Intercontinental Title. In the weeks to come, Rocky would brag up being the "real" Intercontinental Champion and it would come to a head at the Degeneration X In Your House Pay Per View when Steve Austin would defeat the Rock to "win back" his Intercontinental Title. The next night on RAW, however, on this day in pro wrestling history... Rock vs. Steve Austin was supposed to happen on the 12/8/1997 RAW.
On this day in pro wrestling history, 15 years ago to this day on 12/8/1997... Monday Night RAW featured Vince McMahon testing out his heel boss persona by being upset on how Steve Austin defeated the Rock at the Degeneration X Pay Per View. Something about Austin driving his truck to the ring, using it as a weapon, attacking a referee, etc... Vince was upset about it and therefore demanded that Steve Austin give a rematch to the Rock. Steve Austin, of course, responded to Vince. Despite Vince being insistent that he was "the boss", Austin insisted that he does what he wants, when he wants. It was truly the test run for what was to come for 1998-1999 for the many weekly wars between Vince and Austin.
Austin forfeited the Intercontinental Title instead of wrestling the rematch with the Rock on this day in pro wrestling history... But the best was yet to come! After forfeiting the title, Steve Austin attacked the Rock and took back his Intercontinental Title. And then just 1 week later on the 12/15/1997 RAW, Steve Austin threw the Intercontinental Title into a river!
This mini-feud would go on to last through Royal Rumble 1998. The Rock was actually entrant #4 and ended up being the last one that Steve Austin eliminated in that Rumble. Both Austin and the Rock would move on to other feuds, but this brief feud was one of the most influential for the attitude era. For one, it put over the Rock. He got face time with Steve Austin and looked strong in the Royal Rumble. But secondly, Vince McMahon gave us an early preview of the "heel boss" character. Just listen to the crowd during 12/8/1997 when Austin and Vince are interacting with each other. Vince had to hear this reaction and figure that by fully outing himself as WWF owner and operator, the heat was there and ready to be tapped in...
The Rock and Steve Austin would go on to do tremendous business during 1999 when they both headlined Wrestlemania 15. Rock would become the "Corporate Champion" at Survivor Series 1998 and thus set the stage for more Vince, Rock, and Austin storyline fun. On this day in pro wrestling history, business was about to pick up...