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Posted in: Column of the Month
September 2012 COTM: 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die - #47
By 'Plan
Oct 13, 2012 - 5:39:47 AM

101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die


The Rock vs. The Hurricane

Monday Night Raw

March 10th, 2003

Today I intend to begin with my review, but before I get to reviewing this match proper, allow me to take a moment to say you may need to forgive me gushing; I absolutely loved Hollywood Rock and I maintain it was one of the greatest heel characters of all time, and to some degree broke ground in terms of turning genuine fan feeling on itself – to take something that was initially beyond kayfabe and turn it into kayfabe to overcome the increasing transparency of the business, and the resentment of actions made by a previously mega-fan-favourite, is so brilliant a concept only a mind like Paul Heyman’s could have created it.

JR and Jerry Lawler spend the duration of The Rock’s entrance building up Rocky and really getting him over as the megastar he is, with hit movies, impressive footballing stats and of course a mind-blowingly successful pro wrestling career…and then Hurricane’s music hits and JR puts it simple. This will be a car wreck. So before the bell even rings, as a viewer you’re expecting a typical squash match. Indeed, on the surface, this entire set up seems an entirely pointless waste of time designed to fill air space.

Rock gets the crowd’s back up early with a couple of slaps that come, not out of anger, but mockery. That’s the sort of thing that can really get under your skin and in the early goings the two do a good job of making Hurricane look like he knows the severity of his situation, with The Rock not taking it entirely seriously, and as a result willingly, as a performer, allowing himself to look like a bit of a cowardly fool. There’s no doubting The Rock has something of an arrogant streak in him; simply having that amount of talent will inevitably lead to something like that and it is perhaps that streak that makes him such an effective knob-head. Clapping his own moves, tapping his own head in admiration of his savvy, putting Hurricane’s cape on and pretending to fly…it’s all classic heel stuff but, more importantly, it pisses you off and entertains you at the same time. Not many heels can tread that line to such great effect.

Rightfully Hurricane spends most of, if not the entire match on the back foot and as a viewer your early suspicion is proven as the match progresses. Soon enough it’s becoming something of a squash match and certainly nothing very special. The work rate isn’t all that impressive; moves are simple and The Rock spends as much time taunting the crowd and his opponent as he does laying the smackdown on him. With that said, it is worth noting that what offence is there is well executed and Hurricane sells Rock’s attacks effectively. It’s also clear that The Rock is having fun being in there with Hurricane and is savouring the opportunity to wrestle a slightly different match than what he’s used to. I’m sure when you get used to putting on main event matches, designed to be incredibly dangerous and serious situations, it comes as a breath of fresh air when you can exercise some different creative muscles.

Hurricane gets in a number of cool moves and a few right hands, and while none of it is anything overly memorable, JR proves his worth once again by really putting Hurricane over, working in conjunction with Rocky’s shock at the fact his opponent is actually managing some offence. The crowd themselves aren’t quite as much into this as they are a World title match at Wrestlemania, but for a seemingly throw-away squash match on a typical edition of Monday Night Raw, their investment and reactions are above average, and the further it goes the more they dig the underdog story unfolding before them. Both men are clearly showmen and they use it to great effect here, with the whole thing just screaming good old fashioned traditional fun; fun in the midst of which a youngster, who had previously been flying under the radar, managed to get fifteen minutes in the spotlight.

As for The Rock, he carries himself here with more confidence than he usually does. He really came into his own in his Hollywood days of early 2003 and it’s a shame that was not when he went on the longest run of his career. He knew exactly how to use live crowds, exactly how to interact with them, exactly how to provoke them and exactly how to play up to the fact he was now a movie star. He did the usual heel shtick with his own creative touches and, beyond his character, it’s clear his performances, including this one, had such confidence that you knew he knew he would never fail to entertain. This is a Rock I believe could have carried a broomstick to a five star classic and, had he stuck around then, we could be looking at a string of five star classics we never got. Eddie Guerrero, under his Lie, Cheat and Steal gimmick is the one that most immediately springs to mind.

And while Hurricane picking up the win doesn’t get that great a reaction, thanks in part to Austin’s music playing and the distraction it causes to the live fans, it is nevertheless a shocking one.

Which brings me neatly to the point, a point I will preface with a question that has provoked a great deal of debate for a rather long time now; did The Rock sell out?

That much is down to your own view of course. Personally, I’m a man settling in the school of thought that the pro wrestling audience is one of the most demanding and petulant audiences of any entertainment or sporting product. We’re a difficult bunch to please and, more often than not, a little too willing to act like spoiled brats. We think we know what we want and if that isn’t immediately forthcoming, or even exactly how we have it designed in our head, we will throw the toys out the pram, stomp our feet and start throwing around all kinds of libel and accusations, often about individuals whom we know nothing about in real terms.

Such a situation has lent itself to The Rock. There are two sides to all of this – that of the fans and that of the wrestlers. Naturally, any bitterness harboured towards The Rock today by current performers is understandable, if not wholly justifiable. Clearly, those busting their arses all year round will inevitably feel slighted when a man walks in for two or three days of the same year and gets the big pay day. Once again, whichever side you fall on comes down to personal opinion but if I may be frank, I’m sure no one was complaining when their fatter-than-usual ‘Mania pay cheque came through the post this last April. And this whole, “Well it’s ok for ‘Taker to do it because he earned it” crap doesn’t sit well with me either; ‘Taker has earned it, as have guys like Triple H, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho, but so too has The Rock. I can’t quite come to understand why the longevity of a man’s career is the sole dictation as to how light a schedule he can work. But this is an issue I could speak at length about and barely scratch my opinions on the rather vocal stance of John Cena and CM Punk alone. I wanted to only briskly pass that one by today. In short, to me, no wrestler should moan, because if he was good enough he wouldn’t be losing his spot to anybody. The Rock did main event Wrestlemania, but did he do it alone? No. He did with John Cena. Why? Because John Cena was good enough to not lose his spot. Simple. See how it’s done kids?

My major interest here though is in the fan stance. I’ve heard a lot of individuals weigh in on this issue and I think it’s an important one simply because of how unique it is. No pro wrestler has ever found themselves in the position The Rock now finds himself in, and I will always only refer to him as The Rock because to do anything other is a smug disrespect born from nothing other than hubris.

When he left, he pissed a lot of people off. Why did he piss a lot of people off? Well, he was still young, he was still one of the best and he was still capable of wrestling better than most, and thus owed it to the company to give something back, instead of swanning off as soon as he’d become a success. Many felt he stabbed pro wrestling fans in the back, though I do wonder how many of those disgruntled by his premature departure would have proceeded to spend the next five years complaining about how he was preventing new blood from coming up the ranks. In essence, people were pissed, it seems to me, because, despite the fact he had accomplished everything he possibly could accomplish in the company, The Rock had a very short career when compared to most legendary pro wrestlers and was able to go away and make a success of himself in another industry, while we feel his success dictated he should stick around and give something back. Our petulant sense of obligation as pro wrestling fans seemingly dictated that unless The Rock was wrestling while he was still young enough to wrestle, he was a sell-out.

I, however, always come back to the same point I mentioned just a moment ago; I fail to see why how many years The Rock spent as a full time WWE competitor should determine the stance he holds in the eyes of the fans.

Now I would never want to come off as idiotically arrogant enough to tell people how to feel; I can certainly understand the bitterness many harbour towards The Rock and am able to see the point that perhaps sticking around some more in the industry that “made him” for a little while longer would have perhaps been slightly less jarring, even though to me the fact he made himself a success as an actor as well as a wrestler, and a college football star, would seem to indicate he is a self-made man, not an industry-made man. Nor can I comprehend this idea that he should have given something back before going to Hollywood. As matter of fact, I actively refuse to take that stance because I am under no delusion that in The Rock is a man who has given more back to the WWE than many other stars who have hung around into their forties, who has even, you could say, given more back to the WWE than their current poster child, and The Rock’s fiercest critic, John Cena.

The Rock became a main event World Champion star, as you know, back in 1998. By Survivor Series of that year his popularity had already sky-rocketed and, unlike the usual company tactic of today, the World title wasn’t his path to being a top star, it was simply the official recognition of something he had already become. The fiscal side of what he gave back to the WWE speaks for itself. I feel a need to point out something else which, if not less obvious, is criminally ignored.

The Rock was a man who was always giving back to the company from day one of his main event success, unafraid of being booked on the losing end to make new stars, unafraid of playing up the comedy angle, unafraid of doing anything that the company deemed appropriate or necessary for him to do. In later years, I would dare venture to say he was unafraid of doing anything. The best evidence to support such radical claims? Look at the people The Rock put over after he had become a focal point star for the company.

First was Mankind; would fans have ever gotten as behind such an unlikely World Champion as they did if not for the fact it was The Rock, Mankind’s complete antithesis, that provided the direct obstacle for him to achieve that accolade? Then Triple H; lest we forget, The Rock had been an established World Champion contender for almost a year before Triple H got his first taste of main event gold, and even before those days The Rock was putting Triple H over for the Intercontinental title as well. Kurt Angle too; who was it Angle beat to win his unlikely first World title, less than a year after having debuted on WWE television? It provided instant credibility for a character that, at the time, seemed anything but credible as a main guy. Chris Jericho followed when he won his first largely forgotten World Championship in the company, albeit under WCW initials. Who was it that did him the job, not just in the test drive but in the real thing, at the December PPV Vengeance, for the Undisputed Championship? The Rock. And when Stone Cold Steve Austin was refusing to wrestle Hulk Hogan, who stepped up and made one of the most memorable and fascinating Wrestlemania main events of all time, simply by being willing to sell a gimmick that otherwise felt ten to fifteen years out of date? And when Stone Cold Steve Austin was refusing to put over Brock Lesnar as the Next Big Thing, who was it that gladly lost to him, losing the Undisputed Championship in the process, in the main event of the second biggest PPV of the WWE calendar year after two months of build up? It was The Rock. By 2003, the year in which I am told he truly sold out, left and turned his back on the “company that made him” without giving a great deal back in return, to either it or us fans, he was wrestling a drug addled Jeff Hardy, making Hardy look better than he had any right to look, establishing Goldberg as a presence in the WWE not to be trifled with, by once again putting someone else over, and a man on only a one year contract at that, and also losing to The Hurricane.

So that’s Mankind, Triple H, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Brock Lesnar and Goldberg; all of them major WWE stars, all of them put over by The Rock after The Rock had already become a central WWE superstar and while they were seeking, if not promotion, certainly validation. And he never gave back to the company, hasn’t earned the right to wrestle on a limited contract the same as The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels? What more does he have to do? I was genuinely shocked when John Cena lost at Wrestlemania but I have no doubt a rematch will come, and when it does it will be Cena going over. I also have no doubt CM Punk will get his turn too.

Because the truth, as much as many embittered individuals may not want to admit it, due to some misplaced genuinely unnecessary sense of resentment and betrayal, is a simple thing. The Rock has given a great deal back to the WWE, in the fiscal sense, in the sense of making new stars and legitimising others, and in simply never failing to entertain audiences that were never anything other than lively when he was in the ring or on the stage. He just did it in half the time.

This match is must see because it stands as testament to how much The Rock has willingly given back to the company, showing the kind of attitude and ethic that has earned him the right to be in the position he is in. You think the company wanted to put a jobber with next to no credibility over one of their megastars, when they are so often obsessed with protecting said megastars? I can’t prove that it wasn’t their idea, but historical precedent would suggest it would have been The Rock who wanted it. What for? He didn’t gain anything. Could it possibly be to have fun, entertain the fans and make a young kid look good in the process?

Yes. Yes it could. And as far as I am concerned, any wrestler with that kind of work ethic in the face of overwhelming success, the kind of success that happens usually only once in a generation, is a wrestler that should rightfully have the ability to choose to wrestle whenever he wants, whenever he can. The Rock is the wrestler that kept on giving, and I have faith he will continue to do so, thus earning the right critics say he doesn’t deserve. He’s a unique oddity in the history of pro wrestling, one who, I feel, is criticised unfairly. I feel this match is a must see because it goes to show just how unfair said criticisms are.

So did he sell out? That’s for us all to decide for ourselves. What I do know for a certainty though is that, if he did, he had certainly earned the right to.

And just as a parting thought, I want to leave you with a comparison to chew over. The Rock wrestled The Hurricane, a jobber with no real weight behind him, or long term direction in the company, and The Rock put him over. Earlier this year, John Cena wrestled Zack Ryder, a man who, for all intents and purposes, was not much higher up than a jobber with no real weight behind him, or long term direction in the company, and John Cena beat him, convincingly, after making it clear Zack Ryder didn’t really stand any chance of winning throughout that same Monday Night Raw.

Just a thought.

Click here to watch The Rock VS The Hurricane