TJR WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches #26: The Rock vs. Steve Austin @ WrestleMania 19

Up next in the countdown of WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches is the last match in the career of one of the biggest names in wrestling history as he capped off his WrestleMania trilogy against a man that would go on to become the highest paid actor in the world. They are also two of my favorite wrestlers ever, so I have a lot of good things to say about this one.

If you’ve missed anything in the countdown so far, the WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.

Who: The Rock vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin @ WrestleMania 19

When: March 30, 2003

Where: Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington

The Build

In the summer of 2002, Steve Austin left WWE because he was upset with creative aspects in WWE. He also got in legal trouble after hitting his then wife Debra multiple times and was arrested for it. He didn’t serve jail time, but was put on probation. During Austin’s absence, The Rock had a famous line about how Austin took his ball and went home.

In early 2003, Austin sorted out his problems with Vince McMahon and WWE’s creative team. He beat Eric Bischoff in an ass kicking of a match at No Way Out 2003. That let us know he was back in good spirits and ready to go again.

Prior to WrestleMania 19, The Rock was back on television as an egotistical heel. It led to Rock saying that he had done everything in wrestling, he won WWE Titles, he was a star in Hollywood, but the one thing he hadn’t done was beat Steve Austin at a WrestleMania. At WrestleMania 15, Austin beat him for the WWE Title and at WrestleMania 17, Austin beat him again. That second match is still coming on the countdown.

Rock challenged Austin to a match at WrestleMania 19. Austin accepted. The difference between this match and their two previous matches was that there was no WWE Title. It also wasn’t the main event of the show unlike those two other matches, but people were still excited about it.

What I Thought Back Then

I really missed Austin when he was gone in the second half of 2002. With that said, I also lost a lot of respect for him after his domestic abuse incident. Since he didn’t serve jail time, I think it made it okay for WWE to bring him back. If he spent months behind bars it would have been a different story. That doesn’t mean I’m saying what he did was okay because it was awful. I’m merely pointing out that if he was in jail I don’t think WWE would put him in a match like this.

By this point in Rock’s career, it was a question of “when” not “if” he left wrestling for good. I figured this was going to be his last WrestleMania (it wasn’t), so I tried to enjoy every moment that he was on WWE TV. Things like the “Rock Concert” that he would do and other funny things as a heel were so entertaining. I thought this version of Rock may have been the best run in his career.

Going into the match, we had no idea this would be Austin’s last match. Had we known that, this would have been one of the most emotional matches ever. As far as we knew, Austin’s health was good and he had another run left in him. Nope.

I’m not sure who I picked to win, but it made sense that The Rock would get the victory since the story was that Rock was unable to beat him at a WrestleMania before this.

Here’s my full review of the match plus the analysis, which was written live in 2003 and edited again in 2012.

The Rock vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin @ WrestleMania 19

Rock is out first. Austin comes out next. They both got really big pops that you’d expect. Long staredown to start. Austin opens up with punches, goes for a Stunner. Rock gets out of the ring to the floor, but Austin runs him down with a stiff clothesline. Rock face first into the steps, then clotheslined onto the Smackdown announce table. More brawling on the floor with Rock taking a pounding. Austin rolls him back in where he kicks him, chokes him and hits a back suplex for two. Whip into the corner, Rock reverses it once and Austin bounces back out with a clothesline. Earl Hebner admonishes Austin for choking Rock over the middle rope, so Rock clips his left knee out from behind. Outside the ring, Rock does it again. Rock slams the front of the left knee on the Smackdown announce table. Back in the ring, Rock stomps on the left knee. He drags him around the post where he wraps it around. In the middle of the ring, Austin comes back with a flurry of punches, but Rock gets control again thanks to a hard kick to the left knee again. Sharpshooter by The Rock near the ropes. JR mentions favorite match ever at WrestleMania 13, Austin vs. Hart. Nice job JR. Austin gets to the ropes after about a minute. Rock wraps Austin’s leg around the ring post again. He puts on Austin’s vest, grabs a bottle of water and takes a sip. When he comes back in the ring Austin meets him with punches, they criss cross and do a great double clothesline for the KO spot.

Austin hits the Lou Thesz Press and a big FU elbow for two. Stomping a mudhole in the corner leads to plenty of “WHAT” chants. Rock ducks a clothesline, and hits a beautiful leaping clothesline of his own. Rock taunts the crowd, turns around and walks into a Rock Bottom from Austin for two. Rock still has the vest on. Austin goes for a Stunner, Rock blocks the kick and hits his own Stunner leading to an arrogant cover for two. They are busting out the spots from the X7 match all over again. Rock goes for the spit punch, Austin moves out of the way and hits a Stunner that Rock sells beautifully! One, two, no. I thought that was it. Austin shoves the ref away, Rock low blows him and claps for himself! Sweet! People’s Elbow in Austin’s vest misses. Stunner reversed into a spinebuster. Jacket gone, People’s Elbow hits for one, two, no. Now the crowd is really going nuts. Austin up, Rock Bottom. One two, no. I thought that was it. Rock Bottom blocked, Austin spins out. Another Rock Bottom for Rocky. One, two, no again! Holy shit! Austin’s up again. Third Rock Bottom. One, two, three! Rock finally beats Austin at WrestleMania after 19 minutes.

Winner by pinfall: The Rock

Analysis: ****1/4 Awesome match that was a fitting end to this rivalry. Not as good as WM17, but better than WM15 and on par with Backlash 1999 if you’ve seen that one too. Clean finish was very nice to see. This was what I wrote in 2003: “A lot of people questioned whether Austin was in good physical shape, but I think he proved tonight that he was fine.” See that? I had no idea that Austin was done here. Aside from Austin, Ross, Rock, Vince and a few people not a lot of us knew. They almost went twenty minutes, back and forth the whole way without resorting to a lot of brawling. Most of it was done in the ring. I think they proved once again why they can always have good matches together. I will never get tired of Austin/Rock for as long as I live. You could argue that they had the best rivalry in the history of wrestling. I’d put it at the very top. The matches they had backed it up too. After re-watching it for the sake of this column, my respect for Austin as a performer went way up knowing what we know now about all of his injuries. That was his last match. Will he ever wrestle again? Don’t know. It’s been nine years since that match, though. He went out looking like he hadn’t missed a beat. A hell of a way to go out.

Post match, Rock sat over top of Austin and they exchanged some words. It was a sign mutual respect. They were very good friends. Rock knew it was Austin’s last match, so I’m glad they got to share that moment. Rock hugged his family at ringside. He left. Austin limped away to a huge reaction.

You can read my full recap of WrestleMania 19 right here.

What They Said

Here’s Steve Austin talking about why it wasn’t promoted it was his last match. This is from the Stone Cold Podcast during an episode in 2015:

“The reason for that was, it was going to be my last match, WrestleMania 19. The neck had caught up with me. Everything had caught up with me. And we didn’t announce that, ‘hey, this is going to be ‘Stone Cold’s [last] match’ because this was the third and final match with The Rock. He was going over.

He didn’t say it was going to be my last match because the promotion was still doing pretty good. The momentum was still good. It might have started to slow down a little bit, but if you’ve just announced, ‘hey this is going to be ‘Stone Cold’s last match,’ maybe that would kind of slowed business down or slowed the momentum down and maybe turned some people off.”

Here’s an audio clip of Austin talking to Jim Ross about it. Austin said he didn’t want to retire – he was forced to do so.

What I Think Now

This match was a lot of fun especially in the last few minutes. The crowd was very entertained by them from the start to the finish. All of the finishing moves, counters and nearfalls were brilliant because it played off their history so well. All WWE fans knew their history and they were so smart to play off that.

I realize that when people talk about Austin vs. Rock matches, the one that fans talk about first is what they did at WrestleMania 17 because it’s their best match, but don’t forget about this one. Considering they hadn’t had a singles match in two years before this, I applaud them for having great chemistry from bell to bell in this match.

It was great to hear the crowd reactions when they stole the finishing moves of the other guy. Austin hit a Rock Bottom first and the fans loved it. Rock came back with a Stunner leading to an even bigger reaction from the crowd. When Austin hit his first Stunner, the crowd went wild for that and it picked up from there.

The fact that it took three Rock Bottoms from Rock to put him away was fitting as well. Austin was his biggest rival that Rock had trouble beating, so it made sense that it took more moves than normal for Rock to win that match.

After the match was over, it still wasn’t clear that Austin was wrestling his last match ever. When listening to Jim Ross’ commentary, it was clear by what he was saying that he knew it was the end (he definitely did) and he did a fantastic job of putting that over in his commentary.

Also, I recommend checking out “WrestleMania The Movie” that was filmed to document this match as well as some of the others on this show. I love WrestleMania 19. It’s the second best PPV and WrestleMania in history in my opinion. I’ll have two more matches from this show on this list coming up later.

What Happened Next

Steve Austin retired as a wrestler. He wasn’t off television for that long because WWE brought him back as a co-General Manager for the Raw brand about one month after this. He stayed in that role for most of the year and also was a “Sheriff” on Raw. Austin didn’t formally say he was retired, which is why people still think he has one more match in him even 14 years later. Sorry fans, but it’s not happening.

The Rock celebrated the win the next night on Raw, Bill Goldberg showed up and it set up a Rock/Goldberg match at Backlash 2003. Rock put him over clean and that was it for him as a full time performer. Rock had a match at the next WrestleMania as well, but this was his last singles Wrestlemania match until 2012 against John Cena.

Final Thoughts

Steve Austin’s career ended with this match when he was 38 years old. I’ve listened to his podcast on a regular basis for years and he’s mentioned many times that he would have liked to wrestle another five years after this. However, he wasn’t able to physically do it anymore. I think Austin should be proud of this performance because he must have been in a lot of pain, but he got through it and delivered one of the best matches in WrestleMania with a friend that he experienced a lot with.

The moment after the match when Austin spoke to Rock and apparently told him he loved him was a great moment for two of the most beloved superstars in wrestling history.

Why am I the kind of WWE fan that I am? Because of guys like The Rock and Steve Austin. Watch this match again, my friends. You’ll enjoy it as much as you did 14 years ago.

Rankings So Far

  1. The Rock vs. Steve Austin @ WrestleMania 19
  2. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (vs. Seth Rollins) @ WrestleMania 31
  3. Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle @ WrestleMania 20
  4. The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan @ WrestleMania 18
  5. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair @ WrestleMania 24
  6. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch @ WrestleMania 32
  7. Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper @ WrestleMania 8
  8. Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan @ WrestleMania 6

WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.

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