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Steve Austin is my all time favorite Pro Wrestler, but yeah, he definitely received favorable booking and was pushed to the moon by WWF.

But I'd say that's a showcase of his talent more than anything else.

How many people in the history of the WWF have received that kind of booking and couldn't make it work? How many times have we seen WWE try their damn hardest to make Roman Reigns the next big thing? I'm sure we all remember what happened to Cena, who by the way, was and still is a very talented Pro Wrestler himself. Diesel, Luger, Bret, I could do this all day. Austin was the man who was perfect for the role. They gave him this booking for a reason. I don't think it's a determent to him, and I certainly don't think you can sit here and say he wouldn't have thrived without it. He was just one of the rare talents capable of being over exposed and making it work.

The Rock on the other hand? Yeah, he absolutely thrived due to his natural abilities. He started out his WWF journey in probably the worst possible way and was able to get out of the funk through his own talent. That's not to say he didn't have favorable booking (he most definitely did), but he put himself in that position to be one of the top guys in the company. And by the time 2000 rolled around, he was the biggest thing in the company.

Austin's carry job in 1998 deserves all the praise it gets, and I'd argue he was bigger in Pro Wrestling that year than the Rock was in 2000 (keep in mind I am saying Pro Wrestling, NOT in WWF). But by that point, The Rock was without question the bigger mainstream star. And Austin hasn't come close to topping him since.
 

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I wouldn't say the Rock was groomed for the title. It's pretty clear that he started with a strong push for the IC belt but that's a far shot away from the heavyweight title. And I think just about everyone could agree that the nature of his push back fired.

The fans had turned on the guy pretty hard, they had no choice but to make him heel and I don't think the WWF at the time had any way of knowing that he would massively get over in the heel role. He became the heavyweight champ because he was over and because he needed to look credible for Austin at Wrestlemania. This isn't a case of him being like Roman Reigns, the guy was getting gigantic pops regularly and deserved it. Not to mention the WWF was beating WCW at this time so it was clearly warranted.

Considering he lost to Austin at Wrestlemania (and rightfully so at the time) and then lost to HHH at the following Wrestlemania (despite the Rock being the face and HHH obviously not being in his league), and then losing to Austin at the following Wrestlemania, I wouldn't say the guy was pushed too the moon. The Rock finally picked up a main event win at the following Wrestlemania against Hogan, a guy that's known to politic just to get out of doing jobs, clearly even Hogan had to agree the Rock was deserving of this type of rub.

Long story short the Rock got a main event push after getting over, I wouldn't really say he got pushed to the moon however.
He was definitely groomed for the top spot, many of the company guys at the time confirmed this (Patterson, Cornette, etc.) They had every intention to make Rocky the next Hogan, capitalizing on his heritage and youth. Of course it didn't go down that way, but they gave him so much momentum at the beginning to make it happen. The IC belt was still very important in the company and was the 2nd prestigious title below the world title so it's certainly a big rub especially for a rookie.

He was always given all the opportunities needed to break out, and once he got himself over in the Nation, the push began. It was clear once he was in the final 4 in the 98 Rumble, they had big plans for him in the future main event scene. Not to mention having matches with Austin on TV and house shows after the fact. It was a different push than Austin, but still a big push nonetheless. When you're given opportunities to cut promos, have longer matches and work big angles with all the top guys culminating in a headline at WM15, you can't say that Rock wasn't given a push. The more top guys they had meant the more momentum they could generate against WCW, so Rock was gonna get his time either way. He was even slated to win at WM16 (against Austin no less) before the surgery and HHH convinced them otherwise, so it's not like it was out of the question for him to get his big moment.

Viewers stayed post Wrestlemania for a bit just to see the fallout of Wrestlemania and the fallout of WWE purchasing WCW. They quickly left after that. Ratings were weak until July, with the announcement that the Rock was going to come back and join either the Alliance or the WWF. They were in the 4s for all of May and June, and were back in the 5s in July and August with the Rocks comeback, they even got a 5.7 for the episode he returned. And he wasn't even the focus of the show, he was put in the underneath spot messing with Booker and Jericho over the WCW Title. When Austin won the WWF title in October of 2001, ratings actually dropped quite significantly, they were doing around the mid to high 4s in September and October, and the ratings after he won the belt dropped to the high 3s-early 4s until the wrapping up of the Invasion story line at SS. As far as the Invasion PPV doing well goes, it did well because it was WWF vs WCW, if Austin wasn't there it still would have done well. Naturally, it would have done way better if they had all the huge stars, but the brand power of both companies was enough to carry it to 1 huge PPV, even if the Alliance team was an utter embarrassment.
They dropped in May and June because they ran Austin/HHH vs. Taker/Kane into the ground and weren't feuding with any of the other tag teams until the short-lived program with Benoit and Jericho. Their return to a 5.0+ rating was actually the show when Austin turned back babyface during the leadup to Invasion, which was definitely a factor in making the Invasion PPV a success because it immediately spiked the ratings and saw an increase in ticket sales. It's ridiculous to think that it would have done nearly as well if you replaced Austin with a random midcarder, especially since the promotion leading up to it was Austin leading Team WWF against the Alliance. You've already admitted that the Alliance team was lackluster, so shouldn't credit be given to the top guy on the other side? You can't count any hypothetical returns as an argument for why Invasion drew so well because it wasn't a guarantee. Also, Rock returning didn't stop the ratings decline one bit after that 5.7 so it points to the shoddy booking and storylines as the main reason for the decline (along with the Alliance looking like the jobber hour by every passing week)

Austin was the most over guy with the WWE fanbase in 1997, but it wasn't by much and he wasn't that much more over than guys like Taker, Michaels, and Bret and he had no huge effect on business until Tyson and then McMahon. Bret got the ball rolling for him, Tyson put him on the map, and McMahon took him to another level. I agree that the mishandling of Austins character and heel turns hurt him, but Rock didn't get favorable booking much either and he still stayed white hot. But while his failed turns hurt him, he clearly couldn't stay as over in the upper midcard feuding with and showing vulnerability to guys like Booker, Bossman, Hall, Guerrero if he hadn't have left, etc. Rock was capable of having undercard feuds and dropping matches/looking "weak" at times and keeping his popularity and momentum. Rock got geeked out a bunch in 1998, especially to Shamrock, he got his opportunity because he was so good and got over despite of questionable at times booking.

I'm not saying Austin wasn't a huge star or that he wasn't great, I'm just saying Rock was bigger and quite frankly better. Austin had a really strong year and a half run, but his run was weaker than Rocks run, and the only big business he did post 1999 was his initial return and his feud with a bigger star at the time in Rock.
I disagree, Austin was by far the most over guy in the summer of 97 and only Undertaker came close. This was when he wasn't even wrestling on TV due to the piledriver. He was also getting over as a face organically through the year, contrary to people's statements that he only got big after Tyson and Vince. His merchandise sales were literally the only reason WWF made a profit that year, they skyrocketed after WM13. So yeah, he was definitely their biggest moneymaker at that time.

I also don't think his 2002 run was due to his limitations as a character, since he was still very popular in the early part of the year. It was because they tried the same Austin/Vince angle with Flair and it just fell flat because fans had seen it twice before. Perhaps you have a point with Austin's character not being suited to "looking weak" but it's a minor flaw considering the badass anti-hero gimmick was basically popularized by Austin to begin with. I agree that Rock was more versatile in his roles though, he could take more losses without it negatively affecting his momentum. If your only benchmark is how many losses the guy can take and still stay over, then Rock is better for sure but they were both different characters and booked differently to begin with so it's apples and oranges. We saw what happened when Rock was booked to be Hogan 2.0 and it got him booed out of the building, so they wanted to take a different approach with him.
 

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Today is a bit different but back then you're not going anywhere unless you got support from Vince, or a top guy/ exec. In Austin's case he had Ross, Russo but most importantly Bret wanted to work with him. You're right about Rock walking in as a top prospect in Vince's mind and no one should think Rock was Terry Taylor but the point is WWF under booked him to his popularity. You don't increase your status by chasing. Maybe in WCW but WWE is face oriented and always has been. When HHH was up to be the guy he ran thru the Rumble, ran over Angle and Jericho. That's how WWE books. It didn't work because it was HHH but that's besides the point.

Rock never got Hogan booking btw. Facing Hogan isn't Hogan booking.
 

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Discussion Starter #64 (Edited)
This thread wasn't meant to cause a mark war between Rock and Austin fans. I don't hate either of them. I think Austin did deserve his spot and he was consistently the most popular superstar of the Attitude Era. But Rock overtook him in popularity especially in the last decade when he became a big Hollywood star
 

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Today is a bit different but back then you're not going anywhere unless you got support from Vince, or a top guy/ exec. In Austin's case he had Ross, Russo but most importantly Bret wanted to work with him. You're right about Rock walking in as a top prospect in Vince's mind and no one should think Rock was Terry Taylor but the point is WWF under booked him to his popularity. You don't increase your status by chasing. Maybe in WCW but WWE is face oriented and always has been. When HHH was up to be the guy he ran thru the Rumble, ran over Angle and Jericho. That's how WWE books. It didn't work because it was HHH but that's besides the point.

Rock never got Hogan booking btw. Facing Hogan isn't Hogan booking.
I never said anything about facing Hogan. I'm talking about Rock's run in 96-97 when he won his debut match on PPV and the IC title 3 months after that. He was protected against all the top guys because they were trying to run with him as a second Hogan but fans weren't having it. I still don't think they underbooked him at his peak because when you think about it, Rock did it all by the end of 99. He won 3 titles in the span of 5 months and all his major storylines with Mankind and Austin were over, ending with a headline at WM15. The only thing left was to have him win the big one at WM16, which did have politics involved so that would be the only misstep. Other than that though, where do you really go? The guy got the most TV and promo time out of anyone not named HHH and that's what got him over to begin with so I can't buy all the "he wasn't booked properly" talk. Wins/losses stop mattering when you're given the spotlight to go carte blanche like Rock.
 

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Some argument that Austin 'needed' favourable booking to stay over is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Do these people know how wrestling works? Everything comes down to booking. That's what a promotion should do when they uncover a golden goose like a Steve Austin - push them to the god damn moon and keep on giving the crowd what they want until the money maker stops drawing. He should've been the champ as long as he was, he should've kept on beating everyone because the guy turned around the promotion from the shits in 97 to a booming business in 98 and beyond.

It's what promotions have done forever and what they should do when they have a true big money draw like Austin. It's not about who 'needed' what to stay over. Everyone needs good booking to stay over. Everyone needs good villians to beat. Everyone needs other people selling their shit really well etc etc.

I think the fundamental difference between Rock and Austin booking in their primes when it comes down to it is this:

* Rock had to contend with the new son in law HHH forcing his way in to everything in 2000 which Austin didn't have the same way. This led to HHH being champ a fair bit, but there was plenty of money in the chase for Rock so that's not necessarily a bad thing.

* Rock was more affected by the worst of Russo-riffic booking in 1999, an infamously terrible year for it, where the title changed 100 times and there were shitty non-sensical storylines everywhere.

* Rock by all reports wasn't a huge politicker so he was probably more okay with losses here and there; whereas a more hard headed, protective Austin probably would've told a HHH to fuck off.
 

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Some argument that Austin 'needed' favourable booking to stay over is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Do these people know how wrestling works? Everything comes down to booking. That's what a promotion should do when they uncover a golden goose like a Steve Austin - push them to the god damn moon and keep on giving the crowd what they want until the money maker stops drawing. He should've been the champ as long as he was, he should've kept on beating everyone because the guy turned around the promotion from the shits in 97 to a booming business in 98 and beyond.

It's what promotions have done forever and what they should do when they have a true big money draw like Austin. It's not about who 'needed' what to stay over. Everyone needs good booking to stay over. Everyone needs good villians to beat. Everyone needs other people selling their shit really well etc etc.

I think the fundamental difference between Rock and Austin booking in their primes when it comes down to it is this:

* Rock had to contend with the new son in law HHH forcing his way in to everything in 2000 which Austin didn't have the same way. This led to HHH being champ a fair bit, but there was plenty of money in the chase for Rock so that's not necessarily a bad thing.

* Rock was more affected by the worst of Russo-riffic booking in 1999, an infamously terrible year for it, where the title changed 100 times and there were shitty non-sensical storylines everywhere.

* Rock by all reports wasn't a huge politicker so he was probably more okay with losses here and there; whereas a more hard headed, protective Austin probably would've told a HHH to fuck off.
Every top babyface absolutely needs strong booking, although with Austin I think they went too far at times and made everyone else look like a little bitch next to him. But really, the point is more about the Rocks shit booking and how he stayed over despite it because he's a transcendent talent to the likes that the business has never seen before or since. It's not a knock on Austin, but he'd never have been even a fraction as over as Rock was if he had his booking.
 

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He was definitely groomed for the top spot, many of the company guys at the time confirmed this (Patterson, Cornette, etc.) They had every intention to make Rocky the next Hogan, capitalizing on his heritage and youth. Of course it didn't go down that way, but they gave him so much momentum at the beginning to make it happen. The IC belt was still very important in the company and was the 2nd prestigious title below the world title so it's certainly a big rub especially for a rookie.

He was always given all the opportunities needed to break out, and once he got himself over in the Nation, the push began. It was clear once he was in the final 4 in the 98 Rumble, they had big plans for him in the future main event scene. Not to mention having matches with Austin on TV and house shows after the fact. It was a different push than Austin, but still a big push nonetheless. When you're given opportunities to cut promos, have longer matches and work big angles with all the top guys culminating in a headline at WM15, you can't say that Rock wasn't given a push. The more top guys they had meant the more momentum they could generate against WCW, so Rock was gonna get his time either way. He was even slated to win at WM16 (against Austin no less) before the surgery and HHH convinced them otherwise, so it's not like it was out of the question for him to get his big moment.
His IC title run lasted about 2 and half months. And the IC title was not as prestigious at that point, the Rock took it off of HHH when he was a relatively new guy as well. He got the standard new guy push that most of the roster gets when they arrive just to help them look legit. But if they were really lining him up for a monster push I doubt they would've taken the title off of him so quickly. When Vince is big on a guy, he'll push them regardless of what the fans think, from Roman Reigns to the Ultimate Warrior, we've seen this time and time again.

I think we're disagreeing on the level of the push here. The Rock being in the Nation of Domination and then taking over it was obviously a push, but at the same time that wasn't thrusting the dude into the main event scene or even close. At this point though it was pretty clear that a push was warranted and the circumstances here were different than his new guy push.
 

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Today is a bit different but back then you're not going anywhere unless you got support from Vince, or a top guy/ exec. In Austin's case he had Ross, Russo but most importantly Bret wanted to work with him. You're right about Rock walking in as a top prospect in Vince's mind and no one should think Rock was Terry Taylor but the point is WWF under booked him to his popularity. You don't increase your status by chasing. Maybe in WCW but WWE is face oriented and always has been. When HHH was up to be the guy he ran thru the Rumble, ran over Angle and Jericho. That's how WWE books. It didn't work because it was HHH but that's besides the point.

Rock never got Hogan booking btw. Facing Hogan isn't Hogan booking.
I never said anything about facing Hogan. I'm talking about Rock's run in 96-97 when he won his debut match on PPV and the IC title 3 months after that. He was protected against all the top guys because they were trying to run with him as a second Hogan but fans weren't having it. I still don't think they underbooked him at his peak because when you think about it, Rock did it all by the end of 99. He won 3 titles in the span of 5 months and all his major storylines with Mankind and Austin were over, ending with a headline at WM15. The only thing left was to have him win the big one at WM16, which did have politics involved so that would be the only misstep. Other than that though, where do you really go? The guy got the most TV and promo time out of anyone not named HHH and that's what got him over to begin with so I can't buy all the "he wasn't booked properly" talk. Wins/losses stop mattering when you're given the spotlight to go carte blanche like Rock.
Ok, I did think you had to be talking later in Rock's career because your current point misses who Hogan was. Hogan booking is superman booking. Clean cut babyface overcoming the odds to squash the opponent. The problem with applying that to Rocky Maivia is he won his matches with sunsets flips and rollups. Fluke wins. So to say he was being tried out as the new Hogan to me is way too big of a stretch. Roman got some superman booking. Rock didn't.

As for the rest wins/ time with the belt/ main events determine your status in the WWE not tv time. Austin didn't say I'll job to Lesnar but can you add a few minutes to my promo tonight. I feel that's a bit lacking right now.
 

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Thanks to his movie career yes, I'm a Rock mark but even I would admit he was as close being the 1B to SCSA 1A.
Yeah this is correct in my opinion. It's not because of what the Rock did in wrestling, in fact I bet there are so many people out there who know "Duane Johnson" is but have no clue who "The Rock" is.

In wrestling circles, there was never a point in time prior to WrestleMania 17 that the Rock was a bigger deal than Austin was. I do feel that once the Invasion stuff blew over, and Rock vs Hogan happened at 18 - by that point I do believe the Rock had finally surpassed Austin. But people saying that by 1999 the Rock was a bigger deal than Austin? That is revisionism at it's finest. And I can make a pretty good case that the Austin heel turn at 17 is the only reason that became a reality by that point in time. So really I think that Austin had cooled off more so than the Rock had got hotter than him.
 

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It's pretty common knowledge that Rock surpassed Austin in popularity around that Smackdown pilot in 99, the rest of that year they promoted the show around Rock, before that it was 50/50.

I remember Wrestlemania XV, even though Rock was heel, the crowd was split, it was really a face/face match to the audience, only the character was "heel".

I think John Cena/Batista is another example. Batista was pushed more but John Cena was more popular.
 

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Every top babyface absolutely needs strong booking, although with Austin I think they went too far at times and made everyone else look like a little bitch next to him. But really, the point is more about the Rocks shit booking and how he stayed over despite it because he's a transcendent talent to the likes that the business has never seen before or since. It's not a knock on Austin, but he'd never have been even a fraction as over as Rock was if he had his booking.
Austin had to look strong since he was going up against the owner himself. They continually stacked bigger odds against him and he triumphed, just like any good working class story. It was the biggest feud in company history for a reason, and I could easily say that Rock wouldn't have been as successful if he was in Austin's shoes for that rivalry. It's immaterial because both guys had their own career paths since 97 and swapping their places wouldn't have done their characters any favors.


His IC title run lasted about 2 and half months. And the IC title was not as prestigious at that point, the Rock took it off of HHH when he was a relatively new guy as well. He got the standard new guy push that most of the roster gets when they arrive just to help them look legit. But if they were really lining him up for a monster push I doubt they would've taken the title off of him so quickly. When Vince is big on a guy, he'll push them regardless of what the fans think, from Roman Reigns to the Ultimate Warrior, we've seen this time and time again.

I think we're disagreeing on the level of the push here. The Rock being in the Nation of Domination and then taking over it was obviously a push, but at the same time that wasn't thrusting the dude into the main event scene or even close. At this point though it was pretty clear that a push was warranted and the circumstances here were different than his new guy push.
They took the title off him after fans started booing him out of the building. They were big on him but the fans reacted in the opposite way they intended. It wasn't a "new guy push" because he was pretty protected even in matches with all the big stars (beat Bret and Bulldog by DQ and countout) and went over HHH 3 times in a row at that. His first loss against Savio Vega was also a countout, so it was far from the usual push. He got hurt in the summer of 97 and then turned heel when he came back, and by the end of the year worked with Austin in the hottest program on TV. If that isn't a big push, I don't know what is. Then when Austin is set to headline WM14, his go-home match is with Rock again. That's a main event spot no matter what you think. They were definitely lining him up to be the champion by the end of 98, looking back on the booking from summer of 98 onwards. They needed a new opponent for Austin and the only choice that made sense was Rock.

Ok, I did think you had to be talking later in Rock's career because your current point misses who Hogan was. Hogan booking is superman booking. Clean cut babyface overcoming the odds to squash the opponent. The problem with applying that to Rocky Maivia is he won his matches with sunsets flips and rollups. Fluke wins. So to say he was being tried out as the new Hogan to me is way too big of a stretch. Roman got some superman booking. Rock didn't.

As for the rest wins/ time with the belt/ main events determine your status in the WWE not tv time. Austin didn't say I'll job to Lesnar but can you add a few minutes to my promo tonight. I feel that's a bit lacking right now.
I was referring to the way that they put Rocky Maivia over every match as "the next big star" and "this kid's gonna make a big name for himself". They treated him as the greatest thing to walk through the doors just like they did with Hogan. You have a point with how his matches were laid out, but fluke wins stop being flukes after the 2nd or 3rd time he wins, and Rocky sure won a lot more than that for months after he started. Like I said above, he was protected pretty hard against most of the top guys so they clearly wanted to show off his resiliency.

It's pretty common knowledge that Rock surpassed Austin in popularity around that Smackdown pilot in 99, the rest of that year they promoted the show around Rock, before that it was 50/50.

I remember Wrestlemania XV, even though Rock was heel, the crowd was split, it was really a face/face match to the audience, only the character was "heel".

I think John Cena/Batista is another example. Batista was pushed more but John Cena was more popular.
Austin was more popular than Rock until the summer of 99 and it wasn't even close before then. Backlash was more face/face than WM15, I distinctly remember the Philly crowd at WM booing Rock before and during the match. The moment when Rock really started to noticeably challenge Austin was by KOTR 99 when he was going up against Undertaker and getting huge reactions regularly. Hell, he even had Taker beat clean in 3 minutes during the match before interference. Not even Austin did that when he was feuding with Taker.
 

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You're exaggerating who Rock beat in 97 when you say "top guys". HHH was not a top guy back then. The guys he was pinning was the Sultan, Leif Cassidy, Savio Vega. Goldust at Survivor Series is ok.

I agree with you he was treated well coming in. That's the case with everyone WWE wanted to push back then though. Foley made Taker his b. Austin won KitR his 1st year.
 

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Yeah this is correct in my opinion. It's not because of what the Rock did in wrestling, in fact I bet there are so many people out there who know "Duane Johnson" is but have no clue who "The Rock" is.

In wrestling circles, there was never a point in time prior to WrestleMania 17 that the Rock was a bigger deal than Austin was. I do feel that once the Invasion stuff blew over, and Rock vs Hogan happened at 18 - by that point I do believe the Rock had finally surpassed Austin. But people saying that by 1999 the Rock was a bigger deal than Austin? That is revisionism at it's finest. And I can make a pretty good case that the Austin heel turn at 17 is the only reason that became a reality by that point in time. So really I think that Austin had cooled off more so than the Rock had got hotter than him.
Nah I disagree with that. By late 99? He wasn't a "bigger deal" than Austin but he was literally neck and neck with him and had begun to garner more reactions and for moment while they were both there the "hotter superstar" with the crowd, especially between September and November of 1999. There's literal proof of this. So in my opinion, based on heaps of evidence and watching the era myself and liking both (Austin moreso in 1996-1997 against Bret) the true revisionist history is people claiming that Rock only became a mega star once Austin left and that was the only reason, which is 1000 percent false.

The Rock was on the friggin cover of Rollingstone Magazine June 7th 2001. That wasn't because Austin turned heel.

Smackdown (within wrestling circles) - had its pilot in spring of 1999 and launched officially August 1999. Who made the phrase "Smackdown" or "layin the smackdown" famous enough for a billion dollar company at it's peak to put the name of said phrase on a 2nd show they were launching? Why wasn't that show named "WWE Bottom Line?" or "Oh Hell Yeah?" or "WWE 3:16"

Rock was a pretty big deal. I'm not saying say he was bigger than Austin (within the world of wrestling only), no Austin mark will ever see past that, but let's not act like Rock "wasn't touching him" or "wasn't a big deal until this or that" and create false narratives. Rock's combo of crossover appeal and massive success in wrestling is what makes him GOAT tier. This is well before his movie career as we know it.

in June 2001 A wrestler being on a cover of Rolling Stone shows the massive mainstream appeal that was garnered. The only movie Rock was in by then was Mummy Returns for 5 minutes. Edit: Rolling Stone also did a feature on Austin in 1998, his name was on a Jewel cover (just to show that i'm not biased as Austin was incredibly mainstream too, just not like the Rock between 1999-2002

The "it's only because of his movie career" is tired and IMO Austin mark / Rocky hater narrative. The Rock's avenues and the very foundation of who he is today IS BECAUSE OF HIS POPULARITY FROM THE WWE.
 

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Rock surpassed Austin before he left, he was already tapping into pop culture and drew the most he ever did by that point. Rock was Wrestlemania XV, let that sink in, in media they wouldn't stop talking about him, that's why they smackdown was created for casuals. to say "it wasn't close" shows me you're wrong.
 

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Rock surpassed Austin before he left, he was already tapping into pop culture and drew the most he ever did by that point. Rock was Wrestlemania XV, let that sink in, in media they wouldn't stop talking about him, that's why they smackdown was created for casuals. to say "it wasn't close" shows me you're wrong.
It's true that Rock was becoming mainstream but he did not truly surpass Austin in that front until the end of 1999, and ESPECIALLY not by Wrestlemania 15 lol. By that time Austin was already on TV Guide three separate times, had an article/cover feature in the NY Times and Rolling Stone magazine, on a ton of late night talk shows and was basically the face of wrestling as a whole. Not to mention his high ratings appearances on Nash Bridges and offers for movies on the table.

Smackdown was created to compete against WCW Thunder and wasn't even supposed to be "The Rock's show" despite being patterned off his catchphrase. They wanted to make it some WWF Diva special before dropping the plan, and the pilot's ratings weren't really that great (I think it did a 4.0). So any talk of Rock's catchphrase drawing more casual fans is proven to be untrue. Monday Night Raw was still the main show and Austin had an iron grip on it until fall of 99. As I said, it wasn't close until then.
 

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Regarding whether or not Rock was more popular in wrestling than Austin, it should be noted that Pro Wrestling Illustrated named Rock the Most Popular Wrestler Of The Year for 1999. Austin wrestled all year up until Survivor Series in November. I think by fall of 99, maybe even as early as summer that year, Rock started getting slightly bigger crowd reactions than Austin was.
 
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