The final match between The Rock and Steve Austin took place at WrestleMania 19 and Jim Ross has explained why it had to take place at that show.
During the very successful WWE Attitude Era, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock were arguably the two biggest stars of that. Their runs at the top didn’t even last that long compared to some other main eventers, but it was such a great time for the time that their legacies are everlasting.
At WrestleMania 15 in 1999, The Rock walked into the show as the heel WWE World Champion while Austin was the challenger. Austin picked up the win and Rock would become a top babyface soon after that.
Two years later at WrestleMania 17 in 2001, which is highly regarded as the best WWE show of all time, The Rock defended the WWE Title against the 2001 Royal Rumble winner Austin again. Austin went into the matching saying he “needed” to win, which is why he got some help from his old rival Vince McMahon to destroy The Rock with a steel chair. Austin turned heel to beat The Rock in a match that most people would consider the best Austin-Rock match as well as one of the greatest WrestleMania main events of all time.
In 2003 at WrestleMania 19, WWE went back to Rock and Austin. At the time, Rock was doing a Hollywood heel character while Austin was hot as a babyface after missing the second half of 2022 due to a dispute with WWE’s creative team. Fans watching at home didn’t know it, but it would also be Austin’s retirement match due to neck and knee issues. Austin was 38 years old at the time and had planned on wrestling a few more years, but his body wouldn’t allow it.
On a recent episode of his Grilling JR podcast covering Goldberg’s WWE debut in 2003, Jim Ross explained why Rock-Austin had to happen at WrestleMania. Ross is a former WWE announcer and head of Talent Relations that is very close to both men. JR explained to his co-host Conrad Thompson that Austin beat Rock twice at WrestleMania in the past, so the story was all about whether Rock could beat Austin this time around while adding that it was the only option for those two at WrestleMania 19.
“There was only one option, Conrad. I guess it is a case where we’re overthinking it. In all due respect, Austin owed Rock a win, and he was hell-bent on delivering it. That’s old school way of looking at it. Austin had won two WrestleMania matches with you know, 15 and 17 and he felt like he owed Rock that return. Because number one, Steve’s health was deteriorating, as we all know, it is well documented. And you know, the night before that he had his health calamity.”
“So we were, there’s no other match that we thought about doing. What are you going to do with so and so? Well, we know that Rock is gonna wrestle Austin, period. And Rock is going to get put over, was going to be getting his hand raised finally. So no, there was never any debate or discretion on who is who is going to be in that. The only tweak that was made based on Steve’s hospital stay the night before. You know, who’s gonna go on last?”
As JR continued, he explained why WWE decided to put the Brock Lesnar-Kurt Angle match in the main event for the WWE Title.
“Yeah, out of safety sake and precautions. We decided to put Kurt and Brock on last, because they seem to be the healthiest guys. And so yeah, it was Austin all the way. That’s what the audience wanted to see. You know, we could do Austin win three, could Rock win one, that story.”
While talking about The Rock’s victory over Steve Austin, JR explained why it was a difficult match for him to call due to what he knew about Austin’s health.
“Those guys delivered a hell of a match and, and it was hard. It’s probably the hardest match I ever called because of my closeness with Steve and my friendship with him, to know that this was his last match. And he’s not one of those bullsh*t guys that’s gonna say, well, he’s gonna, I want to, I’m gonna unretire.”
“I just I don’t know, just he’s just a different guy. When he said it was his last match and he told me that, then it was troubling because I did want to see the company without him, without Steve, because he was so valuable to what we were doing and what we had done what we had built.”
“There’s no way in the world in my opinion now Conrad, and I might be wrong. There’s no way that I would think that the WWE would have gone public with such fanfare as success if Stone Cold had not been Stone Cold.”
Earlier this year at WrestleMania 38, Austin had his first match since WrestleMania 19 when he defeated Kevin Owens in the night one main event.
Austin and Rock are both rumored to be in matches at WrestleMania 39 next April although the participation of both men is not confirmed at this time.