DAR Wrestling: The Rock's 2001-2002 WWE Run

By True God

Wrestlemania 17 ends. Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon are together as Austin holds up the WWF Championship after a long grueling match that saw him turn heel. The Rock has been defeated. The Rock soon leaves for Hollywood to film his movie, The Scorpion King. No one sees Rock on WWF TV for about 3 months. Then, out of the blue, shortly after the Invasion PPV and the shocking end result there, it is announced that The Rock will be returning to TV. The question was, which side would he be on? Would be on the side of the WWF? Or would he switch teams and join the WCW/ECW alliance? On that fateful end of July day on RAW, The Rock chose the WWF as his preferred company, and he went right into a feud with Booker T for the WCW Title. The reason was obvious. The WWF wanted Rock as the WCW Champion and Austin as the WWF Champion. The two biggest names in the game with the two biggest titles in wrestling made sense. Though I didn't like the way they did Booker T in the feud, it was clear what the motive was. The Rock vs Booker T had potential to be a legendary feud. Instead, the WWF decided to tack Shane McMahon onto the feud and it took away from what should been two promo kings going at it trying to get the best of one another. While Rock and Booker had some promos together, we never got to fully appreciate what each man brings to the table and the feud itself felt slightly hotshotted as well. Rock did win the WCW Title at Summerslam and a handicap match with Shane and Booker at Unforgiven, but one has to wonder what they could have done had they made Booker out to be a real threat and kept Shane on the sidelines of the feud. 

Two months into The Rock's return, now as WCW Champion, he begins a feud with Chris Jericho. This feud was intended to put Jericho over and turn him heel, while also showcasing that he could finally win the big one. While this feud was entertaining and featured several good matches, one thing I've always said is that the WWF misused Rock a lot during the latter half of 2001. Rock dropped the WCW Title at No Mercy to Jericho, eventually winning it back, but the best booking for him that year came during the lead up to Survivor Series 2001. The Jericho feud combined with the back and forth with Stone Cold leading into the mega Survivor Series match was intriguing, and once The Rock stood tall as the sole survivor of that match, it was clear who the top dog in the WWF was at the time. However, the booking AFTER Survivor Series would leave me a bit confused as a fan. As Jericho and Rock somehow continued their feud, intersecting with the Austin vs Angle feud that had Booker T on the outside of it, a huge chance to do something special was coming up. We would crown the first Undisputed Champion that would hold both the WWF and WCW Title, and the mini tournament that took place at Vengeance that year saw Angle, Rock, Austin, and Jericho settling their differences in two separate matches with the winners of both matches facing each other in the main event of the night. The unfortunate part is that WWF missed a big opportunity to make Rock vs Austin with both at the height of their popularity, at least for the time, and instead had Rock lose earlier in the night to Jericho before Jericho beat Austin to become the first Undisputed Champion. 

Shortly after Jericho's historical win, Rock gets another title shot at the Royal Rumble 2002. While Rock came up short in that particular match, it was becoming clear that he needed something big for Wrestlemania. Rock was losing momentum and with a feud against The Undertaker at the time leading into No Way Out, he needed a victory. Rock managed to escape with the win at No Way Out, however, he was left essentially with nothing left to do after the match. 

Enter the NWO

The confrontation that took place between Rock and Hulk Hogan was energetic and amazing, and it began a feud of essentially the NWO against Rock and Stone Cold. While many enjoyed the buildup and the feud, I often wonder what would have happened if roles had been reversed. The Rock vs Scott Hall and Stone Cold vs Hulk Hogan doesn't read as lucrative maybe? I disagree. Austin vs Hogan would have been a clash of the titans, but it would have been better off as the Yellow and Red Hulk vs Austin instead of the NWO version. Regardless, Rock vs Hogan was underway and the feud was huge for the company. These two icons clashing seemingly had many people excited and clamoring for what many felt was the match of the century. 

When the match occurred, the biggest thing that stood out about it was the crowd and how they took to Hogan. Rock played role of the heel essentially, and he did it well enough. However, when the bell rang, Rock would be victorious, adding yet another win under his belt. Following a match like that, it's not much else you could do to rival it in your career. Perhaps the quick success of The Rock in the WWF made him look to other avenues, but at this time, Hollywood began calling and he would answer. One would assume that Rock left for a few months to go film a movie in the spring of 2002, eventually returning at the King Of The Ring to start his next run in the WWE and it seemed like he had his eyes on the WWE Undisputed Champion, The Undertaker. This would lead to an excellent triple threat battle at the next Vengeance where Rock walked out as the winner and new WWE Champion... but not for long. 

Brock Lesnar was the next task on the list for Rock and unfortunately, Brock was like a freight train that couldn't be stopped. The beauty of Rock's success from 2001 to 2002 was that he had never met someone he couldn't defeat. He had bested Booker, bested Jericho, and even took down Taker and Hogan, but Brock proved to be the biggest challenge of this run. Brock was the reigning King Of The Ring and had a title shot ready for Summerslam. Could The Rock make short work of Brock? Or would The Next Big Thing dominate The Great One? We all know how this movie ends. Brock comes out as the winner at Summerslam in clear fashion and sends Rock off for another Hollywood role. The thing is, most of us knew Rock was going off to film another movie, but 20 years later, I don't think we would have guessed the impact that Rock would have on film, as well as on Hollywood. 

In many ways, this 2001-2002 run is the last real run for Rock. Some of the matches that I didn't give a ton of attention to, like his TV matches with Ric Flair and Eddie Guerrero seemed to be dream matches for him personally as he neared the end of the short yet eventful WWE career he had. While The Rock's best runs truly were in 1998 and 2000, that 2001-2002 run saw some of his best matches, entertaining segments and engaging feuds. While Rock vs Booker could have been better, Jericho vs Rock was an underrated feud that doesn't get mentioned enough and Rock vs Brock had a very fun buildup to it as well. Even in the last full run he had, Rock gave us great moments and cemented his legacy even further.



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