The Build: Steve Austin returned from a long sabbatical at No Way Out 2003, beating the hell of Eric Bischoff. Previously, he had been named Raw Superstar of the Decade in January at the Raw 10th Anniversary. The Rock took exception to this and challenge Austin to a match at Wrestlemania. Rock promised to do what he had never done before: Beat Steve Austin.
Of course, there was more to the story: Austin was done. Doctors had told him at this point his neck had deteriorated to the point where he would have to retire. This was to be his final wrestling match, although Austin kept that fact under wraps. Shame, but Austin was a low-key kind of guy. The night before Austin ended up in the hospital after what seems to have been a panic attack. I’ve heard the original plan was for Austin and Rock to go on last, but that was changed after Austin’s hospitalization due to fear that he wouldn’t be able to put on a main event level match.
Hollywood Rock really was the best Rock. The music, the entrance, the attitude. Austin goes for a Stunner right off the bell, but Rock blocks it and bails to the floor. Austin chases him out and they fight in the aisle. Jim Ross is going the extra mile putting this one over. He knows it’s Austin’s last match and he wants to give him the send-off he deserves.
Rock gets his first offense with a chop block. He follows up with another one and goes to work on Austin’s knee. Rock destroys Austin’s knee for the next couple minutes leading up to a Sharpshooter. Austin struggles to the ropes. Rock puts on Austin’s ring jacket for no reason other than the fact that it’s funny. Austin scores with the Lou Thesz Press and hammers Rock.
Austin stomps Rock in the corner and the odious “What?” chant begins. Rock taunts Austin after a Clothesline and gets hit with a Rock Bottom! Rock blocks a Stunner and then Stuns Austin. Stunner from Austin! Crowd goes wild. Even in a dome you can hear the noise.
Rock low blows Austin and sets up for the People’s Elbow, but Austin moves Rock blocks a Stunner, hits a Spinebuster, and connects with the People’s Elbow this time. Rock Bottom on Austin. That only gets two. Rock stalks Austin and hits him with another Rock Bottom. Somehow, that only gets two. Rock hits a third Rock Bottom, an absolutely massive one, and gets the pin.
Analysis: ****. I really like this match. It’s definitely elevated knowing that it’s Austin’s last match, so maybe that isn’t fair. But I love watching Austin fight like a champion here, but having it turn out that Rock is just better. At Wrestlemania 15 Austin was better. At Wrestlemania 17 he needed McMahon’s help. And this time Rock was unbeatable. Tremendous emotion.
Rock clears out to give Austin his moment. This is where it starts to become clear that something’s up, Austin’s getting a hero’s sendoff. Would have been nice for this to go on last, but I understand them being skittish about it with Austin’s health problems the night before.
The Aftermath: This was Steve Austin’s last wrestling match. The Rock stuck around to wrestle Goldberg at Backlash, then did a match at Wrestlemania 20, and then left wrestling for years until coming back to host Wrestlemania 27. Fans hoped for years that Austin would do a comeback match, but he either couldn’t do it or just didn’t want to.