#WWF254 – The Rock – The People’s Champion

Lee Maughan: Hosted by the Rock himself, which is a rather pleasant surprise when you’re expecting the likes of Michael Cole or Jonathan Coachman…
…But as if this tape somehow knew, we start with comments from who else, but Michael Cole. His wisdom is quickly followed by another of the WWF’s go-to talking heads, Steve Lombardi, offering up such platitudes as “What that Rock is, is the man that found the answer.” That’s for clearing that up, Brawler. Jerry Lawler at least offers up some actual insight into what makes the Rock so great; “He has it all. Good looking guy, great body, great wrestler, tremendous amount of charisma and as good as anybody ever has been on the microphone.” Hardcore Holly thinks: “If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have the crowds we have. I think he’s got the best promo in the business, bar none.” That’s a hell of a compliment, though you wonder if Steve Austin might have had something to say about such claims!

 

What follows next is highly amusing compendium of Rock’s greatest catchphrases, and I will say that, having watched this tape back-to-back with Austin vs. McMahon, the Rock certainly offers a lot more variety than ‘Stone Cold’ continually flipping the bird, threatening to whip someone’s ass and dropping authority figures with Stone Cold Stunners. Not that that’s a knock on Austin in any way, indeed it goes without saying that his act was a runaway success, but in terms of a profile tape, Rock’s material takes a lot longer to start wearing thin.
The action picks up in mid-1999, not exactly a banner year for wrestling in North America, with Rock challenging the Undertaker to defend the WWF Title against him at King of the Ring. Corporate Ministry leader Mr. McMahon agrees but only on the condition that Rock can win a special stipulation match on RAW, which turns out to be a triple threat match against the Undertaker and Triple H. A typically overbooked WWF main event sees Chyna accidentally trip Undertaker from the outside, in a repeat of the same miscommunication between Jeff Jarrett and the Road Dogg at In Your House 2 back in July 1995. Rock ends up pinning Triple H after Hunter and Undertaker get into a shoving match, but the impact is somewhat lessened when you consider that Undertaker had already verbally accepted the King of the Ring showdown before this convoluted mess was even booked.
To the King of the Ring then, where Rock gets a visual pin on the Undertaker while the referee is laid out. The rest of the highlights package on offer here makes the match look moderately exciting, but such is the magic of selective editing. For reference, Arnold Furious only scored the match at *¾ in The Complete WWF Video Guide, Vol. 4, and I’d be inclined to agree with him. Indeed, it’s actually much better viewed in the music video-lite format you get here.
Recycled weekend TV fluff crowbarred in next as Rock throws out the first pitch at a Pittsburgh Pirates game, promising to deliver either a “roody poo fastball” or a “candy ass curve.” He declares the pitch “electrifying” then buries the production crew for standing around playing pocket pool all day. This segment shouldn’t have been anywhere near as entertaining as it was but that’s the Rock for you. Much less charming is a sequence of nerdy fans doing rotten Rock impressions. Strictly fast forward material there.
Lawler heaps more praise on the Rock by saying he’s one of those special guys who can draw you into a match, and get you on the edge of your seat guessing who’s going to win, and those are the kind of matches he loves. No wonder the ‘King’ lost all interest once he started calling all those John “foregone conclusion” Cena matches!
On RAW, Rock beats Triple H in a cage match, though absolutely no context is provided as to why the match even happened, like it was just done for the sake of it. More than that, you can tell cage matches were becoming passé when the tired old “heel manager slams the cage door on the babyface’s head” spot gets used as a mid-match false finish rather than a way to set up a new feud, as it did the first time it was used on Christmas night, 1982 at Reunion Arena in Dallas, when Freebird Terry Gordy slammed the door on Kerry Von Erich’s head as Von Erich was just moments away from claiming Ric Flair’s NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
The tape the suddenly turns into a Saturday morning magazine show, complete with late 90s background dance music, as Rock drops a bunch of guys with the Rock Bottom and cuts in-ring promos with a bunch of local sporting celebrities. What a pointless little filler segment this was.
The Triple H-Rock issue rumbles on to Fully Loaded where interference from Billy Gunn gives Triple H victory in a very punchy-kicky strap match (awarded **½ in Volume 4). That puts Rock and Gunn on a collision course for SummerSlam but before that, Rock visits Miami to get his hair cut and buy some garish shirts, which was as thrilling to watch as I’m sure it is for you to read. The feud for Gunn was the WWF finally pulling the trigger on his long-awaited push to superstardom but he was clearly outmatched in every single department by the ‘Great One’. His poise, his timing, his ring work, his talking ability; Gunn was just completely out of his depth against a real main eventer, as their “Kiss My Ass” match (*¾ in Volume 4) only served to underline. It was to be Gunn’s first and only real flirtation with breaking into the headliner club.
Rock says that if you don’t want to be the WWF Champion and the absolute best you can be, then you shouldn’t be in the WWF, a philosophy worth applying to almost any aspect of life. Talk returns to Triple H and Rock threatens to shove the WWF Title belt up Hunter’s ass. He also suggests he’ll do the same with his $600 shoes. You see what I mean? Steve Austin never offered that sort of variety, especially when it came to anal discomfort. Rock and Hunter square off yet again on SmackDown! for the WWF Title with Shawn Michaels as the special guest referee, teeny weeny cycling shorts and all. ‘HBK’ blasts Rock with Sweet Chin Music as Rock goes for a People’s Elbow, setting up an all-time dream match that would sadly never come to be.
Rock heads back to Miami to hang out with the Hurricanes, where one awkward teen brags about hanging out in the “rain, sleet and snails, all for the Rock.” That’s not a typo either. I know wrestling fans are a weird bunch at the best of times, but snails?
Yes! With nothing better to do, the Rock joins forces with Mankind to form the outrageously entertaining Rock ‘N’ Sock Connection, dropping a double People’s Elbow for a tag team title victory over the Big Show and the Undertaker. That’s followed by months of Mankind stealing the Rock’s catchphrases and Rock growing increasingly frustrated with him until they drop the titles to the reunited New Age Outlaws.
Mankind’s method of apology is to organise a special edition of This is Your Life on RAW, a thoroughly ridiculous, entirely improvised 25-minute in-ring comedy that accomplished absolutely nothing yet was so charmingly wacky, it actually popped a colossal 8.4 television rating, an all-time record that still stood some 15 years later. Unfortunately, it was exactly those kind of numbers that served to fuel Vince Russo’s idea that fans cared more about dumb skits than actual wrestling, which missed the point entirely that they actually cared about well defined characters with strong personalities. Mankind brings out Rock’s old highschool sweetheart (with Lex Luger’s old Narcissist theme dubbed over the top) and Rock recounts a story of how she cut him off at second base before telling her to “poontang your ass on out of here!”
Mankind gifts Rock a specially made Ribera Steakhouse-style Rock N’ Sock Connection jacket and introduces the specially airbrushed “Mr. Rocko” before dedicating himself to the team, but miscommunication during a SmackDown! match with Val Venis leads to Rock blasting Mankind with a Rock Bottom before he “wipes his ass of this team” and promises his only partner from now on will be “the People”. He goes 2-on-1 against Bull Buchanan and the Big Bossman but Mankind makes the save when Rock finds himself in trouble.
Lawler talks about what a stroke of genius it was for Rock to only refer to himself in the third person, and the unique options that opened up for him on promos that nobody else was able to replicate. He talks about his philosophies as a heel commentator, nothing that “The Rock is like the only “quote” good guy that I can’t say anything bad about because I have to put over his sense of humour because I like it. I would really look like a complete idiot if I went out there and tried to say something bad about a guy that’s talking about poontang pie, it’s just too funny and it’s just too cool to not like. When he really started adding that element of humour, that’s when I thought that that was gonna push him right over the edge.”
As Mick Foley would later reveal, his idea behind the Rock ‘N’ Sock team had been twofold. Firstly, he openly admitted that his body was breaking down and had intended to retire in October 1999 until he found out that Steve Austin would be out of action for around a year with neck problems, and opted to stick around and lend a hand. The team with the Rock would be a way to have fun without having to do anything too physical. Secondly, he saw the team as a way to “soften” the Rock’s character, who was still acting selfish, stuck-up and arrogant despite now being cast as a babyface. Foley’s intended direction for the partnership was to have Rock begin to take a begrudging shine to Mankind, adding an element of compassion to his character. However, as the weeks and months passed, Rock’s character continued on without change, and Foley gave up on the whole idea. That leads to angle with Foley’s real-life pal Al Snow becoming jealous of Mankind’s relationship with the Rock, and growing increasingly annoyed with Rock’s constant dismissals of him. The leads to a cage match on SmackDown! which Snow wins. Not really; Rock kicks his ass, and that’s that.
Rock heads to Tower Books in New York to sign copies of his literary masterpiece The Rock Says…, where he talks about his life around the business. More content like this wouldn’t have gone amiss, or stories about the Rock as a child on the road with his wrestler father Rocky Johnson and promoter grandmother Lia Maivia. Sadly, it’s only mentioned in passing as the feature heads back in time to the night after St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, where a heel Rock asks Mr. McMahon “Who is this roody poo?” and does everything in his power to belittle the WWF’s newest signing, Paul Wight. It’s an entirely counterproductive interview, emasculating the giant right out of the gate, and that somehow leads to Rock and Big Show’s collision at the end of the 2000 Royal Rumble. Famously, they blow the ending, as they both go over the top together and Rock’s feet actually hit the deck first, meaning Big Show should have won. Usefully, the WWF was able to play that into a pre-WrestleMania angle with Big Show seeking his revenge. Unfortunately, it also helped justify the WWF’s decision to put Big Show (and Mick Foley) into the WrestleMania main event, a super-lame four-way along with Rock, Triple H and “a McMahon in every corner.” Yechh!

 

Verdict: As noted, 1999 wasn’t a banner year for the WWF, or for North American wrestling in general, and the same can be said for the Rock as he meanders around from filler feud to filler feud, rumbles with guys distinctly below his station, and catches up with his old nemesis Triple H. Again, like other profile tapes of the era, there’s a curious mix of work and shoot on offer from the talking heads, with Michael Cole in particular adding nothing of value, although SmackDown! announcing partner Jerry Lawler does offer up some interesting discussion by delving into his psychological mindset on why the character is so successful and how he opts to present that from the broadcast booth.

 

Sadly, much like many of the feuds covered on this tape, most of the material feels like filler. Rock is unquestionably an extremely charismatic man, but how many times does one need to sit through footage of his personal appearances and blubbery praise from the sort of wrestling fans whose on-screen presence is enough to make you wish you weren’t one? While these spots did serve to break up what otherwise might have been a monotonous collection of extended music videos recounting around seven months of Rock matches, it didn’t go unnoticed that they also served to drag this tape kicking and screaming to a 90-minute duration. Given the relatively brief time period covered and the lack of real insight into the man himself, this feature would have been served at no more than 60.
All in all however, this tape does come someway recommended if you were a major Rock fan at the time, as many were, and a DVD re-release comes with another 30-odd minutes of extras if you’re the sort of person who really can’t get enough of the guy, although many of them are simply extended versions of the same promos culled from the main feature.
Summary: 58

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