You cannot evaluate The Rock with the standard ‘work rate’ rubric.
Even at his peak, he wasn’t the type of wrestler who gave you a string of marble-smooth counters. His move set was not great and varied treasure trove. He will never make any ‘best technical wrestler’ list.
The Rock’s in-ring magic instead came from the intangible. He injected every match with electricity, drama, emotion. With just a flurry of right hands, he could absolutely ignite a crowd.
His otherworldly charisma and powerhouse mic skills get the bulk of the attention when we look back at his wrestling career, but you can’t discount what he did between the ropes. The year he had in 2000 is proof positive of that.
Yes, The Rock delivered an all-timer at WrestleMania X-8 (2002) opposite Hulk Hogan, and he and Steve Austin killed it at the WrestleMania prior. But The Brahma Bull was never more consistent, more clutch bell to bell than he was in 2000.
It was a year spent overcoming. The McMahons banded together to hinder him. The Rock often had to battle his opponent plus Vince McMahon, a crooked referee and/or The Stooges, with the odds always seemingly hopeless.
The Rock, though, always found a way to fight through the interference and injustice. He was the valiant hero pushing through obstacles one Rock Bottom at a time.
That series of uphill climbs captivated. The Rock had some of his finest matches ever and hit the high notes of one of his best rivalries. That showed in his placement in wrestling’s annual awards.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated named him Wrestler of the Year in 2000. The Rock also finished third in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Chris Harrington) Wrestler of the Year race while he and Triple H nabbed second place for the Feud of the Year award.
To see how The Great One scored those accolades, we have to head back to the heart of the Attitude Era and relive his battles with Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, and the sneering, scheming Triple H.
The Rock vs. Chris Benoit (Raw)
The Rock began the year in pursuit of the WWE Championship and Triple H, the man who held that prized gold and leather belt.
And despite winning the Royal Rumble, his path to that crown would be a long, arduous one. To start, Big Show disputed that Rumble victory as he argued The Rock’s feet hit the floor first. The two battled for weeks to decide the true No. 1 contender, a title Big Show yanked from him at No Way Out.
Soon, The Rock found himself with no guaranteed spot at WrestleMania, tangling with Benoit inside a steel cage as Big Show, Shane McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, and Triple H lurked outside the steel.
The match was powered by a fast pace early on as the two foes traded big blows. The Rock and Benoit’s underrated chemistry was on display. The Rock was desperate and fiery, trying to punch his way to a win. Benoit responded with a headbutt-heavy, methodical offense.
Every time The Rock even thought about climbing out of the cage, he would see his enemies waiting for him with steel chairs and bad intentions.
It’s a tame bout in terms of how the cage is used, but it built well to a dramatic end. The Rock shoved Triple H onto Big Show to give himself just enough time to escape.
The Rock vs. Triple H (Backlash)
Vince McMahon (who supposed to be in The Great One’s corner) rattled The Rock’s skull with chair shots at WrestleMania, a betrayal that allowed Triple H to escape as champion. Weeks later, when The Rock and Chris Jericho teamed against Benoit and Triple H on Raw, another unjust defeat came his way thanks to a low blow from Vince’s loafers.
Another disheartening loss seemed certain when The Rock challenged Triple H at Backlash.
Shane refereed the match. Stephanie and Vince prowled at ringside. The Stooges stomped on The Rock mid-bout.
This could have easily been an overbooked mess, but The Rock as the overwhelmed warrior clicked. Beaten and worn down, in a battle where the crooked ref wouldn’t count for him, he was the ultimate babyface, making us believe and care and pull for him in a contest with big spots aplenty.
Justin Henry of What Culture aptly wrote of it, “It’s an audience match, moving from spectacle to spectacle at breakneck speed.” A Rock Bottom to both Triple H and Shane on the announce desk was one of those spectacles.
Steve Austin charging out to save his old rival has become what many remember most of this match, but the action leading to that thrilled; a story that hit its many beats at just the right time.
The Rock vs. Triple H (Judgment Day)
Things did not get easier once The Rock was the world champ.
The McMahon-Helmsley Faction did everything it could to rip that belt from him. The Rock fought in Handicap matches, had referee Earl Hebner as his tag team partner one night, and constantly had biased referees in control of that action.
That last point was true once more at Judgment Day when Triple H’s longtime friend Shawn Michaels reffed their 60-Minute Iron Man match.
The Rock and The Game began things nose to nose, with an intensity between them that proved magnetic. A long, up-and-down (and admittedly sometimes slow) match followed.
Early on, The Rock focused on his foe’s left knee, showing off moves we don’t normally see from him like the figure-four leglock. Triple H responded with a whole bag of heel tricks from a steel chair shot to putting his feet on the ropes for extra leverage.
Before long, The Rock found himself behind, first 1-3, then 3-5. His furious run to the finish line to catch up was gripping. Waves of intruders played their part in a wild bout that, as Kevin Pantoja wrote for 411 Mania, featured “tremendous storytelling, excellently laid out.”
The Rock ended the night heartbroken, the champion no longer.
The Rock vs. Chris Benoit (Fully Loaded)
The sentence “The Rock pinned Vince McMahon to win Triple H’s title in a six-man tag at King of the Ring” sums up how convoluted WWE’s booking got during this era.
After emerging from that PPV champion again, The Rock soon found himself face to face with a dangerous challenger in Benoit. A disqualification would cost him the world title thanks to an added stipulation.
The championship bout was one of The Rock’s more intense showdowns. He and Benoit brawled atop a blood-soaked canvas and battled in the stands.
Clotheslines, the WWE championship, steel chairs, and a fan’s beer all served as weapons in the tense fight.
Shane McMahon did his best to interfere on Benoit’s behalf, but The Rock fought him off. The Crippler grinded The Rock down, focusing on his back, nailing him with pinpoint stomps again and again.
The Rock appeared to lose the title by disqualification at one point, but Commissioner Mick Foley restarted the match. That allowed The Great One, his face smeared with blood and sweat, to hit a Rock Bottom for a three-count.
The Rock vs. Kurt Angle (No Mercy)
The weeks and months ahead saw The Rock take on a whirlwind of challenges. He fended off Triple H and Angle at SummerSlam before defending against Kane, Christian and Kane at the same time, Val Venis, others.
At No Mercy, a No Disqualification match against an Olympian awaited. A love triangle between Angle, Triple H, and Stephanie McMahon bled into the bout, furthering The Rock’s theme of overcoming adversaries from all angles.
The Rock vs. Angle morphed into a walk-and-brawl early. The men made good use of the PPV set, hurling each other into their surroundings.
It’s a busily booked match with ref distractions, a Rikishi appearance, and soap opera-style melodrama. Even so, the intensity and chemistry between champion and challenger resonates. When up against a master technician like Angle or Benoit, The Rock’s ring work, not surprisingly, blossomed.
After a number of incredible near falls and a bloody Rikishi’s failed attempt to help The Rock, Angle hit an Olympic Slam for the win.
The Rock would not hold the world title again in 2000. He spent the final months of the year in chase mode, vying for the No. 1 contender’s spot and battling in chaotic title bouts.
The Rock vs. Steve Austin vs. Rikishi vs. Undertaker vs. Triple H vs Kurt Angle (Armageddon)
Before these six men stepped inside the Hell in a Cell and wrecked their bodies in the name of entertainment, The Rock famously mocked his opponents in a backstage promo.
That barrage of insults often gets more attention than his contribution to the bout itself. That’s in part because The Rock did his work that night on a crowded stage, a stage that gave the haunting, unforgettable image of Rikishi falling backwards off the cage.
The Brahma Bull contributed plenty to this car-crash classic, though.
A bloodied Rock fed off the chemistry of his archrivals Austin and Triple H. He thrived in the brawl, whether he was chasing down Rikishi or howling in pain after getting thrown into the junkyard cards parked at ringside. He was also thrown onto cars outside the cell, chasing Rikishi for most of it.
Angle survived that ultimate challenge in Birmingham. The Rock, meanwhile, would not reach the climax of his championship quest until February the next year when he won the WWE Championship back from Angle.
Over the next few years, The Rock’s role in WWE shifted. His workload in the ring lessened as he slid into a part-time spot. Hollywood was calling and wrestling couldn’t contain his stardom.
Even when he grew into a blockbuster action star, though, he remains tethered to the wrestling world, making appearances on WrestleMania, and wrestling for short stretches.
His best film role may be yet to come, but we have already seen his best year-long stretch in the squared circle, when he was the gritty, determined babyface in 150-plus matches, when the McMahons struggled to keep a good man down.
Be sure to check out previous editions of the Year of Years series: