One of the never-ending debates featured in pro wrestling will always be who is the greatest wrestler of all-time? Fans of multiple generations will always have their favorites, but two names often stand out in the conversation. You cannot discuss the GOAT of the WWE without bringing up Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.
Both Superstars helped lead the WWE during the Attitude Era in their own unique way and their impact on the business can still be felt today. Even with all of the accolades, great WrestleMania feuds, and multiple championships, in the end, neither The Rock or Austin could be considered the GOAT. There are many factors that go into this and breaking them down will give you a better picture of the landscape in the WWE and fully explain how each Superstar falls short of being the ultimate choice.
Read through each entry and decide whether you agree, disagree, or have someone else in mind for the greatest wrestler of all-time. It will often be debated, new Superstars can try to fill that space and the ever-changing world of pro wrestling will always be filled with these passionate opinions.
20. Longevity in the Business
One of the biggest factors going against The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin is their lack of longevity in the business. The Attitude Era was one of the most popular times in the WWE, but it was merely a blip on the radar when compared with the rest of the company history. Stone Cold Steve Austin debuted in the WWE in 1996. His last official match took place in 2003. That's less than ten years as a full-time performer with multiple breaks between his time in the WWE.
The Rock’s journey in the company was similar as he also debuted in 1996 and ended his full-time career in 2003. The Rock has come back in recent years, wrestling Superstars like John Cena and CM Punk, but it was all on a part-time basis.
19 Austin’s Missed Opportunities
To be considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time, you have to compete with some of the best in the ring. Austin has had memorable feuds with Shawn Michaels, The Rock, Triple H, and The Undertaker, but there were also too many missed opportunities that could have propelled him to the top of the list.
Back in 2002 and 2003, Austin could have had matches with Hulk Hogan, Bill Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar among others. He skipped out on all of those opportunities, effectively denying fans of many dream matches that have been talked about for years. If Austin wrestled in just one of those headlining matches, then we could be having a different discussion.
18 The Rock Walked Out On the Business
The Rock may be friendly with the WWE now, but fans cannot forget that he chose to walk out on the business. The Rock didn’t chose to do movies on the side and still come back for matches. He completely abandoned the WWE for several years, making very brief video appearances only a handful of times after his departure.
It’s obviously all worked out for The Rock as he's one of the most successful names in Hollywood, but it definitely taints his ability to be called the greatest of all-time when he turned his back on the business. There are many other wrestlers who spent years with different companies, stayed dedicated to the business, and performed incredible matches every single night. It's stars like that who rise up on the GOAT list.
17 The Rock’s Championship History
The Rock has the honor of being an eight-time WWE Champion, but when you break down those accolades, it's not as impressive as it seems. One of the more shady periods saw the flip-flopping of the WWE Title during his feud with Mick Foley. In a matter of just a few weeks, The Rock and Mankind traded the title back and forth in a variety of matches including an Empty Arena Match, I Quit Match and a Ladder Match.
The Rock's last WWE Title run came when he was a part-time performer and looking for a way to expand on his feud with John Cena. It was a short-lived reign that looked more like a vanity reign than an actual championship run. In all, The Rock only one of his reigns last for more than 100 days.
16 Austin Walked Out On The Business
One of the most controversial parts of Stone Cold's career was the time that he walked out on the WWE. As one of the top members of the WWE Raw roster, Austin really screwed the fans over when he decided to just leave without any notice. Austin was apparently upset with the creative direction of the WWE and made a decision that would leave him off of WWE programming for several months.
The time that he missed was a huge insult to the wrestling world and really tainted his legacy. His career was not the same after this moment and, despite still enjoying big fan reactions, he didn't wrestle for much longer after leaving. It really tarnished the end of his career and took away from a lot of potential new feuds with rising stars like John Cena.
15 Austin’s Criminal Past
The line between real life and what happens on-screen is often blurred. In Austin's case, it doesn't matter how good he was in the ring, there's no denying he had a lot of controversy in his past. During his time in the WWE, Austin was married to former WWE Diva Debra. One night, things got a little out of hand and Austin physically assaulted her. He was arrested for the incident and the WWE tried to sweep it under the rug.
Even though Austin has changed and regrets his actions, it's hard to celebrate someone as the greatest of all-time when they committed such a horrific act in the past. Personal actions do have a direct impact on their career and legacy.
14 Part-Time Rocky
It seemed like there was a point that The Rock's full name was actually, The Rock Via Satellite. Rock spent years away from the WWE, slowly transitioned to his real name, Dwayne Johnson. This left many fans with a bitter taste, leading to mixed reactions when he would return.
When The Rock did return to the ring, he took a lot of time away from the new stars. Each new return had to be celebrated and over-hyped on the air. Part-time performers can become really annoying. There are plenty of other Superstars who have spent their whole lives dedicated to the business and everything that is associated with it, like Ric Flair and Sting, who maybe should be higher on the list for the GOAT in wrestling.
13 The Rock’s Missed Opportunities
The Rock has taken on a lot of greats during his time in the WWE. This includes an early-career match against Bret Hart, multiple matches against Hulk Hogan, and two WrestleMania main events against John Cena. The Rock has still missed the boat with a lot of great potential battles.
One of the biggest matches that The Rock missed out was a fight against Mr. WrestleMania himself, Shawn Michaels. Rumors swirled for years that The Rock and Michaels would go one-on-one in the ring, but what fans have mostly heard was the blame game. A WrestleMania match between The Rock and Michaels would have been an instant classic that propelled both stars to the top two options in the GOAT category.
12 Austin’s Limited Moveset
People love to complain about John Cena's Five Moves of Doom, but there are a lot of top WWE Superstars that have the same type of pattern. Austin was a brawler in the ring, using a lot of aggressive moves, punches, and clotheslines.
He rarely went on the top rope, didn't really use submission moves, and did not have the most versatile move-set. Luckily for Austin, his charisma could carry him through a match, but he was never the most dynamic when it came to moves. Two of his signature moves were the Stone Cold Stunner and his Lou Thesz Press followed by punches. Those moves are still great to watch, but are not very technical compared to his earlier days.
11 The Hulk Hogan Factor
The greatest wrestler of all-time should be someone who had a tremendous impact on the business, had crazy success in pro wrestling, and was able to entertain through multiple generations. Anyone that brings up The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin will often be countered with the legendary wrestler known as Hulk Hogan.
Whether you love him or hate him, statistics don't lie and Hogan has undergone a career that many wrestlers dream about. He headlined more WrestleManias than The Rock and Austin, won multiple titles, and was a locker room leader in both the WWE and WCW. It may hard to pick either Austin or The Rock when Hulk Hogan is always in the conversation. Hogan also wrestled many more years than Austin and The Rock, giving him a lot more experience and ring time.
10 The Undertaker’s Streak
One of the more important factors in choosing the GOAT in pro wrestling is WrestleMania performance. WrestleMania is the biggest stage of them all. Superstars like Macho Man Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Triple H, and John Cena have excelled at the event. Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock have had plenty of memorable WrestleMania moments of their own, but nothing can compare to The Undertaker and his Streak.
Not only did The Undertaker go undefeated at WrestleMania for more than twenty years, but he's endured several successes outside of the event. A WWE Legend, The Undertaker has been involved in Casket matches, Hell in a Cell matches, and Buried Alive matches. When looking at careers, The Undertaker easily ellipses both The Rock and Steve Austin, just with his WrestleMania streak alone.
9 Austin’s Championship History
One of Stone Cold Steve Austin's greatest WWE moments came when he defeated Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV and won his first WWE Title. He would go on to win the title five more times, with one of them being just one night after losing it to Kane in a First Blood match.
His first World Championship was won in 1998. His last was won in 2001. This is a short period of time where Austin reigned at the top. Superstars like Chris Jericho, John Cena, Kurt Angle, and Triple H were in the World Title picture for way longer than this. Austin's time at the top breezed by too fast and he doesn't have enough reigns under his belt to be considered the greatest ever.
8 The Rock’s Big Losses
The Rock has beaten a lot of the greats including Stone Cold Steve Austin, John Cena, and The Undertaker. The unfortunate thing for The Rock is that he's had some big losses in the ring. Despite defeating John Cena at WrestleMania, Cena gained that win back one year later with the World Championship on the line. The Rock also had a huge loss against Brock Lesnar at the 2002 SummerSlam Pay-Per-View. When Goldberg debuted, he made short work of The Rock, easily defeating him at the 2003 Backlash PPV event.
All of those losses may have hindered The Rock from being considered, The Greatest One. Some fans may look at those performances and not the outcomes, but he's also has lost at four huge WrestleMania main events which isn't really GOAT status.
7 Austin’s Injuries
One of the biggest impacts on Austin's short career in the WWE was his nagging neck injuries. After a botched pile driver from Owen Hart, Austin never truly recovered and dealt with a lot of problems for the rest of his run in the WWE.
At the 2000 Survivor Series, Austin was written off TV as a mystery car ran him down. After this incident, Austin spent nearly a year recovering from his injury and training to return to the ring. This represents a huge gap in his career and one that took a while to come back from. Nagging injuries further forced him to retire young and focus more on acting than wrestling in the ring. If Austin had two or three more good years of wrestling, then the topic of the GOAT would be completely different.
6 The Ric Flair Factor
Another wrestler you have to consider for the GOAT is Ric Flair. The WWE and Ric Flair himself loves to tout his 16 World Championships, but Ric Flair's career was a lot more than just winning gold. Flair helped pioneer WCW and developed a name for himself outside of the WWE. He embarked in amazing feuds, great in-ring moments, and delivered an incredible retirement tour during his final year of active wrestling in the WWE.
Many other Superstars would name Ric Flair as their favorite Superstar and for good reason. He's excellent in the ring, a great worker on the mic, and was a founding member of The Four Horsemen, perhaps the greatest stable ever (talent wise). Flair has spent his whole life in the business and continues to be a mentor for stars today.
5 Austin’s Refusal To Put Others Over
Stone Cold Steve Austin earned the right to be at the top of the WWE roster. Instead of giving back to the business, Austin had several selfish moments where he let his ego get the best of him. One of the biggest examples of this came with his dispute over Brock Lesnar.
Brock Lesnar was dubbed The Next Big Thing when he debuted in the WWE. As Lesnar was dominating the WWE roster, he was scheduled to start a brief feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin refused to let Lesnar win and walked out on the company. Eventually, Lesnar destroyed Hulk Hogan instead, making Austin look bad in the process.
4 Lack of Stipulation Matches
Both Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock are great in-ring performers, but they did not venture out of their comfort zone very often. The stars would use chairs and battle it out in No Holds Barred matches, but didn't really expand beyond that. Other than the crowded Armageddon Hell in a Cell match, neither man wrestled one-on-one inside of a cell and both only wrestled in a handful of ladder matches.
On the other hand, Superstars like Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and John Cena have participated in TLC matches, Hell in a Cell matches, Elimination Chamber matches, and a variety of other crazy battles. Each of those stars also have spent a lot of time building up newer stars and giving them a chance to shine on the main roster.
3 Fantasy Match-Ups
There are a number of Austin and Rock matches that we'll never see. In an effort to emulate them, many WWE fans and official pages have created their own Fantasy Warfare matches. This includes Austin versus Goldberg, The Rock versus Sting, and Austin versus Hulk Hogan. In a majority of these match-ups, it's the other wrestler that ends up coming out on top.
These fantasy matches are often created for fun, but they can also represent a true ranking of how wrestlers fall on a GOAT list according to fans. Austin and The Rock have a lot of potential, but not enough to quite make it to the top of the list. Simulations have also been done in multiple WWE video games that showcase The Rock and Austin losing in big matches, though we'll give less stock to those.
2 Austin’s Shady Royal Rumble Record
One of the best accolades on Austin's WWE resume is his impressive Royal Rumble record. Austin has officially won three Royal Rumble matches. While this is great, his first Rumble win has a lot of controversy surrounding it. During the end of the match, Austin was actually eliminated. The referees didn't see the elimination and Austin entered the ring again. He ended up being the last man standing and was declared the winner.
Even though that win was tainted, Austin went on to win the following year and again in 2001. His second two wins were legitimate, but only two wins puts him on the same level as other wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Batista, and John Cena.
1 The John Cena Factor
Many older fans may hate this argument, but John Cena should be considered the GOAT over both The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. John Cena has spent more time in the WWE than Austin and The Rock. He's headlined more WrestleMania matches and delivered in other years when he wasn't in the main event.
John Cena's impressive WWE Title record also stands out. Cena has won 16 World Championships and numerous other titles including the US Title and Tag Team Championship. Even more impressive than the number of championships that Cena has is the fact that one of his title reigns actually lasted for 380 days. There's no denying the crazy career that Cena has enjoyed and continues to have in the WWE.