Shawn Michaels and The Rock are undeniably two of the greatest performers to ever work underneath the World Wrestling Entertainment umbrella and in the professional wrestling industry, in general. Michaels, known as the “Heartbreak Kid,” produced some of the greatest matches in WWE history, earning the nickname “Mr. WrestleMania” and a reputation for being arguably the company’s best overall worker along the way. The Rock, meanwhile, became a mainstream star for his work in and away from the WWE, and he's now one of the top-paid movie stars in the world. In fact, the Rock has become so famous some younger fans may not even realize he was once a pro wrestler who feuded with the likes of Triple H, Kurt Angle and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
There is no one determining factor when evaluating who was better between Michaels and The Rock. Both men won just about every title they could win during their illustrious careers, and both carried the WWE on their backs in different ways. Perhaps the craziest thing about their runs in the company is that Michaels and Rock never worked a long-time program that ended with the two having a match at a WrestleMania show. Imagine how awesome it would’ve been to see a fully healthy Michaels put together a 30-minute classic with the Rock on the biggest wrestling stage of them all. Maybe, just maybe, the two would’ve been able to earn a rating of six stars from respected journalist Dave Meltzer. We can only dream.
16 Shawn Michaels: Tag Team Specialist
It’s easy to forget Shawn Michaels began his run in the WWE working alongside Marty Jannetty as part of the tag team The Rockers. Michaels and Jannetty became beloved babyfaces wrestling in multiple promotions, and they were one of the best tag teams of the early 1990s before the company turned Michaels heel and had him feud with Jannetty.
15 The Rock: The Nation
Rock debuted in WWE as Rocky Maivia, a smiling babyface meant to be a classic good guy. As remarkable as it is to think about years after the fact, Rock failed to get over with audiences around the country, so the WWE turned him heel and had him align with the Nation of Domination.
14 Shawn Michaels: D-Generation X
One of the greatest contributions Michaels ever made to the WWE and to the pro wrestling industry was forming D-Generation X along with Triple H and Chyna. The original trio headlined multiple WWE shows and events at a time when the company was involved in the “Monday Night Wars” fighting for its existence versus World Championship Wrestling, and Michaels established himself as one of the best heels in the business before a real-life back injury forced him away from the ring for roughly four years.
13 The Rock: Corporate Rock
WWE history teaches us that the feud between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon played a massive role in the company defeating and ultimately buying WCW. McMahon was not an active wrestler on the roster even if he did step inside of rings for matches every now and again, and, thus, he needed somebody to fight Austin for him.
12 Shawn Michaels: Grand Slam
Per articles on WWE.com, Michaels is regarded as the first official “Grand Slam” champion in the history of the promotion. He won the Tag Team Championship, the Intercontinental Title, the World Championship and also the retired European Championship during his first run in the WWE.
11 The Rock: WCW Champion
After the WWE purchased WCW in the spring of 2001, the company decided to allow the former promotion’s titles to exist up through November of that same year. Thus, the WCW World Championship was defended on WWE shows and Pay-Per-View events. It was only a matter of time before WWE awarded one of its own with the “big gold belt,” and that's exactly what happened when The Rock defeated Booker T at SummerSlam in 2001.
10 Shawn Michaels: Ladder Match
The WrestleManix X ladder match between Michaels and Razor Ramon was not the first of its kind to occur inside a WWE ring. Some out there may even claim the Ladder Match the two had at SummerSlam 1995 was better than their original encounter (aside from the botched finish).
9 The Rock: Ladder Match
It sometimes felt as if some wrestling fans took Rock for granted during his time in the WWE. He was, after all, seemingly effortlessly good at every aspect of the business. Because of this, we sometimes forget how great an in-ring worker Rock was during his physical prime.
8 Shawn Michaels: HIAC
The WWE was a much different company 20 years ago in that the promotion did not protect performers as it does today. That’s one reason why Michaels took a legitimate beating during that famous Hell in a Cell match versus the Undertaker, the first WWE cell match of its kind that may be Michaels’ best overall bout during his first run in the company.
7 The Rock: I Quit
The WWE deserves credit for working to ensure the safety of wrestlers, as its important those running the company learn from mistakes made in the past. It’s possible Rock’s most important match as it pertains to teaching future wrestlers occurred at the 1999 Royal Rumble when he and Mankind battled in an “I Quit” encounter that is difficult to watch knowing all we know today.
6 Shawn Michaels: WrestleMania XIV
Michaels’ performance at WrestleMania XIV when he faced Steve Austin was nothing short of heroic considering the circumstances. While he was serving as the promotion’s champion at the time, Michaels suffered a serious back injury in January 1998 that ultimately caused him to retire as an active in-ring worker for four years.
5 The Rock: Youngest Champion At One Point
The Rock may not have been a superstar beloved by millions -- and millions -- during the very early days of his career, but it was clear from the first time he stepped foot in front of WWE audiences he had the goods required to become a top-tier worker. It’s no surprise the WWE trusted Rock to carry the figurative ball and serve as the youngest Intercontinental Champion and the youngest WWE Champion when he first won those titles.
4 Shawn Michaels: Second Run
Michaels would have been worthy of earning spots in wrestling Halls Of Fame had he never returned to the ring following 1998, as he truly was that special a worker during his first run in the WWE. It’s incredible Michaels was even better of an overall performer once he rejoined the active roster in the summer of 2002.
3 The Rock: Loyalty
The Rock not only never left the WWE to join up with WCW, Total Nonstop Action/Impact Wrestling or any other promotion for that matter. He repeatedly returned to help the company long after he had proven he no longer needed the wrestling business to make money and acquire gigs away from the WWE.
2 Shawn Michaels: Mr. WrestleMania
Nobody, not Hulk Hogan or Undertaker or Steve Austin or even the Rock, has the WrestleMania resume possessed by Shawn Michaels. Michaels worked with some of the best performers in WWE history at WrestleMania events, and he often stole the show even when he wasn’t headlining a card.
1 The Rock: Mainstream Popularity
When all is said and done decades down the road, it’s very possible Rock will be the most famous pro wrestling persona in the history of the industry, a mainstream star even bigger than Hulk Hogan. Rock is currently the highest paid actor in the world according to a story released by Forbes in August 2016, and he's a proven box-office draw who can star in action movies and also in family comedies.
Plenty of journalists, observers and fans would likely say Michaels was a better in-ring worker than the Rock, but there’s no question Rock moves the needle and is more famous than HBK will ever be at any point. The Rock may be even bigger than the WWE, which could lead you to believe he and not Michaels is the true G.O.A.T..
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