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.
Those looking to break into the industry would do well to watch some older matches featuring Michaels and Jannetty feuding with larger opponents, as both men produced clinics as it pertains to working as babyfaces in peril. As great as they were together, Michaels eventually showed he needed to break-out as a singles worker. It’s ironic for the purposes of this piece, as the same could be said about the Rock.
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.
Rock quickly proved himself to be the most entertaining member of that faction, so the WWE made him the leader of the group as he developed his persona that became known as “The People’s Champion.” WWE turning Rock heel proved to be nothing short of genius, as his initial character change helped propel him up event cards and allowed him to become the “most electrifying man in sports-entertainment.” Would WWE have that kind of patience with Rock if he debuted in 2017? We’ll never know.
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.
D-X eventually became even bigger once Triple H took over as the faction’s leader, but that doesn’t change the fact the group never would have been as over had Michaels not built its foundation during the final year of his first stint in the WWE.
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.
Perhaps his best weapon on the front line of his war versus Stone Cold was none other than The Rock, who McMahon went on to call his “Corporate Champion.” Some of Rock’s best WWE work occurred during this particular run in his career, as his character became even more quotable and more entertaining than it was during his first heel turn. Rock unquestionably made Austin versus McMahon that much better.
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.
There have, over the years, been other championships won and lost in the WWE, but Michaels is noted as the first person to win every title available to him as of the fall of 1997. We have to assume Michaels likely would’ve added a run as the WWE’s Hardcore Champion had he remained healthy up through the start of the 2000s, as he was just that good of a wrestler. It’s possible Michaels could even win the Cruiserweight Belt today assuming he kept himself in great shape.
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.
Even though he never jumped ship and worked for the competition as did so many during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Rock is technically considered to be the last WCW Champion before the WWE retired and renamed that championship. We can only imagine what could have been had Rock signed for WCW in the late 90s.
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).
With that said, it's the WrestleMania showdown between the two that is remembered as being an instant classic that put Ladder Matches in front of audiences who never before witnessed such contests and that earned high praise from wrestling journalists. Unlike so many matches from years ago that don’t hold up decades after the fact, Michaels versus Ramon can be watched and admired by a current fan of the product who doesn’t know the history of that original bout.
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.
His Ladder Match versus Triple H at the 1998 edition of SummerSlam is one of the most entertaining encounters to ever occur at any of those Pay-Per-View events, and some may even believe this match is better than the one between Michaels and Ramon that is more famous and more well-known among casual followers of the product. What’s somewhat funny is that both Michaels and Rock lost these Ladder Matches, and yet the contests are remembered.
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.
Michaels bled, he took a ridiculous bump off the cage and he made Undertaker look like an unstoppable monster during the match that ended with Kane debuting and helping Michaels win. It’s crazy to think Michaels’ back injury that cost him years of his career happened during the casket match he had versus Undertaker months after this encounter, as he willingly sacrificed his body in several ways during this historic cell match.
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.
Rock hit Mankind with numerous unprotected chair shots to the head, so much so that somebody probably should have stepped in and reminded Rock wrestling is a work and the point is that nobody is supposed to suffer any type of noteworthy injury during a match. The two told a great story in and outside of the ring, but this match remains in our memories today as an example of what performers should never do.
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.
He nevertheless made the journey to the ring to do the job for Austin at WrestleMania, although one could see Michaels was visibly in pain throughout that encounter. The match wasn’t an instant classic that sticks out on either man’s resume, but Michaels still deserves high praise for taking bumps in his condition. Nobody called Michaels “Mr. WrestleMania” at the time, but he earned that nickname for doing all he did on this occasion.
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.
What’s particularly noteworthy about this achievement is that Rock lost the WWE Title and also his record of being the promotion’s youngest champion at SummerSlam 2002 when he was pinned by Brock Lesnar. In taking the loss on that night, Rock passed the torch to Lesnar and did what was best for business.
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.
During his second stint in the WWE, Michaels produced multiple classic matches with the likes of Triple H, Chris Jericho, Ric Flair and the Undertaker, and he was the top overall wrestler in the WWE from 2002 through 2010. Truth be told, we’re pretty sure Michaels could return to the ring and be the WWE’s best wrestler as of the spring of 2017, but HBK has made it clear to all who will listen that he's happily retired and isn’t planning on making a comeback to the ring.
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.
Rock returned in 2003 and eventually wrestled in what became Steve Austin’s retirement match, and he made a comeback in 2011 to spark a feud with John Cena that featured the two having matches at back-to-back WrestleMania cards. He even spent time as WWE Champion after he defeated CM Punk for the title in January 2013. Time and time again, Rock has happily repaid the WWE and the wrestling business, and he should be commended for always remembering where he came from and who he was before he became a Hollywood icon.
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.
He and Chris Jericho created a masterpiece at WrestleMania XIX, his match versus Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 21 was worthy of a five-star rating and all who watched his two ‘Mania encounters with the Undertaker won’t forget those jaw-dropping showdowns. Michaels was capable of having incredible matches any month of any year during his career, but it did seem like he saved his best for WrestleMania shows. They’ll never be another Mr. WrestleMania, and that alone is reason enough to say Michaels is the greatest of all time.
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..