The Attitude Era was unlike any other for the style of content and star power associated with it. Most eras boast one true face of the company, like Hulk Hogan in the Golden Era or John Cena in the PG Era. The Attitude Era lucked out by having arguably the two biggest names in the industry’s history, Steve Austin and The Rock, at the same time.
Austin delivered a special career, which will make him a beloved figure who will be respected in the wrestling world forever. Meanwhile, The Rock's fame continues to grow, thanks to his stellar acting career. Who was the best? Make your own choice, as we break down five reasons each for Steve Austin and The Rock to be considered the best wrestler of the Attitude Era.
10 Steve Austin: Rivalry with Bret Hart
The huge storyline that made Steve Austin a main eventer saw him facing off with Bret Hart. Both wrestlers brought a strong work ethic to every match that allowed them to make magic in the ring. The matches at Survivor Series 1996 and WrestleMania 13 made Austin a star in the new era.
Austin’s matches with Hart were on a level that Rock didn’t necessarily meet with one of his rivals. We have no idea how Rock would have done in a real storyline with Hart, as Bret left WWE before Rock broke out as a bigger star.
9 The Rock: Put over more stars
The Rock was known for putting over younger stars. Unlike the other names to have that top spot, Rock didn’t shy away from taking clean losses. Kurt Angle beat Rock to win his first WWE Championship in shocking fashion.
Chris Jericho also benefited from working with Rock, as they feuded for the WCW Championship. Jericho's momentum would make him a top star by the time the Attitude Era ended. Rock knew how to ensure his opponents looked great in every match.
8 Steve Austin: Organic rise
One major difference between the success stories of Steve Austin and The Rock is that WWE never expected Austin to become such a top star when signing him. Expectations for Rock were that he would eventually become a world champion, but Austin did not have that hype.
The rise of Austin was unexpected and it was a shock when he won the King of the Ring tournament in 1996. Fans started falling in love with Austin's work as he entered the feud with Bret Hart. Austin helped prove that wrestlers could break the glass ceiling if given the chance to succeed.
7 The Rock: Run in the Nation of Domination
The Rock contributed to the Attitude Era in a few different ways before becoming a main eventer. A heel turn saved his career after a poor start with a generic face character. Rock joining the Nation of Domination allowed him to showcase his natural charisma.
This chapter of Rock’s career turned the tide, making him a major superstar. Rock surprised everyone by becoming so popular that he replaced Ron Simmons as the leader of the group. His career continued at a lightning pace as he took off to new heights.
6 Steve Austin: More intense in-ring performer
The intensity of Steve Austin set him apart from everyone else on the roster. Austin’s matches were different, in the sense that they felt like a real fight. Matches against Mick Foley, The Undertaker and Triple H showed just how violent Austin could be.
Rock often tapped into that side, but Austin pulled it off at another level that set him apart in that category. Fans related to Austin’s character and enjoyed seeing him take it to new places by bringing his intensity to all promos and matches.
5 The Rock: More catchphrases
Most fans would agree that The Rock was the best talker in WWE history. Rock felt extremely comfortable with a microphone once he broke out as a top star. Regardless of whether he was performing the face or heel role, Rock always knew how to entertain the audience with his style of comedy.
Legendary catchphrases like “know your role and shut your mouth” or “The Rock says” would lead to the fans singing along to his promos. His ability to get anything over on the microphone made him an iconic, charismatic performer.
4 Steve Austin: Feud with Mr. McMahon
Fans started tuning into WWE in record-breaking numbers to see Steve Austin feud with Vince McMahon. The heel character of Mr. McMahon gave Austin the perfect foe: a heel authority figure trying to hold him down.
Austin made McMahon’s life difficult (and vice versa) due to their opposing viewpoints. The storyline helped WWE take control of the ratings war and never turn back. McMahon always looked like a fool at Austin’s expense and the crowd couldn't get enough of the action.
3 The Rock: A-Lister as both face and heel
The Rock worked effectively as both a face and heel throughout his run in the Attitude Era. WWE fans found out how great Rock was as a heel during his runs as leader of the Nation of Domination (and The Corporation when he reached the main event stage).
Rock excelled as a face as well, thanks to the charismatic side of his promos giving him a likeable persona. His run in the year 2000 saw him captivate the audience as the top overall face in WWE. Few could have pulled off both roles as effectively as The Great One.
2 Steve Austin: Became the top star when Monday Night War was still competitive
WWE badly needed Steve Austin when he became the face of the company. WCW was dominating the ratings war in 1996 into 1997, as Austin rose to the top. Austin’s success helped make WWE the hot promotion, taking over the Monday Night War without looking back.
Austin's fans truly made the difference, as no-one in WCW had his appeal. Rock would take over when the Monday Night War was already out of control and there was no real concern. Austin’s stint at the top made the biggest difference in WWE history.
1 The Rock: Picked up the slack with Austin out
Most wrestling promotions would be in a shambles when losing the face of the company (as WWE did when Steve Austin missed most of the year 2000 due to an injury). WWE’s popularity only improved, however, thanks to The Rock's incredible run as the new face of company.
Rock showed that he could not only do well in the role, but even better: he broke many of Austin’s records. WWE would continue taking off, with even the last set of WCW loyalists starting to tune in.