The Rock Survivor Series 1998 Screen grab: WWE

As Wrestlemania season approaches, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been rumored to be making a highly anticipated return to the squared circle.

But while it remains to be seen whether “The People’s Champ” will in fact face “The Tribal Chief” Roman Reigns at the “Showcase of the Immortals” next spring, it’s now been 25 years since he first became a full fledged superstar.

The moment came at the 1998 Survivor Series pay-per-view — also known as Survivor Series: Deadly Games — in the finals of a tournament for the vacated WWF Championship. Two years after his infamous debut at the 1996 Survivor Series show, The Rock found himself in the main event wrestling Mick “Mankind” Foley for the then-WWF’s top prize.

WWF chairman Vince McMahon and his son, Shane McMahon, were present at ringside for the finals, seemingly in support of Mankind following a weeks’ long feud with The Rock. The match, however, took a turn when The Rock put Mankind in the sharpshooter submission hold, with Vince McMahon calling for the referee to ring the bell despite Foley having not submitted — a callback to the controversial finish to the 1997 Survivor Series involving Bret Hart.

Both McMahons entered the ring and celebrated what was The Rock’s first WWF Championship win. In the process, The Rock turned heel — wrestling lingo for “bad guy.”

“Each and every one of you is just as pathetic and gullible as Mankind,” Vince McMahon told the audience.

“The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment” then proceeded to give Foley a post-match beat down before “Stone Cold” Steve Austin made the save. You can watch the entirety of the match and the post-match segment in the YouTube player below.

While The Rock had already shed his initial “Rocky Maivia” persona, his turn on Mankind marked his crowning as not just the WWF Champion, but one of the industry’s top stars. Months later, he would wrestle Austin in the main event of Wrestlemania before once again becoming a babyface (good guy) and one of the hottest stars in pro wrestling history.

In fact, The Rock’s popularity would eventually lead him away from pro wrestling and into Hollywood, where has been one of the biggest box office draws for nearly two decades. None of it, however, might have been possible if not for that fateful heel turn on Foley a quarter of a century ago.


About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.