Their WrestleMania 17 match is famous for being on one of the most stacked cards in WrestleMania history and it was the beginning of Austin’s ill-fated heel turn. WrestleMania 19 is famous for it being Austin’s retirement match. There have been other Austin vs. Rock matches, including the terribly bland WrestleMania 15 match and a UK only match at No Mercy 2001.
And while the 1998-1999 WWF Attitude era may not be remembered for it’s abundance of great matches, the Backlash match between these two is a hidden gem and a great match in and of itself.
The match is worked in the style of its time: brawling, minor use of props, and big bumps. But this also leaned more towards Memphis, with charismatic heel work from the Rock and Austin being at the height of his popularity. The heat, which wasn’t there a month prior in Philadelphia, is terrific here. It was actually a comment from Dave Meltzer about the heat for this match that made me go back and re-watch. In the November 8, 1999 of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, when writing about match of the year candidates, Meltzer wrote:
“Just had the chance to watch the complete unedited Hart vs. Benoit match from Kansas City. It was definitely better without the commercials and I’d say it was a ****1/4 match, maybe better in some ways. . . It reminded me of Flair’s matches in the 80s except it was more serious and realistic without the patterned Flair bumps, but Flair’s matches also had more flamboyance and breathtaking near falls in the closing minutes. From any standpoint, it was a very close candidate. To me the best US candidates are this one, Rock vs. Austin from the April PPV (super heat), the Hardys vs. Edge and Christian ladder match (best high spots) and Juventud Guerrera vs. Blitzcreig, which deserves in one way the most praise of all of them because it had awesome heat and even better moves while being a prelim match with two wrestlers that get no push, which is usually a recipe for “boring” chants.”