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The Rock at Survivor Series: A career defined in three moments

Survivor Series, now in its 31st year, stretches so far back into WWE history that it sits behind only WrestleMania in the pantheon of pay-per-view events. Over the course of three decades, Survivor Series has featured an abundance of iconic moments -- the starts of careers, the ends of eras and some of the most shocking matches the WWE has ever had.

In 1990, The Undertaker made his first major appearance at Survivor Series, and at the following year's event, he won his first WWE Championship. It's where the most controversial main event in WWE history happened in 1997, where the Elimination Chamber made its first appearance in 2002, and where WWE Hall of Famer and current Raw general manager Kurt Angle made his pay-per-view debut in 1999. The list goes on.

But the career that changed the most at Survivor Series, and in turn helped shape the history of the event as much as anyone ever has, is that of The Rock. There were moments throughout his WWE tenure that continue to resonate, but three major phases of the Great One's career were largely defined by moments that took place at Survivor Series.

Let's start at the very beginning.

Survivor Series 1996

The dawn of a brilliant career at MSG

Who would have thought that this constantly grinning character, who was almost too giddy to be a legitimate threat, with ring attire that looked out of place even in a cartoon era as he walked to the ring for his first big match in Madison Square Garden, would have turned into the most electrifying man in sports entertainment? Despite the unfortunate reliance on tassels and a similarly tragic haircut, the man who was at that point referred to as Rocky Maivia showed flashes of a quickness, agility and strength that would eventually help him to become a generational talent.

He teamed up with Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Marc Mero and The Stalker (one of Barry Windham's alternate personas) to take on Triple H, Goldust, Crush and Jerry "The King" Lawler. Despite the talent featured in the match, this was The Rock's showcase. After eliminating Crush and Goldust, The Rock was the sole survivor for his team in his debut match -- a hell of a way to begin the Hall of Fame-worthy career that ensued.

But the character and his rapid ascent would ultimate lead to a tremendous backlash against The Rock. He'd become Intercontinental champion, but the crowd would ultimately go so far as to make signs and chant things like "Die Rocky Die." It was this key moment that pushed The Rock into the Nation of Domination, where he was able to put his charisma and dynamic personality on display. Just a couple of years into his career, The Rock would make a major leap towards greatness.

Survivor Series 1998

A corporate champ is born

The Rock became a cool bad guy as part of The Nation, but in the lead-up to Survivor Series 1998, he was seemingly positioned as an anti-establishment good guy trying to make the McMahons' lives a living hell. That all changed in the closing moments of the 1998 Survivor Series, in a moment that took him to an entirely different level.

The event, dubbed "Deadly Game", was built around a tournament to crown a new WWE Champion; the title had been vacated when both The Undertaker and Kane pinned then-WWE champion Steve Austin at the same time in the main event of the Breakdown: In Your House pay-per-view two months prior. As a result, the villainous Mr. McMahon stripped him of the title.

The 16-man field featured Austin, The Undertaker, Kane and Ken Shamrock, but by the time the tournament reached the finals, it was Mankind, who seemed to be backed by McMahon and "The Corporation", against The Rock.

Everything got turned on its head in an instant. In a callback to the previous year's Survivor Series, when a phantom submission on Bret Hart ended his WWE career in controversy, The Rock played the role of Shawn Michaels. As Rock locked in a sharpshooter on Mankind, Mr. McMahon quickly called for the bell -- ending the match and awarding The Rock his first WWE championship. The Rock, Mr. McMahon and Shane McMahon embraced in the ring, and a corporate champion was born.

"What the hell? They were in on it all along, the three of them. They screwed us all!" Jim Ross exclaimed.

From this point forward, there was no turning back -- The Rock was a bonafide superstar and an anchor of the main event. It was also the spark that ignited the flame for one of the greatest rivalries in the history of professional wrestling -- the anti-authoritative Steve Austin against the corporate poster boy, The Rock. The two would go on to headline two out of the next three WrestleManias together, along with a third WrestleMania main event a few years later.

Survivor Series 2011

The comeback begins

The charisma that The Rock had on display throughout his WWE career reached such unprecedented levels that Hollywood called, and The Rock answered in a big way. He'd eventually become the highest-paid actor in the world, but the earliest stages of that transition began as far back as 2002. As 2003 arrived, The Rock slowly began cutting back on his regular WWE schedule and ultimately began to appear more sporadically until WrestleMania 20 on March 14, 2004 -- his final in-ring action for more than seven years.

As his career continued to expand, an in-ring return seemed almost impossible -- until a monumental comeback shook the wrestling world. In early 2011, it was revealed that The Rock would serve as the host of WrestleMania 27, essentially working as the master of festivities. The Rock didn't have a match that night, but made an impact in the main event by hitting a Rock Bottom onto John Cena that allowed The Miz to retain his WWE championship. That's when it became clear that this wasn't just a one-time appearance for The Rock.

Cena and The Rock would set a date for WrestleMania 28 the following year, but The Rock had another match in mind before returning to the main event of wrestling's biggest stage -- and what better place to begin that big in-ring comeback than at the Survivor Series? Not only did The Rock debut at the event 15 years earlier, but this particular show took place in Madison Square Garden -- the same arena in which The Rock's career was born.

The Rock teamed up with his WrestleMania opponent, Cena, to take on The Miz and R-Truth in the night's main event. Rock picked up right where he left off in 1996, and eventually nailed The Miz with the people's elbow to earn his team the pinfall victory. He also added a cherry on top by delivering a Rock Bottom to Cena following the match, further building towards their WrestleMania showdown (and ultimately their rematch the following year).

His career had officially come full circle.