The Rock started from the beginning, revealing when the idea for the match was pitched to him.
"About six months before the match happened, Vince McMahon came to me and said, 'How do you feel about bringing Hulk Hogan back?' For years, Hogan was in WCW and we participated in the Monday Night Wars. I think Hogan had left WWE on not so great terms. He asked, 'How do you feel about bringing Hogan back?' I said, 'How does the locker room feel?' He said, 'I talked to a few locker room leaders and it's mixed.' I said, 'I love it. I think having him back is intriguing and very selfishly, I would like to wrestle him.' He said, 'Funny you say that. I have a match in mind. You vs. Hogan at WrestleMania.' I loved it. Immediately, I saw the marquee, I saw the build up, I saw the promotion and the intrigue for the fans. It's the match you never thought you'd see. I said, 'I love it. What about the rest of the NWO? Scott Hall and Kevin Nash?' He said, 'I'm going to bring them back too.' I said, 'Great.' I'm a big fan of Scott Hall and his work style and I had never worked with Nash," he said.
The Rock first ran into Hogan and the NWO at No Way Out 2002 in a backstage segment. Rock made fun of Hogan, kicking off the rivalry between the two that led to their WrestleMania showdown.
"The build was incredible. It was so incredible, I remember going to Vince and saying, 'We should build this as Icon vs. Icon and whoever wins will go down as the greatest wrestler in the history of professional wrestling.' He said, 'I love it.'"
The Rock entered the match as the babyface while Hogan was the heel as the leader of the NWO. But the two knew the script could flip once they were inside the ring.
"Even though he was acting as the heel, you could feel the crowd wanting to cheer him as we went into WrestleMania. I remember speaking to Vince, Pat Patterson, and Michael Hayes as we were putting the match together and we were all collectively, including Hogan, (thinking) let's just feel it out there, see where the crowd goes, and we'll adjust."
Rock continued, "We had agreed that I was going to win the match, but much like WrestleMania 3 with Andre, it was assumed Hogan was going to win but like Hogan says, 'You never know until match time what Andre is going to decide because he's the OG.' The exact same thing I felt with Hogan. Even though we agreed I was going to win and he was going to pass the torch to me, I've learned that you don't count your chickens until they hatch. I wasn't assuming I was going to win, I was waiting for Hogan to give me the green light. Working with a ring general like Hogan, he could call different things in the match and I would feel it and go for it."
From there, the two men entered the ring and on the first lock up, Rock knew he had to change course.
"The moment he threw me, I decided, I could have taken the bump and landed on my back and sold it like a babyface, which means I would have gotten up determined and ready to lock up again. Nine times out of ten, I would have sold it like that because I was a babyface. But in the moment, something told me, my gut spoke to me and said 'I'm gonna sell this thing like a heel.' I land on my back, I do this backflip, I get up and have this look on my face like, 'You just embarrassed the shit out of me.' In that moment, it gave 68,000 people the runway to not be conflicted. It immediately identified Rock is the bad guy, Hogan is the good guy."
The Rock went on to win the match, hitting Hogan with the People's Elbow. As Rock made the cover, he revealed Hogan told him to 'go home.'
"When we got to the back, I gave him the hardest, biggest hug I could and I thanked him for passing the torch to me. He said, 'You deserve it, brother. Carry it well like I did when Andre passed me the torch,'" he recalled.
Rock finished by further praising Hogan's ability to call a match and react in the ring, calling him The GOAT.
Yesterday was the 18th anniversary of the history making ICON vs ICON WrestleMania match between myself and the Immortal @HulkHogan. Here’s my answer to your questions about how I felt about our iconic match and some unique backstory to our build up and the importance of doing something that’s served me my whole life - always listen to my gut. Thanks for all your great questions and thank you, Terry for passing the torch. Truly, my honor. Stay health everyone and take care of one another — we will get thru this. #iconvsicon #goat #listentoyourgut
If you use any of the quotes above, please give a h/t and link back to Fightful for the transcription.