Hello everyone. You are reading a somewhat Special edition of The Prime Cut here at TBL. Today I will be talking about a subject that many people have discussed and have given their opinions on — Steve Austin walking out of the WWE. I’ve waited a long time to do this column, and I waited on purpose. I simply believe that this type of column should be written after time, when the impact of such a huge move can be felt and well appreciated and observed. I think that enough time has passed by for me to share your thoughts with you. This column will focus more on whether or not Steve Austin was right about his decision and what the consequences were. Before I start, I just want to say a quick Thanks to everybody who sent me an e-mail last week, after my “RAW is Triple H” column. I was pleasantly surprise to see that I got a lot of feedback. I responded to everyone as well. Well, thank you, and feel free to write me at any time with any feedback you have or anything on your mind. I always write back. Oh and as far as Triple H goes, out of all the e-mails I received, not one person disagreed with my views, which cannot be good news for The Game. On to some serious issues…
No matter how you look at it, 2001 was the year of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Sure he’s been headlining events for a long time now, but he seemed to be stronger than ever in 2001. He was voted the Superstar of the year both by WWF (back then) fans as well as the company itself. That was indeed the truth. Returning after his neck surgery, Steve Austin won the Royal Rumble in January. He was in the midst of a bloody and brutal feud with Triple H, the Cerebral Assassin who was behind the “car accident” at Survivor Series years earlier, which took Austin “out” as we were told. The two men definitely had an awesome feud that saw them carry most of the events in the end of 2000 and the beginning of 2001. Austin was the top man on the card. Besides being that, he also won a spot at the main event at WrestleMania X7 by winning the Royal Rumble match. The WWF Championship was currently held by Kurt Angle.
At No Way Out 2001, Triple H and Steve Austin sealed the deal on their feud in an incredibly brutal 2 out of 3 falls match with stipulations added to the second and third fall being a Street Fight and a Cage Match. Steve Austin settled his feud with The Game, and even though he lost, he had to move on to other things. Meanwhile, The Rock defeated Kurt Angle at No Way Out to regain his WWF Championship and the world was set for another Steve Austin vs. The Rock showdown, a match which we hadn’t seen for a while.
Steve Austin was once again the man on the show. He defeated The Rock at WrestleMania and was once again the man in the company. He turned heel by joining forces with Vince McMahon and Triple H in a move which was definitely surprising for many. Triple H and Steve Austin then formed the Power Trip team and went on to feud with the likes of Matt and Jeff Hardy (shortly but effectively), The Undertaker and Kane, and Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho. In that last feud, as most of you know and remember, Triple H ended up tearing his quadriceps muscle, an injury which kept him out of action for the rest of the year 2001. With The Rock out to Hollywood and the Power Trip storyline obviously over, the WWF had no choice but to start the InVasion storyline with the recently bought WCW. Shane McMahon and his boys joined Paul Heyman’s ECW to take on the WWF.
Throughout the rest of the year 2001, Stone Cold Steve Austin carried the company on his shoulders. He was the WWF Champion for most of the time and quite frankly, he was the man. It was his show. He turned on the WWF and joined the Alliance. He called the shots. To sum it all up — He was it! Now, many people have criticized the InVasion storyline and how it didn’t deliver, but I don’t think it would be fair to Steve Austin to put him in blame. I really do believe that the complete change his character underwent in the year 2001 was not for the bad. It did freshen up a lot of things around, and WWF programming did become more interesting to watch. Hey, that is my opinion, not saying you should definitely agree. However, I am not here to discuss that. I am here to state that out of all the recaps above for the year 2001, any way you look at it, STEVE AUSTIN was the man in the WWF. He was in the main event on almost all PPVs and right after Triple H went out with an injury, he was the one man who drove storylines around the way he wanted.
Steve Austin was reported many times in 2001 that he was very happy with the direction of the company. In many interviews I remember reading, Steve always mentioned that he likes his heel character. He felt that it’s a whole new side to Steve Austin that makes people laugh and enjoy themselves. “It entertains,” were his exact words. Being the guy on the top, and just being Steve Austin, The Rattlesnake was also the main man backstage. If you even think about it, Triple H never really had the same power backstage as Steve Austin did. Austin called the shots, Austin called the storylines, and Austin even made the decisions sometimes. I should note here that Austin never used that backstage power in a bad way.
A good example of that would be WWF Unforgiven in 2001, an event which was held shortly after September 11. Steve Austin was in the midst of a feud with Kurt Angle who seemed as the only capable adversary at the moment. With the events of 9/11 happening, it was only right to see the true American Hero win the belt. Not only did Steve Austin agree to job to Angle, he never disputed that decision. Sure, the Rattlesnake would regain his WWF Championship soon after, but with a returning Rock those were the plans the WWF had at the time and it only made sense.
Austin continued his program with Kurt Angle and the Alliance until Survivor Series 2001, where the Alliance storyline was ended. Being the WWF Champion, Austin kept his job on TV. The WWF was stuck with a completely new Austin whose new character really had no purpose at the moment. It was time for a face turn. By the time WWF Vengeance rolled around in the December, Steve Austin was back to playing his old role. The beer drinking redneck character was back and the fans seemed to love him again.
Steve Austin was still happy with the direction of the company at that time. The year 2001 ended in the WWF with Chris Jericho becoming the first ever Undisputed Champion by defeating the WCW (World) Champion The Rock and the WWF Champion Steve Austin all in one night. Jericho won with the help of Booker T in the final match. That immediately started a short-term program between Steve Austin and Booker T which had been in the making ever since the WCW superstars showed up on WWF TV.
2002 came along and it seems that this is when the problems for the company began. At the Royal Rumble, Steve Austin didn’t have that big of a role, but he did participate in the Royal Rumble match. Triple H was back and won the event, which resulted in a title shot at WrestleMania X8. That’s where the problems began. Steve Austin was now rumored on-line to not be happy with the direction of his character and the direction of the company as a whole. Austin hadn’t been happy since losing at Vengeance, it later became known. The reason for the problems at the time? A group called the nWo. Vince hired Nash, Hall, and Hogan back to the company, and that was definitely a move which sparked a lot of differences of opinions and even arguments within and outside the company. Stone Cold was one of the people which on-line sites used as examples and points. Here’s a good thought…
As far as Triple H goes, you all know the Clique deal, so a person like Hunter would definitely not be against bringing in hid old buddies. Triple H might also felt that this allow his ego go boost up even more (Is that possible?) and maybe that would raise him to the top in backstage relations. On the other hand, you have a guy like Stone Cold Steve Austin who worked hard and worked his butt off in the “Attitude” era to build what the WWE (Get the F out) is today. He was one of the people who stayed by Vince’s side and did what he could to entertain and not to sell out. At the same time, you had Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall, even Hulk Hogan shortly after all jump ship to WCW and leave the company. Now when Vince McMahon decides to bring these 3 guys back and put them in major storylines, if I was Steve Austin, I would be upset too. It just didn’t feel right to have Austin lose that backstage power he’s had, because he’s earned his spot in the company. You should know by now that Steve Austin is all about having the spot at the top, he’s all about wanting to main event and being at the top.
Ratings were going down and McMahon was hoping that by bringing Hogan and the nWo back it would help, at least for the short-term. Ric Flair had already been introduced as a 50-50 owner and had started a feud with McMahon. So then the nWo is introduced and what happens? The WWF immediately jumped at the opportunity to have them feud with the two biggest babyfaces the company has had in recent years — Stone Cold and The Rock. Hogan faced Rock and a match of that magnitude is hard to beat, as you can imagine. At the same time, as the WWF was setting up for WrestleMania X-8, Triple H and Chris Jericho were feuding over the Undisputed Championship in a storyline which evolved around Stephanie, Hunter, and their dog Lucy more than around Jericho himself. Anyway, with these two main events set for WrestleMania, Steve Austin was left to do a program with nWo member Scott Hall. That’s the turning point of our “story” here, of that special column.
Scott Hall is not exactly your perfect worker. He’s had troubles with alcohol in the past, and history repeated itself in his first months with the company. His backstage attitude didn’t help, and many believe he was only kept thanks to his buddies Nash and Triple H who had the pull backstage. Obviously mad at not even being in the 2 main events at the PPV, Austin was enraged when he found out he had to feud with a person who will probably not be with the company 2 months after that. Boy, how right was he? Kevin Nash was kept without a bout, just in case something happened with Hall. With The Rock defeating Hulk Hogan in their huge Icon vs. Icon match, it only made sense to have Scott Hall defeat Austin. Maybe even with the help of his running buddy, Kevin Nash. This way, the WWF could go on with their nWo storyline. However, Austin refused to job to Hall. The problem had just become an issue.
Though advised to do the job, even if not clear, Austin still refused. He came out victorious at WrestleMania in a match which wasn’t really that good either. The next night on RAW, Steve Austin… did not show up. Austin had walked out on the WWF. He wasn’t even around for the after-party after the PPV itself on Sunday. Sources say that Steve packed his bags and he and Debra left for Texas right after WrestleMania ended. Steve Austin was not at all happy with the direction of his character, not was he happy with the direction of the company as a whole. And who would be? He was in to job to a wrestler who was about to get fired, and was not even in the top 2 matches on the card. That’s not acceptable for Steve himself, who like I said about, is all about having a spot at the top. If you have WrestleMania X8 on tape or DVD, watch carefully at the beginning when the WrestleMania video package airs. Steve has only one line and it’s “It’s all about having a spot to me.” Make your own observations.
Hulk-a-mania was running wild and Hogan was no longer associated with the nWo. The Rock had another one or two months left in him before leaving again to promote “The Scorpion King.” The nWo idea didn’t really work that well for Vince McMahon. Ratings did not at all rise. Sure, the very very very short-term change was felt, but that lasted for about 2 weeks. Steve Austin was still not on television and the Internet sites had quite some time reporting on the situation. Will Austin return? What’s going on? Having no other choice or option, and with the WCW Superstars wrestling only on house shows (not all of them either) and receiving checks for nothing, the WWF had no choice but to go on with the Roster Split. RAW and SmackDown! became two separate organizations. The night of the roster split, we were told by Linda McMahon that Steve Austin will be drafted at a later time due to a “contract clause” he had. After a lot of talking, and mainly with the help of his good friend Jim Ross, Steve Austin returned to WWE Television and went to Ric Flair’s RAW brand.
For the short term he finished his storyline with the nWo and then moved on, as this also seemed to be the plan, since Austin wasn’t happy feuding with the stable. At Backlash 2002, Steve Austin lost to The Undertaker in a #1 Contendership Match for the Undisputed Championship. That was after Ric Flair helped The Dead Man and was soon turning heel. The story was now to have Flair and Austin feud with each other where Flair would play the evil boss (Austin vs. McMahon 2, only Flair involved) and with the help of nWo, and the addition of Big Show, the newest member of the stable. At Judgment Day 2002, Stone Cold Steve Austin wrestled his last WWE PPV Match. He defeated Ric Flair and The Big Show in a handicap match. Though Austin was successful and was the #1 guy on the RAW brand, it was just not the same, and it could be felt. The storyline with Ric Flair continued. On an edition of RAW soon thereafter, Steve Austin defeated Ric Flair in a match which had a stipulation that the loser of the bout has to become the personal assistant for the winner. The next week on RAW people tuned in to see what’s in-stored for Ric Flair.
What they saw instead was Ric Flair cut a promo and tell the whole world what has happened. Stone Cold walked out on the WWE yet again. This time it was final. Left with no other choice, Vince McMahon showed up on RAW and wrestled Ric Flair to regain 100% ownership of his company. The WWE realized that things couldn’t go on the same way. It was time for the big change to occur. It was time to bring in new superstars — new characters. The story has it that Austin wasn’t informed of what was to happen on RAW until early Monday morning. The plan was for Steve to job to Brock Lesnar, who was just becoming “The Next Big Thing.” Reportedly, Austin refused to job and never showed up, without informing anyone. The story got so big that the media turned their attention to it as well. Vince moved on and Brock did get his push. He became the 2002 King of the Ring and later captured the WWE Championship. The Rock made a fast return to television as well, trying to get some fans to tune in as well. Shawn Michaels showed up. The company tried to keep the interest going so new stars could be elevated. That was their direction and that was their future.
You see, had Stone Cold not left the way he did, we probably wouldn’t have guys like Brock Lesnar and John Cena, and even Edge and Rey Mysterio getting their pushes today. The business might have not underwent that huge transformation. That’s the “Good” about Austin leaving the company. Whereas many fans miss him (I do as well) his leave allowed the company to move on. They were stuck and had no other choice, so that move was done. Was it for the good? Was Austin right?
Fast forward to today. The WWE had a very great start with their transformation. They were pushing young guys and carefully thinking ahead of time. WWE SummerSlam 2002 was one of the best PPVs the company has aired and some even stated it was the best since WrestleMania X7 a whole year earlier! It looked that Austin’s take on the whole issue was wrong. Austin was wrong. He sure got a lot of heat for that.
SummerSlam is now gone, and the WWE is in a hole. This time the name of the problem is Triple H. Maybe Stone Cold saw that coming, but when he was in control in 2001 and earlier, he had Triple H banned from any management meetings, something which enraged The Game. How good of a move was that on Steve Austin’s side?! To me, Stone Cold Steve Austin was right with his actions. He left a company full of chaos. He left a company which was lacking organization. A company which was planning shows in the last minute, was counting on short-term plans and was having all kinds of problems (as in drunken stupidity on airplanes). Whereas Austin stood behind the company in its dark periods in the past, he felt that now it’s a lost cause. Let’s face it, the WWF turned into WWE, but it had nothing to do with the old, competing-with-WCW WWF company. Many people on-line even compared the WWF to the last days of WCW. Things were really sad at this point.
So, this long column pretty much has one thing behind it — To me, Stone Cold Steve Austin was right about his decision and saw what we are seeing today happen beforehand. He was right about his actions. However, and I want to make this clear… The way Stone Cold walked out was morally wrong. There’s one thing in this business you don’t do, and that is no-show an event without telling anyone. Jim Ross and Vince McMahon made these points in their interviews for WWE Confidential and they were right. Maybe Austin was right (and in my opinion he was), but the way he took care of his problem was just not the way a person of his magnitude would. Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me. I can tell you now, Vince was fooled twice.
Overall Thoughts — Stone Cold Steve Austin’s leave from the WWE allowed the company to move into a needed change, a needed transformation of generations you might even say which was to elevate new superstars, so professional wrestling could once again go through that rebirth phase and spark interest. The WWE had the talent to do so, but lacked the creative mind to fully take advantage of the situation they found themselves in. The backstage problems and lack of originality was the one thing Stone Cold Steve Austin saw before everyone else did in the beginning of 2002. The way Steve Austin left the company was morally wrong, and probably not the right thing to do. The point Austin proved would echo for a long time, and now, months after this has happened, many have changed their minds on the situation.
As far as Steve Austin goes, you have to believe that we haven’t seen the last of him. No matter what, I still believe (maybe I am just hoping too much, but I hope it happens) that one day Stone Cold will return to the company he helped build. One day, The Rattlesnake will return for a good farewell, which he definitely deserves. Steve, no matter what, we miss you. Keep working out and I wish you the best in life and hopefully things will get only better for you from here on. I hope one day the WWE and Austin settle their differences and I truly believe this will happen. Until then, I’ll open up a cold one and continue to write about my favorite subject — professional wrestling.
Feel free to write me at any time, and thanks for reading this long column. Let me know what you think.
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