The Austin-McMahon Feud
September 25, 2005 by Sam Dolton
When people think of professional wrestling, they often think of feuds. A feud in wrestling terms is a rivalry between characters which can result in a number of high-quality matches and classic moments. Feuds can continue for many years and can even include a large amount of wrestlers, which we'll be refer to as a stable feud. We've seen incidents like this before; an example of this is the stable feud between the ever expanding New World Order and the historical Four Horsemen, back in the days of WCW. A high percentage of the WCW roster were involved in this angle, but I would like to focus on some of the great singles encounters we've seen in the WWF/WWE.
Now there have been some great feuds in recent history. How about the Angle vs. Benoit series, which produced matches of sheer technical brilliance" There was also the Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels clashes, which saw two of the most talked about bouts in the history of the sport. The first was the intense sixty minute Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII, which saw Michaels win his first ever World title in what many feel was the greatest match in WWE history. The rematch took place almost two years later at Survivor Series 1997, in the most infamous moment in the history of professional wrestling, as Bret lost the title without ever tapping out in what was later dubbed the "Montreal Screwjob". I'm not going to explain in detail what happened in Montreal at Survivor Series 1997, as this has been done plenty of times before. Instead I shall explain why the feud between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon is ranked even higher than the Benoit/Angle and Michaels/Hart battles, at least in my book.
Ironically, the incident in Montreal plays an important role in the Austin vs. McMahon feud. Before Survivor Series '97, WWE owner Mr. McMahon was nothing more than a play-by-play announcer for the viewers watching at home, but afterwards he would appear on screen as the evil WWE owner. McMahon took advantage of the bad publicity received from the "Montreal Screwjob" by using the heat vented from fans to give an added edge to his character.
Throughout the year of 1997, Steve Austin was quickly becoming the most popular man on the WWE roster. The fans loved his rebellious attitude and would go crazy when the sound of glass breaking could be heard in the arena, signifying Austin's entrance. The creative team originally planned for Austin to be a heel, but after seeing the crowd's reaction, they decided he should play the role of babyface.
With the company's top Pay-Per-View WrestleMania just around the corner, Austin was the number one contender for the championship after winning the '98 Royal Rumble, and was due to face off against the controversial Shawn Michaels for the belt. As far as the storyline goes, McMahon did not feel that Austin would be a worthy champion, so he brought in major celebrity and Boxing great Mike Tyson as ring enforcer, thinking he would side with Michaels and his DX faction. This was at a time when the WWE were losing badly in the Monday night ratings war to rival company WCW, and not even the announcement of the appearance of the "baddest man on the planet" on 'Raw is War' could stop WCW's long and successful run in the Monday night ratings. WWE Management knew that a huge angle would have to be created in order to stop this drought and planned to do so after WrestleMania XIV had taken place.
WrestleMania XIV took place on The 29th of March at The Fleet Center in Boston, Massachusetts in front of 19,028 fans. The main event saw Stone Cold Steve Austin pin Shawn Michaels for his first WWE title, with Mike Tyson making the three count. As Austin celebrated by drinking beer in front of the sell out crowd, with Jim Ross repeating the words "Stone Cold" to those watching at home, it was safe to say that the era of Stone Cold Steve Austin had just begun. Many doubted Austin and could never see him at the top of the WWF Mountain, but at this point the WCW reject had proved many wrong.
Following the WrestleMania title match, Shawn Michaels announced his retirement from wrestling, as an ongoing back problem had been causing him pain. Michaels was without a doubt the star of the WWE between 1996 and 1998 and it would be tough to find a replacement, but ultimately there was only one man who could fill his boots: - Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Austin soared in popularity after winning the title, but there was always the issue of how he could remain popular with the fans. Remember earlier, I explained briefly that Mr. McMahon had tried to prevent Austin from becoming champion. Now the next logical step was for McMahon to try and make Austin lose the title. This was the start of arguably one of the most successful angles in WWE history. Austin would beat up and humiliate his boss week in, week out, and was living the dream of many wrestling fans who share a similar relationship with their boss. This was so successful that ultimately WWE again became the most popular company in America, with WCW surrendering the number one spot. The Austin vs. McMahon feud would last a number of years and was the center piece of the Attitude era, which was a period in WWE history which had a controversial edge to it, and moments were aired in which the company was considered lucky to not be in penalized for. The Attitude era was controversial but everything paid off, as the WWE became more popular then ever. They brought in vast revenue and much of this was due to Austin headlining sell out events and a huge amount of Stone Cold merchandise was sold. Austin became one of the most popular WWE superstars of all time, and his feud with owner Vince McMahon helped him achieve this.
Austin vs. McMahon was the biggest feud of 1998 and this was managed despite the fact that they had never fought in a competitive match together. Mr. McMahon would often try to screw Austin out of retaining the title, but would usually fail which would result in Austin beating up Vince. The feud looked to have ended towards the end of 1998, as Austin started feuding with The Undertaker, which left McMahon to start a stable, The Corporation. He would employ WWE superstars who basically became his henchmen and one of these superstars was The Rock, who sided with McMahon after Mankind was screwed out of the title in the Survivor Series '98 in a tournament final, which was reminiscent of what happened the previous year in Montreal (Mankind never tapped out to the Sharpshooter, much like Bret Hart never did).
As a result of this, a long feud would take place between Mankind and The Rock, now of the Corporation. On Raw is War on the 29th of December, Mankind and The Rock faced off for the title in a memorable match which reignited the hatred between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon. Late on in the match, chaos was taking place in the ring as members of the Corporation and DX battled each other when the sound of glass smashing echoed throughout the arena, as Stone Cold Steve Austin made his way down to the ring, delivering his famous Stunner to The Rock, allowing Mankind to cover him for the victory and the WWF title. The crowd was ecstatic; not only had Mankind won his first title, but Steve Austin had returned and dealt a huge blow to his arch enemy Mr. McMahon.
1998 was a good year for the World Wrestling Federation. They had recovered from their slump of the previous year and were pushing WCW all the way in becoming the most dominant wrestling company in America, but 1999 proved to be an even better year as Austin vs. McMahon was reborn.
With the Royal Rumble not far away, there was to be a "Corporate Rumble" to determine who would be the last to enter the real Rumble, which was to take place at the end of January. Members from the Corporation and DX took part in this mini Royal Rumble and Mr. McMahon appeared to be the last to enter the Corporate Rumble. Everyone from both teams had been eliminated as McMahon stood tall in the ring. Then Chyna of DX made an appearance as the final entry, eliminating him with the help of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Once again the owner was screwed by his nemesis. Surely these two needed to face off one on one at some point.
Austin was announced as the first to enter the Royal Rumble, which would lower his chances of winning it two years in a row. Meanwhile, Vince McMahon was hard at work training for the Rumble with the aid of his son Shane. The routine produced some hilarious moments as fans saw a Rocky style training video. McMahon was even shouting "I hate Austin" whilst performing tasks, showing how far this feud had come, whilst still providing comic relief.
The winner of The 1999 Royal Rumble was in fact Vince McMahon, who got his Corporation to deal with Austin. Did this now mean Mr. McMahon, the owner of the WWE, would get a shot at the title at WrestleMania" Unfortunately for him it wasn't as simple as that, as Commissioner Shawn Michaels made the decision that the winner of the Austin vs. McMahon cage match at the upcoming St.Valentines Day Massacre would become the number one contender.
Finally we would see the two men fight each other and to make things fair, McMahon stated that anyone from the Corporation who interfered would be fired on the spot. The match itself was memorable, as McMahon took a huge bump off the cage through the announce table before it had even officially begun. Austin had opportunities to escape the cage, but chose not to as McMahon constantly gave him the middle finger gesture. In a truly classic ending, the gigantic Paul Wight (who was later known as The Big Show) made his debut, appearing from underneath the ring to help McMahon. He threw Austin into the steel cage wall, but it broke and Austin fell through it, meaning he won the match by escaping the cage. For the second year running Austin would be challenging for the WWE title at WrestleMania, this time facing The Rock, who was still The Corporation's number one priority.
You see, The Rock won the championship from Mankind in a ladder match the next night on Raw is War, with Stone Cold providing color commentary, setting up the highly anticipated WrestleMania main event. In the weeks leading up to WrestleMania, Austin continued to terrorize McMahon and his Corporation. One week we saw him bring out a beer truck and shower Vince, Shane and The Rock. This was considered such a successful segment, the WWE decided to repeat it twice, with Kurt Angle using milk in 2001, and again with Eddie Guerrero using raw sewage in 2003.
At WrestleMania XV, on the 28th of March at the First Union Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in front of 19,514 fans, Stone Cold Steve Austin overcame obstacles such as Vince McMahon to win his third WWF Championship. The Rock vs. Austin was a classic encounter, which saw Austin hit the Stone Cold Stunner for the pin fall. Mr. McMahon had tried to screw Austin out of the title, but in the end failed.
Once again, "The Rattlesnake" had the wrestling world at his fingertips, and his feud with the WWE owner looked to have finally ended. McMahon now had more important issues to focus on, with The Undertaker abducting his daughter Stephanie and attempting to sacrifice her in a "black wedding". But to everyone's surprise Austin entered the arena and saved his long time rival's daughter. Did this mean Austin and McMahon were now on the same page" This was not to be, as McMahon announced that it was all a set up to lure Austin, which put an end to the ridiculous Corporate-Ministry angle.
Vince's plan had upset his wife Linda, and his daughter Stephanie, so to gain revenge Linda stepped down as the CEO of the Company, with Stone Cold Steve Austin taking her place. The two men who despised each other the most were now running the WWE together. We saw some humorous segments here, with Austin ordering cow manure be delivered to Mr. McMahon's office and board members drinking beer in a meeting headed by Austin. His reign of terror did not last long though, as he was forced to relinquish his position as CEO after losing a handicap ladder match against Shane and Vince McMahon at King of The Ring 1999.
Austin won his fourth World title at the end of June after The Undertaker's brief spell as Champion, but problems were emerging with a long term neck problem suffered from an Owen Hart Piledriver in 1997, and were affecting his performance. He would need an operation, which would mean a long absence and it could end his long and colorful career if not performed correctly. In the storyline, Austin was run down in the parking lot during Survivor Series 1999. During his absence, he underwent four hours of neck surgery in January of 2000.
Meanwhile, The Rock had taken Austin's place as the number one star in the WWE and took part in a number of high-quality matches with Vince's Son-in-law, Triple H. In one of these matches, at Backlash 2000, Austin was scheduled to be in The Rock's corner, but had failed to appear in time for the start of the match. Triple H had the backing of McMahon, his wife Stephanie, Corporation stooges Pat Patterson and Gerry Briscoe, as well guest referee Shane McMahon. Later on in the match, Triple H was dominating (with the help of Vince, Steph, Patterson, Briscoe and crooked refereeing from Shane) when Austin arrived to the delight of the crowd, clocking Triple H and his associates with a steel chair, allowing The Rock to win his fourth World Championship. Afterwards, Austin and The Rock celebrated in typical fashion, by drinking beer and making a toast to The Rock's newly-won title. Despite being injured, Stone Cold Steve Austin had still managed to anger Mr. McMahon and continue their ongoing feud.
Steve Austin made his long-awaited return to the WWE in September 2000, trying to find the culprit in the running down incident at Survivor Series a year earlier. When it was revealed that Triple H masterminded the attack, the two superstars fought each other on several occasions, ending with the spectacular Best Two out of Three Falls match at No Way Out 2001.
In the middle of his feud with Triple H, Austin won the 2001 Royal Rumble, last eliminating Kane and would be main eventing WrestleMania for the third time in four years. He would face The Rock for the second time.
In the weeks leading up to WrestleMania X-7, Austin's character began to change, as he became more and more eager to once again become the WWF Champion. His on screen relationship with wife Debra was straining.
On April 1st, 2001, at Wrestlemania X-7, at The Houston Astrodome, in front of a record-breaking 67,925 fans Austin won his fifth WWE Championship and his third in the main event of a WrestleMania. He defeated The Rock for the title, but in one of the most shocking moments in WWF history, he used the help of Vince McMahon to triumph. Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon celebrated in the ring together, which was something that had to be seen to be believed. After three years of feuding, the two men were best friends.
For the next few months, McMahon and Austin were seen along with Triple H working together to dominante the whole of the World Wrestling Federation. Austin would suck up to Mr. McMahon, even buying him presents on several occasions. For four years, Stone Cold Steve Austin had been the most popular man in the WWF, but for the first time since 1996, he played the part of the heel and worked to get the crowd to hate him. Unfortunately, it did not work out. Fans had been cheering for Austin for so long they struggled to adapt to booing him. He was by now recognized as one of the most popular superstars in WWE history *and had brought in more revenue than anyone else ever had, including "The Immortal" Hulk Hogan*. Fans just couldn't boo the man they had worshipped for so long.
Austin was used as a heel for several months, even after his friendship with Vince McMahon had ended, joining The Alliance, a team mainly made up of former WCW and ECW wrestlers, who had "invaded" the WWF. After the angle involving The Alliance had ended, Austin once again became a face, returning to his normal ways, but by then it was clear that the Austin vs. McMahon feud was well and truly over.
Steve Austin and Vince McMahon despised each other on screen, but off screen they had a good relationship. That all changed midway through 2002, when Austin controversially walked away from the company without explanation. It was a time when Austin (real life name Steve Williams) had personal problems, and was on the brink of divorce from his third wife Debra. Also, he was unhappy with the creative direction of his character and did not want to job to up and coming superstars like Brock Lesnar. A few days after Austin walked, McMahon went public, claiming Austin had acted unprofessionally and ended all ties with him. Steve Austin's best friend Jim Ross, who was also vice president of the company, said he did not want anything to do with him. Things went from bad to worse for Austin, as he was arrested in the summer of 2002 after allegedly abusing his wife Debra.
Eventually Steve Austin patched up his differences with the company, which was now known as The WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) and returned for one night, losing to The Rock at WrestleMania 19 in Seattle. The night before this match, Austin almost lost his life, after stress with an overdose of energy drinks put him in the hospital. Nevertheless, he made it to the arena and wrestled for the last time, retiring through injury. He still makes guest appearances on television now and again and still gets the same reception he did when he was at the height of popularity.
Steve Austin can look back at an illustrious career, which saw him win multiple World titles, two Intercontinental titles and a few Tag Team titles. He will be proud of these successes, but I'm sure he'll look back fondly at his feud with Vince McMahon. The two men didn't have many classic matches and weren't closely matched in ability, but they can still say they were part of one of the greatest feuds in wrestling history. Both characters were very charismatic, and a clash of personalities between them was inevitable. We saw some great bits of television; some funny, some serious. This may have been the feud that saved the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) from extinction. Ratings increased when the Austin vs. McMahon feud began. Fans loved it so much because it saw an anti-hero rebel against an evil figure of authority and things often ended in humiliation for the most powerful man in the world of wrestling. This feud made The WWE what it is today.
Thank you for reading this article, I hope you have enjoyed it. I would appreciate any feedback, good or bad. If you spot any mistakes don't hesitate to point them out.
*EDITOR'S NOTE: Stone Cold Steve Austin is indeed the highest drawing money maker in WWE history in terms of total dollar amount. However, we at OWW would like to remind everybody that when Stone Cold was around, he had 20+ items, with shirts, videos, and other products costing as much as $15 - $25 each, whereas when Hulk Hogan was in his prime, shirts and foam fingers (sans a teddy bear, a Wrestlebuddy, a bandana or two) were the only things available, and neither of those items surpassed $10. On the same note, tickets for shows were barely half the price during the "Hulkamania" era, and Hogan had 10 less Pay Per Views a year to draw on. OWW is in no way taking away from the drawing power or the numbers of Stone Cold Steve Austin. It's a simple reminder of the difference in times.*
by Sam Dolton ..
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