When Jeff Jarrett returned to the then-WWF in October of ’97, he was promised a feud with Steve Austin. In fact, this promise was one of the biggest deciding factors in Jarrett coming back to the company. Unfortunately for Double J, Austin completely shot down the idea of working with him and the reasons were numerous.
“Austin 3:16 offends me because what you’re doing is ripping off the Bible to put money in your pockets!”
On October 20, 1997’s episode of Raw is War, Jeff Jarrett delivered a worked shoot promo where he criticized WCW President Eric Bischoff, WWF Chairman Vince McMahon, and Steve Austin, who was red-hot at the time.
“Now here’s a guy who’s lowered himself to shaving his head and coming out here every week not once or twice but ten or fifteen times and saying the word ass,” Jarrett said on his first night back. “That’s right, saying the word ‘ass’ just to get a reaction, just to get noticed. Stone Cold, you will always be the Ringmaster. And as far as your blasphemous merchandise, that offends me. Austin 3:16 offends me because what you’re doing is ripping off the Bible to put money in your pockets!”
It appeared the stage was being set for a feud. The only problem for Jarrett though was that Austin was dead set against the idea.
The content of the promo was never discussed with Steve beforehand which made him absolutely livid when he heard it live, and when Jarrett walked back through the curtains, a furious Stone Cold awaited.
“I was instrumental in bringing Jeff Jarrett back to the WWE,” Vince Russo detailed in a blog post on InsidePulse.com. “The day of his return, I wrote an in-ring promo for Jeff, as I wrote all his in-ring promos. Jeff was just one of those guys that liked you to write his verbiage for him. After giving him his words, Jeff read through the promo and came back to me. Upon his return, he said everything was good, but that he was going to add one little thing. During his promo, he was going to add in a part about Austin’s use of 3:16, and how blasphemous Jeff felt that phrase was. He was also going to accuse Steve of using the Bible reference as a tool to strictly make money.”
Russo continued, “Now, keep in mind, I had NO IDEA of the backstory and history between Steve and Jeff’s father Jerry Jarrett, when Steve was a rookie making his way through the USWA territory in Memphis—I would find that out later through Steve–but, anyway, in getting back to the story, Jeff went out and cut his promo—adding his 3:16 thoughts—and Steve was on the other side of the curtain waiting for him when he came back. Steve was freakin’ furious, I mean his bald head was BLOOD RED. As soon as Jeff came to the back, Steve was verbally all over him holding nothing back. He told Jeff that he was messin’ with his livelihood and that he didn’t appreciate that. Jeff back-peddled like I’ve never seen anyone back-peddled before or since. It was literally the heel backing off the baby—but, this was not scripted. After the explosive tongue lashing Steve tracked me down. He gave me CLEAR instructions to NEVER book him with that Son of a Bitch. Steve then went on to tell me that even though it was the 3:16 promo that set him off, that his history with the Jarrett’s went way back when as his boss, Jerry Jarrett, paid Steve so little money that he had to live on boiled potatoes when he worked under him in Memphis.”
Steve Austin harbored a lot of resentment towards the Jarrett family due to the way he was treated in Memphis. While Steve could only afford potatoes, Jeff was catered to as the booker’s son. Jerry had a huge mansion in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and both of them lived a good life, while Steve was getting around on forty bucks a night.
On the sixth episode of Ric Flair’s podcast, Bruce Prichard was a guest and the two of them talked about Austin’s time in USWA. Steve, according to Prichard, was seen backstage after a show staring in disbelief at how small his small paycheck was when Jeff Jarrett walked up, slapped him on the back and said, “Keep on staring at it, boy. It ain’t going to make it no bigger!” Austin never forgot this.
Six months after the “blasphemous” worked shoot promo, Vince Russo, thinking by now things have cooled off, pitched another storyline for Jarrett and Austin. This time the entirety of the feud would be based around Austin randomly coming out and stunning Double J. He thought by booking it this way Austin would get behind the idea. He was wrong.
“When we arrived at TV, Steve pulled me in a room and read me the riot act–citing everything he had told me–verbatim—six months prior. Steve hadn’t forgotten one word of our conversation—NOT ONE. After apologizing–because he was right and I was wrong—I changed the show on the spot in order to meet Steve’s wishes.”
Instead of working a main event program with Austin to get the credibility that he needed, Jarrett’s actions caused him to be denied and stuck with a stigma of not being good enough.
Steve Austin on Jeff Jarrett: “Jarrett wasn’t physical enough. He couldn’t hit the ropes hard enough to bust an egg!”
In an interview with the now-defunct “Get in the Ring” radio, Austin went into detail on why he felt Jarrett wasn’t the right guy for him to wrestle in 1998. These quotes are made available through the book, Mysteries of Wrestling: Solved.
“Jarrett wasn’t physical enough — he didn’t hit the ropes hard enough. And it wasn’t a case of me being able to bring him up, more a case of him bringing me down because of how hot I was. I’m not out there UFC shoot fighting, but Jesus Christ, lay some stuff in on me, bust my mouth, whatever. That’s the way I did it when I was feeding comebacks on DX and all those guys. I mean, guys would be walking backstage with busted lips and noses, loose teeth. I was throwing sledgehammers in there and people were going crazy — that’s just the way it was. He can’t hit the ropes hard enough to bust an egg, I had a violent, physical work style. I mean Jesus, you want to work with me, bring it!”
Austin also talked about the night Russo pitched the angle to feud with Jarrett again six months after his return.
“Then we get to the Gund Arena and they said, ‘Okay, Steve, we want you to work a match with Jeff Jarrett.’ I said, ‘What? You want me to work with who?’ They said, ‘Jeff Jarrett.’ I said, I think Vince Russo was telling me this, I said, ‘Alright, come here.’ So we walked into McMahon’s room, it might have been me, Vince, Jim Ross, and about five other people. I said, ‘F this.’ M, S, F. Those were the best damn cussing jobs. I said, ‘I told you son of bitches that I never wanted to work with the guy. And now you’re gonna make me come here and play the bad guy?”
Jeff Jarrett, having heard Austin’s criticisms about not hitting the ropes hard enough, countered with, “Steve Austin has drawn a ton of money but threw a very phony punch. This business is all about perception so I really don’t understand that one, still, to this day. There’s a lot of things that you can pinpoint, or complain about, in Jeff Jarrett. But his in-ring work? I’ve never heard that. This statement about hitting the ropes confuses me more than him not wanting to work with me.”
Bruce Prichard, who was Vince McMahon’s right-hand man at the time, corroborated the stories above on the “Austin 1998/1999” episode of the Something to Wrestle podcast.
“There was heat with Jarrett going back to when Steve worked in Tennessee. There was professional heat there, Jeff being Jerry Jarrett’s son, payoffs and what have you. I don’t think there was any love lost there at that time. But also, as far as working with Jeff at that time, it was ice cold. There was no reason to do it. No one could give him a storyline reason to do it. Add into that the whole Debra situation, where, ‘I don’t want to be working against [Debra] on TV.’ I think they were dating at the time. [Austin didn’t] want to be working against her on TV when he was the most recognizable star that we had. To be out in public, everybody’s going to see them together. They’re taking pictures everywhere. As little private life and as little that he had to himself, he didn’t want to jeopardize that.”
While Austin never brought up his past heat with Jarrett on his podcast, The Steve Austin Show, he did once have this to say about wrestling Jeff Jarrett back during their USWA days:
“Back in the day when I was working in USWA, I was working as a heel. When I first went from Dallas down to Tennessee and I started working with Jeff Jarrett, Jeff Jarrett had a pretty good amount of steam going for him. He was a white meat babyface, he was real over, and I had some pretty good steam just as a punk-ass heel. Me and Jeff Jarrett had some badass matches over there. We tore it up. But sometimes when Jeff would have me in a headscissor, he had those kind of long tights with the tassels on them and those tassels were probably about six, seven, or eight inches long and every time I would breathe, and I was breathing hard — I would get blown up probably — and every time I would breathe in, those tassels would go down my damn throat like it was choking me! That was a pain in the ass.”