The rebellious “Stone Cold” Steve Austin drank, used provocative language, and defied authority at every chance he got. His boss and adversary “Mr. McMahon," on the other hand, demanded Austin be molded into a corporate champion. Every trick in the book was used, and they took wrestling to great heights as a result!
Here is the surprising truth behind one of wrestling’s greatest rivalries.
“It was all an accident!” – The Story Behind the Steve Austin and Vince McMahon Feud
In the 1980s and ’90s, Vince McMahon’s on-air role in World Wrestling Federation was a play-by-play color commentator alongside Bobby Heenan, Bruno Sammartino, and Jesse Ventura. There was no indication given to the fans that he was CEO of the company. He portrayed a likable babyface character well-known for his over-the-top eccentric announcing and catchphrases such as, "What a maneuver!"
In 1997, though, the tides were changing. He began referencing himself as the Chairman of the WWF for the very first time on-air, and at Survivor Series of that year, fans saw their first-ever glimpse of the evil Mr. McMahon character.
Related: Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997 – Everything There is to Know
We all know the story by now. Bret Hart was set to face the number-one contender Shawn Michaels in the main event of Survivor Series for the world championship, but he was not willing to drop the belt on Canadian soil. Hart was on his way out to WCW, but before jumping ship to the rival company, he promised instead to drop the belt at the following Monday Night Raw.
McMahon was untrusting of Hart’s motives and was left with no other choice but to cheat Bret out of his championship on his home soil by instructing official Earl Hebner to ring the bell after Michaels had Hart locked in Hart’s own Sharpshooter despite never tapping out. The decision left Michaels as the victor and Bret screwed.
It was a dawning of a new era for the company. Already popular, Stone Cold Steve Austin soon later began his run against a heel, Mr. McMahon, and the Attitude Era was off and running, drawing huge crowds and record-breaking box office money for several years in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
The Feud Begins
It’s only appropriate to mention the initial moment that kick-started this explosive rivalry between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon.
Coming off the heels of a life-threatening neck injury that would have lasting effects on Austin sustained by the hands of then-Intercontinental Champion Owen Hart at SummerSlam 1997, Austin had been out of action for a month. During that time, Owen Hart obtained a protective order to protect himself from being attacked by Austin, which didn’t come in handy.
After defeating Brian Pillman in the WWE Intercontinental Championship Tournament that followed, Owen Hart was on his way to the finals but not before an irate Stone Cold returned and nailed him in the back of the head. Afterward, The NYPD came out to arrest him.
McMahon stepped away from the announce table to end things peacefully as all this craziness was going down. He emphasized Austin’s desire to compete while "Breaking the Fourth Wall," acknowledging the real-life neck injury that almost left him paralyzed. Austin thanked him and the WWF for their concern for his health but not before telling his boss to "kiss his a**" and dropping him with a Stone Cold Stunner.
McMahon sold the maneuver awkwardly, but the crowd went nuts! Chants of "Austin! Austin!" exploded throughout the MSG arena. Austin was arrested and headed straight to jail, but that didn’t keep him from using all expletives he wished on his way out.
Twenty-four hours after winning the title, WWF Champion Steve Austin is confronted by Mr. McMahon.
Fast forward to WrestleMania 14. Once special enforcer "Iron" Mike Tyson turned on McMahon and DX and counted the one…two…three, Austin was crowned WWE World Heavyweight Champion over Shawn Michaels. And as good ole Jim Ross proclaimed, "The Austin Era has begun!" A new, exciting era in wrestling was upon us, and Austin’s popularity with the fans was at a fever pitch.
At the following Monday Night Raw in Albany, New York on March 30, 1998, many changes were ushered in for the company: a new championship belt debuted, a new DX was assembled, X-Pac returned, LOD 2000, it was the last time we’d see Cactus Jack for a long time, and it ended with champion Steve Austin getting arrested on battery charges. But before the arrest took place, McMahon welcomed the newly crowned champion Steve Austin to the ring.
He quickly berated Austin for his politically incorrect attitude and unprofessional appearance by showing up in a t-shirt and blue-jean shorts. McMahon gave Austin an ultimatum- if he was unwilling to conform to a respectable representation of the company, there would be hell to pay.
Since "The Texas Rattlesnake" was oh so welcome to threats in the past, he presented his boss with a counteroffer of two middle fingers and a "Stone Cold Stunner"! This would lead to Austin’s arrest later in the show.
The following week, McMahon had a major surprise in store for Raw. Apparently, a few days earlier, he was able to coerce Austin to change. Out came the world heavyweight champion, draped in an expensive suit, dress shoes, and a baseball cap.
Halfway through the segment, Austin revealed it all to be a hoax, and McMahon fell for it hook, line, and sinker. He ripped the suit off and threw it into the crowd. Austin’s last words rang so true, "This is the last time you’ll ever see me in a suit as ridiculous as this son of a bitch until the Hall of Fame. You ain’t gonna mold me, you ain’t gonna change me. What you see, Vince, is what you get!"
That was the moral of this bitter rivalry. McMahon was hell-bent on making Austin’s life as miserable as humanly possible, and Austin did everything he could to defy McMahon’s authority by saying and doing whatever he felt like. These two rivals threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at one other, and we were graced with some of the most outrageous, hilarious segments in wrestling history.
Steve Austin and Vince McMahon’s Greatest Moments
Just mere days before Austin and "The Corporate Champion" The Rock had their World Heavyweight Championship match at WrestleMania 15, Austin didn’t want to wait until Sunday to battle. This is where he made an unforgettable entrance as only "The Texas Rattlesnake" could, busting through the sold-out arena in a Coors Light beer truck!
The look on The Corporation’s face and, more importantly, McMahon’s expression was of utter shock. Austin drove the beer truck straight to the ring and delivered a promo on the top of the truck. "I’m going to check right into the SmackDown hotel, turn left on Jabroni Blvd, and turn right onto Route 3:16 and burn the son a bitch to the ground!" It was one of the most memorable moments in WWE history.
Austin then climbed down and drenched everyone in beer. Watching both Shane McMahon and his father slipping and falling as they attempted to get up, and The Rock, the World Heavyweight champion, squirming like a fish was one of the funniest segments produced by WWE!
On April 1, 2001, in what has been dubbed "The End of an Era" at WrestleMania 17, Austin faced champion The Rock in a no disqualification against match in Houston, Texas, only two hours away from Austin’s hometown of Victoria.
McMahon came down to the ring with a chair at the end of the hard-hitting affair, and then the unthinkable occurred — McMahon helped out Austin. Stone Cold relentlessly attacked The Rock with repeated vicious chair shots shocking the world with his heel turn and aligning himself with "the devil himself," Vince McMahon.
How The Feud Came To Be Behind-the-Scenes
On April 12, 2018, Bruce Prichard and Conrad Thompson elaborated about the Steve Austin and Vince McMahon feud in an episode of their Something to Wrestle podcast.
Conrad inquired, "When WWE made the creative decision to go all-in on Steve Austin and Vince McMahon, was this the plan all along, or was this a rushed idea just to give Austin someone to clash with?" Bruce’s response was very revealing.
"The entire Mr. McMahon character was a happy accident," Prichard admits.
"The fact that we didn’t have Shawn and the fact that we really couldn’t start a program with anyone else, we knew in the back of our mind we were going to go with Mick Foley versus Steve post-WrestleMania, but on the way there, you’ve got to get to Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels."
Prichard went on to explain that because WWE had this character Mr. McMahon who was saying "Bret screwed Bret," people were booing McMahon. Mr. McMahon, the character and owner of the company, was used as a stop-gap. Austin had to have somebody to work off of, and with no Tyson and no Michaels, that person became Vince. It just happened that way. No one planned to start Austin’s run as the champion against Mr. McMahon. "It was, ‘We need something; it’s here, it’s logical, let’s use it as a bridge to get where we need to go,’" Prichard said.
The plan was only to use the Mr. McMahon character for a short while in a bid to hold things over until Mick Foley was ready to feud with Austin.
"Mr. McMahon, at that time, was never going to be that ‘long’ character. You say that now, you look at the Mr. McMahon character and what defined Monday Night Raw in so many ways, which were the Steve Austin and Vince McMahon Era. At this point, we were only using Vince as the bridge to get where we needed to go."
The Mr. McMahon character would remain on television for nine years before an attempt to kill him off television backfired. It was one of the most shocking episodes of Monday Night Raw in company history.
An Attempt to Write Mr. McMahon Off Television Goes Wrong!
The June 11, 2007, episode of Raw was fully centered around Mr. McMahon’s Appreciation Night. McMahon had fallen into a deep depression and had been suffering mental breakdowns on-air. At WrestleMania 23, his feud with Donald Trump concluded in a hair vs. hair match where Vince’s Umaga faced Trump’s Bobby Lashley. McMahon lost and, thereafter, had his hair shaved off in front of 80,000 WWE fans in the Ford Field Stadium.
McMahon looked deranged and crazy throughout the entirety of the Raw episode, even with superstars from the past and present attempting to cheer him up. McMahon came down to the ring in the final segment of the show, gave his appreciation for the WWE Universe’s support, and dropped the microphone, where he then walked deliriously backstage with the current roster watching on.
Jonathan Coachman approached the boss informing him that he was heading the wrong way. So McMahon walked right past the WWE superstars once more, gazing back at them before approaching his limousine. He opened the car door, paused a few times, then entered. As soon as he shut the door, the limo burst out in flames.
Minutes after Raw concluded, WWE.com, keeping kayfabe alive, issued the following official press release:
"STAMFORD, Conn.—(BUSINESS WIRE)—While some might say "The Sopranos" went out with a whimper, last night on USA Network, WWE’s "Monday Night RAW®" went out with a bang. At the end of his self-anointed "Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night," WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon entered his limousine when it suddenly exploded. The shocking ending raised a myriad of questions: How could Mr. McMahon have survived the fiery explosion? And who could’ve committed such a heinous act?
"Although full details have not been disclosed, initial reports indicate that Mr. McMahon is presumed dead. An official investigation into Monday night’s events is currently underway, with no one being ruled out as a suspect. Throughout the night, people from Mr. McMahon’s past – from Donald Trump to Snoop Dogg to Bob Costas to Stone Cold Steve Austin™— had less than flattering things to say about the WWE Chairman, but would any go so far as to actually blow him up? The question of "whodunit," as well as the fate of Mr. McMahon, will be on everyone’s minds as the WWE saga continues on "Monday Night RAW" on USA (9 p.m. ET/8C)."
Weeks later, a three-hour Raw was planned to be the memorial for Mr. McMahon but was changed instead to a memorial for real-life WWE superstar Chris Benoit after his tragic double-murder suicide over the weekend.
After more information became known about the circumstances around Benoit’s death, McMahon came back on the air, broke kayfabe, and publicly acknowledged that this would be the final time Benoit’s name would ever be mentioned on WWE programming.
Related: Chris Benoit – Life and Death of "The Crippler"
Answering questions in an earlier episode of Something to Wrestle, Bruce Prichard was asked, "What was the original concept behind Vince’s limo exploding?"
"A funeral, Vince’s funeral," Prichard replied. "The original plan was this was a way to write him off TV."
Prichard would later say Vince hoped that the limo exploding angle would keep Mr. McMahon’s character off television for good. "I wouldn’t be on TV if I were dead," was what Vince would say to him.
The Mr. McMahon character was a role Vince reluctantly took on that turned into a two-decade-plus recurring role. Despite his lack of desire to be the evil boss character, Steve Austin and Vince McMahon knocked it out of the park every week with beautifully written on-the-edge-of-your-seat storylines.
If this rivalry never occurred, we never would have witnessed Daniel Bryan’s triumphant journey in his battle with "The Authority," or "The Man" Becky Lynch’s heroic victory at this year’s ‘Mania where she became "Becky Two Belts" after capturing both the Raw and SmackDown women’s championships. So for that, we are thankful for the happy accident of the Mr. McMahon character in 1997.
And you never know, maybe a future happy accident will be just the thing needed to boost business once again.
These stories may also interest you:
- WrestleMania 14 | Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels – The Inside Story
- Steve Austin and his Flat-Out Refusal to Work with Jeff Jarrett
- Vince McMahon Opens Up About His Father, Vince Sr.
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