For the better part of four years, the biggest story in the WWE Universe was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s rivalry with the company’s CEO and owner, Vince McMahon. Representing the angry everyman out for vengeance against his square, overbearing boss, Austin almost singlehandedly caused millions of fans to tune in to WWE during their most successful era. Yes, the shows had to be entertaining from top to bottom to keep the ratings steady, but the most important element was the main event, where everyone wanted to see Austin somehow get one over on his boss yet again.
Of course, that’s just TV, and the real relationship between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon has been far friendlier than what fans might expect. It hasn’t always been rosy, though, with plenty of problems cropping up backstage between the always contentious CEO of WWE and his equally irascible top star. In the end, money always wins out with Vince, so he and “Stone Cold” have always been able to work out their problems and work together once more, be it as friends or foes.
While the legendary war between Austin and the entire McMahon family is to this day fondly remembered as one of the best in wrestling history, fans tend to remember the big moments over the smaller details. The beer trucks, Zambonis, and countless title wins and losses could never be forgotten, but it gets a little harder to keep track of every last Stunner, both literal and metaphorical. Sure, not all of them were important, yet enough were that a fuller look at the story might be required to completely understand WWE history. Keep reading to discover 15 amazing facts you never knew about the Austin-McMahon rivalry.
15. Austin Had Real Trouble With Management Almost Everywhere Else He Worked
Although Steve Austin was never as popular in any other promotion as he was in WWE, he nonetheless achieved considerable fame while working for WCW. Austin also competed to moderate success in USWA and WCCW, wrestling notable feuds with his trainer Chris Adams and long term rival Percy Pringle. That said, the real story of Austin’s time in these companies is that they never seemed to understand what they had, underutilizing Austin and keeping him relatively low on the card. The Texas territories had the excuse of Austin being a rookie, but WCW had no excuse, and in any event Austin had the same reaction both times. Perhaps inspiring his onscreen feud with Vince in WWE, Austin constantly got into trouble with his bosses wherever he worked. It started from the very beginning, when he felt USWA owner Jerry Jarrett was stiffing him on his paycheck. Things apparently got even worse in WCW, where Executive Vice President Eric Bischoff reportedly didn’t see Austin as a potential star, and fired him while he was injured. With past experiences like this under his belt, Austin had firsthand experience with terrible employers ruining his life, making every Stunner he gave Vince as therapeutic for himself as it was to his many fans.
14. Vince Thought Austin Was The Ringmaster
After his underwhelming stints in WCW, USWA, and WCW, the increasingly well-known and exceptionally talented Austin spent a few short months in ECW before finally catching Vince McMahon’s eye in early 1996. Unfortunately for Austin, however, it almost looked like McMahon was no different than the others in misunderstanding his talents, giving Austin an ill-defined and cartoonish gimmick as “The Ringmaster.” To be fair, the idea wasn’t all bad, as Austin was also given Ted DiBiase as a manager and bestowed the Million Dollar Championship, which in the very least gave him a high profile upon arrival. Time in the spotlight or not, Austin himself was able to tell The Ringmaster was a pretty stupid name, and started begging McMahon and his writers to come up with something better. Considering how new to the company Austin was at the time, he was somewhat lucky they agreed and started coming up with alternatives, since McMahon just as easily could have fired or punished him for arguing with management. Maybe Vince knew what he had after all, although he still wasn’t the best at putting a name to it…
13. Vince’s Alternative Nicknames For Austin Weren’t Stone Cold
So, Austin knew The Ringmaster wasn’t going to make him a superstar, and he went to management looking for something better. He also had a rough idea in mind for his new character, based on ruthless serial killer Richard Kuklinski. Inspired by Kuklinski’s nickname “The Iceman,” the crack WWE writing staff came up with a list of brilliant new nicknames for Austin to use to replace The Ringmaster, including Fang McFrost, Chilly McFreeze, Otto Von Ruthless, and Ice Dagger. That last one doesn’t sound too bad, but the other three are pretty silly, to say the least. Once again, Austin knew management didn’t have his best interests in mind with these names, and thus tried to come up with his own nom de guerre over a cup of warm tea. His wife at the time, known to wrestling fans as Lady Blossom, happened to notice he was ignoring his beverage, and told him to drink it up before it became “Stone Cold.” The rest, as they say, was history, as Vince and his staff all agreed that was the best name any one could possibly come up with.
12. Where It All Began
Despite having all the potential in the world and securing a badass nickname, it still took “Stone Cold” a few years to go from the Million Dollar Championship to the main event of WrestleMania. Even after he won the 1996 King of the Ring tournament and wrestled his first match against Bret “The Hitman” Hart, Austin’s rise to fame had a number of false starts, almost stopping entirely when he broke his neck at SummerSlam 1997. What could have been the end of his livelihood turned into one of the biggest moments of Austin’s career, when Vince McMahon himself interrupted an attack on Owen Hart during the September 22 episode of Raw. McMahon went on to inform “Stone Cold” doctors still hadn’t cleared him to wrestle. Austin disagreed, telling Vince where he could kiss before planting him with a Stunner, kicking off the feud that in many respects saved WWE and helped them defeat WCW. That the episode hailed from Madison Square Garden only cemented it would be one of the most historic in history, defining the Attitude Era from the very start.
11. Mike Tyson Turned It Into A War
Even a wrestling executive understands the industry enough to know sometimes a Stunner is just a Stunner, and so the most famous feud in history actually stalled for a few months after its bombastic beginning. McMahon had Austin arrested that night in Madison Square Garden, but then they went their separate ways, distracted by problems with Bret Hart and The Rock respectively. They barely even interacted on a serious level, until Austin won the Royal Rumble and earned a WWE Championship shot at WrestleMania XIV. The very next night, McMahon welcomed pro boxer Mike Tyson to the ring for a special announcement about the Showcase of Immortals, interrupted by Austin when the boss called Tyson “the baddest man on the planet.” Austin didn’t necessarily agree, though he added the important distinction that he himself was “the world’s toughest son of a bitch,” shoving Tyson and triggering a brawl between the two. Tyson might have been angry for a little while, but it was McMahon who became absolutely enraged, never forgiving Austin for ruining his big moment and in many ways serving as the true impetus for their feud.
10. Their First “Match” Broke The 84-Week Losing Streak
Keeping it simple, retrospectives of the Attitude Era tend to imply “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Vince McMahon started fighting, and WCW was pretty much scrambling to keep up from that moment forward. Brevity being the soul of wit, there’s at least a little bit of truth to that simplification, but the whole story surprisingly goes that WCW kept beating WWE for quite a while into the Austin-McMahon feud. Whether you view the MSG Stunner or the Mike Tyson incident as the true beginning of their battles, it still took a few months before WWE was able to finally defeat WCW in the ratings. That fateful night came on April 13, 1998, when the announced main event of Raw was set to be Austin and McMahon’s first actual in-ring match. Naturally, the match barely happened, with Austin first forced to tie his Stunner-arm behind his back and then attacked by Dude Love before the bell sounded. Even so, it was enough that Nitro’s 84 week winning streak was over, and from there it was neck and neck for the next couple weeks. Before long, Raw was winning handily and without difficulty, with the continued wars between Austin and McMahon no doubt a huge part of that success.
9. The Feud Indirectly Ruined The 1999 Royal Rumble
95% of pro wrestling feuds all end the same way, at least on a basic level—the two athletes who made one another’s lives a living hell square off in the ring, most likely with no holds barred. The saga of Steve Austin and Vince McMahon was unlike any other, though, and especially because Vince wasn’t actually a wrestler, it couldn’t end in any normal match. To try and overcompensate for McMahon’s weaknesses in the ring, WWE decided to use the 1999 Royal Rumble as the first attempt at blowing off their biggest feud, and the results were far less spectacularly than the company hoped. For as popular as Austin-McMahon was, it didn’t translate well to an hour long battle, and though neither “Stone Cold” nor the WWE CEO necessarily suffered. On the other hand, almost everyone else on the roster did suffer, thanks to the most important match of the year getting entirely ignored in favor of the backstage antics of Austin and The Corporation. The Rumble has had a few stinkers in the year like any other match, but the ’99 version was something else, a complete mess that didn’t get anyone over. The only upside was that Austin and McMahon’s feud had a do-over the next month, a much better cage match at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
8. Vince Turned Face Before Austin Turned Heel
Perhaps the most infamous moment of the Austin-McMahon rivalry was the moment it appeared to end, when the two shook hands at WrestleMania X-7. That moment will come up on this list later on, but for now, let’s focus on the less forgotten turn of the feud, when McMahon briefly became a face again in 1999 by thanking Austin for saving Stephanie from The Undertaker’s Ministry. The two were even close enough for McMahon to return Austin’s Smoking Skull WWE Championship belt to him at Backlash, predicting the friendship that would brew between them some two years later. It didn’t last long, of course, with Vince soon reuniting with his son Shane and resuming his battles with Austin. In fact, they were fighting one another again by the end of the very next Pay-Per-View, Over The Edge, despite Vince initially entering that event as Austin’s ally. From there on, the specifics get too bizarre and convoluted for us to cover, so let’s jump ahead to the next major moment in the feud that WWE has intentionally tried and tricked fans into forgetting all about…
7. Austin “Banned Vince From WWE Television” At Fully Loaded 1999
On July 25, 1999, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin retained his WWE Championship from The Undertaker in a First Blood Match at Fully Loaded, thereby banning Vince McMahon from television from that moment forward. Immediately following his victory, Austin gave Vince a celebratory Stunner, and the next night on Raw, Jim Ross lead the audience in a chorus of “Na na na na, na na na na, oh hell yeah, goodbye.” Wrestling is a fickle world when it comes to stipulations like that, and it was in fact all of two months before McMahon was back in the company, winning that same WWE Championship, no less. In general, the industry uses the three month rule before erasing past storylines, and Vince at least acknowledged Austin had successfully banned him from TV while he was champion by vacating the belt. It was less than six months after that when McMahon made yet another return and stuck around, completely ignoring the past stipulation. By that point, however, Austin had reinjured his neck and was taking significant time off, so there was no one around to enforce the rule in kayfabe.
6. Austin Regretted The Handshake At WrestleMania X-7
In many respects, the Attitude Era and the Austin-McMahon rivalry both ended at the exact same moment, when the two shook hands in the ring after the main event of WrestleMania X-7. The preceding match is almost universally hailed as one of the best to ever headline Mania, but the handshake and subsequent partnership between the former archrivals has long been one of the most controversial turns in wrestling history. On one hand, Austin did some of the greatest work of his career as a paranoid psychotic heel, yet on the other, the vast majority of fans simply didn’t want to boo him under any circumstances. Austin himself has realized this in hindsight, and claimed if he had the chance, he’d “pull an audible” and give Vince a Stunner after he helped him beat The Rock. It would have made perfect sense in kayfabe, with Austin getting one up on McMahon yet again while still doing whatever it took to win the WWE Championship for a fifth time. Austin also believes Vince would have been fine with it, generally letting him do whatever he wants. How this would have changed wrestling history is unclear, though we can remain pretty assured this next item wouldn’t have happened had Vince and Austin never been buddy-buddy…
5. Austin Turned On Vince Again To Join The Alliance
While most wrestling fans didn’t want to see “Stone Cold” become a bad guy, Austin himself was dead set on getting people to hate him, and like we just said, Vince was willing to let him do whatever he wanted to make that happen. Teaming up with the McMahon family and Triple H wasn’t working, so WWE pulled a desperation move and had Austin turn his back on WWE to join Shane and Stephanie McMahon’s WCW/ECW Alliance. The move didn’t make much sense on the surface, Austin having been especially outspoken about his hatred of WCW, and the company was too stuck in their narrative of Vince and WWE being underdog heroes to justify why Austin would be doing whatever it took to force him out of business. Instead, they doubled down on Austin’s gimmick as being paranoid and desperate, needing the younger McMahon’s constant validation to embolden his ass kickings. All that said, there were plenty of things wrong with The Invasion, and the fans wanting to cheer Austin was fairly low down on the reasons it was a failure.
4. Austin “Took His Ball And Went Home” In 2002
Around the same time Austin’s feud with McMahon more or less petered out in the ring, tensions flared between them behind the scenes. Despite the failed heel turn and Invasion taking away some of Austin’s steam, it didn’t take long after he went back to being a babyface that he was once again the most popular wrestler in the company. Unfortunately, WWE had apparently forgot how to book him properly, and even worse, his past injuries were taking a serious toll on his body. Feuds with the nWo and Ric Flair weren’t justifying his continued presence, and the straw that broke the camel’s back was McMahon asking Austin to lose to the up-and-coming rookie Brock Lesnar with absolutely no build. Rather than waste what could be a money match for no real reason, Austin walked out on WWE in July 2002, metaphorically “taking his ball and going home,” as longtime friend Jim Ross repeatedly declared on television. Shortly after his no-show, Austin also got into a horrible domestic dispute with his wife Debra, leading to his arrest and a sentence of one year on probation. Somehow, Vince was able to forgive him for it all, and Austin was back in WWE by February of 2003.
3. What Did Vince Fine Austin For Walking Out?
In the months after “Stone Cold” walked out of WWE, the ratings for Raw and SmackDown alike were on a steep downslide. By no means would it be fair to claim his absence was the only reason for this harsh decline in viewership, but it certainly didn’t help that the industry’s top star of the past five or six years had decided the company was off the rails. Even so, and regardless of their relationship when Austin walked out on him, it made sense that Vince would be willing to bend over backward to please “Stone Cold” in whatever way necessary and get him back, hopefully bringing along some of those lost fans with him. Vince usually gets what he wants, and thus Austin returned at No Way Out 2003, but the CEO wasn’t about to instantly nor entirely forgive his would-be cash cow. Accepting that he can’t outright fire just anybody, lest the ratings sag like happened when he temporarily let Austin go, Vince has contrived an alternative mechanism for punishing his superstars, that being heavy fines for people who go against him. In this particular case, he fined Austin $650,000 for betraying the company and fans, although ever the rebel, Austin was able to talk it down to a smooth quarter mil.
2. Vince Has Called Austin The Greatest Superstar Of All Time
Given his unprecedented popularity and success, it was only a matter of time before “Stone Cold” Steve Austin would become a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. That honor finally came in 2009, when Austin was officially inducted by none other than Vince McMahon, who in his introductory speech referred to Austin as “the greatest WWE superstar of all time.” For all we know, Vince has said this about a number of his favorite employees, yet the stage he chose when he announced Austin as his best worker in history says it all about the level of thought he put into the statement. Not just everybody can tell Vince he’s wrong, call audibles in the ring, or come back to rapturous applause after walking out of the company with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bad blood between them. Austin achieved that level of success, and Vince will always respect him and honor him for it. Unlike Vince’s other top rival/stars, Austin has never intentionally tried to put him out of business, showing that respect likely goes both ways.
1. Austin Still Calls Vince Out On His BS
Officially, “Stone Cold” retired on March 30, 2003, after The Rock defeated him at WrestleMania XIX. From that moment forward, Austin has continued making appearances in the WWE Universe in a non-wrestling capacity, gradually reducing his role to the point only occasionally stepping in the ring to make special announcements on extremely rare occasions. While Austin only appears on screen at most once or twice a year these days, that hasn’t stopped his influence backstage, specifically over Vince McMahon, whom he still has a respectful if sometimes contentious relationship. Austin’s career has advanced away from WWE enough that he and McMahon rarely have disagreements about work, but as seen when McMahon appeared on the Stone Cold Podcast in 2014, he’ll still step up and speak his mind when he thinks Vince is using active talent wrong. Case in point, Cesaro, who Austin and countless fans all agree is one of the biggest wasted opportunities on the current WWE roster. However, even Austin telling Vince this to his face didn’t change his mind, so it could easily be argued the so-called greatest WWE superstar in history doesn’t have the power he used to. On the other hand, a more cynical look onlooker might say it’s merely a sign Austin needs to Stun some sense into the old man, one last time.