2002 was not the best time for Steve Austin. The Texas Rattlesnake wrestled Scott Hall in a disappointing match at Wrestlemania X8 while long-time friend and rival The Rock was part of the incredible Legend vs Icon match inn Hulk Hogan vs The Rock. The match with Hall was not the big-money match befitting of Austin, and he no-showed the Raw after Wrestlemania much to the chagrin of the paying fans.
There were rumours that Steve Austin vs Hulk Hogan was supposed to be the main event of Wrestlemania. However, the two were said to have differences in their opinion on who would win the match, as well as Austin having bad opinions of Hogan from his time in WCW.
Instead, Austin faced Hall after a disappointing year. Previously, he had turned heel and joined The Alliance in their battle against the WWF. He won the WWE Championship and was the leader of the ill-fated WCW-ECW Alliance and was wildly unpopular. He soon turned face and helped the WWF to victory but he damage had already been done.
He would get continually unhappier with his spot on the card, as he was no longer considered the number one babyface by Vince McMahon. It seemed his run on the top was over and Austin felt he wasn’t ready to move down the card at that point.
He aired his grievances about his place in the WWE during a shocking phone interview with WWE Byte This. Austin launched a verbal beatdown on the WWE creative team and Vince McMahon, stating that he didn’t like the direction the WWE was going in and attacked the creative team for not using Austin in the way they had been in the past few years.
WWE had recently re-hired Eddie Guerrero, in a bid to placate Austin and give him someone fresh to feud with. The Latino star never got the chance to begin his rivalry with the Bionic Redneck and would not taste the main event for another two years, when he would win the WWE Championship from Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004.
It would Lesnar who would be Austin’s undoing, however. Recently debut, he had been dubbed “The Next Big Thing” and pushed heavily from the outset after his debut on the same Raw where Austin no-showed. He was due to wrestle against Stone Cold on the June 10th episode of Monday Night Raw in a King of the Ring qualifying match, although this match would never actually take place.
It was a phone call from Jim Ross that would be the final straw for Austin. He received a call from the WWE Hall of Famer revealing that he was due to lose to Lesnar on Raw, in what would be the biggest win of the young stars career and would make him a star in the eyes of the fans.
This was not on for Austin. He baulked at the idea of losing to the young star on free TV, feeling that losing the match without any build-up did very little for Lesnar and would have been better to build up the rivalry for a big pay per view match down the line. He also didn’t like how the loss pushed him further down the card and seemed to solidify the end of his run in the main event of the WWE. Dealing with potentially the end of his career, he lashed out and walked out on the WWE, refusing to lose to Lesnar and causing a headache for Vince McMahon and co.
He later appeared on Pardon My Take to discuss the issue, explaining he meant to disrespect to Brock and that he would have been happy to lose to him if the match was built up to and they could make money off of it.
“And the time they wanted me to fly down to Atlanta for Monday Night Raw and put over Brock Lesnar. The night before, I was working in Columbus, Georgia working with Ric Flair in a cage…so of course I didn’t show up because it wasn’t time for me to do the favors yet for Brock in an unadvertised match in a tournament style TV match whereas, hey man, I love Brock Lesnar, I’d lose to him any day of the week, but build it up so we can all make money off of it and it’s going to mean something.
Austin would stay away from the WWE for the rest of 2002. It was a torrid time for the Rattlesnake, who lost most of the final year of his career. The WWE did not relent in calling him out on air, with Mr McMahon famously claiming that Stone Cold “took his ball and went home”. It would not be until he was sent a postcard by Jim Ross that Austin agreed to return to the ring for one final run in the company in early 2003, ending at Wrestlemania 19 when he lost to The Rock.
It did not come without it’s consequences. Austin was summoned to McMahon’s office and informed that he was required to fine him for his absence and letting the fans down. In an interview with Vince McMahon on his podcast in 2014, Austin revealed for the first time that McMahon had fined him $650,000 upon his return, but he was able to lower the amount to $250,000.
Steve Austin came out of retirement in 2022 to wrestle against Kevin Owens at Wrestlemania 38. He rolled back the years in the main event of the first night of the event, which has prompted rumours that he will appear at Wrestlemania 39 as well.
Brock Lesnar Understood The Reasons Why He Left
Brock Lesnar appeared on the Pat McAfee Show, revealing what he thought about Stone Cold Steve Austin walking out on WWE rathe than wrestling him on Monday Night Raw. Whilst some may have been offended by Austin refusing to work with them, Lesnar knew “business is business” and doesn’t hold a grudge against the Texas Rattlesnake for his actions.
“I understand from a business aspect at the time, Steve left and didn’t want to work with me. It was probably the right decision for him at the time. I don’t hold a grudge against it at all. Business is business. I had a lot of good mentors coming up in the business,” he said.
The Brock Lesnar vs Steve Austin match never happened, although Austin and former manager Paul Heyman teased a Wrestlemania bout between the pair on an episode of the Stone Cold Podcast. You can see that tense interaction below.