Today marks the 15 year anniversary of Stone Cold’s abrupt walk out of the WWE in 2002.
Here, I delve into what may have happened had Austin decided to keep his ball and remain with the company…
On June 10th, 2002 Stone Cold Steve Austin walked out on the WWE after learning that he would be losing to Brock Lesnar on that week’s Raw in an unadvertised match. It has been a decade and a half since that fateful decision by The Texas Rattlesnake to take his ball and go home, and we are all still talking about it.
Fifteen years ago, Vince McMahon proposed to Steve Austin a match between himself and Brock Lesnar, who had a rocket strapped to him at this point as WWE was pushing him to the moon.
Things got heated in the meeting and Austin ended up getting on a plane back to his home in Texas hours before Monday Night Raw went live. McMahon responded in haste, burying his biggest star of all time on the flagship programme that he helped make popular.
Walkouts are part of the business, just ask CM Punk, but I don’t think, in his wildest dreams, McMahon ever expected Austin to do so on WWE. Yes, Austin helped WWE win the Monday Night Wars, but in the process, McMahon made Steve a multi-millionaire.
Maybe Stone Cold owed his boss some sort of loyalty for plucking him out of obscurity in 1995 and moulding him into the biggest box office draw the wrestling business has ever seen. Unless you’re The Undertaker though, loyalty does not seem to exist in sports entertainment.
Was Austin right? On one hand, to leave the entire company and his peers high and dry like that seems like an extremely selfish move. On the other hand, some agree that Austin being fed to Lesnar on RAW would have been a huge waste of potential PPV buys.
Whichever way you dice it, Austin was totally unprofessional for the way he went about things. Austin has spoken about the incident in recent years, claiming that he felt remorse for leaving the way he did, but also feeling like it was a hill worth dying on. His bank balance may say otherwise.
Stone Cold would not return to WWE until February of 2003, and by that point, Austin’s neck was in bad shape and he only wrestled two PPV matches – against Eric Bischoff and The Rock – before retiring. One has to wonder what would’ve been had Austin stuck around in 2002 and followed on from his stunning performances in 2001…
Austin was already pencilled in to wrestle Eddie Guerrero at the King Of The Ring event in June before his hasty retreat out of the company. While Latino Heat was good here, he wasn’t the solidified headliner he would be a couple of years later, however, sharing a ring with Stone Cold may have accelerated things for the late Hall Of Famer.
I do believe this would have been a decent showing, but nothing more. I reckon it would be one and done, with Austin defeating Guerrero cleanly and moving onto bigger things.
The main event of Vengeance saw The Undertaker defend the Undisputed Championship against Kurt Angle and The Rock in a hellacious Triple Threat encounter. Rocky only returned because Austin had quit, so if Austin never left, I’m sure he would’ve taken The Great One’s place here and came out on top, capturing the Undisputed Championship for the first time in his career and celebrating like only he can – with some cold beverages.
So, we come to SummerSlam where we would find out whether Austin’s prophecy about lost PPV buy rates would come true as he defends the Undisputed Championship against Brock Lesnar at the Biggest Party Of The Summer. I’m sure the pair would’ve had a barnstorming contest.
They showed they had some chemistry in their brief brawl during the build to WrestleMania 20. I’d still have Lesnar go over clean, but perhaps Austin wouldn’t mind so much with it being on a marquee PPV, meaning more dollars in his bank account.
With Austin without the title, and Lesnar taking the Undisputed Championship to Smackdown, I’d have Triple H blame Stone Cold for killing Raw. Then have Eric Bischoff make a match between the pair at Unforgiven for the World Heavyweight Championship. Rather than just give it to Hunter which diluted the Title, this would be a hell of a way to reintroduce the Championship to the masses and have a stellar bout to go with it. Austin wouldn’t need another run with the belt at this point, so I’d have Triple H go over, but not cleanly. For the shock factor, I’d have Kane interfere and cost The Rattlesnake the victory.
This would lead to a No Mercy Street Fight between Austin and an unmasked Kane. Let’s face it, what did Kane do for the twelve more months he remained hidden behind a mask? Absolutely nothing. This turn of events would also have rid us of that hideous Katie Vick angle. This is a tough one to call, but I think Austin would need a big win after suffering a couple of high profile losses, but I’m sure he could make Kane look a legit badass in the process.
We come to Survivor Series where the main event is an Elimination Chamber Match for the World Heavyweight Championship. Triple H will defend against Shawn Michaels, Kane, Rob Van Dam and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Just seeing Stone Cold locked inside that demonic structure would’ve been worth the price of admission alone.
Imagine the crazy things he would’ve come up with in there. Backstage politics always play a part in wrestling, and I can see Michaels desperately wanting his WrestleMania 15 win back over Austin. HBK would be the guy to eliminate Austin from the Chamber before going on to win the gold just like he did for real.
For the last PPV of the year you could easily have Austin chase Michaels for the strap, but what would that achieve? It would be much better to have Austin wrestle a younger guy to help him grow and mature which is why I’d have him face Batista.
This spot went to Kane in reality, but Austin would’ve been the better fit had he stuck around. Again, these two had good chemistry judging from their mini brawls in 2003, and I think they would’ve come up with something special here. Obviously, Austin would go over The Animal.
So, there you have it. That’s how 2002 may have looked had Stone Cold stuck around. Unfortunately, he chose not to, and everything is just fantasy booking.
Like many before him, Austin was a bonafide legend and top draw that was declining in quality and chose to focus on his own career instead of giving back to the industry that helped make him who he is today.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3. Thanks for reading!