Any list of the greatest professional wrestlers in history can pretty much be discredited if Stone Cold Steve Austin is not at or near the top. He may not have had the longest career and he may not have been a great technical wrestler, but his attitude and charisma could instantly sell out any event he appeared on the card for. Even Vince McMahon himself has gone on record to call him the most profitable wrestler ever.
Essentially the Attitude Era equivalent of Hulk Hogan and John Cena, Steve Austin spent most of his run as the face of the company, even with formidable competition from The Rock. However, unlike Cena and Hogan, Austin’s reputation isn’t marred by rampant backstage politicking or putting on nearly the same exact match way too often. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have his part in making a few enemies in the wrestling business.
For however many fellow legends of wrestling give all the respect they can to Stone Cold Steve Austin as a man who completely revolutionized the business, there are many others who aren’t quite as keen about The Texas Rattlesnake. When you remember incidents like walking out on the company or accusations of domestic abuse, this shouldn’t really be surprising. But some of the reasons for these wrestlers’ resentment of Austin does shine an unflattering light on him.
With so much to celebrate about Stone Cold, but also much to shun him for, let’s take a look at 8 wrestlers who loved Stone Cold, and 8 who hated him.
We mentioned Hulk Hogan has a bit of a reputation for backstage politics and not actually being that great of a wrestler, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is an iconic legend of the business. After all, he was the main catalyst for the boom period of wrestling in the 80s. And as such, Hulk Hogan vs Stone Cold Steve Austin is a dream match for the ages in the minds of most wrestling fans. However, it actually did almost happen, but the circumstances behind why it didn’t happen mean that Hogan and Austin aren’t exactly on the best terms.
The famous “Icon vs Icon” match between Hogan and The Rock at WrestleMania X-8 was actually supposed to be Hogan vs Austin. However, the match never happened because both refused to lose to each other, and on top of that, Austin felt that he would have to slow himself down in a match with a legend past his prime, and thought the match would be a stinker even if it did happen.
Since that dream match fell out, Hogan has repeatedly and unashamedly called Stone Cold Steve Austin a coward. Though admittedly, he still says he wants the match to happen, so it’s possible this is just to try to goad Austin out of retirement. But based on the history of it, the heat between the two is at least a little bit real.
Arguably, Stone Cold Steve Austin would not have been so popular throughout his main event run had he not had a perfect rival opposite him in The Rock. The two even main-evented both WrestleMania XV and WrestleMania X-Seven. And who could forget The Rock selling a Stone Cold Stunner as if his body was convulsing and spasming? But despite the two having the hottest rivalry in all of the Attitude Era, the two are actually great friends.
They may have had a short falling out after Austin walked out in 2002 and The Rock buried Austin on-air, but the two have a healthy relationship with each other. And perhaps no single moment speaks better to the mutual respect and admiration for each other than Austin’s retirement match at WrestleMania XIX. After pinning Austin, The Rock stayed down for a moment, and even pushed the referee away to pay his respect to Austin, giving him one last message before he went away.
Stone Cold Steve Austin is no stranger to some backstage politicking of his own, and perhaps the most high-profile example of this is in regards to Jeff Jarrett. The creative team in 1999 was starting to set Austin up to feud with Jeff Jarrett. That feud never happened, because Austin flat out refused to work with him.
Different reasons are given as to why Austin refused. Austin himself has said it was the wrong time coming off a feud with The Undertaker or another theory was that Jarrett was too slow of a worker for Austin's taste. However, the most often cited reason is that Austin had bad blood with Jarrett and his father from back in Memphis and that Austin didn’t take too kindly to Jarrett’s promo calling Austin 3:16 blasphemous. Former writer Vince Russo even claims that Austin was about ready to kill him.
They’ve gotten past it since, but neither can pretend that they most certainly did not get along at that time.
When you think of Brian Pillman, almost certainly the first thing that comes to mind is the “Pillman’s got a gun” angle. When Pillman came to the WWE, he initially teamed with Austin, as they had teamed before in other promotions. But later Austin turned on him and they feuded together. In one of the most controversial angles ever, Austin attacked Pillman at his home, only for Pillman to pull a gun on him. And the worst part: Austin didn’t know ahead of time that he would do that. Which just makes it even more surprising to realize they were actually great friends.
Steve Austin has explained in interviews that he and Pillman were good friends both before and after the angle, and that Pillman was simply so committed to kayfabe and his loose cannon character that he often wouldn’t even tell his fellow wrestlers what he was going to do. And come on, what friends haven’t pretended to pull guns on each other without telling anyone about it?
Yet another wrestler Austin refused to work with, but this time would seem to be a little more justified. Steve Austin walked out of the company in 2002 and the main reason was that creative asked him to job to Brock Lesnar on free TV. According to Austin, it wasn’t the fact that he’d lose to Lesnar that really bothered him, it was more the fact that WWE wanted to give away a pay-per-view main event quality match for free and with no build.
But that hasn’t stopped Lesnar from talking smack at Austin. Granted, Lesnar doesn’t really like many people whatsoever, but when he openly trash talks someone, you know he’s mad. Back when he was with UFC, when asked about who he would want to wrestle if he returned to WWE, he answered Stone Cold Steve Austin, but not before calling him out as the guy who walked out on him and was too scared to face him.
Austin has gone on record saying he and Lesnar actually have a friendly relationship, but this smack talk says otherwise. Perhaps it was just a playful jab or just wrestlers being wrestlers. It’s hard to know with a guy as introverted as Lesnar.
I can’t decide if it’s funny or just thoroughly unsurprising that Goldberg, the man sometimes seen as just a beefier Stone Cold, has nothing but respect for Steve Austin. The inter-promotional feud that never was, Goldberg was a star in WCW just as Austin was the face of the then-WWE. Seeing two guys with similar looks and both of whom lost very rarely, you couldn’t help but be excited for even the possibility of Goldberg vs Stone Cold. And even Goldberg himself says it’s a tragedy that it never happened.
Goldberg and Stone Cold were never in the same promotion for very long, but even their short time together during Goldberg’s ill-fated WWE run is enough for him to attest that he learned a lot from him about the business and still treasures their time together. It’s nice to know that a legend of WCW and a legend of WWE can put aside the Monday Night War and respect each other.
Many of the wrestlers who profess some sort of resentment for Stone Cold tend to be people who never moved up from the midcard, drawing accusations of simply being jealous of him. This one could certainly be seen that way. Road Dogg was most famous for his tag team with Billy Gunn as The New Age Outlaws and aligning with D-Generation X, but never had too much success as a singles star. And he loves to shoot on other wrestlers.
According to Road Dogg himself, he was on good terms with Steve Austin until the debacle with Jeff Jarrett. Refusing to work with Jeff Jarrett was seen as Austin acting above the rest of the locker room. This led to real heat between Road Dogg and Steve Austin after Road Dogg confronted him and was only ever told it was a “personal issue”. Road Dogg also didn’t take too kindly to Austin’s wife at the time Debra being upgraded to first class plane tickets but not Road Dogg and Billy Gunn as the Tag Team Champions.
Had Shawn Michaels not come out of his temporary retirement from 1998 to 2002, he may be remembered as just a no good punk instead of one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. His last match before going away for four years was dropping the WWE Championship to Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV. And infamously, The Undertaker had to threaten him to do business the right way.
When Michaels returned in 2002, reformed by religion, he made sure to repair relationships, including with Steve Austin. The two still maintained a level of professional respect anyway, according to Michaels, but they truly became friends when he came back. They have nothing but good things to say about each other nowadays and Michaels even asked Austin to write a foreword for one of his books about dealing with his personal problems.
The recently deceased “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was never given too much of a chance to shine in the main event scene of WWE or WCW, but was still one of the most over wrestlers of his time. He was one of the few pro wrestlers who successfully made the jump into movies and TV, with his performance in They Live especially being remembered as iconic. He still stuck around in the wrestling scene until his death, and even had a huge falling out with Steve Austin.
Piper, like Austin, ran a regular podcast with the Podcast One network until he invited Will Sasso on to impersonate and poke fun at some other wrestlers, including Stone Cold. Allegedly, Austin didn’t take kindly to this and starting speaking with higher ups both in Podcast One and in the WWE, getting Piper removed from the Podcast One network. Piper had lost his entire livelihood months before he passed away, and mostly blamed Steve Austin. Bad form, rattlesnake.
Back when Steve Austin first came to WWE, he was known as The Ringmaster and was the protégé of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. But we all know the story by this point, how Austin went up to the creative office and pitched the Stone Cold character. And what really launched his career was his famous Austin 3:16 promo after defeating Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts in the 1996 King of the Ring final. While some have viewed it as blasphemous, Roberts himself, the man at the expense of the promo, has nothing but respect for Steve Austin.
In a 2015 appearance on a Steve Austin podcast, Roberts tells about how the higher ups in WWE didn’t believe in Austin, thinking he’d forever be a midcarder. But Roberts saw Austin’s potential, and given the chance to work with him, he reportedly said to management “man, that son of a b**** is going to get over even if I have to pull my damn teeth out.” Roberts was not mad to see Austin cut a promo at the expense of his semi-religious gimmick. He was just excited to see it turn him into the megastar he could be.
Ahmed Johnson had a short career in wrestling, but in only four years with WWE, he made his mark, becoming the first African-American wrestler to win a singles title with the company, winning the Intercontinental Championship from Goldust. He later feuded with the Nation of Domination until he left the company in 1998. He only barely had a chance to interact with Austin, and boy was it not a good impression.
Johnson claims that in his backstage interactions with Stone Cold, he was more than a little racist. One incident he talks about was finding a certain racial slur written on his rental car, and though he even admits he doesn’t have proof, he suspected it was Austin, and some fans even told him that it was. If all these claims really are true, we should probably just count ourselves lucky that it didn’t erupt into a real fight between the two.
One of the most defining moments of Steve Austin’s career was his submission match with Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13. The two put on one of the only five 5-star matches in WWE history, a grueling match which ended in a perfectly executed double turn. Hart had him locked in the Sharpshooter, but Austin refused to tap, deciding he’d rather pass out before he gave up. And turns out the man who turned heel on Austin right as he turned babyface loves Steve Austin to death.
Though he admits Steve Austin had a habit of going too fast in his matches, forgetting the plan and panicking, Hart was always excited to work with Austin. He even calls his matches with Austin some of his favorites in his career. It pays to have legends of the previous era endorse an up-and-coming talent as Austin’s feud with Hart set the table for him being the face of wrestling in the Attitude Era.
Bob Holly is another wrestler who was a bit infamous for not liking people. There are countless stories of Holly hazing new talent and insisting that they pay their dues before becoming “one of the boys”. But based on his comments of some of the people who did do more than their fair share for the business, it’s hard not to think he was a little jealous. Especially of Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Bob Holly resents the rattlesnake, claiming that after he jumped to the main event scene, he developed an ego. While the other stories we've talked about make that hard to deny, Holly’s main beef with him seems to be that he stopped riding with Holly and Billy Gunn and Austin started acting like he knew everything now that he was at the top. With many legends of the business having undying respect for Austin, but long-time midcarders not liking him so much, it’s easy to see where these accusations of jealousy come from.
Yet another wrestler involved in a high-profile feud with Austin showing complete love for him outside the ring. It’s true. It’s true. It’s true.
Angle had a hot start with WWE in 1998 and became a top heel in the company. Who could forget the “You suck!” chants everywhere he went? But in the Invasion storyline, he turned face and feuded with Stone Cold Steve Austin. But then he and Austin started turning back and forth again and it was a huge mess, but no less, their matches were great.
Angle and Austin obviously have a good rapport, as Angle has appeared multiple times on Austin’s podcast. But just to assure that they love each other as fellow wrestlers, Angle has said the two had amazing chemistry and that Austin was one of the best wrestlers Angle has ever worked. It’s a shame Austin had to retire early in his career and we couldn’t see them put on some more great matches, preferably in a less confusing feud. If only Austin hadn’t broken his freakin’ neck.
Dean Ambrose, during his short run as WWE Champion, infamously went on the WWE version of Austin’s podcast, and few have forgotten how much of an awkward mess it was. While outright saying Ambrose hates Austin as a result is a bit speculative, the tension in the room was palpable. The bulk of the interview went relatively fine, but it both started and ended terribly.
Austin started right away asking Ambrose about his upbringing, and understandably, it was a bit of a touchy subject for Ambrose, and resisted giving too much, but Austin kept pressing, building the tension. The podcast proceeded on fine, despite Ambrose having controversial comments about the creative team as well as Brock Lesnar. But then it ended with Austin saying that Ambrose should try to be edgier, which really got under his skin.
While that last bit could easily just be good old wrestlers being wrestlers and getting people talking, the end result was still an awkward, bordering on belligerent chemistry between the two.
Mick Foley is nothing less than a hardcore legend. In his long career, he’s had iconic moments and matches, especially the famous Hell in a Cell match with The Undertaker as Mankind, and a hard hitting Street Fight with Triple H as Cactus Jack. However, he didn’t have too many encounters with Steve Austin during his career, mostly teaming with him as Cactus Jack and later Dude Love, followed by a short feud after turning on Austin. But the two more than made their marks on each other.
Both of the two love each other’s fast-paced, hard hitting styles and each professes that in every one of their matches, no matter the venue or buildup, they went all out with each other. To this day, the two remain the best of friends. They love to sit down and just talk about the business with each other, and we all love to sit down and listen to them do it on a good podcast. Cheers, boys.