I remember when Austin first walked out the company, He really shocked the wrestling world. There were many stories coming from all sides, From Stone Cold being over controlling his character, Heated backstage arguments between Stone Cold and Vince over the character and direction of the storylines. The hiring of the NWO and how Austin was pushed down the card at Wrestlemania 18, Well after a year of walking out, Stone Cold spoke his mind on this article and revealed the real truth on why he walked out of the company that made him a superstar. It remains as the highest selling issue of Raw Magazine to date:
Six months ago, RAW Magazine ran a cover story on me leaving WWE, and Confidential did a whole show about it. They both said it was “the whole story.” Well, it wasn’t the whole story, because you never heard MY story. I can answer the first question [most people have] right up front: No, I don’t regret leaving, but I wish it would’ve never happened. I mean, I wish it could have happened a different way.
WHY? HERE’S WHY
by Steve Austin
If you want the whole damn story, you need both sides. Here’s mine.
My problems with WWE had been building for a while, going back to WrestleMania X-7 when I wanted to change the direction of my character. I felt a little stale, and I wanted to switch things up. Maybe it wasn’t the greatest idea in the world, but I always think back to that night at WrestleMania when I was whaling The Rock with a chair. I shouldn’t have just flipped flat-out and erased the mystique of Stone Cold. Hell, Stone Cold is unpredictable, because you never know what the hell he’s going to do next. I should have put the edge back where it needed to be. Instead, it became predictable. Then Rock was gone. Everybody was gone. I didn’t have a lot of people to work programs with, and the fans didn’t really know how to take me. But anyway, the creative [direction] got real wishy-washy after that, and I wasn’t happy with the direction anything was going in.
When I took off for a couple of weeks after WrestleMania X8, I heard and read a lot of people saying it was because I was pissed off about the nWo coming in and because of my match at ‘Mania with Scott Hall. I really didn’t have a problem with the nWo. Me and Kevin Nash used to be riding partners. He’s a damn good friend of mine. When Hall and Nash were in WCW, they stirred up a lot of crap. The only one I heard that was a pile of trash was [Hollywood Hulk] Hogan, because he’s a manipulator and does backstage politics; he’s proven that to this day. I just didn’t think it was going to work out gangbusters like it was planned to be. I knew going into the match with Scott Hall that I was going to go off the next day. I was ****ing fried. I was burned out and frustrated. They had me in a third or fourth main event. It wasn’t even a main event; it was just some match on the card. And I wasn’t happy with that at all. You can tell me this business goes in cycles, and sometimes you’re not as hot as you want to be, but where I was on that card didn’t make sense to me. The match wasn’t promoted properly. It wasn’t built properly. Nothing. People said I had personal problems with Scott Hall, or he had problems with me. I didn’t. I like the guy. He’s got personal problems; that’s stuff he’s got to deal with. As far as getting in the ring with Scott, I enjoyed it. But you can’t expect that guy to come in here and in three months be in a WrestleMania match. So I wanted to wrestle with somebody different. I got no animosity toward Scott Hall. He’s as good as gold with me.
When I went home the day after WrestleMania X8, I was going to get my head together, man. The way things were going, I needed to step back and say, “Man, let me take a breath of fresh air,” because when The Rock was off making his movie and Triple H was down with an injury, I was working overtime. When they get me hot and rolling, I’m out doing every single thing they got. I worked my ass off, just like everybody else on the crew. It’s a part of being a top guy. I worked every damned show there is. I was burned out physically. Damn it, I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I can go with the best of them, but I was burned out. That’s the bottom line. I knew I was going to come back. I just needed some time off, and I didn’t need to negotiate it or talk about it with anybody or anything like that. I wanted to go home, and I did.
I go back to that deal with Rocky at ‘Mania. That was one of the best promoted matchups in history. To me, it was on fire. It was awesome. And it went down from there. I’ll shoulder some of the blame, because I made character decisions that weren’t in my best interest. But I wasn’t in Vince’s ear. His ear was somewhere else. Maybe he was as burned out as I was going to become. When I came back about six weeks later, things were just the way there were. I did an interview on Byte This on WWE.com, and I had a lot of things to say about the creative direction that got me in some hot water. See, here’s the problem with creative: You got people writing storylines who ain’t never been in the ring, that don’t know what the hell’s in my head. And here’s someone who’s going to sit there and write words for Stone Cold? Uh-Uh.
When I came back in 2000 from my neck surgery, it was kind of a different system. I just kind of fell into it because I was insecure. I was worried about getting back in the swing, so I just started going with the new system. But when I was at my very hottest…when I first came around, I started off as The Ringmaster. I came up with my own material. Well, I was coming up with all my stuff myself, and that made me a hell of a hot talent, because I was spitting out all this shit I’d had in Texas my whole life. And that’s what made me what I was. All of a sudden you’ve got someone putting words in your mouth — you can’t do that. The writers are taking the business from the boys, and that’s what the problem with creative is. They’ve got to give the business back to the damn boys. When you got a guy who’s been in the business three, six, eight, ten, or fifteen years, it doesn’t matter. Asking a damned writer what he’s supposed to say? There’s a problem.
When I was at my hottest, selling out everywhere we went, no one was telling me what to say. They’d give me a few little bullet points, “I’d like you to cover this or that,” and then like all talent should, I’d feed off the crowd and make the rest of. When Ric Flair was at his hottest in the NWA days, he wasn’t doing comedy. He was saying what was on his mind, and it came from his heart and his head, because he believed in what he was saying. I believed in what I was doing. Hogan, for what it’s worth, when that guy was hot, he was saying what was in his heart and in his mind. He didn’t have no one — some 25 year old, fresh out of sitcom school or whatever the hell it is — telling him what to say. That’s the big problem to me.
I’d made it pretty clear that I wasn’t happy, but from where I stood, things had changed between me and Vince. It just seemed like when I had to take a damn year off with my neck — and that sucked, to be on top of the world and then get shut down and sit there and watch. When I took that year off, that leave of absence, I didn’t know if I was going to come back or not, because my neck was a serious deal, and it still is. When I came back, things were different between me and him. When I came back…if I don’t see you for a year but you’re my friend — boom — we’re right back on the same page from when I left. That’s how I work. Vince, it seemed like he was on a different page from where I was. I know he had to be in tune with the other guys, and that’s fine. You can’t site there thinking about Stone Cold. I’m at the house. I’m not making money for anybody; I’m not entertaining the crowd. I’m just trying to heal up. But when I came back, in my opinion, things had changed. It seemed like people were in his ear for their own agendas, and not the direction or agenda of WWE.
Man, I’ll tell you what, I keep giving it to you and I keep getting tuned out and shut down, I just get fed up. I got so frustrated that I was like, fuck it.” That’s how I operate. It’s probably one of my biggest quirks or faults or whatever — traits, I don’t know. I’m still going to work hard for you, but I know the situation isn’t what it needs to be. I know whatever I do at my best, if the situation is dogshit, it ain’t gonna work.
And that’s where I was in June, right before I went home for what I thought was for good. We were just finishing Knoxville or somewhere in Tennessee, and we were going to go down to Atlanta for RAW the next night. I got to the hotel and J.R. called and talked about my matchup for Monday night, and I said, “Man, I don’t like that.” He said, “Well that’s what we’re going to do,” and I said, “Well, then I’m not going to be there.” He told me I was going to be facing Brock [Lesnar] in an unadvertised RAW match — no buildup, no promotion, no nothing. I said, “I don’t like it.” Later that night, at about two in the morning, I called Vince and he ran the same scenario by me. I sat there, listened and said, “Okay.” And he’s thinking I’m saying okay because I agreed to it. I was saying, “Okay, I’m fucking fed up. This is bullshit.”
I stared teeing the writing on the wall. That’s when I decided to walk. Here’s the bottom line: I’m Stone Cold Steve Austin. I’ve drawn more money than anybody else in the business. I’ve sold more merchandise that anybody in the business, and I’ve sold more pay-per-views than anybody in the business. I’m not the first in line for Brock Lesnar. I’m the last in line. I’m happy to do business with anybody — when it’s time to do business. That was the dumbest business decision I’ve ever heard in my life. If you’re a stupid S.O.B., you say, “Yeah, Austin, do it.” But if you know the business, and you know what is business, then I’m the last one for Brock. That’s the money match. That’s the promotion. That’s the match everyone wants to see. Then whatever the outcome is, it’s fine by me. But I’m the last in line, I’m not the first.
So, I packed up my gear and got on a plane back to Texas, and J.R. called me on my cell phone while I was sitting on the plane, waiting for it to take off. He told me to get my ass back to the building. Man, that was a hard day, but I had already made up my damn mind what I was going to do, because I wasn’t going to go to the building and negotiate with Vince about working with Brock Lesnar. It’s got nothing to do with Brock — I like the guy. I think he’s an awesome talent, and I think he’s going to be a big star. But when you sit there and all of a sudden they want me to go to RAW and compete with Brock when it wasn’t time, they’re screwing with me and the business. They’re basically jabbing me in with a stick. And you can’t tell me different, because those weren’t good business decisions. So I was not going to get off that plane to negotiate. I was going to go to the damned house, because that was the only way I figured I was going to Vince’s damn attention and wake him up and say, “**** you, man. This ain’t right!”
And everybody said, “That wasn’t the way to do it. That wasn’t the way to do it.” Nobody knows, because nobody back there in the damn dressing room has ever been in my knee braces. I ain’t being cocky. I’m just telling you. And then they said, “Okay, well, Stone Cold was holding the talent down, now new guys are going to come up and be big stars.” Well, you name me that big star who stepped up that I was holding down. Because I can’t think of one. Edge has come up, but when was I holding him down? I helped anybody out there who asked me for an opinion. Could I have gotten off that plane? Yeah, but I wasn’t going to go negotiate nothing. I made up my mind. I got a blood mary. I wasn’t happy about what I was doing, but I was stubborn. I thought that’s what I needed to do, and that’s what I did. J.R. said, “That was the dumbest thing you ever did,” or “That was the biggest mistake you ever made,” and I’m living with it. Whether it was a mistake or whatever, I did what I thought I needed to. And I can’t go back in time to change it.
At that point in time, in my mind, I was done. That was it. There was so much in-fighting between these guys jockeying for position, and everybody was saying, “Oh, he’s different, he’s that, he’s not a team player.” Man, I saw right through all that bull****. And when I busted my ass for the company and done what I done, and whenever I said I was hurt — and I rarely missed shots until I was taken out with serious injuries — if I tell you I’m hurt, I’m hurt. And I ain’t got the sniffles, I ain’t got PMS, I’m ****ing hurt. If I tell you something, it’s the truth. I busted my ass for that company. I damn near got paralyzed and turned into a quadriplegic — and that was a very, very lucky damn thing that didn’t happen to me. I came back from that. I came back from neck surgery, and I’ve got bad knees and I’ve got a lot of other problems. I’ve given this company everything I got. I’m not complaining about it, because they pay me. They pay me to give that up, and it provides me with income. So I’m not whining about it. I’m just saying, “I give you everything I’ve got, now you give me everything you’ve got.” I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about the best creative possible. Because I drew you a lot of money and I sold you a lot of ****. Now treat me like it. And not like a prima donna, because I’m not.
And then I got the label of being paranoid. I’m not ****ing paranoid! I mean, Jesus Christ, when I left, people started voicing their opinions and saying I was different or I was paranoid, whatever. I feel what I feel. You can’t ask anybody back there. They gave their opinion, but it’s not a valid opinion, because nobody back there has ever been in the shoes I’m in.
But that all came during the famous WWE smear campaign, as I like to call the Confidential show and the RAW Magazine article, and all the things that came out right after I left. “Austin took his ball and went home.” It was all bull**** propaganda. And, again, it wasn’t the whole story, because you never heard my story.
There were some other things that went on while I was gone that pissed me off. Like during the smear campaign when I was sitting at the house and had to turn on the TV and see The Rock making a special appearance on RAW. This was during the “Get the ‘F’ Out” campaign, when we had to change our name to WWE — which completely sucks. So all of a sudden, you’ve got Rock out there saying, “You know, if you don’t want to be here, then get the ‘F’ out!” Well genius, I’d already been out and got out. To me, that was the thing that got my ass the most. Here’s a guy who I was a tremendous influence on his career in he ring. He’ll tell you the same thing — and if he don’t, he’s a liar. Anytime he needed advice for a problem, I’d give him the best advice I could. I always helped that guy out — I helped everyone who asked. If you wanted my honest opinion, I’d give it. so anyway, the problem was with me and Vince, it wasn’t with me and Rock. I thought that was the biggest chicken**** thing I’d ever seen done to me, so far in the business, for him to go out and call me out. That’s how he pays me back? That was pathetic.
And the other one — Triple H’s constant reference to me taking my ball and going home. “You want me to pull an Austin?” or whatever. Here’s a guy who needs to stop worrying about me — I”m not even with the company right now. He needs to worry about his own character and drawing big money for the company. “Oh, but the business is in a down cycle.” That’s very convenient. In my view, he’s not where he should be with the amount of TV time invested in him. So, don’t worry about Stone Cold because somewhere along the line, in the transition from being a Greenwich snob to being the toughest guy ever to walk in the ring who walks down the ramp all jacked up spewing water, I missed it. And you know what? When I look back at old films from when I was gone in 2000, that was the year Triple H stepped up huge. That was the year Triple H was a hell of a hand. So knock off 25 pounds and go back to doing that and being one of the best. It’s fucking simple.
So about three months passed, and I was still home and damn sure I was done. I was not going to call the company, because I figured I didn’t hand in a written notice. I didn’t hand them anything saying “I quit” or anything like that. I just figured, fuck that, it’s over.” Finally, I get a card in the mail from Jim Ross. It just said, “Hey, if you need me, I’m here,” and it was just signed, “Jim Ross.” The letter was as simple as that. And I said, “Well, goddamn, that was cool.” When he sent me that card, I picked up the phone and gave him a call, and we talked for two hours. Two hours, just about what the hell was going on and things like that. He said to me, “You know, Steve, what do you think about talking to Vince? He’s a fair man, and he’s always willing to meet you, you know. Let me talk to him and see if we cant’ get you guys together. Would you be willing to do that?” And I said, “You’re damn right I’d be willing to do that, because I’d like to look him in the eye and ask him what the fuck happened. And if he wants to ask me something, I want to tell him to his face what I think, what I thought, and why I did what I did. But I got to ask him the same questions.” I said, “Jim, the deal is this: Even if I don’t come back, I had a lot of fun working for that man. I had a lot of fun working for that company, so why should I have to leave on such a down note? And when people ask me about WWE, [why should I] have to give them a negative response? I had too much fun for that. I’d at least like to meet with Vince and shake his damn hand and thank him for the job I had a hell of a lot of fun at.” We had our disagreements, but I respect the shit out of the guy. I love the guy. And I’d have done anything for him. So Jim set up the meeting in Houston when WWE was in town for RAW.
It was one on one, me and Vince, in a hotel room in Houston. Like he said, I didn’t know if we were going to fight or hug each other. I told him I felt the same damn thing. We shook hands, hugged, talked and parted ways. But we buried the hatchet. So when I come back and step in, I can look anybody in the eye and I can look Vince in the eye, because the hatchet is buried with him.
We talked about why I left and all that stuff. We started talking bout maybe coming back. I told him, “You know, I got no problem showing up backstage at a show or anything like that, because I paid my dues. I earned my stripes.” I’ve been in this business 13 years, and I pulled my damn share of the load. I pulled the wagon. I drew money. I got it done. So I can look anybody in the eye. I don’t give a damn if it’s a top guy, a middle guy, or a bottom guy; man, woman, whatever. Hell, I’m Stone Cold Steve Austin. In this business, I fucking did it, and I still want to do it. So I can look anybody in the eye. I got no problem facing anybody in that locker room. I paid my dues. If you like me, you do. If you don’t, you don’t. If they’ve got a problem with me, I’ve got a Stone Cold salute for them.
But we didn’t agree to bring me back in the ring just yet. I said, “You know what? My contract’s pretty close to being up.” I have seven months left on it. Or four months left on it, but I was gone for several months, so he goes, “Let’s roll the contract so that we can go back to where it was.” I told Vince, “I ain’t the guy you’re going to build your future on. I’ve been here, I’ve done it. I just turned 38, but I can help some of these new guys that you want to hang the company on develop into the next big Superstars.” I’m talking from a standpoint of knowledge and understanding and psychology of the business. Promos — delivery, execution, conviction in how they say it, the speed at which they say it, how they react to the fans and still get their point across. What they do in their match — mannerisms, physicality, energy and heart, all the little things that nobody really knows how to do anymore, maybe only a few guys. Coming back, I don’t see myself as a manager. I don’t see myself as an announcer — I don’t have that kind of voice. But I also said, “If I do come back, I’m not saying I don’t want to get back in the ring, because maybe if I start feeling frisky, well, hey, if I start going around and start feeding off of it, maybe something will happen. Maybe I’ll go haywire and want to jump back in the ring and start working again.” I think the door is open to do anything, but we have to sit down and talk about that part of it.
And here’s one thing I’m going to talk about: They need to let the wrestlers be more hands-on and yank the wrestlers who are in the television production meeting out of those meetings, because it’s a separate agenda. They need to give the damn business back to the boys. I’m not saying the people who are in creative now can’t come up with good ideas, but when they try to write them out verbatim and tell you to follow them, you become a follower instead of a leader. To be a good hand in the ring, you gotta be a leader. To go out there with some words some sumbitch writes on a piece of paper, and he’s going to tell you what to do and you do it, that’s not what this business is all about. We ain’t actors. Same thing with the matches. The matches move too fast. These aren’t quick answers on how to change the business, but I think they will. Bottom line is, it’s got to go back to being a competition. It’s not a performance. You’ve got performers in WWE right now, not workers. Go back to what it’s supposed to be. And I’m not running down everybody backstage. I’m just saying, you just stick any two random guys, or any two random girls, and say, “Hey, you guys are having a match, and let it fly and see what happens.” That’s the only way you’re going to put any feeling back in the business. Take the business away from the writers and put it back into the wrestler’s hands, because that’s where it’s supposed to be. This is a whole different animal from Hollywood.
I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get back, but I am looking forward to just getting into the mix and seeing what happens once I kind of get there. Kind of hanging around a few TVs and seeing what I feed off of or how I feel. Maybe if I get in the ring and work out, seeing how my body feels. But I’m not in ring shape. I’m in okay shape just sitting here, but ring shape is a whole different deal.
I have a big problem with the way the business is being run right now, because it’s not a wrestling show anymore. That’s what, to my thinking, is one of the big things wrong with the business. There are no issues that are larger than life that people have just got to see. I don’t know. I think they should do away with all the prefab backstage stuff, and let guys go back to relearning what this business is all about. Put that product in the ring and tell the writers, “You want to lay out some ****? Use Jim Ross, lay out the format of the show — here’s your matches and a couple of promo segments.” But have guys go out there and say, “Okay, Booker T, you’re going to battle Kurt Angle tonight. Terri Runnels is going to interview you, and then Kurt is going to have an in-ring promo.” And that’s it. Let them ****ing go. Man, that’s what the business is about! Ric Flair and those guys in the NWA or World Class Championship Wrestling — They didn’t tell them what to do. You knew your program. That’s how you get depth in this business. That’s how you get your scholarship. You’re put in a situation, and you’re forced to respond. You can’t have some 25-year-old guy hand you a bunch of ****ing words and draw money that way. The only way you’re gonna put any feeling back in the business is to [put it] back into the wrestlers’ hands, because that’s where it’s supposed to be.
But, like I told Vince, I’d like to finish out my obligation to the company, because I did a lot for the company, and the company did a lot for me. I realize that, and I appreciate all the stuff they’ve done for me. So I’d like to finish my obligation. That’s why I said I’m not 100 percent sure I’d like to get back in the ring, because in any other role, I could ad-lib and say things and do this and that and create and be just fine. Will I still care then? Of course I’ll care. I always care. If I’m doing something, the result always has to be A-number 1, because I don’t want anything less. But it’s easier to just go out there and do stuff than to wrestle. The stuff I’d do if I weren’t back in the ring would be simple to me, because it would be executed and done the way I want it to be done.
I don’t have a clue as to what’s going to happen when I come back. Like I said, we can start something and see what’s going to happen. I know I’m willing to consider anything. Especially if I get that damn adrenaline going, that whole, “Okay damnit, let’s go, damn it,” and start feeling attached to the program. I guess right now I just feel so distant. I’ve been watching for so long and I am still frustrated. It’s just an issue with me. So I’m not saying I will and I’m not saying I won’t. It’s just something that’s still a work in progress. Am I still hungry? Yeah. I just don’t want to jump back in the ring for the sake of jumping back in the ring.
Mentally, yeah, I’m recharged. But also, I’m still stagnant, because I’m not sitting here thinking of ideas for shirts or merchandise or things like that, which was always a constant driving force with me. I guess I just thrived on selling all that stuff,b because back in WCW, Eric Bischoff said I as never going to be successful and that I wasn’t marketable. And then my good friend Jimmy Miranda who passed away last year — came up to me and said, “Steve, they finally want to make a t-shirt of you.” And after that first t-shirt — I came up with the idea for that — that’s what gets my gears going and gets me going. That’s what I thrive on. I put some damn heavy metal on, some Black Label Society or something like that, and I go, “Oh ****, here comes an idea,” and I grab a piece of paper. That’s what charges me up. I’ll come up with a story about what I can do with this guy or that, stuff like that. But I’m stagnant as far as that goes. Mentally, I’m stagnant. But one of the saving graces has been doing appearance again. Getting out, and seeing all those people has always been a rush for me. Getting out in front of people again has been great.
I know where I’m at right now. I was out with injuries twice, and then I walked away from the business, so it’s come and gone from my life several times. I know I exist without it. I’m happy when I’m in it. Coming back, if we sit down and come up with some scenarios that are worthwhile and that would entertain the fans and bring business back to whatever degree…There’s no saying that it’s a one-man save right now. But coming back, starting from where I come back, I don’t want to recreate the old Stone Cold or the Stone Cold from ’99. I’ll be the Stone Cold from 2003, whatever that is. I’ve watched Shawn Michaels, and I think Shawn’s done well. I think he goes on about religion too much, but I’m not knocking Shawn, because I think he’s awesome. He’s one of my favorites. I just want to do whatever I can do and go on from there. I’ve been the guy. Can I be the guy again? shit, I don’t know.
I could have been anything I wanted in life. What I turned out to be was an entertainer. A professional wrestler. I don’t want to do anything else. Maybe something entertainment-oriented — a bullshit part here or there, or something with WWE. When I met with Vince we talked a little bit about extending my contract. We were talking bout in-ring work, but I said I always saw myself being associated in some shape or form with WWE. They put me on the map, and I helped bring that company back around again. And I had so much fun doing it. man, I love WWE. My damn career certainly hasn’t been no storybook where everything always happens right. It took me a lot of time to get up. I’ve had some bad injuries and setbacks, but I kept coming back from those. But through it all, I’m in the entertainment business. I work for WWE. I’m a professional wrestler. That’s what makes me happy.