Stone Cold Steve Austin winning his first WWE Championship at WrestleMania 14 is widely regarded as the official start of the Attitude Era. During a recent episode of The Steve Austin Show Unleashed, Austin discussed his match against Shawn Michaels with Vince Russo. Russo said the involvement of Mike Tyson was a coup for Vince McMahon and the WWE.
"I believe this was the start of the Attitude Era," Russo said. "Vince's decision to bring Tyson in to WWE when he was suspended for biting Evander Holyfield's ear was freaking genius. Who knows what Vince spent, but that money he spent catapulted WWE. That is what I mean when I say that Vince was a visionary. He saw that; it was genius."
Russo explained that he was adamant about the necessity for a swerve when he pitched the idea to McMahon. McMahon became sold on the idea when he realized it was a good way to get Austin over as a babyface.
"When Vince and I, with the very early stages of the Attitude Era, there was a time when it was just him and I writing; Ed [Ferarra] wasn't even around yet. When I was pitching Tyson to Vince, I mentioned that regardless of how they had booked Pro Wrestling 101 the previous 30 years, we're going to have to go the other way. When they are expecting us to make a left, make a right because it's going to be unpredictable, it's going to be must-see TV," Russo said. "This was one of those moments and you will appreciate this; a lot of times keep my mouth shut and listen to the conversation with Bruce Prichard, Jim Cornette, Kevin Dunn, just to see organically where they were going to go. I would just sit back and see what they had in mind. I would never forget, the reason why Vince McMahon wanted to bring Mike Tyson in to WWE, he was selling Tyson on how bad his PR is at the moment, but that if he came to WWE, we will make you a huge babyface, and put you in a huge babyface light. We have to help you with your PR and get people back on your side.
"So, it was one of those meetings where they are sitting there and talking about Mike Tyson coming in and will stand side by side by Steve Austin; Steve Austin was the huge babyface," Russo continued. "It was all presented in a matter of fact sort of way. We are not even having a conversation here; he was going to be a babyface here. Nobody was even thinking of Tyson coming into the side of DX. They are ready to go on to the next thing but prior to that I had to immediately open my mouth. I said, wait a minute guys. If Mike Tyson reveals he is with DX we just threw a giant monkey wrench into the mix. Vince McMahon's concern was that yeah it was cool, but when it was all set and done we would have to bring Tyson back to that babyface side, which was his concern. I said to him, 'Vince, you can't pass up on this moment. You can't pass up the Tyson and Austin face to face, you can't pass that up,' and thank God Vince went with it. We figured out how to get you guys together when it was all said and done, but when you trace it all back, I believe Mike Tyson was the launching pad to the biggest numbers ever."
Austin said Tyson's involvement was the key to the entire event because of Michaels' status at the time. Michaels had been battling a number of injuries and wasn't at his best, so adding Tyson was a foil for Austin was significant for the angle to get over. Tyson brought mainstream attention to the WWE and thereby created a spotlight for Austin to shine under.
"I remember his posse was in there, I hit all four corners going completely all disrespect to him because he's a Boxer and he's in my world now. Then we did the face off, and I flipped the bird and then he pushed me; the cash register started ringing right then. We needed that; Shawn Michaels wasn't in the best place mentally, his back was busted up, and had been on a hell of a run underappreciated," Austin said. "We were fixing in to go in and he was going to drop the belt to me, but that was the build up. Without Mike Tyson, that match would have been what it would have been, we would have traded the belt, but with the eyes that Tyson brought with mainstream media to the product, it was just phenomenal. It was great piece of business working with Tyson, and the thing with Mike Tyson is that I just saw him a few months ago at the Ritz-Carlton, and gave him a huge hug, and that guy is such a historian of the business, he knew more about the history of the business than some of the boys, which was why it was fun to hang around with the guy."
Russo recalled that there was legitimate concern for Michaels' health backstage. As the match went on, however, Michaels battled through the pain he was experiencing and proved why he is "Mr. WrestleMania."
"I will never forget, because the whole lead into that match was the back problem Shawn Michaels was having. He was in agony and his back was hurting," Russo said. "I was watching that match like everyone else, and I was literally concerned with Shawn's health because of his back, and I remember watching that match and all of a sudden in the middle of the match Shawn does a kick-up, and when I saw that; half of me was like, you SOB, and the other half was like let's write that off to an adrenaline rush, it's WrestleMania, it's in the heat of the moment, the guy isn't feeling a thing, but what I went through leading up to that and seeing that kick up, till this day I put a big question mark at the end of that sentence."
Austin praised Michaels' professionalism during their match. He said he respects what Michaels put himself through to complete the match. Austin admitted he wasn't completely happy with his own performance in that match, but all in all, he's satisfied with how things played out.
"Shawn was beat to shreds; but he is such a performer, he could have literally been paralyzed because he is Mr. WrestleMania and is that good, but that is a good point, I'm not going to ask him about it. I rarely talk to Shawn Michaels but we are really good friends," Austin said. "When I came into the company in late 95-96, I started off working with Savio Vega, who really got me into ring shape, but then I started working with Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. I was getting kicked in the mouth or tapping to the Sharpshooter every night, but that was fun because I was working with top guys; so once I got into my match at WrestleMania 14 and started working with Shawn I knew I could light it up with Shawn, and yes, things didn't go as I would have liked it to on that night."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit The Steve Austin Show Unleashed with an H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Source: The Steve Austin Show Unleashed
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.