Stone Cold Steve Austin And Ric Flair's Strange WWE Feud Explained

When discussing the endless debate about who deserves a spot on the Mount Rushmore of wrestling, two men often brought up are Ric Flair and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. What some fans may not know is that Flair and Austin were entangled in a feud in the early 2000s that didn't get the type of praise and attention one might expect.

Flair had recently joined the company after his impressive run in WCW, but hadn't worked with WWE since 1993 up until that point. As for Austin, this was during a time when his character was trying to find its footing after years of memorable storylines with Vince McMahon, The Rock, Shawn Michaels, and others. Their rivalry also played out around the time of the first WWE brand split, and it was clear that "WWE Raw" was relying on the Flair vs. Austin feud to keep viewers interested for weeks to come. Unfortunately, the lackluster story remains an underwhelming feud that, on paper, should have been spectacular.

The two men began the story with a common goal –- to make Vince McMahon's life harder at every turn. With the infamous WCW Invasion angle wrapping up, Flair became the kayfabe co-owner of WWE alongside McMahon. Since Austin and McMahon had such a storied hatred for one another, Flair's character wanted to keep giving Austin opportunities. But once the brand split really got underway and Austin was sequestered to "Raw," Flair started seeing Austin as a threat to his authority.

Why The Feud Didn't Work

As Flair grew frustrated and began treading into heel territory, Austin buckled down on the fact that he refused to follow anyone's rules. This is when "The Nature Boy" would recruit allies to help him with his Steve Austin problem, including The Undertaker. The narrative would build to a #1 contender's match between The Undertaker and Austin, with Flair as special guest referee. After blatantly ignoring Austin's foot on the bottom rope during a pin, Flair awarded 'Taker the victory. Austin then put his focus on getting revenge on Flair, but it didn't come easy, as Flair recruited nWo members like Big Show and X-Pac to defend him. In an effort to bring back the rebellious, spontaneous nature of "Stone Cold," WWE even booked a puzzling segment in which Austin attacked Arn Anderson –- one of Flair's fellow Four Horsemen stable members –- and urinated on him. The eventual payoff of the feud, a handicap 2-on-1 match between Austin and the team of Big Show and Ric Flair at Judgement Day 2002, ultimately felt lackluster, and did little to advance the careers of the men involved.

WWE was clearly trying to catch lightning in a bottle a second time and recreate the story of Austin taking on an authority figure. This would also begin a period of tension between WWE and Austin, who would then be interviewed on WWE's "Byte This" web series and disparage the company's creative direction before walking out altogether.