The Injury That Led To The End Of Owen Hart And Steve Austin's Friendship

The wrestling industry saw a massive spike in interest during the late '90s with the dawn of the Attitude Era, an adult-orientated edgy broadcast. This era ushered in a different style of promotion by the WWF and WCW, moving away from presenting the show for kids and focusing on the often talked about 18-49 television demographic. This transition included more violent programming laced with tons of profanity and sexual content than ever to garner more interest in professional wrestling, leading to mainstream buzz.


Of all the Hall of Fame talent that worked throughout this incredible era, none can be viewed as more impactful in that period than "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. He spent his prime years feuding with his evil boss Mr. McMahon, which was the most important rivalry of the entire era. The era officially became a reality following the Montreal Screwjob, a feud between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, which ushered in the death of kayfabe and the birth of reality-based storylines.

Although Austin was quickly the biggest star of the era, he didn't get there without his own worries, including a severe neck injury that almost cost him his career. The WWF's biggest star didn't become that until he returned from the injury, which is where our story kicks off.


The events of SummerSlam 1997 changed Austin's career

Before the Attitude Era, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin had been feuding with Intercontinental Champion Owen Hart, with the two having spent the better part of a month going back and forth with each other, setting the stage for a match at WWF SummerSlam 1997.


The match featured two of the company's best workers who showed that the WWF's mid-card was in great hands. Unfortunately, the match wasn't remembered for the incredible showcase of talent, but for one of the business' most terrifying injuries.

Near the end of the match, Hart went to put Austin in a reverse Tombstone Piledriver. But instead of doing The Undertaker's infamous double knee drop to protect his opponent, Hart sat down, resulting in Austin landing directly on his head. Moments went by with Austin laying on the mat in pain and Hart buying some time by talking trash to the crowd.

The match's finish saw Austin roll up Hart, taking the victory while visibly in discomfort. After the match, it was determined that Austin suffered temporary paralysis and a bruised spinal cord, leaving the company's biggest star off television for the foreseeable future, and putting a temporary stop to WWF's momentum in the Monday Night Wars.


'I thought I was never gonna walk again, ever.'

The immediate aftermath of the injury saw a disgruntled "Stone Cold" Steve Austin upset with one of the business's most respected and beloved talents in Owen Hart. After the situation, Austin described the situation detail by detail, stating that he couldn't feel anything from his neck down.


"The Texas Rattlesnake" was worried that he would never be able to walk immediately after suffering the injury, which he revealed in the "Stone Cold Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on the Most Popular Superstar of All Time" DVD. 

"I thought I was never gonna walk again, ever. I remember going to the back, I sat down on a bench, and I was in a world of hurt. And I was confused. I didn't know what was gonna happen to me," Austin said at the time. "When you come that close to almost being paralyzed for the rest of your life, it really f***s your head up."

In Owen's defense, the former King of the Ring winner didn't hide from criticism, revealing how troubled he was by the situation. He said that he didn't mean for it to happen and felt bad about the injury.


Austin and Owen Hart's relationship sours in the aftermath

Someone very familiar with the situation was Owen Hart's brother Bret Hart, who had a close relationship with his brother and dealt directly with him after the vicious injury. "The Hitman" told his brother to call "Stone Cold" Steve Austin after the injury, but Owen forgot to call him


"And Owen – he went home and he never called," Bret said. "He forgot. When Owen went home, he was all about his family and didn't think about wrestling once he left the arena. I don't think he handled that well and I think that did the relationship that Steve had with Owen. And I think Steve was always a little bit pissed off that Owen didn't seem to care that he hurt him."

Austin said that he was hurt by the lack of concern he received from Owen after breaking his neck. "Owen almost paralyzed me," Austin said. "He called me only once to apologize while I was in the hospital. If I almost break someone's neck, I'm calling them 25 times to apologize," said Austin.

Although Austin's injury was severe and career-threatening, he would do something that would send his career into another stratosphere.


'Stone Cold' Steve Austin is born in the aftermath

Following the scare of losing his wrestling career, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin needed a change to his in-ring style, transitioning into more of a brawler than a technical wrestler, something that vastly improved his popularity and stardom with fans. 


Immediately after Austin suffered the injury, he was positioned in a feud with his boss, Vince McMahon. Austin landing the Stunner on McMahon would catapult him into a new stratosphere after which he was arrested for performing the act on his boss. This was done to keep him off television while rehabbing his injury. Throughout his absence, Austin would make several appearances, helping Owen Hart keep his Intercontinental title so that Austin could come back and be the one to take it from his rival.

Fast forward to Survivor Series 1997, home of the iconic Montreal Screwjob, Austin returned to defeat Owen and regain the title he never lost. This night was iconic for several reasons, ushering in a new era of the WWE and putting a plan in place for an eventual Austin WWF world title reign.


Despite the two having immense heat over the situation, Austin would work with Owen two other times, with their last televised match happening during an episode of "WWF Raw" in July 1998 where Austin teamed with The Undertaker to take on Owen and The Rock. Unfortunately, this would be the last time the two faced off in the ring as Owen tragically passed away in 1999 during WWF's Over The Edge pay-per-view.