Why Stone Cold's heel turn at WrestleMania 17 didn't work
Stone Cold Steve Austin's heel turn never fully got into the next gear.
Stone Cold Steve Austin was by far one of the most popular and successful figures of the Attitude Era. The guy just knew how the business worked better than anyone else on the roster, and not even a broken neck could stop his meteoric rise to the top. In reality, you could even say that Austin is more important when it comes to the history of professional wrestling than Hulk Hogan. You could say that.
What you could also say is that Stone Cold has had his fair share of negative moments over the years, with one of the biggest ones being that he and the aforementioned Hogan couldn't agree to terms on a match at WrestleMania 19. With that being said, let's move onto the actual topic at hand before we all start drooling at the thought of how much potential that bout would've had.
Back at WrestleMania 17, you know, the good one, Stone Cold Steve Austin turned heel by aligning with Vince McMahon to defeat The Rock in front of 67,000 stunned fans at the Reliant Astrodome. Many people were in disbelief that The Texas Rattlesnake would finally choose to give into his fiendish boss. But alas! That was the scenario that transpired to the horror and shock of everybody watching.
But then, something unusual happened. Something that would continue to become a problem right up to the present day, as fans started to become smarter to the goings on behind the scenes. When Austin shook hands with Vince - the crowd cheered.
Now one of the big arguments that can be made about this whole situation is that the setting was all wrong. In reality, if Stone Cold and Vince McMahon became best buddies in any other state than Texas they would have likely been booed out of the building in a similar fashion to Hogan back in WCW.
But that wasn't the only issue here. Sure, it would've been great if Austin had garnered some great heel heat straight off the bat, but the art of cheering the villain had already slowly begun to worm it's way into WWE. In order to really figure this out, you need to look into what transpired throughout the entire process.
However first, we'll take a quick at the character himself. The beauty of Stone Cold Steve Austin as a whole was that for much of his run he was a tweener, not giving into the establishment but also not giving a damn about whether a superstar was heel or face. If you were in his way, you were on your way to receiving a Stunner.
So turning him heel automatically gives you two options. One, have him only attack babyfaces and maintain the same character, or two, change up his persona in a way that separates him from the man he'd been portraying for the last few years of his career.
They ended up going for option number two, but the new Austin they created just didn't make any sense. The toughest SOB in WWE history turned into a whiny primadonna that also seemed to be a little bit crazy, and the crowd didn't really know how to react. The way the crowd were starting to receive him was with a sense of "what is happening here?" as opposed to enjoying Austin's work in the ring.
It just wasn't believable. However, after WWE realised it probably wasn't working all too well they set up The Two-Man Power Trip with Austin and Triple H, with the two going on to become the biggest heels in the company purely down to their name alone. But the issue was that Austin himself shouldn't have required another man to help him get over because, at the end of the day, he's Stone Cold Steve Austin.
So now we come on to the main portion of what crippled this run - injuries. After a sustained period of success during which Austin was slowly fading as a character, Triple H's injury left the partnership in tatters before Stone Cold himself picked up a pretty severe back injury that saw his capabilities in the ring take a serious hit.
Then, the cherry on top came with Chris Benoit going down with a neck injury during a time when a feud with Austin appeared to be a red-hot prospect. So with the Invasion angle just around the corner, WWE were left with a choice - turn Austin babyface once again or stick it out with him continuing on as a heel.
They ended up panicking and turning the Rattlesnake twice, leaving fans about as confused as they had been throughout the entire run. By this point, all form of steam had gone out of the persona for Stone Cold, and it was clear that this was a grand old failure.
In terms of pinpointing the exact moment where things started to unravel, it was when Austin got such a loud reaction at WrestleMania 17. From that second onwards they had to be perfect with their booking or else it would never have had the intended effect on the audience, and in the Attitude Era that's a tough ask given how frantic everything was.
Austin was different to every other superstar on the roster. You couldn't just slap a tag on him and claim that's what he is, and Vince McMahon should've known that. You can't re-invent something that has such a proven formula and if you decide to do it, you can't continue to be outlandish in your decision making. When there's a money machine as big as SCSA at stake, risks are not worth the reward.
If it isn't broke, don't fix it.