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WWE buries Steve Austin - PWTorch Newsletter coverage from June 2002 including Keller editorial

Apr 5, 2009 - 12:21:00 PM
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By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor

During his Hall of Fame acceptance speech last night, Steve Austin referenced WWE burying him on TV after he walked out on them. Here is our coverage of the saga from PWTorch Newsletters #709 and #710 from June 15 and June 22, 2002. PWTorch VIP members have access to hundreds of PWTorch Newsletter back issues at all times dating back to the late 1980s!

WWE NEWSWIRE ITEM (PWTorch Newsletter #709)

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Before Raw on Monday afternoon, Steve Austin went home against management’s wishes for the second time this year. WWE management had proposed to Austin on Sunday that he wrestle Brock Lesnar on Raw. Austin apparently didn’t like the storyline as proposed and believed that they were using the equity he had spent years to build up on a hotshot match with Brock Lesnar in order to try to pop a ratings increase. He didn’t want his hard–earned equity to be used to make up for their weak storywriting in recent months. He showed up at Raw early in the afternoon, and was on his way to the airport to fly home shortly thereafter. It’s possible his departure will be more than short-term, considering that his grievances from two months ago were not, in his opinion, adequately addressed. Austin had expressed on the WWE web show Byte This two weeks ago that he thought that WWE storylines had been “piss poor” lately. McMahon agreed with those sentiments on last week’s Byte This show, and promised a huge edition of Raw this week in an attempt to begin correcting the problems.

Raw was originally scripted where about 25 percent of the segments would include Austin, so the show had to be rewritten and reformatted at the last second. As a result, the Vince McMahon-Ric Flair storyline dominated the show instead. The McMahon-Flair storyline was created due to Austin’s departure since McMahon needs Flair in a babyface role to replace Austin headlining Raw crew house shows. The fact that a last second decision was made to turn Flair indicates McMahon may not be confident that Austin will be back anytime soon.

TORCH COVER STORY (PWTorch Newsletter #710)

Headline: McMahon and Ross bury Austin on WWE TV


Wrestling promoters have long made a tradition out of burying a wrestler when he left a territory on bad terms. WWE took that to a new level this past week regarding Steve Austin.

“It’d be like John Wayne becoming a coward in a big fight. You never saw it happen. You’d never see it coming, and I didn’t see this coming,” said Jim Ross, Austin’s biggest ally behind the scenes as well as on camera over the years. Ross’s comments were part of over 30 minutes of WWE Confidential dedicated to Austin’s fallout with WWE.

“He took his ball and went home and obviously I'm pissed off,” said Vince McMahon. “I think this was the single most selfish act that Steve Williams, Stone Cold Steve Austin, could have ever done in World Wrestling Entertainment.”

A combination of professional frustrations and mounting personal demons has led to Steve Austin’s departure from WWE. The events that played out over the past couple of weeks might be considered too bizarre for a work of fiction, especially once McMahon was done putting his surreal spin on the situation.

The burial of Austin on WWE programming this past weekend starting on Confidential and culminating in The Rock’s promo on Raw on Monday is unprecedented in wrestling. The burial of Bret Hart by Vince McMahon for not following a “time–honored tradition” and “doing the right thing” by doing a job to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series ’97, at that time, was the most revealing any promoter had been on the air about a departed wrestler. Bill Watts, Gene Okerlund, Gordon Solie, Wally Karbo, Eric Bischoff, and others had buried departed wrestlers in previous decades, but never did they reveal the extent of their side in as much detail as McMahon did regarding Bret Hart. The details revealed about the Austin situation took it to a new level.

McMahon explained how he heard about Austin’s latest beef. “I received call at about 10:30 p.m. on Sunday night from Jim Ross telling me that Steve Austin wasn’t happy with the creative planned for Raw on Monday. I immediately called Austin’s cell phone and told him no matter what hour it was when he got this message to call me. So at about 2 o’clock in the morning he called me. So that began my Monday. I went through the entire creative process with him and explained to him how this was good for him and good for the company. He said all right. Not that I need his approval, but it’s important for a talent to buy into what it is you’re trying to do because they feel better about it if they’re part of the creative process. That’s what I tried to do and thought I had done.”

Austin’s gripes can be summarized rather simply: Austin had been upset with the creative direction of WWE for months. He felt his concerns weren’t being adequately addressed despite repeated attempts on his part. He felt he had given Vince McMahon enough chances to fix what was wrong. He was fed up and decided to go home without any notice. He felt being asked to do a job to Brock Lesnar on the June 10 Raw was akin to him giving up years of hard work building his credibility just to partake in a hastily thrown together hotshot angle that was conceived to make “piss poor” scriptwriters save face for an extra week. He didn’t want any part of it. When he felt games were being played by people with differing agendas, he went home.

“There’s going to be a lot of things written, half the crap you read is wrong,” Ross said on Confidential. “Didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to do that. People with active imaginations who to try to stir crap. The bottom line is he has some issues that maybe some day will be revealed, will be explored by the public, because that’s what the public wants. That’s why I’m doing this interview now, people want to know.”

Ross, surely referring to Austin’s growing personal demons outside the ring, noticed by wrestlers who saw his infamous mood swings grow greater than ever in recent months, admitted with those words that viewers weren’t getting the full story. WWE, though, made sure their side—or as much as they could get away with saying—was communicated. Did WWE present all of Austin’s side? They’d say, “How could we? He won’t talk to us.” True.

Austin’s conduct at home helped paint WWE as the sympathetic figure. Certainly when Austin received national publicity in newspapers and even on MTV News when his wife Debra called police claiming Austin hit her over the weekend, Austin lost much of the benefit of the doubt he might have received. Austin was difficult to work with, his mood swings had gotten severe, and now he had allegedly hit his wife (who decided not to press charges). WWE could easily paint itself as the sympathetic figure. But why bother?

In the end, what matters isn’t whether the public thinks WWE is the “good guy” and Austin is the “bad guy.” What matters is whether the public still finds WWE television entertaining enough to watch every week. The focus on airing dirty laundry and attempting to control how the story is perceived publicly won’t necessarily translate into loyalty unless those who fill Austin’s TV time are at least equally entertaining.

“You can’t calculate the loss of this investment for the long term,” said Vince McMahon. “He just took it and flushed it down the toilet.”

McMahon, in an apparent effort to bury Austin for his actions, drew attention to his resignation that the loss of Austin will “devastate” his company. Sure, he and Ross talked about Austin’s departure opening new doors for others, but the message sent ultimately is: We are a weaker company without him. Does it matter to investors whose fault it is? Will someone hold a stock because they feel sorry for WWE? No more likely than fans watching WWE out of charity if they don’t enjoy WWE as much without Austin.

Perhaps McMahon sacrificed a weekend of TV storylines in order to send a message to other wrestlers not to cross him as Austin did.

To top it all off, McMahon threw his other top star, The Rock, into the middle of the mess, having Rock come out and express gratitude toward the fans for making him a star and vowing to never turn his back on them. WWE attempted to communicate to fans that while Austin may have left them, Rock never will.

If Austin returns to WWE rings some day—and given the history of wrestling it’s more likely than not—this can all be spun into a storyline, perhaps a profitable one. In the mean time, though, WWE personnel and performers are concerned with how the Austin crisis has been handled, especially since McMahon has seemed preoccupied with the Austin crisis at the expense of moving forward with the tools he still has.

END NOTES with Wade Keller (PWTorch Newsletter #710)

I still have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation for why Vince McMahon dedicated so much TV time to the Steve Austin crisis. The only satisfactory explanation is that Austin knows some devastating information about Vince McMahon or WWE, and in order to discredit what Austin might eventually say, they have chosen to bury him on TV. Therefore, when Austin makes the accusations against WWE, McMahon can claim it’s sour grapes because they made a public spectacle of his unprofessional departure. That’s pure theory, but it’s the only one that seems to justify the enormous TV time spent on the story.

I do not believe that spending so much time on the departure of Austin does anyone any good in the short or long run. It seems Vince McMahon is more obsessed than ever in controlling the public perception of his company. The internet has led to such widespread knowledge of the inner-workings of his company that he now has decided to partake in “preemptive strikes” anytime a big story breaks. If it led to increased TV ratings, it might be justifiable (although not necessarily). But it hasn’t led to increased TV ratings.

WWE did stay away from exploiting the widely reported story that Austin’s wife accused him of hitting her over the weekend. Austin didn’t help his cause by driving around drinking beer and flipping off a media helicopter that was following him as he fled the scene after his wife phoned in the accusation of abuse. The entire situation is truly so bizarre that if a TV movie of the week were made about it, it would seem too implausible. Now that WWE has aired so much of its dirty laundry on this situation, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a TV movie made about this situation. If they can make a crappy TV movie about Jesse Ventura that takes great liberties with reality, why not cash in on the Austin situation?

Maybe one good reason not to do a TV movie is apparently few people care about the intricacies of the situation. The rating for Confidential on Saturday was higher than for the wrestling–oriented Velocity that preceded, but only barely. And anyway, generally second hours of programs do better than first hours—and in essence Velocity and Confidential is a two–hour block of WWE programming. The “insider” documentary-type approach isn’t drawing many more viewers than the actual wrestling matches draw.

Putting Rock in the middle of the mess seemed risky. Rock can pay lip service all he wants to being loyal to the fans who helped make him, but he turned his back on those fans long before Austin—assuming either of their actions actually constitute turning on fans. Fans know that Rock hasn’t appeared on TV very much since he became a movie star. Austin was there week in and week out while Rock was doing the media swing and attending Hollywood parties.

Why the fuss, anyway? Struggling wrestling companies rarely rebound using the same stars who were on top during the decline. The loss of Austin, as devastating as McMahon is painting it, may not be so bad after all. When Hulk Hogan left the WWF in the early ’90s, it came at a good time, when his act had grown stale. His departure gave opportunity to Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels to shine. Nobody thought they were ready, and others such as Lex Luger were also pushed to the top, only without success, but ultimately Bret and Shawn became accepted main event draws.

When Bret departed for WCW and Michaels retired, it appeared to cement WCW’s victory in the Monday Night Wars. Instead, it forced Vince McMahon to give main event attention to Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley, and Triple H. Those four were largely responsible for the biggest comeback in wrestling war history and the highest rated WWF programs of all time.

With Rock a part–timer at best, and with Austin losing his ratings steam (through a combination of factors), it was time to move on anyway. A new generation of fans want “stars of their own” to support, while the longtime fans have seen everything Austin has to offer already. Austin is a great performer, but he’d be better off returning later to feud with a fresh crop of new stars who thrived without him rather than hanging around, reinforcing the glass ceiling that inevitably slows down the pushes of future stars.

Without Austin and Rock, perhaps others will be pushed “too quickly,” before they’re ripe. So be it. That’s better than continuing to push polished acts that have worm out their freshness. WWE ought to stop whining about Austin’s lack of gratitude and professionalism and get down to creating the next “New Generation” campaign. They’ve got enough talent to choose from. Let’s skip the sob story and get to the fun stuff.


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