Throughout his career in the WWE, Stone Cold Steve Austin was never a man to shy away from controversy.
From his infamous Austin 3:16 speech at the 1996 King of the Ring to his shocking alliance with Mr. McMahon at WrestleMania X-Seven. He painted himself as the ultimate nonconformist—a beer-drinking, boss-beating, hell-raising outlaw—and there was rarely a dull moment where the Rattlesnake was concerned.
But apparently, this rebellious side was not kept exclusively within the squared circle.
In part two of his interview on Jim Ross’ new podcast The Ross Report, Austin was in a reflective mood as he discussed a proposed showdown that would undoubtedly have been one of the biggest WrestleMania matches in the history of the business:
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Hulk Hogan.
The match that never was in question would have been staged in 2002 at WrestleMania X8. Hogan had just returned to the WWE as part of the villainous nWo faction alongside Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.
And apparently, it wasn't that the WWE brass weren't keen on staging the contest. As reported by WrestlingInc.com, it was the Rattlesnake himself who was opposed to the idea:
Austin said that at the time he was running real hard and was 'hard headed as hell,' and that he wasn't about to do a job for Hogan because the word then was that Hogan wasn't willing to do the favors for anyone. Austin said that while Hogan was open to having a match, he wasn't because he felt that their styles would clash and that the match wouldn't live up to his standards. At that time, Austin could go and he felt that Hogan would have been a step or two behind him, which wasn't acceptable to him. He won't do a high profile match just for a payoff.
Given that the WrestleMania in question came just months before Austin took his ball and went home, it’s perhaps not surprising to hear him refer to himself as “hard headed as hell.”
Despite this, though, it appears that Austin had some more noble reasons for his lack of interest in the match. He cited a clash of styles as a decisive factor, as well as a worry that the match wouldn’t live up to his standards and would only act as a payoff.
Such reasoning sounds much more mature and conscientious than simply the fact that he was stubborn, but in this instance, I don’t feel that such points were enough to justify scrapping the match altogether.
Obviously, this would not have been an exhibition of technical wrestling for the purists, but did it really need to be?
Much like the replacement bout of Hogan vs. The Rock, the match’s draw would have been in the simple sight of the two icons in the same ring at the same time. Nobody cared that Hogan was a little slower than he once was when he began taunting the Great One with his signature flexing in front of almost 70,000 fans in the Toronto SkyDome—and it would have been the same case if Austin was there in Rock's place.
The selling point of it all was the novelty—the never-before, never-again aspect (and not the John Cena vs. the Rock kind—this was the real deal).
And speaking of The Rock, was he in fact a more suitable opponent for Hogan than Austin?
I think that at that particular moment in time, he may well have been. Austin wasn’t at the absolute top of his game anymore; he had just spent an indifferent year playing the heel, where he first spent much of his time hugging Vince McMahon before he “defected” to the Alliance as part of the Invasion storyline.
The Rock, meanwhile, was on a high.
Had the Hogan bout been proposed a few years beforehand, then I have no doubt that Austin would have been the standout candidate to face the Immortal one. But given the circumstances at the time, I think Rock vs. Hogan may just have been the better option.
Ultimately, it went down as one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time and certainly as one of the most incredible crowd responses that I’ve ever witnessed.
But we can still dream and consider what could have been.
Austin vs. Hogan would have been one for the ages, a match that would never have been forgotten. But would it have been better than the drama that we saw in Rock vs. Hogan?
Personally, I think not.
But what do you guys think?
Was Austin right to be reluctant to face Hogan?
Or would a hypothetical match have outperformed the memorable icon vs. icon clash?
Please feel free to comment below with your thoughts on this one, as well as on any of the points that were discussed in the article.