The Attitude Era was host to some of the greatest rivalries in the history of WWE, including Triple H vs. The Rock, Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon and Mankind vs. The Undertaker. Few, though, consistently carried the high stakes that the program between Austin and Undertaker did.
Always among the elite stars in the company, the Texas Rattlesnake and the Phenom regularly did battle in some of the highest-profile bouts the industry had to offer at the time.
Whether they were fighting for championship glory in pay-per-view main events or competing for bragging rights in the dangerous Buried Alive match, their contests were must-see affairs.
While many fans recall the Highway to Hell build for their SummerSlam 1998 match, that bout was hardly the first time they competed against each other in a championship encounter. In fact, Austin's first opportunity to capture the top prize in the sport came a year earlier at WWE's May In Your House: A Cold Day in Hell event.
His opponent that night was the Deadman, who was in the midst of his first title reign in six years.
To take the title would mean prying it from his cold, dead hands.
At WrestleMania 13, Steve Austin wrestled his career-defining match against Bret Hart in front of a rabid, blood-thirsty Chicago audience. In what would go down as one of the greatest contests in the long and illustrious history of The Showcase of the Immortals, the mortal enemies waged war in a Submission match, each determined to force the other to tap out or give up.
Austin bled buckets but refused to give up, turning the fans in his favor and against the once-beloved Hart. When Stone Cold passed out from the pain and guest referee Ken Shamrock ended the match due to unconsciousness, the fans embraced the double-tough Superstar as their rebellious hero and rejected Hart, who showed little compassion by assaulting his rival after the bell.
At the same event, The Undertaker ended a six-year championship drought by defeating Sycho Sid in the night's marquee bout, capturing the WWE title and introducing dark days to the company.
The feud between Austin and Hart continued to dominate WWE programming, including a main event match at the In Your House: Revenge of the Taker pay-per-view that ended in disqualification when the newly reformed Hart Foundation attacked Austin.
Earlier in the night, Undertaker successfully retained his title, defeating familiar foe Mankind and avenging months of torment at the hands of former manager Paul Bearer by burning his face.
An infamous Street Fight that saw the Texan beat the Hitman to the point that he needed to be stretchered out of the arena occurred shortly after the pay-per-view broadcast. To the surprise of everyone, Austin was waiting inside the ambulance and jumped Hart in what was widely considered one of the greatest Raw angles in the show's history.
The WWE booked Austin, easily the hottest star in the industry, against Undertaker for the WWE title at the May In Your House show. With a wheelchair-bound Hart and his Foundation teammates watching from ringside, fans were guaranteed a chaotic main event.
The IYH: A Cold Day in Hell main event was interesting in that it came at a time when Austin was still trying to make the transition from vile villain to babyface, and his work showed.
While the contest is very good, and a great representation of what both competitors were capable of at that point in time, it was far from perfect.
The psychology was its biggest issue, with Austin seemingly non-committal to working the head or knee. He spends time throughout targeting both, even forgetting which knee he was targeting at one point, leading to a somewhat disjointed middle portion.
Luckily, the beginning and end are so good, with a hot crowd willing the competitors on, that it makes up for the deficiencies that plagued the contest throughout.
Austin works almost strictly as a heel and the crowd is squarely behind The Undertaker, so in that context, it works. The Hart Foundation's interference is held to a minimum, which greatly benefited the contest.
It was clear that, in his second reign as WWE champion, Undertaker was working harder than ever to keep up with the immensely talented performers who were infiltrating the company. Here, he pulled out a standing ax kick reminiscent of the one Booker T utilized in WCW during that same period.
The finish was outstanding, with Austin rival Brian Pillman interrupting the Texas Rattlesnake's pin attempt by ringing the bell, throwing him off just enough that Undertaker was able to catch him in a Tombstone position.
Austin, however, countered with his own Tombstone attempt, only for the Deadman to counter that counter and deliver his finisher for the pinfall victory.
A really strong match overall and one that was indicative of the magic Austin and Undertaker would create in the years that followed.
Austin's feud with the Hart Foundation would fuel WWE programming throughout the summer.
Stone Cold partnered with both Shawn Michaels and Dude Love to wrest the tag titles away from British Bulldog and Owen Hart. He also captained a team consisting of Ken Shamrock, the Legion of Doom and Goldust into battle against the villainous faction in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for the In Your House: Calgary Stampede pay-per-view in July.
From there, he would engage Owen in a heated rivalry for the intercontinental title. A neck injury suffered by Austin at SummerSlam in August, however, would prevent it from ever achieving the greatness it should have.
Undertaker was not free from the torment of the heels.
The Deadman would battle Bret Hart at SummerSlam, with the stipulation being that the Hitman would never wrestle in America again if he lost. Unfortunately for the Phenom, his title reign would be brought to a premature end, thanks to an errant chair shot from special guest referee Shawn Michaels.