Matt Hardy Recalls How Steve Austin Felt About 2001 Heel Turn
Matt Hardy has opened up on working with Stone Cold Steve Austin, and how he felt after the Austin 2001 heel turn.
WrestleMania 17 was the scene for one of the biggest main events of all time, as WWE Champion The Rock headed into Texas, to defend against the state’s favorite son, 2001 Royal Rumble Winner Stone Cold Steve Austin.
With an incredible build to the match, in-depth interviews with Jim Ross were aired as Austin claimed he “needed to beat The Rock”, and one of the most popular promotional videos was released with Limp Bizkit’s song “My Way” used.
The match became no disqualification, with Vince McMahon joining ringside. During the epic battle, the unexpected happened. McMahon helped Austin win the WWE Championship and then later shook hands in the middle of the ring.
On commentary Jim Ross, summed up the emotion inside the Houston Astrodome, stating “Stone Cold is shaking hands with Satan himself.”
Steve Austin has admitted he pushed for the heel turn, as he wanted to do something different and further develop his character.
But due to his popularity, fans had not fully bought into turning against their hero, so WWE created storylines where Austin would be facing off against the company’s biggest babyfaces, including Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy, and Lita, better known at the time as Team Extreme.
Discussing the heel turn on The Extreme Life of Matt Hardy podcast, Hardy explained that backstage “it was interesting” the reaction to the heel turn, before explaining how Team Extreme ended up feuding with the Texas Rattlesnake.
“I mean Steve was really confident in himself and he thought he could make this thing work and I like that mentality, I like the approach of trying something different and new. You have to always change, you have to always evolve, right? Stone Cold became a character that was so beloved, it was very hard to get him booed and that was gonna be problematic all the way through that.
I almost, to me, it feels very similar to Jeff Hardy. It would be hard to make Jeff Hardy a full fledged heel because he’s just such a beloved character and people connect with him in a way that very few people do. Stone Cold was that way too.
I know he went out, and it was in Texas of all places where he is absolutely put on a pedestal, and he was getting cheered when he was beating The Rock’s ass after aligning with Mr. McMahon or whatever. They knew that was going to be problematic so they said ‘How can we get some legitimate heat on this guy?’ and he said ‘Well, let’s call in these young heartthrobs, the Hardy Boyz and Lita, Team Extreme.’ Let’s get some heat on those guys.”
The Raw after WrestleMania 17 saw Steve Austin and The Rock have a rematch inside a steel cage. Yet again McMahon came to the aid of Steve Austin until Triple H’s music hit.
However, as fans expected The Game to attack Austin, he didn’t. Instead, Triple H used a sledgehammer on The Rock.
Austin and Triple H became known as The Two Man Power Trip, with WWE expecting fans to turn on Austin now that he was working with two of the company’s most hated individuals.
To further establish the heel side further, Steve Austin attacked Lita and Jim Ross, which led to the feud with Matt Hardy.
Later in 2001, the WCW and ECW Invasion storyline began, which saw Austin turn heel a second time and join forces with both Stephanie and Shane McMahon, alongside Paul Heyman.
Ultimately, the heel turn was not as successful as WWE had hoped, with Austin returning to fan favourite after Survivor Series.
H/t to Fightful