The end of Wrestlemania 17 is seen as the start of the downfall of professional wrestlings biggest boom period. With WWE buying WCW and a few months away from plucking ECW out of bankruptcy court, WWE was sitting at the top of the business with a monopoly.
The long successful run of Stone Cold Steve Austin, who had been the number one performer for the last four years. Had sold more merchandise than Hulk Hogan in his long run at the top, truly cementing his place as the most successful wrestler in history. In Houston at Wrestlemania X-7, Austin would defeat The Rock, who would be leaving to go film a movie for the next 6 months, to reclaim the WWE Championship. Part of Austins’ original babyface run at the top would see him battle the WWE owner and evil boss Mr McMahon. But on the evening of April 1st, the unthinkable would happen as Austin would ‘Sell his soul to the devil himself’ JR would scream on commentary as Austin and McMahon would shake hands as the show came to a close.
Many have analysed and believed that this moment was the end of the wrestlings boom period because nobody was ready to boo Steve Austin. Having only been back for just over 6 months, everyone was supporting Austin on his comeback story, which was arcing to an end with him on top on the biggest show in wrestling history. But what came next was a near all-year program of Austin being unsure and unhinged, doing anything he could to keep hold of the beloved WWE Championship.
Speaking on Chris Jericho podcast Talk is Jericho, Steve Austin said the following regarding the ending of Wrestlemania;
“When I turned heel after WrestleMania 17 and I wish I would’ve never done it and I wish I would’ve called an audible but I was a heel. When I commit to something, I am in so I’m gonna go to the end of the world – even though nobody wants to hate me, I’m kinda John Wayne of the wrestling world. But I was gonna do everything I could to make you hate me. So I was committed to doing that
If you notice during my heel run, the heel I turned into after WrestleMania 17 was a different kind of heel than I rolled into. From The Ringmaster I turned into Stone Cold Steve Austin I was just beating people’s ass, cheating when they’d let me, talking all that trash. I couldn’t be that same heel when I switched against Rock again because that was the cool heel that turned me, baby.”
But for the first two months of the rattlesnakes newest WWE Championship run and to help cement his new heel persona, he teamed with his biggest nemesis from the past 18 months…Triple H.
On the RAW episode that took place on April 2nd, the night after Wrestlemania X-7. Stone Cold Steve Austin defended his newly won WWE Championship in a Steel Cage match in the main event against The Rock. But opening the show, we had a segment where Mr McMahon would present Austin with his WWE Championship. This was a clever playback to Raw in 1998, at the beginning of the Austin and McMahons feud, McMahon would present Austin with the Championship only for Austin to defy McMahon orders on how to behave as champion.
On April 2nd, Austin would say that he doesn’t owe any of the fans an explanation, he never gives an actual reason why he aligned with McMahon other than he wanted to be WWE Champion. Throughout the night there’s a tease that Triple H might turn face as he demands answers from McMahon and then commissioner William Regal on what was going on with Austin and McMahon. Triple H was angry he wasn’t involved and that it involved his arch-nemesis. The Triple H angle throughout the night was very well done and as we reached the main event, we were wishing that Triple H would stand up to the newly turned rattlesnake.
Instead, we would see Triple H interfere along with the Chairman of WWE and they would align with Austin and ensure he kept the championship. The next episode of SmackDown we would see the Two Man Power Trip confirmed as Triple H pinned Chris Jericho to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship. Also that evening, Jim Ross interviewed his good friend Austin in the ring about the events of the last week. Austin would brutally attack Jim Ross and beating him bloody, making sure if you had any doubts how serious Austin heel turn was, this made you aware it was staying.
With the crowd still mixed coming out of Wrestlemania regarding Austin. Teaming him with his most hated rival and number one heel in the company, beating up the only friend Austin has ever mentioned on WWE programming in Jim Ross, WWE laid it on thick.
Jim Ross discussed the Rattlesnakes heel turn at Wrestlemania on his podcast Grilling JR
“So who do you think they’re gonna cheer? It wasn’t that they were angry at Rock but you’ve got a Texas legend here. That’s coming back and drew the biggest house in Astrodome history over any event. And you’re gonna turn him heel. To me, and I’ve used this analogy before, it was like making John Wayne in one of his war movies a Nazi. It didn’t work, it was never gonna work. Anybody that thought ‘oh, we might have got it over…’ No, tell me what you would’ve done to get it over and I’d love to know that. I just don’t think it was possible. I expressed myself and was told to shut up on more than one occasion. ‘We’re going that way, leave it alone’.”
“You’ve gotta do the commentary sensitively by what you’re hearing and not make Rock a heel. that was the key thing not making The Rock a heel. We weren’t sure and we didn’t want to expose what our creative was gonna be with Austin. You couldn’t make Steve – force-feeding him as a babyface, just let the thing evolve. Let it go and play off the audience; what are they buying, what are those two guys selling. So it was an interesting balance that we were walking.”
Austin was a different animal once Wrestlemania was over, he changed, different from the Stone Cold character. He was nasty and more aggressive, which is what we saw with his beatings on The Rock and JR. They ensured that the fan base knew things serious in this new direction but WWE doubled down on the next episode of RAW
In the closing moments of RAW, Austin and Triple H would go one further in their physicality by beating on Jeff and Matt Hardy with a chair. When the beating went too far, Lita would put herself in between the Hardy Brothers to try and protect them. Austin, showing his new ruthless, aggressive attitude, took a chair to Lita. Pummelling Lita with a steel chair, Austin and Triple H would also deliver a stunner and pedigree to the WWE Hall of Famer. The show would end with Austin and Triple H standing tall over a fallen Team Xtreme, the crowd in shock over the pure brutality of the male performers attacking a female superstar so badly.
In trying to get The Two Man Power Trip storyline over and as they had done previously in trying to push the envelope but unfortunately, this time they went too far. This angle would see WWE lose a major advertiser in Pep Boys. TSN, the network that aired WWE RAW in Canada and UK Channel Sky Sports would edit the footage showing long, continuous shots of the crowd instead of the brutal chair shots to Lita. The angle is truly one of the most ruthless in WWE history.
The following SmackDown, seeking revenge, Jeff Hardy would defeat Triple H to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship thanks to help from his brother Matt. On RAW, Triple H would reclaim his championship in a rematch and Austin and Triple H would attack Matt and Jeff with chairs once again. They would then set their attention to Lita, looking to repeat their actions from the week previous. But before they could repeat their actions from the week previous, they were interrupted by the music of the Brothers of Destruction, The Undertaker and Kane. Triple H and Austin would high tail it out of the ring. Not wanting any part of the Brothers.
Even though Jeff Hardy only held the WWE Intercontinental Championship for a matter of days, it helped elevate Jeff and Matt to new heights as single competitors. Getting to showcase their skills against the top two heels in the business at that point helped show that they were capable singles wrestlers who could perform higher up on the card. This showed later in the month when Matt Hardy would claim the WWE European Championship and later in the year, Jeff would be involved in a hot singles feud with Rob Van Dam.
At the beginning of the next edition of SmackDown, William Regal would stand in the ring demanding that Undertaker and Kane come out. Regal would punish them for interfering in the main event on RAW by making Kane, who at the time was hardcore champion, defend his championship against Rhyno right at that very moment. Rhyno would be accompanied to ringside by Edge and Christian who would attack the Undertaker. Whilst the deadman was distracted by the Tag Team Champions, Austin and Triple H would attack Kane with a chair. Focusing on the arm, they would cost Kane the hardcore championship. An irate Taker and Kane would then find Regal backstage and demand they face Austin and Triple H. Regal books them in a match against Edge and Christian for the Tag Team Championships and if they win, they could face Steve Austin and Triple H.
Despite interference from the Rattlesnake and the Game, the brothers of destruction would win the WWE Tag Team Championships setting up the Backlash main event of the two manpower trip against the brothers of destruction with all the championships on the line.
The feud so far had been electric but sadly always brought the feeling of similarity, A feeling of ‘we’ve seen this before. Even though it was a new dynamic with Austin being the heel, we had seen it all before, Triple H and The Undertaker had only just fought a month earlier at Wrestlemania. The lead up to Backlash was excellent, different and at times brutal. But sadly the main event was a letdown as the match went on too long, all with a familiar feeling, cumulating in the obvious, seen it before interference from Vince McMahon.
The Two Man Power Trip would win the match and now hold all the gold but their feud didn’t end there. The lead up to next months pay per view would see Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker get into a heated feud. Starting the next night, Austin and Triple H would take out Kane with chairs and break his arm. On SmackDown, an irate Undertaker would seek revenge on Austin. Whilst Triple H faced Jeff Hardy, Austin would sit at the commentary desk only for Taker to attack him with a steel chain. They would brawl into the crowd and then into the backstage area leading to the Undertaker throwing Austin through a glass window as security arrived to take Taker away.
Austin would need medical help, complaining of glass in his eyes, shouting ‘I didn’t deserve this’ a hilarious line from Austin which seemed to be a start of a more comedic persona whilst also being unhinged. Whilst being loaded into the ambulance, the deadman would strike again, hiding in the driver’s seat he would attack Triple H and Austin. With the rattlesnake tied to the stretcher, Taker would punish him repeatedly as Austin screamed that he has glass in his eyes. Eventually, security took Undertaker away as Austin and Triple H head to the hospital.
All this would lead to Judgement Day where Stone Cold Steve Austin would defend his WWE Championship against The Undertaker in a No Holds Barred Match. It’s a decent match but sadly we’d seen these two go at it many times over the past four years. Austin would beat The Undertaker and retain his WWE Championship thanks to the help of Triple H and the sledgehammer. But earlier in the night, Austin would accidentally cost Triple H’s WWE Intercontinental championship to Kane.
Judgement Day is the night where WWE takes a turn in a new direction. The Austin – Undertaker matches are the leftover of a post Mania 17 slump and void left by Austin turning heel. Going back through the 8 weeks of television between Wrestlemania 17 and Judgement Day, it’s a hell of a lot better than remembered. The feud is good and the two manpower trip is a great concept but unfortunately lacks a strong fresh babyface who hasn’t been up against Steve Austin a million times before. Even The Rock wouldn’t have worked as it’s something we’ve seen too many times in the past. The combination of Austin, Triple H, Undertaker and Kane had felt stale before this. One scenario I would have liked to have seen is the continuation of the Austin and Triple H feud but with the roles reversed this time. Triple H got great reactions the night after Wrestlemania, but again, reactions aside it’s the same old once again.
The ending of the Two Man Power Trip comes the night after Judgement Day when they lose the Tag Team Championships in the highly regarded match against Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho. This is also the match that Triple H suffers his quad tear. That night on RAW, Austin and Hunter did have a discussion about team talk and it’s interesting to think about where they were going considering they just had a mammoth feud.
The Two Man Power Trip storyline was entertaining and it filled the gap between Wrestlemania and the beginning of the Invasion angle. It was entertaining but lacked a fresh, strong babyface to go up against them. Like mentioned, even The Rock might have struggled and even though fresh feuds with Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho would have been nice for Austin, they were probably not quite over enough at the beginning of April to be realistic foils for the two biggest superstars on the roster.
Steve Austin spoke to Drew McIntyre on Drew and A about this time period and how he would pick the brain of Triple H to garner heat.
“But Triple H, a great mind for the game. I picked his opinion on many different things. And asked his opinion on many different things when I was on my run. And one of my ideas as a heel that I wanted to do was form a tag team with him, and call it The Two-Man Power Trip. We were really, really trying to get some heat, laying some heavy steel chairs down on The Undertaker, Kane, Hardys, Lita, my God.“
“We were doing everything we could in my alliance with him, which kind of ensured that I was headed in a heat direction, and then fate hit one night in a tag match on Monday Night RAW, and he blew out that quad, and that was the end of that. And he made a successful comeback. Obviously, he’s had one of the greatest runs in the history of the business, but a guy that’s a lot of fun to be in the ring with.”
With Triple H out for the rest of 2001, Austin would head straight for the Invasion. But where was the storyline heading? Austin accidentally cost Triple H the Intercontinental Championship at Judgement Day and on RAW, It was Triple H who accidentally hit Austin with the sledgehammer to cost them the Tag Team Championships. The seeds were planted for the breakup of the team, one has to wonder was the eventual plan for a split and Triple H to become a babyface and lead Team WWF against Steve Austin and the Alliance.
One thing for sure is that the two-month reign of The Two Man Power Trip is remembered by all wrestling fans who watched in this period. Storylines were still great but the negative is a repeat of matches along with the beloved Austin turning heel led to the beginning of an industry decline.