On the latest episode of his podcast, Steve Austin discussed walking out of WWE over a creative dispute in 2002, calling it "the worst mistake" of his wrestling career.
Austin had a lengthy discussion of the incident during his most recent edition of The Steve Austin Show, which featured Shane McMahon as the guest.
Austin initiated the topic, referring to it as "a tough subject for me", in part because he wanted McMahon to provide insight on the reaction from the WWE brass -- including WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, Shane's father.
It all happened in June of 2002, when Austin no-showed a broadcast of Monday Night Raw in Atlanta after learning that the creative team planned to have Brock Lesnar defeat him that night. At the time, Lesnar had just a couple months' tenure on the main roster of WWE and was in the midst of a massive push as an undefeated monster. After Austin's exit, WWE cast "Stone Cold" in a negative light, with one of the major talking points at the time being that Austin had "taken his ball and gone home."
Austin did not appear again on camera for WWE until 2003, but noted during the podcast that Vince McMahon tried to reach out to him on several occasions.
"He called me three times. I let all three calls go to voicemail and I never called him back," Austin said. "And that was on me because the man reached out three times to me. because I was such an ass. I was running pretty hard and I can't believe they'd want to do that to me at this point in my career and I decided to take my stuff and go back to the crib."
Austin then brought Shane McMahon into the conversation, asking Shane about his father's reaction.
"Did he sell that at all? Did he hate me?" Austin queried.
Shane McMahon responded as follows:
"You were the one that the company had the spotlight on, you were the one that was drawing the houses. And everything was built around you. So when you have that much equity and stake and you have your Number 1 player in there, and that's the one that draws money, suddenly just say 'I'm out', well, it's very devastating, obviously, to everybody else underneath. And everyone felt it. Just like, wow. So you specifically, you let a lot of people down. To the guys setting the ring up. Because everyone gets paid off the house, as you well aware. Everyone eats off the same plate and when the business is pumping, we all get a little bit more, and when it's not, well, unfortunately, we have crumbs to split up. That was a huge thing. So Vince was, he was hurt professionally, and personally, because you guys had been building a good relationship. If you guys did have a disagreement you would settle it quickly and talk about it. But at the end of the day, when it got down to, this is the vision we're going … that was a big blow, personally, as well. Again, it's the machine and we all put effort into building 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin and the company and everything else around it. When that cog leaves, it's like, ooh, wow. It didn't feel good. It didn't make any of us feel good. It's like, you let us down, man."
McMahon also spoke to the demands that top talent face in WWE.
"It's tough. It is very tough," he said. "And when people also don't realize is, when you get to a position like that, you can burn out fast because the demand ion that talent – specifically, and you can speak far better to it than I can, because you've been living through it – but any talent on top for that long, the pressure is so high. You start burning the candle at both ends, you start second guessing, you start thinking, 'How can I be better? They're not going to like me today.' you start becoming your own worst enemy—and success, sometimes, is very hard to deal with, you can elaborate on it. Rock did the same thing. Hogan, Macho Man, it's that rare air where you think 'Oh, I'm not going to have it again' and it almost becomes a paranoia."
Austin definitely showed regret about the decision, looking back.
"I've always said that was the worst mistake I made in my wrestling career," he said. "If I could do only one thing different, well, I wouldn't have turned heel at [WrestleMania] 17, but the biggest thing is, I would have shown up in Atlanta and talked to the old man, your father, face to face and hammered the damn details out. And we would have."
Austin has not wrestled since WrestleMania 19 in 2003, in a losing effort to The Rock. He said last year that he will not have another match.