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Thursday, March 17, 2016

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Retrospective: Stone Cold's Heel Run

By @TrueGodImmortal

Stone Cold Week has been interesting, but there has to be something said about his run in 2001 as a heel. While many felt that this run didn't necessarily work, I think Austin as a heel is quite possibly his greatest time in WWF, as he showed he had many more dimensions to him and his talent, not only as a performer, but also as a character. The night when Austin turned heel during Wrestlemania 17, I remember feeling like there was a change in WWF. And I was right.

I wanted to see The Rock vs Austin with Austin as the top heel, but The Rock was going away for a few months to shoot Scorpion King, so unfortunately, that would not be the case. Triple H and Austin joined forces for the middle of the road alliance called the "Two Man Power Trip", which I believe was a vehicle to help turn smaller guys into bigger name faces, but it didn't work as well as expected. Austin and HHH feuded with Taker and Kane and The Hardy Boyz, and while Austin hitting Lita with a chair got him some boos, as well as beating up his best friend Jim Ross in Oklahoma, Ross' hometown, it wasn't enough to keep him a huge heel. The fans didn't want to boo Austin. Even as he beat up viciously on Michael Cole, they didn't want to boo him (though who could blame them here, Michael Cole deserved it).

Austin and HHH would win the tag team titles from Undertaker and Kane at Backlash 2001 and continue their apparent dominance, and they would spilt off into separate matches and feuds as HHH would be the Intercontinental Champion and feud with Kane, while Austin was the WWF Champ and fought the Undertaker. HHH unfortunately would lose his title at Judgment Day 2001, while Austin retained his belt on the same PPV against Taker, and the next thing you know, HHH and Austin would lose their tag titles to Jericho and Benoit on RAW the very next night. Unfortunately for HHH, he suffered a massive quad injury that sidelined him for 8 months and Austin was left virtually all alone again. In essence, this was the best thing possible, as Austin began a paranoid streak as a heel determined to show his loyalty to Vince McMahon and earn his love in some way like a father figure. Austin would go to the King of the Ring PPV and defend his title successfully against Jericho and Benoit in a triple threat match, but new challenges arose.

Kurt Angle and Austin formed a semi alliance as WCW AND ECW moved in on the WWF and put Vince McMahon at risk. Austin, ever the company man now, teamed up with Angle in hopes to stop this whole attack against the company they loved. The issue here was that Angle would soon start competing to be Vince's favorite and that caused hilarious friction between the two. Angle and Austin would go back and forth on RAW and Smackdown weekly with silly banter and Austin giving Angle a cowboy hat that was way too small is the most hilarious moment I've seen over the years. Angle and Austin had great comedic chemistry and though Austin was a hilarious cowardly heel so to speak, it was great TV. Austin would be taken to task by Vince for not showing his old ruthless streak in the face of WCW and ECW danger, and asked to bring the old beer drinking, mud hole stomping Austin back. Austin would return as the old Austin for a moment leading Team WWF into the Invasion PPV.

However, Austin would for some reason turn heel and join the Alliance of WCW and ECW. Now, this was odd. Austin joining WCW was honestly the weirdest thing I've witnessed and I still don't get it. I think WWF wanted to put a huge name with the Alliance and without a Hogan and Nash, or a Goldberg or Flair, they looked to their biggest star in Austin, right as The Rock made his return. Austin would finally slowly begin to get some true heat as a heel, and Angle would turn face, as the two would end up fighting at Summerslam in a brutal classic match. This match highlights the issue of Austin as a heel: people still wanted to cheer him heavily. You can hear "Austin" chants during many periods of the match, and you can hear cheers for every stunner Angle took. There were RAWs where Austin would get booed, but for the most part it was mainly mixed reactions.

After Austin and Angle got beyond Summerslam, they continued to feud until Angle won the title off Austin, before dropping it back a few weeks later to him. Austin was struggling as a heel, and he would soon utter a one word catchphrase that would change the course of his career it seemed. No one could fathom that "What?!" would be the thing that ended Austin's heel run, but regardless, it turned into a hilarious intimidating factor that Austin displayed towards members of the Alliance when they messed up or lost matches. Austin was hilarious when scolding Taz, another highlight of his heel run. Austin would whip Taz with belts and berate him for being a failure, and while this is prime heel asshole activity, it made for hilarious TV. Even as a dastardly heel, Austin would still show fans why they loved him so much in the first place, but with an added dimension of comedy. That's one way to describe Austin's heel run: comedy. He showed his acting chops, his ability to work with anyone, and his sense of humor shined through immensely in these moments.

Eventually, after Survivor Series 2001, Austin turned face again, but we won't forget the catchphrase that never officially died, the jokes on Debra and her baking skills, Austin and Vince hugging for no reason, Austin whipping Taz, Austin cutting long winded hilarious promos as leader of the Alliance, or the greatest moment of them all, Austin grabbing a guitar and horribly singing to Vince. These are the moments that shine bright about Austin as a heel, and while it may have been a failure in some aspects, in many ways it was a victory, because a normally one dimensional character added multiple new elements to himself. Austin as a heel is still amazing.



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