Austin vs Tyson: When The Attitude Era Was Set On Fire


Ordinarily, nine-year-old me would have been apoplectic at anyone interrupting my weekday morning routine of cereal and Captain Caveman/Wacky Races/The Smurfs on BBC 2, especially for something that was on the news. As if, as a nine-year-old, I was going to give two shits about what was on the news.

Apart from on the morning of Tuesday 20th January, what was on the news was the single most exciting thing I'd ever seen in my life up until that point. Apart from Eric Cantona's winner in the 1996 FA Cup final, that is.

That morning, I legged it downstairs to the living room to see my Dad, in his work boiler suit, brew in hand, laughing his little head off as Stone Cold Steve Austin, the number one contender for the World Wrestling Federation title, flipped off 'The Baddest Man On The Planet' Mike Tyson and promptly engaged in a wild pull apart brawl with the former Heavyweight Champion of the world.

It was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Due to a lack of Sky Sports in my house, I'd been reliant on my elderly next door neighbours taping the occasional WWF (as it was still known, back then) Pay-Per-View and episode of Monday Night Raw for me to keep up to date on what was happening in the world of professional wrestling.

I was sort of aware of what D-Generation-X and the Nation of Domination had been up to, as well as understanding that Bret Hart now worked for WCW, along with almost every other major WWE superstar from the late '80s and early '90s. And I also knew that Vince McMahon was no longer just an on-air colour commentator and was in fact the newly sworn enemy of the Texas Rattlesnake, Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Put any other wrestler of the era in the ring with Mike Tyson for this angle, and it simply doesn't work anywhere near as well. The Rock was a good eight months away from being a full time main event player, Triple H even longer and Shawn Michaels was three months removed from his first retirement, due to a serious back injury.

Austin captured the imaginations of the working classes, with his brash, beer drinking, t-shirt, jeans and work boots attitude. He looked like he could have just as easily spent his days working the docks before chugging back some post-shift boilermakers for four hours with his buddies at a dimly lit watering hole, listening to the E-Street Band on the jukebox.

Instead of a life as a stevedore, he was Steve Austin, the man who had just won the 1998 Royal Rumble and was heading to WrestleMania to dethrone Shawn Michaels as the WWF Champion. A year previously, Austin had bled his way into the hearts of wrestling fans in a scintillating 'I Quit' match with Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 and even a legitimate broken neck suffered accidentally at the hands of Owen Hart at SummerSlam '97 wasn't enough to stop the Bionic Redneck from becoming the biggest star in the company's history.

Tyson, on the other hand, was both the most famous and infamous athlete in the world at the time, having just been suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for separating part of one of Evander Holyfield's ears from his head during a World Title fight. Iron Mike, a lifelong wrestling fan with nothing better to do while he was suspended from boxing, was the hottest ticket in professional sport and the biggest draw in boxing. Securing his involvement in the build up to WrestleMania 14 was Vince McMahon's golden goose.

And on Monday Night Raw on the night of 19th January, 1998, emanating from Fresno, California, McMahon proudly showed off his golden goose, by introducing Tyson to the thousands in attendance and the millions watching at home. McMahon had been desperately trying to claw back ratings in the Monday Night Wars with Eric Bischoff and WCW and was now lighting the touch paper to explode the WWF back into the number one slot.

WATCH: Some of the most shocking WWE moments of 2017

Credit: WWE

No sooner had Tyson been introduced as the 'Baddest Man On The Planet' than that familiar shattering of glass echoed throughout the arena and Austin marched down to the ring, clearly taking umbrage that someone, even if it was Mike Tyson, was trying to claim to be badder than he was.

The Texas Rattlesnake wasted no time in laying into Tyson, as McMahon seethed on the sidelines, flanked by security and stooges such as his son Shane, Pat Patterson, Gerald Briscoe and Sergeant Slaughter who, ironically enough, with perhaps the exception of Shane, are blokes you would absolutely never mess with.

And before you knew it, there it was, Austin, having already informed Tyson of how he could beat him any day of the week and twice on Sunday, offered Iron Mike a bit of sign language in the form of a couple of birds, which prompted the former Heavyweight Champ to shove Austin backwards and thus, absolute fucking carnage ensued as Jim Ross hollered "TYSON AND AUSTIN! TYSON AND AUSTIN!"while officials and security clamoured to separate the pair, with Vince spewing the words "YOU'VE RUINED IT!" at Austin.

Some of the world's media were even fooled into believing the stunt was real. That Tyson had genuinely taken exception to Austin's actions and taken matters into his own hands.

Of course, this being sports entertainment, it was all a work and Tyson was soon aligned with Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Chyna in D-Generation-X and signed on as the special guest enforcer for the Michaels vs Austin title match at WrestleMania 14 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Mike Tyson and Shawn Michaels. Image: PA
Mike Tyson and Shawn Michaels. Image: PA

Come the night of WrestleMania, Tyson's time as a Degenerate was over, as he counted Michaels' shoulders to the mat to crown Austin as the new WWF Champion, holding the Rattlesnake's hand aloft. After he'd floored a cocky Michaels, of course.

The reported $4-$6 million Tyson received for his work during the first three months of 1998 was clearly worth every penny, with WrestleMania pulling in a PPV buy rate of 730,000 - a monumental increase on the paltry 237,000 the previous year's 'Mania had managed.

With this angle that took place 20 years ago, today, Steve Austin was cemented as a crossover megastar and the World Wrestling Federation's Attitude Era was propelled into another stratosphere - one which would last them another three years, before the likes of Austin and The Rock would depart for other ventures outside of the squared circle.

Even two decades later, I dare you to not get goosebumps the moment Tyson's hands hit Austin's chest and JR erupts. Give me beer baths, blowing tour buses up, driving monster trucks over luxury sports cars and countless stone cold stunners, this one angle will always knock every single other Steve Austin moment out of the park.

And in more good news for fans of drinking lager and stone cold stunners, Austin will be returning to a WWE ring for the first time since 2016 on Monday night when he takes part in WWE Raw 25 - Monday Night Raw's 25th anniversary show, which will be held across two venues; The Barclays Centre in Brooklyn and the Manhattan Centre. Sky Sports will be broadcasting the show live in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Credit: WWE

Let's all pray for one more visual of Vince McMahon eating a stone cold stunner. It really has been too long.

Featured Image Credit: WWE

Joe Baiamonte

Northerner. Assistant Editor of SPORTbible. Studied Journalism and Broadcasting in a portakabin on a car park of Salford University for three years. Believes football peaked with Serie A in the '90s and strong-arms pro wrestling references into as many articles as possible. Neymar once took 50 euros off me during a game of poker.

Next Up

arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up camera clock comment cursor facebook-messenger facebook Instagram link new-window play share snapchat submit twitter vine whatsapp ODDSbible