On the latest Grilling JR podcast, Jim Ross discussed Steve Austin’s memorable heel turn at WrestleMania 17 and why he felt it was the wrong move.
“Well, again, Heyman and I had to navigate some tricky waters there. You had to protect The Rock and not acknowledge that he was getting booed out of the building for losing the title. I just thought it was a knee-jerk creative decision. It was change for change’s sake. I’m not a big change for change’s sake guy. I never was sold on it. That was one of my biggest worries – would I be able to get to an emotional level to get this over because honestly, I didn’t believe in it. One of the reasons I think I was always able to enhance Austin’s TV persona was because I believed so strongly in the character – the man, the persona, the image.
“I really worked hard to sell what we were seeing, but I cheated a little bit because I directed the heel angst towards Mr. McMahon. He’s the reason for this. Steve, look, he finally agreed, but he should’ve called an audible and hit Vince with a stunner, and boom, we’re good. If he had hit Vince with a stunner after Vince helped him, he had shown that he outsmarted the top heel. Folks would’ve loved his creativity. But that wasn’t the play that was called, and obviously, it didn’t work. In a few weeks, we had Kurt Angle with a cowboy hat on and him and Austin singing. Did that work for Stone Cold? I don’t think so.”
“It was simply a matter of getting another heel hot. That’s not challenging or some mystery formula. It’s what you do. I think it was worry about who the successor to The Rock was gonna be because think about this, they waited two years to put them back together. But in the meantime, had Steve remained a babyface all that time, it would’ve been up to the company to create more heels that were hot. You get some steam on Austin, and all of a sudden, you’ve got a reason for another match. We had guys there that could’ve filled that bill – Triple H, Kurt Angle, and there were others. Get them hot. They may not be The Rock, but neither would anybody else. It just felt wrong.”
“I think so. Some may not admit it, but yeah, it was just a blown opportunity. You think back to why – it was ill-timed. You’re losing the charismatic guy you’ve ever had in The Rock going to make his movie, and we were gonna do everything we could to help make that happen to help build Rock into a bigger star. But we also lost our top babyface. We lost our two top babyfaces – one to make a movie, and one to become a heel. Think about that. It was not good strategy and planning.”