With no single winner, Mr. McMahon decided to vacate the WWE Championship and award it based on a match between Undertaker and Kane at the next pay-per-view. Since former champion Stone Cold was also involved in the original match, he was made special referee. In typical Stone Cold fashion, he screwed both competitors, hitting Stunners on both and stealing the championship for himself. Feeling he had no other recourse, Mr. McMahon fired The Rattlesnake for his actions.
Mysteriously, Stone Cold re-emerged having inked a brand-new five-year contract. Mr. McMahon was beside himself, and it was all the more aggravating when it was revealed that his son, Shane, was the McMahon to re-sign The Rattlesnake. With Steve back in the fold, there was a Survivor Series tournament to award the vacant WWE Championship. Stone Cold was building momentum toward his second WWE Championship, and in the semifinals against Mankind, he appeared a mere three-count from moving on to the final match. But acting referee Shane refused to count a pin for Stone Cold. Without a way to win, Stone Cold eventually succumbed to Mankind. The Rock would benefit most greatly, winning the tournament to become WWE Champion.
The Rattlesnake’s next definitive chance to exact revenge from Mr. McMahon came during the 1999 Royal Rumble Match. Stone Cold drew entry No. 1, while McMahon drew No. 2. Despite a vicious attack from McMahon’s Corporation, both lasted until the end. The odds proved insurmountable, however. With the assistance of the Corporation, Stone Cold was eliminated — making Mr. McMahon the Royal Rumble Match winner.
On Feb. 14, 1999, at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Stone Cold finally got a one-on-one match against Mr. McMahon — and it came in a Steel Cage. With a world championship opportunity at WrestleMania at stake, Mr. McMahon devised a large surprise. During the match, Big Show made his shocking debut, ripping off the side of the Steel Cage. But Show’s attack propelled Stone Cold to the area floor first, technically making him the victor. Stone Cold made the most of his chance, defeating the Corporation’s The Rock at WrestleMania XV for his third WWE Championship.
WWE then took as ominous turn when Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness and McMahon’s Corporation merged in an effort to overpower Stone Cold. It temporarily worked; Undertaker won the WWE Championship thanks to McMahon’s meddling. But Stone Cold had an equalizer for the Corporate Ministry: power granted by Linda McMahon, who named Stone Cold Steve Austin CEO of WWE. This was an intolerable development for Mr. McMahon, who placed himself and Shane in a Ladder Match against The Rattlesnake with control of the company at stake. Once again, Stone Cold would have won on the merits, but the McMahons had another game plan. When during the match Stone Cold scaled the ladder for the winning briefcase, it was mysteriously raised beyond his reach. This continued until the McMahons secured victory and full control of WWE.
WWE Superstar Stone Cold But Stone Cold wouldn’t stay down for long. In fact, he bounced back in a big way the very next day — winning the WWE Championship by beating Undertaker. By Survivor Series in 1999, the Corporation’s Triple H was champion, and Stone Cold was supposed to get his chance to reclaim gold in a Triple Threat Match. Instead, he was run down by a car in the parking lot. What followed was neck surgery and a nine-month rehabilitation. But Stone Cold Steve Austin would eventually return for payback.
In October 2000, beer-swilling, trash-talking Stone Cold was back to annihilate Rikishi, who admitted to committing the vehicular assault. But in the process of beating him down, Stone Cold learned that it was actually The Cerebral Assassin behind the whole scheme — devised to shield the WWE Championship. So at Survivor Series in 2000, Stone Cold gave Triple H a taste of his own medicine: When The Game tried to flee the arena in his automobile, Stone Cold lifted it with a construction crane, then let it drop 30 feet. Triple H learned the hard way that there’s nothing Stone Cold won’t do.
Stone Cold then won the Royal Rumble Match for an astounding third time in 2001, last eliminating the Big Red Monster Kane. After coming up short against Triple H in a special best-of-three — featuring a traditional match, a Street Fight and a Steel Cage Match — Stone Cold decided to take drastic measures to ensure a stranglehold on WWE.
Appropriately on April Fool’s Day, Stone Cold pulled a fast one on WWE’s fans and The Rock at WrestleMania, aligning with bitter enemy Mr. McMahon. By doing so, he was able to win back the WWE Championship. The next night on RAW, Triple H involved himself in a Steel Cage Match — attacking not Stone Cold but The Rock! This officially marked Stone Cold’s “deal with the devil” and formation of the alliance known as “Power Trip.”
The corporate faction seemed unstoppable. Corporate Steve was WWE Champion; Triple H was Intercontinental Champion; and at Backlash, they together became World Tag Team Champions, as well. They didn’t show vulnerability until May, when Y2J and Chris Benoit won the World Tag Team Championship — in part because Triple H tore his quadriceps muscle completely off the bone during the match. Everything had come full circle for Stone Cold, who just like in 1993 was left without his tag partner because of a serious injury.
Back out on his own defending the WWE Championship, Stone Cold battled both his rivals in a Triple Threat Match against Jericho and Benoit at King of the Ring.
In July, The Rattlesnake had shed the corporate image and was back in full rebellious form, leading Team WWE against the Alliance. But at Invasion, Stone Cold switched allegiances, joining Team WCW/ECW. It marked the beginning of a bitter dispute with Kurt Angle, who stepped up to command Team WWE in Stone Cold’s place. Doing his best to infuriate the Olympic gold medalist, Stone Cold threw Angle’s medals into a river. In a memorable moment of retribution, Angle doused Stone Cold and the Alliance with a blasting milk bath in shades of Stone Cold’s famous beer bath incident. The Alliance was forced to disband as a result of Team WWE’s victory at Survivor Series, but Stone Cold was able to protect his job through his WWE Championship.
On Feb. 17, 2002, Stone Cold was forced into a war with another infamous faction when the nWo interfered during his match for the unified world championship, spray-painting his back. As a result, Stone Cold began his pursuit of the group, culminating with a victory over Scott Hall before more than 67,000 fans at Toronto’s SkyDome.
All throughout, Stone Cold continued to clash with authority. He was constantly at odds with Ric Flair, who held the position of RAW owner at the time. Eventually things got so bad that Stone Cold Steve Austin walked out. He was gone for close to a year.
WWE Superstar Stone Cold He returned at No Way Out in 2003, taking exception to another authority figure — Eric Bischoff. RAW’s General Manager had little patience for The Rattlesnake and considered him a liability, so he fired him the day after WrestleMania on RAW. One month later, Linda McMahon again came to Stone Cold’s aid, making him co-GM alongside Bischoff. It was thought that the two might be forced to work together and co-exist. Instead, they butted heads constantly and Stone Cold continued to raise hell every chance he got. Steve did his best to get under Bischoff’s skin, ordering such events as a “Redneck Triathlon” between himself and his counterpart at Bad Blood.
Feeling he was left with no other recourse, Bischoff devised a Survivor Series Match pitting his team against Stone Cold’s, with the loser out as General Manager. Fortunately for Bischoff, his team came out on top. The Rattlesnake vanished, but Santa Claus did make the SmackDown! brand trip for a very special “Christmas in Iraq.” In the ring and before the troops, Santa unmasked and delivered a Stone Cold Stunner on Mr. McMahon. It was the best present The Rattlesnake could have ever given himself.
Stone Cold then returned as the “Sheriff” of RAW, causing trouble, drinking beer and maintaining his own brand of discipline. He refereed Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg at WrestleMania XX, stealing the spotlight by delivering a Stunner to each of them at the end of the match.
In April 2004, Stone Cold and WWE parted ways, which many thought would be permanent. But Stone Cold and WWE found common ground when the opportunity arose to utilize Stone Cold’s popularity and reputation in starring roles for WWE Films. Additionally, The Rattlesnake made his mark at WrestleMania 21 with two well-placed Stunners on turf of another famous WWE trash-talker — Rowdy Roddy Piper in Piper’s Pit.