On This Day In History: September 22, 1997
By Divyan Mehta
In the middle of 1997, WWE and Monday Night Raw were on the losing end of the battle for sports entertainment supremacy against WCW and Monday Nitro. WWE’s programming had become one dimensional and stale in comparison to the cutting edge content that WCW was producing with its heel faction known as the New World Order. WWE had demonstrated its continued reliance on outlandish characters and outdated storylines. As a result, Raw’s ratings were on a constant decline with profits and revenue also suffering. It appeared that WWE was going to lose the Monday Night War.
With his back against the proverbial wall, Vince McMahon, the owner of the WWE was forced to make a change in direction as it pertains to the content of Raw. He mandated that Raw would undergo a huge transformation with more contemporary content and realistic storylines. McMahon needed a talent to be the face of this new direction and Steve Austin was the perfect candidate.
McMahon had noticed the positive response that Austin had been receiving from the audience in the months prior to this new direction and was positioning him to be the top star that would carry WWE into the future. It is for this reason why the events of the 22nd of September 1997 were instrumental to Austin becoming perhaps the biggest star the sports entertainment industry has ever seen.
On the 22nd of September 1997, Raw took place for the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. WWE officials stated that Austin could not be medically cleared to return to in-ring competition due to an injury he had sustained in his SummerSlam match against Owen Hart. Austin attacked Owen after Owen had been gloating about the fact that he dropped Austin on his head and nearly broke his neck.
After Austin attacked Owen, police officers came in the ring and attempted to restrain Austin before Vince (who was sitting at the announcers’ table) stopped them saying he wanted to talk to Steve. Vince reminded Austin that he could end up paralysed if he returned to active competition earlier than the doctors advised. He also informed Steve that he had to “work within the system.” In an act of defiance and aggression, Austin stunned McMahon, was taken away by police officers and escorted out of the arena. On television, McMahon was horrified that Austin had stunned him. In reality, based on the reaction Austin received from the audience after that segment, McMahon began to lay the foundation for what would become known as the “Austin Era.”