By the time Steve and I worked together again, we were both working for WWE (then WWF), and the world had changed. Steve had become the single biggest star in the business, a one man cottage industry for Vincent Kennedy McMahon, and I was on the air as a color commentator and behind the scenes as a writer.
Steve hated the WWE writing team, and he made no bones about it.
But in 2002, a new factor entered into the equation. The NCAA Heavyweight Wrestling Champion Brock Lesnar, who had been recruited by Gerry Brisco under Jim Ross' Talent Relations Department, was bring called up to the main roster. Lesnar was being shown the ropes, wrestling in non-televised "dark matches" at Raw and Smackdown tapings, and riding with Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle and Smackdown color commentator Taz. Seeing all the antiquated, out-of-touch advice Lesnar was being offered by the agents/producers at the time, Taz came to me and whispered "this guy is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. You're not going to see another one like this come along for a long long time!"
I introduced myself to Brock, and struck up a conversation. His dark matches that week were with Funaki and Spike Dudley. The advice I gave was quite simple, but Brock soaked up the information like a sponge, and there was no turning back. We hit it off tremendously. There was no doubt in my mind this 6'3'', 295 pound monstrous athlete was indeed "The Next Big Thing."
Vince scrapped his plans for me to manage Chris Benoit as a heel and paired me with Brock. We started on Monday Night Raw, doing a run-in the day after Wrestlemania. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me as a performer. Brock Lesnar was a goldmine.
Meanwhile, Steve Austin's relationship with the writing team was going from bad to worse. Steve appeared on the WWE's very own Internet program, "Byte This," and ripped into the writing team. Jim Ross, head of Talent Relations and Steve's best friend, tried to broker a peace, but the situation was spiraling too fast.
Austin was sour on the WWE product. He was not happy with the lack of upward mobility displayed afforded the characters on Raw, therefore depriving him of new, fresh, quality opponents. The nWo had come in, but fizzled out quickly. Hulk Hogan, a true dream match if there ever was one, was already a babyface, and was losing steam once the standing ovations following his Wrestlemania match with The Rock wore thin. And the "end all, be all," Vince McMahon, with whom the buck always stopped, just wasn't making the same amount of time for Steve as he used to.
Steve was one pissed off hombre.
Vince wasn't all smiles at the time, either.
One Friday afternoon, he tore into the Raw team as if they ate his last protein bar. Where's the new, must-see matchups? Where's the fresh blood in the main event? Why aren't you exploiting your resources? What's so "Raw" about Raw nowadays?
It was a brutal ass chewing. I'm not saying the Raw didn't deserve it, but they got it, that's for sure.
The original plan for Raw changed throughout the weekend. Vince didn't like anything Brian Gewirtz and Ed Koskey were pitching. And then, on late Sunday night, a totally revised show was sent out via email. The main event for Monday Night Raw, live from Atlanta, Georgia, would be the number one star on the show, Stone Cold Steve Austin, against the 2000 NCAA Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, "The Next Big Thing" Brock Lesnar.
The shit, as they say, was about to hit the fan.