“Stone Cold” Steve Austin was notoriously written off WWE television in 1999 when he was hit by a car that year. Survivor Series pay per view. In reality, the decision was made for Austin to have surgery on his injured neck, but the mystery of who was driving the car would linger for another 10 months before Austin finally returned to action at Unforgiven. It was revealed that Rikishi was the culprit, claiming he did it “for the Rock”. But it was later revealed that Triple H was the mastermind behind the whole plan, leading to a Three Stages of Hell Match between the two at No Exit 2001.
Rikishi was considered a weird booking decision even back then, and WWE almost immediately turned him into the fun, dancing midcarder he used to be. Former WWE Editor-in-Chief Brian Gewirtz confirmed in an interview with Ariel Helwani this week that the former Intercontinental Champion was far from the first name pitched for the storyline.
“How can I say that? The number of people who were going to crush ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin at any given time, you could fill a jury with them and have alternates,” Gewirtz said with a laugh. “There were a lot of people and it kept changing, it was kind of a hot potato. I remember at one point Vince [McMahon] looked at me… and it was like “Tazz”. So at one point it was going to be Tazz…and then the next week, for some reason, it was someone different. But yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a success. Rikishi is a Hall of Fame artist, but he’s just likeable and a natural babyface. People want to like it. Sometimes you don’t know until you try. And then ultimately it was Rikishi, but Triple H was behind it all and it just went back to the natural order of things.”
Austin ended up losing to “The Game”, but thanks to his Royal Rumble victory earlier that year, Austin had a locked WWF Championship match for WrestleMania X-Seven. He and The Rock would face off for their second of three WrestleMania matches, this time ending with Austin turning heel and partnering with McMahon.