Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Dude Love for the WWE Championship
If your boss has ever asked you to take out the trash, fetch a cup of coffee, or come in early on Monday, then you have a very small idea of how Stone Cold Steve Austin was feeling following his first WWE Championship victory at WrestleMania XIV. After the monumental victory, Vince McMahon did everything he could to quell Austin’s affinity for beer swilling, blue-collar brawling and hand-gesturing, but Austin was still the champ and still enjoying the last laugh over his boss when Unforgiven rolled into Greensboro, N.C. on April 26, 1998.
Of course, when your boss reminds you to ask yourself, “Is this good for the company?” your options for retaliation are much more conventional than, say, nailing him with a Stunner, which is exactly what Austin did to Mr. McMahon when the WWE Chairman told him to become a well-mannered “Company Champion” or face the consequences. In the weeks that followed, the Austin-McMahon rivalry simmered, nearly coming to a head on the April 13, 1998 edition of RAW. That night, a match between the champion and the Chairman was interrupted by Dude Love, who became the unlikeliest of No. 1 Contenders and was slated to battle Austin for the championship at Unforgiven. It would be Austin’s first time defending the gold on pay-per-view after winning it at WrestleMania XIV, and none other than Mr. McMahon would be seated at ringside to view the match.
More than one observer, including announcer Jim Ross, had suspicions of a conspiracy between McMahon and Dude Love, especially after McMahon appeared in the ring prior to the WWE Championship Match. The Chairman addressed the rumor that he would indeed try to screw Austin out of the championship, and claimed no responsibility for what happens in the ring if “Stone Cold screws Stone Cold.” That proclamation, coupled with more than one shady glance toward the timekeeper and the knowledge that he would be sitting at ringside during the match, was eerily reminiscent of the infamous Montreal Screwjob which occurred at Survivor Series in 1997. Even Austin himself acknowledged that the only previous time Mr. McMahon had a ringside seat was at that pay-per-view, when the Chairman notoriously screwed Bret Hart out of his WWE Championship by forcing the timekeeper to “Ring the damn bell!”
Similar glances were exchanged during the main event at Unforgiven 1998, which was an intensely fought physical contest between the first-time champion Stone Cold and the cagey veteran Dude Love. Throughout the contest, the action shifted from the ring to the concrete aisle leading to the stage, then back into the ring and even into the railed-off area between the arena floor and the stands. After receiving a back-drop onto the cold concrete, Austin was taunted by a rabid Mr. McMahon. The resilient champion recovered, however, and backed his boss up the ramp, only to be attacked from behind by Dude Love as the conspiracy theorists once again raised their eyebrows in suspicion.
As the match returned to the squared circle, the championship battle reached its crucial turning point. Dude Love attempted a clothesline, but when Austin ducked the referee received the crushing blow. With the referee knocked out cold, Dude Love wriggled free of a Stunner and applied the Mandible Claw, eventually knocking Austin out. Mr. McMahon tried furiously to revive the referee, but his attempts failed and Austin flipped Foley over the top rope, setting up one of the most memorable moments of the Attitude Era and inspiring downtrodden workers everywhere.
Looking to crush his rebellious champion once and for all, Mr. McMahon folded up his ringside seat and turned it over to Dude Love, who had his attempted swing blocked by Austin. Stone Cold then grabbed the chair and did his best Sammy Sosa on Mr. McMahon’s face, laying out the Chairman and giving him the opening he needed to retain his championship. With the referee still knocked out, Austin tossed Dude Love back into the ring, nailed him with a Stunner and counted his own pin, sending the raucous Greensboro crowd into a frenzy as his music blared.
However, despite being knocked unconscious, Mr. McMahon still had the last laugh. Gerry Brisco instructed ring announcer Howard Finkel to declare that Austin had been disqualified for striking a WWE official, making Dude Love the winner via disqualification. While Austin did not reappear following the announcement, and although he did not officially win the match, Stone Cold won a major victory over Mr. McMahon, who learned the hard way that sometimes you have to pay the cost to be the boss.