On March 29th, 1997, the WWE Universe changed forever when “Stone Cold' Steve Austin finally accomplished his seeming birthright and defeated “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels for the then-WWF World Heavyweight Champion at WrestleMania 14. While the “Rattlesnake” had won championships before in the WWF and elsewhere, including a run alongside HBK with the World Tag Team Championships in 1997, this match marked the first time the hottest act in the company earned its highest honor, and even if his reign barely lasted a season, losing the strap to Kane at King of the Ring 1998, that didn't slow his reign one bit, as he would go on to hold the belt five more times before he hung up his boots.

So naturally, Austin would certainly look back on this match positively, as it signified the first huge accomplishment in a career that would go on to be filled with them, right? Most definitely, but when it comes to the actual match itself, the “Rattlesnake” was far less complimentary, as he noted to Xavier Woods and company on the UpUpDownDown WWE 2K23 launch stream.

“It was special because it was my first title, my world title, so that was a big deal for me as it was for everybody,” Austin said via Fightful. “The match, on a 1-5, a 2. Shawn and I consider… from bell to bell, I consider Shawn to have [no flaws]. Now Bret, as far as realism, you can’t top him. Flair is my traveling world champion, he’s the man. But from bell to bell, talent-wise, nobody can lace Shawn Michaels boots. So to go out there and have a lackluster match with him at the biggest show of the year, WrestleMania… It was cool being out there with Mike [Tyson]. Me and Shawn could have had a way better match, but he was in a bad place, he was injured. I was just red hot.”

Things got so bad in the opinion of Austin that he told none other than Vince McMahon that he thought the duo turned in a lackluster effort.

“I hated that match, and I loved Shawn, and I have the utmost respect for him, but I don’t consider that to be a good match at all. I remember walking to the back, and I told Vince, ‘Hey man, that match was the [sh*ts].’ He just patted me [on the back] and [went], ‘We’ll get it tomorrow on Raw.’ Yeah, it wasn’t about the match, it was about transferring that title. I think Shawn was in a real tough place personally, and [he was] in a lot of pain. It was a funky match. I didn’t know if he was even gonna walk to the ring. I didn’t know if he wanted to walk to the ring.”

Fortunately, even if Austin personally wasn't a huge fan of his first title victory, that doesn't mean the match was universally despised, as Dave Meltzer gave the match a ***1/4 rating, which is fine, and it's generally considered a solid showing in the career of one of WWE's greatest ever Superstars. Needless to say, when you're on The Undertaker's Mount Rushmore, you certainly did something right.

Mick Foley on just how much “Stone Cold” Steve Austin meant to the WWE.

With “Stone Cold” a hot topic in the middle of March, with 3:16 Day and whatnot, Mick Foley, one of his greatest in-ring rivals, was asked about the impact of Austin on professional wrestling during an appearance on Busted Open Radio and let it be known that there hasn't been a performer who has impacted the industry in the same way since.

“We saw lightning strike twice with Steve and The Rock. The one knock I would have when my son was one of the main writers for NXT was, ‘Wow. That was great, that was great… I don't remember anybody's name.' People tended to look and wrestle similarly, with a couple of exceptions. I'd be hard-pressed to name a handful of people even after watching a major show,” Foley said. “Rock had grown up with it in his blood. Steve was one of the last people in my generation to be a territory guy, so he was able to build that up. I don't know if we're going to see somebody like Steve again. I really don't know if you're going to see someone who changes things that rapidly, that fully.”

For as great as wrestlers like Roman Reigns, John Cena, and Cody Rhodes have been since, none were able to capture the hearts and imaginations of wrestling fans in quite the same way as Austin in the mid-1990s. While the industry is doing gangbusters financially, largely because of streaming revenue, the hype was never greater, and there were never more people watching than when “Stone Cold” was at the top of the card.