Conveniently setting us up for next week’s debut episode of Steve Austin Takes on America on A&E, it’s a pair of the rattlesnake’s rivalries presented by the roundtable of JBL, Kevin Owens, Johnny Gargano, Renee Paquette, and former WWE writer and Hallmark romantic movie actor Freddie Prinze, Jr. in tonight’s season finale.

They’re a couple of doozies, too.

First up is Austin’s star-making run alongside Bret Hart in the mid-90s, one that saw the two clash in tough, bloody battles. To set the scene, the panel and other recorded guests such as Undertaker, Jerry Lawler, and Mick Foley lavish praise on the Hitman’s work and leadership in the then-WWF at that time. Even Shawn Michaels chimes in with how much he respected Hart’s work — leaving aside their personal issues of the time.

Meanwhile, Austin was finishing a run with WCW where Hart pegged him as someone he would love to work with. Austin arrived in the WWF as The Ringmaster, but had soon transformed himself into “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and made fans of the likes of Drew McIntyre and Montez Ford.

Hart was away from the ring at the time and Austin started cutting promo after promo demanding Bret return and wrestle him at the 1996 Survivor Series. Sam Roberts remembers being at Madison Square Garden for that match, recalling the energy in the crowd. Hart himself remembers shaking the six months of ring rust while Austin chuckles at outlasting Bret in stamina that night, something that didn’t happen often to the Hitman.

Gargano, who at the time had been split 50/50 in his support for Hart and Austin, suddenly felt his loyalty going in Stone Cold’s direction. Owens, for his part, said he was never a Hart fan and so he was with Austin all the way.

Their memorable encounter at the 1997 Royal Rumble is replayed, where Hart eliminated Austin without any ref seeing it, allowing Austin to return to the ring and eliminate Hart to win. After that, it was weeks of Austin attacking Hart, with the Hitman starting to shed his heroic image and start whining to the fans, while Austin was gaining new fans every day.

It’s interesting to hear Austin talk about watching Raw at home when he heard the news about his WrestleMania 13 match with Hart being a submission match, and not being happy about it since he’s no submission wrestler. Even Bret says he thought it was going to be a hurdle for them to overcome and make a good match happen.

Hart and Austin found in each other great foils. Photo: WWE

Austin explains he was happy to do the match at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago, as he loved the wooden ceiling and the acoustics that let him hear the crowd and feed off of them. Foley remembers the monitors in the back being packed with wrestlers watching as Austin and Hart finish the match with an iconic image of a bloody Austin, while Bret and Steve swapped babyface and heel roles.

This was not quite the end of the rivalry between the two, but the WrestleMania 13 match is essentially the capper to the episode, culminating in Hart and Austin offering their respect for one another.

Next up is Austin’s next big feud, chronologically: between him and Shawn Michaels. For this, we swap out most of the roundtable experts, bringing in D-Von Dudley, Booker T, and Natalya.

These episodes usually start with a recap of each wrestler’s career and a heaping of praise for their talents, and Michaels does receive that treatment – but he also receives some admonishment from the likes of the Undertaker who explains that he had no use for Michaels back then as a human being. Put more simply, Triple H explains that Shawn was a prick.

Austin, since we saw him in the previous episode, had become seemingly 100% over in the crowd. He wins the 1998 Royal Rumble which puts him on track to meet Michaels for the WWF Championship at WrestleMania XIV. Michaels describes injuring himself in his casket match against the Undertaker at that same event, being told shortly afterwards that he needed to stop wrestling. He focused on getting to Mania, but Austin explains that Michaels was less than enthusiastic about passing the torch to him.

The x-factor in this rivalry, Mike Tyson, says how happy he was to be involved, being a fan of wrestling from his youth and loving getting in the ring and scrapping with Steve. The truth is, it helped to pave the way to Mania with Michaels being less involved each week as he focused on readying for what was, at the time, figuring to be his final match.

Much of this episode is focused on the the ways in which they had to fill the time on the road to WrestleMania without a very active Michaels. Tyson joins Degeneration-X, does some funny-looking crotch chops, and the new DX attend a public workout in front of an unexpectedly large crowd. As Michaels addresses the crowd, someone throws a battery into the ring, hitting him in the face. Michaels turns on his heel immediately and leaves the ring. He sits in a limo and refuses to get back into the ring, despite Prichard recalling begging him to come out. Triple H and Tyson tap dance a bit until Austin arrives, at which point Michaels does get back in the ring to do the spot as planned. He admits now that he was mad, hurt, and that it was a tough pill to swallow to see how Austin was the next big thing.

Austin emerged victorious at the end of this short, memorable rivalry. Photo: WWE

Finally WrestleMania XIV arrives, and it finally becomes clear that Michaels is operating under immense pain, pushing through to perform as best as he could. With the ref down, Austin stuns Michaels and Tyson fast-counts to give him the championship. Michaels says that taking a right hand from Tyson after the match allowed him to out in style.

Keith Elliott Greenberg recalls being at the post-event press conference and seeing Michaels limping away and loudly kicking open the door, something Austin calls selfish but that’s where Shawn was mentally at the time. Fast forward to both wrestlers being retired, becoming on better terms with each other, and crossing paths at times like an appearance together at WrestleMania 32.

That’s it for this season of Rivals; stay with for future WWE programming reviews on A&E!