Was Stone Cold Steve Austin really that good?
In the latest of the Were They Really That Good series, Adz takes on the Texas Rattlesnake himself, Steve Austin!
What do you get when you cross a Texas rattlesnake and a Hollywood Blonde? You get the toughest S.O.B in the WWE, you get “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He was the face of a generation and an era defining figure in the world of wrestling. He was the everyman that reached the heights that we all hoped we could reach. We lived vicariously through him, hate your boss? So does Austin. Like drinking beer? So does Austin. Like to fill your bosses Corvette with cement? So does Austin. Like to drive into a sold out arena, jam packed with 14,000 plus fans, in a beer truck and hose down every single person in the ring with Coors Light? No, me neither, but Austin did. He was a breath of fresh air for the failing WWF and their declining audience. We all remember him fondly, but today we’re asking; Was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin really that good?
Born Steven James Anderson in 1964 and hailing from Victoria, Texas. He was interesting even from birth being of German, Irish, Swedish and English descent. His parents divorced about a year after he was born and he adopted his step-father’s surname of Williams (before legally changing his name to Steve Austin in later years). He played football in high school and won a football scholarship at the University of North Texas.
After watching wrestling live at the Dallas Sportatorium and watching greats like Chris Adams wrestling for WCCW, Austin decided to give his school a try. His early training with Adams was purely technically based, Adams taught him nothing about working or kayfabe but was instead given his first lesson in the art of working and kayfabe with Tony Falk, a referee for WCCW. It wasn’t long before he was shoved on to a show. Wrestling under his real name Steve Williams, he wrestled his first televised match in 1989 against Frogman Leblanc. During the match Leblanc called the spots and in the end Austin made $40. Steve had to change his name pretty soon after his debut due to being confused with “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, it was Dutch Mantell who dubbed him Steve Austin, during the merger of WCCW and CWA into the USWA. Steve left USWA after a feud with Chris Adams, which saw Chris and his new wife Toni take on Austin and Jeannie Adams who was Austin’s current real-life girlfriend and Adams’ ex-wife, and signed with WCW a year later.
Now, this chapter of his career pains me. He was so good in his younger years as a heel, he was so arrogant and smarmy that he could’ve pissed off a nun given the chance, but he wasn’t used to his full potential. Joining WCW in 1991, a year after he left USWA, he debuted with the name “Stunning” Steve Austin and was paired with a new valet, Vivacious Veronica, but she was quickly replaced by Jeannie Adams under the name of Lady Blossom. He defeated Bobby Eaton for the WCW United States Championship and joined Paul E. Dangerously’s stable “The Dangerous Alliance.” Austin would drop the belt to Barry Windham on 27th April 1992, but regained the title on the 23rd May, before dropping once again to Ricky Steamboat in September. The Dangerous Alliance then split leaving Austin floundering, but this is where this era picks up, in my opinion for Austin.
After the split of the Alliance, he found a new, fresh direction in the tag division in 1993, teaming with “Flyin” Brian Pillman and calling themselves the “Hollywood Blondes.” I honestly believe that the Blondes were one of the most underrated teams of the early 90’s. They had relative success, capturing the WCW tag titles and the NWA tag titles too. They we’re the best heel tag team WCW had at the time but were never properly recognised for what they were doing. They were so bad, they were cool.
While Pillman was injured, Austin joined the Stud Stable managed by Colonel Robert Parker, and later won the US Title once again via forfeit, only to lose it minutes later to Jim Duggan, the replacement for the injured Ricky Steamboat. Austin had a knee injury not long after and was out of action for a while. Upon returning he was placed in a tournament for the vacant US Title, he beat Jim Duggan in the first round via count out but lost to Macho Man in the quarter finals.
In June 1995, while working a tour in Japan, Austin blew out his triceps and was once again injured. Eric Bischoff was running the show in 1995 and used this as an opportunity to shift some dead weight (oh, Bischoff… karma’s a bitch, am I right?) and fired Austin, claiming he wasn’t a marketable guy, and stating that Austin was hard to work with. Luckily for Austin, a certain person who he had worked with got on the phone and offered Austin a job, that man was the former Paul E. Dangerously, now known as Paul Heyman and he was running ECW. Austin was still injured, but he offered him a spot doing promos and Heyman told him to go nuts and air his grievances on TV. Which Austin did with great effect! This was also the place he began to build his “Stone Cold” gimmick, using the vignettes he was airing his grievances on to get as many digs in at WCW and Bischoff, especially Bischoff. He would rant about how things work and refer to Nitro as “Monday NyQuil, where the big boys play with each other” showcasing his untapped talking ability, his amazing comedic timing and flairs of being a badass. While not in ECW long, his short tenure there garnered Austin a LOT of attention, attention that would shape the rest of his career. The WWF came knocking.
In late 1995, he joined up with WWF and was dubbed “The Ringmaster” he was paired with Ted DiBiase and given the million-dollar title. This wasn’t for Steve and the gimmick was slowly pushing him into obscurity, due to no fault of his own. He pitched the idea of being an ice cold, cold-blooded killer, someone who didn’t care. Vince was behind the idea and his creative team did what they do best; gave lacklustre ideas with temperature based names; Fang McFrost, Ice Dagger, Chilly McFreeze and the best one, Frosty McFreeze, I still to this day have never been able to figure out why they came up with so many McDonalds-esque names. He got the name from his English wife who told him to drink his tea before it goes stone cold. That one sentence changed Austin’s career massively!
Austin changed his character to “Stone Cold” but was floating around the mid-card as a heel and gaining little momentum, he was grappling with the likes of Savio Vega and Kama Mustafa. And then came the King of the Ring 1996. Austin made his way to the finals of the tournament defeating Marc Mero in the semis. Stone Cold wold go up against Jake “The Snake” Roberts in the finals. Roberts was portraying a born again Christian at the time, mirroring real-life (although there is a lot of contradictory things he did and a strong case of him using it as a money making scheme being a travelling preacher) and preaching bible verses in promos. Austin would win the match and become the 1996 King of the Ring. Now, it wasn’t the match that was important, it was what came after. The Texas Rattle Snake took to the mic and rattled off a stellar promo:
“The first thing I want to be done, is get the piece of crap out of my ring! Don’t just get him out of the ring, get him out of the WWF, because I proved son, without a shadow of doubt, you aint got what it takes anymore! You sit there and you thump your bible, and you say your prayers and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16… Well Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!”
And just like that, Vince had his next top star in the making! The next night on Monday Night RAW, the crowd was going mental for Austin, like the kind of mental your uncle is at Christmas after a few too many beers and pisses your mother off. There were ‘Austin 3:16’ signs everywhere! The problem was that he was supposed to be a heel, but the fans loved him. Fast forward to WrestleMania XIII and that match with Bret Hart, the double-turn, the image of Austin passing out wearing a crimson mask. Bleeding profusely but refusing to give up, while Hart synched the Sharpshooter in deeper and had the Bionic Redneck tied up like a pretzel. Austin was the man!
He floated around the top guys and was a major player in the upper mid-card scene, then came SummerSlam 1997. Austin was on his way to the top, but it all came crashing down after one misfired sit-out Tombstone Piledriver delivered by Owen Hart. Austin had broken his neck, but he would go on to finish the match and walk out of the arena under his own steam, refusing a stretcher. This earned him the name “The toughest S.O.B. in the WWF” from Jim Ross.
Then we get to WrestleMania XIV and Austin is facing Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship in the main event, with Mike Tyson as special guest referee. The match was great, Tyson lamped Shawn with a straight shot to the head and Austin pinned him for the title. The rattlesnake was now on top of the mountain and was there to stay. He was the face of the attitude era, you could make an argument for and say the same about The Rock, but Austin embodied the spirit of the Attitude Era more than any other guy. He was the first guy to layout the Mr. McMahon character who was his biggest adversary. Austin and Vince were the perfect pair for success. From there Austin went to the moon and never came back down. He was and still is one of the most iconic wrestlers, not just of his era, but of all time.
His ring work, although not pretty, was believable for his character. He would stomp a mud hole in your nan if she even sniffed his beer. The stunner was the perfect finisher, required zero set up and was basic and effective, like the man dishing them out. He was rough and ready, and rarely went to the top rope, unless drowning himself in beer filled celebration. His mic work was a cut above the rest except a select few. No other man in the history of wrestling could get over the word “What?” And he was funny as hell when he wanted to be, as stated before when he filled Vince’s car with cement, sprayed a ring full of wrestlers with beer, drove a Zamboni into the arena, drove monster trucks and sang Kumbaya and We Are the Champions, and that bed pan attack on Vince, just pure gold.
So, Was Stone Cold really that good? OH HELL YEAH!! No one could have ushered in the Attitude Era quite like he did. From the moment the words “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” left his lips, he was the man. He was very rarely outgassed in the ring, he had an immaculate work ethic, and would work with anyone as long as it made sense (I’m looking at Brock Lesnar here) and did something for someone’s career or a storyline. He was the middle finger, the bald headed set of balls that the WWF lacked and without Austin, we wouldn’t have a WWE today!
And that’s the bottom line! Or just my two cents.
Thanks for reading and I’ll catch you in next weeks “Were they really that good”