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Posted in: Mr. Tito
On This Day in Pro Wrestling History... Steve Austin wins King of the Ring 1996 and cuts Austin 3:16 Promo
By Mr. Tito
Jun 23, 2017 - 11:43:16 PM

Follow Mr. Tito on Twitter.com: @titowrestling

ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY as celebrated here at LordsofPain.net / WrestlingHeadlines.com, the wrestling world heard the infamous "Austin 3:16" promo made by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin at the 1996 edition of the King of the Ring Pay Per View on June 23rd, 1996. Just 2 years later after winning the 1996 King of the Ring tournament and cutting that Austin 3:16 promo, Steve Austin was WWE Champion and RAW was beginning to defeat its rival show, WCW Nitro, in the ratings. Through 1999, the WWE was an unstoppable in the wrestling world and setting record television viewership numbers that hold to this very day.

Funny thing about "Austin 3:16": it almost didn't happen.

Steve Austin debuted with the WWE during January 1996 (TV debut, signed during late 1995) but not with the "Stone Cold" gimmick. He was initially called the "Ringmaster" and his sole purpose was to be Ted Dibiase's new Million Dollar Champion. Steve Austin was hired at the insistence of old WCW fan and Head of Talent Relations, Jim Ross, but it seemed that Vince McMahon was not too familiar with "Stunning" Steve Austin from WCW or any of Steve Austin's angry ECW promo work after WCW let him go. Gone was the longer blonde hair and replaced was a buzz cut to look like a serious champion. However, Austin was not allowed to speak... Dibiase cut promos for Austin. However, the Million Dollar Champion gimmick wasn't working and Ted Dibiase had interests in getting out of his contract and taking WCW money.

Without a manager and without a purpose, Steve Austin was actually allowed to revise his own character. Gone was the blonde hair and in was the bald head and goatee. The "Ringmaster" gimmick was ditched and Steve Austin replaced it with a phrase that he heard his then-wife say about drinking hot tea. After preparing a cup of hot tea for Steve, she said "if you don't drink that soon, it will get 'stone cold'". Bingo. Steve Austin presented the gimmick of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Vince McMahon approved. In fact, if you tuned into a RAW during the Spring of 1996, you'll hear Vince McMahon repeatedly call him "Stone Cold" Steve Austin throughout his matches in attempts to get that name over. Over and over again... It actually seemed like it wouldn't work due to Vince's announcing overkill. Additionally, Austin was still deep in his feud with Savio Vega and Vega seemed to get the better of him.

But then WWE King of the Ring 1996 arrived and the planning of that event quickly became chaotic.

As the story goes, Triple H was reportedly going to win the 1996 King of the Ring tournament and begin an epic singles push that year. However, the famous "Curtain Call" incident at a Madison Square Garden houseshow instantly changed those King of the Ring plans. "Diesel" Kevin Nash and "Razor Ramon" Scott Hall signed lucrative deals with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) to not only leave the WWE, but to leave their real life friends Shawn Michaels and Triple H. The "Clique" as they were named consisted of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and 123 Kid/X-Pac Sean Waltman and they formed a close friendship while on the road during WWE tours. This exit show at Madison Square Garden was headlined by Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel/Kevin Nash in a Cage Match. When the match was over, heel Triple H and babyface Razor Ramon joined babyface Shawn Michaels and heel Diesel in the ring to huge and salute fans together.

While pro wrestling was widely known to be scripted through 1996, how the scripts were prepared, how the wrestlers were trained, and the characters of the business were still protected to a great degree. Thus, revealing that Michaels, Triple H, Diesel, and Razor were friends and not sworn enemies on babyface and heel lines as WWE television told you. Furthermore, they did that on the WWE's home turf... While WWE was based out of Stamford, CT, they still held their biggest shows in New York City. As built under Vince's father Vince Sr., the WWE was built as a Northeast promotion and New York City was its capital. Madison Square Garden was holy grounds for the WWE and remains that way to this day. Additionally, it's quite expensive to host WWE shows at the Garden. Any WWE show held there is always treated as a big deal to Vince McMahon. For 4 wrestlers to break character on the biggest stage, it was an insult to Vince McMahon. Furthermore, the former wrestling talent surrounding Vince McMahon as creative team members or road agents were also fuming.

Something had to be done... Scott Hall & Kevin Nash were off to WCW, couldn't punish them. Shawn Michaels was WWE Champion and was just crowned that at Wrestlemania 12. Couldn't punish him as Bret Hart's contract just expired and WWE's Main Event bench was a bit thin. Triple H, however, didn't have such protections during this period of time and had the most to lose. Potentially as a reward for putting over the Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania 12 and for a general need to replenish the main event pool, HHH was in line for a push for the remainder of 1996. He was scheduled to win the King of the Ring 1996 tournament and that would launch his 1996 push. Because of this "Curtain Call" incident at Madison Square Garden, that push was over. King of the Ring 1996 was about to be rewritten.

King of the Ring 1996 had more problems than just Triple H being removed as the winner, however.

The Ultimate Warrior, after last being seen just before Survivor Series 1992, made his big splash return at Wrestlemania 12... Sadly, that was the peak of his WWE return. It just wasn't meant to be as old backstage disagreements returned, Warrior was trying to promote outside projects on WWE television, and Warrior was also injured before the King of the Ring pay per view. Warrior was knocked out of the tournament via double countout on a RAW qualifying match and went on to complete his mini-feud with Jerry "the King" Lawler. Warrior left the WWE soon after that and never returned to the promotion until his Hall of Fame induction days before his actual death. Warrior was actually on multiple King of the Ring 1996 posters, too.

However, King of the Ring did have Vader, Yokozuna, and Owen Hart... What about them? With Vader getting the SummerSlam 1996 spot, maybe winning the King of the Ring wasn't necessary or "beneath him". During 1996, WWE was trying to push Vader as a monster who couldn't be controlled. After his KOTR match with Jake Roberts, Vader assaulted him and softened him up for an easy Finals victory by Steve Austin. Through 1996, there were weight concerns about Yokozuna. This wasn't the main eventer that the WWE pushed hard during 1993-1994. Later during 1996, WWE would craft a few storylines that made mention of Yokozuna being too heavy (I recall a turnbuckle breaking on him). With Owen Hart, however, he was a past King of the Ring winner and with Bret Hart's contract situation in limbo, the WWE might have been holding off on him.

Then there was Marc Mero, one of the few in the WWE with guaranteed money on his contract. Formerly Johnny B Badd, WWE made a big deal out of signing him away from WCW. However, his reactions were lukewarm at best and WWE opted not push him at King of the Ring. Savio Vega, who was always a thorn in Austin's side, was seen more of a midcarder and nothing more than that. Plus, by having Steve Austin overcome Vega in the King of the Ring 1996 tournament, it could be seen as a big deal for Steve Austin. There were initial thoughts of Jake "the Snake" Roberts winning the tournament but there were concerns his health already after his return.

It's almost by default that Stone Cold Steve Austin was going to win the King of the Ring 1996 tournament.

And Steve Austin made the most out of that opportunity.

Austin avenged his previous losses to Savio Vega by defeating him at the Pay Per View. Then, it was Marc Mero who was dominant, thus far, on WWE television. Many thought he'd win the event based on the push that he was given. Not so... However, Mero did bust open Austin's mouth and Stone Cold had to quickly receive stitches before his finals match with Jake "the Snake" Roberts. Lucky for Austin, Vader attacked Roberts after getting disqualified.

It was before the match, however, that the creative wheels began churning. Backstage, Steve Austin asked road agent Michael PS Hayes about what Jake "the Snake" Roberts said in his promo before their match. Provided that Roberts was presenting himself as a born-again Christian, Roberts cut a promo that was religious in nature. Upon hearing that, the "Austin 3:16" promo began to formulate in his head.

Steve Austin would go on to defeat the beaten down Jake Roberts in that King of the Ring 1996 Finals match-up and would step up to the throne with Michael PS Hayes (probably still Doc Hendrix at the time), of all people, ready to interview him. As Austin was about to cut his promo, he witnessed referees helping Jake Roberts to the backstage area. After Austin telling the referees to get Roberts out of his sight, Austin cut one of the finest wrestling promos of all time:

"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. Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass!"

Immediately, the fans attending King of the Ring 1996 popped. They instantly knew that "Stone Cold" Steve Austin said one of the boldest lines in professional wrestling history. After all, it was a take on possibly the most famous line in the Bible, John 3:16 which states: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16 signs were commonly held up at Sporting Events, on bumper stickers, on t-shirts, etc. Thus, when Steve Austin boldly said "Austin 3:16 said I just whooped your ass", it made a HUGE impact. Signs began appearing on Monday Night RAW... With time, WWE figured out that t-shirts saying "Austin 3:16" would be a great merchandise idea. It was.

At first, Vince McMahon didn't know what to make of Steve Austin. His focus remained Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart and somehow having them headline Wrestlemania 13. In fact, Vince signed Bret Hart to a 20 year contract with guaranteed money to remain one of his top guys. As you can witness by Survivor Series 1996, Bret Hart beat Steve Austin in his comeback match cleanly.

But something happened during that Survivor Series 1996 match-up... Steve Austin was absolutely fearless in his promos against Bret, "you are so pathetic" and mocking Bret relentlessly for his pink tights. On top of "Austin 3:16", these promos against Bret poured gasoline on the growing fire. Then, the WWE probably saw the merchandise numbers of Steve Austin... Those Austin 3:16 shirts were selling. When Shawn Michaels didn't want to do a rematch with Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 13 and "lost his smile", the push was one for Steve Austin. At Wrestlemania 13, a bloody Steve Austin passed out from being in the Sharpshooter and Bret Hart's heelish actions after the match caused a heel/babyface switch. From there, Steve Austin was pushed strongly was a babyface with the idea of him getting the Intercontinental Title at SummerSlam 1997 and growing from there. Austin, however, was gaining popularity so quickly that it probably gave Vince McMahon more confidence in his decision to release Bret Hart so early from his contract. New plans were then in place for Austin to (a) win Royal Rumble 1998 cleanly and (b) defeat Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 14 for the WWE Title.

The rest was history.

And it all started 21 years ago at King of the Ring 1996 when Austin not only won the tournament but delivered the "Austin 3:16" promo.

The game was different in the WWE during 1996... Spoken word was not scripted back then as it is now. Before, the Creative Team consisted of Jim Cornette, Pat Patterson, Bruce Pritchard, Vince Russo, and Steve Austin who would craft ideas and general directions of feuds. They actually had greater trust of wrestlers to connect the dots for matches in the ring and promos cut by wrestlers. Any "corrections" of wrestlers were often done behind closed door meetings with the wrestlers. They'd learn and move on, understanding what the WWE wanted and catering that to their individual personalities. Steve Austin didn't have scripted lines until 2002 and consequently, that was the year in which he rebelled (among personal reasons).

For 1996-1999, Stone Cold Steve Austin had a lot of creative input over his character. That character was an extension of the real person behind Steve Austin as if you listen to the Stone Cold Podcast, it's the same guy. What you saw as "Stone Cold" was a reflection of the actual man and what you heard from Austin is what HE wanted to say as the character. Sure, both Vinces would recommend what to say but it wasn't fully scripted. Guys like the Rock, Mick Foley, and Triple H would follow Austin with their own promos that weren't fully scripted and those guys got over too. Later, John Cena would have a lot of creative input over his raps and that helped him get over during 2003-2005. Then, of course, there was CM Punk's famous 2011 "pipebomb" promo which was a rare unscripted opportunity granted these days. Funny thing is that during Punk's 2011 "pipebomb" promo, he was actually wearing a "Stone Cold" Steve Austin t-shirt!

WWE's climb back to the top started ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY, 21 years ago, when the next great babyface was born with his "Austin 3:16" promo. With time, the WWE let that infectious Stone Cold disease spread throughout the WWE and by 1998, WWE became the #1 wrestling promotion once again with Austin as WWE Champion. TV viewership exploded, more Pay Per Views were bought, and arenas sold out within moments. Had Austin's neck held up and didn't cause him to leave just before Survivor Series 1999, who knows how much bigger he could have made the WWE as the #1 guy.

Best promo of all time. Period. End of story.



SO JUST CHILL... 'TIL THE NEXT EPISODE!

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