Aug 6 - Breakout Breakdown - Steve Austin
Breakout Breakdown - A Series
Let me introduce a new PEN15 Mightier series that pinpoints and highlights the moments when a wrestling star guaranteed their stardom. It’s my belief that many fans who were not around at the time a specific wrestler rose to the top follow the teachings of WWE as gospel truth in terms of how some superstars were developed. As one of the few people on LOP who has been watching since the 80s and not lost track, I hope to bring you a new perspective - a breakdown of when these superstars brokeout.
I won’t concentrate on only single promos, or matches, or angles. These writings will be an effort to showcase the total package of how some of your favorite wrestling personas were discovered to be money makers. There’s a long list of major wrestling stars I hope to cover. I’m glad I can say I have witnessed the rise of these men first hand, and hope to add new chapters to their legends that newer fans, or forgetful ones, are not aware of.
Let’s start with:
Stone Cold Steve Austin - November 96 to January 97
”Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass.”
When people look back at how Stone Cold Steve Austin rose to the top of the wrestling world and became arguably the biggest wrestler in the history of the sport, the King of the Ring promo is always quoted. I remember watching that event at the age of 14 with a girlfriend at the time and claiming how I knew wrestling so well that I could predict every match in the tournament, as well as the eventual winner. I was wrong every step of the way. At no point did my 14 year old mind comprehend how WWF would have any interest in this guy who lost to Savio Vega just the month before, when they had the hot new star in the Wildman, a giant beast to push like Vader, or a great comeback story in Jake Roberts. It made no sense to me at the time.
Obviously, retrospect helps clear a few things up.
I honestly missed the promo afterwards. I was too angry about having been made a fool of in front of my high school sweetheart with my silly predictions. So while I wasn’t right onboard with Austin 3:16, by Survivor Series I was.
That period of time was tremendous for Stone Cold. While I’m sure he wrestled between King of the Ring and Survivor Series, none of his matches were noteworthy. It isn’t because the matches sucked, but they weren’t the highlight of his push. In fact, the most memorable contest he was involved in was a 2 minute squash match against Yokozuna during the SummerSlam Free-For-All preshow, where he was demolished for most of the match, but won by pinfall after he escaped a Bonzai Drop via a rope break under Yoko’s considerable weight. Going by the PPV events only, Stone Cold became an afterthought as the 1996 King of the Ring.
This wasn’t actually the case, because he spent a considerable amount of time talking up a feud with Bret Hart. My personal favourite promo from this period was his Owen Hart and Brian Pillman aided verbal attack on the Hitman during the In Your House: Mind Games event. “When you put the letter ‘S’ in front of Hitman...”
WWF was paying attention to his words, but in the aftermath of the New Generation era, and the soon-to-arrive Attitude Era, it was all the more important to see if he could wrestle as well. Sure he can hold a rivalry with Savio Vega, but can he keep up with Bret Hart?
This brings us to Survivor Series 1996. The build up to this contest is where Bret Hart used a not-so-veiled attack on Shawn Michaels in calling Steve Austin “The Best Wrestler in the World Today.” No matter your opinion on Bret Hart, to be called that is still a major rub. Consider that for a moment: John Cena just named Daniel Bryan the most deserving of a WWE title shot. He is over as fuck, and yet there are still people who question if he really deserves it (admittedly, it’s small portion.) In 1996, Austin was essentially a nobody in the grand scheme of things, with a track record of going 50/50 with Savio Vega, fluke victory of Yokozuna on a pre-show, and a random victory over Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a match without any storyline whatsoever (little crowd reaction, and Vince on commentary spends more time hyping other stars and angles). And “the best there was, is and ever will be” is claiming this black trunk no name is the best wrestler in the WWF today? That might be a load of BS, but it was a hell of a compliment.
But not nearly as much of a rub as the actual match was. Madison Square Garden couldn’t have been a better home to house the return of the Hitman, and the emergence of Steve Austin. I won’t say this match is better than the Wrestlemania 13 Submission match, but it was what started to cement Austin as a performer in the ring.
This was the match where I firmly became a Stone Cold fan. But, did the WWF really start to believe in the verse of Austin 3:16? I have to say I doubt they were fully on board just yet. They knew they had something, but they weren’t ready just yet. That’s why they put him in the ultimate test.
In the history of the Royal Rumble match, the 1997 edition is rarely mentioned as a favourite, but it’s still one of my top memories as a young wrestling fan. I truly feel this is the exact moment Vince was backstage and knew he had a star. While we’d seen great promos from Austin, and he put on a stellar match under the highest pressure possible at Survivor Series, the Royal Rumble gave Austin a blank slate to work with. And what he delivered was outstanding. He was the star for nearly an hour. His charisma shone through without a microphone. He worked that crowd better than the previous stars of the last 5 years have ever been able to do. Not Bret, not Shawn, not Diesel. Austin worked a stadium of San Antonio fans into a frenzy that not even the Hometown Hero in the main event could reach. Stone Cole got the fans behind him at the right points, and had them cheering when he was eliminated as well. It was masterful work from an all-time great.
Steve Austin has a career of 5 star matches, but the Rumble is often forgotten as the time he truly came into his own. Survivor Series was step 1, but the Rumble was the true key. After this PPV, the WWF knew the money they could earn with Austin, and worked it into Wrestlemania 13. They kept his momentum slow going for the next year, as they tied up loose ends with Shawn and Bret, while Undertaker had the Kane storyline and WWF Title to work with. Had the neck injury not occurred, I doubt much would have changed, because they were already building him up slowly and aiming him towards the midcard. Post injury, he played it safe until it was time for him to win another Rumble match, and head into WWF Championship territory.
Austin 3:16 opened the doors.
Survivor Series he took his first step.
The Royal Rumble was when he yelled out at the top of his lungs “I’m here to whoop some ass, and that’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so.”
And on that note, Peace out
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