I Want To Talk A Little Bit About Stone Cold Steve Austin


I mentioned this in another post and I had planned on saying something short about it, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it deserved something big. I mentioned that Stone Cold Steve Austin was a near perfect character and today we’re going to look at why that’s the case. Austin is one of the few if not the only character ever to be both completely over the top while also being one of the most realistic. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a bit so let’s get to it.



First and foremost a clarification: I’m talking about Stone Cold, not Steve Austin in general. I’m talking about roughly the period from the day he started defying authority and ending at Wrestlemania X7 (with a few exceptions past that date). Before then his character barely existed and after that it changed for the worse, although he was always talented enough to get whatever he was doing. Austin is on the list of people you hear about who could read the phone book and entertain an audience for hours.



The easiest way to sum up the Austin character in a nutshell is with a famous movie line. In the movie Network, one of the characters says “I’m as mad and I’m not going to take it anymore.” That is Steve Austin in one sentence. Austin was tired of playing second fiddle to all of these older guys who were given better spots than him because they had been around longer. He felt that the spots should be based on how good you were, not when you started in the company.



This was perfectly illustrated at the 1996 King of the Ring which is commonly considered Austin’s coming out party. In the finals, Austin beat Jake Roberts who was back in the WWF for “one more run” as a nostalgia character. Following the match, Austin cut his legendary Austin 3:16 promo, talking about how Roberts may be a legend, but he just got beat and there was nothing anyone could do to stop Austin’s rise.



What followed was the feud that made Austin, as he fought the ultimate current legend, Bret Hart. While Bret beat Austin at the Survivor Series, Austin continued to torment Bret, cheating him out of the Royal Rumble and costing him the world title a few nights later on Raw. This all lead us to Wrestlemania and the I Quit match between the two of them where we saw some of the best storytelling ever.



The basic idea of the match was simple: Bret was as submission master but Austin would never say he gave up. At the end of the match (one of the best ever and well worth seeing if you somehow haven’t), Austin was bleeding terribly and finally passed out in the Sharpshooter to give the win to Bret. Now notice something very important here: Bret could not stop Austin. All he did was slow down what was coming and hope to survive it.



This brings me to my second point: Austin wasn’t just a character. He was a revolution and a new way of thinking in wrestling. The reason for his mass popularity though was he captured the thoughts of the audience. Austin was the voice of the voiceless, in that people are always tired of being told that they have to wait their turn no matter how good they may be and are tired of putting up with corporate suits telling them to work within a system and other various excuses to avoid answering the complaints people had.



In September of 1997 (don’t worry we’ll come back to the summer months later), Monday Night Raw was broadcast from Madison Square Garden for the first time. Around this time, Austin had been injured in a match with Owen Hart and might not be able to wrestle again because of it. Vince had told Austin to work within the system, to which Austin responded with the first of many Stunners to the boss. In a word, the building erupted. As I said before, it was the audience channeling themselves into Austin and getting to do something they had always wanted to do but never could do in real life.



What followed over the next three and a half years was a path of destruction by the rebel Austin. He did everything from fill Corvettes with cement to blowing up buses to pretending to shoot Vince in the head to spraying down the Corporation with beer and everything in between. The entire time though, Austin was rebelling. This is another of the keys to why Austin was a perfect character: he DID things rather than merely be labeled as something.



In a word, Austin was a rebel. That’s the single word definition of what his character was. Now, can you imagine if he had come in with the name “The Rebel”? Dick Slater had that exact same name back in the late 80s, and remarkably almost no one remembers it. He came out in a Confederate flag vest and that’s about it. We were simply told what his gimmick and character were, as opposed to being SHOWN what the character was.



There’s an old saying which is a cliché, but in this case it’s the absolute truth: actions speak louder than words. That’s one of the reasons Austin’s character worked: we got to see him doing all this stuff. This is true with any wrestling character. Look at the gimmicks like Duke Droese, Henry Godwinn and T.L. Hopper. We were told immediately what these guys were and that was about the extent of their character development.



Now look at someone like Razor Ramon, who debuted with a series of vignettes of him in Miami being a jerk. Those promos told us everything we needed to know about Ramon and all we were told directly was that Ramon was “the bad guy.” Again, it’s about seeing these people do things rather than being told about them. Austin is the epitome of this because the actions he took were huge.



Jumping back to the summer of 1997, we’ll get into another reason why Austin worked so well: he was allowed to be seasoned. Today one of the major problems is pushing people to the main event before they’re ready. A legitimate case could have been made that Austin was ready for the world title after losing to Hart at Wrestlemania, but instead he was given another year of feuding with first the Hart Foundation and then a brief run against the Nation of Domination before entering the world title scene.



Now while Austin won his feud with the Nation, defeating Rock for the Intercontinental Title to end things at D-X In Your House in December, he didn’t have the same kind of luck against the Harts. In his war with the Hart Foundation, Austin regularly lost. He lost to Bret at Survivor Series, he lost to Bret at Final Four, he lost to Bret at Wrestlemania, he beat Bret by DQ at Revenge of the Taker, the Foundation cost Austin the title at Cold Day In Hell, and Austin’s team lost at Canadian Stampede. Austin completely lost the Border War, but he wasn’t on Bret’s level yet.



This is something I can’t emphasize enough: Austin lost. A lot. People often forget that Austin was a SIX TIME WWF Champion. That’s a lot of times to win and lose a world title. When you look back at it, he didn’t hold the belt long other than one reign. His first reign lasted about three months, his second reign lasted one day less than the first, his third and fourth reigns were under two months each, and his sixth reign was less than two months. Only his fifth reign, the one in 2001 when he won the title from the Rock, lasted a good amount of time and it wasn’t even six months long.



Let’s look at how Austin lost the title each time. The first time was a first blood match to a masked man. The question my friends and I asked back then was “how can he make a guy bleed when he can’t get to his face?” Austin couldn’t do it. The second time was in a glorified handicap match against Kane and Undertaker. Again, these odds seemed impossible and Austin failed. The third loss was against Undertaker with both Vince and Shane McMahon as guest referees and Shane fast counted him.



In other words, when the odds were stacked to the roof against Austin, he usually lost. Think about that and think of how rare it is. There was no Superman comeback. Austin didn’t beat four guys on his own. Austin didn’t come up with some cute way to keep the belt. He lost and that was it. Here’s the secret the WWE seems to forget today: you can win a title back. Of the five times Austin regained the title after losing it, three of them were less than six weeks after he lost it in the first place.



This is what I was referring to when I said Austin was both over the top as well as realistic. Rather than making a superhuman comeback, he would lose. At the end of the day, it would have been REALLY hard for fans to buy Austin beating both Kane and Undertaker in the same match. If nothing else, it’s bad for business because why should I believe Kane or Undertaker could beat him one on one if they couldn’t do it together? Also, it doesn’t hurt Austin to lose in a situation like that because it’s not like he missed a layup or something. He lost to the most dominant pairing in company history. It was a much smarter decision to have Austin go down and get the title back later.



This brings us to the final reason why the Stone Cold character worked so well: he was really entertaining. I mentioned this earlier but Austin is one of the few wrestlers where he could make eating a sandwich entertaining. Austin could do anything from drinking beer to singing Jimmy Crack Corn to Stunning people to shouting WHAT over and over again to singing the Rick Roll song (Youtube that one. It’s hysterical.) to telling funny stories and people would be entertained. Look at him now as after his wrestling career is over he’s enjoying a decent career as a B-movie action star.



The other side of Austin’s entertainment value is his ability in the ring. People often forget how excellent of a pure wrestler Austin was. Think about to some of the matches he had with Bret, Rock, Foley, Benoit, Angle, Jericho, HHH and I could go on. With Austin, his work on the microphone is so good that it’s constantly overshadowing his work in the ring. To give you an idea of how good he was, according to Meltzer, Austin has two five star matches, the same total as Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels.



Overall, Stone Cold Steve Austin was one of the best characters of all time because he was both realistic and over the top as well as incredibly entertaining. He connected with an audience that wanted to express themselves but couldn’t as well as never going so far overboard that he was unrealistic in the ring. On top of that, he was an excellent in ring wrestler that had one of the best collections of matches that anyone has ever had. Austin might be as close to a perfect character as there has ever been.


  1. Thriller says:

    You might want to check that part at the end there, KB

    klunderbunker Reply:

    I knew I liked you for a reason.

  2. Annonymous says:

    You should write a biography. This would be a great first few pages for a Austin book.

  3. AttitudeFan says:

    I know I am going to sound like a Cena basher/smarky but do you think Cena needs to tone down his “Superhero” shtick? Like in that Ziggler match on RAW it was ridiculous how many sigs and finishers he kicked out.

    I know we aren’t supposed to believe Ziggler can beat Cena clean (yet) but the Big E interference would be a totally acceptable way to lose for Cena. It just makes Ziggler unbelievable that he can beat Cena even with dirty tactics. It’s like Miz/Cena in 2009 but worse.

  4. Si says:

    this is why Cena isn’t connecting on the same level, Cenas had the deck stacked against him, but he wins, and its boring. the losses made Austin better because it gives him reason to keep going. Cena lost to the Rock and next day was all ‘oh well’ after weeks of saying its life or death. why should I care if he doesn’t?

    One aspect of the Austin character which i also loved was the initial heel turn at mania 17, becasue it made the belt look amazing. Austin always put the belt over as the biggest thing, especially during this heel run where the belt always came first. I’m not sure you can say that about many nowadays

    AttitudeFan Reply:

    Remember when Austin said in that face to face promo with The Rock on Smackdown how much he needed the WWF title and would do anything to get it and he actually meant it by aligning with his biggest rival ever.

  5. Jeff Beck says:

    Very well written sir! You wrote the best run down I’ve ever heard of one of the most original,charismatic, & badass wrestlers of all time. He wasn’t flashy or nice, yet he connected with and involved the croud unlike anybody else. Yes sir, stone cold is & always will be my favorite.