Shortly before WrestleMania XXX, Vince McMahon called Steve Austin. McMahon had a vision, but needed “Stone Cold” to make it work.
“Vince called and said, ‘Here’s the set-up,’” said Austin. “‘Hulk Hogan’s going to come out and he’ll cut a promo. All of a sudden, they’re going to hit The Rock’s music. He’ll go out and cut a promo. All of a sudden – crash – it’s Stone Cold’s music, and you’ll go out and cut a promo – then bam, we start WrestleMania XXX.’ That’s the way it was pitched to me.”
But a day before the event, Austin heard a different story.
“The Rock and I were in the building the day before in the green room,” recalled Austin. “Dwayne and I were laughing and shaking hands and hugging, just shooting the breeze. I said to him, ‘What are we doing tomorrow?’ All The Rock knew, he told me, was that he was the last one out to the ring. I said, ‘They told you that you were going to be the last out? That’s real interesting, ‘cause they told me the same damn thing.’
Austin looked at the creative sheet as soon as he arrived at the Superdome on WrestleMania Sunday. It only confirmed that the lineup was Hogan, Austin, and then The Rock.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is bull----,’” said Austin. “This is not what I was sold, this is not what I bought.”
Hogan put wrestling on the map nationally in the 1980’s, and The Rock’s popularity places him in an elite group, but Austin is the lone man to lead the WWE back into prominence when McMahon’s product was clearly the no. 2 wrestling company in the world.
“My run cannot be touched,” he said. “If you want to talk about longevity, you can speak the name Hogan. If you want to talk about white-hot, selling tickets, and taking the business to a height it’s never been – and, with a hell of a supporting cast, I might add – you’re talking about Stone Cold Steve Austin.
“But I said, ‘I’m just going to let this thing slide. We’re here and there is no use in making a stink about it.’ The Rock is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. So give the guy his due. Nobody talked to me about it, but that’s how that went down.”
The 50-year-old Austin is on the cusp of a major announcement, though he refused to reveal whether it pertains to wrestling or entertainment.
“I have a couple of things that will be announced within the next two-to-four weeks,” said Austin. “When you hear those, you’ll say, ‘That’s why he couldn’t talk about those, I get it.’ But they’re really good. It will be a major press announcement.”
While WrestleMania XXX marked the last time Austin was in a wrestling ring, that moment will not be his last.
"There was no creative for me at WrestleMania XXXI,” said Austin. “Now with WrestleMania XXXII coming up in Texas, I would be pretty damn sure I’m going to be there. It’s my home state and it just makes more sense.
“As much as I love the business and I love my fans, I don’t want to be at every WrestleMania. I was really happy to watch it in my house. I wanted to see Sting and Triple H wrestle, and I was excited for all my buddies in DX and the NWO, but I want the younger generation of wrestlers to experience it and have all the time dedicated to them. That’s the future. Some of the segments that weren’t wrestling went on too long. I love The Rock, but his segment was too long. That was time that could have been given to a talent to make or not make an impact. That’s their proving ground.”
Austin rose to fame when he played his “Stone Cold” character, but there is far more depth to the man outside the ring. Born in Austin, Texas, he was the middle of three children with his biological parents.
His parents soon divorced and his mother, Beverly, moved the family to Victoria. She was working as a telephone operator – back in the day when operators were still plugging wires into the wall – and left a lasting impression on her middle child.
“I love my mother to death,” he said. “I’m pretty much a reflection of her. If you piss her off, it’s all over. I am just like my mom. I’m very lucky to have her, and we still talk every week.”
Beverly then met Ken Williams, an insurance salesman who played in a country western band on the weekends. The two married, Williams adopted the children, and the family moved to Edna.
“I consider Ken Williams my father,” said Austin. “Now there is a guy who is better man than me. I don’t think I would have married a woman with three hell-raising kids. That might have been too much for me, but my dad did. And he did a great job of raising us, giving us morals, ethics, and teaching us about life.”
Austin only has one memory of his biological father.
“One time we were working in a town in Austin – where my real dad still lives – and he came to a show,” said Austin. “That was the first time I’d met him in, s---, 30 years. Someone said, ‘Hey, your dad is here and wants to see you.’ I didn’t have any memories of him when I was a kid. And he was 6’4”, kind of thin, eyes just like mine – he looked just like me. I said, ‘Man, how you doin’?’”
Instead of opening a can of whoop-ass on the man who mistreated his mother, Austin simply shook his hand.
“That was about it,” he said. “I’d heard my mom’s side of the story. He was doing some things on the side and he got busted. But I lived with my mom, she raised me, so I’ve got her back.”
Vince McMahon also acted as a second father to Austin, but their relationship runs much deeper and remains far more complex.
“At times he’s been like a father figure, a brother, a mentor, a best friend, and an enemy,” explained Austin. “That was a short window of time when I say enemy, but we were at odds every now and again. This is a high-stakes business that is extremely personal.”
McMahon, Austin says, is the most unique human being he has ever encountered.
“Vince barely sleeps,” said Austin. “He will outwork anybody I’ve ever met. He’s built an empire and worked his ass off to do it. No one ever handed him anything. The vision and the guts that he’s had – I can’t say enough about the guy. I have total respect for him.”
Just because Austin and McMahon no longer battle in the ring does not mean they don’t occasionally lace up the boots and argue over storylines. WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans was no different.
“This was ridiculous,” said Austin. “I told Vince before the show, ‘Man, I really want to do something people will remember.’ And I had this idea to sing Hank Williams’ ‘Jumbalaya.’” So Vince goes, ‘What song is that?’ So I started singing it to him in the dressing room a cappella, and it was brutal. Vince is sitting there listening to me singing, Triple H is already in his gear, pacing back and forth before his match with Daniel Bryan. I’m sure he’s thinking in his mind, ‘What the f--- is this crazy guy trying to pitch the old man now?’”
McMahon passed on the idea.
“Vince thought it would take too much, for God’s sake,” said Austin. “But if you put the lyrics on the TitanTron and we sang ‘Jumbalaya,’ I guarantee it would have been spectacular. And I guaran-damn-tee that everybody would have done it if I was leading the charge.”
Austin touched on the rumors that he and McMahon are at odds.
“Lately there’s been a lot of speculation regarding all this heat, bad blood, and animosity between myself and Vince,” he explained. “And it couldn’t be any further from the truth. I have an outstanding relationship with Vince and the WWE right now. There were a few trademark issues, but that was just a minor thing that got resolved in a very amicable conversation I had with their lawyers.
“So many things get said only because people want to throw the names ‘Steve Austin’ and ‘Vince McMahon’ out there so others will think it to be true. But I’m here to tell you, it’s not true. There are some great things coming up.”
In addition to the future projects, Austin’s schedule remains busy. He hosts “The Steve Austin Show” twice a week on PodcastOne on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as the Broken Skull Challenge and Red Neck Island on Country Music Television.
“I’ve found a much lower impact way to keep paying the bills,” said Austin. “It gives me a chance to still reach out to the fan base I created while I was still in the ring. That’s very important to me, and life is not as physically hard as it once was.”
Austin still reserves the months of November and December for his vacation, spending his time at the Broken Skull Ranch patching fences, managing his deer herd, and enjoying hunting season. He is also an avid antique collector.
“I collect porcelain enamel signs from gas and oil and Coca Cola,” said Austin. “My mom got me started on that a long time ago, so I like to make the rounds and do a little bit of antique shopping.”
Life has not always been so smooth for Austin, who struggled to adjust to a non-wrestling life after his abrupt retirement in 2003.
“My neck wasn’t in a good way,” said Austin, “I was living pretty fast. I hunted, I fished, and I drank. And not specifically in that order.
“It took me three years to get the business out of my system and really come to grips with what was going on. Retirement always sounds good, but man, it’s boring as hell. I got caught up having a good time, but it wasn’t getting me anywhere.”
Austin found his saving grace in the City of Angels when he moved in with close friend “Diamond” Dallas Page at his apartment in Los Angeles.
“I wanted to use my name to get into show business,” said Austin. “So Dallas kept telling me, ‘Bro, you’ve got to come out and live with me. For a thousand dollars a month, I’ve got a room for ya.’
“We were just like the odd couple. I’m a little bit of a slob, and Dallas is just meticulous at detail. He’s almost OCD. There was a reality show right there just waiting to happen, but that was how I got my start out in LA. Then I ended up meeting my wife, and we’ve been together now for almost 11 years.”
Austin is now happily married, but sacrificed a lot of personal relationships to reach fame and fortune.
“I was a pro wrestler on the road,” said Austin. “That was my life. Ever since I got off the road, my family time is very important to me.”
Austin grew up a wrestling fan, and still avidly follows the product – on and off the screen. He has watched with fascination as Paul “Triple H” Levesque has evolved from wrestler to future CEO of the WWE.
“Shane McMahon’s not there any more,” said Austin. “He cashed in his chips and went his way, and now Stephanie McMahon and Paul are a force destined to take over whenever the old man bows out.
“It was very interesting when I went down to Denver to interview Triple H [for the Austin podcast broadcast]. We sat together for an hour and a half before the podcast started, and I’ll never, ever do that again. That conversation before we rolled cameras was ten times better than what we put on the podcast. He has changed dramatically. Now I don’t know if he’ll ever be perceived like Vince McMahon – that’s on him once he gets the reigns fully in his hands, but future success or failure will be in the hands of Paul Levesque.”
After fifty years of highs and lows in life, Austin is comfortable speaking about his low points in the business.
“My biggest regret is when I walked out on Brock Lesnar in Atlanta,” Austin said in regards to his tumultuous stretch in 2002. “I’d worked with [Ric] Flair in a cage the night before in Columbus, Georgia, and had a blast because he’s my all-time favorite pro wrestler. Then, all of a sudden, I get the creative that they want me to do the favors for Brock in a non-advertised, qualifying match for some bull---- thing.
“I disagreed with it. I never like to blow smoke up my ass, but guys like myself, like Hogan, and a few others, they don’t grow on trees. So you want to sacrifice what you’ve built up in me? And with no buildup? But that walk out was still total stupidity and hard-headedness on my part. I should have shown up, and that is my biggest regret in the business of pro wrestling. Life is hard, and it’s even harder when you’re dumb. Sometimes you go through life and make mistakes, but the goal is to learn from your mistakes the first time and move on down the road.”
As Randy Orton continues to RKO every wrestler on the roster, Austin agreed imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
“There were even people saying I was hot that John Cena was using a version of the stunner,” said Austin. “Man, there’s not a bigger John Cena fan on Planet Earth than Steve Austin. There’s no one I respect more on that crew than Cena. If he wanted to use the ‘Stone Cold Stunner’ exactly as it was, I’d have no problem with it, and that’s the bottom line.
“But here’s the thing – he already wasted it. Cena should have started beating people with it and making it one of his alternative finishes. Everybody’s finishing move has been prostituted to death now, and that goes back in the day when I wrestled The Rock at WrestleMania 17 at the Astrodome and I kicked out of a Rock Bottom and he kicked out of a stunner. You can only do that so many times. And now it happens three or four times in a match. Enough is enough.”
Austin is a fan of the decision to put the championship on Seth Rollins.
“They’ve got the belt on the right guy at the right time in Rollins,” he said. “If you want to go through the roster, there’s not a whole list of well-rounded workers – and this is being very frank – with the presence to actually carry that belt. There is no one better carrying that belt right now carrying that story than Seth Rollins.”
The lone exception, in Austin’s eyes, is the injured Daniel Bryan.
“That’s the sad thing,” said Austin. “Daniel Bryan’s issues are ongoing and well-documented. He went out there at Fast Lane, put his body on the line, and carried Roman Reigns to a hell of a god d--- match. Son of a gun, he worked so hard to get to the top. His cruiserweight, Japan style takes a very strong toll on the body. Chronically, as far as age – he’s only 33 – he should be in the prime of his career. These are your money-making years, the time when you’re really good.
“But his body is crapping out on him. When I got dropped on my head, I was a little more of a scientific wrestler. Then I turned into more of a brawler. That really suited the ‘Stone Cold’ persona. I needed to change what I was doing, but I was 6’1”, 255, and had the leeway to do that. So with Daniel being a smaller guy, he’s got to work smarter. He doesn’t need to take all those crazy bumps. Believe me, the crowd wants this guy around. They know that every time he goes in the ring, he’s putting his health on the line. This is the point in his career where he needs to work smarter rather than harder.”
Austin would not budge on revealing his big announcement, but stressed it will be something his supporters will devour.
“Wrestling is not a dirty word,” said Austin. “My first passion is the business of pro wrestling. I’m very proud I could take it to heights it had never seen before, and I really love my wrestling fans. Through good and bad, thick and thin, like when I walked out of the company, my fans have always stuck with me. So I’m very grateful and proud to be associated with them.
“I’m always proud to say I used to be a pro wrestler. I wear that badge with pride. I was not a sports entertainer, I was a wrestler.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso