After enduring seven-and-a-half years of frustration, Steve Austin refused to compromise his beliefs.
“Vince McMahon called me aside one time because he was worried about the middle fingers,” explained Austin. “Vince was totally onboard with the beer idea. He didn’t give a sh-- about the beer. I’m thirty-something years old–there ain’t no problem with the drinking age, and it’s a guy just clacking a few beers together after doing a job. There were no headaches or hassles with that, but flipping someone off is flipping someone off, no matter what age you are.”
By this point in 1997, Austin was emerging as one of McMahon’s top draws, but he was fully aware that there are no guarantees in pro wrestling.
“When I started turning the character up, I started flipping people off,” said Austin. “That was right about the time ‘Diamond’ Dallas Page started doing the ‘Bang’ sign, and everybody in the crowd would throw up that sign when Dallas would do it. He was kind of running a parallel with me, and then Goldberg came on our heels, and we were all running parallels as far as getting over. Me and Dallas were in the business for so long, but Goldberg was just a rocket on fire.
“So Vince goes, ‘Steve, when you’re flipping everybody off and using that finger, USA is complaining. Is there another sign that you can use that everybody can do?’ And I said, ‘No, there’s not.’”
Austin’s “Stone Cold” character worked–and still resonates with people–due to its authenticity. Austin’s character was genuine; tested, true, and unadulterated in the make-believe world of pro wrestling.
“I told Vince I was not going to change s---,” said Austin. “Vince goes, ‘Well, OK.’ And, of course, the cash register was ringing, we kept flying the middle fingers, and it was what it was.
“After struggling to get a break in WCW and USWA, and then getting a break and having your legs chopped off from under you by another booker who took control, I was a little bit frustrated, a little bit pissed by the time I got that green light. I’d be damned if anybody was going to take anything from me. I’m going to run over you and we’re going to the top–or I’m going to the top, and you’re going to come along for the ride.”
History is repeating itself as Austin continues to build momentum with his new beer line, the Broken Skull IPA. Austin did not enter the beer industry to compete with Budweiser, nor does he need to make millions of dollars off this beer line to consider the project a success.
“When I got into the beer business, I wasn’t thinking, ‘I want to get into the beer business ‘cause I want to get rich selling beer,”’ explained the 51-year-old Austin. “The same reason I got into wrestling is the same reason with my beer. I got into wrestling because I wanted to be a wrestler, and I got into the beer business because I wanted to make my own beer. I’m not a brewer, but I was in on the formula and I mixed the first batch, and that’s how the beer was born. I didn’t go into this for a love of money, I got into the beer business out of a love for beer.”
Sitting in his Marina del Rey office in California, Austin fidgets with his Broken Skull cold steel knife as he provides first-hand insight of the relationship between himself and beer.
“People say I copied Sandman,” said Austin, who is still recovering from a torn rotator cuff. “I remember Sandman doing it, but I did it my way.”
Austin’s first foray into beer as a teenager deep in the heart of Texas was, simply stated, unpleasant.
“I thought it tasted like sh--,” recalled Austin. “I was very in tune with athletics. If it was track season, I was training to throw the discus. If it was football season, I was focused on football. I was purely into sports and doing my homework. My younger brother Kevin would be outside with his buddies drinking beer and I’d yell out the window telling him to shut up so I could get my sleep. I had my own weight set out there on our patio. I really didn’t start drinking until I got to junior college, and that was more Wild Turkey 101, and then I got into the beer scene, and then it all took off from there.”
Austin’s relationship with beer grew exponentially when he entered the business of pro wrestling, which he fondly refers to as his life’s work.
“You never, ever drink and drive, but quite frankly, back in the day, that’s what we did,” said Austin. “We’d go from town to town, drinking beer and telling wrestling stories. This is back in ‘89-’90-’91, and everybody in the crowd is drinking a beer and somebody is smoking dope–I don’t like dope, I don’t smoke it–but beer was my thing riding down the road. From that point on, for the rest of my life, I turned into a big beer drinker.”
Austin’s home in Los Angeles, decorated with art and antiques, is far from a shrine to his career. There are only scant reminders within his four walls that he was once the most earth-shattering force at the highest peak in the history of professional wrestling. Fittingly, the fridge was missing a cold Broken Skull IPA, as Austin needed to restock after polishing off his last bottle the night before.
“Man, I’m so proud of that Broken Skull IPA and being in business with the guys at El Segundo Brewing. They’re really classy, cool, hard-working people. Beer is a part of my life, and I was going through the craft beers and just fell in love with the IPAs. That’s exclusively pretty much all I drink. All the beers I guzzled–thirty years of drinking light beer–and there’s nothing wrong with light beer, it’s the number one selling beer in America–but I drink craft beer and I drink IPA–India Pale Ale – and I’m proud to have my name on a beer and I’m proud to drink it.”
Austin and beer are as synonymous as America and apple pie, which begs the question as to why Austin did not team up with the WWE years ago to create their own product a decade-and-a-half ago.
“Here’s the story,” said Austin. “We were going to do it. We were going to come out with ‘Stone Cold Beer.’ Genesee Brewery, up in Rochester or wherever the f--- it’s at up there, we were in business with them. We were already going to do packaging and art work, and it was a done deal.”
Austin’s problems with the WWE came to a boiling point in 2002 when McMahon asked Austin to lose to newcomer Brock Lesnar on Raw in a match with no buildup or fanfare. He walked out of the company, which, he explained, also put a cap on the beer line.
“That’s the time they wanted me to do something I didn’t want to do with Brock, and I said, ‘Hey man, f--- you,’” said Austin. “That blew the beer deal up, so I would have been in the beer business over fifteen years ago had I not walked out of the company that one day. I f----- myself. It was bullsh--, but I could be right there with the bigs, but now I’m solo. I came up with this on my own as Steve Austin, so I’m probably more proud of it just for the sake of I created this as Steve Austin and not the character that I played in the WWE ring.”
Broken Skull IPA is Austin’s project with El Segundo Brewing, and there is no connection with the WWE.
“It’s two separate brands,” clarified Austin. “Don’t get me wrong, that’s a business conversation that would be interesting to have, but I’m not pitching anything and neither are they.”
Rob Croxall, owner of El Segundo Brewing, gave Austin the freedom to create his own taste, line, and model of beer with the Broken Skull IPA.
“I don’t like beers that are overly bitter, I don’t like beers that linger, and I love hops but I don’t like too many hops,” shared Austin. “As we were drinking these different beers, I’d say, ‘See how the hops are hitting you here? Not too fast, not too late, but mid-palate, and then finish smoothly.’ I didn’t want the taste to linger for a minute until you took your next swig. I was very specific in how I explained what I was tasting.
“I’m not a cicerone [the beer equivalent of a sommelier] – I drank beer my whole life, but I can’t really speak technical about it. Rob was smart enough and experienced enough to capture what I was explaining and then concoct the formula based on our notes. Thirty days later, I showed up at the brewery and the beer was ready. I said, ‘Alright, it’s time to sh-- or get off the pot.’ I took a swig of that beer and thought, ‘That’s a good f------ beer.’ I took another swig to confirm what I just tasted, and my thoughts were exactly the same – that’s a good f------ beer. I told Rob, ‘That’s the beer,’ and he said, ‘Steve, I’m glad you said that. If you hadn’t taken that beer, we would have called it something else and used it because it’s that good.’”
Unfortunately for IPA drinkers and Austin supporters, there are no current plans to distribute nationwide.
“El Segundo Brewing Company is a pretty small brewery, make badass beers, specializes in IPAs, and they’re busy staying all over California,” said Austin. “They took a batch to Philly, it got over big. We’re looking to make inroads to Texas in the Austin area–the craft beer scene is going on pretty strong in Austin. But nationwide, I just don’t think they have the capacity because you’re talking about a lot of beer.
“The sales are great, but that’s a business decision if they want to expand. My deal is it would be great to go nationwide. I’ve got a lot of people on my Twitter account asking, ‘How do we get our hands on this beer?’ And it’s a damn good IPA, it’s outstanding, I don’t know what we could have done different.”
Attempts have been rendered to replicate Austin’s anti-authority mantra, most recently with an angle between Vince McMahon and Roman Reigns this past December. That endeavor, much like all of the prior attempts to get Reigns over with the fans, failed. The major difference is that Austin did not catch lightning in a bottle with his “Stone Cold” character. He exposed his inner-self to the world by revealing his own frustrations and failures to make an impenetrable connection that has long outlived his days in the ring.
“I’d been Steve Austin and I’d been ‘Stunning’ Steve Austin, but when I came into WWF, I was going to be The Ringmaster,” said Austin. “They could see mechanic-city–just bring me in, work the mid-card, and put guys over. That’s all Vince ever saw in me.”
Austin experienced success in WCW as “Stunning” Steve Austin, where he paired with the late “Flyin’”Brian Pillman in the Hollywood Blondes, as well as played a role in Paul Heyman’s “Dangerous Alliance” faction. After WCW president Eric Bischoff fired Austin–regrettably stating that a character in black trunks and black boots would never draw a dime in wrestling–Austin reunited with Heyman in ECW.
“Guys like Kevin Nash were watching what we were doing down there in ECW,” said Austin. “They put in a word to Vince and said, ‘Hey man, are you watching what Austin is doing in ECW? He’s doing some badass stuff.’ I don’t know if Vince necessarily saw that, but I’d already talked to Vince two or three times. We never came up with an agreement because I didn’t feel like they ever had anything really planned for me.
“Then Vince explained to me on the phone one night in Atlanta, Georgia, ‘The Ringmaster! The master of the ring! We’ll have Ted DiBiase as your manager, you’ll come in as a champion as the Million Dollar champion, and that’s how we’re going to do it.’ Ted DiBiase was gold on the microphone, and he’d had a great run. He’s one of those guys who I truly respect his work, and he had the gift of gab, so it seemed like a good idea–a guy that can’t talk so well and a guy who can.”
While the duo of Austin and DiBiase looked good to McMahon on paper, the execution completely ignored Austin’s growing ability to cut promos. Austin worked in ECW with a torn triceps tendon, yet he managed to get himself over with a very hostile crowd solely through his interviews–then immediately lost his voice in the WWE.
“That certainly hindered me because I’d got into a little bit of a groove working with Flyin’ Brian because I was forced to try to keep up with Brian,” said Austin. “After they interviewed him, they’d give me the stick and it was like, ‘Eh.’ So it was time to s--- or wind my watch, and I needed to do something good.
“Then I got to ECW and started to uncork some things and get comfortable. Paul E. helped me so much. So I didn’t have a voice [in WWE] when I first came, but then, after I lost Ted in a match with Savio Vega, that’s when I pitched the ‘Stone Cold’ thing.”
DiBiase accepted an offer with WCW, which granted Austin his wish of working on his own. Yet he was again frustrated to learn that there were no creative plans for Austin.
“Then they started editing my stuff in post-production,” said Austin. “That’s when I had that conversation with Vince and said, ‘Hey man, if you don’t give me my personality, I cannot compete with these seven-foot-two guys that weight 310 pounds.’ And he said, ‘Alright, I’ll give you your personality,’ and the rest is history.”
Austin is quick to point out that his success was never achieved alone.
“Savio Vega was instrumental when I first got to WWF,” recollected Austin. “I really hadn’t wrestled any because my right triceps was healing. I’d had my triceps reattached and worked a couple bulls--- matches in ECW, but those were nothing. To really work a badass match that has high spots and gets some heat is a different story. I started working with Savio. He was from Puerto Rico and could work his ass off. When I first started working with him, I’d blow up sky-high. I shined him up so good that I blew up, so in the heat I’d lay in a reverse chin lock. Then, of course, when it was time for the comeback–I’d flip, flop, and fly for him, ‘cause he was going to make his comeback, too, ‘cause he’s from Puerto Rico and that’s just how they operate. That’s taking care of yourself–it’s the correct way to operate.
“So man, after about two months–we were probably second, third, or fourth match on the card–after I got in shape working with him, sh--, you couldn’t follow that match. The main event on the card couldn’t follow what Savio and I were doing, so I give credit to Savio Vega for getting my chops up and getting my wind back, and being a badass worker.”
Decades removed from his Caribbean Strap Match battles with Vega, the wind beneath Austin’s wings now is his wife, Kristin, who helps keep the former six-time world champion healthy and whole.
“I like to be open and pretty goddamn candid,” explained Austin, who is grateful to be in such a wonderful relationship with his wife, as well as at a point in his life where he is content with his accomplishments yet still has his creative fire burning.
“I’ve learned a lot in the 51 years I’ve been here on planet Earth,” said Austin. “I’ve made a fair share of mistakes and learned from them. If you want a question answered, I will let you know exactly how and what I think, with a filter or without a filter depending on your language preferences. I’m an open book and I ain’t got sh-- to hide. If I can help somebody through something or give some advice, I will.”
Austin played the role of the working man’s hero so perfectly because that personality is a reflection of his inner-soul. Controversial or not, he does not hold back when asked about his thoughts regarding the business of pro wrestling–which is a major component of his “Steve Austin Show” podcast.
Austin is still connected to his roots in pro wrestling, and loves to engage his wrestling audience on his podcast
“The reason I wanted to do a podcast was to stay in touch,” said Austin. “When you leave the WWE, as I did in 2003, and you’re seen around the world in 140 countries and 50 different languages, and all of a sudden you lose that, then dude, you’ve got nothing. It’s minuscule when compared to the power of the WWE. The podcast gives me a platform and a voice. It’s an outlet for me to talk to people, be creative, and engage my audience.”
Austin shares his opinion on the podcast, which is unique because of his nearly 30-years of experience in wrestling. He made it stone-cold clear that the disconnect between Roman Reigns and the fanbase will not be solved by pairing Reigns with Heyman.
“You cannot put Paul Heyman with Roman Reigns,” explained Austin. “People would know you’re putting Paul Heyman with him because there is a problem. And I love Paul. Nobody loves Paul more than I do or has more of an appreciation for how he helped me and was an instrumental part of my career.
“Paul Heyman works with Brock. The magic works between Brock and Paul because of their dynamic and their chemistry. If you put him with Roman Reigns, people will know that Paul E.’s the band-aid.”
Austin is in full agreement with Heyman’s assessment that the “Beast Incarnate” is the biggest box office attraction today in wrestling.
“Brock is a bad motherf-----,” said Austin. “There is something about Brock that draws your attention and your pocketbook. If you look at the peak of my drawing years, I wasn’t the best looking guy there, I wasn’t the most technical wrestler there, I wasn’t the best built, I wasn’t the most skilled, but I drew the most money. Brock just has that mystique and that charisma. Brock can talk, too. Some of his UFC promos were some of my favorite promos in the UFC. And who else has shoulders that are four feet wide and a waist that is thirty inches around? He looks like a walking action figure.”
Austin is a firm believer that the most effective way to dramatize a storyline is to stick close to the facts, which is part of the reason he was so disappointed in the Charlotte-Ric Flair breakup three weeks ago on Raw.
“The Flair-Charlotte segment was really bad,” said Austin, who was critical of the segment on his podcast. “Flair spilled the beans right off, and you didn’t even need to have him talk. It was more of an indictment on the creative and the writing, not the talent. That being said, Charlotte is going to be incredible. She already is. The crowd stands up during her entrance, she carries herself like a winner, she’s money.
“The fact that I pointed out it was a bad promo? It was. To try to say that was chicken salad when it was chicken sh-- would be a disservice. The thing is, it is OK that it happened. It was an important moment, but when you get out there and fall on your face and f--- something up, you learn. I can say it was a bad segment because it was. I’ve been a part of my fair share of bad segments from ‘90 until 2003. I f----- up a lot of promos, but I learned every time I f----- one up. I’m just pointing it out–it wouldn’t be right if I don’t critique it and you have the whole locker room saying how great it was. It wasn’t great, but Charlotte is a real talented woman–probably the most talented woman on the roster–so she can use this to make her stronger.”
Austin suffered from a much graver mistake in the ring when Owen Hart accidentally dropped him on his head during their Intercontinental title match at the 1997 SummerSlam. Austin feared for his well-being, genuinely believing he was paralyzed, and he still feels pain in his neck from the drop to this very day.
“I would never say I was lucky to get dropped on my head, but I guess I could say I was lucky I got dropped on my head,” said Austin, who laughed slightly at his prior statement. “That sounds f----- up, but it changed my work style. If I hadn’t got dropped on my head, I think I would have kept wrestling the style that I was wrestling. But I remember everything, I never lost consciousness. I was razor sharp, like a big gong went off. I remember laying there for a sixty seconds, and very calmly thinking, ‘I’m Christopher Reeves, I’m never going to walk again.’”
Austin was able to roll onto his stomach, but he did not have the use of his hands.
“I could barely crawl on my forearms, and it took everything I could do to bend my knees and go to that crawl position,” Austin continued. “I told [referee] Earl Hebner, ‘Roll up for the win.’ So he went over and told Owen, and it was the worst cradle in the history of the business, but because it was a ‘Kiss My Ass’ stipulation, I was going to have to kiss his ass if I didn’t win. I was supposed to win it with a Stunner, but there was no way I wasn’t going to win that match by hook or by crook.”
As Austin was brought to the back after the match, his first memory is the “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith berating Hart for such a weak looking pinfall.
“We got to the back and Davey was mad at him because it was just a shitty looking cradle,” said Austin. “Dude, I just almost got paralyzed. I still didn’t know if I had a bunch of permanent damage. After the match, it took three referees to pick me up. I held up that belt to signal to everybody, ‘I’m still OK, I got the f-----’ belt back.’ The lights were on, but there ain’t nobody home. At that point, I’m f-----. They dragged me back, and I was pretty emotional because it scared the f--- out of me, but I wouldn’t let anybody see that on the pay per view.
“I didn’t get over because I got dropped on my head, I was already getting over. But add that to the storylines and the creative that they were throwing at me, I had the elements to get over. Had that accident happened to Joe Blow–no charisma, no work ability, could not identify-he would have been another guy who got dropped on his head. The stars aligned and I was mega-over, and we drew good numbers.”
Austin is the first to admit that he did not achieve such levels of recognition and acclaim on his own. He credits the visionary Paul Heyman as a main contributor to his success, and reiterated that he was–and still is–a “Paul Heyman Guy.”
“I got to know Paul as soon as I rolled into WCW,” said Austin. “We just hit it off. He saw potential in me from an athletic standpoint, and I was a Paul E. fan. We started riding together and the Dangerous Alliance happened and, all of a sudden, I’m working with a bunch of all stars–[Larry] Zbysko, [‘Ravishing’ Rick] Rude, Arn Anderson, [Bobby] Eaton, Madusa–in this faction. Basically everybody in there is in the Hall of Fame, except Eaton, and if he’s not, I’ll boycott.”
Austin is unwilling to sugarcoat his feelings, particular when he feels passionately about a topic. The “Texas Rattlesnake” is a firm believer that both Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura should be in the WWE rather than NXT.
“Joe should have been on the roster a year ago,” said Austin. “F---, I’m the biggest Samoa Joe fan in the world. I was bucking for that guy two or three years ago. What the f---, you’ve got a 15-plus year veteran hitting the ropes, going through drills, and putting on matches at NXT? Are you f------ ribbing me? The kid only has so many miles and bumps in his tank. I’m a huge Samoa Joe fan, give him a run.”
Austin agreed that the future of Nakamura will also be very interesting to watch. Unlike so many other pundits and experts, Austin is confident enough in his own beliefs to critique the match between Nakamura and Sami Zayn during WrestleMania weekend at NXT.
“I was in Dallas when he wrestled Sami Zayn at NXT, and it was alright, a fifty-fifty match,” said Austin. “I thought Shinsuke should have taken sixty percent of that match instead of going fifty-fifty. It was even offense. You’ve got that sensational, charismatic cat–the ‘King of Strong Style’–coming from Japan, and he’s special, and all of a sudden you want him to go fifty-fifty? How is he going to get over on the main roster if he’s going fifty-fifty with, all due respects, Sami Zayn?
“Sami–who I love–is he working the main event right now? Is he in the IC picture? He ain’t. So all of a sudden Sami’s going with this guy who, I’m hoping, is going to light up American crowds and be the modern-day f------ [Great] Muta. Well, that’s a tall order when you’re working fifty-fifty with a guy on the mid-card. And that’s with respect for Sami Zayn, because the dude is a badass hand.”
WWE champions have had a certain chiseled look since the day Vince McMahon gained control of the company. With the exception of Mick Foley, there is no former WWE champion with a physique like Kevin Owens–but Austin believes that Owens is so talented that he has earned the right for a run as champion.
“I think they’ve got to give Kevin Owens a run with the belt,” said Austin. “He’s a veteran and he’s really clicking on the mic, and the kid is super talented. Give him a f------ run. I don’t know why you wouldn’t give the guy the opportunity, he’s just too good.”
AJ Styles is the next guest on Austin’s live podcast following the June 20 edition of Raw on the WWE Network, and viewers better be ready for Austin to get into the psyche of “The Phenomenal One.”
“AJ Styles just carried Roman Reigns to two world class matches back-to-back,” said Austin. “The second one wasn’t as good as the first, but it’s hard to top an all-time classic. Reigns carried his end, but that was all AJ. They keep beating that f------ kid, and they’ve got a potential superstar on their hands. He’s only been working 16, 18 years, f---, he’s got it figured out. Put a rocket on his ass and send him to the moon. I would love to see them run with Styles. I called him over the last time I saw him, which was before he got into that string of really good matches, and we’d never met. I said, ‘Hey man, good luck.’
“When you see guys like that–who have been around the world and are veterans, you want them to finally get paid. He’s paid a million dues and he ain’t made no money. I want to see the kid go out and have a seven-figure year finally.”
Austin has done his due diligence to become of the best hosts currently airing a podcast. He was irked, however, when he was misquoted by multiple internet websites regarding recent comments over Cody Rhodes.
“The comments I made about Cody Rhodes were taken completely out of context,” said Austin. All I asked [Pro Wrestling Torch’s] Wade Keller was, ‘With the brand split, do you think it was a good time for Cody to walk away?’ I know Cody didn’t know about the brand split, but had he known–and known that they were going to need a lot of hands on deck–they probably would have been willing to do anything at that point.”
Austin and the Rhodes family share a mutual history. Dustin Rhodes attended the same high school in Austin, Texas as Austin’s mother, and the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and “Stone Cold” were both born in the same hospital.
“I’ve got respect for Cody Rhodes and I consider him a friend,” said Austin. “I wasn’t bad-mouthing him or running him down because he quit. There’s nothing more frustrating than when you see talent in yourself and you pitch an idea, and they won’t listen to you. Ultimately, you decide, ‘F--- it, I’m going to do this someplace else.’ I’ve got respect for the guy. My point was only, had he known about a brand split, do you think he would have walked away? They would have been forced to use him, maybe in the capacity he would have wanted. To bring it up now, out of context, makes me look like I’m trying to disparage Cody Rhodes when I’ve got nothing but respect for him.”
Austin made an interesting parallel comparing and contrasting the leadership styles between McMahon and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
“I was watching a special on Bill Belichick, and he’s one of my favorite coaches of all time,” said Austin. “A lot of people see a crabby Bill Belichick, ‘We’re on to San Francisco,’ but that dude has nothing but pure love of football and work ethic. I love that guy. And look at the Belichick coaching tree–he’s surrounded himself with winners. He’s surrounded himself with guys who are very knowledgeable, and he doesn’t surround himself with ‘Yes Men.’ He surrounds himself with people who are totally prepared.
“Professional football is obviously different from professional wrestling, but you’ve got to have strong, creative people who are going to stand up. I think you need to have veteran creative people from the guys who were in the business more so than writing people. The business these days is overwritten. It’s very simple to draw money–you don’t need intricate storylines or super involved storylines where there are tons of verbal exchanges and too many promos. I just think they micromanage the product too much. Vince is going to have the ultimate vision and decision, but you have got to have some strong personalities there to voice their opinions. Sometimes I think Jerry Jones is too hands-on with the Cowboys, and maybe Vince is a little too hands-on with WWE. When you walk into the NFL headquarters, it feels like football. Everything they do ought to feel like wrestling.”
Austin discussed Jim Ross and Jim Cornette as two veterans who could help the WWE’s product in an ancillary role.
“Why not bring Jim Ross as a consultant?” asked Austin. “He can give you a totally objective opinion about a subjective entertainment genre. Goddamn, you tell me who’s more qualified to diagnose a wrestling program–heels, babies and storylines–than Jim Ross? I’m good at salt and pepper. If you’re booking a major angle, I’ll tweak it and make it better. I’m not good at the big picture booking, but Jim is. Or why not have a guy like Cornette around who is so out there and creative? Not just progressive, but rooted in the old school. The fundamentals still apply. I don’t know the reason why you wouldn’t have Jim Ross or Jim Cornette just in an advisory position.”
WrestleMania 32 took place in Austin’s home state of Texas, and he arguably received the biggest pop of the night with his appearance and “Stone Cold” Stunners on Rusev and Xavier Woods. Many fans had hoped he would play a larger role, but Austin explained that he enjoyed appearing with Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels.
“That’s what was pitched to me, and I said, ‘All right,’” said Austin. “I wasn’t trying to hijack the show. It was WrestleMania 32 in Dallas, Texas–I started there, and I figured it would be a good place to end up. I wasn’t going to scheme and think of a gigantic segment where I could showcase my talking skills.
“The strong part of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, back in the day, was it was situation-specific. When they brought me back over the years to clash and clack beers together, it’s like you’re turning the key in the back of the gorilla and he’s smashing the symbols together. You’ve got to remember–‘Stone Cold’ was pissed off because the system was always f------ with him. Then, all of a sudden, you bring me back and I’m a guy who is just drinking beer and you’re telling me to smile before I go out? It’s bulls---, it doesn’t make sense. But that’s what they pitched to me–I didn’t have any desire to hijack or steal the show, and I was cool going out there with Shawn and Mick.”
Austin’s connection with the crowd continues even in his absence from WWE television. The infamous “What?” chant, which crowds love and performers hate, was created by Austin on a voicemail to Christian in 2001.
“Christian and I had each other’s phone numbers, and we’d just call and f--- around with each other,” said Austin. “He’s real funny, especially when you get to know him. I just called him on the phone, and it organically came – it was the genesis of the ‘What?’ promo. After I hung up, I thought that a really good way to f--- with someone would be to say ‘What?’
“If someone tried to give you a bottom line and you kept saying, ‘What?’, then you wouldn’t be taking that person too seriously. I had no idea it would blow up. Every time there’s a Monday Night Raw and there is a ‘What?’ chant, people say, ‘Steve, we love you, but we wish you never would have invented the ‘What?’ chant. It’s real simple–and Vince was on Raw a few weeks ago and just sped up his cadence and doesn’t give them an in. It rattled Charlotte, but she should have turned it on them:
‘I think you’re stupid for saying ‘What?’
‘See how stupid you are, you’re still saying, ‘What?’
“She could have totally ruled them.”
Austin remains grateful for everything that wrestling has given him, and his love of wrestling directly connects with his podcast and the Broken Skull IPA.
“At the end of the day, I’m an ex-wrestler and I’m proud of that,” said Austin. “Wrestling provided everything I have, and I’ll always stand up for the business. Sometimes the business changes, and maybe sometimes I don’t like the changes, but man, as long as the guys and girls are in a twenty-by-twenty squared circle, I’m down with that, and I wish them all the best.”
Austin’s two greatest loves outside of the ring while wrestling were drinking and telling stories with his fellow wrestlers. In a day and age where wrestling was far more misunderstood, Austin enjoyed the camaraderie.
“There was nothing greater than going out,” said Austin. “It didn’t matter what day of the week it was–we were sold out, and then you’d get in the car with a couple of guys and ride down the road, drink a couple of beers, and book a territory. Going back to my WCW days, some of the best booking sessions were me, ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude and Paul Heyman. Rude was a student of the business. Nothing went by him. He was a man’s man and he would tell you what he thought about anything and everything, and Paul E. had been in business for years. It was kind of like a learning tree.
“Or my earlier days, when I started as Steve Williams, driving to Louisiana with Skandor Akbar and Bronko Lubich. Sitting in the back of a Delta 88, chipping in for gas and listening to those guys spin stories. I’m a driving freak, so one of the parts I enjoyed most about the business was just riding down the road with a couple of guys drinking beer and talking about the business. And that’s all we talked about–the business.”
Nearly thirty years have passed since Austin stood unencumbered by the weight of the business on his shoulders. Some nights, as he bathes in the twilight of a legendary career, he recalls the moments that helped piece together his career.
“I speak to Jim Ross almost weekly, and he mentioned he was going to some convention and he said Skandor Akbar was going to be there,” said Austin. “I said, ‘If I write Ak a letter, will you give it to him?’ and Jim said that he would. I wrote that I just wanted him to know that throughout all the years, I appreciated it when he took me under his wing with Bronko and helped me as much as he did. I wanted him to know how big of an impact he had on my career.
“It was just a one-page letter, and I signed it, ‘Sincerely, Steve Austin.’ True story–that tough, hardened, grizzled Ak started crying when he read that letter. That letter was twenty years in the making, so it must have meant a lot to him that I remembered. That letter was for all those guys and all those lessons–for Bronko, Skandor, learning how to save money on the road, how to get heat, working with ‘Superstar’ Bill Dundee, ‘Nightmare’ Danny Davis in Tennessee and riding to and from shows with Tom Pritchard.
“‘Let me ask you a question,’ Pritchard asked me when we were riding to Memphis from Nashville. ‘What is the ‘Stunning’ Steve Austin? What’s so stunning about you?’ He was asking me about the character–what the f---’s the gimmick? Throughout my entire run, guys like that rubbed off and gave me info. Put all those bits and pieces together, and you have the genetic makeup of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin.”
All of Austin’s ventures are a tip of the cap–or, as he says, a swig of beer–to the working man and working woman.
“We were just straight up middle class,” said Austin. “My dad sold insurance for a living and my mom hung wall paper. We never had a s---load of money, but we were never starving, either. My dad would balance his checkbook–this is back when everybody had checkbooks–once a month. If that f------ checkbook was five cents off, I mean five cents, you’d hear, ‘Beverly!’ And there would come my mom and her checkbook. Dad had to make sure the f------ ledger was balanced.
“From doing our chores, cleaning the kitchen, mowing the yard, we were raised that you worked your ass off in life. I believe that people should provide for themselves. I’m willing to help out someone who is sick or weak or in a bad way, but the rest of society that wants to ride on the back of the people who do hard work? I’m just not for that. I will pay my taxes, I will work my ass off and do my s---.”
As Austin enjoys the buzz behind the Broken Skull IPA, he remains thankful for those who support him.
“I believe in the working man,” said Austin. “The ‘Working Man’ and ‘Working Woman’ are written right there on the label of my beer, and that’s what I’m all about.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.