"Stone Cold" Steve Austin became a star thanks in large part to Monday Night Raw, but it wasn't always supposed to be that way.
The mere mention of the name “Stone Cold” Steve Austin instantaneously conjures unforgettable memories.
The beer truck. DTA. Countless stunners on Vince McMahon. And the best catchphrase in pro wrestling history.
But it was never supposed to be that way.
“Back in the day, when you saw this scraggly-haired blonde headed guy in the locker room, you would never pick me out and say, ‘This is going to be one of the top guys in the history of the business,’” acknowledged Austin. “For me, it was about putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together. I’d learned the mechanics of the business, but I never projected something.”
As Austin prepares to return to Monday’s Raw Reunion, his first appearance on the show since January of 2018, it is worth revisiting the career trajectory of the man who shifted the paradigm in WWE’s heated “Monday Night Wars” against WCW–a feat he accomplished through his work on Monday Night Raw.
Before he was “Stone Cold,” Austin was always a nice complimentary piece to a wrestling promotion. He put together a solid run in WCW, earning praise for his work in the Paul Heyman-led Dangerous Alliance, as well as his time teaming in the Hollywood Blondes alongside Brian Pillman. But once Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, and the rest of Vince McMahon’s 1980s legends came into WCW, both Austin’s presence and paycheck were deemed unnecessary.
At the age of 30, with knee injuries already mounting, Austin signed a deal with Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling in 1995. “Superstar” Steve Austin cut electric promos seeped in anger. And with good reason: Austin genuinely believed he had been overlooked in favor of older, more established stars. He left ECW with a new outlook on promos, which wouldn’t be on display again during his time as The Ringmaster, a ring mechanic bereft of any personality.
“I never really had it with ‘Stunning’ Steve Austin or the other things I was doing,” said Austin. “Paul E. really helped me craft my promos down there in my stop at ECW, and I knew The Ringmaster in WWE was a foot in the door–but there was no marquee value in that. When we came up with the ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin name, I pitched it unceremoniously to Vince. He said, ‘Well, OK, you can be that.’”
Austin’s charisma would not be on display until his iconic King of the Ring post-match victory celebration in 1996.
“I made that happen, but collectively, we made it happen,” said Austin. “My feud with Vince transcended the wrestling business, turned into water cooler talk, but we had a Hall of Fame roster. There were a lot of people behind the scenes, and there was that chemistry between Vince, myself, The Rock, Mick Foley, DX, all those guys. So it was all about hard work, getting some opportunities, and making the most of them.”
Seldom did anyone seize the moment like Austin every week on Monday Night Raw. Austin’s hostile takeover of Raw forever changed his career and the way in which, more than two decades later, the show is still critiqued on a weekly basis.
Austin took a show firmly rooted in second place to Ted Turner’s WCW and proceeded to stomp a mud hole through the competition en route to becoming an anti-authority, beer-drinking, ass-kicking icon. He now stands only behind Hulk Hogan as the industry’s most profitable star, but there is no doubt that Austin is the most influential.
“Those ratings were a shoot,” said Austin. “They kicked our ass for two years, or 83 weeks, as Eric Bischoff likes to say on his podcast. For a long time, their show was better than ours. Finally, we started kicking their ass. Every time those numbers came out, I’d say to Vince, ‘How in the hell are those guys beating us with that product?’ I took it very personally. The head-to-head competition was a total shoot.”
Austin flourished in an era that allowed him to be as real and raw as possible. With Vince McMahon placing Paul Heyman in the newly created role of Raw Executive Director, there is plenty of optimism that today’s stars–ones like Seth Rollins, Becky Lynch, Bobby Lashley, Braun Strowman, and Kevin Owens–will be afforded that same opportunity.
“When I started up as ‘Stone Cold,’ I started noticing that my interviews were being edited,” said Austin. “I remember telling Vince, ‘I’m 6’1”, 250, black trunks, black boots, bald head, and a goatee. If you take my personality from me, I cannot compete. If you give it to me, I can. That’s when Vince took me off the leash.
“Now that’s when the wild, wild west was still around, but I wasn’t afraid to push the envelope. I wasn’t afraid to go out on a limb. I started talking all that trash I heard in South Texas, and I started getting hot. Bret and I did that magical dance at WrestleMania 13 with the double-turn. There were a lot of circumstances that went our way.”
There is much speculation that Austin will have an on-screen segment with Kevin Owens, who has been using the stunner against Shane McMahon over the past couple weeks. But there are plenty of ways to utilize Austin, and he is ready to make the most of his screen time, whether he is in the ring with The Undertaker, the NWO, or KO.
“Vince is calling the shots, and I’m happily participating,” said Austin. “No preference on who I’m in the ring with. When I see creative, I’m going to be happy doing it.”
A strange phenomenon is happening Monday night for longtime WWE fans, as Austin is back on his show but will not be asked to carry the load. The focus of the Raw Reunion is centered around today’s crop of stars. Austin hopes the women and men on the current roster take some chances and make the most of their opportunity, just as he did on his unlikely path to becoming an icon on Monday nights.
“There’s no pressure on my shoulders [Monday],” said Austin. “I hope the show does a good number, but really, for all the guys and gals backstage, it’s just a real family reunion. There is a lot of respect and a lot of energy present in the air.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys and gals can do, and I’m going to enjoy every moment they put me in. [Monday’s] going to be a hell of a ride, and that’s the bottom line.”