Many people in the wrestling business are dealt a bad hand. Some make the best of their situation and keep their head above water. Others fold and fade into obscurity. In 1995, Steve Austin could have easily become a member of the latter category. Having been one of the most promising young stars in the business in the early 90s, Austin was cast aside by WCW when he was more than ready to become a top guy. Seen as nothing special by the likes of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff, Austin was fired without any form of remorse from his employers. Through a combination of desire, hard work and flat out stubbornness, Austin took this bad hand and rebounded to become the biggest star the business has ever seen.
Beginning his career in his local World Class Championship Wrestling promotion in 1989, Austin picked things up really quickly and was considered one of the can’t miss prospects in the country at the time. He was given the spotlight when paired with his trainer, the late Chris Adams, and their feud is one which holds up very well to this day. It was inevitable that Austin would be cherry-picked from the struggling group, and in 1991 he took his considerable talents to WCW. The first major title of “Stunning” Steve’s career was the TV title which he held for the guts of a year. At a time when alot of the new characters introduced by WCW were met with groans and confusion from the audience, the TV champ was a breath of fresh air, putting in stellar performances on a weekly basis. A spot in legendary heel unit The Dangerous Alliance followed for Austin and he shone alongside the likes of Rick Rude, Arn Anderson and of course the mouthpiece Paul E. Dangerously.
The most memorable period of Austin’s WCW run was also the most mishandled. Following the break-up of the Alliance, Steve was paired with newly heel Brian Pillman. The duo, known as the Hollywood Blondes were taking tag team wrestling to new levels with their amazing chemistry, charisma and workrate when the rug was pulled out from under them after less than a year. In a hair-brained plan, the two were split up and put in a terrible feud where Austin was seconded by Colonel Robert Parker. Ever the workhorse, Steve continued to give his all during this singles run and when paired up with the legendary Ricky Steamboat, the results were excellent. However, it was clear that the new regime in WCW were less and less in his corner as the months wore on and when Hulk Hogan arrived, Austin was cast aside for a brigade of washed up Hogan pals. Despite his lack of push, it was still a shock when Eric Bischoff fired Austin while he was at home nursing an injury.
Feeling his talents had been wasted, and with a hug chip on his shoulder, Austin went to ECW and channeled his pent up bitterness in the best way possible – by cutting some of the best promos in the business at the time. His run in ECW didn’t last long but it was definitely memorable as fans got to see a side of Austin they certainly weren’t used to. Austin’s resilience and strength was again typified when he got his foot in the door of the WWF and was given the much maligned “Ringmaster” gimmick. Everyone knows the story of what came next and it is a story that will be embedded in pro wrestling folklore for eternity. The Austin 3:16 boom and the birth of “Stone Cold” ushered in a new era, a new attitude and a whole hell of a lot of new fans. Steve Austin’s charisma, his ability to play a character to perfection, and most importantly his connection with the audience took his career to a level that even his biggest admirers couldn’t have ever imagined. The mega-feuds versus the Hart Foundation, Vince McMahon, and then following the 1999 neck injury, against The Rock were Austin’s undoubted high points. These were feuds that produced in-ring, creatively and at the box office. They created memories that will last a lifetime as it will be impossible to forget the time Austin attacked Bret in the ambulance, gave the Corporation a beer bath, or of course the visual of a bloody Austin trapped in the Sharpshooter refusing to quit which symbolised the stubbornness and determination that Stone Cold was all about.
In the ring, Austin had to completely change his style after his neck injury. Formerly a bumper the likes of Mr. Perfect or Dolph Ziggler, the Stone Cold from 1997 and on relied more on brawling and intensity. Yet he still managed to produce a catalogue of classic matches which showed his versatility as a wrestler. His versatility as a character however was best exemplified in 2001 when his heel turn lead to him becoming, for all intents and purposes, a comedy character. Austin managed to produce some of the most wildly entertaining segments of the era opposite fellow goofball Kurt Angle, Vince and even then wife Debra. Steve Austin had it all and he truly was the greatest North American wrestler of all time.
For a defining match, I’m going to go with the obvious just because it’s too good not to — Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart, WrestleMania XIII. This match symbolises not only the greatness of Austin as a performer in the ring, but the toughness and the resolve of the man himself.
Defining Match Of The WrestleMania Era: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13