When I was growing up, I prided myself on catching up on what I had missed prior to falling in love with pro wrestling or even what I had seen when I was younger, but was too young to appreciate. A lot of that involved devouring the oeuvre of arguably the greatest professional wrestler who ever lived, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. In so doing, I reached a point where I could rattle (puns! since his nickname is “The Rattlesnake) off all of his most known promos by heart.
Even non-wrestling fans have probably heard of Austin since he was the top performer/wrestler during the “peak” time of professional wrestling in the late 1990s. That time period is best known as the Attitude Era of the World Wrestling Federation, aka, WWF, aka WWE, and perhaps to some, as the “Monday Night Wars,” since it pitted the WWF’s Monday Night Raw against World Championship Wrestling’s Monday Nitro, USA Network vs. Turner Network Television.
And it occurred to me yesterday watching one of Austin’s promos from 1995: What would I show someone who falls into one of these two categories: 1.) They’re a new fan, who hasn’t seen much of Austin’s work, but are aware that he’s considered one of the most popular wrestlers ever, and 2.) Someone who is a non-fan, but are aware that he’s considered one of the most popular wrestlers ever, to best exemplify what made Austin … Austin? What made him the the hottest act in the history of professional wrestling, arguably (when looking at t-shirt sales and other merchandise, PPV buyrates, television ratings, and house show (non-televised) numbers)? And more than that, what made him arguably one of the greatest wrestlers ever? Someone who undeniably had the intangible “it” factor and charisma to reach that elite, rarefied level?
To get a taste of what I’m talking about in terms of his popularity, listen and watch the crowd reaction to him coming out to his glass shattering music:
If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, you’re dead to me (I kid, but only sort of). That sort of reaction is unparalleled, particularly today.
For the purposes of what follows, I’m going to confine it to just promos — some have an expansive view of “promo” to include any non-wrestling segment; for my purposes, I take promo to mean, Austin is talking to the camera, to the audience in-ring, or being interviewed by someone — and I’m not even going to get into wrestling matches. In so doing, I’m leaving out obviously a lot of great content, both non-wrestling and wrestling-wise, but since it was a promo that sparked my thinking on this, I wanted to stick with that.
The ECW Promo
A bit of a twist: to show you what made “Stone Cold” Steve Austin … him, I believe you have to start with where the attitude that made “Stone Cold” … “Stone Cold” started: Eastern Championship Wrestling, aka, Extreme Championship Wrestling, aka, the little misfit outfit in the Northeast that was sort of a weigh station between the big leagues of WWF and WCW at the time. And for Austin, that was exactly it. He’d just been fired unceremoniously from WCW while injured and was in ECW before heading to WWF. While there, he cut this promo. Look at the intensity. Look at the passion. Look at his eyes. That’s “Stone Cold” before the moniker was ever invented by him about a year and a half later. He knows exactly what he’s worth. My apologies it’s not the best quality video.
The Austin 3:16 Promo
I thought about it, and nope, you can’t. You just can’t do this list without the Austin 3:16 promo. The Austin 3:16 promo was cut at the WWF’s King of the Ring 1996 PPV, only about nine months after the previous promo was cut. So in short order, Austin made it to WWF, rose up in the ranks beyond being what promoters call a “good hand,” i.e., someone who can have a good match with anyone but is relegated to the mid-card level, and won the prestigious King of the Ring tournament by defeating Jake “The Snake” Roberts. After winning, he did a riff on Roberts’ religious gimmick by uttering the most iconic line in the history of professional wrestling, “Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16 … Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass!” Slap Austin 3:16 on the front of a t-shirt with a skull on the back, and you have the hottest selling t-shirt in the history of professional wrestling. And it all started right there with that short promo. He also delivers what would become another well-known catchphrase with, “And that’s the bottom line because Stone Cold said so.” If you thought he showed intensity in the prior promo, it’s practically oozing off of him here. He’s practically salivating in his hunger for success. It’s that driven attitude and passion you can’t teach.
Austin’s Beer Bath
Another one I debated whether to include, and honestly, you can’t leave it off, either. This is often cited as the greatest moment in Raw history, and it’s most often remembered for the actual “beer bath” portion of the segment, but I also think Austin delivers a memorable promo. This promo occurred in March 1999 on the final Raw before WrestleMania 15. At this point, Austin was already the hottest pro wrestling act in the world for more than a year, and three months into another record-setting year. Here, though, he’s up against perhaps his greatest rival, including on the microphone, The Rock. Yes, that Rock. Austin was such a contrast, though, as he says, cutting through Rock’s catchphrases and telling him to get serious. Austin’s command of the crowd is evident here, and it’s what also made Austin … Austin. Less is more, and with less, Austin packs a punch without a punch being thrown yet!
Overall, these three promos chart well what made Austin such a success: the pre-“Stone Cold” intensity in ECW, the famous promo that launched a career, and Austin once he was “the man.” Austin’s success is because he bought into and believed himself, and when he speaks, we believe he believes every word he’s saying. That’s the magic.
What do you think? What promo of Austin’s would you show?