James Dixon: This is the first of a plethora of Steve Austin tapes released to cash in on the immense popularity of the ‘Rattlesnake’, with the next one coming out in just three releases time. Overkill? No, actually, because Austin did so much in such a short time that he warrants frequent biopics. Not only that, but this tape was actually first released as a mail order exclusive in 1997, produced by Titan Sports, Inc during the interim between the demise of Coliseum Home Video and the change to WWF Home Video. The WWF re-released it in 1998 as part of the WWF Home Video series, complete with a new cover. If you have the original with Austin’s bloody face on it and the New Generation logo, then keep tight hold of it, because it is worth a small fortune due to its rarity.
Austin narrates the tape himself, and he starts out by claiming that he did things “all on my own”, which is pretty accurate actually. He sure didn’t get any help getting over in WCW, and the WWF saddled him with the useless ‘Ringmaster’ gimmick, which was hardly a game-changer. We see footage of Austin against Marc Mero at King of the Ring ’96, with Austin on the voiceover downplaying the threat of his opponent. The highlights shown are extended, set to music, sometimes, and with the original audio now and again too. Very odd. Austin talks us through it in character, as we see him put Mero away with the Stunner to a fine reaction from the crowd. Austin says he loved the taste of his own blood (from the bust lip he suffered), but he hated people crying for KOTR final opponent Jake Roberts and feeling sorry for him because he hurt his ribs. Austin puts him away quickly with the Stunner then follows up with the legendary “Austin 3:16” promo, which gets a slow-motion replay, such is its (eventual) significance. Again, it took the WWF time to catch up with the trend, and it wasn’t until the sheer swell of support for Austin from the audience became too much to ignore that they acted upon it.
We get a random but fun montage of Austin causing bedlam, with a number of Austin’s finest non-wrestling skits shown. Highlights include scaring the hell out of Todd Pettengill on Livewire, destroying the set in the TV studios because the producer (sadly not Kevin Dunn) keeps trying to count him down, beating up goons outside of Brian Pillman’s house, tearing two cops new arseholes with his putdowns, murdering Doink the Clown at the Slammy Awards and just generally ranting, raving and misbehaving in a manner that would make Homer Simpson proud. This is a tremendous section of the tape, which really highlights what a riot Austin was in the early days of his character.
Considering this was first released in 1997, the following inclusion is a surprise: highlights of Austin in ECW, cutting some of his famous promos that got him hired in WWF as essentially a mute. Yeah. In the modern era, WWE DVDs are filled with footage from other promotions, but in 1997 the WWF was still a very insular place, despite the handful of times they collaborated with ECW. Other than a couple of matches from Japan on one of the “Best of the WWF” tapes in Volume #1, this is the first time the WWF ever put another promotion’s footage on one of their tapes, making it a momentous release for that alone.
Next up is the angle with Austin destroying Brian Pillman’s leg with a chair, which is so famous that it even spawned a piece of wrestling terminology: Pillmanizing, which is putting someone’s body part in a chair and stamping on it. Why did Austin do it? Why not. He just felt like it because he was sick of hearing Pillman talk. That my friends is the justification of a dangerous man, which to the WWF made it all the more incredible that fans started cheering him. They tried everything they could to keep Austin as a heel, because God forbid they ever just go with momentum and something organic.
A brief highlight package of Austin “opening cans of whoop-ass” follows, which is just a few of Austin’s moves being executed on different opponents. Nothing to see here of interest.
What follows is, as we go to the 1997 Royal Rumble, with Austin commentating over the top of highlights of his eliminations. “It became a joke!” he says as we see him sat on the top rope, looking at his imaginary watch while simultaneously, subtly, gloating about how easy he has had it. On the narration, Austin greets each elimination with “Wham!” and then a witty comment about the ejected participant; “Oh yeah, you smelly piece of trash!” he says of Phineas Godwinn after a Stunner. Austin claims he won the match fair and square, and rags on Gorilla Monsoon for reversing the decision and making the “final four” match a month later at In Your House. We see Austin ripping into Gorilla on Raw, then strangely go back to the Rumble to see the ending, though with the Austin phantom elimination removed. Logic takes another vacation as we go back two months to Survivor Series ’96 and highlights of Austin’s 5* classic with Bret Hart. Surely the obvious follow up to the Rumble confrontation would be WrestleMania 13.
As it happens, that match is next, though beforehand Austin says how he never lost the match and that he would never have quit to Bret’s Sharpshooter, and he was only beaten because he passed out. He then makes veiled threats towards Hart about getting revenge, which is strange given that Bret Hart famously left the WWF in November 1997, yet this was rereleased almost a year later. You would think given the way the WWF was at the time as far as erasing folk from history and burying people that they had fallen out with, that they would change this. I guess if they did then they wouldn’t have much of a video. We get a good chunk of the ‘Mania match, which Austin describes as being one of the matches of the decade. It is great, but as you will read elsewhere, I disagree with the sheer amount of love it gets from some. While the story makes sense, the psychology is strong, the rivalry is heated and the visual of the “blood from a Stone” at the end is eternal, I think the crowd brawl is laborious viewing and doesn’t translate well on screen years later. Crowd brawls are a shortcut, no matter who does them. While not the full match shown, there is certainly enough here to get a very good idea of it, and this is more akin to a full match with clipping than just extended highlights. Check out the WrestleMania 13 review for a full appraisal, but suffice to say, this is a quality inclusion.
Because wins and losses are meaningless in Titan-land, Austin is awarded a WWF Championship match with the Undertaker at the following month’s In Your House show, which turns out to be a rather humdrum affair blighted by outside interference from the Hart Foundation. That is followed up with a series of incidents between Austin and the Harts, and his odd-couple tag team title winning partnership with Shawn Michaels, and brief footage of their excellent match at King of the Ring 97. Again, this stuff is all gold, and the Austin-Harts rivalry remains one of the most rewarding that the WWF ever did.
And that is that, as the credits roll and every single one of them is Steve Austin, including the ticklesome: “Hair: I’m bald, jackass!” which you just don’t get in Hollywood movies.
Summary: The footage shown is all from the period of June 1996 – June 1997, which is fine as that was a very important timeframe for Austin’s career, but releasing it again in late 1998 is baffling, given that everything is very much out of date. Half of the guys he feuds with on this tape are no longer even with the WWF when it comes out again, and he had done significantly more in his career by that point too. Still, that doesn’t really matter now, and what is available here is mostly rewarding. The skits and segments are all tremendous, Austin’s narration is a blast and the footage from nearly all of the matches is worth seeing. The only thing this suffers from is over-familiarity, which is hardly the fault of the tape. Worth watching if you own it and haven’t seen this in a while, and a must-have if you have never seen any of it before, though the later DVDs released on Austin cover far more and are superior quality too, so this has almost been rendered irrelevant. This was also re-released as a standalone DVD, but be warned, it is heavily censored compared to the VHS tape, which is completely uncensored.