James Dixon: The first words uttered out of Steve Austin’s mouth on this tape are “bad motherfucker”. Yes indeed, we are very much in the Attitude era! JR promises an uncensored hour with Austin, which may not be suitable for everyone. Shouldn’t that warning have come before the f-bomb?
We start with the unsettling footage of the Owen Hart piledriver that nearly paralysed Austin at SummerSlam 1997, with Austin saying he is not 100% and will always be pissed off about what happened, but he feels good. The injury was something that Austin held against Owen until the day he died and undoubtedly it significantly shortened his career. Perhaps in some ways that was a blessing though, because Austin was able to get out of the business while he was still hot, rather than dragging his career out for decades too long like many, many others have. Would I have loved to see another ten years of Steve Austin? Hell yeah! But I am just as happy that his legacy won’t be tarnished and he will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats and a man who changed the business.
Next a few highlights of Steve Austin’s potty mouth, usually in confrontations with Vince McMahon. There is a lot of talk of kicking people in the rear, though Austin puts it a little less politely. After that we get another montage, this one called “Pulp Austin”. You can figure out what this is a parody off yourself. It mainly consists of Austin doing Stunners to anyone and everyone as he “does unto others before they do to him” prior to Royal Rumble 1998 because he was a marked man in that match thanks to a bounty placed on his head by Vince McMahon. I am always in favour of arbitrary random assaults in wrestling, such as Bob Backlund and his Chickenwing attacks on all and sundry, Kanyon in WCW giving the Diamond Cutter to everyone he came across and Shawn Michaels twatting someone backstage with a superkick for giggles. The only criticism of this segment is that it is never explained on here why he is doing it; the lead-up is absent from the tape.
Logically we go to the Rumble next, and get a quick look at everyone who is in there and then Austin’s introduction to the match. Everyone in the ring stops and looks at the entranceway, but Austin outsmarts them all by entering from the crowd. He tears through the field despite everyone gunning for him. We see extended highlights of the final four guys, who are Dude Love, Faarooq, The Rock and of course Austin. When the former two are eliminated we get a slugfest between Rock and Austin which the crowd goes crazy for. Both were about to launch their careers into the stratosphere. Mike Tyson is shown celebrating Austin’s win, but feelings change the next night.
Vince introduces Mike Tyson on Raw the following day and Austin famously interrupts. It is one of the most important segments in the history of Raw and generated major mainstream attention for the WWF at a time when they needed it the most. Undoubtedly fans who had long since tired of the cartoonish product, tuned in to see just what the hell was going on, and were captivated by the new WWF Attitude. Wrestling was cool again because of angles like this and specifically because of Steve Austin. The fact that DX, The Rock, Mick Foley and others were all hot as hell too, meant that the viewers stayed with the company. JR asks Austin if he has any regrets about what he did to Tyson: “No. I thought it made a helluva picture!”
The next week, DX stick their noses in and try to drum up support for Austin vs. Tyson at WrestleMania XIV, presumably so Michaels can avoid having to do any jobs. Something I noticed during this that doesn’t get said often enough is how goddamn annoying Triple H’s voice was at this stage in his career. Before he started growling like an angry bear, he still retained an element of his snobbish persona in his promos, undoubtedly unintentionally. It really grates. The segment ends with Austin showing up and getting in Michaels’ face, and then an attack from DX on Austin later in the night results in another famous scene were Austin is tied up in the ropes and Michaels is holding the belt in his face, telling him it is as close as he will get. Austin says he was motivated by it and all it served to do was make him look for revenge. What is striking here when watching in 2013 is what a manly man Austin is and how easy it is to relate to him, compared to modern day pretender John Cena. There are no potty jokes, shameless pandering or cheeky winks at the camera here.
At the WrestleMania press conference, Austin tells Tyson he will kick his ass if he tries any funny business before a shoving matching occurs with Austin and Michaels, which Tyson gets in the middle of. The following month was an eight man tag at No Way Out of Texas and Michaels didn’t show up for the match, which Austin describes as “bullshit”. In reality Michaels was barely able to walk due to his back injury, so the WWF pulled him from the show to make sure he would make it to WrestleMania. At least they found a suitable replacement for him in… Savio Vega. They would be lynched for that kind of thing today. Luckily the rest of the guys in the match are all ace, and the WWF realised they had made a meal of things so let the guys in there go wild and do a No DQ match. As the highlight video here shows, it turned out to be a wild brawl featuring tables, chairs, barbed wire and everything else you could think of. After the match, Chyna gets her chiselled face in Austin’s way, and she eats a Stunner for her troubles. When asked by JR if he regrets doing that, Austin shows no remorse whatsoever and says he would happily do it every day of the week. He should have, maybe she would have gotten better at taking it.
JR asks Austin about his unique way of walking to the ring, and Austin calls it his “BMF” walk, which of course stands for bad motherfucker. He says he is walking with purpose rather than shuffling his feet and shitting himself like some others, and that he has seen people shaking with fear when he comes to the ring. What a strange question for JR to ask. How would he feel if Austin turned around to him and said: “Hey fatty, what’s with your damn face!?” Exactly.
After highlights of Mike Tyson joining DX on Raw, JR asks Austin about Michaels’ superkick, which Austin puts over, before they move onto the beginning of his immense rivalry with Vince McMahon. When quizzed on Raw by Kevin Kelly about whether he wanted Austin to win the WWF title at WrestleMania, Vince said it would be a corporate nightmare and that “It’s not just a no, but an “Oh Hell No!”. And thus the first seeds for one of the greatest feuds of all time were planted.
So, to WrestleMania XIV then and the most important match of Austin’s career at that point and one of the defining moments in WWF history. This show was the one that changed everything for the company and helped turn things around on WCW in a big way. Austin’s ascent to the pinnacle of the profession is afforded the time it warrants, with Austin and Michaels as well as Tyson getting full entrances. The match itself is presented like a highlight video, with bits slowed down, parts sped up and porno music clunking away in the background alongside JR and Jerry Lawler’s commentary. If you want to know more about the match itself, you can read all about it in Arnold Furious’ review of the show. The editing choices here are curious, with the finish cut out and just Austin lifting the belt shown. I can’t quite understand that decision.
We go to the series of famous and ultimately historic set of Raw shows in April 1998, where blood finally boils over between Vince and Austin and their feud captures the imagination so much that Raw beats Nitro in the ratings for the first time in nearly two years on April 13th, 1998. On that night, a match was scheduled between Austin and WWF chairman Vince McMahon, something fans were desperate to see. This was in a time before non-wrestlers stepping into the ring became commonplace, and was a huge deal. Typically there was no payoff though, as Dude Love interjected himself and attacked Austin before the match started, setting up the Rattlesnake’s next main event program.
To Unforgiven then and the vastly underrated match between Austin and the Dude. It is very much sports entertainment rather than wrestling, with Vince playing off Montreal by turning up at ringside and making motions for the timekeeper to ring the bell and then changing his mind when Austin gets out of whatever predicament he is in at the time. Vince takes a manly chair shot and Dude eats the Stunner as Austin counts his own pinfall to retain the title. It’s a great piece of storytelling but the limited highlights shown barely do it justice.
We wrap things up with Austin shooting some clay pigeons and wishing he was shooting Vince McMahon. I am sure a lot of old school promoters had similar thoughts in the 80s.
Summary: All Steve Austin tapes are hard to rate retrospectively because the footage has been aired and recycled so many times that it is hard to be objective. The quasi-shoot nature of this release adds an extra element compared to other Stone Cold tapes and I am sure there is a certain thrill in hearing a WWF wrestler say bad words for some, but that is not really enough to recommend this alone. The highlights are all entertaining but lacking in real substance and context, so it is rather just a bunch of things thrown together. They are shown in order, sure, but there is little in the way of a consistent thread holding them together and nothing is shown in full. Worth checking out for Austin fans and completists won’t be too disappointed, but there are plenty of better Austin tapes and DVDs with more to offer than this. Mildly recommended.