James Dixon: Yes folks it is yet another Stone Cold Steve Austin tape, the third in this book out of a remarkable five, which is stunning for a two-and-a-half-year period. That’s not to mention the handful from the previous book. Stone Cold has nearly as many bio tapes than Hulk Hogan did (actually 8 to Hogan’s astonishing 13, and that is only in VHS format). This particular outing is a little different, as it is a direct-to-VHS port of an A&E piece that was screened in November 1999, that goes behind the scenes of Austin’s life and career.
Authoritative voiceover man tells us how Austin is a different person behind the character, as in-ring footage with cartoony enhanced sound effects rolls in the background. We get the revelation that Steve Austin is, get this, not even Stone Cold’s real name! We hear about him growing up, which is the usual enhanced-reality, idealist American tale. You know the drill; good kid, focused on studying, had success at football, always seemed destined for success. “He took care of his body by eating right and working out, even when he didn’t have to” says the V.O. He also used to shit diamonds and burp in beautiful falsetto… presumably. Austin’s sister drops him in the shit by telling a story about how he used to be so shy that he couldn’t talk on the phone and order his own food, so she had to do it for him. She gets a kick out of telling that story she says, not that she is envious of her brother’s enormous success or anything.
Austin says how he used to love watching wrestling from Texas when he was younger, which would be Fritz Von Erich’s WCCW promotion, though his sister claims she doesn’t even remember him watching it at all. Why must she undermine him at every turn? Austin decided to get into the business and his high school football coach worried about his chances, but Steve went ahead and did it anyway, training with World Class star Chris Adams. Mick Foley recounts a story that he also told in his book Have a Nice Day about watching the guys train to get a kick out of how bad they were, but that he noticed one guy called Steve Williams who looked like a natural. He was also at the Beatles’ first gig at the Cavern in 1961 too, don’t you know. Michael Hayes puts over Austin’s work ethic compared to some guys in the business who were just bodies, before we turn to Vince McMahon for his take on what wrestling is:
“Part talk show, part action adventure, a little bit of comedy thrown in there, or perhaps I should say humour, as compared to what some people may think; of two people in their underwear, in a squared circle somewhere…”
And that folks, is why Vince McMahon calls it Sports Entertainment instead of professional wrestling. Did you notice, he didn’t mention athleticism or, you know, sport!?
Steve Austin recalls how he went from Steve Williams to Steve Austin, with a promoter (Dutch Mantel, though he is not mentioned by name) changing his surname and telling him he had 15-minutes to come up with something better. What is omitted is that he only had to change his name in the first place because of ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams being a fairly notable name in the business at the time. Steve says he hated the name at first and he didn’t want to be Steve Austin because he didn’t want to rip off the character with the same name in The Six Million Dollar Man, but he couldn’t come up with anything better and it stuck. Who could have predicted then that the name Steve Austin would become far more synonymous with the wrestler than the television character, who himself was insanely popular once upon a time.
We move to WCW and the ‘Stunning’ nickname, which Austin also didn’t like because he didn’t think it fit his persona. “I’m only okay looking, actually” he says modestly. The WCW stuff is covered only with stills rather than video, and predictably very little positive is said about his time there. “Steve was fired over the phone” offers the voiceover man, as we go to Austin’s brilliant but brief ECW tenure. Vince tells some porkies about “spotting Austin’s talent” and hiring him away from ECW, and we then see him as the Ringmaster. Yeah, great eye for talent there Vince, just superb. “The Ringmaster was a bad move” says Hayes. NO FUCKING KIDDING! The story of Austin’s change of persona is told, though not the actual one. Apparently the WWF thought it would be good for business to have a badass in their ranks, though the truth is they lucked into ‘Stone Cold’, as he came up with the character and made it work, the WWF just happened to be the company he worked for who enabled him. When the WWF tried to contribute, they came up with some truly awful ideas, and amusingly the horrible “Ice Dagger” name that was proposed by some imbecile on the writing team is mentioned, though the even better “Chilly McFreeze” is not. I would love to know who exactly it was that came up with those.
“This is the quality that would make Steve Austin a millionaire” says the voiceover man of Austin’s hell-raising blue-collar babyface character. Hmm, that rather kills his everyman persona, doesn’t it? Vince defends the depth of the Austin character, despite the swearing and the sign language, which is right. He was far more than just an on-the-nose purposely offensive character, he was well-rounded and relatable. Austin tells the story of how one day the office asked him if he could come up with a different hand signal than his middle fingered salute, to which he responded resoundingly: “No” What other hand signal could he possibly have used? More controversy from Steve came when he coined his famous and insanely over “Austin 3:16” catchphrase at King of the Ring ’96, which sparked outrage amongst religious do-gooders. Despite that, Austin has a chuckle over the fact that priests and other religious folk frequently ask him for autographs when they bump into him. Amusing.
We see Austin’s career-changing injury at SummerSlam ’97 thanks to Owen Hart’s foolish inverted piledriver, and Austin says how since then he has avoided anything that involves him taking bumps on his neck. Since those days of course, the WWE has adopted a company-wide ban on all moves like that due to their danger and potential for causing injury. It is the wise thing to do, because ultimately the health of the performer should come ahead of any spot. Just think how much longer Austin’s career could have been if that had been the case in 1997. He might have had another decade in the business at least.
We see more segments and skits from Austin between 1997 and 1999, with his unparalleled success outlined by the voiceover guy who mentions how the business exploded as his popularity increased. The true reach of the Steve Austin juggernaut is then outlined, with the narrator claiming he earns $5-$10million per year from wrestling, which again makes it difficult to get behind him as a working class hero, but then this tape is very out of character anyway so I guess it doesn’t really matter. It is aimed at a different audience than his usual merchandise. Speaking of merchandise, the mass of Austin licensed products available is also covered in detail. Austin talks about how hands-on he is with anything bearing his likeness, and that he gets involved in every aspect of his own marketing. There have been some pretty shoddy Steve Austin cash-grab releases over the years (including, if you can believe this; talking soap!), so maybe he is not involved in everything.
Steve’s family turn up again, with his mother saying how she wouldn’t have let her kids watch a character like Steve Austin, and his bitchy sister saying that she doesn’t always agree with or approve of the stuff he does on television. The man behind the character is further portrayed as a down-to-earth, humble guy with strong family values who never forgot his roots, though his 1999 divorce from wife Jeanie Clark is brought up. Austin chalks it up to experience, and says he won’t make the same mistakes next time. Yeah… In closing, Vince compares Austin to Babe Ruth, as a man who has transcended the medium he is famous for, but Austin thinks people “shouldn’t get all worked up about it”. We need more guys like Steve Austin in the wrestling business. It would be a much better place for it.
Summary: Well, it is not a wrestling tape, that is for sure. If you are looking for anything resembling a Steve Austin highlight package then pick up one of the countless other Stone Cold releases, because there is none of that here. Instead it is more akin to a Biography Channel piece, and it is a fairly good one at that because the nonsense and hyperbole that usually permeates these things when they are wrestling related, is almost entirely absent. Some facts are withheld, but not to the detriment of the piece. If you are interested in finding out more about Steve Austin and the man behind the bluster, then this is a pretty good look at his story.