Most people are very aware of the idea that Stone Cold Steve Austin was a great worker before he broke his neck (in a match we’ll get to later). It, like the idea that he was held down by people too stupid to know what they had in front of them, is part of the narrative that has been create Stone Cold Steve Austin. And while it’s slightly exaggerated, it’s undeniably true from both a symbolic and practical perspective that if the people in WCW knew their ass from an elbow drop, the entire company would have been better off.
From day one, the company had to be aware of what it had with Austin, and if you consider the level of competition that he faced as a member of the Hollywood Blonds, it’s should be obvious from the beginning that while the company didn’t know they had the brightest star in the history of the business, they certainly had something worth investing time and money in. Matches like this one (and a later one, where teamed with Ric Flair to face Ricky Steamboat and Sting) show precisely how much they “liked” Steve when he was with the company, and the heights they were willing to push him to..
But it wasn’t just tag team matches with well-respected veterans that helped get Austin over in the company — which it seems like they were trying to do, no matter how much he denies it now — it was hot feuds with young stars like Dustin Rhodes.
And matches against guys like Sting (and for a bonus, Arn Anderson in Japan, because we love you!)
But more than anything, it was his nearly career-long (to that point) rivalry with Ricky Steamboat that truly “made” Steve Austin, not just as the type of guy who could be made into a star based on looks and a natural charisma but a performer able to hold their own with some of the all time greats in the industry. Austin is wont to call himself a mechanic at this point in his career, claiming that his job was primarily to make other people look good without doing too much to get themselves over. However, matches like the ones he had with Steamboat showed that his ability went far beyond that of “enhancement” and into the rarefied air of “top of the card performer who can actually go” like the Ric Flairs and Bret Harts that he would eventually find himself compared to.
After spending far too much time in WCW, Austin was fired via FedEx (something we covered in the other half of Austin’s Essential Viewing: the promos) and after making a pit stop in ECW, found himself in WWF as The Ringmaster. While this is largely a forgettable time, he’d eventually turn whatever that gimmick was supposed to be into the most popular single character of all time, with an evening that culminated in this match (which would followed shortly by the most important promo in company history.
From there, Austin started a feud with Bret Hart after the Hitman took time off following WrestleMania XII for personal and professional reasons. While their WrestleMania 13 match is legendary, their previous encounter at the Survivor Series the year before is nearly as good a technical showcase, if not nearly on the emotional level that its predecessor would become famous for.
It also lead to some of the best work in the history of a Royal Rumble, with Austin’s face upon hearing the Hitman’s music — and their subsequent mini-match while waiting for more entrants — serving as one of the highlights of the only Royal Rumble with a voice in the discussion of “greatest Rumbles ever” alongside the ’92 edition.
Following this, and the ensuing fallout from the controversial ending — Austin eliminated Vader, Taker and Hart after being eliminated himself by Hart — it put the two on a collision for perhaps the greatest match in the history of the company:
And while the match made Austin a bonafide star, much like Daniel Bryan, he saw himself on the outside looking in as “main event” storylines for the WWF titles were allowed to stumble towards their natural conclusions, forcing Austin into a feud with Bret’s brother Owen over the Intercontinental title. And… well… we all know where this is going ….
Thankfully, Austin would recover from the broken neck and in the aftermath of the Montreal Screwjob, win his second consecutive Royal Rumble — this time with significantly less controversy surrounding the results — and find himself in the actual main event of WrestleMania for the first time ever. And while — by Austin’s own admission — it was neither man’s best work, it most definitely served as a paradigm shift in the company, with the DX brand of bourgeoisie rebelliousness entirely co-opted by Austin’s blue-collar flavor of the same sentiment.
This fight-the-power thruline would carry Austin through the next year’s WM, where he’d have to defeat his nemesis — The Rock — during his turn as the main cog in the Corporation.
But, in their next match, the tables would turn, with Austin taking the Corporate shortcut, working in concert with his archenemy (for reference on the difference between that and nemesis) — Mr. McMahon — in order to win the WWF title.
This would be followed by a ill-remembered run as a member of the Two Man Power Trip with Triple H that was cut short by H’s leg exploding, and like much of late-era Austin, is best left in the recesses of the WWE Network and whatever is left on YouTube regarding the subject. An almost total lack of working knees, along with a broken neck and general fatigue lead Austin to retire significantly earlier than most, choosing to end his career in a match against The Rock, which while good, paled in comparison to their previous two matches at the Showcase of the Immortals.