“Stone Cold” Steve Austin never had the look of a typical WWE Superstar. Dressed in simple black trunks and black boots, many thought he was missing the sizzle necessary to become a success in WWE. Those critics, however, were quickly silenced when “Stone Cold” hit the ring. His defiant, buck-the-system attitude led him to an amazing six WWE Championships, while making him one of the most popular competitors in the great history of sports-entertainment.
A little more than a year after his professional debut, Austin made the gigantic leap to WCW. Using the name of “Stunning” Steve Austin, the relatively inexperienced youngster from Texas found instant success, defeating Bobby Eaton for the WCW Television Championship in June 1991. Over the next four years, Austin went on to capture the United States Championship, and WCW Tag Team Championship with Brian Pillman. Despite all of Austin’s success in the ring, the head of WCW, Eric Bischoff, didn’t see him as a marketable commodity. After Austin injured himself while competing in Japan, Bischoff picked up the phone and fired him.
Steve Austin was unemployed for approximately 24 hours before ECW’s Paul Heyman called him with a job offer. Still injured, Austin couldn’t compete in the ring, but that didn’t faze Heyman. Instead, he gave Austin a microphone and simply told him to talk. What followed were some of the most emotionally charged promos sports-entertainment has ever seen. Austin’s anti-WCW tirades entertained the ECW fans, but more importantly, they were his first opportunity to truly voice his opinions on-air, and served as a preview to his future in WWE, which soon came calling for Austin.
In January 1996, competing under the moniker of The Ringmaster, Austin made his WWE debut, handily defeating Matt Hardy. With “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase as his manager, The Ringmaster immediately began to butt heads with Savio Vega. After a win at WrestleMania XII, The Ringmaster successfully turned back Vega, but then, in a shocking turn of events, The Ringmaster later lost a Strap Match to Vega, which resulted in DiBiase losing his job.
With his manager fired, it seemed as though Austin’s career was about to suffer a debilitating setback, but a determined Austin refused to be held back any longer, and he soon turned the negative into a huge positive. With nobody at his side telling him what to do, Austin was able to rid himself of The Ringmaster name and rebuild his image on his own terms. The result: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
It didn’t take long for “Stone Cold” to prove he was the “toughest S.O.B.” in all of WWE. Just one month after remaking his image, Austin defeated Jake “The Snake” Roberts to become the 1996 King of the Ring. After the match, Austin made a victory speech that would forever change the face of sports-entertainment.
Austin’s post-match rant was an instant rage. Within days, Austin 3:16 T-shirts were everywhere. “Stone Cold” fans soon started dressing like their hero, making it impossible to walk through the mall without seeing a bald-headed, goatee-wearing fan in jeans and a black T-shirt. Not since Hulkamania had WWE been taken over by such a phenomenon.
As a result of his victory at King of the Ring, “Stone Cold” was afforded opportunities that were denied him while in WCW, which led to friction between him and Bret “Hit Man” Hart. After last eliminating Hart to win the 1997 Royal Rumble, “Stone Cold” squared off against his rival in a Submission Match at WrestleMania 13. While the result did not go in his favor, the sight of “Stone Cold” profusely bleeding to the point of losing consciousness proved to be one of the most memorable images in WWE history.
Several other members of the famed Hart family muscled their way into the historic rivalry, including Bret’s brother Owen. While competing against the younger Hart at the 1997 SummerSlam, “Stone Cold” suffered a career-threatening injury when a piledriver delivered by Owen broke his neck. Miraculously, Austin was able to recover just enough to roll Owen up for the win and the Intercontinental Championship. Unfortunately for “Stone Cold,” the severity of his injury forced him to relinquish the title. Upon returning to the ring later that year, however, “Stone Cold” gained retribution by defeating Owen to become a two-time Intercontinental Champion.
At the D-Generation X pay-per-view in December 1997, “Stone Cold” defeated The Rock to retain the title. By all accounts, the victory should have silenced The Rock’s quest to become Intercontinental Champion. The next night on Raw, however, Vince McMahon demanded “Stone Cold” defend his title against the same man he defeated 24 hours earlier. When a defiant Austin refused to give in to McMahon’s demands, the Chairman of WWE stripped “Stone Cold” of the Intercontinental Championship. A fired-up Austin responded by knocking McMahon out of the ring, officially igniting one of the greatest rivalries in the history of sports-entertainment—”Stone Cold” vs. McMahon.