To celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s iconic “Austin 3:16” interview, we’re counting down The Rattlesnake’s six most important speeches!
The King of the Ring 1996 was an otherwise innocuous show until tournament winner “Stone Cold” Steve Austin began his coronation ceremony. Sure, we had Mankind’s first Pay-Per-View match and a rare 1996 Ultimate Warrior bout, but the only thing the show will ever be remembered for is Steve Austin coining his “Austin 3:16 said I just whooped your ass” catchphrase.
If Austin only invented that line and shirt and rested on its laurels, odds are we wouldn’t celebrate his career and this anniversary. Austin’s career is just as contingent on great soundbites as it is in main-event wrestling matches, and these six were the biggest in terms of making the most popular WWE performer of all time. Sure, you should check out his matches against Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1996 and his WrestleMania 19 match against The Rock, but you’re doing a disservice if you haven’t heard each of these promos.
6 – Steve Austin Becomes A Superstar in ECW
Steve Austin credits then-ECW promoter Paul Heyman for teaching him the in-your-face interview style that propelled him to success in WWE, but he should probably direct some of that credit towards Eric Bishoff, whose treatment of Steve Austin helped give the former “Stunning” WCW midcarder into a rage-fueled brawler who often crossed his bosses.
Even though Austin got a lot of mileage out of his imitations of WCW personalities Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff (and this was two years before “wrestler dresses as rival to infuriate them” became a regular WWE and WCW trope), his best work was his most focused, where he told his story of being fired by Bischoff over the phone while recovering from injuries. A few years later, he would direct this same bitterness at Vince McMahon, and we got WWE’s all-time-greatest rivalry as a result.
5 – Stone Cold Mixes Punches and Punchlines
While people remember Steve Austin being pretty funny, there aren’t a ton of moments people can directly point to as great examples of Stone Cold humor. Since every Monday Night Raw from 1998 until today has opened with interviews in the ring, it’s tough to pick from Austin’s many promos, especially since so many were littered with “what” chants that are tough to stomach in retrospect. Fortunately, there’s one instance of Austin’s comedy that also highlights his ass-kicking talents, too.
In the brief period between the end of Steve Austin’s heel turn and his rapidly approaching retirement, some big strides had to be made to re-establish Stone Cold as someone worth cheering wholeheartedly. The brawl itself is already a visual delight, but Austin’s running commentary makes the supermarket brawl an all-time great Smackdown segment. “Price check on a jackass” and Austin’s cover of “That’s Amore” are classic WWE comedy, and it’s all thanks to Austin’s ability to mix comedy and violence on a moment’s notice. Also, it’s the prime element of Stone Cold’s Kirby mashup song.
4 – Stone Cold Interrupts Mike Tyson
WWE’s annual run up to WrestleMania is a lot like a TV show getting adapted into a movie. Since way more people will be watching, there’s a need to quickly establish the overarching story for the masses as quickly as possible. Even though “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s anti-establishment character had been gaining steam for months before WrestleMania 14, a brief conversation with “Iron” Mike Tyson showed the world what Steve Austin (and the WWE at large) was about during its Attitude Era.
Even if the Austin-Tyson confrontation doesn’t fit in all that well with previous events (Tyson cheering for “Cold Stone” at the Royal Rumble) or the end result (Tyson and Austin teaming together to defeat Shawn Michaels), this oft-replayed moment both showcased and set the WWE’s template for the entire Attitude Era. A lapsed fan seeing the footage on ESPN (where it was often replayed) is instantly informed that WWE is no longer about goody-two-shoes superheros. And even though they had some skirmishes, this was the straw that broke Vince McMahon’s back regarding his rejection of Steve Austin as the “face of the company.” Compare that to modern-day authority targets John Cena and Roman Reigns, who have NO reason to be seen as anti-establishment and you can see why people pine for Attitude Era storytelling.
Stone Cold’s least and most popular catchphrases await your ass on the next page! What?!