3 – The “What” chant is invented
Yes, the “What?” chant has been the bane of wrestling shows for a decade-and-a-half, but its enduring popularity cannot be denied. As a character quirk for the newly heel Steve Austin, it was a great addition to his personality. Fans were soundly rejecting Austin’s alliance with Vince McMahon, and later on, WCW, but one four-letter word helped establish Austin’s bullying curt nature, as you can see during its inception when Austin used it to intimidate his cohorts in the Alliance. As a chickenshit leader with no patience, “What?” worked, but it’s a shame fans kept chanting it long after Austin stopped (even though it did make for great mashups).
Again, while it’s tough to watch a lot of Austin’s work around the time without getting angry about how crowds still misuse “What?” to this day, it even worked pretty good for a brief period when Stone Cold returned to his crowd-pleasing ways. Whether listing off food, alcohol, or confounding overly serious opponents, “What?” was good for a few chuckles before it spiraled into the worst thing about modern wrestling crowds. Dumb fans will be yelling this at wrestling shows long after Steve Austin dies, but at least there was a few months of funny!
2 – Steve Austin Lays The Groundwork for a Heel Turn, With All Due Respect
Weidly, for all of Steve Austin’s great interviews, it’s tough to find proper “serious” moments. Sure, there’s a lot of angry promos, and there’s definitely a humorous undercurrent to most of Stone Cold’s microphone time, but if you want a stone Cold serious Steve Austin, his pre-WrestleMania 17 double-interview with The Rock (moderated by Jim Ross) shows an Austin willing to go to any length to keep his spot as WWE’s top dog at one of the best WrestleManias ever. Plus, it has great use of the phrase “with all due respect,” which is almost always said when completely disrespecting someone.
Even if most parties involved regret going through with Steve Austin’s turn to the dark side, a single segment discussion showcases Austin’s need to be champion overriding his hatred of authority. More than being himself, this version of Steve Austin had to be champion, so when he aligned with Vince McMahon to defeat The Rock, it made sense. Then he quickly became a weird kiss-up codependent character which didn’t really work, but Austin’s first steps towards being evil were pretty damn convincing.
1 – Austin 3:16 Is Invented
What? You thought something else would take the top spot? Even if it wasn’t used as often as you’d think in interviews (“that’s the bottom line” was far more prevalent and easy to drop into conversation), Austin’s post-King of the Ring win promo propelled Austin as a badass who defies traditional good-guy convention.
More than just the most popular wrestling t-shirt of all time, the Austin 3:16 interview gave so much direction to Steve Austin at the time. Just a month removed from being Ted Dibaise’s silent charge, Austin’s proclamation sowed the seeds for an anti-hero who rejected all authority; defying religion, sobriety, and the powers-that-be in order to show everyone who was the biggest dog in the yard. Twenty years later, Austin’s influence on pro wrestling (and pop-culture at large) is still felt, and that’s the bottom line.
Want more wrestling chatter? Check out Cheap Popcast‘s archive of podcasts, articles, and videos, including Austin’s strange turn as a beat-em-up hero in WWF Betrayal, shown below!