Steve Austin Talks Breaking Into Wrestling, His ‘Big Break’, Owen Hart, His HOF Induction & More
WWE Hall of Famer “Stone Cold” Steve Austin recently spoke with Adam Carolla. Here are some highlights from the interview.
How he got started in pro wrestling: “I grew up in a small town in south Texas. Changing channels on the television one day, probably seven years old, and came across Houston Wrestling. There was one light hanging over the arena, two guys fighting for a championship belt. This was back in the day when wrestling was real. This was before all the exposés and the 20/20’s and all that stuff. So, wrestling was “real,” and I was glued to the screen. Through my athletic stuff and football scholarships through college, once I got out of college I was driving a forklift for Watkins Motor Lines in Dallas, Texas, driving down to the Sportatorium watching the Von Erich’s fight the Freebirds. Not in the forklift [laughter]. And a guy had a commercial on TV; teach you how to be a pro wrestler. I always knew in the back of my mind that I was going to be a pro wrestler. My first college major was a business major because I was going to sell insurance with my dad. I figured that’d be the logical thing to do. But man, it kicked the s*** out of me. I dropped it several times to a PE major. And after 17 hours to graduate, I decided nah, this ain’t for me. I’m going to go into professional wrestling full time.”
How hard life was when he first started wrestling: “We were driving from Nashville to Memphis and Memphis and back, about a 400 mile round trip, making 15 dollars to do that. So the two guys rode with me would just gas up my base model Hyundai Excel, which my brother had co-signed the note for me, payments were 154 bucks a month. I could barely make those damn payments. So guys were chasing me around, trying to collect my car. So times were rough, but that’s part of paying the dues process. On Wednesdays we used to always get paid in Evansville, Indiana, and with the little s****y paychecks we were getting, we’d go down to the liquor store in Evansville to buy our beer before we headed home. This was back when it was okay to drink and drive, before everyone started screwing it up. So we’d cash our checks and we’d tell the guy behind the counter there, yeah these are just our trans checks for gas and horse****. But these were the checks we were living on.”
When his big break came: “The big break came when I left USWA in Tennessee and went to Atlanta for substantially more money, but not a lot of money. And then a few years later, after I injured my arm, I went to ECW in Philadelphia with Paul Heyman. I started to learn how to cut a damn effective promo. Someone finally gave me a chance and put the microphone in front of my face. And a chance for me to unleash some of the stuff I had inside of me from being screwed over by WCW. WWE called me, picked me up, I went up there and they called me the Ringmaster. Well that sucked ass. I knew it. It wasn’t giving me any kind of marquee value. Ain’t too many people going to be buying t-shirts with the Ringmaster on it. So I came up with the Stone Cold Steve Austin gimmick, and I pitched that to the office. They started calling me Stone Cold Steve Austin unceremoniously. There was no build up, no hoopla, no bull****. And then one thing turned into another, I knew I was onto something. I just started turning the volume way up on the promo level. I turned the balance up inside the ring, giving out a very credible, believable product. People bought into it, with the storylines and the booking, and it turned into a real strong thing.”
His favorite wrestlers: “Man, when you talk about your really good wrestlers, Shawn Michaels to me, is the greatest performer I have ever seen in the ring. Bret “the Hitman” Hart is the guy whose going to weave together storylines on different levels of psychology and execution, and he’s just top notch. Ric Flair is my favorite pro wrestler of all time. So I think when you look pro wrestler up in a dictionary, you see the picture of Ric Flair.”
Owen Hart: “I remember I was wrestling Undertaker that night in the main event. I was there. Didn’t see it happen. I was in the back, hanging out, waiting for my time to go on. All of a sudden, we get word back that Owen fell, and we knew that he was going to do a gig hanging from the ceiling of the arena, and it was a hell of a fall. And all of a sudden, we get word that he isn’t with us anymore. It was a real weird feeling. They said the show must go on, so the show must go on. We’re out there tangling in the ring. It’s strange, when people pay money to see something, I guess they want to see the end of the show. We’re in the back and the boss says go on, so we go on.”
His Hall of Fame induction: “I kind of was the head liner, but I can’t remember everybody that went in with me. I know Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat was there, which was totally awesome. The Hall of Fame was a real neat deal because they played a little four or five minute package before I went up there. I think I had been so busy between the ropes and on the road, going down the road I never realized what I was doing. I knew I was hot. I knew I was drawing a lot of money. I knew we were selling tickets, but I was too close to the forest to see the trees. Finally at that moment, at the Hall of Fame deal, I really realized the impact I had on the business, and to the people that watched the business. So it was a real neat night at the office, but I cannot remember the entire class.”