With those immortal words, spoken by the legendary pro wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin after winning the King of the Ring tournament on 23 June 1996, a momentous wrestling career was about to unfold before our eyes that would see everyone’s favourite beer-swigging, finger-gesturing anti-hero become not just an industry icon but a mainstream icon as well. Here’s to yah, Steve!
The Date: 29 March 1998
The Venue: FleetCenter; Boston, Massachusetts
The Commentary: Jim “J.R.” Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler
The Referee: Mike Chioda, with “Iron” Mike Tyson as the special enforcer
The Stakes: Main event singles match for the WWF Championship
As any self-respecting wrestling fan will tell you, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) was clawing back to prominence in 1999; after being beaten in the weekly ratings by World Championship Wrestling’s (WCW) Monday Nitro in the weekly television ratings for nearly two years, the WWF’s “Attitude Era” kept fans glued to the product, many of whom were deeply invested in the rivalry between the loud-mouthed, anti-authority “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and WWF Chairman Vince McMahon. Another crucial factor in getting eyes back on McMahon’s product was the outrageous antics of D-Generation X, a group of wrestlers led by then-current champion, the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, who wielded incredible backstage influence and whose members were often involved in some of the WWF’s most controversial storylines.
After the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” saw Bret “The Hitman” Hart part ways with the WWF, McMahon appeared on television more frequently as the evil “Mr. McMahon” and frequently clashed with Austin’s rebellious ways. Hot off a feud with The Rock over the Intercontinental Championship, and despite McMahon’s efforts, Austin won a shot at the big belt, and a slot in the main event of WrestleMania XIV (also billed as WrestleMania X-raided) by winning the Royal Rumble event. He further raised the ire of the chairman when he publicly insulted legendary boxer Mike Tyson on an episode of Raw Is War, though the deck appeared to be stacked against Austin as Tyson revealed himself to be in league with D-Generation X. There was also a great deal of behind the scenes drama surrounding this match as, at the time, Shawn had a bit of a reputation for being unprofessional and, despite nursing a legitimate back injury that would scupper his career for some time, there was some doubt as to whether he would actually lay down for Austin as planned, to the point where the Undertaker was prepared to take matters into his own hands if necessary.
Fans today would probably hate the promo package for this match as the majority of it was focused entirely on “The Baddest Man on the Planet” and his status as the special enforcer for the match. No doubt, Mike Tyson was a massive get back in the day and really helped to put more eyes on the product; for me, this is the kind of mainstream star you want involved in wrestling, not fly-by-night pop/rap stars, but then again what the hell for I know? Anyway, yeah, the package emphasises not only that Tyson is an absolute bad-ass but that he is D-X through-and-through and Austin barely features at all in it which, considering he was white-hot at this time, I can only assume is all part of the larger story of McMahon not wanting to put any spotlight on Austin and his rebellious ways.
Tyson, garbed in a D-X shirt, is the first to enter the ring and clearly seems to be enjoying his involvement with the product, which is always good to see. The crowd is, however, largely apathetic towards Tyson, especially once they catch a glimpse of Austin prowling around backstage, to say nothing of when his iconic glass shatters and he makes his way to the ring. After performing his signature rope taunt, Austin immediately gets all up in Tyson’s face, establishing right away that he isn’t afraid of or intimidated by Iron Mike. Shawn Michaels, “the greatest champion of all time” according to J.R., then makes a grandiose entrance; accompanied by some chump named Triple H (who was the WWF European Champion at the time) and Chyna and played to the ring by the Chris Warren D-X band, he expertly played the role of the cocky, arrogant heel by dancing about and wearing the smuggest grin on his face. And why not? Not only did he have the muscle in his corner, Tyson was also in his pocket so he had every advantage in the world except for the unanimous crowd support that Austin received. Tyson makes his presence known from the moment the bell rings by nonchalantly swiping at Austin’s ankles as he (as in Austin) is pacing the ring; when HBK hops about and taunts Austin, Austin gives him the traditional two-finger salute but HBK’s game plan, early on, is to wind Austin up into a frenzy by ducking and jiving away from him. Austin, however, puts a stop to that by throwing some punches in the corner, yanking down Shawn’s tights to expose his ass (much to the delight of the crowd), and finally tossing him out of the ring and into his D-X buddies.
When Austin follows to press his attack, he is assaulted by Triple H and tossed into the metal barricade. For his efforts, referee Mike Chioda has Shawn’s running buddies ejected from ringside. All of this was still enough for HBK to gain the advantage and a ringside brawl ensues that sees Shawn slam Austin with the band’s equipment and toss him into a dumpster but, the moment they get back into the ring, Austin regains control by countering HBK’s driving axe-handle and whipping the WWF Champion into a corner for Shawn’s signature flip spot. Austin starts to work on Shawn’s arm with a series of stomps; he shuts down Shawn’s speedy offense by dumping him into the ropes but, though he takes a dive to the outside and onto the table, HBK is still wily enough to avoid being hit with the Stone Cold Stunner. Austin presses his advantage, putting a beating on Shawn and going for a series of pins before wearing Shawn down with a headlock. Seems a bit early into the match for a rest hold but, considering Shawn’s injury and the bumps he’s already taken, it’s perhaps not surprising. HBK counters out of the hold and is finally able to gain some momentum by enduring a beating and walloping Austin in the face with the ring bell, which the referee conveniently misses.
Back in the ring, HBK starts working over Austin’s head despite clearing struggling with the pain of his back injury; more uninspired and slow-paced holds and moves follow before Austin springs back to life, tackles HBK, and tosses him outside again! HBK recovers and starts smacking Austin’s left leg and knee off the ring post and the steel steps, as though the match needs to slow down any more, and continues the assault when he gets back in the ring to put Austin’s leg through the wringer for a bit. Austin surprises HBK with a kick up the ass and a roll-up but this isn’t modern-day WWE so Shawn easily kicks out and continues to wear down Austin’s leg using stomps and the ring ropes. When Austin rolls to the outside for a reprieve, Shawn hits him with a baseball slide and Tyson hefts Austin back into the ring so that HBK can lock in the Figure Four Leglock. Despite HBK grabbing the ropes for additional leverage, Austin refuses to tap out and successfully reverses the hold and buy himself some breathing time. Austin almost catches HBK with a pin off a catapult into the corner and then Shawn transitions into a sleeper hold; in his desperation to get out of the hold, Mike Chioda gets squashed in the corner and taken out of the match.
The match’s pace finally picks up a bit as Austin hammers on HBK, does his Mudhole Stomp in the corner, and fires back with a flurry of offense. Shawn desperately knocks Austin down with his flying forearm/kip up spot and then clambers up to the top rope for his big elbow drop. After landing the move, Shawn begins tuning up the band for the knockout shot but, when he flies in with Sweet Chin Music, Austin ducks it, and goes for the Stunner! Shawn counters out of it, goes for the Superkick again but Austin catches his foot, spins him around, and hits the Stunner! Tyson then slides into the ring and counts a quick three count to give Austin the WWF Championship in a very sudden end to a fairly lacklustre match. Afterwards, Tyson reveals that he was an Austin 3:16 fan all along, a point he emphasises by laying HBK out with a big right hand and then leaving the ring with the new champion.
WrestleMania XIV was a monumental night in WWF history; not only was this the first of six WWF Championship runs for Austin, it was also the night that the WWF “scratch logo” became the new logo of the company; the “winged eagle” world championship belt was also replaced with a new design the following night, and Shawn Michaels took a four-year hiatus to recover from his injuries and get his shit together (which, in turn, saw Triple H succeed him as the leader of D-Generation X and truly begin his own ascent to the main event scene).
Of course, the most prominent thing to come out of this event was Austin/McMahon feud; for the next five months or so, McMahon did everything he could to try and get the belt off Austin by either screwing him out of it or throwing challengers and obstacles his way. This led to the creation of the Corporation stable, Mankind’s transformation into Dude Love, the debut of Kane, and a series of successful title defences on Austin’s behalf before he was finally forced to vacate the belt when he was pinned by both the Undertaker and Kane. Austin and McMahon also got into a series of verbal and physical altercations, including a steel cage match at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the war between the two helped the WWF to overtake the competition and establish themselves as the hottest game in town. Sadly, Austin’s white-hot run came to a premature end when he was written off television to get neck surgery and, while he did reappear in the company some time later, it was clear that his career was winding down thanks to fatigue and mounting injuries.
What did you think to the contest between Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV? How would you rate it compared to their other bouts and which of their feuds, matches, and moments is your favourite? Were you a fan of HBK, D-X, and Tyson? How are you celebrating 3:16 Day this year, what are some of your favourite matches and moments from Austin’s illustrious career, and what dream match would you have liked to see him involved in? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and let me know what you think about “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.