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 unfolded 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: 14 February 1999
The Venue: Memphis Pyramid; Memphis, Tennessee
The Commentary: Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler
The Referee: Mike Chioda
The Stakes: Main event steel cage match to decide Austin’s WrestleMania fate
Ask any wrestling fan and they’ll tell you about the ratings war between the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and one of the greatest feuds of the WWF’s “Attitude Era”: the rivalry between the loud-mouthed, anti-authority “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and WWF Chairman Vince McMahon. After the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” saw Bret “The Hitman” Hart leave the WWF, McMahon’s evil “Mr. McMahon” authority figure frequently clashed with Austin’s rebellious ways. McMahon consolidated his power by ensuring that The Rock captured the WWF Championship and reigned supreme as the “Corporate Champion”, and personally ensured that Austin’s goal of recapturing the belt at WrestleMania XV: The Ragin’ Climax wouldn’t come to fruition by winning the annual Royal Rumble for himself! However, as he was a businessman and figurehead rather than a full-time wrestler, McMahon’s victory was forfeited and Steve Austin was awarded the WrestleMania XV match by default. Enraged, McMahon had only one option left; he goaded Austin into getting what he really wanted, a one-on-one match with the WWF Chairman (inside a steel cage, no less!), if Austin would put his WrestleMania opportunity on the line. Thus, after months of drama, tension, and confrontations between the two, the stage was finally set for Steve Austin and Vince McMahon to face-off for the first time.
It’s easy to forget these days, in an era where World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) likes to push that crowds have mixed reactions to their top guys, just how absolutely white-hot Steve Austin was back in the day; anticipation would build in arenas to a fever pitch and then the people would literally explode into rapturous applause and non-stop cheering once they heard that familiar glass shattering, and that was more than evident in this match when Austin made his way down to the ring. Interestingly, as unanimous as the crowd’s support for Austin was here, they don’t exactly descend into a chorus of boos for Mr. McMahon’s entrance; instead, there was largely a feeling of apathy, potentially because they were just itching to see the WWF Chairman finally get his ass handed to him despite the fact that he was jacked up to the nines! Something else worth noting here is that this is the old black-bar cage, before the WWE switched to the much safer and more forgiving mesh-style cages, which not only makes it a lot easier for the competitors to climb (Austin perched himself at the top of the cage to beckon McMahon in) but also much more hazardous to their health.
Of course, Austin was practically frothing at the mouth as McMahon approached the cage, desperate for his hated rival to get into the ring, but McMahon purposely made him wait by loitering at ringside and taking his sweet time to enter. Naturally, this whipped the crowd into an uproar and incensed Austin, who chased the chairman around the ringside area before the two get into a bit of a slap fight on the cage wall. After toying with each other for a bit, Austin took a tumble to the floor and seemed to twist his ankle. Delighted, McMahon left the cage to try and capitalise on Austin’s injury, only to walk right into a trap! Austin decked McMahon with a clothesline and pummelled him across the announce table, slamming him into the steel cage, and then choking him out with a piece of extension cord. Firmly in control, Austin dumped McMahon over the barricade and put a beating on him in the crowd, refuelling with a cheeky brewski before running McMahon into the steel stairs. McMahon mounted a comeback, however, with a cheap shot and then lured Austin into the crowd for a brawl. McMahon tried to escape amidst the sea of people, but Austin caught him and dragged him back to ringside, slamming him into the barricade and the cage bars over and over, yanking the boss down from the cage when he tried to climb to safety and stomping right on his crotch. When McMahon tried one more time to climb into the ring and escape Austin’s wrath, Austin followed him and, after a bit of back and forth, knocked Vince from the cage and sent him crashing through the Spanish announce table!
Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler prattled on about how shocked and concerned they were at how quickly the match had turned brutal, and the doctors and referees rushed down to ringside to strap Vince onto a stretcher; when Howard Finkel tried to announce Austin as the winner by default (despite the match not having officially started yet), Austin cut him off and demanded that the match continue. Austin commandeered the stretcher and drove the helpless McMahon into the steel cage, pummelling him with the back board, and finally tossing him into the ring so the match can officially begin. The minute the bell rang, Austin wrecked McMahon with a clothesline, ripped off his neck brace, and decimated the defenceless chairman with repeated second-rope elbow drops. Seemingly satisfied, Austin went to leave via the door but McMahon goaded his rival back into the ring by flipping him the bird, receiving Austin’s trademark mudhole stomps in the corner for his troubles. However, McMahon managed to turn things around with a low blow and tried to clamber out of the cage, but Austin recovered fast enough to stop him and fling him back into the ring from the top of the cage wall. The crowd was loving it as Austin rammed McMahon into the cage wall over and over, busting him open and leaving him a bloody mess, but Vince continued to flip Austin off and stop him from leaving the ring. Incensed, Austin returned to the ring and left the chairman a bloody, crumpled heap.
The glorified brawl started to drag a bit as McMahon was completely helpless and fell victim to a big Stone Cold Stunner. However, Austin was so distracted with taunting his bloodied foe that he didn’t notice Paul Wight literally bursting up from under the ring right behind him! The massive giant manhandled Austin, launching him into the cage walls and helping McMahon to his feet so he can taunt his surprised rival. McMahon demanded that Wight throw Austin into the cage wall one more time, desperate for some retribution, but this proved to be his downfall as Wight’s throw was of such force that the cage wall breaks open, which allowed Austin to tumble out to the floor and be declared the winner. Wight was seething and McMahon was absolutely distraught that his grand plan had failed; Austin won the match and secured his WrestleMania championship match after a pretty lacklustre contest. Obviously, I don’t expect too much from Vince McMahon; the guy’s built and clearly know how to take a bump, but his role in his matches is simply to wind up his opponent (and the crowd), take as many cheap shots and shortcuts as possible, and to get the living shit kicked out of him and that’s definitely what happens here but it’s also a whole lot of stalling and mindless brawling. The match really didn’t do too much with the steel cage, and the guys were hardly even in it that much, so the gimmick ends up being a prop for some blood and Austin’s dramatic victory at the end. I think that match might’ve been paced a bit better if we hadn’t had the whole stretcher spot and the longer brawl in the crowd, and this was little more than a drawn out beatdown of a largely defenceless middle-aged man notable primarily for being their first time in the ring together and Paul Wight’s big debut, meaning that you could probably just watch a five minute highlight and see everything this match has to offer.
St. Valentine’s Day Massacre would end up being the last In Your House event as the WWF changed to permanent pay-per-view names with Backlash the following April, and the In Your House concept wouldn’t be seen again until 2020. Of course, the big story coming out of this match was the addition of Paul Wight to McMahon’s Corporation stable; soon renamed the Big Show, Wight began a tumultuous career flip-flopping between being a good guy and a bad guy depending on the situation and storyline. The Big Show ended up getting into a rivalry with Mankind over which one of them would be the special guest referee for the WWF Championship match at WrestleMania XV, with Mankind winning the match by disqualification and the Big Show seemingly turning against McMahon after being berated for his loss. Austin, of course, went on to have the first of three WrestleMania matches against the Rock, capturing the WWF Championship in the process, and continuing to feud with the Rock, McMahon, and the Corporation in the months that followed. McMahon’s issues with Austin would continue to escalate, leading to the WWF Chairman forging an alliance with the Undertaker to try and get the belt off the Texas Rattlesnake, which ultimately saw McMahon being forced off WWF television for some time as he continued to put more and more on the line in an effort to out Austin. Ultimately, their feud would be abruptly cut off after Austin took time off for neck surgery, but their paths would continually cross as they entered an ill-advised alliance and butted heads continuously even after Austin’s official in-ring retirement.
Could Be Better
What did you think to the contest between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre? Which of their encounters, matches, and moments is your favourite? What did you think to Paul Wight’s shocking debut? 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, share them below or drop a comment on my social media to let me know what you think about “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.