Stone Cold Steve Austin is more than just a wrestler, he is a mindset.
You know his story. He began his fabled career in the Dallas Sportatorium under the tutelage of “Gentleman” Chris Adams as Steve Williams. He commanded the mat as a technician in WCW as “Stunning” Steve Austin. He found his voice and drank his first beer in ECW as “Superstar” Steve Austin. And he raised hell and became a cultural phenomenon in WWE as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
You remember his battles. You watched Jake “The Snake” Roberts talk about his psalms and John 3:16 as Austin 3:16 whipped his ass. You remember him passing out in a pool of his own blood to avoid admitting defeat to Bret Hart. You stood as he hit the Stone Cold Stunner on Shawn Michaels to win the WWE Championship. And you fought with him as he defended that championship as he defended it against the likes of Triple H, The Rock, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, and The Undertaker.
You remember the moments. You cheered every time he’d break someone with nothing but his middle finger. You roared as he rode into arenas across the country on monster trucks, beer trucks, ATVs, and Zambonis to reign upon anyone who dared cross his path. You were inspired as he raged against every component of the WWE machine brandishing Stunners and beer baths.
You know all this. But can you define his legacy knowing all this?
Steve Austin became the WWE’s hottest act in 1996 after winning The King of The Ring tournament and patenting “Austin 3:16.” Austin then walked WWE’s prescribed path to success by quickly slaughtering the midcard to claim the Intercontinental Championship, strategically dissecting the upper card en route to winning the Royal Rumble, and taking his place at the top of the card by winning the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. It was simple stuff, really. So, is that Austin’s legacy? An avant-garde professional wrestler who excelled in the largest wrestling company in the world?
Is it the chaos? Stone Cold Steve Austin spent 1998-2003 committing vehicular assault on Vince McMahon. He impersonated a physician and bludgeoned Vince McMahon with a bed pan while McMahon was admitted in a hospital. He used a crane to drop a cement block to blow up a bus owned by someone he was only mildly upset with. He hit the current President of the United States with a Stunner. Oh, and he tried to kill Triple H by trapping him in a car and using a forklift to raise and drop the car from maybe thirty feet into the air. Are his anti-social, vindictive tendencies enough to define the multitudes of this man?
An argument could be made for how he revolutionized professional wrestling. Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and their colleagues defined what professional wrestling was for the modern era. With Hulk Hogan’s charisma, Ric Flair’s talent, and Vince McMahon’s vision, professional wrestling moved away from high school gyms and VA auditoriums into arenas and stadiums so that the matches, storylines, and characters could be properly recorded and televised for the world to appreciate. But if Vince McMahon and the stars of the 80’s showed us what wrestling could be, it was Stone Cold Steve Austin that showed us how far it could go.
As Austin rose through the WWE, so did the WWE’s influence on pop-culture. Seemingly overnight, Monday Night Raw became the highest rated cable television show, that simple, black “Austin 3:16” littered malls and school yards, and PTA’s were aflame after you gave your principal the middle finger. Austin enjoyed prominence on the late-night talk show circuit, he was offered roles in movies and television shows, and enjoyed a household notoriety on par with any celebrity of his time. Stone Cold Steve Austin proved that professional wrestling was capable of producing legitimate celebrities by blazing a trail to Hollywood that people such as The Rock and John Cena could follow and proved that wrestlers could be so much more than headlocks and spandex.
Is that his legacy then? Is his legacy that of a hell-raising wrestler that took professional wrestling to new heights? No, his legacy was defined by the moment you decided to give your principal the middle finger.
You flipped off your principle because you were tired of the machine holding you down. You were an idiot then and you deserved detention, but you did it to fight the machine to better yourself. You begged your parents for that “Austin 3:16” shirt because you wanted to channel his indomitable, everyman spirit to fight to become the best self. You stopped being scared of authority because you wanted to fight to better your environment for yourselves and your cohorts. And by fighting true to your convictions, you found a strength you didn’t know you had.
Stone Cold Steve Austin, the character, has more in common with John Wayne, Rocky, and Perseus than he does with The Rock, Triple H, and John Cena. He’s an archetypical anti-hero who fought against adversity for his truth, fought against insurmountable odds to become a champion, and fought to make his world a better place and became a modern myth. That is the Rattlesnake’s legacy.
It was The Attitude Era, you don’t really remember any of Stone Cold’s matches. He’s more than just the titles, the beers, and the zamboni’s. You don’t jump from your seat when you hear that glass shatter because you want to see someone get a stunner. And you didn’t try to hit a stunner on your friend because you wanted to be cool, no.
You’ll always remember Stone Cold Steve Austin because you stick up your middle whenever anyone tries to tear you down. You’ll always remember Stone Cold Steve Austin because he showed you that you sometimes have to break glass to find peace. And the bottom line is, you’ll always remember Stone Cold Steve Austin because he taught you how to fight.
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