Steve Austin in his early days. Photo via JRsBBQ.com.
Sometime in the early 1970s, there was a boy sitting in his home in Edna, Texas, flipping channels. When he came across a professional wrestling show, he was mesmerized. Over the years, as he grew up in that small town down south, the young boy made sure to catch every show, and it helped facilitate a new dream that that boy would one day become one of the greatest wrestlers who ever lived.
That young boy was Steve Anderson, later changed to Steve Williams and, finally, the name you all have come to know him by, Steve Austin.
It was during his time watching wrestling on his broken down TV that Austin came across a commercial from "Gentleman" Chris Adams, who was promoting his school. That was all Austin needed to sign up and start training. He was a natural athlete, already involved in sports like football. He had a good physique and was eager to learn and get better.
Sure enough, it only took a few months for him to show enough improvement that Austin was booked with the USWA. It was there he met Dutch Mantell, who immediately made a major impact on his career by forcing a name change. When he walked through the door, he was Steve Williams. Mantell said that wouldn't work because the industry already had a Steve Williams, Dr. Death.
So he told the already nervous Austin to come up with something new before leaving for a few minutes while Austin pondered the biggest decision of his life up to that point.
And he came up with jack squat. Luckily, Mantell had him covered.
That's when Mantell just pulled the name Steve Austin out of his hat. Initially, this was met with resistance because Austin didn't want to rip off The Six Million Dollar Man. Mantell's response was to say, "In your case, it's more like The Six Dollar Man, now get your ass out there."
Steve Austin the wrestler was born.
It was also Mantell who was responsible for coming up with the "Stunning" nickname, borne from the idea that if Austin ever turned heel, he could use the moniker and act like he was better than everyone else. Sure enough, that's what they did, booking him against his trainer, Adams, for a series of matches.
It was with the USWA in Tennessee that Austin learned the ropes and honed his game. He was the PWI "Rookie of the Year" in 1990 and was scooped up by World Championship Wrestling (WCW) not long after.
In just a matter of weeks, Austin, who retained the "Stunning" nickname, had defeated Bobby Eaton to win the television title. All was going well for him, as he joined the Dangerous Alliance led by Paul E. Dangerously and had an extended run with the belt with memorable matches against Barry Windham and Ricky Steamboat along the way.
The Dangerous Alliance culminated in a War Games match against Sting's Squadron at WrestleWar in May on 1992. Austin was in the match from the very beginning, one of the first two in. That match, embedded below, was the last WCW match to earn a five star rating from Dave Meltzer.
It wasn't long after the Dangerous Alliance dissolution that the first issues between Austin and the powers that be at WCW started to arise. He was promised a big singles push as the United States champion with Harley Race as a manager by then booker Dusty Rhodes but when it came time to make it happen, he was blindsided by Brian Pillman, who said the two were actually going to form a tag team.
The issue, apparently, was that WCW didn't think Austin was marketable as a stand alone singles star, same as Pillman. So they threw them together and surprisingly enough, they worked well as a team, getting over with the fans in short order. Pillman complimented Austin's technical wrestling with a high flying style that won the hearts of many.
Eventually, they came up with the Hollywood Blonds gimmick and started taunting opponents by mock rolling cameras. They also showed off a surprising charisma and ability to entertain that no one expected.
A perfect illustration of this is when they were feuding with Ric Flair and Arn Anderson and did a parody of Flair's talk show, A Flair for the Gold. They called it A Flair for the Old, and it was glorious.
Watching that now, even if hindsight is 20/20, it's clear how great both guys were and were destined to be. All they needed was a chance to grab the brass ring, get that ball and run with it.
But they never really got that. Not in WCW.
In fact, just as Austin and Pillman had reached their stride as a team, they were broken up. Austin would join the Stud Stable and have a run with the U.S. title. More good matches with the likes of Steamboat followed but his singles run fizzled when he suffered an injury.
It was during his rehabilitation process that he received an infamous fax from the offices at WCW from Eric Bischoff. On a phone call, he was fired from the promotion for his perceived lack of marketability as a top star. And if there was no upward mobility, why keep him around?
That was the company line. It was bullshit, of course, but that was the thought process with WCW and those in charge at that time.
Thankfully, Austin landed on his feet after he was given another call, this one from Paul Heyman, who was running Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) at that time. He brought Austin in and helped harness all the pent up anger and frustration he felt after his career in WCW and created one of the best promo guys in the history of the business.
Here's one of the famous promos he cut:
And with that, "Stunning" Steve Austin was dead. And an (anti) hero was born.
We just didn't know it yet.