Stone Cold Steve Austin spoke to The Big Lead on behalf of Wendy’s, who is offering BBQ pulled pork from now until early November. As is evidenced by some of his answers, Austin is supremely excited that he can find these sandwiches outside his native Texas. “I’m from the BBQ belt myself, and I know all about good BBQ, so it obviously makes perfect sense for me to join with this cause and help fight BBQ inaccessibility to those not so geographically privileged as myself,” he says.
RG: Last year, Grantland’s Masked Man advocated for mandatory “offseasons” for WWE wrestlers. The idea would be that everybody on the roster would get three months off, that this would be staggered so that they were never left bereft of stars, and that there would be essentially a full roster for WrestleMania season. Do you think this would solve the burnouts that afflicted yourself and so many others, and is the idea something you could ever see happening?
SCSA: That’s an interesting thought process. You’ve got to conserve some of the fuel that’s in the tank of someone in that business. It is an around-the-year type job. But, it could be incorporated into storylines — maybe once every four months you could get a month off and then go back — that certainly might string up the longevity and give the guys a much-needed break. While they’re on these breaks, they could eat the great BBQ sandwiches at Wendy’s.
RG: Was unionization ever an idea that came up during your time in WWE?
SCSA: The word “union” came up many times in my career, but the deal is that top guys get taken such good care of and middle guys are okay. Guys at the bottom, you know, are the guys at the bottom. So, you’re never gonna get true unity because the guys on top are making too much money to side with everyone else and forego their well-being. The thought of a union is intriguing. But, will it ever happen? I think not.
RG: You got let go by WCW in 1995, headed to ECW for a little bit, and spent some time at (then) WWF where you were tinkering with your look and gimmick a bit before becoming Stone Cold and dropping the Austin 3:16 promo on Jake the Snake Roberts. Less than two years after that, you’re world champion. As a 30-year-old leaving WCW, did your confidence waver and did you think about leaving the business for a straight job?
SA: I had too many years left in the tank to be looking for a straight job yet. I just had a very passionate love for the business of professional wrestling. I still wanted to prove myself, and, basically, I just wanted to be in the ring. There was, maybe, a low level of confidence there after being fired.
I felt like I picked some momentum up at ECW. I felt like when I came in I was respected by my peers, but was not a superstar yet. So, I never doubted my in-ring ability, and I never put a whole lot of thought into being able to draw money, but that was the goal at-hand — to get to the top to draw money.
RG: What were some of the key moments, which we might not be remembering off the top of our head, along the way in the path between getting let go, and becoming a superstar?
SA: There really wasn’t anything. My stay over in ECW with Paul Heyman helped me find out how to cut a promo, and turn that into a laser beam of focus and harness that energy. And so that, combined with my very professional in-ring style, and the fact that I came up with the “Stone Cold Steve Austin” thing, it all just kind of worked together. Seemingly out of sheer luck, after 7.5 years of frustration I turned into an overnight sensation because all of the pieces fell into place.
RG: Some of your stunts must have been super expensive. You drove zambonis and beer trucks to the ring, blew up the DX bus, and filled Vince McMahon’s Corvette with cement. What was the booking process like for all that stuff, and were there any grandiose ideas you had along those lines that got shut down?
SA: No, I didn’t have any big ideas. Any time I showed up on Monday Night Raw, I was kind of looking forward to going to work because I didn’t know how crazy they were going to get. We were riding a lightning bolt. The tide had turned, and the fans were going crazy, so I wasn’t pitching anything. They were pitching me ideas, and I rarely turned any of them down because they were so over-the-top outrageous and entertaining. I was happy to do them.
I kind of thrived on the fact that I could learn how to drive anything in 10-15 minutes for live television, and execute it to perfection. I loved live TV, and the booking that I was playing.
RG: I think three hours of Raw is too long, especially as the roster is presently assembled. I know that, by the nature of their television contract and the fact that they remain DVR-proof to their fervent base, it’ll never go back to two hours. If it did, though, there’d be less filler, and more competition amongst the wrestlers for air-time, which would theoretically lift everyone’s game. Do you agree or disagree?
SA: Three hours is a long window of time to cram intense stories and entertainment into a laser beam. These days, it’s kind of short attention span theater. I love wrestling. If you want to call it sports entertainment, I love that. But three hours is just a long time, but that’s what the contract is that they’ve negotiated so it is what it is. It’s not for me to say it’s right or wrong.
But, to your point, for me — and my ADD — a two-hour time limit is kind of my threshold. That being said, if they crank up the warehouse down in Orlando, and get some hot superstars … They’re still working with a very great product; if they can get some hot hands out there and some established workers — maybe pick up some of the guys from TNA, and get some more depth on the roster — the show can be very exciting.
But, again, three hours is a long time. I can’t sit through a three-hour movie, so that’s the biggest obstacle in my opinion. But, that’s where they get the money.
RG: Yeah, I know it’s not going to change, but I was wondering if your opinion, as someone experienced in the business, was that it would improve the product. It sounds like you’re saying —
SA: I think what would improve the product is when the guys that they’re bringing up are less green, more mature, and have more experience. The only way you learn to be a professional wrestler is on-the-job training, and there’s so many guys. When you look at the average age of the guys on the roster now, it’s a pretty young group. They’ve got a great bunch of guys. They’ve just got to mature. That’s what’s gonna make the product better — veterans in the ring.
The writing could be — I’m a guy who’s a little more serious-oriented when it comes to my taste in professional wrestling, so I’m not a big fan of the hijinks. I’m a fan of stories. I’m a believer. I like to believe that it’s real. I believe it’s about being something, and that’s why I liked the way that I was booked back in the day.
RG: Yeah, I think that they hit some bad luck with Daniel Bryan’s injury and CM Punk’s burnout happening at the exact same time. They spent a lot of time developing those two characters, and they were two of the 4-5 people at the top of the card. To lose them both one after another, they’ve still been catching up from that.
SA: Yeah, you know, the CM thing was what it was, and I don’t think he’s gonna be back. The sad thing about Daniel Bryan is he had just now started getting to a top spot and making good money. It took him 15 years to do that. The guy’s a hell of a damn worker. He overcame a lot of odds being an undersized guy — at least in professional wrestling — but he’s a hellacious worker.
Hopefully his neck will heal up. He’s got his surgery done, and, whatever the process is, I’ve got my fingers crossed that he can get back to the ring, resume his career, and finally put some money in the bank. And, on his end, fulfill his passion about being in the ring and being a professional wrestler. That’s why he got into the business to begin with. But, make no mistake about it — once you get in the business your job is to go to the top of the card where you can earn and draw money. That’s what it’s all about.
RG: I feel really bad for him, because he had just hit the pinnacle.
SA: He kind of worked himself into a corner, because that’s his work style — the cruiserweight style — for me, when I got dropped on my head and changed into a brawler, it almost magnified what I was doing in the ring. But, to put himself in a box, he could be trapped.
RG: [This was taped before Reigns’ injury.] Roman Reigns seems to be the heir apparent for superstardom. I’m not saying I think he’s bad or anything, but I’m personally more entertained by Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. Knowing the business inside and out as you do, is there something other than Reigns’ size that has him in pole position for a more immediate push?
SA: If you put everybody in a line up and said, “Hey, pick out the star,” you’re gonna pick out Roman Reigns. That’s just by physical appearance. With the other guys, I think they bring a little bit higher, more established, and mature work rate because they’re a little less green in the business.
That’s where Roman Reigns needs to catch up. He needs to add to some more offensive arsenal and workmanship into his performance inside the squared circle once the bell rings — learning how to work a body part, and tell a story in a match. The other guys are a little bit further advanced from in on that.
If Reigns can proceed and become more of a veteran — and his on-the-job training is gonna take another year or two — then, again, you look at his appearance. If his work in the ring has improved, he’s that guy. That being said, there are no guarantees in this business. Just because someone looks great does not mean he will be a top guy. They can try to anoint him as a top guy, but if he cannot do what he’s supposed to do when the bell rings, and put people’s asses in the seats, he’s not the top guy.
RG: You mentioned going to ECW and working with Paul Heyman. Before he returned to WWE in 2012, could you ever have seen him having this sort of career renaissance that he’s had in this organization?
SA: You never know because Paul is such a wild card. He’s a very bright mind, and he’s politically learned to navigate the waters a little more correctly. I love what he’s doing right now so much — the way that he manages Brock Lesnar, with the promos that he’s cutting, I almost feel like it should be him here shooting this Wendy’s commercial, talking about these BBQ pulled pork sandwiches. He’s fearless on the microphone, and he could sell ice to an eskimo. He could certainly sell a BBQ pulled pork sandwich from Wendy’s to anybody across the great United States of America.
RG: As you look back at your career, what were your favorite storylines/matches to do, and, if they’re different, which ones do you think were your best?
SA: Honestly, the match with Bret Hart at WrestleMania XIII, where we did the double-turn, was awesome. The match at WrestleMania XVII with The Rock was awesome. XV was good. My first championship belt match at XIV was what it was, but it was very special because I got the belt.
What I would’ve loved to have done before I left was to wrestle Brock Lesnar at a WrestleMania match. High-profile. 80,000 people. And make it a BBQ-pulled-pork-sandwich-from-Wendy’s-on-a-pole match, where the winner would have to climb up the pole to eat the BBQ pulled pork sandwich and be the victor.
There’s no way — no way! — that Brock Lesnar could win that match. I don’t care if he’s 290 pounds and one of the greatest athletes walking on the face of the Earth. When it comes time to try to get a BBQ pulled pork on a pole, I’m gonna win, hand’s down, 24/7/365. And that’s all I got to say about that.