WWF Heavyweight Title: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Dude Love (05/31/98).
This is one of the more famous matches in WWF history, not only for its quality, but for becoming a template for every "anti-hero babyface vs. evil owner" match for the next…well, they're still doing it. The story is that Vince McMahon hates Steve Austin and doesn't think he's an appropriate champion for the WWF image. Mick Foley wound up dumping the Cactus Jack gimmick because the fans started chanting for Stone Cold right as he was recovering from a beatdown by DX, so he also has a problem with Stone Cold. The Undertaker is your special guest enforcer because he's the only one who A) hates Vince, and B) isn't afraid of him.
The deck is considerably stacked against Austin here, with Vince filling in as the special referee, Pat Patterson in the role of guest ring announcer, and Gerald Brisco as the timekeeper. Vince establishes him right away, counting Austin's shoulders even though he has one up. Dude's partial plate falls out, so Austin stomps on it, prompting Lawler to quip, "Dude Love has lost his smile." They brawl on the outside, but Vince turns it into a No-Countout match. Dude grabs the Love Handle (the Mandible Claw), but Austin slings him into the "hangman" position in the ropes. Dude tosses Austin over the Spanish announce table and chokes him with a power cord, prompting Vince to turn it into a No-DQ match.
Austin takes out Brisco while getting out of trouble and then clotheslines Dude over the railing. Brisco would be okay, though. He's tough. He's a wrestler. Dude hits a neckbreaker in the aisle, prompting a reminder that the match is (now) a Falls Count Anywhere. Yeah, in case you haven't gotten the joke yet, McMahon is changing everything on the fly in order to tilt the match to Dude Love. They brawl all the way up near the junked cars set up near the entrance, and Dude gets his sunset flip off a car to the concrete. Sick. Even sicker is his attempt to do the Cactus Elbow off the car to the concrete. Austin rolls out of the way and gets two. His head is busted open, but Austin fires back and beats Dude all the way back to the ring. Patterson trips Austin up from the outside, allowing Dude to hit a clothesline and the Cactus Knee in the corner. It only gets two, so Dude calls for a chair and beats Austin down with it.
A Kobashi Driver on the chair gets two, but Austin blocks a charge and SMASHES the chair against Dude's head. Vince refuses to count, so Austin argues about it with him. Dude sneaks up with the chair, but Austin ducks out of the way, and Dude CLOBBERS VINCE! Oops. Stunner, and a second ref comes down, but Pat Patterson punks him out. Dude grabs the Love Handle, and Patterson tries to replace the ref, but Undertaker destroys him. Same with Gerald Brisco. Austin hits another Stunner and uses an unconscious McMahon's hand to count the three at 22:25. This match is like the Halloween of wresting matches, where it was so copied that it actually became associated with all of the inferior clones that followed. Accept no substitutes, though. Even if the booking hasn't aged well, the brawl itself is wild, and the match is an emotional rollercoaster at the end. ****1/4
WWF Heavyweight Title: Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker (08/30/98).
Undertaker was nearing a heel turn at this point. In fact, Vince Russo wanted them to go into the match as bitter rivals, but they wanted to go with the babyfaces-who-distrust-each-other angle. The summer of 1998 was red hot, especially with the "Highway to Hell" rivalry, and it got both guys over like gangbusters (even more than where they were). The story here is that Undertaker lost the title to Bret the year before and didn't bother trying to reclaim it because he was fighting Shawn Michaels and then Kane. After finally dispatching both guys, Taker set his sights on the title again, which meant going after Steve Austin.
Austin opens with some wrestling, which I bet you didn't expect. Odd spot as Taker ducks his head for a backdrop, but Austin kicks him. Taker raises his head so fast that he hits Austin in the face, though, knocking him down. Taker hotshots Austin on the top rope. Nice. The flying clothesline puts Austin down again. Taker goes for the ropewalk forearm, but Austin yanks him down and stomps on his ankle. Kane comes down, as it was revealed Kane and the Undertaker had reconciled. The Undertaker tells him to go back to the locker room, though, because the Undertaker was still honorable at this point.
Austin clotheslines Taker to the floor and throws his face into the Spanish announce table. Back in, Taker just steps backward to avoid the Stone Cold Stunner and falls over the ropes (cuz he knows he always lands on his feet). Austin follows but gets rammed into the post. Back in, Austin slugs his way back but gets tossed to the floor again. Taker tosses Austin onto the Spanish table. Oh, this can't be good for the Spanish table. Taker goes up and comes off for a legdrop through the table… but the table doesn't break!
Back in, Taker misses a charge and gets booted in the face. The do a double KO spot that leads to a slugfest. Thesz Press! Taker grabs a waistlock for reasons passing comprehension, and Austin gets a half-Stunner out of nowhere. It only gets two. Taker recovers and hits a chokeslam. Tombstone, but of course that ain't happening. Austin slips over his shoulder and goes for the Stunner. Taker blocks and crotches him. Taker goes for the ropewalk again, but Austin goes low on the way down and hits the Stunner for the win at 20:50. After the match, Taker hands over the title for now, and Kane returns to stare Austin down. I'm not sure why, but this one didn't click. Maybe it was injuries or the lack of a cohesive narrative, but obviously these two are capable of more. ***1/2
The following match was also featured on the Big Show's disc. Kind of an odd choice for double-dipping. I would have included something with Marc Mero or Savio Vega maybe.
WWF Heavyweight Title: Steve Austin vs. The Big Show (w/Vince McMahon – 3/22/99).
Rock is on commentary. Mankind is the special guest referee and he gleefully interferes on Austin's behalf several times. Man, Lawler used to heap the abuse on Michael Cole. No wonder he snapped. Show dominates Austin but doesn't really know how to do anything outside of be really big. Austin fires back but gets caught in a bearhug. Finally, Austin just grabs a chair and destroys Show with it until he's softened up enough for the Stunner at 9:29. Austin didn't do much except take a beating until the end. This was a 180-degree turn from how WCW introduced the Giant. He screws up the cage match for Vince McMahon and quickly gets jobbed out. Probably best in the long run. *1/2
Looking back at my review of the WrestleMania XV PPV, I don't agree with myself in retrospect, so here's an updated review. #JDWasWrong
WWF Heavyweight Title: The Rock vs. Steve Austin (03/28/99).
If Survivor Series '98 is Vince Russo's magnum opus, then this was his… whatever the opposite of magnum opus is. His Trojan opus perhaps, or maybe lifestyles opus. Anyway, while SS98 built to an entirely logical conclusion, merging storylines and becoming something more than the sum of its parts, this is overbooking at its worst, mixing in Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, the Big Show, Mankind, Shawn Michaels and every referee to ever slip on a zebra shirt to the last match that would ever need it.
Rock talks trash right away, triggering the usual Rock-Austin slugfest. No two guys could trade blows quite the way Steve Austin and the Rock could. The brawl goes out into the crowd and back again. Rock hits a Rock Bottom out of nowhere. ONE, TWO, THR-NO! Austin kicks out and grabs a chair. The Rock pulls the ref in the way, though. Rock wears Austin's knee out with the chair. Austin keeps kicking out, so the Rock gives Tim White the Rock Bottom. Now, Earl Hebner comes in as Austin hits the Stone Cold Stunner. ONE, TWO, THRE-NO!
Vince McMahon struts down as the Rock goes low on Austin. McMahon knocks out Earl Hebner, and the heels stomp a mudhole. Now, here's Mankind to take out Vince and replace Earl. Thesz Press leads to pummelry, but the Rock hits the Rock Bottom. The People's Elbow misses, and Austin goes for the Stunner. Rock blocks and goes for the Rock Bottom, but Austin counters that to the Stunner at 16:52. This felt like a Raw main event rather than the culmination of the biggest storyline of the year, and there was a good reason for that – it wasn't. Austin vs. McMahon continued for several more months, although with a few clever twists. The match was good through sheer force of talent, but this was one of the cases where the booking was something they had to overcome rather than something that enhanced the match. ***
WWF Heavyweight Title, No DQ: The Rock vs. Steve Austin (04/01/01).
From Mania X-7. The peak of the WWE. The set-up to this, which really wasn't pushed by the WWE, but it's there in the subtext was that Austin was sidelined by injuries for a year and saw The Rock and Triple H take his spot at the top of the WWE totem pole. Austin felt insecure upon his return and wasn't sure that he could hang with the big boys anymore. That insecurity was confirmed when he lost an incredible two-out-of-three falls match to Triple H at No Way Out. That explains everything that goes on here.
Slugfest to start. The Texas crowd is firmly with Austin. Both guys go for their finishers early, and both guys counter. Austin tosses the Rock to the floor for some brawling out into the crowd. Back in, Austin splashes Rock against the ropes and delivers a superplex. Rock battles back and hits his flying clotheslines, much to the chagrin of the crowd. To the floor again, Austin nails Rock in the head with the ring bell.
Rocky is staggered, so Austin pummels the cut and throttles the Rock with his bare hands. No DQ, though. Austin uncovers the turnbuckle pad and stomps Rock down in the corner mercilessly. He turns to threaten the ref, and Rocky explodes out of the corner with a clothesline. Big boos for that. It's amazing how desperately Austin is trying to turn heel using the same tactics as Bret Hart and how much more the crowd hates the Rock for it.
Rock tosses Austin into the exposed buckle and hits him in the head with the ring bell. Now, both guys are busted open. To the outside for more brawling, and Austin catapults Rock into the ringpost. Austin grabs the monitor and nails Rocky with it. Both Ross and Heyman point out how desperate Austin is to win the title.
Back in, it only gets two. Rock blocks the Stunner and turns Austin over into the Sharpshooter. We get a replay of WrestleMania 13 as Austin powers up, but this time he makes the ropes. Well, Rock is certainly no Bret in the Sharpshooter department. Rock tries to reapply it, but Austin reverses to one of his own. Now, it's Rock powering out of it and making the ropes.
Rock staggers up… right into the Million Dollar Dream! Austin hasn't used that since it caused him to lose to Bret Hart at Survivor Series '96. Rock tries the same walk-up-the-buckle counter Hart did, and it nearly garners the same result. Austin has learned from his mistake, though, and lets go of the hold before he gets counted down. Rock reverses a whip and hits a Stunner out of nowhere
Now the intrigue sets in as Vince McMahon walks down to observe. Rock hits a spinebuster and the People's Elbow. ONE, TWO, THR-NO! Vince McMahon pulls Rock off Austin. Whaaaaa? Rock chases Vince around the ring and runs right into the Rock Bottom from Austin. ONE, TWO, THRE-NO! Austin goes for the Stunner, but Rock shoves him into the referee.
No ref, so Austin goes low and calls for Vince to nail Rock with a chairshot. The fans are finally coming around and booing. Vince tosses Earl Hebner back in to see Austin's cover. ONE, TWO, THRE-NO! Austin grabs the chair and hoists it overhead to do Rock in once and for all, but Rocky pops up for the Rock Bottom! Vince has the ref, so Rocky goes after him. He turns around right into STUNNER! ONE, TWO, THRE-NO!
Austin is at wit's end, so Vince tosses him a chair. WHACK! ONE, TWO, THRE-NO! JR: "The Rock's heart is beating, and he won't stop!" Austin grabs the chair, and now it's business time. He uses it as a spear and then absolutely beats Rock into a jelly. ONE, TWO, THREE! (28:06) After the match, Vince and Austin shake hands. Heyman: "Stone Cold has sold his soul for the title!" Absolutely amazing storytelling, even if the audience didn't get it (or, more accurately, didn't want it). Had they capitalized with a double-switch and had Austin versus a babyface Triple H culminating in a loser-leaves-WWE at Summerslam, they might have prolonged their golden era and saved the WCW brand in the process. Instead, we got two months of Austin and Triple H cannibalizing the rest of the roster and then WWF kicking the Alliance's ass for six months. This match is about as close to five stars as you can get without actually being five stars. Too much Vince at the end and the match taking place at the wrong place at the wrong time knocks off a tiny bit. Besides, I'm not sure I want to live in a world in which a match featuring the Rock's Sharpshooter gets five stars. ****3/4
The "A Flare for the Old" segment. Austin and Pillman parody Ric Flair and his talk show segment. You know, they were doing this four years before D-Generation X started their "groundbreaking" skits.
The "A Bunch of Violent Crap" ECW promo. Austin goes off on everyone at WCW for holding him down and on ECW for being a bunch of violent crap without talent.
"Monday NyQuil." Beulah McGillicutty introduces Austin as Eric Bischoff. Of course, Bischoff fires some people by phone and gives the results of other wrestling shows. He also books a "Bottle of Geritol on a Pole" match.
More ECW. Austin, despite thinking he was better than ECW, couldn't get the job done, so he cut a promo about how he dropped the ball.
From Mind Games. Austin calls out Bret Hart and dares him to sign a match for Survivor Series. "If you put the letter 's' in front of 'Hitman' you have my exact opinion of Bret Hart."
Livewire '96. This seems to be the whole episode. Austin storms Livewire and insults Todd Pettingill and Sunny. Highlights: Aldo Montoya catches Austin's wrath. Austin tells Bret he'd be smart to retire. Austin claims Bret invited him to Calgary and he whipped his ass in Stu's basement and Stu had to pull him off Bret. "Eva from Massachusetts" says she likes Austin, but the profanity might hinder his career. Austin says he might hinder her life if she keeps complaining. Haha!
The Gun Incident. An amazingly hardcore segment for its time. Too hardcore, in fact. Austin broke Brian Pillman's ankle in the infamous "Pillmanized" segment. Kevin Kelly arranges for an interview from Pillman's home. Pillman: "My prognosis for '97 is great." Um… ouch. Austin shows up at Pillman's house, and Pillman brandishes a gun. Shit. Just. Got. Real. We go to commercial and come back to Austin beating up WWF techs outside. Austin breaks into Pillman's house, and finds Pillman holding a gun on him. "Technical difficulties" prevent us from seeing any gunshots, but when we come back, Austin is being dragged away and Pillman is *still* trying to shoot him. The WWF would later apologize for the gunplay, but damn, this would have drawn a ton if they could have had a blowoff.
Observation: Brian Pillman and Charlie Kelly have the same firing-a-gun face.
1997 Slammy's. Rocky Maivia wins the Newcomer of the Year Slammy. Austin burns a hole in Rocky's chest as Rocky delivers the most boring speech of his life. Austin then hijacks the mic and cuts a promo on Rock and Bret Hart. I rmember when the Slammy's were interesting.
1997 Slammy's. Austin wins the Freedom of Speech Award. Austin threatens to send Bret back to Calgary. Austin and the New Blackjacks then attack Doink the Clown because everyone was sick of him.
"We're All Goin' Straight to Hell." From Raw. Austin attacked Bret Hart and re-injured his knee. The medics strap Bret to a gurney and load him in the ambulance. Whoops. Austin has actually dispatched the driver and jumps Bret while he's helpless. This is one of those segments that's been so copied over the years that it's lost its meaning, but at the time it was considered one of the best segments in WWE history.
From MSG. The police are about to arrest Austin. McMahon calls them off and asks what Austin is rebelling against. After a long segment of back and forth, McMahon takes a Stunner for the first time. Horrible sell, great segment.
January 19, 1998. Vince welcomes Mike Tyson and announces he'll be the special announcer. Steve Austin takes exception to Tyson being in his ring, so they go face to face with Austin famously flipping Iron Mike off. That leads to a pull-apart between the two. Vince totally sells this with his: "You ruined it! You son of a bitch! You ruined it!"
March 30, 1998. Vince brings out the new WWF Championship Belt and presents it to Austin. Vince backtracks on his anti-Austin talk. Vince offers to mentor Austin and make him the best WWF Champion of all time. Austin says they hate each other, and he ain't changing. Vince tries to make nice, but Austin isn't having it. Vince says if he doesn't, they'll have to do it the hard way. Austin takes a few seconds to think about it and then Stuns McMahon again.
September 28, 1998. After months of trying, McMahon has finally ripped the title from Steve Austin's waist. Since the triple-threat match ended in a double-pin, McMahon declares the title vacant and plans on awarding it to… either Kane or the Undertaker. The pyro guys screw up Kane's entrance. Austin infamously storms the ring with a Miller Light zamboni and attacks McMahon. Kane and Undertaker's unwillingness to help McMahon led to McMahon berating them until Undertaker broke his leg (to explain a real-life skiing injury). That led to Vince convalescing…
October 5, 1998. … in a hospital bed. Austin poses as a doctor and assaults McMahon in his hospital bed.
October 12, 1998. Vince, hoping to prove that he doesn't sweat Austin, drives his Corvette to the arena. Vince is doing his best Kevin Spacey in "Horrible Bosses" (or "Swimming With Sharks") impression. Of course, he leaves the Corvette parked where any schmo with a cement mixer can back up to it and fill it up with cement. Austin just happens to be that schmo. Vince's look of horror is superb.
October 19, 1998. McMahon fired Austin for not kowtowing to him. Austin, a disgruntled former employee, stormed the arena with a gun and kidnapped McMahon. After threatening McMahon with the gun, Austin made McMahon piss his pants. Turns out it was just a toy gun, though.
March 22, 1999. Rock has joined with Vince and Shane at this point, and we're headed to WrestleMania. Austin interrupts their lovefest with the Coor's Light truck. Beer whore. He sprays them down with a fire house of hops and frost-brewed goodness, leading to Vince trying to swim away from him in the middle of the ring.
April 19, 1999. Rock, whose face turn was briefly aborted, gives a eulogy to Stone Cold as he is about to bury Austinmania. Austin finds Rock's Lincoln Continental outside and runs over it with his 3:16 monster truck.
November 19, 2000. Triple H, who paid to have Austin run over, tries desperately to leave the arena, but Austin scoops him up in a forklift and drops his car from 20-feet in the air… and Hunter no-sold it.
March 22, 2001. Jim Ross interviews Austin and the Rock in anticipation of their X-7 match. Austin is grumpy and says his journey back to prominence is over. Rock and Austin agree to put Debra out of the match. Thank God! For those who don't remember, they started out building the feud around Debra being assigned to manage the Rock. Much testosterone bubbles over as they build the match. Conflict is fun.
July 5, 2001. Vince McMahon complains that Torrie Wilson set him up. Debra sticks up for women everywhere and says that's what he gets for trying to cheat on his wife. Austin tells her to shut up and presents Vince with an authentic Texas cowboy hat. Kurt Angle comes in and complains that Austin didn't get him a gift. Austin then presents him with the greatest cowboy hat in the history of rustling.
July 12, 2001. Vince is down in the dumps because his kids have turned on him and formed the Alliance. Steve says he has the answer to all Vince's problems – song! "Kumbaya," "We are the Champions," "Camptown Races." Time Life has them all. Kurt Angle tries to one-up with him. Sadly, no Peter Griffin "Rock Lobster." Later, Vince tries to rally Team WWF, leading to Austin trying to crack everyone up. You can just see Undertaker desperately trying to stay in character.
July 19, 2001. Vince tries to cheer up Stone Cold and bring him back into the WWF fold – with song! Austin says Vince's guitar is out of tune and smashes it over Vince's head.
January 14, 2002. "What?" Yeah, this is where it really hit big.
June 7, 2003. Austin is the guest on Jericho's Highlight Reel. They do a long segment riffing on each other. It's okay, but not as funny as they seem to think it is.
The 411: The set itself is excellent. You can play with the numbers all you want, but Austin is certainly the biggest superstar ever and this DVD set is a fine collection of his best career moments. The WWE's recent penchant for double-dipping Lucas-style can be explained by trying to exploit the Blu-Ray market, but most of Austin's work is in SD anyway, so all you're really buying is more blurring of the scratch logo. If you're new to wrestling, though, this is an exhaustive look at Austin's career from start to finish.