Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to pro wrestling and wrestlers and whether they are true or not.
PRO WRESTLING URBAN LEGEND: An interesting confluence of events (including an untimely hug) led to Stone Cold Steve Austin becoming a major wrestling star.
Obviously, if you track any wrestler (or heck, any celebrity period), there is a “path” that led to them becoming famous, and usually there will be turning points along the way where you can stop and say “Wow, what if ____ had not happened, would ____ still be such a star?” For instance, what would Michael J. Fox’s career be like if Eric Stoltz had stayed on as the lead of Back to the Future? Heck, what would Fox’s career be like if Matthew Broderick had not turned down the role of Alex Keaton on Family Ties (The “P” was Fox’s idea)?
However, rarely do you have such a peculiar confluence of events as those that came together to make Steve Austin one of the most famous professional wrestlers in the world.
Austin was an up and coming wrestler coming into 1996. He had recently dropped the stage name “The Ringmaster” (here’s a photo of him as the Ringmaster)…
The biggest star in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now called WWE – World Wrestling Entertainment) at the time was Shawn Michaels.
Shawn Michaels was good friends with a group of other WWF wrestlers, including Kevin Nash (who wrestled under the name Diesel – he’s the fellow on the right of Michaels here).
The other three members of the group of friends (sometimes called The Clique or The Kliq) were Scott Hall (who wrestled under the name Razor Ramon), Sean Waltman (who wrestled under the name The 1-2-3 Kid”) and Paul Levesque (who wrestled under the name Hunter Hearst Helmsley).
Nash’s character went from being Michaels’ “bodyguard” to become a bad guy.
In 1996, Nash and Hall were preparing to leave the WWF for the WWF’s rival organization at the time, World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
In one of their last matches (if not their last match), Nash and Hall were matched up against Michaels and Levesque, respectively.
At the time, Levesque’s character, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, was a rich snob who was a villain.
Well, after the fights were over (Levesque and Hall had their fight earlier in the night), Michaels and Hall embraced in a hug in the ring, with Michaels saying goodbye to his friend. That was fair enough, as both guys were “good guys.” But then Levesque joined the hug.
Breaking character in wrestling is a MAJOR no-no, and you can see why if you ever watch the video of the incident.
The fans were stunned and were outraged – a villain hugging it out with two heroes? OUTRAGEOUS!
The WWF, naturally, were quite angered at the incident, but their options with regards to punishment were pretty slim.
Michaels was the Golden Boy of the WWF – they couldn’t very well just have their star wrestler suddenly stop winning. Nash and Hall were leaving for the WCW. That left only one man to punish, Levesque.
So he was punished by being forced to lose matches for a few months.
He was set to win the 1996 King of the Ring tournament that was held a few months later. I don’t know who he was going to defeat in the final match.
But what happened was that instead, Steve Austin (by then going by the name Stone Cold Steve Austin) was chosen to win the tournament. The winner of the King of the Ring tournament typically had a big push for stardom.
So that, in and of itself, was significant.
However, the SPECIFICS of the tournament were even bigger. To be a candidate to replace Levesque, Austin had to already be someone that the WWF was thinking about for a push for stardom, so it’s likely he would have received said push for stardom eventually (heck, Levesque had HIS push for stardom only slightly delayed – he became a huge star the next year, going by the name Triple H – and has become one of the top WWF/WWE wrestlers of all-time).
But to set up the storyline, Levesque was defeated earlier in the tournament by longtime WWF wrestler Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
Roberts had only recently returned to the WWF, and his shtick at the time was that he was a born-again Christian, so he would talk about religion a lot (Roberts had, in real life, actually just become a born-again Christian himself, so it was based in reality).
In the King of the Ring tournament, the older Roberts making the finals was played a big underdog story.
Austin was a “bad guy” at the time, so after he defeated Roberts, Austin delivered the following speech (which Austin had prepared earlier learning he would be matched against and winning against Roberts):
You sit there, and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere… Talk about your Psalms, talk about your John 3:16 … Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass!
And thus, a catch phrase was born!
Soon, the following shirt would be worn by millions…
And Austin became one of the most popular wrestlers in WWF/WWE history.
Isn’t it amazing how all those things had to go exactly that particular way for Austin to end up in that spot?
The legend is…
Thanks to my pal Brad Curran for recommending this one!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.