19 years ago on June 23, 1996 Steve Austin was able to capitalize on a unique opportunity and delivered a catchphrase that turned the pro wrestling business around. Happy 17th anniversary WWE King of the Ring 96 and Austin 3:16.
[adinserter block=”1″]It is hard to imagine how different the pro wrestling business would have been if not for Austin’s performance at the 1996 King of the Ring. Austin was already breaking out but on that night he went from star to a superstar on the cusp of a phenomenon. It is even crazier to think about that if not for WCW signing away Hall and Nash, Austin 3:16 may have never even happened.
The original plans for the 1996 King of the Ring were booked for Hunter Hearst Helmsley to win the tournament. Triple H was booked to be in Austin’s spot, beating Marc Mero and Jake Roberts en route to a big push. Instead, Hunter was pinned in the opening round on television by Jake the Snake. This was of course all a result of Hunter’s participation in the “Kliq Curtain Call” at M.S.G. If you take a step back and look at the big picture, if WCW never signed Hall and Nash you’d have no curtain call at M.S.G, Hunter would have went over in the tournament, and who knows what kind of shake Austin would have had dealing with the politics of the Kliq. Amazing that what looked like such a brilliant move from WCW would later blow up in their faces when the door opened for Austin, he broke out, and the WWE turned business around and skyrocketed past WCW.
Austin was getting hot coming into the King of the Ring. He started developing the Stone Cold persona and he immediately stood out on the WWE television shows. Quite frankly I think it was Live Wire that really gave him the extra time needed and the platform to get the gimmick over. On Live Wire he would have more time to cut promos and just be “Stone Cold” than he would on a RAW or Superstars broadcast.
Going into the tournament it was tough to pick who would get the win. Most assumed it would be HHH because the newsletters had reported that he was in for a monster push. This certainly wasn’t set up to be Austin’s night. As a matter of a fact if you look back on Google you’ll see that the poster was all about The Ultimate Warrior and his match with Jerry Lawler. The tournament wasn’t even the focus of the promotion. Additionally feuds with Shawn Michaels-British Bulldog and Mankind-Undertaker got most of the attention on television going in.
Austin had a fantastic match with Marc Mero in the semifinals on pay per view. It is funny because Mero has gotten a horrible reputation due to insults from Mick Foley and Triple H in books and interviews but in retrospect he was a heck of a hand back then. Austin and Mero went close to twenty-minutes. Austin won with a bloody lip after hitting the Stunner on Mero in a competitive match.
Austin won much easier in the finals against Jake Roberts. Roberts had his ribs taped up after Vader attacked him after their semifinal. Austin dominated the match and worked the ribs before hitting the Stunner for the win and the King of the Ring in under five minutes. The match itself was probably one of the more uneventful in-ring K.O.R. finals but the same cannot be said for the post match promo, arguably the greatest and most influential in pro wrestling history.
“The first thing I want to be done is to get that piece of crap out of my ring. Don’t just get him out of the ring, get him out of the WWF because I’ve proved, son, without a shadow of a doubt, you ain’t got what it takes anymore. 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 John 3:16 … Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass. All he’s gotta do is go buy him a cheap bottle of Thunderbird and try to dig back some of that courage he had in his prime. As the King of the Ring, I’m serving notice to every one of the WWF superstars. I don’t give a damn what they are, they’re all on the list, and that’s Stone Cold’s list, and I’m fixing to start running through all of them. As far as this championship match is considered, son, I don’t give a damn if it’s Davey Boy Smith or Shawn Michaels; Steve Austin’s time has come, and when I get the shot you’re looking at the next WWF Champion. And that’s the bottom line because Stone Cold said so.”
[adinserter block=”2″]It wasn’t long after that when you started seeing more fans cheer for Austin, wear Austin 3:16 t-shirts, and of course bring plenty of signs to the shows. Don’t be surprised if you see a fan today wearing that same shirt. The promo was the catalyst for a phenomenon that saw the entire business change and one man morph into the biggest draw in pro wrestling history. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Happy 19th anniversary Austin 3:16 and thank you Eric Bischoff for signing away Hall and Nash to make it all happen!
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