In my most humble opinion the hottest angle to ever take place in pro wrestling history is the precursor to Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Mr. McMahon, I’m talking of course about the aforementioned Stone Cold Steve Austin vs one Bret “Hitman” Hart.
Austin’s first program was with Puerto Rican, Savio Vega. The two put on some hellacious matches, culminating in a strap match, in which Austin lost not only the match but Dibiase due to a prematch stipulation (in reality, DiBiase would be leaving for WCW).
Austin had previously been using DiBiase’s Million Dollar Dream submission as a finish, but now as Stone Cold, thanks to WWE agent/writer Fabulous Freebird Michael “PS” Hayes, Austin was taught a variation of future WWE executive, Johnny “Ace ” Laurinaitis’ Ace Crusher, dubbed the Stone Cold Stunner.
I suppose I should take the time to explain where the Stone Cold moniker came from. One day while at home, contemplating a new name, Austin was enjoying a cup of hot tea, when his English wife admonished him to drink the beverage before it turned stone cold. Little did they know.
Austin took the ball and ran with it, winning the 1996 King of the Ring. In what would become the promo of his career (interviewed by none other than Hayes), after defeating Jake “the Snake” Roberts, who at the time was working a born again gimmick. Austin went on and spoke about how no psalms or John 3:16 were enough to save the Snake, and then uttered the words that would sell millions of T-shirts the world over, “Austin 3:16, says I just whooped your ass!”.
At the time Canadian hero and top star, Bret Hart was on sabbatical. Many feared that he would be taking his wares elsewhere, namely, WCW. Hart let it be known that he would return, but it would have to be in a program with whom he considered the best wrestler in the company, that wrestler was Stone Cold Steve Austin.
After a series of great promos from both Austin and Bret (my favorite being when Austin said “if you put the letter S in front of Hitman, you have my exact opinion on Bret Hart”), the match was set for November 1996 Survivor Series at the world ‘s most famous arena, New York City’s Madison Square Garden. After a hard fought battle it would be the Hitman whose arm was raised.
But, Hart’s arm wouldn’t be the only thing raised.
Times they were a changing in the late ’90’s, and Steve Austin was raising hell. Austin was the everyman, he spoke his mind, and he took no shit. People related to the Stone Cold character, and soon in arenas across the country, Austin 3:16 signs were everywhere. This incensed the babyface hero, Hart (at least the character), who always stood for what was right. Unfortunately the real world doesn’t work that way. Things aren’t always black and white (or in this case black and pink).
Come March, WrestleMania season was in full effect. As Austin tells it, he was at home in Texas nursing an injury, while watching RAW, he along with the rest of the world learned he would be facing Hart at 1997’s WrestleMania 13 in a submission match, this incensed Austin, who didn’t consider himself a submission wrestler (save the Million Dollar Dream). Former UFC champion Ken Shamrock (who would go on to have a respectable career himself , winning the Intercontinental championship ) would be the official.
In my opinion and Austin’s himself, this is the match that made his career. A brutal affair. Before hand the fans were already cheering Austin, but by the end of this bout, we would have a true number one babyfaced WWE Superstar. Not only that, but the man held in such high regard, would go on to be the company’s biggest heel. The now iconic image of a battered, bruised, and bloodied beyond all hell, Stone Cold Steve Austin trapped in the Hitman’s signature Sharp Shooter, tugged at the fan’s hearts. But Austin never gave up. Laying passed out in a pool of his own blood, Shamrock had no choice but to award the match to Hart. Then the unthinkable happened, in a display of total disregard for his opponent, Hart refused to relinquish the hold. Shamrock forcibly removed Hart from Austin, while the crowd mercilessly booed their once hero. Hart continued to attack a prone Austin, until Shamrock forcibly made him stop. Austin finally made it to his feet, without the aid of Shamrock or other officials, while the crowd cheered on.
Although he lost, make no mistake about it, Bret Hart put Steve Austin over that night. Austin would go on to have one hell of a run, arguably the biggest Superstar of all time . Austin now hosts two podcasts for podcast one, one family friendly, the other not so much, but both are entertaining as hell. I think we all know Bret Hart’s story. In my opinion other than Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart is the best in ring talent of all time, not to mention a vastly underrated promo. And that’s the bottom line, because Halfway said so!
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