Steve Austin is one of the biggest stars in WWE history, although the story of his WWE debut is one that requires a lot of backstory. In fact, there would not be a “Stone Cold” without looking at Austin’s hardships suffered in WCW.
Without him being fired by Eric Bischoff, we never would have had his career-defining promos in ECW, which gave birth to the Stone Cold character that would take WWE by storm years later.
In this article, we’ll explore the events leading up to the debut of Steve Austin in the WWE, and how it soon fell apart to be built up stronger, faster and better than it was before.
Steve Austin Was Fired By WCW While Injured
Before he was “Stone Cold”, Steve Austin was a stunning up-and-coming star in WCW. While Hulk Hogan ruled the roost in WCW, it was clear that Austin had the talent to be the biggest star in the company.
We all saw how big he was in WWE, with his no-nonsense, ass-kicking hero to the working man, who showed no qualms in hitting his boss with a Stone Cold Stunner and drenching him in beer. This could not have been more different from “Stunning” Steve Austin in WCW.
With his long blonde hair and technical style of wrestling, Austin was unrecognizable. The man who was once considered a fantastic technical wrestler with very little personality had quickly become one of the biggest characters in wrestling history, and one of the greatest WWE wrestlers of all time.
However, he was still an absolute star in those early days. As a part of the Dangerous Alliance, he was tutored by both Paul Heyman and Dusty Rhodes, groomed to be a top star in the company.
Heyman predicted he would be the biggest star in wrestling back in 1992, although it would not be as part of the WCW roster, as many expected. After years of being held down by the likes of Hogan and Flair, Austin saw no chance of progression to the main event scene. However, ever the pro, he kept working a best he could, until suffering a knee injury during a tour of Japan in 1995.
Whilst out with his injury, Austin was fired by Eric Bischoff over the phone. The reasons cited for his firing was that he was being paid too much to just sit at home, and that he was hard to work with in WCW. Despite being injured and unable to wrestle, Steve Austin was convinced to join ECW by his former manager Paul Heyman.
It was in ECW where the “Stone Cold” character was born, due to some frustration-letting promos aimed toward the characters and management of ECW.
His ECW Run Caught The Eye Of The WWE
Despite only lasting three months, the most important run of Austin’s career was the time spent in ECW.
Under the patronage of Paul Heyman, Steve Austin was brought into the company while still injured, and instructed to cut promos on his former employers of WCW. He did just that, unlocking an attitude that would later bring him to the top of the WWE.
Dubbed “Superstar” Steve Austin, he ran down WCW personalities like Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan, telling stories about how he was fired from WCW, and held down from wrestling in the main event.
Despite his legendary promos, Austin only wrestled twice in ECW. Both were in ECW Championship matches, with the first being a loss in singles competition against then-champion Mikey Whipreck.
A month later, he wrestled Whipwreck and Sandman in a triple threat match. He lost this one too, but caught the attention of the WWE, soon signing a contract with the company.
Steve Austin Made His WWE Debut In 1995
After his incredible ECW run under Paul Heyman, Steve Austin was signed to the WWE. Vince McMahon needed bodies in his fight against WCW, who had big stars like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Randy Savage on their roster.
However, Austin was not somebody that McMahon wanted to sign. He was instead convinced by Jim Ross, who saw money in Austin that Vince simply did not.
However, he eventually was brought in to the WWE (then WWF) at the tail end of 1995. This was not as “Stunning” Steve Austin, nor the familiar Stone Cold that became a huge star. Instead, he was given a different name, and paired with “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase.
Steve Austin debuted as “The Ringmaster” on the January 8th, 1996 episode of Monday Night Raw. The match was taped the month prior, when Austin had signed for the company after being fired by WCW.
Here, his promos and eventual matches caught the eye of Jim Ross and Kevin Nash, who convinced Vince McMahon to hire the young Texan. He joined the WWE and was given the gimmick “The Ringmaster”, a technical wrestler with little personality and managed by “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.”
“The Ringmaster” Steve Austin wrestled his first WWE match against Matt Hardy on the January 8th, 1996 episode of Monday Night Raw. Hardy was not signed to the company but was brought in as a jobber. His brother Jeff Hardy had debuted as a 16 year old 2 years prior, losing to Razor Ramon in a squash match on Raw.
Steve Austin defeated Matt Hardy in his debut match in WWE by forcing him into submission with a Million Dollar Dream. After the match, he was awarded the Million Dollar Championship by DiBiase in celebration of his victory.
The match did not blow anybody, and nor did the gimmick. Steve Austin’s debut did not showcase the potential that Jim Ross saw, due to the way he was presented.
Austin himself knew, straight away, that “The Ringmaster” was not a gimmick that would get him ahead in the WWE. While he was a fantastic wrestler, he showed in ECW that his greatest asset was his promos. Give him the microphone, and watch the fans become captivated by his words.
So, it was odd when on his debut, Steve Austin was paired with Ted DiBiase. “The Million Dollar Man” was brought in as his mouthpiece, introducing fans to his latest protegee.
Whilst being paired with a legend like DiBiase would usually be a good thing, Steve Austin had all the talent to go out on his own. He didn’t need anyone else speaking for him – it took away from his personality, something which was partly his issue in WCW.
After a few months, it was clear the gimmick was not working. Taking the initiative (and inspired by Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction), he shaved his head and grew his goatee – marking the beginnings of his “Stone Cold” gimmick.
“After watching the Pulp Fiction movie with Bruce Willis, that’s the haircut that inspired me. I was traveling on the road to Pittsburgh with Dustin Rhodes and before I went to the show, I said fuck it. I went into the bathroom with a razor blade and shaved all my hair off. Then I grew the goatee and everything came full circle.Steve Austin in 2017, talking about moving from “The Ringmaster” to “Stone Cold”
By March 1996, he was now known as “Stone Cold”, a name thought of by his wife. When making Austin a cup of tea, she warned him to drink it before it was stone cold, which inspired his new gimmick in the WWE.
He was given a list of other names for his gimmick, that were so terrible that even Mick Foley remembers them to this day.
Steve Austin debuted as “Stone Cold” on the March 11th, 1996 episode of Monday Night Raw. His gimmick was of a cold, calculated individual, heaping violence on whoever stood in his way.
He claimed the gimmick was inspired by serial killer Richard Kuklinski.
“I was watching this special on HBO about Richard Kuklinski – he was called the Ice Man.
“The Ice Man was a hitman for hire for the mob [in the New Jersey and New York City area]. Totally remorseless, just a ruthless individual, a guy didn’t give a s*** about anything.
“He was very cold, no emotion about him, and I said, ‘Man, this guy… There’s something about this guy that’s really got my gears going…’
“So I pitched my idea to the office, and they said, ‘Okay, Steve, we’ll think about it.’Steve Austin on the inspiration for his “Stone Cold” gimmick.
After splitting from DiBiase, Steve Austin became “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.