Before he was known as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the WWE Hall of Famer was known in the WWE as The Ringmaster.
After being signed from ECW, Steve Austin was given the terrible gimmick of an in-ring technician, ignoring his incredible mic skills and giving him a manager to speak for him.
However, there is some confusion as to how The Ringmaster became Stone Cold in the WWE, and how Steve Austin’s transition helped him become the biggest star in wrestling.
How The Ringmaster Became Stone Cold
After signing for the WWE in late 1995, “Superstar” Steve Austin underwent a gimmick transformation.
He was given green trunks and dubbed “The Ringmaster”, a technician in the squared circle who could wrestle rings around anybody else who came before him.
The name “Ringmaster” came from the circus, where he was the master of ceremonies, introducing the fans to the various acts. It is also used to signify the leader or owner of the circus.
For Austin, this held the implication that he “owned” the ring, in a metaphorical sense. He was so good at wrestling that nobody could beat him, so he “owned” the ring, in a sense.
When he debuted in late-1995 (although the match was no televised until the next year), Steve Austin was paired with WWE Hall of Famer Ted DiBiase.
The former WWE Champion (well, sort of) was enlisted as the mouthpiece for Steve Austin – an interesting decision, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Austin made a name for himself in ECW with his microphone skills. He couldn’t wrestle due to an injury in WCW, which meant he only had his voice to sell the fans on his character.
He did just that, running 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.
He was signed by WWE on the back of recommendations by Jim Ross and Kevin Nash, although Vince McMahon was not convinced by a young Austin.
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.
“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.
However, it soon became clear that Steve Austin as The Ringmaster was simply not working.
By March 1996, just three months after his debut, he had dropped the gimmick and left DiBiase as his manager.
In order to ditch the perception he had as The Ringmaster, Steve Austin thought of a new gimmick, based on serial killer Richard Kuklinski.
Known as “The Ice Man”, Kuklinsku was a cold, emotionless man, who killed multiple people during his heights. This was an inspiration for Austin’s heel character, which would go on to be named “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
“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.’
By March 1996, Austin had stopped being known as The Ringmaster, and his new Stone Cold character was being formed.
However, he did not have a name. The WWE creative team suggested a number of different (yet terrible) names, such as Chilly McFreeze and Baron von Ruthless, which he of course immediately discarded.
His wife then suggested he drink his tea before it went “Stone Cold”, inspiring Steve Austin to transition from The Ringmaster to Stone Cold.
Later in 1996, Steve Austin won the King of the Ring, where he cut his “Austin 3:16” promo that changed his fortunes forever.