Stone Cold Steve Austin is still one of the biggest names in wrestling. Nineteen years after his last match, Austin makes an appearance tonight in Arlington, TX as a special guest on the KO Show, Kevin Owens’ talk show. It is one of the most anticipated events of WrestleMania night one. There is little doubt this will end up in a fight, and possibly an official match.
Whatever takes place in his home state, it will be another memorable moment at WrestleMania from Austin. Austin’s career was cut short due to neck injuries. Before that happened, he had seven WrestleMania matches, a small total compared to men such as the Undertaker (27), the Rock (11 so far), John Cena (14) and many others. Despite this, Austin compiled some of WrestleMania’s most iconic moments:
Here is a look at Austin’s WrestleMania matches through the years:
WrestleMania XII (1996) Vs Savio Vega
Austin’s career did not start with a bang. He was the Million Dollar Champion managed by Ted DiBiase and came out to some of the most soothing ring entrance music ever composed for a pro wrestler. He was referred to as Stone Cold, but there were only hints of the attitude he’d display as the Texas Rattlesnake.
His character was a work in progress, but his talent was apparent. Vega had a mid-card run in the WWF, but he was a big star in his native Puerto Rico and a solid babyface worker. It wasn’t that this match was bad. It was fine for what it was, but it was forgettable.
In fact, to show you its place in the pecking order, the match commentary was twice interrupted by Roddy Piper calling in to the broadcast booth of Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler. Why? Piper and Goldust (Dustin Runnels) were having a Backlot Brawl production number, a match that included stunts and skits outside of the regular arena. During Austin’s match, Piper was chasing Goldust down LA freeways in a white Ford Bronco. Yes, it was 1996, and WWF was parodying the OJ chase.
Austin won with a Million Dollar Dream after hitting Vega with the Million Dollar belt. The referee was knocked out in a precursor to something that would be a staple of Austin’s WrestleMania matches. The finish landed with a bit of a thud to the crowd in Anaheim, CA.
WrestleMania XIII (1997) Vs Bret Hart
This is one of the most memorable matches in company history. Hart went into this Submission Match grudge battle as a babyface leaning away from the fans. Austin was a heel who had more popular support than nearly anyone in the company. The final execution of this double turn an example of near-flawless booking.
I was in the building that night in Chicago and from personal experience, I can tell you the heat was tremendous. The fans were divided. Hart was still receiving plenty of support, while Austin 3:16 signs were seen throughout the stands. Every blow and every move in the match got some kind of response from the crowd.
They started the match hot and it stayed that way. They fought into the crowd and up an aisle, which was rare back then. You can see on the video this was seen as a big deal. Fans didn’t just clear out of the way back then and the brawl was held in some close quarters. Fans didn’t sit down until they were back in the ring minutes later.
They worked a brilliant brawl that ended with a defining image of Austin. The camera shot of Austin’s face dripping with blood, contorted in pain and refusing to quit lived on as part of RAW’s opening for years. Referee Ken Shamrock stopped the match when Austin was unable to continue since he passed out from the pain. Hart’s poor sportsmanship after cemented him as a heel in the U.S. The finish taught the fans no matter what, Austin would never quit on them.
WrestleMania XIV (1998) Vs Shawn Michaels
We have another guest referee for this one. Mike Tyson was brought in for Austin’s coronation as WWF Champion. Tyson’s presence brought unusual amounts of mainstream publicity. That came in handy as the show was designed around Austin rising to the top.
Despite WWE’s efforts to rewrite history, Michaels was not a great draw as champion. The Degeneration X gimmick was a celebration of emotional immaturity, and Michaels lived the gimmick behind the scenes as well. He was tolerated because he was one of the great workers of his era, perhaps of any era, but a change was needed.
Michaels’ back was shot in this match. He’d taken a nasty bump at the Royal Rumble earlier in the year. But he gutted it out and turned in a terrific performance, putting over both Austin and Tyson. He wouldn’t wrestle again until 2002. Austin is tremendous here as well, and his connection with the fans is obvious. The timing here was perfect. Michaels needed time off, WWE needed a better drawing champion, and the fans were ready to see Austin take the title. Tyson’s presence made sure more people than usual were aware of it happening.
John and GG just covered this match on our Patreon as they are covering the entire year of 1998 Monday Night RAW.
WrestleMania XV (1999) Vs The Rock
The boom period is well underway when these two stars meet for the first of their WrestleMania trilogy. Rock had captured the title and Austin was back in his position as the underdog chasing the champion. Vince McMahon became Mr. McMahon with the goal of trying to keep Austin down in a years-long storyline that would take WWF to a run of big ratings and strong attendance numbers.
The chemistry between Austin and Rock was always good, but this match was overbooked to death. McMahon was the guest referee, until Michaels (in a non-wrestling commissioner role) came out to tell him he wasn’t. Then there were no fewer than three ref bumps, plus run-ins by McMahon and Mankind. We also saw the comical over-selling of the stunner by Rock.
Despite these distractions, they had a strong match. Austin re-captured the title to send the crowd home happy. Unfortunately, Austin’s run was interrupted when he had neck surgery and missed nearly a year of action.
WrestleMania X-Seven (2001) Vs The Rock
This was an outstanding brawl that led to a very ill-advised angle to finish. Austin had returned, Rock was WWF champion and Austin was chasing again. This time, it was portrayed as a babyface match between two fierce rivals. The match took place in the old Astrodome in Houston, TX. WWF made the decision to turn Austin heel in Texas, a near impossibility to pull off.
Austin worked heel the entire match. He was nasty and more aggressive than usual, telegraphing what was to come. The crowd could not have cared less. They loved it. They loved Austin.
The intensity of this one was a notch above the other two in the trilogy. The fans were into everything these two did and it’s the best of their WrestleMania matches. Despite Austin getting help from McMahon after yet another ref bump, savagely beating Rock with a chair and then shaking hands with his mortal enemy after, the fans still celebrated Austin’s win. Jim Ross was becoming a parody of himself here and at his peak “Screamin'” JR, shouting relentlessly through the match.
That heel turn never did work, but this match is among Austin and Rock’s best work.
WrestleMania X-Eight (2002) Vs Scott Hall
This wasn’t Austin’s year to shine. All eyes were on the Rock-Hulk Hogan match, and that was the match everyone talked about after. While HHH and Chris Jericho had to follow that one, Austin and Hall went on earlier. Austin was feuding with the NWO, which had been brought in by McMahon in a laughable angle about McMahon wanting to kill his own company by injecting a “lethal dose of poison.” No one believed it, and this match felt like the crowd in Toronto, ON was just waiting for Austin to win.
Hall was fading by this point, but he was a good enough worker to pull out a fine match here.
WrestleMania XIX (2003) Vs The Rock
There was no title on the line in this one. This one was strictly about Rock wanting to something he’d yet to accomplish: defeat his biggest rival at WrestleMania. Unfortunately, Austin’s injuries had piled up again and this time, one surgery couldn’t fix things. This would be the end of Austin’s in-ring career.
Without a big feud or a title in the mix, this felt more like a wrestling match than their previous WrestleMania matches. Austin knew it was the end and worked hard, and Rock understood the significance of the win. Again, their chemistry was on display and the two put on an excellent match.
The psychology of the match was different as well. Rock was chasing the victory instead of Austin chasing a title, so they worked accordingly. Austin put over the Rock clean at the end, giving him his biggest career win to date. Rock also left the ringside area first to allow Austin to say a final goodbye to the crowd.
Thanks to everyone who joined our Twitter Spaces yesterday. We made some predictions for what may happen on #WrestleMania 38 starting tonight? What will Austin do? How does Cody show? Does Vince take a bump?
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Since 2003, Austin has made appearances at WrestleManias to be a guest referee or to cut a promo. Tonight, he is likely to do more. Austin is scheduled to be a guest on Owens’ talk show, but in appearances leading up to the event, Austin is clearly in fighting shape. Physicality is expected. Whether that will be a quick brawl or an angle leading to a referee coming down for an official match, we’ll all have to wait to find out.
Owens is excellent on the microphone and in the ring. Austin has been smart about protecting his neck. If there is a match, it likely won’t go very long. But a long match isn’t needed. With tonight’s WrestleMania in Texas at the home of the Cowboys, some mudhole stomping and a stunner is all the fans need to feel good again. If Austin can do more than that, it’ll just be icing on the cake.
Expect the crowd to be buzzing as Owens heads to the ring. Then expect the sound of glass breaking to make another big crowd erupt and jump to its feet. Austin has created many WrestleMania memories over the years. Tonight, he’ll notch another.