When he was presented with the Iron Mike Award at April’s Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in Las Vegas, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, perhaps the biggest star the wrestling business has ever created, proved that he was still a fan at heart.
“I love this damn business,” he said in his acceptance speech, which was at turns funny, emotional and reflective.
The Iron Mike is the wrestling industry’s top award. Named after wrestler/actor Mike Mazurki, who founded the Cauliflower Alley Club, it is given to a wrestler who has transcended the business.
That certainly describes Austin, for whom the wrestling ring was often little more than a prop for his stellar career.
“The Texas Rattlesnake” took a break from a movie shoot to attend his third CAC event at the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino.
Introduced by announcer Jim Ross, one of his best friends, Austin pshawed Ross’ praise. “He was disrespectful, he was defiant, he was a beer drinker, the anti-hero. But he would ascend to heights that had never before been accomplished,” said Ross, who even wrote a poem on Austin (see below).
“That was some serious bullshit right there,” Austin began. “A lot of you people don’t know me real personally as Steve Austin, and as Steve Austin I really don’t like to speak in public. But I’m here as Stone Cold Steve Austin tonight and I’m going to do the best I can.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ve known Jim Ross a long time. I’ve made some really, really good friends in this business. I love this business. Damn, Jim Ross comes out here … [and] tears start coming out of my eyes, because he’s making me laugh, because he’s just one funny son-of-a-bitch. Then a tear comes out of my eye, because he touches my heart, because he means that much to me and I love Jim Ross. He’s probably the greatest of all-time at telling the stories in that ring. Thank you Jim for representing me, and thank you for bringing me up here.”
Numerous times during Austin’s 25 minutes at the podium he was drowned out by the applause.
What follows is an edited version of his speech, and an impromptu question and answer session that he opened up to the crowd, which was made up of wrestling legends, almost-legends, current workers, promoters, referees, media, families and fans.
“It was fun to be Stone Cold Steve Austin. But let me tell you something, I was such a fan of this business, I love this damn business. Seeing Harley [Race], getting the chance to shoot the shit with J.J. [Dillon] and Sarge [Slaughter], and Ricky’s at my damn table. I got to go to the ring and have matches with Ricky Steamboat. I had lots of matches with Ricky, on TV and a couple of pay-per-views, but our best matches happened in arenas, when there wasn’t no cameras. It was just house shows, going 30 minutes, and stuff like that. Just being here, sharing the stage with Terry Funk, all those guys down there. Nick Bockwinkel was one of my favorites of all-time. It’s been a great business.
“I’ll guarantee you, hell, where’s Lisa at? I was a big Lisa [Moretti, a.k.a. Ivory] fan from way back, I had a crush on you too back in the day. Rockin’ Robin and Wendi Richter, I really enjoyed ya’lls work back in the day and respected your worked tremendously. I love women’s wrestling. And Judy [Martin], you were around a little bit before, I didn’t get a chance to see your work. I loved what you guys did in the ring. you talk about the hardships that ya’ll went through, and I can understand — and honestly, I didn’t live it, but I respected and appreciated ya’lls work.”
* * *
“I really don’t know what to say, because there’s been so many good stories out here, and I’m not going to come out here and just be a stand-up comedian.
“I remember growing up as a kid in South Texas. I was changing the channels. I was in a town of about 5,000 people. I was changing the channels on the TV and I came across Houston Wrestling. Houston Wrestling was a Paul Boesch promotion out of Houston, Texas, filmed at the Coliseum. Man, I’ll tell you what, just something about changing that channel, something about coming across that product in the ring, two guys in an smoke-filled arena. Couldn’t really see, but that maybe that first or second row of that crowd, and it was a whole different production back in the day. You could smoke in the arena. Hell, that was back when it was real, you know what I’m saying? Man, I was absolutely in love.
“I watched professional wrestling my entire life.
“After finally getting a scholarship to North Texas State, I had a chance out of junior college to go to either the University of New Mexico or North Texas State. After taking that visit to New Mexico, I knew I wasn’t going to leave the state of Texas. I looked at North Texas State, and it was right outside Dallas, Texas, and the good thing about that was that it was about 30 miles from the world-famous Dallas Sportatorium, home of the Von Erichs.
“Hell, I used to drive out there on a Friday night. Me and my buddies, we’d get drunk, and throw shit at the wrestlers. Pardon my language, I’m going to let my hair down a little bit. I cuss a lot in my personal life. I like to keep my website and my Twitter account clean, but we’re all adults here.
“So we’d throw shit at the wrestlers. That’s what you do when you’re a mark and you paid for your ticket. These days, when I got in the ring, I didn’t like nobody throwing nothing at me, but that’s how it goes.
“Anyway, I just love the business. I got into the business. I remember breaking in at Chris Adams’ wrestling school. Back in the day, that was still when our business was very protected. You know, if somebody said wrestling was fake, you probably was going to fight him. So I started in the business because I loved it. I remember some of these guys talking about going up and down the road. I started off making $15, $20 a night. It was just fun to be in the ring. I got into the business because I loved what the wrestling business looked like on TV, I loved what it felt like to be in the ring, telling a story, being either loved or hated.
|JIM ROSS WRITES A STONE COLD POEM|
“I thought that maybe, and this is a first, this poem might describe my friend, Stone Cold Steve Austin,” said Ross. “I don’t think I’ve ever read a poem before.”
“I traveled the world the past few years,
“Bottom line is, I had a hellacious career. I had a lot of bureaucratic red tape, a lot of bullshit along the way, a lot of stuff that I had to work through, a lot of things that guys in here have worked through, a lot of what you young cats that are in the business trying to come up right now are working through, trying to figure out, ‘Well, how do I get noticed? What do I need to do to get on the map? How do I get my foot in the door?’ I did all that, and through it all, I got in the business for me. I loved it, I loved every bit of it. I take a lot of pride in what I was able to accomplish. I was extremely hungry. I wanted to be the best in the world. Like I told people many times, I was never the best looking, the best technical wrestler, this, that or whatever. I was able to do the best that I could do.
“Showing up here tonight, hanging out with Jim Ross … over there having a cocktail, and I got a chance to meet Terry. Terry’s in a wheelchair tonight. He came from, where, Nova Scotia? [New Brunswick.] New Brunswick, in that same neck of the woods, I apologize to Terry right over there. Terry came all the way from New Brunswick. [applause] He drew a picture of me in the ring and he drew a picture of me drinking beer with his mouth. Terry’s a quadrapelegic, and he came all this way, my guess to be here, but to see me, hang out. We got a chance to talk. I guess what I’m trying to hem-haw around, the best thing that I ever got out of this business was touching people’s lives. For a guy to come here all this way, and to say that to me, means everything in the world to me. I’ve got to meet some people that went through some bad times in their lives and maybe through the horseshit of what Stone Cold Steve Austin was doing on Monday Night Raw, got to live vicariously through that, draw strength from that, and get through some real big problems in their lives, and through all the things that I’ve done, whether they were good or bad, I guess that’s the thing that I’m most proud of.
“Before I wrap this thing up, I actually wanted to do something a little different, because I’m not going to sit here and blow a lot of smoke up my ass. If there’s a couple of cats out there that got a few questions, I would like to answer a few questions of anything that you might happen to ask — if indeed there be any questions, whether it be from one of these youngsters coming in, or just anybody in general. Is there any questions whatsoever? No, okay.”
After the laughter subsided, Austin opened the floor to questions.
Q: What is the bottom line?
A: “What is the bottom line? Is that barschlep back there? I could use another cocktail. That’s the bottom line, because I said so.”
Q: Will you be in New Jersey next April [at WrestleMania]?
A: (Austin shrugs) “Ah. I’m on the bubble on that, I’m on the bubble on that. If it’s a win-win, if it works … maybe.”
Q: A fan does a Hulk Hogan impression.
A: “Was that Hulk Hogan or was that Stone Cold? … I’ll whip Hulk Hogan’s ass.”
Q: Do you have any memories of Brian Pillman?
A: “Brian, it was interesting, we were going down there to a TV taping there in Dothan, Alabama. I walk in, and they was just fixing to give me a run as the U.S. champion, with Harley Race. All of a sudden, Brian comes up to me. He says, ‘Kid, we need to think of a finishing move. We’re a tag team now.’ I said, ‘What the hell are you talking about? I’m supposed to do a run with Harley Race. This is to be my big time, this is my moment.’ He said, ‘No, no, talk to Dusty [Rhodes]. We’re a tag team now.’ Sure enough, I went to talk to Dusty, and he pulls the carpet out from under me. I went from doing a run with Harley and now I was in a tag team with Flyin’ Brian Pillman. I always looked up to Brian and I enjoyed what he was doing in the ring. He was a great athlete, and I liked the stories that he told. Anyway, long story short, we went down the road, got to know each other. He had all kinds of ideas. He came up with the Hollywood Blonds name, putting the look together, all that stuff, that was Brian being a forward thinker, and always trying to think of a way to get to the top. I loved working with Brian. He was one of my best friends in the business. I wish he was still around to be here today to see what he thinks about the shenanigans that are going on today. [Loud applause] Brian was a very remarkable athlete.”
Q: Do you remember any bad matches?
A: “Was it me and Terry Taylor, or me and Bobby Eaton, it was against PN News. It was a damn scaffold match in WCW. It was the shits. Worst match of the year in PWI — of course, PWI was a shoot. So, worst match of the year, that was a bad day at the office. Getting dropped on my head was a bad day at the office. Any time going to the ring was fun for me. I see Ricky Steamboat sitting there five, maybe eight feet away from me. Let me just go on the record, there are probably a thousand people in here, whatever. Every time I beat Ricky Steamboat it was a shoot. Every time he won, it was a work.” [More applause]
At this point, Ricky Steamboat, still buzzing over his own 30 minutes on the podium before Austin, tells a story: “Shane Douglas and myself against Ausin and Pillman, Savannah, Georgia. At that time, a big blizzard came in. During the intermission, unbeknownst to us, because we were the one match afterwards. Okay, place was full — you would say it was sold out — anyway … intermission, they came out and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got a big blizzard coming in. If you think that you need to get home, you’d better leave now.’ You remember that now? We walked out there, there was 10 people. And we got stuck there. This is what, the Friday night. We didn’t get to drive out of there until Sunday.”
Q: Could you have been Stone Cold Steve Austin in WCW?
A: “No, I don’t think I would have come up with that in WCW. I was Stunning Steve. Dutch Mantell gave me the Steve Austin name. We were riding down the road and I was a babyface at the time, and he said, ‘Well, hell, Steve, just look it, if you ever turn heel, you can turn into Stunning Steve Austin, be a cocky, arrogant bastard.’ So that basically was the basis for what Stunning Steve was. There was no character, that was as far as I’d thought. After [Eric] Bischoff fired me due to the triceps injury, being on the sidelines, and Paul E. [Paul Heyman] gives me a call and gives me a free platform to start venting and cutting the promos and putting a microphone in front of my face. I get a chance to speak what’s on my mind and from my heart, and I find that is where the best promos come from, the ones that come from your gut and your heart — and from your brain, because you’ve got to feel them. Words don’t mean anything if you don’t mean them. So that was the basis for everything that Stone Cold was to become. No, I wouldn’t have come up with it if I’d stayed in WCW.”
Paul “The Butcher” Vachon stands up next, leaning on his walker, and asks about booking a finish to the evening’s festivities. Austin laughed, and cracked that he would take one more question, “because I ain’t going down like that. That’s bullshit.”
Q: What are your thoughts on today’s business?
A: “The business has changed. People are changing the channel faster than ever, you’ve seen changes in football and all the sports. They just have it faster. With what’s going on today, I don’t think that you can sit there and have one guy or two guys or maybe even three guys write promos for a whole host of people in the back of a locker room, and expect these guys to go out there and learn these promos and go speak ’em. Again, it goes back to what I just said, a character, the words that you speak have to come from your heart and your guts, and I don’t think that’s what’s happening right now. I think going back, listening to Steamer talk, when you go out there and you call the match, there’s got to be spontaneity in that match, you’ve got to be able to listen to that crowd, you’re working that crowd. You can’t go out there and guess at what they’re going to like. Listen to them, digest what they’re liking, and then give that to them. If they’re not buying that, you give them something else. Don’t go out there with just a bunch of cans of horse shit and present that. If they ain’t buying it, it’s time to change the set-up and go somewhere else. The business is a work, and when you stop letting it be a work, it stops becoming a work. Work a crowd, listen to your crowd, let them be involved. The business is about reading people’s emotions, and you do something to elicit a response, and, based on that response, you proceed accordingly. If you’re able to do that in rapid-fire progression, you’re almost like a professional out there. I’m a deaf sonofabitch, I can’t hear for shit, but when you put me in an arena with 20,000 people, and if 19,999 boo me and there’s one bastard up in the last seat and he cheers me, I will hear him louder than everybody else — that’s how tuned in I am to my surroundings. That’s just what you did. So, I would just like to see it be more spontaneous.”
Q: Have you considered opening a wrestling school?
A: “That’s why I was so excited about doing Tough Enough, because I got a chance to get back in the business as far as getting get back in the business and influencing people, helping out these young cats coming in, and give them a bit of direction within the short time parameter of what that show was. That’s what I tried to stress upon the kids at Tough Enough. Be myself when trying to do, what I’m trying to do. I am going to start a wrestling school? No. I applaud the people that do have wrestling schools — Harley, Lance Storm, some of the more reputable schools out there that can actually teach you the right things to do and the right ways to work. It’s not in my future to do that. Hell, if Tough Enough comes back around, I’d like to continue that influence, but that’s as far as I would go. I’m also interested in going, and me and Jim have talked about this several times, and I’ve talked to WWE, I am interested in going down to Florida, to Tampa, to their FCW stuff with Steamer and the guys, and come in on a two- or three-day deal, and expound on what I think about the business, and what I see going on there, and my impressions on what different talents are bringing to that ring. So I would like to do that in the future. Me, myself, am I going to start a wrestling school? No. But I love this business, I’ll always be a fan of this business, but, because the Butcher wants to go home, I want to say thank you very much for the Iron Mike Mazurki Award. Iron Mike was a great guy that did great things. He started the Cauliflower Alley Club, I guess, when was it, back in ’65. All these years later, we’re still here together in this room. They do good things behind the scenes that a lot of people here sitting on these seats don’t know about. Nonetheless, I’m proud to be here. I want to be more involved with the Cauliflower Alley Club.”
* * *
“I want to thank my good friend, Jim Ross, for bringing me up here tonight. Terry, Harley, Steamer, Slaughter, all the guys up here, Bockwinkel, Rockin’ Robin, Judy Martin, all the people that came before me and blazed the path, I’m appreciative of everything you did.
“To these young kids out here that are trying to get into the business, learn how to work. Learn how to work.
“Look at these guys over here at this table. We’ve been laughing at all the guys limping up here to this microphone. Well, that’s because we’re laughing at ourselves. It’s around, this is what you’ve got coming after this gig. It’s a rough gig. You haven’t sat enough to get your nails polished and your toenails clipped. It’s a rough job in that ring. So remember this through the life of your career — your body’s like a gas gauge; you’ve only got so many bumps in ya. Pick your spots. It ain’t time to get suplexed in a parking lot, it ain’t time to get your ass thrown over to take a crash landing in front of 10 people. Pick your spots, learn how to work, learn how to wrestle, learn how to tell a story. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like when you want to get noticed, when you want to do something stupid, sometimes you do have to do something stupid, but that’s when you know you’ve got to pick that spot. So all you young guys, everything you do, your body’s going to come back down the road.
“I’m 47. I feel pretty damn good right now. Ten years from now, when I’m back up here at Cauliflower Alley — I’ll be back here next year, but I’m just saying when I’m 57, I’ll probably be pulling on that guardrail a little bit more. But here’s the thing — I’ll be proud of pulling on that guardrail because I’ll never apologize for anything I’ve done. I take ownership of all the responsibilities, all the decisions that I’ve made in the ring. I knew what I was getting into when I got in here. I love this business and there ain’t nothing like being in a 20×20 ring, and though I’ve forgotten many things that I’ve done in my career — sometimes people talk about things, and I say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember’ — just like Steamer telling that story. But every day I showed up to work, and I was always early and I was never late. I loved being in this business. I loved being in that ring. And that’s the bottom line, ’cause Stone Cold said so. Thank you very much.”