Monday, March 7, 2011

Five Count: Stone Cold's Six-Pack

Stone Cold Steve Austin returns to Raw tonight and much like The Rock's return, it got me thinking about his greatest matches. It's not easy to narrow it down to just five, and I'm limiting this strictly to Stone Cold matches, no Stunning Steve or Hollywood Blondes stuff, just the stuff from the peak of his career. Should make my job a little easier, but not really. Also, even though it's the Five Count, I can't do this list for Stone Cold without making it a Six-Pack, so we'll start off with an honorable mention:

Honorable Mention: Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels - King of the Ring 1997
I loved their match at WrestleMania 14, it's probably the better match of the two and if you ask Austin or Michaels, they'll tell you their best matches happened at house shows, but I'm giving the nod to this match solely because of how bizarre it is. There are a lot of moments you can point to as the moment WWE changed direction toward the Attitude Era, many would say it was Austin's win at WrestleMania 14, maybe it was the Austin 3:16 promo, perhaps it was the ECW invasion, but something about this match always stuck out to me as a big gust in the winds of change.

Before the match even began, things just felt different. These two were the reigning Tag Team Champions, which made it even weirder for them to wrestle each other, unlike today when it's a yearly storyline. Austin came to the ring carrying the belt and just threw it down when he entered, that was something you never saw. Stone Cold and HBK flipped each other off, that was edgy at the time, a mentally disabled fan fell over the railing, and you just had this vibe from the crowd that something wasn't quite right here.

The match took some time to get going and the double DQ finish may have left a bad taste in your mouth, but once they got into their groove and all hell broke loose, the match turned into an underrated classic. They seamlessly transitioned from scientific wrestling match to all-out brawl and then beat the hell out of several refs for having the audacity to be knocked unconscious. It's not the best from either guy, but there's just something about this match that I love. It had all the chaos of the Attitude Era before there was an Attitude Era.

5. Steve Austin vs. Dude Love - Over the Edge 1998
It was a tough choice between this match and the match one month prior at Unforgiven, but this one won out thanks to Vince McMahon as the special referee. Vince did everything he could to stack the deck against Stone Cold, making himself the ref, Pat Patterson the ring announcer, Gerald Brisco the timekeeper, and then changing the rules as they went along. It became no-disqualification midway through, then falls count anywhere, but it still wasn't enough to stop the Rattlesnake.

There were other participants besides Austin and Foley that made this one loads of fun as well. The crowd was on fire, perhaps even one of the loudest I've ever heard, JR was absolutely perfect on commentary ("SINCE WHEN!?") and the car wreck-theme set near the entrance gave them plenty of props to work with. The Undertaker was even at ringside to eventually chokeslam Patterson and Brisco through the announce tables!

Great 90s era wrestling with two guys who were absolutely fearless and would do whatever necessary to give the audience a show. Austin using McMahon's arm to count the three, even though the chairman was knocked out, ranks right up there with the beer bath, pouring concrete into Vince's car, and the bedpan as all-time classic Stone Cold moments.

4. Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker - SummerSlam 1998
In 1998, the way I watched wrestling was changing. I practically lived in the AOL chat room at keyword: "WWF," I took everything I read on wrestling websites as 100% fact and I was getting into Japanese wrestling, basically, I was your typical 15-year-old smark.

In those days, while fans in the arenas were exploding for Stone Cold, he was the internet's Antichrist, much like John Cena is today. "He only knows three moves!" we would scream, trying to convince these inferior fans that Austin was totally overrated. I was an idiot in those days. Then, the Highway to Hell vignettes started, hyping the feud between Stone Cold and The Undertaker heading into SummerSlam and I came to realize that Austin didn't need to do corkscrew planchas or Thunder Fire Powerbombs to be awesome, he just needed to kick someone's ass with an AC/DC soundtrack. Great hype goes a long way.

The match isn't a mat classic or anything, these two beat the hell out of each other and to top it off, Undertaker hit a friggin leg drop off the top rope through the announce table! In a story about respect, these two earned it from everyone in MSG and opened the eyes of one whiny little brat who thought he knew everything because he managed to get through AOL's busy signals.

3. Steve Austin vs. Triple H - No Way Out 2001
Though this match is well-known and loved, I can't help but wonder if it would have been even bigger had WWE not taken such a dramatic shift the following month with WrestleMania 17 and the purchase of WCW.

This was a Three Stages of Hell Match; the first fall is a straight-up wrestling match with Austin winning, which was a nice twist since Triple H was the "wrestler" and Austin was the "fighter." Of course, that meant Triple H won the second fall, the street fight but the real shock came when Triple H won the final fall inside a steel cage.

It was particularly bizarre since Austin was the #1 contender and went onto win the WWE Title at WrestleMania 17, but instead of Triple H insisting on a title match, they formed the Two-Man Power Trip when Austin turned heel. I often wonder if Austin's heel turn would've turned out better had Triple H not gotten injured and WWE didn't shoot themselves in the foot with the Invasion storyline.

But now I'm getting away from the point, regardless of the direction WWE took afterward, the match is absolutely phenomenal on its own merits. Though technically a two out of three falls match, this was really three separate wrestling matches in one 40 minute package and any one of them could've headlined a PPV on their own.

2. Steve Austin vs. The Rock - WrestleMania 17
All good things must come to an end. Three years after Stone Cold saved the WWF and took the business to its most successful period ever, it was time to move on. While the Attitude Era mindset would still be WWE's MO for the next few years, it really all came to an end with this match, the main event to the greatest WrestleMania in history.

The Rock and Stone Cold had numerous matches, but this one was their best and had the best story going in because it showed a vulnerable side to Steve Austin, something we'd never seen before. As I mentioned in my Five Count for The Rock, of all their matches, it felt the biggest, the atmosphere was unmatched, the crowd was electrified, and these two threw everything they had at each other and still kept going at it. It was a classic the minute it ended and even if things didn't quite go so well in the aftermath, you can't take away from the intensity and importance of this match.

1. Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart - WrestleMania 13
Every year, I post my list of the Top Matches in WrestleMania History, the amount of matches depends on what number WrestleMania we're at. In the last two years that I've done it, Austin vs. Hart has remained in the #2 position, coming in second to Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant on the basis of historical significance alone.

But its really close and this match is as perfect as a match can get. It defines storytelling and the ending gave us possibly the most iconic image in the history of professional wrestling. As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of moments that you can point to as the birth of the Attitude Era but I think this match, Austin and Bret simultaneously turning face and heel, and the visual of blood just gushing out of Austin's head was its conception. In terms of pure quality, I would say that this match is Stone Cold's best, Bret Hart's best and WrestleMania's best, it's that damn good... and that's the bottom line.

The Expendables (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)WWE - The Legacy of Stone Cold Steve AustinWWE - 'Cause Stone Cold Said So

1 comment:

  1. A great read. I was a huge Austin mark back in the day, so it was fun to relive some of the moments he provided. Tuesdays and some Monday's in 8th grade, Stone Cold Steve Austin was the talk of the classroom. And great nod to the headache known as trying to log in AOL.

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