Booking to Potential – The Steve Austin Experiment

Christopher Mariscal

What do Steve Austin and Dolph Ziggler have in common?

Who was Stone Cold Steve Austin in 1996? 

He was no longer the Ringmaster.  He was no longer the property of Ted DiBiase.  His biggest feud to date in the WWF was with Savio Vega. 

In June, Austin won the King of the Ring tournament by going though Bob Holly and Savio Vega in TV matches  Then in the first year that there was only an 8 man bracket on Pay Per View as opposed to a 16 man bracket, he defeated “Wildman” Marc Mero and an aged Jake “the Snake” Roberts.  

Since its reboot in 1993, three men had won the King of the Ring.  One went on to incredible success in former and future World Champion Bret “Hitman” Hart.  One morphed the victory into an annoying but effective heel gimmick in “King of Harts” Owen Hart.  And then one was King Mabel.  I…don’t have anything witty for that.  Nor do I have any fun facts about Mabel’s reign as it was on par with Todd Marinovich drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders 24th overall as far as “busts” go.

Seeing as the King of the Ring didn’t mean a whole lot in 1996, Austin didn’t have a whole lot to look forward to.  As was customary, he was eventually put into the World Title picture as part of the gimmick.  So far, Bret Hart was the only Superstar able to capitalize for the WWF’s top prize.  Owen was given several chances to take down his brother to become Champion, and Mabel was unsuccessful in his bout with Diesel at Summerslam.

Despite popular belief, in my opinion anyway, it wasn’t a simple catchphrase that launched Austin into immortality, but rather the mentality of fulfilling it afterward.  Austin’s biggest feud after the King of the Ring was with eventual World Champion Bret “Hitman” Hart.  The reason for the feud was never fully explained.  Hart hadn’t insulted Austin.  When the feud began, Hart didn’t have a Championship that Austin was after.  As far as booking is concerned, it was just a good old fashioned “I’m told I’m supposed to fight you.  That’s why I don’t like you.”

I don’t need to rehash the entire feud, but I do want to look at one event.  Austin’s obsession with Hart seemed mostly unfounded at the beginning, and eventually became personal due to the fierce competition.  Austin became a major player in the game (as has been said by many before) because despite the fact that he couldn’t beat him, he showed that he could go one on one with the Hitman.  Eventually, Austin wised up to this and started realizing that he couldn’t just be a major player, but be the top player.

The evidence of this occurred in the weeks before Wrestlemania 13.

The Undertaker was to face Sycho Sid.  Steve Austin was to face Bret Hart in an “I Quit” match.  Hart lost the WWF Championship a day after winning it to Sid due to interference from Austin.  He would get his rematch in a steel cage match on Monday Night Raw.  In that match, Austin actually came to the aid of Bret Hart in order to make his match at Wrestlemania 13 for the WWF Championship.  The Undertaker ended up coming to the ring to help Sid for the same reason. 

Once Austin’s obsession became focused, he became very close to not just having a shot at the WWF Championship, but getting that shot on the grandest stage of them all, Wrestlemania.

Austin did not win the Championship.  He didn’t even win his under card bout at Wrestlemania.  But still he went on to become a major player and a household name.  Not too bad from a man who started out in the WWF as the Million Dollar Man’s vanilla protégé “The Ringmaster”.

There is another man who has a bland and boring gimmick, a stupid name, a history of being under booked, and is in a program with a man that many consider to be one of the best of all time.  He also happens to be billed as a “Hollywood Blonde”.


“Hi, I’m Dolph Ziggler.”

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