Wednesday 16 September 2015

The Steve Austin Show

For a long time after retiring from in-ring activity 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin struggled to find a new calling. He hung around in WWE for a few years in a variety of authority figure roles but it never felt quite right. As a wrestler one of his defining characteristics had been his anti-authority bent. Seeing him laying down the law felt odd. On top of that it was clear that Austin missed actually wrestling. He was fun in these roles but they were never truly Steve Austin.

Eventually he left those roles behind in favour of chasing acting work in Hollywood. The high point of that endeavour was his appearances as lead goon Paine in The Expendables. When it became clear that acting wasn't going to pan out for him as it did The Rock (or even Hulk Hogan), Austin took a sidestep into hosting. Specifically he headed up WWE's initial, pre-Network, revival of Tough Enough and Country Music Television's Redneck Island. When those were received well he launched a podcast and got himself another TV show, Broken Skull Challenge1.

Austin looking massively unimpressed there. Great stuff.
A combination of Austin being a likeable host and having a mostly sensible, respectable view on the wrestling business made his podcast a success. That in turn lead to WWE offering Austin a slot on the Network to interview Vince McMahon on 1 December 2014. No official ratings are available for the Network but it's hard to imagine this didn't do well: it was Vince's first appearance on a podcast answering questions from someone he'd had a close working relationship with for a number of years. It clearly did well enough to make someone in WWE decide that it should be a frequent thing as Austin has since returned to interview Triple H, Paul Heyman, Paige, and Edge and Christian.

It's possible that reading that list one name stands out over the others. Paige is not the first person who springs to mind when you think of potential interviewees for 'The Rattlesnake'. The common belief is that she was an emergency replacement for Hulk Hogan, who had been revealed as a bit of a racist a week or so earlier. If we assume that Hogan was the initially scheduled guest2 we end up with a list of top level talent who would have worked with Austin during his run as an active wrestler (with all but Heyman being around him at his peak).

With an impressive pedigree established for Austin's Network shows it will be interesting to see who else gets lined up as a guest. There are a number of names I'd like to see, with Eric Bischoff being at the top of the list. They have an interesting history together. An injured Austin was released from his WCW contract by a cost-cutting Bischoff and he went on, via some angry anti-WCW promos in ECW, to be the biggest star in wrestling. When Bischoff rocked up in WWE years later he would end up working closely with Austin. Any heat between them will have long since been resolved but it still be interesting to see the pair discuss Austin's WCW firing and their later working relationship.

Both Mick Foley and The Rock would also be good guests. They worked with Austin at his hottest. Foley was his first feud after winning the WWF championship at WrestleMania XIV and would go on to work as a transitional champion getting the strap from Austin to Triple H in summer 1999. These periods of work, along with the fact that Foley has known Austin since the early nineties, give Foley an insight into Austin's journey to the top and his behaviour while he was there that few others could have. It's unlikely Ausitn would bring up his difficult behaviour once he was established as a top star on his own show but Foley could allude to it. Even if he didn't they're two of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era who respect one another's work and it would be nice to see them reminiscing about their time on top.

This is podcast material right here.
The appeal with The Rock is slightly different. Both he and Austin have mentioned over the years that they didn't get on when they first met but they went on to have the defining rivalry of wrestling's hottest period. If their secret handshake-heavy appearances in recent years (see WrestleMania XXX) are anything to go by they're very good pals now. As with Foley a large part of the appeal is seeing the pair chatting about their work together, although it feels like there's more chance of Austin acknowledging his early dislike of 'The Great One' than of his '99 paranoia.

The Undertaker was also around Austin at the same time as Foley and Rock but as he's had a WWE career that's lasted for well over two decades it's safe to assume that, rather than his late nineties dealing with Austin, would be the focus. Austin's mentioned on previous shows, as well as his regular podcast, that he was unhappy that The Streak ended. Seeing him discuss that topic with 'The Phenom' could fill a substantial amount of time by itself, especially if they looked back on The Streak as a whole. Even leaving The Streak aside 'Taker's worked with such a wide variety of WWE names and had so many bizarre periods of his career (who doesn't want to see Austin discuss Ministry of Darkness era 'Taker or 'Big Evil' era 'Taker?) that he'd be a natural choice for guest. Though somehow I don't think we'll see this happen until 'The Dead Man' is ready to call it a day on his career. WWE are, rightfully, protective of the character's mystique and appearing on a podcast would be damaging to that.

As the breakout star of the last year or so Seth Rollins would be a cool interview. Even though he's only been on the main roster for less than three years 'The Future' has accomplished a lot. He participated in a revival of trios matches (which I'm convinced would prompt Austin to drop a Freebirds reference), had a cracking singles feud with Dean Ambrose in which they headlined a PPV over John Cena, and he won the WWE championship in a WrestleMania main event. He'll be on top of WWE for years to come and I'd like to see Austin passing on some pointers with that in mind.

Talk, Owens, talk.
A breakout star of lesser status right now is Kevin Owens. I think he'd be a good addition to the show's line-up because he's such a fan of Austin. He's spoken before about happening to run into Austin at an airport when he was first starting out as a wrestler, where Austin told him to never stop running his mouth. Anyone who's seen Owens wrestle knows that's advice he took on board and it's likely advice that ultimately helped him to get signed by WWE. Seeing the pair discuss that aspect of KO's act would be fun, as would Austin delving into Owens' other career influences and his status as one of WWE's hottest heels, and one of the few to have motives beyond being bad because they're bad. I'd also like to see Austin speak to someone who's been in NXT since it became the "hot brand" it currently is, and Owens fits the bill perfectly.

Perhaps a slightly odd choice would be Cesaro. Not because he doesn't have anything interesting to say (he does) but because he's not the big name that everyone else on this list is. Austin is an outspoken fan of 'The King of Swing' so it's easy to imagine him wanting to have him on the show to give him a platform to promote himself. On top of that Cesaro's had an interesting journey to WWE, winning a green card lottery and all, and always comes across as an affable, humble lad in interviews.

Finally, there's John Cena. He's one of only a handful of men to have ever been positioned as the centrepiece of WWE. Austin is one of the others. He's one of the few people who can understand the pressure of Cena's spot. He's a fan of Cena's work too, which seems to be the case for a lot of WWE veterans. I'd like to see him discuss Cena's ring work with Cena to see if his claims are genuine and, if they are, what it is he specifically enjoys. Plus the subject of the springboard Stunner could be fun.


1 This sounds less painful than it is. Though, to be clear, it is still a very painful show for those who appear on it.

2 For the record I think it's a real shame Hogan is now unlikely to ever appear on Austin's Network show. It would have been fascinating to see Austin and Hogan discuss Hogan's WCW politicking (which Austin believes held him down there), Austin's ECW parodies of Hogan, and which of them is the bigger, more important name in WWE history.

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