Steve Austin's Best Matches Before He Became 'Stone Cold'

As the 1990s came to a close and the 2000s began, there were few bigger names in professional wrestling than "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. As the face of the World Wrestling Federation during this time period, he brought the fight to the likes of the Rock, Triple H, the Undertaker, and even then-WWF chairman Vince McMahon — stomping mudholes into his opponents and walking them dry. He won numerous titles, main-evented countless pay-per-view events, and earned a place in popular culture that has yet to fade. Simply put, Austin is a legend in every sense of the word.


Of course, Austin didn't begin his career atop the WWF mountain. Rather, it took him quite some time to even make it to the company, let alone become its biggest star. His wrestling tenure dates back to the late-1980s, going on to work in such territories as World Class Championship Wrestling, the United States Wrestling Association, and more. Eventually, he worked his way up to World Championship Wrestling and, briefly, Extreme Championship Wrestling before he caught the attention of the WWF brass in 1995. With that, he kicked off an incredible run that few in the wrestling business can match.

On the road to becoming "Stone Cold," Steve Austin took part in some particularly entertaining, fascinating, and important matches that all contributed greatly to his rise to superstardom.


11. Steve Austin and Percival Pringle III vs. Chris Adams and Chris von Erich: August 17, 1990

Following his debut match in WCCW against Frogman LeBlanc in September of 1989, Steve Austin's pro wrestling journey saw him work under the USWA banner. The clean-shaven, blond-haired rookie clearly had a lot to learn about the sport, but nevertheless, the minds behind the promotion must've figured the best way for him to learn the ropes was to step into the squared circle on live TV. Most of his matches from this era aren't much to write home about, but one particular tag team match from August 17, 1990 is worth taking a look back at purely because of the competitors involved.


While it's novel enough seeing a young Steve Austin — without so much as a hint of "Stone Cold" to be seen — work between the ropes, the fun of this tag match doesn't stop there. When it comes to the opposing team, Austin's trainer, Chris Adams (who supposedly wasn't the best teacher, according to Austin himself in his book, "The Stone Cold Truth"), and Chris von Erich of the von Erich wrestling family comprised it. Who did Austin have on his side? Percival Pringle III, better known to most wrestling fans as the legendary manager Paul Bearer. This match is no technical classic, but it sure is a fascinating anomaly to watch.

10. Steve Austin vs. Sandman vs. Mikey Whipwreck: ECW December to Dismember 1995

After his unceremonious release from WCW, a disgruntled Steve Austin made his way to ECW in 1995. Though he didn't step into the ring for some time, he did garner a lot of attention for his erratic and angry promos, where he took aim at WCW and its figurehead at the time, Eric Bischoff. He didn't hold back in these vignettes and the ECW faithful couldn't get enough, which fast-tracked him to the main event of November to Remember 1995 in an ECW World Heavyweight Championship match against Mikey Whipwreck. He lost the bout, but his title aspirations didn't dissipate there.


Just under a month later, ECW held the December to Dismember pay-per-view event (not to be confused with WWE's abysmal 2006 attempt), which would host Austin's second and final match in the company. He would join Whipwreck and the Sandman in a triple threat match for the ECW World Heavyweight Championship, which the Sandman would ultimately win. In the aftermath, Austin made his way to the WWF and the rest is history. Of Austin's couple of ECW matches, this one is the better of the two, though one has to wonder what other plans ECW mastermind Paul Heyman had in store for him if he elected to stay.

9. Steve Austin and Dutch Mantell vs. The Punisher and The Soultaker: January 8, 1990

Throughout his time in the USWA, Steve Austin continued to hone his craft between the ropes and showed steady signs of improvement. Sharing the ring with the likes of Bill Dundee, Eric Embry, Jerry "The King" Lawler, and more helped bring him to the next level in no time. Thus, as 1991 rolled on, Austin eventually landed himself a spot in WCW, where he'd remain for a good chunk of the decade. Before he'd depart the USWA, Austin would take part in a tag team match that, by the end of the decade, pro wrestling fans would be willing to pay big money to see live.


On January 8, 1990, Steve Austin teamed with "Dirty" Dutch Mantel — better known to modern wrestling fans as Zeb Colter, who managed Jack Swagger, Cesaro, and later Alberto Del Rio in WWE — to take on the intimidating tandem of Punisher and Soultaker. If those names don't ring a bell, then perhaps the monikers they'd take on in later years will: the Undertaker and the Godfather. Little did fans realize that night at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee, but they were in the presence of four wrestling legends, three of which would redefine the industry during the WWF's Attitude Era a mere few years later.

8. Steve Austin vs. Keiji Mutoh: May 26, 1995

Around the time of his WCW firing in 1995, Steve Austin worked a string of matches in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He was no stranger to the promotion, having embarked on a brief run there in 1992 that ended in controversial fashion. By way of a sitout Tombstone Piledriver — the same move that would threaten his career a mere few years later — Austin seriously injured NJPW icon Masahiro Chono's neck during their encounter at that year's NJPW Battle Autumn event. Chono eventually recovered and continued his in-ring career, and Austin looked to start anew in NJPW three years later.


Of the four matches Austin would involve himself in during his second NJPW stint, the most noteworthy is arguably his first. On May 26, 1995, he battled one of the greatest wrestlers of the past 50 years, Keiji Muto, who many might recognize by his alter-ego, the Great Muta. Their match from the second night of NJPW Fighting Spirit Legend was their third time squaring off, with their first match coming during Austin's initial NJPW tenure and their second taking place at WCW Spring Stampede 1994. Muto won the first, Austin won the second, and Muto capped off this seldom-discussed match trilogy between two undeniable legends with a victory.

7. Steve Austin vs. Dustin Rhodes: WCW Starrcade 1993

It's no secret that Steve Austin never reached main-event status in WCW, but that's not to say that he didn't do well for himself during his time there. Not only was he a key member of Paul E. Dangerously's Dangerous Alliance stable and one half of the criminally underrated Hollywood Blonds tag team along with Brian Pillman, but he filled more than a few holes in his trophy case, too. A couple years into his WCW run, he already had two runs as WCW World Television Champion and NWA-WCW Unified Tag Team Champion under his belt, though he had no intention of stopping there.


With his alliance with Pillman over by the end of 1993, Austin set his sights on the WCW United States Championship and the title holder, Dustin Rhodes. The future "Stone Cold" — accompanied by Colonel Robert Parker — and Goldust would meet at WCW Starrcade 1993 in a two-out-of-three falls match. Though Rhodes put up strong fight to keep the gold around his waist, Austin ultimately won the 15-minute battle. So began a reign that would last 240 days and see Austin overcome the likes of Eric Watts, Ricky Steamboat, and Rhodes again. It's definitely worth your time to check out the match that started it all.

6. Steve Austin and Brian Pillman vs. Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas: WCW Clash of the Champions XXII

In the fall of 1992, two of WCW's standout up-and-comers, Brian Pillman and Steve Austin, came together as a new unit in the tag team division. Collectively dubbed the Hollywood Blonds, Flyin' Brian and Stunning Steve climbed the tag team ladder in no time, overcoming some of the promotions strongest duos. Their chemistry led them to multiple opportunities at the NWA-WCW Unified World Tag Team Championships before the year was out and gave them the chance to continue their feud with one of their most prolific sets of opponents: Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat and future ECW staple, Shane Douglas.


The Hollywood Blonds and Steamboat and Douglas had battled several times before — consistently putting on show-stealing performances — though their showdown at WCW Clash of the Champions XXII event was undoubtedly among their strongest televised encounters. Pillman's quick, innovative offense, Austin and Douglas' ever-improving grappling technique, and Steamboat's years of in-ring experience were all put on display to great effect here. In the end, Austin and Pillman failed to take the titles from Steamboat and Douglas, but they left Milwaukee, Wisconsin's Mecca Arena that night as true tag-team stars all the same.

5. Steve Austin and Brian Pillman vs. Ric Flair and Arn Anderson: WCW Clash of the Champions XXIII

As 1993 wore on, Stunning Steve and Flyin' Brian continued to improve as a tag team and lean further into their Hollywood Blonds name. The overconfident, arrogant rookies continued to feud with Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas, eventually scoring their NWA-WCW Unified World Tag Team Championships in an exceptional "WCW Worldwide" match in March. This meant they now had massive targets on their backs. as the rest of the tag team division sought to become tag team champions themselves. Three months into their reign, the Blonds even had to compete against greats "The Enforcer" Arn Anderson and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair in a contest that would earn four stars from Wrestling Observer figurehead Dave Meltzer.


The two members of the Four Horsemen took on the Hollywood Blonds for the first time at WCW Clash of the Champions XXIII under two-out-of-three falls rules. In this old school versus new school bout, both teams put on an exhilarating match full of moments that had the fans in attendance jumping out of their seats. Flair earned the first fall for his team when he pinned Pillman just under 10 minutes in, and an interfering Barry Windham ensured the Blonds were disqualified, thus sealing their loss. Luckily for them, the championships couldn't change hands on a DQ, so their reign continued. The finish might not be for everyone, but this match is quite an enjoyable watch.

4. Steve Austin and Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat and Sting: July 30, 1994

Steve Austin's time in the tag team ranks of WCW is best defined by his work alongside Brian Pillman as the Hollywood Blonds. However, Pillman wasn't the only person Austin shared a corner of the ring with throughout his tenure in the company. Cactus Jack, Larry Zbyszko, and several others teamed with Austin at house shows and on television to varying degrees of success. Even "Nature Boy" Ric Flair was willing to put his past clashes with Austin aside to join forces with him in tag team matches. Thus, "WCW Saturday Night" viewers were gifted one of the most star-studded tag matches ever to take place in a WCW ring.


Taped on July 19 and televised on July 30, 1994, Steve Austin teamed with Ric Flair to take on Ricky Steamboat and Sting. Though he'd go on to rival and, by some estimations, surpass these wrestling legends in terms of popularity in later years, Austin was of the lowest profile in this match. Nevertheless, he certainly held his own in what became an exciting main event put together by some of the finest to ever step foot between the ropes. After a lengthy back-and-forth battle that Dave Meltzer would go on to rate an impressive four stars, Austin and Flair walked away the victors.

3. Steve Austin vs. Brian Pillman: WCW Clash of the Champions XXV

Before 1993 came to a close, Brian Pillman returned to WCW programming healed from an ankle injury. He reunited with Hollywood Blonds partner Steve Austin, but after the latter aligned with Colonel Tom Parker, the team officially dissolved. Pillman had a strong dislike for Parker, though Austin was more willing to side with his new manager than hash things out peacefully with his longtime tag team partner. With that, WCW's Austin and Pillman rivalry began, and while they'd shown time and time again how well they worked as a team, they proved that they meshed as opponents as well.


On November 10, 1993, Pillman and Austin met at Clash of the Champions XXV in a standard one-on-one match, and it didn't take long for the emotion of the story to influence the action. Pillman made his entrance first, so when Austin and Parker made it to the ring, he was able to get the jump on them before Austin could even step between the ropes. What unfolded after this premature attack was a short yet physical match that drove home the point that the Hollywood Blonds were indeed finished. Just shy of 10 minutes, the match concluded with Austin picking up the win against his former friend.

2. The Dangerous Alliance vs. Sting's Squadron: WCW WrestleWar 1992

Since its creation in 1987, wrestling fans have enjoyed a bunch of breathtaking WarGames matches. For those unfamiliar, these bouts involve two teams going head-to-head inside two rings that are covered by a massive cage that puts the Hell in a Cell structure to shame. Naturally, with so many variables, team compositions, and occasional stipulations to speak of across its history, not all WarGames matches are looked upon with the same level of appreciation. Luckily for Steve Austin, the sole one he competed in at WrestleWar 1992 is among the absolute best to ever take place.


Alongside his Dangerous Alliance stablemates Bobby Eaton, Arn Anderson, Rick Rude, and Larry Zabyzko, Austin competed against Sting's Squadron (Sting, Nikita Koloff, Barry Windham, Dustin Rhodes, and Ricky Steamboat) under WarGames rules. Austin and Windham started the match off with more and more competitors joining the fray as the contest continued. However, despite their best efforts to take down WCW's top babyfaces, the Dangerous Alliance couldn't secure the victory. Sting's Squadron came out on top in one of Steve Austin's strongest and most revered non-WWE matches. Dave Meltzer gave it five stars, and deservedly so.

1. Steve Austin vs. Ricky Steamboat: WCW Bash at the Beach 1994

With his association with Brian Pillman over and the WCW United States Championship around his waist, Steve Austin finished out 1993 and spent the better part of 1994 as one of the company's most noteworthy rising stars. Fans may not have liked it, but for months on end he overcame wrestler after wrestler to remain champion, and he wasn't shy about rubbing as many noses in it as he could. It was only a matter of time before someone came along to put the braggadocious Austin in his place. Who better to do so than one of his old adversaries and beloved WCW babyface, Ricky Steamboat?


Steamboat challenged Austin for the WCW United States Championship at Bash at the Beach 1994, and what a match it was. These two wrestling titans threw everything they had at one another for over 20 minutes, and as the battle continued, it looked like Steamboat could go home with the gold. Unwilling to let such an outcome happen, Austin caught Steamboat with a roll-up, put his feet on the second rope for leverage, and scored the pinfall. If nothing else, this match proved that Austin could not only hang with a legend like Steamboat in a pure wrestling capacity, but that he could blend that with character work as well.

And that's the bottom line.