"Stone Cold" Steve Austin admitted that he never thought that his name that would ever be big in WWE and pop culture during the late 90's and 2000's. It wasn't until he was in a tag team match in Chicago years ago where he realized that he officially became a big name among the fans and the business.
"I started feeling it one night in Chicago at the Rosemont Horizon (now the Allstate Arena)," Austin stated during an interview with Dan Patrick at his studio. "That's one of my favorite buildings to work in, the favorite, because of it's wood ceilings and the acoustics are so good in there. And the Chicago crowd is so crazy. Anytime you do something, you're listening to that crowd and if you're not listening to that crowd you're doing it wrong because everything you do, you do it to elicit a response. Based on that response, you respond accordingly.
"So it was one night we were in a tag match and I started really feeling the energy from that crowd responding to everything I did. I said 'hey man, this is coming on.'"
With his increased popularity, Austin had to learn exactly how to build a character that was going to continue to draw in a bigger crowd. There were many ideas that he tested out, but because of past injuries, Austin had to learn how to shape a character that was just as fun to watch in the run, as well as out of the ring.
"You kind of go out there and you're learning," Austin said. "You're learning who you want to be and I emulated Ric Flair when I first started out and when I was Stunning Steve back in Georgia and everybody because of my ability back then at the mechanic stage said 'hey man, this guy right here is gonna be the next Ric Flair.' Well, there's never going to be the next Flair so, I was more of a technical wrestler back in the day.
"Then in '97 when I got dropped on my head and almost got paralyzed and bruised my spinal cord, I had to modify my style and not be so technical and turned more into a brawler. That's when I came up with the 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin thing and with the modified style, the gimmick, or the name, that I grew into, I realized that when I turn myself up to an 11, that's who I am and that's when everything started to work for me."
Like every wrestler at some point in their career, some learn how to turn the switch off or on when it comes to being a face or a heel. Some are born to play a heel for most of their career, and some a face. For Austin, his official heel turn after becoming a superstar started at WrestleMania 17, when he formed an alliance with CEO Chairman Vince McMahon to defeat The Rock for the WWE Championship. Austin realized it was not the best career choice for his character.
"Well, they revolted," Austin said. "They didn't want to hate me. By that time they loved me so much. You always want to do something big at WrestleMaina. I didn't think we had anything big that year, so I told Vince 'hey man, I'll turn heel.' At a certain point, you just kind of flip and you think things are going to get hotter, but it has to be warranted.
"I was feeling flat going into WrestleMania 17, because I'd been hot for so long and I've always liked to be the bad guy anyway. So, that's why I wanted to turn into the bad guy, so I could have fun. But, people didn't like it."
The life of a wrestler can be hard at times, especially with all the rigorous road schedule. Though the professional wrestling industry is compared to the rock star lifestyle where they get to go to lavish parties, have fans follow them from city to city, and gain more popularity, Austin mentions that at times it was a challenge being on the road for so long.
"I don't know if you'd consider us (wrestlers) famous, but you're on television so you have exposure," Austin begins. "But most of the time before you make it big you've got three, four, or five guys crammed in a rental car, so you can all split gas, same with hotel rooms splitting beds. You got the low guy on the totem pole or the guy with the least experience sleeping on the floor. You have exposure, but you're not really famous. I guess it looks glorious on TV but the lifestyle itself is kind of like caveman express.
"It was a great life, but I see it this way, you live three lives in one body. One hand you're a professional athlete, because you train like one and you train like one in the ring. Other hand you're a rock star, because when you want anything you can have it. Then on the other hand you're like a truck driver, because these days the wrestlers are on tour buses and stuff. You take the flights, you get your rental car and you're driving all over the United States, so it's all those things going on. A lot of guys I've met had an early demise because they got caught up in it."
You can see Steve Austin's full interview above. If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit the Dan Patrick Show with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.