As previously noted, NWA’s Eli Drake joined WWE Hall Of Famer Steve Austin on The Steve Austin Show. Among many other things, Drake talked about his lifelong professional wrestling fandom, the lack of strong promo work nowadays and why strong promos were essential to ‘The Attitude Era’. Also, Austin told a story of first receiving a promo on a sheet of paper from WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.
According to Drake, he has been a lifelong professional wrestling fan and grew up as a major Hulkamaniac.
“My dad. My dad’s a big time [pro] wrestling fan. His dad watched it. His whole side of the family would watch it. We watched NWA Saturday Night together. Was it Prime Time WWF? s–t, I think even World Class [Championship Wrestling] was on ESPN for a minute, right? And so was AWA. He watched all of it and I was right there with him.”
Drake continued, “I can remember way back to WrestleMania 4, having, like, picnicked during the daytime and all the guys would go in the basement and watch WrestleMania 4, so my dad is like an old school, roughneck dude from the rough end of town. Stuff like that. Not the same stature, but facially, he looks like Hulk Hogan. He [has] got the skullet, not the long hair, but then he [has] got the big handlebar moustache. And he was just a roughneck dude who would go to the drive-ins back in the day, and fight, and stuff like that. But he loved wrestling and he still watches it now. And through watching it with him, it was like, ‘damn, I love this!’ I used to sneak out. They’d put me to bed. I’d sneak out Nikolai Volkoff is on the TV talking s–t about Hogan. I couldn’t stand that. I ended up telling on myself when I’d yell at the TV and then they found out I was there and took me back to bed, but I was a big time Hulkamaniac when I was a kid.”
Drake, who recently weighed in on NWA’s process for dealing with promos, shared with Austin his opinion that mic skills are lacking in professional wrestling nowadays. Drake supported his claim by pointing out that big names are more famous for catchphrases and moments than wrestling moves or spots.
“That’s what I like about NWA right now, everybody is solid on the stick and I feel like that is something that has been so missing from [pro] wrestling over the last 10 or 15 years, with a few exceptions. And for me, my main focus getting into the [pro wrestling] business was, ‘I want to look like a wrestler. I want to talk like a wrestler.’ And I want to wrestle like a wrestler, but to me, those first two are really the most important. If you look at the guys with the most success in the business, they’re not doing ‘holy s–t’ spots. They’re not backflips and all that. I can do a backflip, but do I need to do it? No. So, sometimes, you can pull that out for a big match or whatever, but if I have to do it every single night, what do I leave for myself for a pay-per-view? What do I leave for myself in the big match if I need to pull out all the stops to beat this guy in a regular match on TV, who’s not even the champion or whatever else? So it’s just stuff like that where I’m like, ‘be a great talker.'” Drake noted, “that’s the whole reason I fell in love with the business!”
During the conversation, Drake discussed that he is highly influenced by hip hop in his promos. Moreover, Drake raps in his car to work on his promo skillz.
“I like a lot of hip hop,” Drake said. “Sometimes I’ll be rapping a song in my car, but I’ll do it like I’m cutting a promo. Like, in the sense where I’m, like, doing facials, doing more, not so much musically, but doing more like I’m actually talking it. And I think it’s a great tool in a certain sense, but at the same time, it’s like I don’t write anything out. I’ve got notes in my phone where it’s like, ‘okay, I might want to mention this at some point’ or ‘I might want to use this’ or whatever, I don’t think I’d be good with a script.”
In response, Austin told the story of getting his first scripted promo in WWE from Vince McMahon.
“I’ll never forget when I came back from getting my neck fused, C3 and C4, in ’99 or whenever it was,” Austin remembered. “And when I left, we were cutting promos just like I told [Drake], man, you kind of go out there and it was what it was. You might have a bullet point or two, or someone might say, ‘hey man, remember this’ or whatever, but you go out there and you cut a promo.
“When I came back, that’s when the papers started coming around. And all-of-a-sudden, man, I’ll never forget – I’ve told this story many times, but I was in a room with Vince, and, well, somebody had to track me down. I was watching matches. ‘Hey man, Vince wants to go through this promo with you’ and so, just like this piece of paper here, and I said, ‘Vince? when I get my hands on you? I? am? going? to? tear? you? limb? from? limb?’ He goes, ‘goddamn it, Steve! Give me your A-promo!’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not going to give you my A-promo here because I can’t give you my A-promo here because I’m not ‘Stone Cold’ in here!’ I’m ‘Stone Cold’ when I get out there and that’s when I turn that s–t on and that’s when I’m in a whole different universe. And that’s when, dude, when the red light’s going, if it’s a TV taping, or especially if it’s live, that’s when I’m really on.”
According to Drake, fans complain that the actual in-ring product was bad during ‘The Attitude Era’, but it does not matter because performers were talking fans into buildings and doing fantastic business at the time.
“It was so big because everybody had such developed characters, but it wasn’t cartoony. You didn’t have a trashman or any of that stuff. Right, and everybody from top to bottom [was unique]. The first match could be Val Venis and his [imitating Venis], ‘hello ladies’ and the place goes nuts! The Godfather’s music hits, the place goes nuts! He [has] got his catchphrases. You’ve got The New Age Outlaws, all these guys. Top to bottom, everybody had so much charisma, so much character. They could all work a stick. If you ask me, and I think it would be an accurate portrayal, is that’s what drew everybody in. And then, the wrestling, everybody says the wrestling was horrible back then. Who cares? They were drawing money. They were tickets.” Drake joked, “that’s the bottom line, to steal [Austin’s] phrase.”
Listen to the podcast here. If you use any of the quotations that appear in this article, please credit The Steve Austin Show with an H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.